23 06 2017

18 June 2017

Ori Beth Uncle Larry

My 92 year-old Uncle Larry has passed away — it is sad, the end of an era, but he went peacefully. Their home was always open for me, my second home. Uncle Larry was a voice of reason, an understanding listener, an engaging story-teller, and a goofball.

We won’t have any new Uncle Larry memories, but his stories will live on.  Who can forget how he’d get lost on the way back from the bathroom or empty the dishwasher in the middle of the night, or goad Auntie Ruthie just to get a rise out of her (and she did rise to the occasion)?

Uncle Larry checks Ori feet 05.02.14Who could forget when he split his pants in the middle to Plant Street, as he rushed around gathering receipts from Youth Colony that he’d left on the top of the car when he drove off? Or when he had words of wisdom, looking at Ori’s newborn feet or always asked for Ori when I’d come to visit alone?

Who could forget when he drove so close to the telephone pole on Pequot Avenue that I had to pull in my right arm resting on the window and jerk the steering wheel towards the center of the road? Or when Kay stopped college for awhile and he said, “Well, there’s no point in going if she doesn’t want to,” without judgement or criticism.  Or when you’d hear that certain tone of voice, “Lah” from Aunt Rivie and you knew he was in trouble and his eyebrows would rise and his bottom lip would push forward and he had a special twinkle in his eye. When she called him “Lawrence,” we knew he was really in trouble.

SAMSUNGAfter Aunt Rivie died, Uncle Larry was well cared for by our families and friends. He was able to enjoy many aspects of life including time in his home, events with family, and trips to the beach.

We will miss the new memories, we will cherish the old ones. We all loved Uncle Larry and he loved all of us. He made us laugh and feel good about ourselves.

Larry Rivie BethWe know that Aunt Rivie and Uncle Larry are now cruising around again together, and they aren’t worrying about a crackdown!

And what does this mean to me? I inch closer to being an Elder, a role I feel incompetent to take. More places remind me of the past, than the present or future. But we have three new babies coming in the family, a poignant reminder that life is a cycle and goes on. That I can grab with gusto. Life is for the living.


History as a Guide

19 06 2017

9 June 2017

Snyder and organizersTimothy Snyder gives an engaging lecture, full of well-worded descriptions and definitions that make instantaneous sense. His recent presentation, attended by more than 200 in the shoreline town of Guilford, was eye-opening, thought provoking, inspiring, and terrifying.

Snyder, the Levin Professor of History at Yale University, has immersed himself in the culture, history, language, and stories of Eastern Europe and Russia for the past few decades. His specialty is studying the twentieth century and the related rise of Hitler, fascism, and communism, with efforts to understand how history has happened, what can be learned from it, and ways to move forward. He recently published a small book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, as a resource.  A strong proponent of democracy and continuation of our United States republic, Snyder donated his speaking fee to the Holocaust Museum, which added to the sense that he walks his talk.

Snyder audienceDuring his lecture, he differentiated between a patriot and nationalist. Reading from one of his book lessons, Be a patriot: “A patriot…wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves…..A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing it well—and wishing that it would do better.” On the other hand, “A nationalist ‘brood[s] on power, victory, defeat, revenge’ …[and] encourages us to be our worst, and then tell us that we are the best.”

Snyder also spoke eloquently about the danger of asking for loyalty over using the rule of law. All US officials swear to uphold the Constitution, which means no individual has the power to be above the law of the land and laws apply equally to everyone. His bias against Donald Trump was obvious, and his audience was supportive, but his points are relevant, regardless of one’s political persuasion.

Snyder booksOne of Snyder’s lessons is Make eye contact and small talk. Keep connected to others in the community, especially those who are under attack. During Hitler’s time, a turning point occurred when citizens would cross the street to avoid their Jewish neighbors. We need to recognize each other’s humanity and right to exist, regardless of our different opinions. That’s what has made this country so amazing: freedom of speech and pursuit of happiness, people with many views living here in relative freedom and peace. Snyder believes these points are currently under threat and that those of us who cherish these values can take action, make steps, and keep the United States a democratic republic “with liberty and justice for all.”

Almost Related

13 06 2017

harvesting_stones_flyer_09161611 June 11, 2017

Back in November 2016, I went to see Harvesting Stones, a documentary highlighting Jewish farmers in eastern Connecticut. I was fascinated by the stories told, particularly because my father’s grandparents had tried farming in that area from 1896 to 1913, part of the period described. In fact, my father’s parents met on The Farm, my grandmother’s sister told stories about picking bugs off bean plants and pulling rocks on The Farm, and my grandmother’s brother (for whom I am named) was born on The Farm. It was almost a living entity in our family.

After his presentation, I introduced myself to the documentary’s producer, Jerry Fischer. “Are you Milt Lapin’s daughter?” he asked. When I affirmed I was, he broke into a smile, saying, “I loved your father!”

“I did, too,” I laughed and then told him about The Farm.

Chesterfield NEFES“You should join the Descendants of the New England Hebrew Farmers of the Emanuel Society (NEHFES),” he said. I didn’t think my great-grandparents had been part of the society, but Jerry assured me it didn’t matter. Over the winter, I researched our family’s history and discovered deeds for The Farm, including mortgages to Baron von Hirsch, typical of NEHFES members. I was in!

Chesterfield attendeesWhich brings me to the present. On June 11, I attended a celebration of NEHFES’s 125th anniversary, held at the site of the former synagogue, mikvah (ritual bath), and creamery. The program was rich with information: Nancy Savin, president, welcomed everyone and read a letter from State Senator Richard Blumenthal. Rabbi Marc Ekstrand gave an invocation, followed by commentary from previous (Mary Donohue) and current (Catherine Labadia) staff from Connecticut State Historic Preservation Office. Montville’s historian Jon Chase (who had assisted with pinpointing my family’s farm’s location) provided the historical development of religious groups in the area.

Cheserfield NickNick Bellantoni, former state archaeologist, described student excavations, while Dr. Miller, from UCONN, talked about some of the unique features of the site.

Chesterfield Jerry

Jerry Fischer completed the program by reminding us that these ancestors had been immigrants and refugees who had been welcomed in this land, and allowed to live according to Jewish law. He urged that that must continue in this country in welcoming refugees and allowing practice of their religious law.

Chesterfield mikvah

Ritual bath

I learned a lot from these presentations and met a dozen or so descendants, some of whom knew some of my family. But I continue to wonder if I really belong in the group. My great-grandparents were not listed in any of the Society’s documents (minutes and membership lists). There’s no one in my family to ask if they were outcasts or just non-joiners or who knows. My guess is that I’m not a true descendant but maybe I’m mishpachah, a Yiddish term for a network of relatives by blood or marriage (and sometimes close friends). I’ll take it!

Windsor Locks Canal Trail and East Windsor Friendly’s

5 06 2017

May 24, 2017

Windsor Locks Canal viewThe weather isn’t great, but it is better than we’d been having, so Cherry and I set off for the Windsor Locks Canal Trail which runs parallel to the Canal and Connecticut River. We park at the abandoned factory and walk north along the canal, built in the 1800s to bypass Enfield Rapids. The initial section is fairly industrial but we have lots to share, so the surroundings don’t matter as much.

Cherry’s been busy with family and projects. All good stuff, some a little stressful, but overall, she’s got a good balance. She says that she and her stepmother spent Mother’s Day at Pond House in Elizabeth Gardens, which was lovely, for example. She stops to tie her boot, an expected ritual on our hikes.

Windsor Locks Canal goose familyAs we continue northerly, we enjoy seeing several families of geese, signs of beaver, and lovely views of the Connecticut River. We pass several walkers and bicyclists, including one woman training a Shephard for K-9 work.   We go about two miles, to the Stony Brook Aquaduct, where we sit for a few minutes on a strategically placed bench. Someone had written lyrics (Van Morrison’s Moonsdance, Blue Jean Blues, Little Feat) on the bridge pillars. By then, the sun is peaking out and we head back to the car.

Windsor Locks Canal lockI talk about trying to find my balance, now that many things in my life are stable. I’ve taught an ecotherapy class at UCONN that went well, I’m winding down at the Middletown Arts Office, and want to start putting my usual activities back into my life. Some interesting whispers have come my way, and I am interested to see what develops from any of them.

And before we realize, we are back at the car. It’s a short ride to the East Windsor Friendly’s, where we hit the jackpot when it came to our waitress, Anna.  She was genuinely pleasant, telling us she’d rather be at work than home where she’d either be spending too much money or eating too much. We ordered a fishamajig (boy, adding those calories on the menu really gets us thinking) and a Philly cheesesteak sandwich, of course leaving room for our sundae.

East Windsor Friendlys

“Can I offer you the senior discount if you ladies are old enough?” asked Anna. She won Cherry’s heart for sure! Toward the end of our visit, Cherry told her about our Hiking to Friendly’s quest. Anna asked where we’d hiked and it turns out she walks the canal trail every day. Noticing my turtle necklace, she asked if we’d seen any wildlife and we compared notes.

They were out of their special sundae, so we had forbidden chocolate with hot fudge. Cherry kept licking her spoon. “I don’t want it to end,” she laughed. As we walked/waddled to the car, we both agreed that this Friendly’s experience was one of the best.

Nature and Art Converge

22 05 2017

IMG_2748Nestled in the woods in eastern Connecticut lies a unique, eclectic, edgy – I don’t know what – artist colony, center, living installation? Located on about 450 acres adjacent to a state park, I-Park is an anomaly, a creative endeavor, a unique way of looking at landscape, nature, and its intersection with art. Brain child of co-founders Joanne Paradis (now Executive Director) and Ralph Crispino, it provides a safe haven for creativity to prosper.

With various studios scattered over the main blueprint of the property, this international artist-in-residency program is far from the madding crowd and provides a place of peace and restorative energy. Since 2001, more than 800 artists have created visual, auditory, and textual pieces both inside and on the landscape.

Recently, a ribbon cutting ceremony opened new studio space, and simultaneously welcomed twelve 2017 site responsive artists-in-residence from wide ranging locations (USA, China, Sweden, Japan, and the Netherlands). They will be provided with bird walks, history talks, and other presentations to provide a sense of their location, to be integrated into their work while on site.

IMG_2764Ceremony attendees were treated to a vocal performance by Raymond C. White, who sang O Sole Mio and other works in a bellowing voice as he was transported across a beautiful pond on a floating platform by its constructor Ted Efremoff.  The sun set behind them as they docked what was called the “Floating Living Room.” Minds that think of terms like that follow different neuron pathways than the common brain. Where do they get these ideas? The novelty, creativity, and uniqueness of their thoughts and visions manifest themselves across the I-Park landscape which provides the environment to “nurture artists and the creative process.”

Consume Mindfully

19 05 2017

Cow in india in road.Many religious groups have prohibitions about food and drink consumption. For example, certain Christian groups (Pentecostal, Baptist, Methodist, and Mormon), Buddhist, and Muslims are restricted from drinking alcoholic beverages. Jews and Muslims don’t eat pork, while Jews additionally avoid shellfish and other bottom dwellers. Seventh Day Adventists, Buddhists, and other Indian groups refrain from eating animals completely.

Perhaps the main point of these religious restrictions is that consumption should be a thoughtful process, not to be taken for granted. Blessings before and/or after eating and drinking are common religious practices, emphasizing the importance of acknowledging our awareness and attention to what we are doing.

Original Title: Stop Smoking_3.jpgWe know that what we put into our bodies impacts our health, with clear examples such as cigarettes and some less obvious ones (artificial sweeteners, sugar, MSG, and so on). Exponential increases in diabetes and obesity highlight the importance of what we ingest.

Additionally, consumption choices can impact the world around us. In our First World way, we dedicate significant acreage for grazing instead of using it to grow food directly. And many of our products require large amounts of water; it takes 2,000 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef, for example. Both water and land are becoming limited commodities and yet we are often unaware of that and how we impact them.

no tvJust as important as physical consumption is emotional exposure to healthy information and entertainment. When we allow ourselves to read or listen to certain news shows or violent material, our visceral responses cause hormonal reactions in our bodies. Our anxiety or fear rises. Instead we can choose what we read, watch, and use as “entertainment” and skip the adrenalin and cortisol rush. In addition, we can increase our exposure to trees, which produce a substance that actually improves our immune response. Our leisure time choices make a difference.

Likewise, we often find that certain relationships can be toxic. We can respectfully and thoughtfully wean ourselves of excessive exposure to these. It may require changes in jobs or friends (or even family), but it is worth our mental health to do so.

Consumption is multifaceted when looked at in this way. Being mindful of all that we bring into our environment, and how we impact the space around us by our choices is a broader way of thinking about what we ingest.

Listen Deeply, Speak Truthfully

12 05 2017

ramos-spring-201512 MAY 2017

We rarely listen to other people. Mostly we wait impatiently to reply without truly hearing what the other person has said. We use our discussion as a platform to voice our ideas and beliefs. Is this because we have so few opportunities to speak, so we jump at any opportunity? Or are we so self-absorbed that we really believe our words are so much more important than our associate’s? Are we afraid of silence in a conversation, the possibility of appearing less intelligent and having nothing to say? A combination of these, or none of the above? Regardless of the reason, I believe many of us have experienced feeling unheard or misunderstood, perhaps even invisible in a conversation.

Clearly, we can’t change our speaking partner, but we do have control over our part in the conversation. We can put aside our own stories and ideas to truly pay attention to the other. As we listen, we may be surprised to discover that the person is sharing something deeply meaningful. Perhaps it is not initially apparent, but if we can be empathetic and imagine being in the other person’s situation, we may find access to understanding at a deeper level. We can check in with the speaker, testing our ideas with open questions: how did you feel when that happened? What did you really wish someone had said? This is deep listening, hearing the other person, being present, without an agenda, judgment or preconceived ideas about the outcome of a conversation. It’s an effort to develop intimacy, a deep connection, with our speaking partner.

When we are successful in listening deeply, we find that all the clamoring voices in our head are quiet. It is at that point that we sometimes hear a message from our inner stillness that is relevant to our speaking partner and is important to share. This is not about appearing smart or wise or knowledgeable. It’s not an opportunity to tell the other something intended to hurt (even if it’s “true”). It’s allowing some inner wisdom to flow through you, using you as a vessel. It is then that useful words will arise. These words will be the truth relevant at that time.

hands-on-typewriter-1-1In fact, as I write this, I am trying to do exactly that. I am letting my fingers type my thoughts with the desire that something from my inner voice will come through and share itself with you. I dare hope that what I write will resonate with you, and there will be a small moment of “yes.”

Most religious doctrines include a prohibition about lying or perjury. The interpretation here takes the concept of being truthful to a different and deeper level. Being honest in itself is often difficult, but listening deeply and speaking truthfully takes even more focus and commitment. But I believe it’s a skill worth the time and effort, and the practice, to integrate into our lives.