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Please, no cheesy touristy selfies here

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Another year.

13 years.

It took us a while to get here, but finally, a fitting memorial has been built to nearly 3,000 victims or more who were snatched from this earth, from all who loved them on this horrible day here at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

I finally made my way to the 9/11 memorial this summer. I was simultaneously taken by the beauty and the heavy leaden feeling of grief as I stared into the waters that seemed to fall forever into an abyss.

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I know there are some who want to come here, but have not the strength to stand here.

I found some names of those I knew, if only peripherally. Like Mark P. Whitford. A firefighter. A fellow high school classmate  a few years younger than me who wrestled for my dad. Just another NYFD firefighter who died trying to save lives. I remember falling to the floor in shock when my dad told me he had been killed.

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For those who lost someone here, and for all native New Yorkers, this place is very personal. Very intimate and very sacred.

So, visitors to NYC, take note.

We are so happy to have tourists in town.

But this is not just another tourist attraction. Don’t turn it into such.

This is a homicide area.

This is a memorial.

This is a mass grave.

So when you come here, please.

No cheesy selfies.

And please, when you come here and take photographs, please don’t smile.

Before the Ball Drops on 2014, 10 tips for maximizing Financial Aid for College

road2collegeGot plans for New Year’s Eve? Whether you are zipping up that sequined gown or are just snuggling on your jammies for a night of movies, have that conversation with your college-bound teen about how to finance that higher education. Read all about it in my next installation at road2college

Reporter’s Notebook: Seeking expert sources (or those who learned through trial by fire) about College application process

I’ve landed a great writing project for an online newsletter called www.road2college.com. Yes, my blog posts may be sparse these days, but blogging has led me to real work. So, if you are a blogger and are wondering what it’s all for, if anyone is listening, keep going. Keep writing. You’ll get there!

Now, on to my neediness in finding some great sources who can speak on the  biggest decision, and one of the biggest investments, a person can make, and that is choosing, and paying for – a college education.

I’m dividing my series into the following  possible topics and need your expertise and stories:

  • Private vs. Public education – These days, some are questioning the value of a high-priced private education and wonder if the same quality and advantages can be found for their student at a public university. At the same time, others say that private colleges offer individualized attention and career direction, better connections after graduation for securing employment, and larger endowments for scholarships and financial aid.  Is the high price tag of a private university worth it? what are the pros and cons of each? For the middle class, what is the most economical: a state college, with lower tuition, or a private college with a bigger endowment and better chance to secure financial aid/scholarships, etc.
  • Community college vs. Four-year institutions. To save money, there is a growing trend where students take their core requirements at a community college and then transfer them to a four-year institution. Is this easier said than done?  Anyone out there who successfully transferred their credits from a community college to a four-year institution?
  • Scholarships: There are so many out there that few students take advantage of. What are the best ways of finding a scholarship just for you or your student? What are the more unusual scholarships you or your child have attained?
  • The role of the Safety School in the college application process – What are the benefits of applying to a school where your grades and SAT scores  rise way above the average applicant to that school?

Looking forward to your wisdom and help! (and did I mention I needed this like yesterday?)

Saved for college and now there is no financial aid for you? is this absolutely true?

Thank you!

 

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Forget All Your Worries, Forget all Your Cares and Go …. Downtown?

Remember this song? Remember how in the 1960’s Petula Clark sang so optimistically about all the energy and promise that could be found “Downtown” in some unnamed city?

It is a promise I still believe in, even if my nearest downtown is the downtown of Detroit.

why go downtown? Because I still believe there is hope for the kids downtown. Look at these cute faces waiting to greet you and sell the produce they have grown to you, right downtown in  Detroit's Eastern Market.

why go downtown? Because I still believe there is hope for the kids downtown. Look at these cute faces waiting to greet you and sell the produce they have grown to you, right downtown in Detroit’s Eastern Market.

I’ve lived in New York City and in the Bay Area near Oakland and San Francisco. In my life I have walked the streets of Los Angeles, Toronto, Seattle, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

I’ve never shied away from exploring a city. You just have to know where to go and where not to go.

On summer family vacations of my childhood, the first question the people we met once they learned we were from New York City was ….

…can you guess?

“Have any of you ever been mugged?”

True.

Back in the 1970’s and the early 1980’s, New York City carried a crime-ridden, grafitti and blight stricken reputation. Street crime, such as theft, murder, and yes, muggings, were at their height in the days when New York City had its own brush with near-bankruptcy.

But in those years of my childhood….none in my family was ever mugged, however many times we took the subway. I was taught from an early age the following streetwise tips:

  • Always be wary my surroundings.
  • On  a subway platform, stand closest to the token collector booth and far away from the platform edge.
  • On the street, walk like you KNOW where you’re going.
  • Keep rings with stones turned in.
  • Tuck necklaces in too.
  • As far as purses, the most fashionable purse a woman can wear in NYC is the kind that can be worn postal style across one shoulder.

With this training in place, not much else impeded us from enjoying the city. My childhood was filled with urban memories  like going to the Circus or the Ice Capades at Madison Square Garden, dining in Chinatown, the Lower East Side’s delis, or learning at the museums.

It was our city and NO we never got mugged.

Now, I live in Detroit.

Okay, I’ll ‘fess up.  I guess you can’t say I live in Detroit. I’m a full-fledged suburbanite now. With the neatly cut front lawn and a fancy sign on the main road at the entrance of our “development”  to prove it.

But in my heart, I’m an urbanite. I still long for the energy of the city.

One big problem here. I’m finding a hard time looking for some native Detroiters who are willing to show me around. There is too much history of bad times here. Too many suburbanites who have  been victims of crime somewhere in their past.

The people here told me that I would love the suburbs. There is so much to do see, so much shopping in the suburbs. But downtown? No, they just don’t go downtown.

“I will not go downtown,” said one friend I’ve known for a while. The daughter of my neighbors back in Rochester, she is a woman who has lived in cities in China, Japan, who has ventured all over New York City. Now, she just takes her kid to the movies and the mall.

“I’m just boring here. And I’m telling you, don’t go downtown.”

I laughed into the phone. Nervously.

“No, I’m not joking. Don’t go looking to explore downtown Detroit. It is just not safe.”

Another source giving me advice about Detroit was my electrician. A life-long Detroiter, he told me the story of how his family all used to live in the city, but his grandparents’ home was broken into. His grandfather was beat up pretty bad. In his own home.

He then told me the story of how, as an older woman, Rosa Parks herself was mugged on the streets of Detroit.

“I mean, the mother of the civil rights movement! Can you imagine what thugs would mug Rosa Parks? I would not go downtown. No, Not even to the riverfront. I wouldn’t take my kids down there. Don’t go.”

Another stern warning came from the welcome wagon lady.

First, she reminisced about how once, Detroit could have been one of the richest, and one of the most beautiful cities in America. She spoke of the beautiful hotels and department stores like Hudson’s. Hudson’s where you could have your hair and nails done and your umbrella fixed while shopping for the finest fashions. And then you can dine at one of its fine restaurants.

We sat on my couch and I tried to envision what Detroit must have been like through her shared memories. As I admired the welcome basket filled with gifts like caramel chocolate popcorn and new dishtowels,  she told me how her son last year was carjacked at gunpoint when he stopped to fill up at a downtown gas station.

Still, she encouraged me to at least go check out the Detroit Institute of Art. I certainly will, before the city potentially sells off its art collection to cover what they owe to their pensioners.

Some final advice from the welcome wagon lady:

“If you do go downtown, make sure you have plenty of gas. Don’t ever stop for gas below Eight Mile. And don’t stop for a red light at night. And If a cop does pull you over for running a light, be glad he did.”

Yes, ma’am!

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Newspaper columnist turns into Bike Thieving Mamma

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This cautionary tale has a lesson: Before embarking on a bike ride, make sure you have taken the right key for your bike chain.

It was a beautiful Thursday afternoon in late April. The kind of afternoon in early spring when every tree is a different color of flowering buds, each branch has that blessed tinge of the lightest green. On that day in April, I wish I could freeze time then and there and live and linger in that feeling of potential that early spring gives. I wished to go no further.

There was nothing pressing on our family schedule for the evening: no plays, baseball games, concerts or meetings. And, our family of five was down two people: hubby in Detroit and my daughter on her way to a youth weekend retreat.

If you have a family, you know that the absence of even one member changes the dynamic of the household, and can inspire you to make a change in an otherwise humdrum weeknight.

Tonight, it would be just me and the boys!

I said “boys, let’s do something different. Let’s bike to the library, get out some books. Then I’ll grill for dinner, and THEN, let’s go to the Canal

canal_walkersfor some yogurt for dessert!”

Photo: See ya soon !

And who could argue with that plan? Not even my boys!

So off we went to the Brighton Memorial Library.

We locked our bikes and spent about 30 minutes reading and selecting some books.

Then, the tale of a wonderful evening took a dark turn.

My eldest son presented me with the key. It wouldn’t fit.

“You told me you had the right key.”

“Yeah, that’s the key, I took it out of the keybox.”

“Did you actually check if it worked?”

Obviously,  he did not.

So, we walked home from the library leaving our locked bikes behind to locate the lost key.

Now, during the de-cluttering and staging of our home, somehow the key in question went AWOL.

Now, we had three bikes securely locked at the library and no key.

The grill remained unlit. Our bellies remained unfed.

Armed with a hedge clipper, I loaded the boys into the Traverse and headed back to the library.

Funny thing about a good bike chain. Underneath that rubber coating is a network of woven and twisted wires that don’t snap but merely bend when you try to clip them.

I called the good people at the Park Avenue Bike shop to explain my predicament and see if they had a lock cutting service.

“Are you far from home? Are you in a remote rural area?” asked Park Ave Bike Man.

“No, I’m at the Brighton Library. And I have a car.”

Folks, here is a bit of helpful information: Park Ave Bike is many things to many local bikers, but they do not have a lock clipping service for stranded, keyless bikers.

He then suggested I get some bolt cutters.

So, with the sky darkening, and are bellies growling even louder, we headed to our nearest big box hardware store.

A patient but doubtful man wearing an orange apron helped me select bolt cutters for the job.

“You may have to work at this for a while.  This is not a one-person job. You may have to attach pipes to the end of each handle for best leverage at some point to break that lock.”

PIPES?

Leverage??

So, at this point, I am a starving mamma wielding a bolt cutter on the check out line of Home Depot. All I wanted that evening was a cup of soft serve yogurt on the Erie Canal.

At this point, my boys and I were beginning to feel like we were caught in a scene from our favorite comedy. I was taking on the role of Claire Dunphy.

We get back to the library and it is now nearly dark. I start chomping away at the bike lock. Next to me are some more unattended bikes. They don’t even have a chain on them

A man exits the library and gives us a weird look. He takes out his cell phone.

The librarian comes out and also gives us a funny look.

At this point my eldest son shouts “THERE IS NOTHING TO SEE HERE, FOLKS. WE ARE NOT BIKE THIEVES. THESE ARE OUR BIKES WE ARE STEALING.”

Now, if I was going to steal a bike, I wouldn’t do it at the Brighton Library. The police station for the town is attached to the same building.

Finally, after a few chomps – without the aid of pipes – the bikes are free. The boys and I give a triumphant yelp and there are high fives all around.

We didn’t grill that night. Nor did we make it to the Erie Canal for a yogurt treat. I think I ordered in a pizza.

And the next day, I went back to Park Ave. Bike and bought a new bike lock.

With five extra keys.

Have the Flu? Stay Home, the World Can Wait!

sickkid“Really, really, I can go to school. I HAVE to go to school!”

These were the words of my son petitioning me this morning from his bed. These words came from his mouth, which was attached to a head, a head as hot as coal. A head which could not be lifted from his pillow.

“Just give me some Advil, and I can go!”

His concern: An overdue tech project that needed to be completed in school. A CO2 car he has designed and engineered that still needed to still be sawed, glued, and painted.

This project counts as 60 percent of his grade. How do I know it is 60 percent of his grade? He has told this to me at least 10 times since coming down with the flu.

He is also worried, of course, about falling behind in math. And Science. And how will he ever catch up and HOW he will get ready for midterms.

He puts this pressure on himself to not to stay home and recover from the flu but to GET TO SCHOOL no matter how he feels. No matter the consequences to his own health or those around him.

My son is not yet in Harvard college or even in high school.

He’s only a 14-year-old kid.

He’s only in the 8th Grade.

If you can’t even stay home and rest up from the flu in the 8th grade with a clear conscience, then what does that say about our culture? Is there any wonder we are in the midst of an influenza epidemic?

Now, we all think we have THE most important jobs in the world.

Unless we are at death’s door, don’t even think about skipping work or school.

Even I have come under this delusion of mind over virus.

Last week, in I went to teach afternoon instruction because I felt I HAD to be at work to show my commitment. I was not hacking and coughing. I HAD a prescription for an antibiotic in hand (seems like, if you have flu symptoms and don’t rest them, the darned germs morph into something else, wouldn’t ya know?).

I was just a little stuffy.

Way stuffy.

And my eyes were sunken in because I had barely slept for two …. no three nights because my sinuses were killing me but

SO WHAT?

Life goes on and we muddle through.

At the copy machine my boss asked.

“What are you doing here?”

“I’m just making copies for this afternoon. Then, I’m going to take my antibiotics. Then I’m going to teach. ”

Fortunately, I have a boss who does have the voice of reason.

“You will do no such thing. You look like hell. I appreciate you want to work but you shouldn’t be here. Now go home and get some rest.”

So rest I did and I am better now, a week later. Even so, my energy is not fully back.

So, when it was my son’s turn to fall ill, I did not let him succumb to our hyper-achievement culture.

He’s home. He has a fever that spikes back as soon as the latest ibuprofen dose wears off. But he is resting and doing his work and playing his guitar when he feels up to it.

Will he go back to school tomorrow? Don’t know. We’ll just have to see.

Fess up: have you ever went to work/school when you know you were too sick?  

A Confession, For the Sin of Being Distracted

This is the solemn 10 days of Awe, days of reflection that start at the Jewish New Year and end at the last blast of the Shofar at the conclusion of the Yom Kippur Fast.

Over and over, Jews on Yom Kippur in synagogues and gatherings throughout the world stand together and recite a litany of transgressions – in Hebrew alphabetical order –   as they softly pat their heart with a fist. A sample of them go like this:

For the sin which we have committed before You under duress or willingly.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by hard-heartedness.

For the sin which we have committed before You inadvertently.

And for the sin which we have committed before You with an utterance of the lips.

For the sin which we have committed before You with immorality.

And for the sin which we have committed before You openly or secretly.

For the sin which we have committed before You with knowledge and with deceit.

And for the sin which we have committed before You through speech.

For the sin which we have committed before You by deceiving a fellowman.

Perhaps the biggest transgression of our modern age is the sin of being distracted by a screen.

Even now, as I type this, I’m staring at a screen. I should be kissing my youngest good night. Or tending to another child’s homework.

Perhaps the biggest transgression of digital distraction is texting behind the wheel.

According to a recent article in Rochester’s Democrat & Chronicle, Rochestarians are some of the most distracted while driving bunch of people in the nation.

If I can confess: No, I don’t have a bluetooth. Yes, I make non-hands free calls when driving.

But only if I have a number programmed into my contacts.

And only if I have to call my husband during harried after school pick up times.

And even then, I place the phone on my dashboard or on my lap and use the speaker feature.

And sometimes, if I hear an old “new wave” song on the radio from the 1980’s, I click the info button, and just for a split second, peek and see who the artist was. Oh yes, OMD, I thought it was OMD.

OMG, I’m sorry I have been distracted.

But never, never will I answer a call when I’m driving, nor will I ever make or read a text.

NEVER.

You see it all the time. The distraction of couples looking at screens instead of looking at each other in the evening at the dinner table.

The distraction of a cell phone going off or someone texting even in houses of worship.

The other day I was walking home and saw a car lingering for a very long time at a stop sign.

Now, I was crossing the street and I needed to know what this driver would so so I could safely cross.

After about two minutes, when this driver was still at the stop sign, I crossed and peeked into the driver’s seat. There she was, oblivious to the world, texting on her smart phone.

I stared at her and she STILL didn’t notice me.

So oblivious this woman was behind the wheel, she didn’t even notice me creeping up behind her to snap this photo on my phone:

Please, for your sake and mine and the WORLD, don’t text behind the wheel.

On this eve of Yom Kippur, I pledge to do this one change in myself, to be less distracted from my family.

In a nod to D&C Columnist Pam Sherman, I too recently lost my iThing. I just can’t find it. At first I felt lost without it. But, now, I feel liberated. Maybe I’ll find it someday. Or get a new one after saving up. But for now, I’m dealing with the sin of being forgetful and scatterbrained and repenting by trying to live a more mindful, in the moment life.

For those of you who are fasting, I hope you make it a meaningful one.

How to select and eat corn

It’s post-July 4th – time for corn.

No self-respecting Northeasterner  eats corn before the July 4th holiday and even then, some Western New Yorkers won’t partake in those yellow ears until at least August when they can be assured that their corn comes from a farm no more than 60 miles away.

My sister-in-law Maureen worked on a Francavilla Farm in Fairfield, NJ starting when she was 13 until she became a mother at age 30. She was in charge of dumping corn on the farm stand and selecting corn for special orders.

This makes her the family authority on corn. We were shucking corn for our July 4th BBQ when she noticed that two ears my mother purchased had been partially peeled.

This is a cardinal no-no and the inspiration for this blog post.

So, here are Maureen’s tips for properly selecting and preparing corn:

  • Only buy corn when it is local and fresh – that means the summer and the summer only. No January corn!
  • Look at the corns husk and make sure it is green and the bottoms are not dry.
  • The silks should be a hue of pale yellow (we just used the word Hue in a Bananagrams game. It’s a good word game word.)
  • Inspect the husks for possible worm holes and other imperfections. This usually happens at the end of the season.
  • Fondle your corn. Check it all around to make sure  it is fully formed and not missing kernels.
  • DO NOT open the corn at the farm stand or store. It will immediately lose its freshness. This means NO SHUCKING corn at the store, unless you will immediately cook it. I’ve been known to give many corn shuckers at Wegmans dirty looks. Do they not know that they are murdering their corn?
  • If an ear of corn is particularly good, you can eat it raw and it will be full of sweet flavor.
  • Steaming not boiling is the best way to eat corn.
  • It only needs five minutes in the steamer to completely cook.
  • Maureen loves butter and salt. You don’t have to butter and salt your corn if it’s good, but she still does.

All welcome the season of corn!

Ick. My Kid had a Tick. Here’s what to watch out for this Spring

Any time I get a call from the school nurse,I know it’s not good. I’ve gotten calls about broken arms and feet. Pink Eye and broken eyeglasses. But perhaps the scariest call was one I got just last week.

The school nurse at the school where my youngest child attends called with the news that a tick had been removed from his neck.

As my head reeled from the news,  the nurse said that the good news was that it was not embedded, they got the whole thing out, and the tick in question was waiting for me to take to the pediatrician’s office.

Well, thank goodness for small favors.

I answered the nurse’s questions.

No, we don’t have a pet.

No, we have not been wading through any fields with high grasses. So, where on earth could my son have picked up a tick??

When I arrived at school shortly after the dismissal buses left, the circle of teachers hanging about outside the nurse’s office chattering about things like “Lyme Disease” and “they’re running rampant this year” were not comforting words to encounter at all.

“Emm, hello? I’m the mom with the kid with the tick,” I said, trying to drop the hint that the teachers should watch what they have to say lest an extremely freaked out neurotic parent happened to be in the hallway.

Once in the nurse’s office, I found my son happy and not freaked out at all but seemingly fascinated at the tiny parasite that had tried to suck his blood. The tick was safely contained within a prescription medicine bottle. The child was actually concerned for the tick’s well-being. Was he lonely or hungry in there? Would he run out of oxygen? Apparently, my son was under the impression he  had acquired a new pet.

According to an article in yesterday’s Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, tick season will come on earlier this year and be more severe than in recent years because of the warmer weather. And, as the earth heats up, more severe than normal tick seasons will unfortunately become the norm.

Tips to avoid ticks include:

  • Wear long pants and long sleeved shirts when walking in wooded and grassy areas. (The only thing is, my child got a tick simply by being out on the school playground).
  • Use an insect repellent with DEET
  • Those with long hair should tie it back when hiking or gardening.
  • After spending time outdoors, thoroughly check yourself, your children and your pets for ticks.
  • Stay on trails when you hike. If you leave the path, wear long pants tucked into your socks.
  • If you find ticks, remove them immediately. Pinch the tick near its mouth and pull it out slowly in a continuous motion. Don’t twist the tick because doing so may leave mouth partsembedded in the skin

The good news for my son and for those of us living up north:

My son’s tick friend was a common Dog Tick or Wood Tick. These ticks do not carry Lyme’s Disease.

Deer Ticks, the Lyme’s Disease carrying variety, are less common in Northern areas like Western New York and there are very few cases of Lyme’s Disease.

So, enjoy the outdoors this spring and summer, but if someone (like my son’s classmate) says there is a small bug on you, don’t take it for granted. Let’s be safe out there!

Another Good Reason to Keep Kosher – “Slime” Free Meat

Yes, Kosher meat is more expensive.

And, unless you live in an area with a good-sized Jewish population, kosher meat and kosher butchers are hard to come by.

But with this “pink slime” trending in the news, it’s reassuring to know that absolutely NO pink slime is permitted in kosher meat, according to KosherEye,  a blog for  foodies who also keep Kosher.

According to the blog:

Statement from OU Kosher: Kosher ground beef is made out of the kosher pieces of meat, trimmed by hand. No mechanically separated beef or pink slime is used in any OU-certified production.

The other night, I picked up a pound of kosher ground round and a pound of kosher ground lean turkey and treated my family to a slow-cooked meatloaf that I have to say was absolutely delish.

So, if you don’t want pink slime in your beef, or mechanically separated parts in your lunch or dinner, if you want chickens that are fed a grain-only diet and that are not fed any dead chicken parts, if you want a sustainable meat supply that by law must treat and slaughter its animals in the most humane way possible, you don’t have to be Jewish to buy kosher meat.

With that, I hope that there will be kosher burger joints popping up all over the nation. Then again, my cholesterol levels would be sky high if that were the case.

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