Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Pain That is Necessary to Live

The ancient belief that the heart was the universal center of emotion in the human body is not far off really. While we now know that the brain serves this function, we still feel such emotions as heartache, or emotions that are heart felt, and we can be heart broken over some event or thing. Some of us wear our hearts on our sleeves and some of us are known for our good heartedness. Some emotions literally make our hearts race, or cause us to feel as if our hearts have stopped beating.

The reason we react to this emotional pain, if we are emotionally healthy, is because we are feeling beings, and are empathetic and sympathetic. It is because we are alive. Emotional pain is necessary to life. And, there is no shame in seeking the help of others in coping with, recovering from and accepting such emotional pain.

No one ever wants to be physically or emotionally injured, but it is unavoidable in this life. Like the body’s response to physical pain, emotional pain is a defense mechanism. If it is ignored, greater injury can occur. When properly attended to healing, growth and understanding can occur and this helps to provide balance and proportion in our lives. Grief, disappointment, sadness, depression, doubt, frustration, anger and many other emotional responses all play their part in our daily lives. It is how we deal with any of them that makes the difference.

By the same token, putting our hearts out there, in harm’s way if you will, is also important to living. People can protect themselves by avoiding emotion and therefore any associated pain, but that would be avoiding life. As the saying goes, “It is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” When we lose a member of our family, a friend or loved colleague, isn’t it better to feel the pain of their loss than to never have known them? Of course it is terribly hard at first, but we have to hope that what remains in the end is the memory, the love, the joy and all those things that ultimately extinguish any pain.

Don’t be afraid to love. Don’t be afraid to care. Don’t be afraid to give. But most of all don’t be afraid of the pain that is necessary to live.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tomorrow Never Comes

Each day we look ahead seeing more tomorrows than we can count,

Some of them are ours, of course, and some are not, no doubt.

Every today was once tomorrow and every tomorrow was once today,

And in the end, no matter what, they’ll all be yesterday.

Each tomorrow arrives as today so there really is no chance,

For it to be tomorrow if we can never get there in advance.

Every day that’s ever been before the day we call today,

Is now a day called yesterday and it will always be that way.

No matter how we try to play it each morning as our feet hit the ground,

We can exclaim that it’s tomorrow, but it is to today that we’ll be bound.

So we can bait and switch, add and subtract, to try to change the sums,

But when you think of it in terms of time, tomorrow never comes.
L. S.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Seasons of Our Lives

We are born in the ‘Spring’ of our lives; beginning from practically nothing. We grow

and stretch, and learn and change from helpless children to an adult form that will take
shape in the seasons to come. This is meant to be the time of innocence and education;
of soft rain and gentle winds. We are supposed to be nurtured and protected, encouraged
and connected to what life has to offer. For some the season ends too quickly and these
must grow up in a hurry. For others the storms come out of order and they must find
themselves before the troubled weather takes all the gifts of Spring away. Those who
make it through the rougher season battered but intact have gained strength to lean on,
but will always wish to visit Spring again. Some will in their everyday; others will let
this season pass and move on without a look behind. That gentle season’s influence gone
from them and missing forever. It is better that we should look for Spring each day.

The ‘Summer’ of our lives begins with adulthood of age if not of wisdom. It is our
longest season and the busiest of life. There is no one to lean on now but ourselves, and
toiling for our identity is challenged by the constant heat of very long days. The bulk
of our work in this life is suffered in its sometimes heated weather. The Summer holds
such promise though; our time to chose a path and forge an identity. We find love if
we are lucky and children come along; the seasons mixing. As always we try to rush
through this season, hoping for something better in the next without realizing that once
we pass from this vibrant time we won’t be invited back. It is indeed the time to sow our
seeds and to make hay, as it were. Some will hold on as long as they can, hoping for an
Indian Summer. But soon enough the children of the Spring and the young of Summer
will not speak their language anymore. If we are lucky they will listen and learn, and
perhaps benefit from that, but we can’t linger too long or we should not be prepared for
the coming of the Fall.

Alas the ‘Fall’. This most changing of seasons is like the Spring in reverse, maybe
designedly so. If we are lucky our work is behind us and we can enjoy the changing
leaves. One must hope this autumn of our lives affords us time to take advantage of
the cooler, shorter days. Travel should be welcomed and one should seek to have long
meals, good drink and spirited conversation. Sun sets should be treasured, and morning
walks. Time is of the essence, but don’t let them know. Be aware of he coming cold, but
don’t dwell on it. Make the most of each day and don’t hesitate to do so.

One day without much fane fare ‘Winter’ will arrive. For those of us who prepare for
it, we will have shelter from its storms. Books will be our friends as many friends will
have had their Winters pass. We will need to keep at doing something so that there is
something to keep doing. But in our quiet nights perhaps devoid of sleep we should
think so clearly back to the seasons that have passed; seeking peace and solace before we
finally sleep, the seasons of our lives complete.


Photos designed by Barunpatro on Stock Xchng

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Day Before 9/11

By L.S.

The day before we looked calmly to the coming season of fall,

The day before we did not know so many would die answering the call.

That day we were a nation in peril though acting as if at rest,

We did not know that the next day we’d lose our very best.

The day before we worked and played; going about our busy lives,

We did not know that the evil among us had taken out their knives.

The day before those towers shone and reached up to the sky,

We couldn’t imagine the next day they’d be a pile of rubble; a place to die.

The day before we could not know that when the next day came,

Our world would change forever, never to be the same.

If I could just go back and change one thing for sure,

It would be that all the days after would be the day before.

Photo Credit Link

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Blood, Sweat, Tears...and some Love in Between

Last weekend I had the great pleasure and satisfaction of working my sixth Habitat for Humanity house project.  It does not get all the hype and commercial support of the TV series, Extreme Makeover, and the family benefiting from the new home must put in months of sweat equity once they've been accepted following a rigorous application process.  But for them and for anyone who gives a little free time to help them reach their dream, it is worth it. 

On past projects I've been involved in constructing interior walls, doorways and headers.  I've assisted on roofing and exterior trim.  I've installed siding, bracing, and have poured cement footings for stoops, outside stairways and decks.  And least favorite of all has been tacking up insulation on a 90 degree day.  But each time I've been involved in this wonderful program, I have received much more than I have been asked to give in time and energy. 

The work is hard, and no one works harder than the deserving family.  This particular weekend it happened to be a young couple originally from Haiti.  Imagine how much they will cherish their new home since they have seen every nail, board, shingle, window and each drop of paint that went into its making.   

The work site manager was a young man from a family I grew up with.  I played baseball and basketball with his older brothers.  He was once a Habitat applicant, and now owns a Habitat house two blocks from where we were working.  He learned so much helping to build his own home, and was so thankful from the experience, that he continued to volunteer, and eventually developed enough skill that he is now a full-time employee of Habitat for Humanity. 

I am a firm believer that it is better to give than to receive.  And for those people in this world who need to receive before they are in a position to give in return this organization teaches the lessons of this concept better than any other I have seen.  Habitat emphasizes that this is not a hand out, rather it is a hand up.   

Those of us who worked on this house did not give up a Saturday, we gained the experience of giving, sharing and learning.  It is both humbling and rewarding at the same time. What could be better? 


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

We Are Citizens of the World

I recently traveled to a country I have never been to, where the people speak a language I do not. My biggest concern about this experience was making some kind of mistake that would insult or disrespect the people or the culture I was going to be the guest of. I did not want to be, or to be seen as, an ugly American. Personally, I think I succeeded, but as I was traveling with a group, others among us did not. Indeed, they made no effort to in the first place. I suppose it is pretty telling that when we returned home friends asked us if Mr. and Mrs. so and so created any problems. I guess you don't have to leave home to be an ugly American.

Whether we accept it, or like it, we are all citizens of the world. Whether we are at home or abroad, how we treat other people, their customs and traditions and their homes, as it were, is important and we have an obligation, I believe, to leave those places the same or better than we found them. Suspicions and prejudices are born out of negative experiences; one ugly American, or whatever nationality you may wish to plug in here, can ruin it for the rest.

People all over the world accept a kindness, a courtesy, respect for their living space and an effort to avoid intrusion. What they remember, however, is anything in opposite to that, or ugliness to be specific. That is a different and negative kind of branding in this world of the global economy.

I made the effort to be a citizen of the world. And in doing so I had an unforgettable experience, conversations I would not otherwise have had, reactions from people I did not expect and a feeling of welcoming and mutual respect. Sadly, in order to do this I had to distance myself from my fellow travelers. Even more sad was the fact that they were so caught up in whatever it was they were caught up in they did not even notice.

Perhaps if these wearying travelers could have reflected upon what they were doing and how they were being seen, they might have had a chance to join the community of world citizens. And such a positive change in behavior could have been brought home and applied here where it is sorely needed as well.

Alas, it was not to be. Too bad because the benefits are great!


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A penny for my thoughts...

Every Little Bit Helps 

I am a coin collector, and in my younger days, did so very actively.  I had the good fortune, as a very young boy, of working in my father's store when silver coins were still the norm until "clad" or copper filled coins arrived on the scene in 1965.  In any event, over the years, I had collected some $220 in pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, half dollars and even several real silver dollars.  When I was finally able to buy a home at the age of 32, I sold this collection of mostly worn pocket change for around $800 to help with down payment.  I still check my change all the time and still have a foreign coin collection.  To me every coin has a story and each serves an important purpose. 

I save pennies for a specific purpose these days, and when my old football, or basketball, or life in general injuries don't discourage me from doing so, I will bend over and pick up a penny from the ground.  I have that much respect for their value. 

The church I am affiliated with has an association with a church in Tanzania and its connected school.  We have raised money for such things as building supplies, water well drilling, electrical hook-ups, sending student teachers on internships, text books and most commonly continued school supplies.  A simple, but valuable thing like a pencil or a writing pad can be purchased for a U.S. single penny.   

This morning, feeling better than I did yesterday, I bent down to pick up a penny I had seen in the lobby several times yesterday.  I thought to myself, either this penny has a story or it will.  It turned out to be a rather nondescript 1989 penny with quite a bit of wear, but it's still a thing of value and beauty.  It went into my pocket.

Tonight it will go into a jar under my night stand.  Next Sunday it will be going into a large barrel at the church, marked "Pennies for Tanzania".  The following week it will go to a local bank to be converted with all the other pennies into dollars.  In its new from, it will then be deposited into an account and a check will be cut and sent to the church in Tanzania.  That check will be cashed and the money will use to run the school.  And pretty soon that penny will be used to buy a pencil to be used by a child who will write, and learn, and hopefully grow up to help make his community a better place.  All because of a that single penny. 

We should never take such things as a lost or discarded pennies for granted because every little bit helps! 

L. S. 

Photo Credit:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sizzling on the Sidewalk vs. Evaporating in the Elevator

I just wanted to share a little of how my day began today.  First, I just want to remind everyone that we are experiencing the hottest summer on record.  Today was no different.  This morning around 9am it already felt like 95 degrees in the sun.  I rushed to work awaiting the glorious deep freeze created by the industrial AC's in the hospital I work in.  Strangely, there was a crowd outside of the entrance I normally take in the morning.  I brushed it off as a possible tour.  I squeezed myself through the bodies that were radiating tremendous heat.  "Excuse me. Excuse me."  They looked at me as if I were crazy but I didn't care.  I had to make it to the deep freeze. 

Then I saw a familiar face exiting that worked on the same floor I did.  By now I think I was stepping into delirium brought on by the heat. I asked him as he exited the door, "Is there something wrong with the door?"  Duhhhhh...he probably thought. I just came out the door.  But thank goodness he didn't voice those thoughts.  He explained that we were experiencing a Disaster Preparedness Exercise.  'How come I didn't hear about this?' I thought.  I stood for approximately 30 seconds with everyone banded together like asparagus in between the automatic sliding doors but I couldn't take the heat, so I braved the heat outside.  It seemed to be the lesser of two evils.  The sun was beating down on me furiously. 

Then I saw a patch of human bodies huddled in a piece of shade created by a wall.  I joined them, casually walking over as if my skin wasn't sizzling on the sidewalk.  The shade helped a little but I had to dial my trustee friend Epiphany who no doubt was comfortable in her ice box of an office.  I've never been so desperate to get to work!  While Epiphany told me more about this Disaster Prepardeness stunt, a host of fire engines came rushing down the street, stopping at this exit and the next.  All I wanted to know is which entrance was accessible.  When she told me to try the entrance on the other side of the hospital, I took a deep breath because I knew it would be a grueling trek in the sun.  Then I started down the road but something told me to try the exit that the fire men were at.  It couldn't hurt.  They looked like nice men and at that moment, I looked like a wet and tired damsel in distress.

I watched them cautiously as I inched my way towards the entrance and lo and behold, they didn't say anything.  I rushed in to a blast of artificial, toxic cool air.  "Ahhhhhh", I cried out loud.  I really didn't care who heard me at that moment.  I was in!  When I got to my desk, I heard the tail end of an employee who was on the verge of tears complaining to my supervisor.  She was stuck in an elevator the whole time I was outside complaining about the heat.  Then I wondered, What is worst?  Sizzling on the Sidewalk or Evaporating in an Elevator? 
Sometimes we think our situations are the worst but then we hear about someone elses.....

Sunday, July 4, 2010

...Our Home, Sweet Home...

New York  - America's Capital? 

I have a long commute to work each day.  I try to keep alert with news, music (especially music), an occasional book-on-tape and just by being observant.  Two years ago I started to notice how many out-of-state license plates there were on the cars of my fellow travelers.  I decided to record them with the goal of seeing a plate from every US state within one year.  I fell short of the goal by one plate; Hawaii. 

This is not entirely surprising.  After all, I would not expect to see that state represented on the roads of NY too easily.  Alaska, yes, I've seen that one several times.  Lots of kids from Long Island, Queens and Brooklyn are in the military and many spend time in Alaska.  But, Hawaii; that was a challenge. 

The way I played this grown up version of the I-Spy game, was to record only plates I saw on days I commuted and only on my hour and half route from Long Island to Brooklyn. 

Within one year I had seen plates from 49 US states, most of the Canadian Provinces, England, Germany, Diplomat and US Government plates, but no Hawaii. 

So I was very surprised this morning when, one year after my original goal expired, a Black Chevy pick-up with tinted windows pulled along side of me, and as it slowly passed I saw, under a rainbow design on an otherwise white, black-lettered license plate, the word "HAWAII". 

Wow, I thought.  Even though it took two years, just the idea that every state in this country was represented along a 45 mile stretch of road and only when I was looking says something about New York, the people of America, the freedoms we take for granted, the potential for a more unified society, the great privilege of diversity, and how oceans and mountains can't hold back the movement of people and culture. 

As for my own sanity or madness in seeking such a distraction, I'm glad I took the time and it was worth the wait.  And, it is kind of neat that it ended as we head into the 4th of July weekend. 

Have a wonderful, long holiday weekend, and  BBQ safely. Happy Birthday America!! 


Photos: Coney Island New York - Summer Fireworks Friday

Friday, July 2, 2010

Beyond the Paint

Posted by Picasa
Take a look at this picture. Do you see the blue scaffolding on the side of the house with the brown siding? Well, you can't see now but there was a man the day before painting the sides of those beautiful windows on the second floor of the house. At first glance I said, "It's about time." They have been peeling for years. But then I noticed something strange. The painter, standing on the narrow beige structure jutting out between the first floor and the second floor had a leg brace on his left leg that extended from his hip to his ankle. He couldn't even bend his leg. It had to be fractured somehow, yet he diligently painted. I didn't take a pic of him for obvious reasons but I thought to myself, 'Wow'. Is the economic crisis so bad that this man (who no doubt has a broken leg) must still climb houses in need of a paint job? I guess it really is.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day

There Is No Higher Calling

Being a father that is.  And, that is being a real father, not simply fathering a child.  In the process of creating a new life the male side of the equation certainly is the easy part of it.  That fact should not set the tone for the rest of the process, because while it may be easy to become a father, it is not easy to be a father.  By that I mean it is not and should not be easy to be the kind of father every child and spouse deserves and expects a man to be.  A real man is not some macho tough guy or other stereotype.  A real man is a good and loving father; end of story.

On my resume, the last line lists “Other” things I think a prospective employer or association might find significant, following the list of present and prior employment, education, military and memberships.  On that Other line I have one entry “Married; three children.”  Of course, my resume is really upside down.  Everything on it above the Other line is because of the Other line.

Every morning when my feet first hit the floor I am reminded of the awesome responsibility of fatherhood.  Everything I do from that moment on has an impact on that role and responsibility.  Simply taking a shower and leaving the bathroom the way I found it, eating a proper breakfast, driving carefully to work, doing a good job for my employer, being kind and courteous to co-workers and strangers, safely returning home, sitting down with the family at dinner, and being involved at all times in my children’s lives and being an example to them.

Being an example matters and that involvement takes on many forms.  Whether it’s a stepping up ceremony, or a college graduation, a little league baseball game or a college football game, a 4thGrade concert or a college Cello recital, the emotion is the same.  There is pride, joy, anticipation, hope, fear, celebration and love.  If these things are missing, then something is wrong.  There is no room for selfishness and misdirected ego in the fatherhood role.  Giving is receiving when it’s done right.

And so, I’d like to wish every father, mother, spouse, partner, and child a Happy Father’s Day because it’s all about all of us!


Photo Credit Link

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Two for the Price of One

by Penny Venticinque

The only time I saw my father cry was at his mother’s funeral.  I was 12.  This was my first funeral, and the first person close to me who died.  My father’s mother lived with us.  In fact, both of my grandmothers lived with us, which I later found out, was a rarity.  Two mothers-in-law under the same roof.  It must have been difficult for both my father and my mother, having their respective mother-in-law live with them.  My brother and I didn’t really notice.  This was normal for us.  But my friends marveled at the fact that not one, but both of my grandmothers lived with me.

The thing I think I missed was visiting my grandmother’s house.  I admired my friends because they could go to grandma’s house, and I couldn’t.  Their grandmothers could cook for them and send food home with them, and I never experienced that.  My friends could stay over at their grandmothers’ houses, and I never experienced that either.  It would have been cool to go visit a grandmother, especially in another state, and have her take care of you, as grandmothers do, in her own home, with all of her stuff all around – the old photos, the antique furniture, the pots and pans that produced all those wonderful smells that only a grandmother’s house can embody.  But I did not have that either.  Both of them lived with me, and both of them were old and infirm and had long-since left behind their own homes and possessions. 

The Maternal Side
They were two very different people, my grandmothers.  My mother’s mother was a classic Victorian Lady, born in British Guiana (now Guyana).  We called her MumMum.  How British.  I remember that she was always a lady.  Always put-together, regardless of what was going on at any given time.  She wore her long white hair swept back in a bun, fastened with tortoise shell combs and “chopsticks”, neatly and strategically placed.  She always had make up and lipstick on, and she cautioned me to do the same.  You never know who you’ll run into, she said.  That man over there could be your future husband, and if you aren’t wearing makeup, he will never notice you.  Also, you never want people to know you’re feeling bad, or sad, or ill.  There’s no point to it.  There’s nothing they can do about it anyway, and if you at least make yourself up and put on a happy face, maybe you will actually begin to feel better.  I always remember that.  To this day I never go out without lipstick.  I’m not looking for a husband, but I do feel better when I think I look well.  And without lipstick, I don’t think I look well.

The extent of MumMum’s “lady-ness” really struck me one particular night.  My parents had gone out to the theater, and I was home alone with MumMum.  I was about 17, and she was probably in her 80s at the time.  She was a below-the-knee amputee, so she required help to get into and out of bed, and to perform daily duties.  I didn’t mind helping her at all.  I enjoyed her company, and I loved the times we spent together.  I would read to her - letters from family members, newspaper and magazine articles, postcards.  In fact, I got to know many members of my family by reading their letters to MumMum, and helping her to write letters to them.  One person I got to know in this way was my uncle, Albert.  Albert was an artist who had gone to live in London before I was born, so I never knew him.  Through his letters to MumMum though, I found out what Europe was like, how his painting was going, and the ups and downs of being a struggling artist.  I was in art school myself at the time, so I began to write to my uncle as well, and I was always happy to receive a letter from him.  A few times he even enclosed drawings for me, which was a real treat!  It never occurred to me that I would ever meet Albert.  He was comfortably ensconced in his bohemian lifestyle on the other side of the pond, and I was content to read his letters and hear about his gallery shows and odd-ball friends.  

This particular evening I had put MumMum to bed and was watching TV when the doorbell rang.  It was after 11PM.  Being alone in the house I was reluctant to answer the door at this hour on a Friday night.  I gingerly approached the door, thinking of how I might defend myself should this be an intruder.  There was only one lock on the front door, and it wasn’t a deadbolt.  I wondered if I should even respond.  It might be easier to just allow the person to go away, but what if they didn’t?  What if ignoring the doorbell made him think that no one was home?  That might be worse.  I approached the door and peered out through the glass.  I saw a man with graying hair and a full beard and mustache.  He was carrying a suitcase of some sort.  I thought he must have had the wrong address.  There was no car waiting and he was alone.  

Then some kind of recognition came over me.  This man wasn’t entirely a stranger, although I had never seen him in my life.  I opened the door, and the man said hello and I immediately knew who he was.  It was my uncle.  A man I had never met, but had known through his letters to MumMum

"Uncle Albert?", I said, as I opened the door fully, knowing full well who he was!

"YES", he said, and of course he knew me immediately as well.  We hugged and looked at each other as people do when they haven’t seen each other for a long time (or ever).  How must I have looked growing up?  How had I changed?  He would never know.  Here I was almost an adult and he had never seen his only niece.  He came in and of course, immediately asked for MumMum.  I had just put her to bed, and said so, but I knew she would want to see him immediately, no mater what time it was.  I told him to stay right there, while I went to wake her up.  He did.  He stood right outside her bedroom door, waiting for me to signal him in.  I imagined him there with his ear to the door, listening to his mother, whom he had not seen in over 30 years, scream with excitement at the surprise she was about to experience, and expecting tears of joy and reunion!

Not wanting to scare her, I gently touched her shoulder to wake her up.  She opened her eyes without moving and asked me what was the matter.  

“MumMum, I don’t know how to tell you this but…Uncle Albert is outside.  He’s HERE.  He’s here to visit you!”  

“My SON Albert?  It can’t be.  Are you sure it’s him?  You never met him…are you SURE???”  

“Yes MumMum, I am absolutely certain.  Let me get him.”

It was then, at this moment, that I realized what a true lady is.  Both my uncle and I expected that she would shriek with pleasure and want to see him immediately.  Not MumMum.  She simply said, “please help me get dressed.  I don’t want to greet him in my nightgown.”

I knew what that simple statement meant.  It meant at least a half hour, probably more – getting her back up, getting her out of bed and back into her chair, picking out something to wear, and re-combing her hair, etc.  I went back outside of the room to tell my uncle that MumMum wanted to get dressed before she saw him, and that he should make himself comfortable.  All three of us were anxious with anticipation.  But MumMum was in control, and she would not see her son, even after 30 years, until she was “presentable”.  We got her up, washed her up again, got her dressed, combed and twisted her hair, dusted with talcum and sprayed a pinch of cologne…and put on her full makeup, including, of course, lipstick.

It always strikes me when I think of this.  The importance of presentation.  I suppose that not seeing someone in 30 years makes it all the more important to look as good as possible, not less so.  The pride of MumMum wanting her son to see her at her best, after a lifetime of separation, even under these circumstances – her with only one leg, and sick with cancer (she also had a colostomy bag which needed to be emptied and changed).  As a result, I try never to complain, and I try to always look as good as I can at any given moment.  You never know when you will meet your future husband, or your long-lost uncle.

The Paternal Side
My father’s mother was another story.  She was a bulldog of a woman.  Built like a brick house, and had a look on her face that would make Idi Amin blush.   She had had a stroke when I was very young, so I never knew her to be fully in her “right” mind.  By the time she moved in with us, she was already not functioning well physically or mentally, as a result of the stroke.  She dragged one foot when she walked, and had trouble holding on to glasses and cups.  She was also diabetic.  In our refrigerator, there were always vials of insulin, and glass syringes that had to be boiled and sterilized.

We called this grandmother, Grandma.  She seemed to be more trouble than she was worth, at least to us kids.  We didn’t understand her when she talked, because not only did she slur her speech and confuse her words, but she spoke with a thick Jamaican accent.  And, more often than not, diabetes notwithstanding, she almost always had a hard candy in her mouth.  

“Grandma, are you eating candy?”  

“Noumgghhh…norogudjlksad candipisadny.”  

“Look, I know you are eating candy, I can see it in your cheek.  Spit it out and give it to me.”

“No.”  Well at least I understood that.

When we weren’t chasing after Grandma trying to wrench the candy from her clenched hand, we were wondering what the hell she was talking about.  Us kids got very good at mimicking a West Indian accent, even though we had no idea what we were saying.  My father seemed to understand her, but he didn’t seem to have much patience with her either.  He was the one who gave her her insulin injections, and he used to get angry that she would sneak candy, after everything he was doing to try to keep her healthy.  And he must have resented this responsibility, since he had a sister who lived not far from us, but did not get along with their mother at all.  The children all seemed to be disconnected from her, and the only reason they associated with this woman was because she was their mother.  I think that is the reason that my father called his mother Mrs. V.  Never Mom, or Mother.  I don’t remember him ever calling her anything other than Mrs. V.  

“Mrs. V. are you eating candy?”

“Noumgghhh…norogudjlksad candipisadny.”  

“Shit.  I know you are eating candy, I can see it in your cheek.  Do you think I’m stupid?”


And so it would go.  Grandma eating, or not eating candy, speaking in odd sentences, dragging her foot, and sitting quietly on the couch all day long.  She really never initiated a conversation.  If you said hello she would answer, but you were never quite sure she knew who you were, or what had just happened.  Sometimes we’d say, “Grandma, do you know who I am”?  And she would say, “Yes suh.”  “Well, who am I?”  No answer.  She did, however, know what belonged to her.  Or what she had claimed in the house.  She always sat in the same chair.  If anyone else sat there, she would say, in pretty plain English, “That Mrs. V. chair.”  Okaaaay.  And she knew when dinner was ready.  She would push you out of the way to get to the table.  And sit in Mrs. V. chair.  My father would say grace, and Grandma would start eating before he finished.  We’d all roll our eyes, but we had patience, because we knew she didn’t really understand what was going on.  Why did we have to have this lecture before dinner?  Aren’t we here to eat? 

She and MumMum would sit next to each other at the dinner table.  MumMum, the consummate lady, and Grandma, the bulldozer.  Everyone talked, except Grandma, who just ate.  She chewed very loudly.  My father had to cut her meat and sometimes he had to point out the food on her plate, as if she didn’t recognize that it was edible.  She never complained though, and ate everything that was put in front of her.  MumMum was more discerning.  There were things she didn’t like, and she would not eat them.  MumMum was a pretty good cook, and even though she was an invalid, she still could wheel herself up to the stove or the table, and help to prepare dinner.  Grandma sat in silence as all this was going on, waiting for the call to the table, so she could dive in before grace.  

As a result of the difference between my grandmothers, people responded to them differently.  Everyone talked to MumMum, hardly anyone talked to Mrs. V.  They would say hello to Grandma, and then spend the rest of their time chatting with MumMum.  MumMum always sat at the door in her wheelchair, while Grandma sat on the couch in the living room.  MumMum did crossword puzzles.  Grandma did not.  MumMum sang and played games.  Grandma did not.  When we went out, we had to carry MumMum to the car and put her wheelchair into the trunk.  Grandma just shuffled behind us, pushing us out of the way so she could get into the back seat.  MumMum was older and more frail.  We always thought that she would die long before Grandma, who was built stronger and more solid, and seemed to be invincible, in spite of her mental status.  But this was not the case.  In fact, MumMum outlived Grandma by about 12 years.  

At Grandma’s funeral, my father sobbed into his hat.  He covered his face with his fedora, and I could hear him sobbing and see his shoulders moving as they do when you cry very hard.  I had never seen my father cry.  It seemed odd to me that the death of this woman, who was largely a nuisance to all of us, could make a grown man, my father, cry like a baby.  Had we missed something?  Even though my father often lost his patience with her, and probably secretly bemoaned his lot to take car of her, he clearly cared for her very much, and we didn’t even think of that.  His reaction seemed to come out of the blue.  She was a human being, a mother, a daughter, a wife, a friend, a sister, a grandmother, and a pain in the neck.  I think I might have even seen MumMum shed a tear.  For all their differences, they were in the same boat.  And so were we.

Photo Credit: Stock Xchng - "Memories" by Mr. Wojciech Wolak, Poland

Friday, June 11, 2010

Kiddie Street Chic

The great thing about New York City, our nation's Fashion capital, is the chance of finding fun Avant Garde things happening out on the street for free rather than tucked away inside for a fee. This afternoon, while walking down Flatbush Avenue, a street that runs from the Manhattan Bridge to the Mill Basin area and beyond, we noticed a NYGard event in progress. It was hard to miss the tall lanky and  beautiful models and their chaperones.

Here, our in house and budding designer shows off her street style entitled layers of fun.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

... Worth a Thousand Words


By Penny Venticinque

It’s funny how all women have issues with their bodies. No matter what actual shape our bodies are in, we all harbor some ill feelings about how we look – whether it’s our bodies as a whole, or individual parts – there’s always something about our bodies that make us cringe.

And I thought it was just me.

Just this morning I was talking to a colleague who used to be a model. I like this person very much, but I really don’t think we have much in common, as far as being “women” is concerned, other than the plumbing. She’s tall, I’m short. She’s thin, I’m not. (I refuse to use the “F” word, or any other euphemism for size.) She’s young, well, 40-ish (yes, that’s young to me), and I’m getting to be 60-ish. She’s stylish in her dress, and I tend to be conservative and understated. She’s married, I’m single. You get it. In short, there’s really not much, on the surface, that we have in common, other than being female.

Until we looked at photos.

A few months ago we had a celebration at work, in recognition of Women’s History Month. This is a time when we honor some female colleagues for their contributions to our professional community, and the community at large. I was the “mistress of ceremonies”, welcoming everyone and handing out the individual awards, so I had plenty of “face time” on camera. I’m never comfortable with having my picture taken. I don’t think any woman is, unless she is posing for a professional photographer, making certain that all the angles are flattering, there is ample opportunity for airbrushing (or, these days, Photoshop-ing), and she can control which images get seen by anyone. Most of us just make the best of things when we have to have our pictures taken.

Most women, well, I’m probably telling on myself here, but I assume most women have figured out how they look their best in photos. We will stand in front of the mirror practicing that look, the look that is most flattering to our faces and bodies – so that when a camera is in the vicinity, we know just what to do. We know how to smile – not too much teeth, not too broad so the crow’s feet don’t show, turn your head just so. We also know how to stand – one foot in front of the other, feet at a slight angle, toes pointing slightly in opposite directions, shoulder tilted toward the camera, head up, so as not to show a shadow which might be mistaken for (or actually produce) a double-chin. Pick up a camera around a woman, and she will immediately say “wait…don’t take it yet, I have to be ready.” Most men will take this as vanity. It isn’t. Men often prefer the candid shots, photos that capture the moment as it was. Women, on the other hand, do not, under any circumstances, wish to have moments captured as they were. We want them to reflect our beauty and charm and poise. And yes, this takes a minute to create. For example, no woman wants to be photographed while eating. Even if she is eating a salad. Men, please make a note of this. If a woman is eating a salad, that’s all well and good, and it could be used as proof that she is trying to be weight-conscious, which is always a plus, but it could just as easily result in spinach stuck in her teeth, or salad dressing oozing from the side of her mouth. And few women wish to be photographed while laughing heartily. This produces a contorted face that is never flattering. Do I look like that when I laugh? Jeez. From now on, I’m never laughing at ANYthing. I don’t care how funny it is. Get away from me with that camera or you’ll be walking “funny”. Also, if possible, do not photograph women sitting down. Sitting down produces that famous belly roll, or middle-aged spread. If you must take a picture of a seated woman, make sure there is a table or a desk or a half-ton boulder in front of her, or at the very least, another person. Oh, and never, and I repeat NEVER, from below. The first time I saw a photo of me taken from an angle below me I thought I would just vaporize right there on the spot. I looked like the Goodyear blimp on steroids. Not flattering.

So here we are, my friend and I, looking at photos of ourselves, not as mementos of a special occasion in which we gathered to honor our sisters, but as indications of how horrible we looked at that moment, and probably all the time. For my part, I am always comparing myself to others’ sizes. Oh, OK, I’m smaller than her. Oh wow, look at my hips! Gee, where did that bulge come from? Must be that sweater. Note to self – those grey slacks go to Goodwill as soon as I get home. They make me look like a battleship. I didn’t know my nose was that big. Is it possible to gain weight in your nose?? My friend, who used to be a model, says…oh thank God, my arms don’t look fat! I wanted to smack her. I didn’t. My restraint is remarkable these days. It must be age. Er, I mean maturity.

It is notable that neither of us even mentioned or acknowledged the actual reason why we were having our photos taken that day. And I am certain that when we show these same photos to the other women in them, they will have the same reactions. Rather than seeing the occasion, the honorable circumstances, the historical significance, they will, instead, scan the photos for evidence of cellulite, weight gain, and age-related facial manifestations. In this day of digital imaging, every line, wrinkle, hump, bump, stump, lump, and protrusion shows in acute detail, leaving little to the imagination. We may as well get used to it. The days of blurred photos are over. There we are, blemishes and all, with nothing to hide behind.

Anyone got a half-ton boulder?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Ignorance is Bliss...

Sometimes Ignoring a Problem Does Make It Go Away!

by Mr. L. Sherlock

I am not an advocate of ignoring problems. My nature is to confront them and to try to solve them, if possible. On Saturday evening, I was faced with something of a dilemma.

My wife and I went to O’Reilly’s Pub in Oakdale, NY to listen to a local band called "Funkin’ A". That pub is where the band got its start and we’ve been there many, many times. We went early to have dinner first as the show was scheduled to begin at 9:30 PM. The pub caters to all comers, and there were families and couples of all generations gathering when we arrived. The multiple TVs had everything from the Met/Yankee game to Nickelodeon on.

At about 8:30 PM, I heard the distinct sound of big Harley motorcycles pulling up outside. Something of a chill went up my spine as I was cast back some thirty years to my bar fly days. I had had some close calls involving bikers looking for, and usually finding, trouble in those days. Lo and behold, six rough and loud people enter this otherwise low key establishment. They set themselves up directly next to our table, standing at the half wall separating the eating area from the bar. So I had a ring-side seat, as it were.

The first thing I noticed after they entered was their outfits. Black jeans and shirts, of course, but it was the logos that caught my eye. One was essentially giving the world the middle finger and another was a “white supremacy” statement. Ignorance on parade is the best I could figure.

Now the make up of the regular folks at the pub was multi-ethnic and age diverse. I don’t know what these characters were expecting, but we, the crowd, did not feed into their act. Mother’s with their children walked right past them, unnoticing. People continued to watch the game or conversed with the band (also multi-ethnic) as the set up and did sound checks. Nobody paid them any mind, at least not outwardly.

I knew from past experience that these particular bikers were looking for someone to react to them. And, I knew that confronting them about their hate attire was just the trigger they were looking for. If they had started something, they were outnumbered, but they wanted someone to start with them. That would be their defense; their ‘freedom of expression’ defense. Theirs is a warped reading of the First Amendment.

Well, as I said, nobody was buying what they had to sell. They had one drink, exchanged some words with the bar tender and split. With the sound of there bikes echoing away, I hoped they would meet the same cold shoulder where ever their next stop might be.

This time I think ignoring the insecure and faulty platform of their ignorance was the right way to deal with the situation. As expected, the rest of the night was great.

PS: The Funkin' A rocked!!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Future of Food – It is a changing

by Epiphany

I sat flipping through the channels the other night, I came upon a marathon of the television program Future Food. The chefs behind it are what the show producers describe as "molecular gastronomists". Homaro Cantu and Ben Roche of the Chicago based Moto restaurant have come up with incredible ways to eat healthier, save the Earth and basically redefine how Joe Public views eating.

Save the Earth one meal at a time, you say? In one of the episodes they showed Tuesday night, our world renowned chefs used packing peanuts as the base for a full course meal, from soup to dessert. According to Food Foodies, the peanuts were “cornstarch-based nuggets that tasted like popcorn”. They were there for the launch of this extraordinary leap into the future of fighting world hunger, eliminating waste and reconstructing food as we know it. The same peanuts were also used at the beginning of the show to mail a glass vase to the restaurant. It arrived later that evening unshattered.

The next episode showed Omar and Ben acting as sensibly as mad food Scientists can. They came up with healthy replacements for junk food. A granola bar became the basis for french fries and chips for dipping and a healthy protein drink became the ketchup and so on. They then tested these wares out on the multitude of tourists visiting the Willis Tower (the tallest) in Chicago. Everyone, it seemed, was thrilled to sample healthy junk food and wanted more.

One of the interesting things about this show, besides the leap into the unknown, is that this unconventional eatery is set up to function as a lab or research facility and a restaurant which boosts a seemingly large kitchen. Most of the Moto chefs are instrumental in developing new ways to tease the palette as well as waiting tables to ensure that all patron's questions can be answered thoroughly.

I believe they are on to something big, so give them a look or if you are in the Chicago area, stop by the restaurant. I am sure they are always looking for willing guinea pigs. Hey, if they can figure how to feed people, waste less and help us live longer, I say do it - where do I sign up?

Future Food is aired on Planet Green every Tuesday night at 10:00 pm.

Here are a few links:

Chips and Salsa

Recipe by: Ben Roche and Darrell Nemeth

Junk food can be good for you, or at least thats what the chefs at Moto think! Here we have a recipe for Chips and Salsa... made out of granola bars.

BTW: Recipe from Planet Green/Discovery Channel link to Future Food
Photo: Stock Xchng

Chips & Salsa

Recipe by: Ben Roche and Darrell Nemeth


For Chips:

6 ?honey-almond granola bars?

1 tablespoon salt

4 egg whites (possibly 2 more if needed)

1 teaspoon cumin seed

1/2 a teaspoon black pepper

For salsa:

4, 10 ounce bottles of Green ?super? smoothie (which will produce about 1 cup of pulp)

1 cup water

1 small bunch cilantro ? 1 small bunch

1/2 an onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic

1 tomato

2 tablespoons salt

1 jalepeno

1 tablespoon Agar-agar


For Chips:

Freeze-dry granola bars overnight.

Combine all ingredients (granola, salt, egg whites, cumin and black pepper) in a food processor and blend to create a paste. If mixture is too thick to become a paste, add additional egg whites until it works.

Spread this mixture out on parchment paper (or non-stick silicone baking mat) in a thin layer, approximately 1/4 inch thick.

Using a wooden skewer or a dull knife, ?cut? lines into the spread batter so that after they bake, you will be able to remove them as individual chips.

Bake at 300 degrees F until browned and dry.

Allow chips to cool, remove from tray

For Salsa

Pour super smoothies into a large-format centrifuge and spin until totally separated, about 10 minutes.

Decant liquid from separated juice, reserve separately from the solid mass leftover.

Combine solid leftover mass from centrifuge with all other ingredients (water, cilantro, onion, tomato, garlic, salt, jalepeno and agar-agar) in a blender and blend for 2 minutes.

Pour into a pot, bring to a boil, stirring and scraping bottom of pot periodically.

Allow to simmer for approximately 2 minutes, pour out into a shallow container and chill either over an ice bath or in the refrigerator.

Once chilled and firm, stir and break up with a fork.

Serve with chips

Planet Green Editor's Note: for the purposes of the Future Food show, this recipe involved us using a centrifuge and a freeze-dryer to produce it. You could make the chips similarly by blending various whole grains with salt, pepper, spices and egg whites, then flattening this mixture out, cutting into triangles and baking until browned

Friday, May 14, 2010

Toy Cam = Fun Day

Tread Lightly


No Matches

Grand Opening - Again

Pre-K Pediatrics

Park Art

Proof of UFOs

Color Me Bright

Monday, May 10, 2010

Brown and Black

Ambrosia by Kirby 90210

A few days ago my very inquisitive 4 year old daughter got me to thinking. She has always had a problem distinguishing the color Black from Brown. I thought she was over it until last Wednesday when she colored all the animals in her homework black even though I told her they should be colored brown. I got nervous. I thought she was regressing. At first I said to her, “You’re supposed to color the bears brown honey, not black”. I pointed to the black smudges she made on the homework and asked, “What color is this?” She answered, “Brown”. “No honey, it’s black. You’re supposed to color it brown.” She looked at me quiet and confused. If you know my child, she is never quiet and hardly ever confused. What could be the problem? Then I had an Epiphany!

I touched her bare arm and asked, “What color is your arm?” Quickly she said, “Black”.
“Honey”, I said to my daughter, “Your arm is not the color black, it is brown.” “But my teacher says I am black.” She refuted. I knew it! She’s already getting confused with our society’s efforts to force feed us muddled jargon as they try to place human beings in different class structures according to our appearances. As adults we accept that mass confusion but in reality, children are the best authority on the matter of distinction. If it doesn’t make sense to a child, then it should be done away with.

I really didn’t know what to say in response to her but without thinking, a few words did spill out of my mouth. “Well the next time your teacher or anyone else calls you black, tell them that you are brown.” I was surprised by what I said to her. I too accepted that I was black but really and truly, it doesn’t make sense to be called a color that I am clearly not. And why should human beings be distinguished by colors? Are we so rudimentary that we have to use colors to define us? Are we not much more than that? All Smurfs are blue but is that all that they are? There is Brainy Smurf, Handy Smurf, Papa Smurf and Smurfette to name a few. Mere fictional cartoon characters that are all clearly the color blue or is it periwinkle or cobalt? Anyway, Smurfs are not even simply defined by their color. Why should we be? Are we not more than this simple grid above?

The fact that now I am taking a stand to not be called a color, does that make me less “black”, African, African-American, Caribbean-American? Now I understand why my daughter always refers to her Asian friend, April as white. She is already being trained to classify each person by skin color. I would always say to her, “No honey, April is Chinese.” “But she’s white mommy.” Should I now tell her that her friend April is yellow? Of course not. How cave mannish would that be!

Maybe one day human kind will adjust their eyes to see beyond the exterior and put more emphasis on the deeper more important things such as an individual’s heart condition. But until that day comes, I will be teaching my daughter that Black is Black and Brown is Brown.  What do you think?