Archive | August 2011

Topic #230: The meaning of the word kfajgi

I’ve been waiting for just the right time to blog about this made-up word that runs in my husband’s family. I was almost embarassed about the existence of this word but since WordPress is asking, I’m telling.

Now, kfajgi (pronounced ke-fag-ee) is a word that may have either Italian, Slavic or Yiddish origins. Let me show you how my mother and sister-in-laws use this word.

Kfajgi is used in terms of food: mostly pasta, sometimes lettuce.

For example, if you drain a pot of spaghetti and you let it sit in the colander for too long, it becomes kfajgi.

Or, if you leave lettuce in your lettuce crisper too long, and it is beyond use in a salad, getting soggy, it is kfajgi.

Perhaps, if seeing this, my mother-in-law can elaborate. Thanks for the inspiration, mom!

Did the Earth Move for you? No Biggie.

my husband and I, much younger, living in the city where the earth is supposed to quake

My mom called me around 2:30 today and my daughter picked up. I was in the middle of digging myself out of post-camp laundry hell and really was in no mood to talk on the phone. What I thought my daughter as post camp teen sarcasm of “grandma’s on the phone, there was an earthquake” to get my attention turned out to be the truth.

There was an earthquake, a big one, on the east coast!

How did it feel for you?

Now, though I didn’t feel the temblor this time around, I felt my share of earthquakes when I was Transplantedwest.

My husband and I lived out the early years of dating and marriage on the left coast. In Bezerkeley, I mean Berkeley, California.

One night, we were in bed asleep. And the earth went BUMP!

How to describe this feeling to a New Yorker: Say you are in a taxi, going really fast down the West Side Highway. And you hit a pothole.

Well, I knew my bed couldn’t possibly have hit  a pothole, so I woke Craig and asked: WHAT WAS THAT!

Sleepily, he said, “It’s nothing, just a tremor. Go back to sleep.”

Nothing??? He had apparently been living on the West Coast for too long.

Next time I felt one, it was, well, three earthquakes in a row. Again, in the middle of the night. Again, we were in bed.

This time, you could actually hear it coming. This time, it felt like the world was a big area rug that had just had a good shaking out.

After the third one, a 5.1, I got out of bed, strapped on a bicycle helmet, yelled at my beloved to hurry the f**k up and finish his Ph.D so we could move back east. and fell asleep in the door jamb of our bedroom.

The next day, my co-workers, most of them native Californians, were downright giddy.

“Did you feel that last night?”

“The china in my cabinet was shaking like crazy!”

And I looked at them, and thought, they are crazy. How can they live with this unpredictablity in their lives, knowing at any moment the ground can swallow them up? I knew then I was definately not cut out for west coast living.

My co-workers were also unphased, when a few months later, during a staff meeting, the building actually started rocking like a boat tossed at sea.

They asked me, as I turned pale, what the problem was. It’s nothing, they told me. You live here long enough, you’ll get used to it.

About a year later, Craig finished his Ph.D. and we moved back to the unshakable East, where we belonged.

So, for those of you east coasters who experienced your first earthquake, just enjoy it as a crazy memory. And be glad for the bedrock that is generally still beneath your feet.

Post-a-Day Challenge: a story in six words

Post a day came up with a challenge to come up with a story in six words. I don’t think I’ve used so few words since I wrote a haiku in grammar school. Here goes:

Camp’s Over

Kitchen’s humming

Laundryroom ready

With friends like NPR and Egypt, who needs enemies?

Picture this:

New Jersey is its own independent country-state, and it borders with another state – say, Pennsylvania –  that has cold yet peaceful relations. On another adjacent border, let’s pretend that Delaware, is a hotbed territory for terrorist activity bent on destroying the Garden State.

You are on a chartered bus headed down from New York City to Atlantic City via the New Jersey Turnpike. You are with the guys or some girlfriends to have a little getaway to kick back for a weekend of gambling and enjoying the nightlife of and beaches of this resort town. Then, out of nowhere, your bus is ambushed by some armed terrorists who snuck in from Delaware through Pennsylvania.

They shower the bus with bullets and kill several of the passengers on board.

In defense of this bus, New Jersey military forces swoop down on the attackers and kill some of them on the spot, no question asked. But some flee across a state border, a border that is supposed to be monitored by the military of this other country to prevent terrorists from infiltrating into New Jersey. The New Jersey military pursue the fleeing terrorists and as an indirect result, some border patrol soldiers die.

Then, it is New Jersey, not the bordering state, asked to make  apologies by the international community.

Does this scenario sound ridiculous? From the perspective of most Americans, of course it is. For the most part, our borders are secure and generally peaceful.  And American civilians are so rarely attacked by terrorist organizations.

But Israel once again is being criticized for defending herself after tour buses headed for the resort city of Eilat were attacked by terrorists (excuse me NPR, they are not militants) from Gaza.

I first got word of these attacks through social networking: friends in Israel posted links to the news on Facebook. I listened to NPR the whole morning and not a single mention of these unprovoked attacks on civilians by a terrorist cell from Gaza that infiltrated the Israel-Sinai border Israel shares with Egypt.

Only when an Israeli airstrike into Gaza killed several members of a terrorist cell and, unfortunately, a 13-year-old boy, did NPR report the news. And, why did NPR have to use language like “Israel wasted no time retaliating” and record the sounds of people mourning for the gunmen and those killed in an Israeli airstrike at a Gaza morgue? Did NPR list the names and find relatives of Israeli victims and record their crying?

As much as I love NPR’s coverage on any other topic, such as their summer reading lists from All Books Considered, and their cooking segments with Nigella Lawson, they have boiled my blood on Israel coverage for the last time. Don’t count on my support any more.

On the other side of the word, my daughter wrote me from Camp Ramah in Canada. She said that she saw her Israeli counselors crying and comforting one another after hearing the news from Southern Israel. These Israelis were not shouting for revenge, they just hugged and consoled one another. Because no one in Israel wants violence, because any reprisal attack could involve a brother, sister, uncle, or friend who is serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. Because many of these counselors themselves just got out of the army.

Though the news from Israel is horrible, I was glad that my daughter was moved by her Israeli counselors comforting one another. It will make her connection to the Jewish state that more tangible and real. She will hopefully reunite with these Israelis on our visit to Israel in December.

Because, yes, we are still going.

My youngest is now a big brother

I have some pretty meaningful conversations driving or walking around town with my temporary only child until the rest of my brood returns from camp.

It goes to show you that you can have three different kids with three different personalities. First, my daughter has been Miss Contrary since she could speak. Conversations even as seemingly innocuous as the color of the sky can be the beginning of an argument:

“Actually, the sky isn’t all that blue, and look at that cloud over there, so you wouldn’t, couldn’t  say the sky was all blue…”

We are setting aside the funds for law school for that one.

My middle guy? Mr. Silent. You could be on a five hour car ride with hardly a peep.

And, then, my baby…

Take a walk or a car ride and be prepared to answer questions that require much thought. I think he would be great in human resources or interviewing candidates for jobs:

  • If you can rename any animal that ever existed, what would you rename, what would you rename it, and why?
  • If you could do one thing over in your life, what would it be?
  • What is the strangest food you have ever eaten?
  • What was your earliest memory and was it scary?

But the clincher, which nearly made me careen my car into oncoming traffic, was:

Mom, will I ever be a big brother?

No, honey, you will never be a big brother

You can’t say that!

I sure can.

No, you can’t say you’re never going to have a baby again. Because, at night, I pray for you that you will have a baby.

Pray for me to have a child? Who does he think I am? Sarah? Rachel??

How do you know you will never have a baby?

Trust me, I just do.


Kid, do I have to spell it out? And if I did, it would start with a “v”

Because you’re too old?

Yes! Yes, that’s right!I’m just too old.

I guess you are getting old. I do see some gray hairs….


Do you think you will dye your hair and what color would you dye it….

…and so on.

But today, Toby got to be a big brother fore a whole afternoon to our new neighbor’s little kids. He helped the little boy, nearly two, get on the backyard swings. He chased him around the tree in the front yard. Later, he played with her big sister, all of four. He helped her do a puzzle and read her some books.

A win-win situation had just formed for both parents involved. My neighbor, a stay-at-home dad, put his young son down for a nap and found some rare alone time to read.

Me? I found time to weed my very neglected garden. A perfect late summer afternoon for Toby to be a big brother.

Dinner at Windows on the World, 1998

When I was younger, I don’t remember feeling sad in August. As summer waned,  I  looked forward to September: crisp nights, new school supplies, and thick. back-to-school fashion magazines.

But for ten years now, as September approaches, I get this feeling of dread. I hate any date after August 15.  I hate how the days get shorter and I hate the back to school commericals. It’s all leading to that one black day. Even the birthday of my youngest child on September 3, 2003 can’t erase it.

I guess that is just how it’s going to be from here on in: there will be the years before September 2001, and everything after. And a decade later, the emotions are no less raw.

I cannot imagine what thesee weeks leading up to September 11 must feel like if you’ve lost a loved one or friend on that day. Just knowing that day is coming without having directly lost someone is painful enough. But to all of us in the Metro Area who grew up watching them being built, and then, watched them tumble down, we truly did lose something profound that day.

This memory is one trivial, stupid sliver of before and after September 11, 2001. But  I am sure it is just one of the millions of memories and associations that New Yorkers share about what role the physical presence World Trade Center had in their own memories.

This is not about what I remember from that day, but what I remember about what is no more.

In the spring of 1998, I was invited to dine at Windows on the World. It was not a romantic dinner like one portrayed in the movie Sleepless in Seattle. Windows on the World was the spot for the 1998 CIPRA public relations award dinner. The account team I worked on at my public relations firm had won the CIPRA  Golden Anvil Award for our Deep Blue IBM campaign.

It was the glitziest night of my very brief career as a PR professional in Manhattan. Our boss hired a limousine to take us from our Park Avenue offices downtown to the World Trade Center. After the team piled in, we sipped champagne as the driver navigated down the FDR.

I remember taking the elevator up, up, up, and feeling that drop in my stomach the same way I did when I was a child and visited the Observatory Deck with my parents and grandparents.

I don’t quite remember what we ate. I do remember sitting next to my boss, the owner Technolgy Solutions Public Relations. A great, genuine guy who built his firm from the ground up in the high-tech boom of the 1990’s, I was humbled to sit next to him as he explained how he was avoiding eating the bread that night because he was on a new, low carb diet.  I also remember how proud he was of us of us that night to be sitting on top of the world at this prestigious dinner in our industry, and how appreciative our clients were that night of the tireless work we did for IBM’s Deep Blue chess-playing supercomputer.

That was the last time I was ever at the World Trade Center. And when you were up there at sunset, you really were on the top of the world.

On your Face or In its Case:Rules for Keeping Eyeglasses

This is a response to a column written by Pam Sherman, that fellow Staten Island native and current Rochesterian Suburban Outlaw.  In the latest installment of her new weekly column in the Democrat & Chronicle, she spoke of the high price of getting just that right look in designer eyeglasses. I have yet to plunk down  a swimming-pool’s worth of money for my family’s frames, but Pam, I think I am on my way.

Early this spring, my son, daughter and I were all due for eye check-ups. Unfortunately, my husband’s company had just canceled our family vision plan. So, I knew this would prove to be an expensive, but necessary excursion. After all, you have to see.

Unlike Mrs. Sherman, who feels that her glasses define who she is, I have a bad habit of not wearing my glasses as much as I should. Like right now. I don’t need my glasses to see, just to tweak things ever so slightly into clarity.

When I do wear my far-sighted glasses, I think ahhhh, those blurry green blobs on the trees are leaves with sharp edges!

Or when I wear my near-sighted glasses, I think wow, thesse letters do look more crisp.

Do I have bi-focals? Not yet. I’m not ready to accept that my eyes, like the rest of me, are aging.

But my kids, who have inherited their dad’s bad eyesight, cannot function without their frames. My daughter is good with her glasses. Nathan and I abuse them.

First: the sequel to I Melted My Kid’s Halloween Candy: My Son Melted his Transition Lenses. My son has given me full consent to write this blog, just as he had fun writing about the melted Halloween candy. He has been blessed with an enormous sense of humor.

When my 12-year-old son has his mind set on something, say, a foolish experiment or fulfilling a “I wonder what will happen if I do this” curiosity, nothing, no amount of warnings, will sway him from his path.

In the three years he has been wearing glasses, he has bent them out of shape in wrestling matches with his brother and broken them in frisbee games with friends.  In spite of my constant badgering hiim with my mantra: On your face or in its case, glasses have been found on the bathroom floor after a shower or hanging from the lamp of his bed.

But he promised,  promised  this time would be different. If I get him transition lenses for the summer.  I thought, why not: I’ll get him the transition lenses.

I’m a fool.

I opted for gettiing a less expensive pair of frames (less here meaning they were still $190) and put the money into the transitions.  Total for his eyeglasses and exam: over $300. In all, my bank account was about $1,200 lighter for the three of us to have glasses. To see.

Now, I mentioned it was the early spring. In Rochester. If you can find me a bright sunny day in March in Rochester, I’ll show you a Congress that can get things done in Washington, but that’s another story…

But, cloudy days be damned. My son was going to make his transition lenses change from clear to tinted the minute we exited  from the eyeglass retailer. Even if he had to hold it up to the vanity mirror in the front seat of my SUV.

“Nathan, you CANNOT do that to your brand new glasses!” Regaining my composure and trying to appreciate his curious, impulsive nature, I explained that the sun would soon return to Rochester, and then his lenses would change. Until then, he would have to wait.

The next day…

I get a call from the school nurse’s office.

“Mrs. Gittleman, this is the nurse at school. Your son is very upset. Please try not to be upset, but he held his glasses up to the lamp at one of the reading tables in the library and, well.. he may need new glasses  now.”

One part of me, a small part, was quite impressed with my son’s determination and ingenuity. But, the rest of me was very upset indeed. Three hundred Fifty dollars and less than 24 hours later with new glasses, and he had burned a whole right through the lens. In the dead center of the lens. When I took him back to the optometrist, the sales people took a collected gasp in horror, as they looked at their destroyed work. Yes, I got him new frames. No, he won’t get transition lenses until he is paying his own rent in the distant future.

So no, this has not been a good year for eyeglasses in my family. And as I put on my new near-sighted glasses that I’ve had to replace because I’ve lost that pair I bought in March, I promise to follow the mantra that I preach to my own son.

On my face, or in their case.

Talk to the Ear: A great idea for preschoolers

This is not my original idea, but I used it in our class last year and it worked very well:

Once upon a time there were three little boys: one had the hair the color of golden straw and eyes the color of a summer sky. One had rosy cheeks and dimples. The third had skin the color of the sands of the most beautiful beach and eyes like melted chocolate.

These boys loved each other very much – like brothers. But they also fought like brothers – over sharing toys, and who wasn’t sharing toys, and who had a longer turn with the rocket ship, and so on. With each tiny injustice that the three boys subjected on each other, they felt they must inform their teachers and snitch on one another.  Though the teachers loved these little boys very much, their constant snitching was driving them BATTY!

So, one day, the teacher saw a in a magazine great idea from another, much more seasoned teacher as a cure for snitching.

The next day, she brought in an advertisement from a newspaper about hearing aids. The picture was that of an ear.

It was a hairy ear.

It was a scary ear.

But this listening ear would prove to be very useful in the classroom. Because sometimes, preschoolers just want to be validated by saying things out loud. Even to an inanimate object. And by the time they finish expressing themselves, many times, they are already on their way to independently figuring out a conflict.

The next day, at circle time, the teachers introduced the ear to the whole class. They told them that if there was a problem that didn’t involve safety, for example: if someone had a toy for too long and another friend really wanted that toy but the first friend was not giving up the toy, the offended member of the non-sharing incident could go tell the ear.

Five or ten minutes into open play time, an offense was committed: the boy with the hair the color of straw really wanted the red ball. Really.

“Go ahead, tell the ear,” his teacher said with great encouragement.

The boy slowly approached the ear, placed at child’s height on the wall of the classroom. The boy did not know just what to do at the ear. Should he put his ear to the ear? Or his mouth to the ear? Should he whisper? Or shout?

By the time the boy confessed his problem to the ear, he saw the whole thing to be so funny, so hilarious, that instead of complaining, he found himself laughing and forgot what had gotten him so mad in the first place. By that time, the ball had been abandoned by his other friend.  And the offended boy went to play with a walkie-talkie, sans batteries.

And the three boys and their teachers lived happily ever after … until it was time to once more talk to the ear.

25 Memories of High School 25 years later

Backstage at Bye Bye Birdie

I missed it.  That’s what you get for being Transplantednorth.

I missed my 25th High School reunion. Tottenville High School, Staten Island.  It was just too far to go. After spending 12 hours in the car round trip last weekend taking my kids to camp, taking another 12 hour round trip back to Staten Island for my reunion the next weekend was just too much.

And, after all the messages and photos posted on Facebook in the afterglow of Tottenville ’86’s 25th reunion, I missed it more than I thought I was going to.

There are lots of people who don’t go to reunions. “I don’t do  reunions,” some say. Or they say, “I keep in touch with who I want to keep in touch with. Why do I have to see a bunch of people I would never talk to back then?”

Why? Because – it might be fun. People change. And people grow up. For the most part, the cliques are gone, dismantled by spouses, jobs and kids. And, going to a reunion, you may run into someone who you hadn’t thought of in years, doesn’t mean that you didn’t share one or two memories with them in algebra or in the cafeteria.

So, if you are lucky to live close enough to where you went to high school, GO to your reunion. These are the people who knew you back when, for better or worse.

One thing I know – Back then I was good. Maybe too good. The song “Goody Two Shoes by Adam Ant?” He could have been singing it to me.  And I can acknowledge the fact that yes, I was and am still a bit of a geek. I embrace that. I can laugh at that now.  And look what being a geek has done for the likes of women like Tina Fey. You know she wasn’t one of the cool kids in high school.

Twenty five years later and I feel like having a late-in-life teen rebellion.

No, I am probably not the most memorable person in my high school class, or the most popular. But, when your high school class was 840 members strong, there is certainly enough wiggle room to find your own crowd. And at Tottenville, there was enough diversity to find your own stride, and for that I am forever grateful.

Now that I’m a parent, and as my daughter starts high school in the fall, I so appreciate the teachers that she has been blessed with so far in her career. And only now, as I look on the pages of our yearbook, can I start to appreciate the teachers – some great, some not so great – that we had at Tottenville.

So, here’s my list of Tottenville memories – what are some of yours?

  1. My ridiculous outfit my first day of school freshman year. No wonder I was bullied in Jr. High, did I not learn?
  2. xylem up and Floem down! Thanks to my 9th grade bio teacher, Mr. Briedenbach, the teacher who wore the bow tie. Thanks to him, I will never forget the correct terminology for a plant’s vascular system.
  3. How we wore big neon belts and black leggings with neon and black shirts. An attempt was made to revive the style a few years ago, but it never quite caught on.
  4. Mr. Levy’s physics class. In the middle of a big test, he would break up the tense mood by pulling a rubber chicken out of his desk.
  5. Our talented jazz musicians: Eric on drums. John, Nick, and Fred on trumpet.  I wonder if they are still playing somewhere.
  6. The very wise beyond her years Nimmy, who was also at times very silly.
  7. My dad, Mr. Cooper.  On Valentines Day of my senior year, I got a red rose – remember those?  My heart soared thinking I had a secret admirer, and then sank when I found out it was from – Dad. THANKS DAD!!
  8. Mr. Ira Shatzman the ultimate Tolkien and calzone loving fan. Spending hours after school working on the yearbook and learning how to use a pica ruler in the days before desktop publishing.
  9. Performing in Hello, Dolly and Bye Bye Birdie.  Getting fitted for hoop skirts. The all-weekend rehearsals. I’ll always think of Mr. Herbert and thank him for all the time and heart he put into those shows.
  10. Mr. Mass, our beatnik English teacher.
  11. Going to my first concert – Cyndi Lauper – with Andrew.
  12. Sitting in the back of Global studies class with Michelle B. I don’t remember anything I learned in the class, but I remember how Michelle made me laugh every day.
  13. Dissecting a sand shark with Jen in AP bio – but not before we named him first.
  14. Trying to be independent from my dad. Trying not to just be Mr. Cooper’s daughter. Waiting for a bus in the cold until my thighs froze Freshman year. I got smart by Senior year and took the ride in with dad every day.
  15. Sitting every morning before homeroom for almost four years in the cafeteria with Karen, Ilene and Stacey. We called ourselves KISS.
  16. Going to soccer games and wrestling matches. Watching my dad coach and treat those guys like they were his own sons.
  17. Sitting in Mrs. Pastrana’s spanish class the year I didn’t take lunch. Listening to her go on and on about the three-hour lunches that people take in Madrid.
  18. Selling Twix and Nestle Crunch Bars for prom. Eating lots of Nestle and Twix bars and wondering how I would fit in a dress for prom.
  19. Prom.
  20. The weird sculptures that hung over the entrance to the gym. The weird sculpture that sat in the courtyard, but it was not as weird as the sculpture in front of New Dorp High school.
  21. Trying to get to a class on the fourth floor D wing after gym, which was in the basement B wing.
  22. Going into the city for the first time by myself freshman year, Jen came with. Jen was only allowed to go to the city on the condition that we would ONLY go to Bloomingdale’s, but we really went to the Village. Jen, your mom isn’t online, is she?
  23. SING
  24. laughter
  25. friends
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