Saturday night, the night my parents went to a double wake for two Staten Islanders who drowned in their basement when the ocean came in, my faith was totally shaken.
I’m normally a person pretty strong in my faith, pretty sure that God has a plan and we can’t understand it. I pride myself in holding strong to my Jewish heritage and encourage my students to do the same.
But the other night, if just for a few hours, I gave up.
I went to bed in a dark place, filled with the images of helpless cold people from the neighborhoods of my childhood. I went to bed angry, completely pissed off at God. God, I thought, didn’t you promise to Noah never to destroy the earth again by flood? What was that about? Why do we humans have to see floods over and over again? How am I supposed to get up and teach my students tomorrow about your blessings, for blessing us with everything we need like food and shelter when there are people like my parents who are still without power and warmth in their own homes? When there is a wife who has lost a twin son and her husband AND her home in one single wave?
Lesson learned: when you go do bed angry at God, you don’t receive the blessing of sleep.
The next morning was Sunday. The sun shone brightly. Even when you can’t see it, there is the sun.
In New York City, it was Marathon Sunday. Fortunately, Mayor Bloomberg came to his senses and cancelled the marathon, but not before thousands of marathoners traveled just to be stuck and cold in the big apple. For me, it was off to teach Hebrew school, which opens each week with me helping to lead a tefilah,or prayer service, for students 7th grade and up.
Before going to bed, I expressed my very dark thoughts about prayer and God very honestly to my boss.I wasn’t feeling very thankful to God after days of looking at the destruction, and learning how close death hit to home.
Thankfully, she sent me some reinforcement. The rabbi of the temple Sunday morning addressed the kids so thoughtfully and patiently. She told us, yes, we can still feel blessed by God for God’s daily miracles: for giving us the ability to stand, to see, for giving us food and clothing. We do not despair or feel guilty for the blessings we have but instead use tefilah, to inspire us to help others in crisis. Just being together in a room of people joining together makes you realize you are not alone in sadness, and praying together can lead to hopefulness and action.
That afternoon I got a call from mom. She was overwhelmed with gratitude. She said Angels came to Staten Island that day. Would-be marathon runners took the ferry and ran around the island.
Thousands of them took to the streets, knocked on doors and started helping out and cleaning out. Several of them descended at my parents house and emptied the contents of my parent’s waterlogged basement.
Back here, in Rochester, many fundraising and relief efforts are underway including the Sea Breeze Fire Association collecting and then driving down a truck load of supplies to Staten Island and Long Island.
Brighton and Pittsford kids next week are organizing a bagel breakfast for pick up or delivery to benefit the New York Mayor‘s Fund for sandy relief, aptly named Sand-Aid.
These are indeed dark days and it will take a lot of fundraisers like this in the weeks and months to come, even after the media finds another story to cover. But with relief efforts like this, there will be light again.
These are the blocks I used to bike through as a kid. Fox Beach was the detour my sixth grade bus took each morning to pick up a few kids on the way to school. The street was so narrow the bus could barely squeeze by.
These tiny bungalows, once used as summer getaways for the elite Manhattanites in the 1920s, became the blue-collar neighborhoods of my childhood in Staten Island. Tucked away “below the Boulevard,” the streets around New Dorp and Cedar Grove beaches had a feeling that they had been left back in time. Mom and pop delis and restaurants. Hardly any cars came by in these quiet narrow streets a few blocks off the water.
Out the window of my childhood bedroom, beyond another block of townhouses and a wetland field, I could see the ocean. Almost a week ago, this ocean swept into the old neighborhood. My parents evacuated, but neighbors who stayed behind said a wall of water came charging down the block, flooding basements and first floors, and then rushed back to sea as quickly as it came.
Here is a Youtube video posted on Facebook by one of my former high school classmates. Please watch it. Please, in your prayers, don’t forget Staten Island, the forgotten borough, it’s full of some great people.
This post is long overdue, but WordPress put up the perfect photo challenge to (kick me in the pants and get writing) I mean, get me motivated:
What is urban? This is what true urbanism should be. A blend of city and nature on a perfect summer day.
I went to a lot of places over the summer, but my favorite destination, for always, remains:
New York City.
It’s a place where I grew up, and you’d think I would be tired of it already. Seen it all. Been there. Done that.
That’ll never happen. Because there is always something New to discover in New York City. Even for us natives.
For example, in our annual summer visit to New York City, we toured the High Line.
Opened in recent years and built on refurbished elevated rail lines, the High Line lets the visitor walk the thin line between street level and the heights of skyscrapers. It is a strip of gardens, fountains and orchards that blooms right between steel, brick and glass and wooden water towers. It repurposes an older structure that would have otherwise been torn down and instead has been transformed into a public space and one of the best places to snap pictures in all of New York City.
It goes on for about 20 blocks above the West Side’s meat-packing district and there are plans to extend the High Line to more of the old abandoned El.
With fountains, flowers and musical and cultural events, all set in a shining beacon of sustainable public space, to me it’s the best 20 blocks you can walk right now in NYC.
I shot these photos on my dad’s Nikon:
It’s been more than a few weeks since I’ve written about my garden. I’ve had to pack the kids for camp. I was away visiting family and friends in New York City. There are several writing deadlines I must complete before the end of next week. And the family is in a bit of transition. More on that in a later post.
But, at the beginning of the summer, I said I would post about my garden, and I’ve got to get back on track.
Since early May I have been tending a 10 x 10 foot plot in my town’s community garden. I have been watering diligently
through this very dry summer.
When I was away, I left my garden in the care of some friends who have a plot adjacent to mine. They have a garden that is not only well cared for but is sealed like a fortress against any critters that may want to feast on their crops.
After a week of being away, I was tempted to drive out to the garden the night we arrived home. But there were kids and suitcases to unpack and get into the house. The garden would have to wait.
No one can tell me that there isn’t a time difference between New York City and Rochester.
Maybe its just the pace of time that moves faster “downstate” because when we returned from our week away in good ‘ol NYC, I was exhausted and slept until after 8 that morning.
I tried to push some energy into my voice when the phone rang and woke me at 8:15.
It was my gardening friend.
“Have you been over to the garden? I didn’t wake you? Did I?”
No, of course you didn’t wake me, I said, faking a wide awake tone into my voice. But, considering I just got home at nine the night before, and my garden would not be visible in the darkness.
I thought, is she mad? I’m still in downstate jet lag…why don’t Rochesterians get that there exists jetlag when returning from New York City? And you don’t even need to fly to get it!
“Well, you should get over there soon. Your garden is becoming known as the Garden that Ate the Community Garden!”
Indeed. In just one week’s time, my garden had exploded.
Now, compare my community garden at its humble beginnings back in May:
I cleared it and planted tiny seeds:
Sunflowers have grown taller than my tallest child.
Both the sunflowers – and the children
Pumpkin vines are creeping everywhere. I’ve actually received gentle reminders from my garden neighbors to please retrain my vines back into my garden plot and out of the common garden paths.
And, unlike a sun deprived pumpkin vine, not only am I getting blossoms that have been host to a number of pollen-intoxicated bees, but I actually have 5-10 pumpkins taking shape. I’ll need to make a lot of pumpkin pie this fall.
Not to mention a lot of tomato sauce:
The full sun of the garden has produced such strong leaves on my tomato plants, it looks like they’ve been going to the gym.
There have been some failures, of course every garden has them. My eggplant plants were eaten first by beetles and then strangled and overgrown by the invasive pumpkin vines.
The basil seeds I sprinkled never made it in this dry summer without a good daily watering.
But so far, this experiment in community gardening is paying off. Harvested my first crop of purple beans for dinner last night:
Just got back from a visit from “the old country,” New York City, to visit family and friends. And I can’t stop raving about The Bronx.
We just returned from a place blooming with lilies and hyacinth, filled with beautiful views of the Palisades, the Hudson River and gracious stately homes and gardens.
I’m talking about the Bronx here. Da Bronx. Really!
As a fifth-generation native New Yorker, a lot of my family has roots in the Bronx. My father and grandfathers were born there as well as my father-in-law. But, at the height of the urban blight of the 1970s and 1980s, it was not exactly somewhere we went exploring when I was growing up outside of a trip to the Bronx Zoo.
When most think of the Bronx, they conjure images like urban blight. A crumbling school in the south Bronx that caught fire shortly before game 2 of the 1977 World Series inspired the book “The Bronx is Burning ” by Jonathan Mahler
Or, perhaps they think of the massive, impersonal apartment complexes they sluggishly traverse the Cross Bronx Expressway on their way to the Long Island Sound or the George Washington Bridge :
But on my last visit, my family and I got to visit the Bronx’s best-kept secrets: The Cloisters Museum and Wave Hill.
The Cloisters, right on the Manhattan-Bronx border, is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art that specializes in European Medieval Art. It is set in a castle-like building jutting over the Hudson River set on four acres of parkland. If you have the time on your next visit and already paid admission to the main branch of the Met on Fifth Avenue, you can treat yourself to this as well:
Wave Hill Public Garden and Cultural Center
Further up the road, and I’m talking a country road that makes one feel as if they are in the middle of the countryside and not just 10 miles from Midtown Manhattan, is Wave Hill. Surrounded by 19th Century mansions,
Wave Hill is a semi-private park that consists of gardens and mansions once leased by the Roosevelts and Mark Twain. In the 1960’s, the Perkins-Freeman family, founding partners of J.P. Morgan, donated the land to New York City, allowing the rest of us New Yorkers, for a small admission fee, to afford views like this:
So, next time you find yourself in New York City, do yourself a favor and visit upper Manhattan and The Bronx. You might find a unicorn:
Or even a fair Bronx princess:
Everyone in my nuclear family loves LOVES pumpkin pie. And for only the second time in 12 years, my pumpkin-pie eating little family of five will not be going over the NY Thruway and through any tunnels or bridges to New York City. Nope, as much as we love seeing the family and sitting in 10 hours of traffic, this year, we are staying put.
When you are Transplantednorth, there are some disadvantages of being a nuclear family in a town where it seems you are surrounded by friends who all have extended family in town. Come holidays like Thanksgiving, you once again become the disappearing transplant.
I’m not complaining, really. This was my choice to stay “home.” But can a place be home where there are no extended family within 300 miles? The rest of the year, Rochester indeed feels like home. Come holidays, without aunts, uncles cousins and grandparents around, it can feel like how the Ingalls family must have felt on the wild, windblown frontier.
But this is a story about pareve pumpkin pie.
One small advantage of staying put (okay my kids will think a big advantage) is that at our Thanksgiving table, we’ll have pumpkin pie.
As much as she has tried to like it, my mom does not like anything pumpkin. My kids, however, can’t get enough of the orange stuff. I put it in breads, waffles and pancakes. I even made a pumpkin challah just so I can make pumpkin challah stuffing.
But, most of you know that pumpkin pie calls for milk, cream, condensed milk, or some other dairy ingredient. This poses a challenge to Jewish families like ours who observe the dietary laws of keeping kosher.
There are ways to get around the dairy dilemma by finding pareve ingredients.
What is pareve? Not many know. It is so esoteric, the word does not appear in the WordPress spellcheck.
It’s a term meaning food that is neither meat or dairy. It’s neutral. Like Switzerland. Does it taste as creamy and delicious as real cream? No. But, I’d rather have an imitation dairy dessert any day than serving a Tofurky at my Thanksgiving feast!
Here is the recipe. I based it on a recipe used from Martha Stewart Living, I just replaced the dairy ingredients with some stuff called Coffee Rich, found in the frozen section of most grocery stores. For those of you in upstate New York, I found this chemical-laden substance at Tops, and not Wegmans this year. But I still love you, Wegmans.
All-purpose flour, for surface
- Pate Brisee for Traditional Pumpkin Pie
- 1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
- 3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs
- 1 Cup Pareve Nondairy Creamer, like Coffee Rich
- Ground cloves
- Whipped cream, for serving
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
On a lightly floured surface, roll pate brisee disk 1/8 inch thick, then cut into a 16-inch circle. Fit circle into a 9-inch deep-dish pie dish, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Fold edges under. Shape large, loose half circles at edge of dough, then fold into a wavelike pattern to create a fluted edge. Prick bottom of dough all over with a fork. Freeze for 15 minutes. Cut a circle of parchment, at least 16 inches wide, and fit into pie shell. Fill with pie weights or dried beans. – Buy a premade Pareve piecrust. Bake until edges of crust begin to turn gold, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool.
- Meanwhile, whisk pumpkin, sugar, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, eggs, creamer, and a pinch of cloves in a large bowl.
- Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Transfer pie dish to a rimmed baking sheet, and pour pumpkin mixture into cooled crust. Bake until center is set but still a bit wobbly, 50 to 55 minutes. (If crust browns too quickly, tent edges with a strip of foil folded in half lengthwise.) Let cool in pie dish on a wire rack. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 6 hours (preferably overnight.
Then, at night, images of the World Trade Center entered my dreams at least twice a month, for the next nine years.
It’s no wonder I dreamed about these iconic buildings, buildings I grew up with, beamed with pride at.
But the last time I saw them was looking out at them from my grandmother’s hospital window. It was July of 2001. Though they passed away years later, my grandparent’s health in earnest began to fail that summer. As I held her hand,I said to her “Hey, at least you have a great view of downtown. Look at the Towers. Look how beautiful they are.”
And they were on that day, across the East River. So crisp a view.
And just a few weeks before September 11, my dad had a heart attack. He did survive, to teach, to live, to continue biking and traveling, and enjoying his grandchildren. But I think it was the attacks of 9/11 that truly broke his heart.
So, is it any wonder my brain created for years images of the World Trade Center?
Sometimes in my dreams I would be falling, floating up, up, up, past desks and cubicles and giant, narrow office windows.
Other times, I’d be in an elevator, thinking, I shouldn’t be here, I need to get out of here.
In some dreams, I’d be outside, and there they were, the Twin Towers, just there, like they were a backdrop in a movie.
Or, they would appear as ghost buildings with police barricades around them. I’d walk past them and yell at them. Go away. You are gone. You shouldn’t be here any more.
Upon wakening, I wouldn’t always remember that I dreamed right away. Of course, it would hit me in the middle of my day. I’d be in the cereal aisle at the supermarket, and I would stop dead. Cold. Oh, God. I dreamed about them. I dreamed about the Towers again.
But now, 10 years later, the dreams have stopped. They stopped when Osama bin Laden was finally, justly, wiped from the face of the earth. They stopped when finally, Ground Zero was no longer just an empty, gaping hole but the beginnings of the newly emerging Freedom Tower. New York is rising again.
I know that putting a building back up cannot bring back the souls lost on 9/11, but it is my hope that this new, so carefully thought out complex of buildings and memorials can help ease the dreams and memories of so many of the families from tomorrow and onward. I wish them only the sweetest of dreams.
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.
And how could I not visit Coney Island?
After all, it’s en route in our Island hopping tour – between Staten Island and Long Island.
My family plunked down its roots in Coney Island, on 21st Street. This is where my great-grandparents on my grandmother’s side lived. My grandmother with her three sisters and one brother.
This is the subway train stop that takes you to the boardwalk. The very spot where my grandmother and her sisters would stand and offer visitors and beachgoers a clean place to shower and change after beachgoing at their apartment – all for a quarter.
This is the famed Coney Island boardwalk. On this spot – or around here somewhere – my grandmother met my grandfather and told him to go home and grow up. They were married for 67 years. This is also the Boardwalk and the beach where my brother and my cousins and I ate chicken salad sandwiches with grapes and then had to WAIT on the beach blanket for 30 minutes before we can go jumping in the waves. It was a cruel ritual that we endured each summer.
This is the Cyclone. My grandmother rode it, as well as my mother. Skipped a generation with me. Now, this week, my husband and son got a chance to ride its rickety hills.
Me? I agreed to ride the Wonder Wheel with the family.
My husband, two boys and my parents crammed into one of the moving cars that shoots out into nothing over the beach.
This is the sign that tells the rider just how old the Wonder Wheel is, and that there has never been an accident in all the Wonder Wheel’s 89 years. This is the view up top of Nathan’s Famous Franks below:
And after a few hours, hot hungry and tired, we left the boardwalk to find our car which was parked by the Luna Park apartment projects. These were the apartments where several branches of the extended family lived for several decades.
I took a walk on the grounds. I looked up at the terraces where my cousins and I played tag.
The buildings were under a much-needed renovation. As I walked along memory lane, I noticed that the playgrounds of my childhood had been upgraded. Old school monkey bars and jungle gyms have been changed to the plastic, safer playgrounds of today.
But wait – some were JUST the same. The same concrete play structures were still there that I played on. So, for one more time , I climbed on them, with my youngest son:
Last night it seemed that every other town with a beach or shoreline had a fireworks show. Every town, except, Staten Island.
Staten Island really does have some fine beaches that have come a long way since their more polluted and burned down boardwalk days of the 1970s and 1980s.
But, no fireworks. Staten Island, stuck between the sands of Long Island and the New Jersey Shore, remains the bastard stepdaughter for deserving her own fireworks display on the 4th of July.
Even the famed Macy’s fireworks, once visible from the waterways around the Staten Island Ferry, have been moved up the Hudson River and away from the Statue of Liberty. Got me mad enough to think about tearing up my Macy’s charge card.
But, my two sons had come down from Rochester to the Big City to see the Big City fireworks. We can’t see the Hudson River along the Upper West Side from Staten Island. And we were not driving to Jersey City.
They had two options: watch the Macy’s fireworks like the rest of the country – on TV – or take our chances and see what we can see from the Ocean Breeze Fishing pier off the South Shore of Staten Island. The Ocean Breeze Fishing Pier opened in September 2003. It is 835 feet long and 30 feet wide, making it the largest steel and concrete recreational pier on the Atlantic Ocean built in 100 years in the New York region.
As the sun set, families gathered. People continued to fish off the pier. The air smelled of rotting fishheads, cigarettes, salt air and tar. A woman yelled at her young daughter “Do you know what you said? That’s a curse word in Italian and I better not hear it again…” And then, something bright exploded off in the distance. In every direction.
From the pier, we had a panoramic view of nearly every fireworks display – from the Atlantic Highlands of the New Jersey shore, to ones out in the Far Rockaways. Some “homemade” shows were on display in nearby South Shore neighborhoods. But we didn’t feel the boom of fireworks that can rattle your insides like a drum like when you see them up close. Most were too far off to even elicit a sincere “oooooh” or an “ahhhhh.’ But they were fireworks, alright. They were just meant for some other place, some other town.
And then, around 9:45, one could make out the very top glow of the Macys Fireworks coming from the other side of the Island. Maybe we could have seen them from Bay Street after all. Maybe. Maybe next year.