Archive for November, 2015

It’s been a whirlwind week. On Thursday, we cooked up a storm of scrumptious sides for Thanksgiving in Richmond. On Friday, the Great Grandparents boarded their Amtrak chariot and arrived home safely; for the first time ever, because of a Bar Mitzvah, Ada stayed with us more than three days! This had always been the rule when visiting us in MA, she would stay no more than three days, and I’m happy she broke it.

Later we managed to stop at friend’s farm so the Grandbabies could see her miniature horses. Then off we drove to Culpeper for a double duty day of two sets of Grandparents. The Groom’s parents and his brother and sister live in Northern VA, so a meeting for brunch midway between Cville and our nation’s Capital was on the docket. It was wonderful to spend time with Grandma Shavaun and Grandpa Mike, and fantastic to see the love for these miniature miracles spread around town.

Against my better judgement, I even slipped into a small toy store while walking around town. Christmas spirit was evident in Master Card swipes and helpful elves.

But when we got home, ahead of the Bride’s family, I heard the news about another shooting in Colorado. About Planned Parenthood. It was the same newscasters, the same nouns, the same verbs, the same phrases were used to describe an unbearable and all too common event in our culture.


Come one, come all and gather round your TV to watch the event unfold – like a modern day scene from a Civil War battle with people picnicking on a hillside overlooking the battle. And I just couldn’t. I can no longer listen to the slaughter or onslaught of talking heads trying to find rhyme and reason. I’ve said it before, it’s the guns. Period. And I fear our homegrown/nutjob/terrorists much more than a refugee with a different religion.

Today is a free day. There will be no more news on any device. We will visit with old friends and play with Grandbabies. No more cooking. We will dine at a kid-friendly place tonight. And later, when it’s time for bed, I will try and explain to my Love Bug that monsters are just pretend. That the noises she hears are just our house creaking and pipes carrying water. Or maybe there’s a fox in the woods? I will fib when I tell her that the gunshots we hear from hunters in the valley are just cars backfiring.

I could not bear to tell her the truth. We have accepted active shooter drills in our schools, what is next?    IMG_3548.jpg


Read Full Post »

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I wake Bob and we list the things we are grateful for – sometimes, the list is short. But in the full light of day, before we gather at a friend’s table for Thanksgiving with Ada, Hudson and the Bride’s family, I thought I’d do my Norman Rockwellian best to write a current gratitude primer.

I am grateful for the sun bathing the mountains this morning.

I am grateful for the deer stomping his greeting to me.

I am grateful for Ms Bean and her willingness to cuddle.

I am grateful for a fireplace that lights up at the push of a button.

I am grateful for my sanctuary, the aviary.

I am grateful for my First World problems in our free country.

I am grateful for my family, all over the world, and all our quirks.

We were all once strangers in a strange land. And I am grateful to you my readers, who sometimes comment, email, text or tell me that what I write resonates.  Thank You!


Read Full Post »

“He was destined for greatness.” A long lost cousin of Bob’s caught me after breakfast. It’s been fifty years since they’d seen each other. I beamed back at him, coffee in hand and said, “Sometimes you just know.” 

We’re catching up with relatives in the Confederate Capital for Zachary’s Bar Mitzvah. His blonde curls are gone and he’s standing on the precipice of adulthood. An only child, he seems older than his years, but he still hugs me and that makes me happy. Like the Rocker, he’s not afraid of a little PDA. 

I think back to when I first met Bob. We were only one year older than Zach, we met on the sidewalk outside my house on Orchard Street. Marjorie Minor introduced us, and I recall she thought he was pretty special too.  I wonder where she is now. 

The Rabbi spoke last night about our perilous times. He reminded us that we, the Jewish people, had been forced to flee our homes throughout history. And then, maybe because this is the part of the Torah to read this week, he talked about Jacob’s dream. 

Jacob made a pillow out of stones and fell asleep on the road between Beersheba and Haran while he was searching for a wife. Here he dreamed of angels ascending and descending a ladder into heaven. At the top of the ladder stood God. 

And Jacob was told that this was a holy place. But not just this spot, which he named BethEl, but everywhere he and his children traveled- “Thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth,” spreading north, south, east and west. 

The Rabbi told us not to fear refugees seeking safety among us. We are all walking amidst angels on this earth. A stairway to heaven is right around the next corner, if only we could see it.  

I recently hung a series of woodcut Angels the Bride’s art teacher gave me over many years as Christmas presents. The Angels are always surrounded by swans. Subconsciously thinking of Jacob, they now hang on my stairway.    


Read Full Post »

What do you do to mourn? In the past, I’ve been known to bake a cake, a carrot cake. I also bake this cake to celebrate, so it’s an equal opportunity toasted coconut frosted masterpiece, if i do say so myself. I was taught early on by Ada, never send flowers, always bring food to the bereaved. I remember when Bob’s brother Dickie died, we called it the “never-ending fruit salad” since we received so many fruit baskets.

But after suffering through three miscarriages in one year, I felt compelled to de-clutter my life. If my own body wouldn’t cooperate, well then at least I could control something. I’m sure this has a psychological term, but I didn’t ask Dr Jim. I stripped away dead leaves on indoor plants, I scoured kitchen drawers for duplicate utensils. Normally housework wouldn’t interest me, but I became a regular housfrau.

Lately, I’ve been prone to prune more than plants. After downsizing to our Blue Ridge home, we had left some things undone. Beginning with Bob’s surgery I felt the need to pair down our possessions. To actually open those boxes in the basement that made it through two moves without being opened. Before the Paris massacre, we began to tackle our cluttered “unfinished” basement; this weekend we finished it.

We found some amazing things. Academic awards from the Rocker’s school days. The fairy tale I wrote for the Bride’s sorority.

Once upon a time, an ex-hippie ER doc married a feminist writer, a New Englander at heart, and a princess was born on Windsor Mountain. The baby had eyes as black as coal and skin as white as alabaster. A spring fed pond was the setting for her first foray into the wild…

I found the portfolios of both my adult children. The ancient ice-packing-sling-thing  Bob used after his shoulder surgery years ago showed up amid gear Bob used to keep in his plane’s hanger. The Piper Arrow that is missing his touch. The basement was functioning as a garage/archive of our life, but it was drowning in stuff!

Now we can breathe a little easier. This weekend our cousin in Richmond will be called to the Torah as a Bar Mitzvah. I will remember to be thankful we live in a country where police do not guard the doors of every synagogue. I remember when the Bride tried to enter a Temple in Paris for the High Holidays 15 years ago, and she was surrounded by police, they questioned her to see if she was really Jewish. She was tall and blonde, ‘she didn’t “look” Jewish.

They made her recite a prayer in Hebrew.

Is this what we must do with every Syrian refugee, interrogate every single one? Shall we make them wear a sign pinned to their sleeve that tells us who they are?

Jess Bob Tour Eiffel 20151117




Read Full Post »

The City of Light

I have been to Paris three times in my life. On one trip, we rented a car and drove out into the countryside. It was like the movie, Two for the Road, we were free and open to adventure. No plans, no tourists, just Bob driving and me, trying to read an actual French map. We stayed at a small farm in Normandy. We tried talking with our hosts in their language, since they didn’t speak English, and with a little sign language we did just fine. In the City of Light, if we tried to speak French, Parisians were happy with our effort we could tell, but they would kindly switch to English.

On our last trip to Paris, we were visiting the Bride who was studying there for her Junior year of college. She and her BFF were staying in the atelier of a family’s home in the 16th Arrondisement. We could see the beautiful rooflines through her window under the eaves. We accompanied her to the studio where she was studying art. She took us to her favorite restaurants. Her host family welcomed us with champagne in their beautiful front parlor; a room with long windows filled with the kind of light Monet wanted to capture.

Today the civilized world is in mourning after last night’s horrific attacks in Paris. Young people going out to a rock concert, cheering on their soccer team in a stadium. I wondered if the Rocker had played at that venue, I worried for all the parents of students studying abroad. I thought of our exchange student, Stephanie, now a lawyer with three children. I sent a message to the friend of my niece, who opened her Paris home for shelter.

But most of all, I cried for the people of France, because these radical Muslim extremists have brought their insanity to the most beautiful city in the world for the second time this year.

I am sick and tired of talk. And I know we should not blame a whole religion, yet there is a sect, a radical piece of Islam that is using social media to recruit disaffected young men to their jihadist cause. It is a pernicious web, an internet spider capable of creating suicide bombers on every continent. We need to do something more to stop this, and more importantly, peaceful, moderate Muslims need to come together with the West and end their murderous crusade.

Last night I relived the time I waited to hear from the Bride on 9/11. The day she walked back to her apartment in Adams Morgan from her first job in a government building in Washington, DC. The day we Americans awoke to a new kind of warfare.

And here we are in the year 2000, before this nightmare began, on a Bateaux Mouche cruising down the Seine. I have no use for prayers. Paris, I am sending you my love. We Americans stand with France.   IMG_3490

Read Full Post »

Hold the applause and pass the champagne for our little coterie of writers in Cville. This past weekend I attended another writing workshop on Memoir at The Writer House. Our fearless leader, Sharon Harrigan, helped us dig into our past, crystalize our vision and discover a theme that might shape the story of a life. This town is a veritable estuary of literary types, it seems I have found my people!

Although I’m not crazy enough to think my life story gives me the right to run for President, for instance, I wondered if it’s worthy of a book, I thought that delving into my past could help me structure the fictional story I’ve been working on for years based on the life of my Flapper. You see, I didn’t really get to know my biological Mother until I moved in with her at the age of 12, and I never knew my birth Father. He died of a brain tumor when I was seven months old.

I could write a scene about the automobile accident three months later, on July Fourth weekend in 1949, our family’s Year of Living Dangerously, only through the eyes of my sister Kay. It might start like this scene in a drugstore in Scranton, PA:

Robert P. Norman’s name was emblazoned on the door and he was always happy to see us. I’m the oldest, and only girl at home, so I’m the sugar in his coffee. Only lately, Daddy was having trouble moving his left arm, and sometimes he had headaches, headaches that sent him stumbling towards his office in the back. I was heading there to see if he needed me when I heard my name.

She was fourteen at the time and is currently my living archive. She helped our Father pound chemicals into pills in the back of his pharmacy. After the accident, she was in a coma for a month. She had to care for me that summer and her brothers, and eventually the Flapper when she was discharged from the hospital, her dancer’s legs broken in so many places she would never walk normally again.

But first I had to get to know myself better. Sharon had us make a list of our quirks, which was a fun exercise and kept me busy jotting down things like:

  • “I need to keep my hair short, or I’ll twirl it all the time;”
  • “Small talk is painful, but I’m told I’m good at it;”
  • “Sleep will sometimes elude me for no particular reason;”
  • “I stop for stray dogs.”

I was getting discouraged, my quirks didn’t seem quirky enough. Then someone said we should ask a friend or family member to list our quirks. Genius!

“You have to load the dishwasher a certain way,” Bob said. Now that is true, and it did show up at the end of my list. I’ve even been known to return to a dishwasher only to reload it, if someone else was kind enough to “help” with the dishes.

I’m also pretty particular about hanging clothes out on a line. One of my very first memories is of getting stung by a bee under clouds of crisp white sheets floating above me on a clothesline.

And I love to dance. The Flapper signed me up for ballet at Phil Grassia’s studio in NJ. I chased a dream in high school and commuted to Martha Graham School in NYC to study modern dance. I continued to study all types of dance under Bill Bales at SUNY College at Purchase.

And when Bob, who never liked to dance, wouldn’t take me to our Junior Prom at sixteen, I asked our good friend Bernie. Because I was that girl who had two Mothers and was never afraid to ask for what I wanted. I guess that was pretty quirky in 1965.   Junior Prom 20151111

Read Full Post »

“What’s that term honey, the one you use when somebody tries to sue a doctor for no good reason and it gets thrown out of court?”

I was reading a local news article about a woman in the next county who was suing her ObGyn doctor for “coercing and threatening” her if she didn’t deliver her baby by Csection. The Mother had diabetes, and for one reason or another her doctor actually had her sign the consent form five years ago, and now she’s crying foul. Bad doctor, oh and BTW good baby and mommy were just fine after the surgery, so I wasn’t quite sure what this was all about, besides the 2 Million dollars.

“Frivolous, are you talking about a frivolous law suit?” Bob said. Indeed I was.

I usually never jump into the fray of a public forum, since I neither have the time or the energy to fight with true believers. But I was home sick, teetering on the edge of adding a snarky comment to the long list of online comments either praising said doctor or lambasting our entire health system by internet thugs who use pseudonyms for names so they can’t be traced. The lurid underbelly of social media, trolls living under an online bridge of anonymity. I wrote, I deleted,, I worried. Finally, I said:

“We live in litigious times. Certainly we deliver more babies by Csection than any other country in the world, but at the end of the day I believe most docs are recommending what is best for their patient.”

I only hooked one smirky, smiley comment.

“So American women just generally need Csections more than the rest of the population?”

I smiled. Should I tell her about Brazil? But before I had time to pick up the bait, the news posted that the jury had decided in the doctors favor, Not Guilty, after 20 minutes of deliberation. My faith in our justice system was temporarily restored as I put fingers to keyboard:

No we need to train American Doctors differently, transfer well patients to nurse midwives, and institute a board of docs and citizens to review lawsuits and throw out frivolous ones like they do in MA

Ps, my daughter was breech and a section was MY decision – as much as I wanted a natural birth, I didn’t want to risk the health of my baby

This lawsuit disturbed me because it assumed the woman could be coerced, was not in her right mind because she was in labor or something and all of MY feminist peeps, the type of women who believe we have the right to make our our own decisions about our own bodies were lining up behind her defense. Like HE MADE HER DO IT…She was of sound mind and maybe her body was trying to expel an alien at the time, still she could have put on the brakes and said, “NO, WAIT, I want another opinion.”

Childbirth is messy, it is a risk/benefit analysis. Some women go through days of labor only to have an emergency section to save their child, or even their own life. This was the Bride’s biggest nightmare last year, she was determined to have her baby boy VBAC, and she knew everything that could go wrong. My husband has seen women come into his hospital’s ER with a dead baby from a homebirth with a midwife who didn’t transfer them fast enough.

When you hire a dola, a midwife, or a doctor to assist you in delivering your child, you are entering into a sacred trust. When we won the right to vote in the early 20th Century, when science gave us birth control in the later part of that century, we women willingly gave up our status as arm candy and fertility goddess. We got tired standing up there on that pedestal for so long, all those corsets binding us into place. And now we have a woman in a pantsuit running for President. We should never be willing to be coerced or threatened by a man, boyfriend, husband, doctor, or lawyer ever again.

And the mom/plaintiff reduced her amount from 2M to $200,000 yesterday afternoon before having her case dismissed. Ask me again why our health system is so crazy. http://www.nbc29.com/story/30455784/update-augusta-co-jury-rules-in-favor-of-doctor-in-c-section-case

Here is our friendly little ghost, delivered by section three years ago because she was breech, just like her Mama!


Read Full Post »

I’ve been thinking about my foster mother lately, Nelly Bly. She was born in Scranton, PA, the only girl out of 18 boys! Yes youngsters, before the Duggers, poor women had large families simply because birth control was unheard of, and/or you happened to be Catholic. Nell’s parents had immigrated from Czechoslovakia, and I distinctly remember her crying when we watched Russian tanks roll into her ancestral home in 1968.

The Warsaw Pact invasion of August 20–21 caught Czechoslovakia and much of the Western world by surprise. In anticipation of the invasion, the Soviet Union had moved troops from the Soviet Union, along with limited numbers of troops from Hungary, Poland, East Germany and Bulgaria into place by announcing Warsaw Pact military exercises. When these forces did invade, they swiftly took control of Prague, other major cities, and communication and transportation links. Given the escalating U.S. involvement in the conflict in Vietnam as well as past U.S. pronouncements on non-intervention in the East Bloc, the Soviets guessed correctly that the United States would condemn the invasion but refrain from intervening.                                            https://history.state.gov/milestones/1961-1968/soviet-invasion-czechoslavkia

Like the Ukraine today, the Czech and Slovak people were leaning toward the West, instituting reform and banning censorship. Communist Russia put her big bear fist down and that was that. I wonder what Nell would have thought of the Velvet Revolution, when Czechoslovakia peacefully split into two states for purely political motives on Jan 1, 1993? She died when I was pregnant with the Bride, and we still thought a poet might be elected President.

Nell was a proud Slovak, but she didn’t like to cook. For special occasions however, she would prepare Halupkis ( pronounced ha-LOOP-keys). This is a mouth watering stuffed cabbage, simmered for hours on a big bed of sauerkraut. Nell’s father used to make his own sauerkraut in the basement in barrels, but she was happy to buy it pre-packaged. I like to imagine her as a child, picking a cabbage out of their garden, helping her mother grind the meat in the kitchen, and tenderly folding the leaves around the rice and meat mixture.

Maybe because she had so much responsibility in the kitchen, as the only girl in her family full of brothers, she loved modern day conveniences – or should I say “mid-century modern?” One of my favorite dinner nights was “Chinese.” I think it was La Choy, but in the ’50s you could find a box in the grocery store with everything you would need to make dinner. The original Hamburger Helper, only you didn’t need to cook anything, just warm it up!

I translated that to “Taco Night” in our house. I’d add the packet of Mexican seasonings to ground turkey, stand up the hard Old El Paso tacos and let the kids pile whatever they wanted on top, which usually meant lots of cheese. It’s almost wistfully tender to think back about the days when we didn’t need to know where our food came from, so long as it showed up on our table.

And today I admit, I will occasionally cave and whip up an organic Annie’s Mac and Cheese for the Love Bug. Am I willing to order one of those Blue Apron type dinners that would be delivered to me in the mail, with instructions on how to prepare all the fresh ingredients? NO.

Because grocery shopping is my God-given right. I want to smell and feel the fruit, and know when the salmon was delivered. But I understand that working women, and men, are still looking for time-saving ways to serve a meal to their family, even if it’s not two dozen people at the dinner table.

Maybe I’m thinking of my Mother because next year, Bob and I are planning to visit Prague. But today I’m heading to the ballot box in VA because I do believe in birth control and I don’t believe in censorship. And I want guns out of the hands of abusers, and the mentally ill. And I have to think that Nelly Bly would agree.

This is my cauliflower au gratin – made with sweetened condensed milk and goat cheese. Nell put canned milk in her coffee, so I always have it on hand!IMG_3401

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: