As I write this, I am watching the academy awards. No, my biggest fashion blunder thankfully wasn’t televised, nor was it as bad as Bjork’s Swan dress from 2001. But, in a time when one should try to act as cool as possible – the first day of high school – I truly missed the mark.
My 25th high school reunion is coming up. Now, I don’t remember what I wore my very last day as a high school student, but I sure remember what I wore the first day.
No, the picture below is not actually my legs. Thankfully, I dont think there is a photograph to document my first day of Freshman year of high school.
My mom had just started a subscription of Seventeen Magazine for me. The preppy look was totally “in” for the fall, according to Seventeen’s big, thick back-to-school August issue. Maybe if you went to a prep school in New Hampshire, but back in Staten Island, not so much.
So there I was, high school freshman, which is cause enough to get egged or suffer a head full of shaving cream the first day of high school. But no, I had to draw further attention to myself with khaki knickers, argyle socks and penny loafers.
I just got it all wrong.
As I write this, the curse of the Philadelphia International Airport has struck my family once again. I last saw my husband through half-asleep eyes as he kissed me goodbye at 4 a.m. last Sunday. A conference out in California was taking him away during our February “vacation.” My vacation home with the three children. He is now stuck in Philadelphia. I’ve shoveled nine inches of snow off our driveway. I really don’t know when he will be home.
I am sure that the curse of delayed or canceled flights due to the weather is not reserved just for those in the Philadelphia airport. No, with this winter, and this winter vacation coming to a close at the same time another snowstorm rattles our air traffic patterns, our story is not unique.
So this blog post is dedicated to all of you out there who have been stuck at an airport with children.
I really think that going away to get a few days of sunshine over February break is just not worth it in our age of “Welcome to the Hellish Skies.” Indeed, we did a few years ago make an attempt at a Florida getaway. But due to storms, we instead had a 13-hour destination vacation to the Philadelphia International Airport!
My son, an avid New York Mets fan, was dressed head to toe in Orange and Blue Mets paraphernalia. He cowered the whole time in his jacket, hood pulled up all the way. He actually believed that because he loved the Mets and hated the Phillies, someone in the airport of the City of Brotherly Love was going to kill him.
Our efforts to escape the cold of Rochester for just one week had failed. We missed our connecting flight from Philadelphia to West Palm Beach. Every flight to southern Florida was booked and overbooked for the next three days.
As we looked at the flight board, we slowly came to the harsh realization that the palm trees of our vacation dreams had been yanked out by the roots. We could stay in the airport as standby refugees, or head back to cold icy Rochester. We were not going anywhere.
But then I had an epiphany. I realized, Hey! We are still on vacation! Vacation can be a state of mind, even if you did not make it to the Sunshine State.
So here are my hard-earned tips of what to do you if you are on a 13-hour standby hoping in vain to get your flight to paradise:
- Immediately go to the “customer service” line and demand you get a pillow. Take two or three and don’t feel guilty. The airline has ruined your original vacation destination and they owe it to you to make you as comfortable as possible.
- Forget the food court. You are on vacation and deserve the best of airport dining. In our case, it was Applebees. Any frugalities of ordering from a restaurant menu with children- like sharing – should be lifted. We were on vacation. Kids, if you want a beverage other than water, go for it! That naturally blue-colored smoothie? Go for it!
- As far as the adults in your party, order an alcoholic beverage. You are going to need it.
- After your meal, order dessert. Those desserts that stare at you all throughout your meal from those triangular placards placed strategically on the table. Remember, this may be your only vacation meal!
- After your meal, don’t bother checking on your flight status. You know you are not boarding any time soon, if you board at all.
- Find out if the airport you are stranded in has a Sharper Image or a Brookstones. Loiter there for an hour or so. Spend most of this time on one of their massage chairs. Ignore looks from salesperson.
- Is the hot stuffy airport getting to your children? Do what my kids did and let them pretend that the bathroom is their own personal water park. Cool off by dunking your child’s head in the sink. Just like dunking into the pool at grandma and grandpa’s condo. How refreshing!
- Around 10:00 p.m., entire sections of the airport should be clear enough to let your kids run completely wild. Make sure you pack a jumprope and maybe some in-line skates in addition to some healthy and sugary snacks.
- At 11 p.m or later, if you are still waiting on standby in a nearly empty airport, abandon the rule about indoor voices. And the no running rule. And the no climbing and jumping on furniture rule. Moms, that glass of wine at Applebees must have worn off by now. Use the extra space to do a little yoga stretching to relieve the stress.
Airport authorities, if you cannot tolerate the wildness of unruly children, who have spent over 10 hours cooped up in your airport, you should have done more to get good, hardworking parents to their original vacation destinations. Airlines, you should have done the decent thing and not have overbooked your flights. So go ahead kids and parents, make all the outdoor voices, and screams, and wild laughter you can conjure up. This is family time!
YOU ARE ON VACATION, REMEMBER?
Another week of winter and another tease by Mother Nature. This past Friday sent temperatures soared into the high 50’s, reducing the snow to piles of slush. The birds were chirping, and I took a long walk – my first outdoor walk in almost a month.
My garden re-emerged from under the snow and revealed daffodil shoots peeking up, as if to extend a long finger to winter saying, “curse you winter! Spring is coming whether you want to leave or not!”
But winter isn’t letting go. The weather will fight with itself for another month before it turns spring for good.
It’s this time of year when gardeners like me really need to get our fingers dirty in some soil. I need to plant something. I need to see that moment when a new plant breaks through the soil. After months of unrelenting white, I need to see something green (besides the moldy lemon hiding in the back of my refrigerator).
Hence the garden shows that come to cities around the country this time of year. This includes the Rochester Home and Garden Show March 26 – 27.
I start seeds of flowers vegetables and herbs in my living room. Newly planted seedlings keep warm thanks to the floor vents in my house, which was built in the 1920’s. As they sprout, I bring the seedlings down to the grow lights in my basement. These grow lights are visible from my basement window. So, if you are a law enforcement officer trolling the Internet, let me assure you that I grow NOTHING that is not legal.
So, here is how I start:
I begin with seed pellets. You can buy these at the big box home improvement stores or seasonal sections in a good grocery store. These pellets will puff up with some warm water. Kids like this step because these flat pellets grow right before their eyes.
Then, I filled the pellets with seedlings of
Even the tiniest basil leaf, if you run your fingers over it, carries that strong, sweet aroma and reminds me that in a few months, these leaves will become the ingredients of a Caprese Salad or Pesto when they grow up.
The tiniest arugula leaf also carries that same zippy, peppery taste of its grown counterpart.
And, for a little color, this year I’m going to plant
Not to mention ‘carnival’ bell peppers. And I feel most obligated to grow a tomato variety developed at Rutgers University.
I’ll be taking pictures of my seedlings as they grow.
This week, a friend and I put down the down-payment on an epicurean adventure we will be taking this summer.
Why is it an adventure?
Because we have signed on and invested in a local farm, and all the risks that go with farming. We are taking a bet on Mother Nature that she will bestow upon our local farm the perfect conditions for growing a bountiful crop this summer.
Because this summer, we will have to get very creative with kale and beets.
The rising demand for locally-grown produce and sustainable farming methods has created opportunities for developing a connection between enterprising young farmers and suburbanites through a movement called Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA.
In December 2001, one source reported a net total of 761 CSA farms registered with USDA. By 2007, an agricultural census conducted by the USDA tallied 12,549 farms that marketed products by way of community supported agriculture (CSA).
Most of these CSA farms are located in California and Texas. Right now, in New York State, there are about 200 farms that use CSA as a method to market their crops.
Oe of them is the East Hill Farm CSA in Middlesex. It is the project of the Rochester Folk Art Guild a sustainable community of artisans and farmers who have worked and created on this farm since the 1960’s.
Though the ground is still covered with snow, the East Hill Farm managers are busy ordering vegetable seeds, recruiting volunteers and processing CSA membership applications. Over half of the farm’s 80 shares have already been sold. A membership for 20 weeks of produce costs $500, or $490 if purchased before March 1. Shares include a wide variety of vegetables, as well as fruit in the later part of the season.
Information on getting a CSA share can be found at www.easthillcsa.org or by calling the JCC at (585) 461-2000. At the website, one can even sign up for a “CSA buddy” to split a share if a boxful of veggies every week may be just too much to consume.
The East Hill Farmers represent a new generation of farmers who may not necessarily have a background growing up on a parent’s or grandparent’s farm. What they do have is a passion for growing food with organic and sustainable techniques.
Cordelia Hall grew vegetables as a child in a community garden and then became part of the “guerilla” urban gardening trend while she was a student at Boston University. Now in her third year as co-manager of the farm, she has observed and worked on farms in Tanzania, New Zealand and Mexico.
Thomas Arminio, another suburbanite-turned-farmer at East Hill, said his experience in farming has taught him that timing plantings just right is crucial for having successful crops. A native of New Jersey, he is looking forward to growing interesting varieties of melons and root vegetables along with heirloom tomatoes, beets, Swiss chard and lettuces.
So, this summer, I can actually say I have become acquainted with the people who will grow my food, because I interviewed them for my column and this blog post. You just can’t say that buying a plastic-wrapped package of hothouse tomatoes from a big box warehouse store or the supermarket.
As I get my box of veggies for the week, I’ll write about what I got, and what I made, so stay tuned.
Take a listen to “Banana Pancakes.” by Jack Johnson.
Can there ever be a meal that conjures up more feelings of comfort than breakfast food?
I could eat breakfast any time – day or night. I have been known to make blueberry pancakes for dinner for my family of five after a very hectic day of school and work. It takes time to prepare breakfast foods like pancakes, eggs and French toast. Time that my family rarely has to spend together in the morning, not even on the weekends. In fact, if we had to wait for downtime to have breakfast at breakfast time that is not out of a box, with all of us together, we’d be waiting until summer vacation.
I guess my love for breakfast started when my husband and I were young, poor and newlyweds out in Berkeley, California. I was earning minimum wage in a PR internship and he was a starving student. We had no kids and no car, but we always had money to go out for breakfast.
We had several favorite breakfast places in Berkeley and neighboring El Cerrito. One was a tiny storefront on San Pablo Blvd. called the Shutter Cafe. We’d sit on wooden benches and enjoy eggs and some great home fries.
But the best place to eat breakfast was Fatapples in El Cerrito. We’d wake up in our one-bedroom apartment after sleeping in on a Sunday morning, grab the paper and start walking. There would always be a line for a table, but we didn’t care. We would glance at the news and sympathetically watch young couples struggle with their impatient toddlers as we waited for a seat in the airy dining room.
Finally, the waitress would beckon us to our table. I would order the blueberry pancakes and he would get the usual: eggs over easy with Rye toast. We’d drink cups of strong Peete’s coffee, talk, and do the crossword puzzle while we waited. After breakfast, we would walk home and were so full we didn’t eat again until dinner.
So, Jack, we completely understand. Because having breakfast for dinner helps us pretend that we are still young and newly in love, it’s the weekend, and we’ve just slept in.
What meal could you have all the time?
Ahh, the high school dating scene….
Did you go to high school in the 1980’s? I did. There, now I’m dating myself, pun intended.
Back then, I didn’t date anyone because no one was asking! Maybe it was because I went to the same high school where my dad taught physical education and coached two teams, and maybe dating a coaches’ daughter was off-limits in some unwritten high school code of law.
But, those in my high school who were seriously “going out” – and by that I mean they didn’t just “hook up” — were so very much in love and so happy the whole world needed to know. As sickening as it was for the rest of us.
In high school, you knew who was going out with who because of all the of PDA (and that’s not Personal Digital Assistant. Remember, this was the 1980’s. These were Public Displays of Affection) in the hallways, the stairwells, the cafeteria, in the schoolyard and on the bleachers.
Girls with boyfriends would go to the Mall and have these sweatshirts made up. (Another memory of the 1980’s, the melting, rubbery smell of the T-shirt shop.)
On the front of the sweatshirt, and it was usually a pink sweatshirt, would be the girl’s and boy’s name in a big air-brushed heart.
On the sleeve of the sweatshirt would be the date of what I guess was their first date, something like this:
Then on the other sleeve, something like this would be written:
And, if the happy couple were dating a really long time – say, six months – the boy would bestow upon on the girl as a gift an ankle bracelet. Only the ankle bracelet was not worn on the ankle but on a chain around the neck.
No other time did the have-nots of high school romance feel more left out than around Valentine’s Day.
Every year in my high school, the Key Club would hold its annual rose sale for Valentine’s Day. Roses were sold in different colors:
Red – I love you
Pink – I want to get to know you better
Yellow – Secret Admirer
White – Friendship
Roses were distributed the morning of Valentine’s Day in homeroom.
In the days leading up to Valentine’s Day of one’s senior year, seniors had another big day to think about and that was prom. That’s because at the Staten Island Mall, the prom dress displays would go up pretty much as soon as all the Christmas decorations would come down.
What made it worse was I believe that was the same year Pretty in Pink was in the movies. So many questions arose months before the prom among my circle of friends:
Who are you going with?
What will you wear?
What other friends are going in the limo with you?
In the timeline of high school, receiving a rose on Valentine’s Day could be a determining factor for answering the above questions about prom night.
So, there I was in homeroom on Valentine’s Day, when to my shock, I received a rose.
A red one.
Now, at the time, I was not interested in anyone, at least anyone who went to my school.
At that moment I thought of my mom’s wise words: it will happen when you aren’t looking. Someone sent me a red rose! Whoever this person was had circumvented the rose selections of friendship, get-to-know-you-better or secrect admirer. The sender of this rose went straight to
This could be big! This could be my first Love!
My 17-year-old mind whirred. Who could it be? Someone in my AP English class? Certainly not anyone in AP biology, I hoped. Or, someone who was in none of my classes who would see me in the hallway and confess his love and we would go to prom and everything would be wonderful!
With each class I went to, I walked in expecting – I don’t know what.
But nothing happened.
Then, it was time to go to gym.
As I headed across the gym floor to the girl’s locker, my dad was heading out of the boy’s locker.
He greeted me with a big smile.
“Hi honey! Did you get my rose?”
I gulped. “Rose?”
“Yes, I sent you a rose!”
At that moment, I wanted to die. Just someone, please drown me in the locker room shower.
But I know my dad really meant well. Looking back, my dad just wanted to send his little girl a rose. But then, the 17-year-old me just died on that shiny gym floor.
“Thanks, dad,” I said, and I think I even smiled. Because I knew he meant well. But when you’re in high school, with the sweatshirts and ankle bracelets, a rose given to you by dad is well, not all that – womantic.
I am sure you know the drill: Wash your hands after going to the bathroom and before eating and preparing food. Use hand sanitizer when getting to a sink is not convenient. Opt for the elbow shake or an air kiss. But there comes to a point in the winter, especially February, where if you haven’t gotten sick yet, you are just plain lucky.
Sometimes, the best way to stay healthy and build up that immune system is not to lock yourself away until spring thaw but to dance straight into the fire. In other words, you can spend a lot of time with preschoolers, like I do.
Entering the preschool classroom in February is like entering the lion cub’s den of viruses. The rhino virus comes to play with the blocks while his friends influenza and roto hang out by the toy kitchen. Streptococcus and the dreaded Conjunctivitis like to frolic in the water table.
I guess I’ve developed a sense of humour along with the immune system. Because thinking back to when I was a young parent, the germful world was a very fearful place.
I remember being so worried of my children catching something when my kids were in preschool.
“Did you hear?” I asked another mom one day during a Yoga class that was scheduled during preschool hours. “The stomach bug is going around in class. What if my daughter gets sick?” As luck had it, I, the novice and neurotic first-time mommy, presented this question to a veteran mother-of-three mommy. I was feeling a bit guilty because despite this worry, I still dropped Jolie off because I wanted to go to my Yoga class.
“Don’t worry,” said veteran mommy in the middle of practicing Triangle pose. “They get sick. They get better. That’s why they have immune systems.”
This was probably some of the best advice a new mom could get. And as my kids get bigger, they get sick less often, but February is always the time they get sick. One February break, when my kids were in preschool, I cancelled nearly every playdate we made. The week was spent watching movies and reading books between doses of Advil for fever reduction and ice pops for hydration.
One year, my lucky husband was away in California for a conference just in time for the rest of us to get the dreaded stomach bug. I spent a wild Saturday night dragging sheets from my son’s bunk beds into the snow so I can hose them off.
I probably should NOT say this, but these episodes of illnesses seem to grow more seldom as my kids get older. So preschool parents, hang in there!
But if you are a younger family, this is the time of the year where a preschooler’s immune system gets the most rigorous of workouts. Unfortunately, that little 3-year-old may also take their whole family down with them. Siblings get sick. Parents have to reshuffle work commitments.
This is why I proclaim February as Sickie Month.
It is Sickie Month because it is the time in school when we see the most absences. I hear it in the lingering coughs when sick kids come back.
I see a sick day coming when the boy who usually roars like a tiger with his preschool pals loses his roar. I see a sick day coming when the girl who usually bubbles and twinkles with all the enthusiasm and glee of a little girl loses her twinkle. I’ve sat with kids as they shiver with fever and wait for their caregivers to pick them up. Now that I’m a veteran mom of three, my maternal instincts know that a dose of ibuprofen will make the child feel right as rain, though I know my school policy makes me as a teacher unable to administer any medicine.
If you have any doubts why it is necessary to have a February break, just ask a preschool teacher.
Growing up, all roads led to Chinatown.
My family went into “the city” a lot. That is what Manhattan is called, even if you lived in one of New York City’s outer boroughs, as we did. We could be uptown at the Museum of Natural History, at Madison Square Garden catching the Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus or the Ice Capades, or schmoozing on the Lower East Side. But when we got hungry, we ended our day in the city in Chinatown.
And most of the time, we ate at the same restaurant: The Ko Shing Rice Shoppe.
The Ko Shing Rice Shoppe was located right across the street from the brand-new Confucius Tower apartment buildings. Its dining room was sparsely decorated with wood panels and mirrored walls and plain tables and chairs. It was not a tourist spot so it did not have the usual Chinese kitsch of gongs, pagoda-sloped ceilings or dragon tapestries on the walls.
What it had was great food.
My grandfather knew the owner from many years before. He worked nights at the New York Daily News for over 50 years. His lunch break was around 3:00 a.m. Over the years, he became a regular at one of these all-night Chinese kitchens that operated out of a midtown basement. There, he met Lee. One day, or night, Lee said he was opening up his own restaurant in Chinatown and wanted my grandfather’s whole family to be there for the celebration.
That is where the above picture is from. I was about nine, so my brother was only five. We were the only non-Asian family there among the celebrants, and we were treated to plate after plate of chicken & cashews, crab, bowls of winter melon soup and other delicacies.
From that age on, until my 20’s that was the restaurant of my family’s choice, above Italian food, above Kosher Deli, it was Chinese food that was our exotic cuisine of preference. Chinese food is as inextricably linked to my identity as Matzah Ball soup and gifelte fish.
So, on day outings to the city, we would get there at an odd hour: 3:30 or 4 o clock. The restaurant would be all but empty except for our family: my parents and my brother, my grandparents, and friends who would meet us there, locally and from out-of-town.
In the back at a huge round table, the cook staff would be chopping mountains of Bok Choy and broccoli in advance of the evening rush. My grandfather would take us into the kitchen to say hi to Lee and the chefs. Then we would order, my grandfather would order for the whole family not bothering to even look at the menu. He would just ask Lee to make us a dish of this and a plate of that, always with extra ginger and garlic at my grandmother’s request.
If the waiters had time, they would patiently instruct my brother and I how to use chopsticks. We would have to eventually abandon our practice and resign to use our forks when my mom and grandmother said we were taking too long in our attempts to pick up every individual grain of rice.
After dinner, it was still early in the evening. No matter the weather, summer or winter, we would walk through the narrow streets of the heart of Chinatown. And before vegetarianism or veganism was hip, my grandmother was the first person to introduce me to tofu. After dinner, she would have to make a stop at the Tofu factory to bring some home.
The Ko Shing Rice Shoppe was a place where we held our family birthday parties. My mom’s 40th. My grandfather’s 65th. I even found myself there with my grandfather after the funeral of my paternal grandmother, with whom I did not have a relationship.
But on the ride home, seeing that I was a bit glum, my grandpa found our way somehow from the funeral home in Westchester to the Ko Shing Rice Shoppe. We talked over the events of the day over steaming cups of tea and a dish of beef lo mein.
I don’t know if the Ko Shing Rice Shoppe still exists. I went back to Chinatown on a recent visit but didn’t have the heart to walk the street where it was, in case it was boarded up or another restaurant had taken its place.
In young adulthood, visits to another Chinatown – this time in San Francisco – were a highlight of my newlywed life when my husband and I lived in Berkeley, Calif. We ate at San Francisco’s famous house of NanKing, where lines would snake around the corner during the Chinese New Year to sit in a crammed dining room and feast on sizzling plates of vegetables drenched in the most incredible hoisin sauce I have ever tasted. In the evening, we squeezed into the crowds for a view of the parade, complete with Chinese Dragon dances, drumming bands, and marshall arts demonstrations.
Now I live in a town without a Chinatown. But there are still some good family owned Chinese restaurants in Rochester, like Golden Dynasty and Chen’s. My diet has changed from consuming everything to only sticking to vegetarian items. But still, on Chinese New years, my children delight in the traditions of getting a dollar in an envelope and opening up fortunes.
Have a great New Year!
So here we go again. Another week, another snow storm.
And this time, Rochester isn’t going to get off Scott-free like we have so far this winter. As we await the next deluge of snow, I know you are all sick of it. But up here in Rochester, we’ve only had 77 inches fall this winter. Only. But only in terms of “lake effect” showers and flurries. Never a mention of a storm. Just enough snow to fall each day to cover the ugly grey snow. And not enough to justify a snow day.
But our day may be coming this week. Finally!
This is a piece I wrote a few years back that I figure would be very timely right about now. I know it’s tough, but do try to enjoy and appreciate the quiet and beauty of the snow. Because in a few months, we’ll be wishing for some cool weather.
We actually do have a snow blower. A Toro Powerlite snow blower that our relatives gave to us as a housewarming gift when my husband and I moved to Rochester from New Jersey with our two small children nearly a decade ago. It is nestled on the left side of our Tudor’s tiny one-car garage – a garage that was built to fit 1920’s model cars, not today’s SUVs or minivans. Over the years, it has certainly served us well. My husband uses the snow blower on mornings when he has to get out early On early winter mornings I often wake to the sound of him repeatedly pulling on its cord to get it whirring to a shuddering start, the smell of the gasoline seeping upward from the garage directly overhead to our bedroom.
But I left the snow blower in the garage today and opted for my ergonomic snow shovel. If I used the snow blower, I wouldn’t have delighted in the soundlessness that a snowstorm creates, the snow’s ability to absorb noise in our motorized world. I wouldn’t have had the chance to watch the snow change from white to the slightest tinge of blue when it is pushed aside by the shovel’s blade. Or hear the chickadees chirping in the backyard and think about how I may at some point want to train them to feed out of my hand.
The snowy weather does get a bit old here in Rochester, here at January’s end when at least two more months of snow await us and with the knowledge that we could not afford plane tickets to Florida for this year’s February break.
You can’t stir a sleepy child out of bed at January’s end with the exclamation of
“Look! It snowed last night”.
Maybe you can get away with that in November, or even mid-December, when snow is still a novelty. But when one’s alarm has been buzzing before dawn since November, and grass and brick and garden beds have not been seen for over a month, the child looks at you as if to say “big freaking deal, MOM” and rolls over in a vain attempt for one more minute of sleep.
We are not bears. And we cannot sleep all winter. So out we go into it. Whether it is to school, work, food shopping, we must.
And you know something? If you are wearing enough layers, and there is no bitter wind to bite your face, shoveling snow by hand, and then taking a walk in it can be very invigorating, just about as invigorating as the Zumba class that I decided to blow off today. As I walk, I turn my feet outwards, and then in, just like that boy in Ezra Jack Keat’s beloved children’s book. (Need I tell you the name?) I think about diverting my children from the television and getting them into the snow to play as they get off the schoolbus. I feel the gentleness of the flakes hit against my hat. And when the one other person out walking today in my neighborhood passes me, we smile at each other knowingly, as if we are privy to a very well kept secret.
As I turn home, an enormous truck with an eight-foot high snowplow turns the corner and packs the snow bank blocking our driveway even higher. Okay, there is no romanticizing anymore, and I head to my garage to start up the noisy, smelly snow blower.