Cold Weather: Soup & Random Conversations

It’s soup weather for sure. I spent a good part of yesterday making stock from the Thanksgiving turkey carcass, and then made soup with a bunch of random vegetables in the fridge. A friend used to describe her plans for dinner as “kicking the fridge.” My soup fits that image—some carrots, onions, parsnips, celery, garlic, broccoli, and peppers. Once everything softened up, I added the fresh stock, water, and herbs, and pureed everything with an immersion blender. Hot, fresh, delicious.

I’m not one for too many new gadgets. My husband bought one of those superpower blenders and I know I could make hot soup directly in it. Another friend proudly showed off her new instant pot, though she complained the pot retained smells and hers indeed smelled of yesterday’s curry. Too fiddly for me and too big. I don’t have room in my kitchen for another appliance. I’ll stick to my beloved and well-used Le Creuset soup pot. I love how soup simmers on the stove, sending its aromas through the kitchen, inviting me to sample and adjust seasonings. I guess I’m an old-fashioned cook.

Speaking of soup, I like buying bags of bean mixtures. At Shop-Rite recently, while in line to check out, a woman behind me asked how I cooked them, pointing to the bags. Happy to share my tried and true method, I described how I soak the beans overnight, then cut vegetables, sauté them a little, add the beans, then water and stock, and simmer for hours until the beans are soft. One bag makes about four quarts of soup, I told her, that I usually freeze two for us, give one to my parents, and one to my son and his family. She shook her head, “No, takes too much time. I like fast cooking.”

From soup to…. lipstick. At Costco this week, for some weird reason- hey it’s winter and my lips felt chapped– I pulled out a lipstick from my pocketbook (long ago mastering the technique of lipstick applying without a mirror). A stranger approached and told me about a new Maybelline lipstick that lasts 24 hours. I thanked her for the tip, noting that I’ve been thinking of replacing or replenishing some of my make-up. As she walked away, I wondered why would I ever need a lipstick that lasts 24 hours? Well it was the thought that counts and nice to make a friendly connection, even if about lipstick.

I’m getting some physical therapy for lower back arthritis. There’s nowhere more fun than to listen to the jokes and anecdotes told by the other patients. Today a man read from his cell phone: “Why are Ben & Jerry sending me an email?” I suggested that perhaps they want him to sample a new flavor. The therapists figured that they want money for something. The patient deleted it and a bunch of other emails, making jokes about each one.

Happy 2018! May you have a year of great soup and random conversations!







Posted in aging, food, Writing | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

A No Shopping Year? Could I Do It? Could You?

Ask any knitter and they’ll admit they have more yarn than they can use. The stash, as it’s called, comes in handy for last minute projects that require small amounts of yarn or can be made with combinations of yarn weights and colors.

In my stash, I have leftovers from sweaters and vests in case I need to make repairs or lengthen a sleeve or hem. I have yarn I’ve bought when a local store went out of business. And I have yarn I’ve bought from stores online. And therein lies my problem.

The Internet has made me addicted to yarn shopping. While knitting is a wonderful hobby, overbuying yarn isn’t. I’ve kidded around with friends that I need a support group, or a 12-step program. When there’s an ad for yarn on sale, or a free shipping offer, or a pattern or favorite yarn brand I can’t resist, they got me good. For example, I fell in love with a poncho pattern and bought yarn to make several, listing in my head all the people who I’d shower with gifts. The same for a child’s hat pattern. My problem is that I’ll make one, or even two, then get bored and move on to another project. Or buy something else.

In the scheme of life, these aren’t extravagant purchases and my yarn supply isn’t taking over the entire square footage of my house. I can justify that I purge now and then, either by donating yarn to charities or giving bundles to friends.

But what about everything else?

Ann Patchett’s article in today’s New York Times, “My Year of No Shopping, resonated. How much more do most of us need?

There are great excuses to shop. A little retail therapy. Gifts for grandchildren. Just to browse. Yet reasons to live with less are environmental. We shop; we discard. We fill landfills with fabrics and other materials that don’t biodegrade and contribute to global warming and pollution.

A no shopping year? Could I do it? I doubt it. But I can unsubscribe to emails from retailers to avoid succumbing to discounts. I can limit my Internet browsing to things I only need. I can promise to not buy more yarn.

What about you?


















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Leonard Bernstein at 100

On our way to a performance of Junk,  Ayad Akhtar’s new play about the 1980’s financial world where junk bonds captured investor (and federal investigator) attention, we stopped at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts’ exhibit about Leonard Bernstein. 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the American composer and conductor’s birthday and the library has gathered memorabilia for the public to see and hear. 

The exhibit opens with a quote from Bernstein’s father, Samuel, a hair product distributor in Boston and a Russian Jewish immigrant.

“Every genius had a handicap. Beethoven was deaf. Chopin had tuberculosis. Well someday the books will say, ‘Leonard Bernstein had a father’.” (1958)

Samuel initially discouraged his son from pursuing music as a career and expected Leonard, called Lenny, to join the family business. Given a piano by an aunt, Leonard began lessons and became hooked, learning music by the European greats as well as American composers like Aaron Copland and George Gershwin.

The exhibit includes 150 photographs, scores, costumes, record album covers, awards, and correspondence. There are a few of Bernstein’s pencils that he used to compose, and called his “soldiers.” There’s a soundproof booth where you can sing along karaoke-style to “America” from West Side Story. 

Bernstein recorded more than 800 records for prominent record companies, composed operas, symphonies, Broadway shows, and film scores. He became politically active, promoting peace, through his music. He said, “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

Truly a genius. The world is lucky he didn’t follow his father’s wishes.

As to Junk, I had my financial journalist husband patiently explaining a few things and also comparing the play to the actual events and people of the period. I found the characters a bit stereotypical and while not the worst play I’ve seen, not my favorite. The greed of the people and their behavior and attitudes toward those less fortunate is a reminder how little has changed especially in today’s political climate. 

See the Bernstein exhibit. It’s free, on until the end of March. And inspiring.


Posted in art, commentary, Education, Museums, galleries, Music, New York City, Theater, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Handel & Hendrix Slept Here

While holiday window browsing, listening to carols heralding shoppers, humming along, I happened to come across, hidden behind a couple large stores, the Handel House, at 25 Brook Street, in London’s Mayfair district. I had time before my dinner reservation, so figured why not see what the hullabaloo was about.

Indeed, George Frideric Handel, German composer, (1685-1759) did live here from 1723 until his death. Within the walls of this five-story Georgian home, Handel wrote several operas as well as his famous oratorio Messiah, which he created in 24 days. 

Jump ahead 246 years. American rock star Jimi Hendrix  (1942-1970)  rented the same place, settling in with his then girlfriend, Kathy Etchingham. 

Beyond that coincidence, and last names ending in “H,” similarities end. However, the heritage and musical contributions to humanity of these disparate artists have been carefully curated into exhibits complete with heirlooms, furniture, ephemera, clothing, and music.

Hendrix, according to a volunteer docent, hadn’t known much about Handel, but when informed about the previous tenant, purchased a couple albums to add to his eclectic, expansive record collection. 

Handel played organ and harpsichord; the left-handed Hendrix played his guitar upside down. Still, both wrote music and lyrics by hand, and each decorated his home to reflect the times they lived. Both bedrooms are reproductions of the originals; Handel’s constructed from detailed inventories; and Hendrix’s from copious photographs.

Handel’s Organ

Handel’s Bedroom

Hendrix’s bedroom

Hendrix Accessories

I visited a few friends and cousins, ate at Nopi, saw a play and thoroughly enjoyed London, an old friend to me that always feels like home.







Posted in art, Museums, galleries, Music, travel, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Holiday Shopping: Gun Control

Making your holiday shopping lists? Already hitting the stores and online sites?

Have you considered adding a bulletproof backpack for your children and grandchildren?

When my kids went to school, I packed their lunches and hoped they had whatever else they needed for the day: homework, musical instruments, gym clothes. Nevertheless, invariably I’d receive a phone call to deliver a forgotten item. I wasn’t always able to oblige. Parents now can add a bulletproof insert to backpacks. There are other products too: bulletproof fleeces, binders and briefcases.

Hey, this is America. There’s a market for everything.

Yesterday marked one week since the church shooting in Texas that left 26 innocent people dead. Tomorrow marks one week since Election Day that put some Democrats in office dedicated to changing the lenient gun laws that have allowed killers to purchase weapons of mass destruction.

On my way to and from Connecticut to visit my parents, I pass the exit for Newtown, CT. I worked there as a reporter and can’t help think about the murder of 26 people there, 20 first- graders among them. I can’t fathom the pain these families endure, only to have repeated efforts to curtail gun ownership repeatedly defeated. It’s like a constant slap in the face. Or more likely, it’s a middle finger, raised daily, with the accompanying epithet; a reminder that their children’s lives don’t matter.

It’s gotten more wintery in the Northeast. We had a warm October, thanks to climate change. On February 2nd, we’ll look for the groundhog, hoping for an early spring. Yet it’s been Groundhog Day in Congress for years. Connecticut Senator Christopher Murphy, campaigning for gun control after the massacre in his state, said after the Las Vegas gun rampage that killed 58 people, “I wish it didn’t feel like Groundhog Day- but one day it won’t.”

Here’s hoping. Or you may be buying weapons to put into backpacks next to the peanut butter sandwiches and gym clothes.

Keep up the resistance.






Posted in commentary, Education, Family, Grandchildren, health, holidays, parenting, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Four Books & A Movie

When asked about what he looks for in a novel, actor and writer Tom Hanks told the New York Times, “ Authenticity. I want to see the world accurately, and history examined is search of the details of truth.”

Hanks’ collection of short stories, Uncommon Type is due out this week. Each story pays homage to the typewriter, an object that fascinates Hanks. He collects old typewriters, yet admits he writes on a laptop.

Good fiction to me also illuminates the truth and recently I’ve plowed through some amazing novels.

They are:

This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel takes on how a child’s decision to change genders affects a family and community. When Rosie and Penn’s fifth son shows signs that he’s more girl than boy, the family responds first with secrets and then with openness.

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent reveals the co-dependency that evolves from incest. Set in California, the author employs his knowledge of the natural world to create an atmosphere of survival. 

For insights into the immigrant experience in the United States, read Imbolo Mbue’s  Behold the Dreamers.   You’ll wonder about the lives of those “invisible” people around us- taxi drivers, housecleaners and so on. Jende Jonga assumes leaving Cameroon for New York will improve life for him, his wife and six-year-old son. He’s ready to follow the American Dream. But what happens when his dream falls apart?

In Lisa Ko’s The Leavers,   Deming Guo’s undocumented Chinese mother, Polly, suddenly disappears, leaving the bewildered 11-year-old who is subsequently adopted by a white couple and moved from the Bronx to a small town upstate. His story of finding his mother and his identity moves quickly and brings home the issue facing many today.

I’ve ordered the Hanks’ book and am reading Hillary Clinton’s What Happened. That’s a truth I’d rather not be reading.

Finally go see Marshall, the biopic about Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. A sad reminder that with all the progress, much work remains.








Posted in Books, Civil Rights History, commentary, Family, parenting, Reading, reviews, teaching, teenagers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Ah, Burgundy!

When our friends Kevin and Allan invited us to join them and about 20 other of their close friends to celebrate Kevin’s 60th birthday for a week in Burgundy, France, we didn’t hesitate. They rented two chateaus in the little village of Mercurey, about a half hour drive from Beaune, a small medieval city. 

We drove from Geneva and thanks to not knowing how to program the car-installed GPS, ended up crossing mountains and traveling through villages. We rented bikes in Beaune and took leisurely rides each day through the vineyards and small towns. 

Each evening, we feasted, including taking our hosts to a three-star Michelin restaurant, Le Maison Lelemeloise, where we indulged in the three-course chef’s menu that in addition to three courses, included five little hor d’oeuvres called amuse-bouche, as well as tiny pre-dessert nibbles. We feasted on cheese and bread, drank local wines, and I, of course, ate my fill of fresh figs.

On our way back to the airport, we visited L’Hotel-Dieu de Beaune, a hospital for the poor established in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, chancellor to the Duke of Burgundy and his wife, Guigone de Salins. 

Connecting with former neighbors  from where we all met in New Jersey, getting to know other friends of Kevin and Allan’s that we’ve met when we bike to their Pennsylvania farmhouse and meeting new people all contributed to a memorable and very special celebration.



(some photos provided by Melanie Urdang and Sarah Cherry) xoxox

Posted in bike riding, celebrations, Cycling, food, Friendship, Museums, galleries, Nature, travel, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments