NO ORDINARY WOMAN

It was  Q & A time.  The gentleman from the audience started his question with an exclamation, “Talking to you is like talking with a Beatle!”   She laughed and shot both her arms in the air in triumph, genuinely happy to be designated as an icon of pop culture – a Beatle!   We all laughed in the audience, knowing what he meant!  She is indeed a rock star!    For many of us  presidential history nerds, we have our favorites: Jon Meacham, Michael Beschloss, Douglas Brinkley – great storytellers all – but this woman is the queen, a standout among historians.     Here she is, in a packed house at a local college, sold out, SRO – the person we’d seen on TV, whose books we’d  read with delight and learned from.    She is Doris Kearns Goodwin.    

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My husband and I have been following her for about twenty years.   When we found that she would be speaking locally, we rushed to get tickets.  We initially saw her in San Fransisco years ago, we catch her many interviews on Meet the Press, This Week, and any number of news shows.    We want to hear her because she always seems to have something new to say about old topics.   And she is almost always the one who is called upon to compare and contrast between the current situation in our country and times we’ve already been through, and the leaders who took us through them.    

But she’s not an historian of dates, names and places.   She’s an historian with a narrative, with an actual story.   She honed her knowledge as a graduate student and later burnished it as a professor of government at Harvard.  Her talent was recognized early when she  was chosen as a White House Fellow, one of the nation’s most prestigious programs for leadership and public service,  and, at the age of 24, she worked with Lyndon Johnson, and later assisted him in the writing of his memoirs, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. She won a Pulitzer Prize for No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II,  to this day one of my very favorites.   It’s a wonderful story of what was going on in this country while our military were fighting the war in far off parts of the world.   It talks about the enormous influence of Eleanor Roosevelt on Franklin during those times.   It tells of the story of the uncommon friendship of Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, who spent vast periods of time living in the White House during the war.   It tells about the efforts of all Americans to help in the war effort, from Rosie the Riveters to families planting victory gardens, to rationing of foods and other goods.  An amazing story, wonderfully told.

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How she learned the art of  narrative comes from her lifelong love of baseball – first, with her idolized Brooklyn Dodgers and then when she moved to Massachusetts, her beloved Red Sox.   She’s had Red Sox season tickets for 40 years!   She actually wrote a memoir about growing up in the 1950’s and her love of the Brooklyn Dodgers called “Wait Till Next Year.”    She tells the story of her father teaching her at age 6 how to  track of the score of the game.   She would listen to the game on the radio and when her father returned from work each day, she would run to him and scream, “The Dodgers won!!!” not realizing that her dad already knew who won by listening to his radio.   He patiently sat as she described in minute detail each score. She learned early that, in baseball as in history,  even when the audience already knows the outcome, it’s the backstories that bring the piece  to life.    

She delves, she interviews, she researches and brings us a story that entertains as well as teaches.   She becomes so familiar with her subjects that she believes she really gets to know them intimately as friends, but none more so than her beloved Abraham Lincoln, the subject of her 2005 book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln which was described by the Los Angeles Times as “the most richly detailed account of the Civil War presidency to appear in as many years.”  It won numerous awards including the prestigious Lincoln Prize and was the basis for the 2012 movie, Lincoln, nominated for 12 Academy Awards.  Throughout her presentation the other night, she referred to Lincoln as “my guy” because of her intense and extensive research into his life, foibles, and character.  He’s the president she’s studied most closely.   She talked about how Lincoln’s one overriding goal from a very early age was that his life would have purpose and that he would be remembered for something.   Dr. Goodwin tells the story of his journey through  our country’s gravest moment and how ultimately Lincoln would fulfill his life’s ambition beyond his wildest dreams.

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The true basis for her presentation on Thursday was her lastest book, published in 2018, and for which she won another Pulitzer Prize,  Leadership in Turbulent Times.   In her presentation,  she used both  Leadership and Team of Rivals to illustrate  the traits of great leaders, such as:  

  • The ability to communicate:   Franklin Roosevelt used his fireside chats so that people across the country came to believe that the president was talking directly with them
  • Choice of close advisors:   In Team of Rivals she shows how Lincoln didn’t pick yes men who would rubber stamp Lincoln’s own beliefs.   He chose smart, experienced, knowledgeable men, some of whom were adversaries, but who had a point of view that they would readily express to the president, giving him the food for thought to formulate his own path forward to win the war, to save the Union and to end slavery.  
  • The ability to legislate:   Lyndon Johnson was a masterful legislator.   He had the temperament and experience to bring together differing sides of the aisle and demand that they not leave the room until they had achieved a resolution to be brought forth for a vote.   By the end of his time in office, he had achieved more for civil rights than any leader since Lincoln, clearly a gutsy move for a longstanding Texas politician.   
  • Working for the good of the country:   Recognizing that a president’s mission is larger than any one person, the office demands work on behalf of the good of the entire country and not to satisfy just the motives and ambitions of one person.   

In all she has written seven books, including those already mentioned and The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, The Bully Pulpit about the friendship between Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.

The thing about Doris Kearns Goodwin is that you don’t need to be an historian or even just a knowledgeable history buff.     It’s enough to want to know interesting things about the evolution of our country during challenging times and to learn about the men who got  us through them.   She writes in a style that is intellectually satisfying to those who have a working knowledge of history but she has kept the common touch for those who want to be enlightened while also being entertained.  I would strongly encourage anyone interested to read all of her books and, if you do, I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.  Until next time…..

Life Unfolding

    I’ve been gone from my blog for a while.   Several of my blog  followers have asked me where I’ve been, that they had missed reading the blog.   That was very sweet of them.  I too missed writing for these  four or five months.   Where  have I been?  What have I been doing?  It’s been time away but far from time wasted.  As I look back I smile at the joy, pride and inspiration I’ve witnessed  these past months!  I want to share with you three vignettes that account for some of my time away that have reflected back to me the joy of what life is all about!

          It all started in July at my beloved Jersey shore of all places!   My mother-in-law contracted a  sudden bout of pneumonia at the shore and that  was the catalyst that drew the conversation from “what if”, to “maybe it’s time.”  It was becoming apparent over time that her four-bedroom colonial house, which is 800 miles from us,  is too big to manage, even with the various workmen that she has supporting her.  She loved the house but it was also a burden.   Driving is getting more worrisome.    Acute  illnesses like the one that precipitated the thought of  this move  are likely to become more frequent and more chronic.  And even with her close friends relying on each other, it is difficult because each has her own things with which to deal, each  with   children, like us,  living hundreds of miles away.   And even with their vibrancy, it is unrealistic to expect that they can continue to prop up each other as time goes on. 

       We brought her to Illinois to recover and after she was well, we started taking her to visit independent living retirement communities but only those with a continuum of care should she ever need it.   I think  because we had been back East only by chance when she got sick, this  illness scared her.   She was suddenly  very receptive to the idea of thinking seriously about a move.  Her son and I  were asking her to dig for that spunk that’s always been within her  one more time.     It was first shown in the teenage girl who, in 1946,  left Italy for a new world  that was foreign to her in every aspect, who knew not one person in the new country other than the young GI she had married in 1945.  She’s lived her life for these seventy two years with her heart divided, planted solidly in two countries.   While she ached for her Italian family, she learned the American ways, she made close friends who became her family, she  laughed easily and she fashioned a big wonderful life.  It was a life not without heartache as she missed milestones in her birth family, as she  buried  two husbands, and as she has lost friends and family back in Italy and in America.   (90 CANDLES) .  So she was no stranger to reaching for the grit within her.  

      August and September were spent visiting and revisiting four different retirement communities.  Ultimately in September she chose the unit with the largest footprint and a beautiful view of trees out of the back windows of her third floor apartment that somehow mimicked the sunroom she would leave behind in the old house.    She went back to Pennsylvania and immediately told her close friends that she would be moving to Illinois right around the holidays.  There was shock, there was sadness but there was also the feeling that this was the right time.   Some even said  they too realized they were going to have to make a similar decision soon.   

     She had chosen the hard wood flooring that would be installed throughout the apartment but entrusted the decisions about the wall paint colors, the kitchen cabinetry  selection and the backsplash to me. I know her taste very well and proceeded with the choices.  I also added crown molding throughout and door casings at entries to the kitchen and the sitting room.    By the end of November it was virtually ready for her to move into.       UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3e2c   

        Saying goodbye which happened just before Christmas of all times was excruciating.  For her at age 91 to  leave the place that had been her hometown for seventy two years to chart a new life, to make  new friends, to settle into a new place, to try to call it home is testament to all that is in her.  There was lots of laughter but also lots of tears.   The woman leaving and the ones being left hardly grasping at this age what life will be like without the other.  Everything between them has been so familiar, a  shorthand.  In their early nineties,  they call themselves the YA YA Sisterhood.   In our hearts , we knew it was time but there was still  a sense of guilt felt by the two of us – my husband  and I – advocating for and managing this move as we watch the farewells unfold.   They never sit still, this crew.   If there’s party, they are there.  If there’s a play to see, they will see it.       Is it too late in life to hope to ever establish that again?  

     Apparently not.      Here we are two months in – she is now part of a new pinochle group, has signed up for a series of concerts, she has established friendships with a number of women with whom she visits and has dinner every night.   She walks inside the buildings that are connected so she doesn’t have to brave this cold until the weather changes and she can go outside and walk the grounds.  She has told me that she loves her new apartment and is surprised by how she really doesn’t miss the old house.   And we were able to celebrate her 92nd birthday on the actual day with her here and in person for the first time in  a long time!

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She enjoys the new people she’s meeting but misses her friends back East.  She misses the freedom and independence represented by her car even as she realizes that the traffic here is so much more daunting than in her area of Pennsylvania, she wouldn’t drive anyway.   But she continues her relationships by phone calls  with her family  in Italy and with  friends in Florida, New York and, yes, her sisterhood in Pennsylvania.

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            They say you don’t make old friends.   In October, back in Pennsylvania to help my mother in law mine through seventy years worth of accumulating, a dear childhood friend and I finally were able to get together.    We literally hadn’t seen each other for probably twelve years – since our last eighth grade class reunion.   We were the closest of friends in grade school and high school.   My granddaughter has taken to reading my diary (with permission!) and has commented on  my friend’s name in almost daily entries during our high school years.   When we met we reminisced and laughed about how much time we had spent together as kids, and things that happened back then that only the two of us would recall.    One of the first things she said to me when we met was “You look just like your mom!”   Only a childhood friend would know that.   I can’t  tell you the feeling I had when she said that because it’s absolutely true, and she is one of very few who now remember my mom.   She told me that when she came to my house as a teenager she would marvel at the sister-like interaction between my mom and me after my father died.  The navigation she saw between my mom and me was more of a negotiation between the two of us than my mother actually directing me to do something. I laughed when she said that because a number of my aunts made the same assessment back then.     “Remember when we all went to the Golden Ox [a very nice local restaurant in those days] for your seventeenth birthday?  Do you remember that?”  Indeed she and I did remember that night in minute detail!   We remembered that there were a number  of us,  all friends, that went.   In those days, our comfort level was going to  local diners after high school football games rather than grown up restaurants.  We laughed about having  no real idea of how to maneuver around a restaurant like that since until that night mostly we were with our parents who did the paying and tipping.  

         When we parted we took a picture.  Our 71-year-old selves quickly reverted back to our 14-year-old selves: “We’re not going to post it if we don’t look cute!”   And we burst out laughing!  

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       I left our lunch with such a feeling of nostalgia, of regret that we don’t live closer to each other and yet happiness that we were able to meet and reminisce  and pick up our friendship as though no time had passed at all.   We stay connected through messaging.   

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       Finally, in November, we met again at my mother in law’s home for our final Thanksgiving in her house.  It was a wonderful bittersweet gathering, this Thanksgiving.    

       The boys sitting across from me at the table are  full-on men now but sometimes it’s hard not to see them still as boys   – one is my child, my son, and the other, Rich,  is my mother-in-law’s stepson.  My son and his family live in Chicago near us, and Rich and his family live in Texas.    They both have high powered successful careers and talked about all the stress, tension and reward that comes with that.   Their children became immediate friends, as kids do, remarkably having met for the first time on this trip. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3d68

Their wives had already known each other and chatted away.  

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        But wait, there’s more about these boys.   They both turned 50 years old this past year! Impossible!   Before my mother in law had even met or married Rich’s father, my son and Rich were friends, having first met in Kindergarten!   So I watch them across the table and see them as five year olds.   No, no wait, now they’re twelve year olds.   No, no, they’re teenagers, sneaking down to the bar in this very home and having some beers!    Now they’re in Philadelphia going to different colleges but then graduating on the same day!  It was at Rich’s wedding rehearsal dinner in Texas that we were all gathered and he toasted his  friend from childhood, “To Paul, one of my oldest friends, who through fate and a series of marriages, became my nephew!”   Life’s twists and turns are surely remarkable!

       So there you have it – part of how I spent these past five months – watching resilience play out firsthand, reconnecting with a cherished friend, and marveling with the pride and satisfaction of watching my son’s and all of his friends’ lead wonderful lives.    

Until next time….which will be much sooner than 5 months from now……

SEARCHING FOR OUR BETTER ANGELS

Reading is one of my favorite pastimes.  I read everything from non-fiction bestsellers to classics to biography and history.   I particularly  love reading historians who don’t just tell me names, dates and places but who can tell a story, who make the past come alive.    I’m an avid reader of  my two favorite historical writers,  Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jon Meacham.  Both have a talent for capturing  larger-than-life characters. With each of these historians I come away having learned new things about their subjects, the nuances of the times in which they lived, and often, lessons for dealing with now.  Their books are infused with facts and poetry, history interpreted through a storyteller’s sensibility

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Earlier this summer, I read the latest book by Jon Meacham called “The Soul of America.”    This  weekend is the anniversary of  Charlottesville rally,  where last year the president, in the face of white supremacy demonstrations,  gave moral equivalency to patriotic Americans seeking justice and equality  and  the apostles of former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke  – “very fine people on both sides” Trump said.   “There’s blame on both sides,”  Trump said.   That rally became a catalyst for Meacham to write this book.    Today on the anniversary of Charlottesville, far fewer white supemacists, only about 20,  marched in Washington, tamped down by a far greater number of counter-protesters.   White supremacists were outnumbered at their own rally.     The larger  numbers were really on the side of the anti-racist, anti-fascist counter-protestors.   The President’s reaction?  Under pressure he tried to walk back last year’s comments – too little, too late, and only under duress,  again.  

 We’re living in a world of parallel universes.  Donald Trump  uses slight of hand and distraction admonishing his followers who have surrendered their intellect to him,  to “Just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”    For 22 months we’ve asked ourselves how did we get to this place?  Well, for one thing, having a president who tolerates extremist rhetoric and  fosters an atmosphere where division is not only tolerated but honed, is distructive.      In an interview I saw coincidentally today,  Meacham calls Donald Trump  the  “vivid manifestation of our worst instincts” but they are instincts that are part of our national character.   It’s the confluence of  a period of intense fear and  a willing individual at the helm  creating the storm such as what we are currently living through.     

We’ve been through times of fear before, of course,  and have ultimately  gotten through them.     Meacham talks about fear of “the other,”   people who don’t look like us or sound like us:   fear of immigrants,   fear of Catholics, fear of blacks that have generated times like this.  Incredibly, three to five million Americans were part of the Ku Klux Klan from 1915 to 1927 and  were so integrated into the fabric of our country that they didn’t bother to hide that fact.     Governors of Oregon, Georgia, Texas,  Colorada and others were known members of the KKK.   Seventy years ago, Strom Thurmond, United States Senator from South Carolina, running as a DIxiecrat,  espoused that  communisim would win if swimming pools were integrated.         Indeed  even Franklin Rooseselt, generally a good president whose administration passed legislation that was wildly beneficial for the people,  caved to then-Attorney General of California Earl Warren and instituted the  internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.  

One of the most emotional and prideful moments in the book and in our history was the evolution of Lyndon Johnson  spearheading the Civil and Voting Rights movements in the mid-1960’s.   Here was a Southern President being brought along in his thinking and position on this and ultimately fighting indefatigably for these pivotal pieces of legislation.  He came to politics  as anything but a progressive, appeasing his segregationsist constituents,  having actually weakened civil rights bills in the Senate.   But Meacham calls his ultimate commitment to Civil Rights  “one of the great chapters of personal transformation and of political courage in the history of the presidency – one akin to Lincoln’s move from tolerance of slavery in 1861 to emancipation in 1862-63.”

Each chapter in his book is dedicated to specific crises as cautionary tales or  illustrative of what is possible:  the Revolutionary War and the beautiful country that ultimately resulted,  crises such as the Civil War and the Reconstruction, the destruction created by McCarthyism that sadly ruined countless lives but didn’t ruin the country,  the Great Depression.   We’ve prevailed through them all.  The subtitle of this book is “The Battle for our Better Angels.”   In previous times, Meacham says,  usually with appropriate presidential leadership and  the people themselves  relentlessly communicating – through our vote and through activism –  that this is not who we want to be, that we find that  progress is possible again  and we can re-discover  our better angels.

Jon Meacham is certainly not a Donald Trump fan, but he writes this book with an even hand.   He uses examples of how both Democrat and Republican presidents and institutions have faltered throughout our history and how we’ve addressed each situation.   No matter what side of the political aisle you stand on,  if you read this book, I hope you find it interesting, informative  and provocative.   As Meacham says at the end of his introduction, “Hope is sustaining…Fear can be overcome.”   We can be lifted to higher ground.   

Until next time………

 

GNOCCHI

One of the pastas I routinely make from scratch is gnocchi.    It’s a sort of dumpling whose basic recipe has but three simple ingredients: Potatoes, all purpose flour and eggs. Some people add some parma reggiano or grana padano cheese to the mix but, I’m not a big cheese lover, so don’t add cheese to my gnocchi dough.  I leave it to guests to add cheese to their plate  when it is served.

How many potatoes do I use? Gnocchi, by definition, are heavy so I generally use one russet potato for each of my guests and then one or two for the pot, so to speak. I like leftovers. I boil the potatoes until they are fork soft, I remove them from the water, AND THEN, peel them.  (Note that I have read some  recipes that call for  baking the potatoes and scoop the potato out of the skins once the potatoes are cool, which seems infinitely more civilized than the way I do it.     I peel the skins off my boiled potatoes while they are still pretty hot – almost requiring that I have asbestos hands but I’ve gotten used to it over the years.   I’ve never gotten a good answer about what is accomplished by doing it this way  but, like many people who do things because “that’s the way my grandmother did it,” I’m  just following my family recipe).    I then cut the potatoes  in half and run them through the finest disc of  a potato ricer to get them to a consistency to mix with the eggs and flour.  If you don’t have a ricer you can mash them until they’re smooth.

It’s the flour and eggs that get tricky. I learned my gnocchi recipe from my mother-in-law who learned from her mother and on back for generations. So the answer I get to the flour and egg question is “See how it feels.” But if you’ve never felt the dough texture, that leaves you without a frame of reference.  Over the years I’ve learned that it should feel firm, but not hard, with the ability to roll into a rod, with  thickness the size of a magic marker.  UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3b88

I start with about four room temperature eggs for about six or seven servings but I generally add at least one more egg to get the consistency I want.

I work with the dough cut into about 18-inch rods. Then I take a butter knife and cut the rods into about 1-inch gnocchi.  Some people at this point just leave the gnocchi in the cut shape.   Others use a fork and flatten them slightly, either for decoration, or so they are more certain to boil to a good consistency.     My family has taught me to flatten the gnocchi by rolling each one on my surface with my index and middle fingers to create a slight dip.

My gnocchi are served with my usual red pasta sauce and meatballs. If you google gnocchi you will see that there are a variety of ways they can be made and served: pan fried as a side dish, with spinach added to the ingredients for spinach gnocchi. Any number of variations can make them your own.

This week my mother-in-law and I made gnocchi, one of my grandson’s favorite dishes,  for our family dinner  for his tenth birthday. We have always made gnocchi, boiled them and served them on the same day. This time though we knew we would not have enough time do all that with all the activity surrounding Luke’s birthday.      I’m generally one of those “what could go wrong” cooks. So we made them on the night before and stored them in the refrigerator and crossed our fingers that they wouldn’t eventually boil into a thick glom. My mother-in-law, a veteran of making thousands of gnocchi in her lifetime, was skeptical.   I’ve made gnocchi about ten times in my lifetime, resulting in about a thousand gnocchi, and I must say they’ve all come out good.       I realized that I was indeed taking a chance not boiling them right after making them.   While putting them in the fridge for a couple of hours is OK according to recipes I found on Google, the real way to save gnocchi for later is to freeze them (apparently you can save them for up to a month this way).  This is something my mother-in-law didn’t know, so I was finally able to teach her something!

I had three pans of uncooked gnocchi dumplings laid out in a single layer on floured white cloths in the pans so that they could dry. I took them out of the fridge and drove to our son and daugher-in-law’s house for the party.

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The raw gnocchi before they turned gray

Let me also prepare you for the look of the gnocchi at this point. Unlike the tan bullets you get when making them and using them immediately, by saving them in the fridge,  they looked like gray oysters. The potatoes will cause the dough to oxidize in the fridge. Some say that it is the eggs that cause the dough to oxidize but in my experience with making homemade linguini and cappelletti, both of which obviously are made with eggs, (but no potatoes) and laid out to dry, neither have ever turned gray. It is only the gnocchi made with potatoes that have turned in my experience.

When I got to my son and daughter-in-law’s home,  I had a few hours before we were going to put the raw gnocchi in boiling water for the finished product. What I did as an experiment when I got to their house was to put one pan of the gnocchi in their freezer. The other two pans, I left in the fridge.  (I also made sure that we had store-bought pasta in the pantry as Plan B in case this all failed!).  I can attest that the gnocchi in the freezer did indeed freeze in that short time and were infinitely easier, keeping their shape, when dumped into the water. But I will also say that even the refrigerated  gnocchi boiled as they should, somewhat misshapen,  but did not congeal into an unappetizing blob. They had a very good consistency to taste and, thankfully, were enjoyed by all – most importantly and particularly by our guest of honor, Luke, who ate a very large dish full!

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The finished product – by the way, this is a picture of the serving dish, not Luke’s portion!

I know many of you are fantastic cooks and I would love to hear about your methods (or liberties) you’ve taken when making any of your other favorite dishes.

Until next time…….

 

 

JERSEY SHORE

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Beach Haven

For anyone  who grew up in eastern Pennsylvania in the ’50’s or ’60’s like I did, part of the  summer  was usually spent at the Jersey Shore,  anywhere along that stretch of oceanfront from Sandy Hook in North Jersey  to Cape May in the south.  As a child and teen, for me and later for my son,  that meant going to either Ocean City, Wildwood, or Atlantic City.   In fact, my son was born along this coast.     Long before there was Snookie and her motley crew that gave the Jersey Shore the crass  reputation that still stands in peoples’ minds today, we who grew up there remember lovely,  low key and unassuming summers, just enjoying the simple pleasures of  the ocean crashing on the sand, the smell of salt water, the boardwalk, pizza and cheesesteaks (on the Jersey shore you’re close enough to Philly to need a cheesesteak) , pork roll (in those days, we didn’t go to the shore for health food!)  salt water taffy, and, in those days, Atlantic City’s Steel Pier.

New Jersey resort afficianadoes have their own vernacular:    we  don’t call the coast “the beach.”    We know the Jersey coast as “The Shore.”  People who are going to any of the resort towns along the coast  say they are going  “down the shore,”  no matter from which direction you are going.  Even if you were headed East straight across New Jersey, you were  still going “down the shore.”  And for most of us it meant being on the Garden State Parkway for a bit or the Atlantic City Expressway.    You simply clarified by telling people which resort you were referring to; example, “I’m going down the shore to Ocean City.”

This year for the first time in many years, my husband and I had an opportunity to spend a week down the shore, on Long Beach Island (LBI), an 18-mile long,  skinny strip of land that boasts some of the shore’s most iconic beach towns with beautiful, quirky names that date back a couple of centuries:   Loveladies, Ship Bottom,  and Beach Haven.       Just before we left for the shore, we picked up a local paper that had run an unscientific study to determine their version of  the top  10 beaches along the Jersey coast.   Several reporters judged all the oceanfront beaches on the Jersey Shore (how did they get this assignment?!) on quality (however you define “quality”), crowd type, size, parking availability, surrounding food venues,  drink and recreation. Sure enough, second on the list, after Cape May, was Beach Haven, the beautiful LBI town where we were about to stay.    What they liked about Beach Haven was its “chill vibe and excellent surrounding attractions” making it “the best of the best” on LBI.

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The ocean at Beach Haven

Incidentally,  three of the 10 places along the shore that made their top 10 list, are on Long Beach Island: along with Beach Haven (#2),  they also liked Ship Bottom (#5 and Harvey Cedars (#9).

We arrived at the house we were renting which was a half block from the water.   It was everything we were looking for: besides proximity to the house, we found a clean spacious beach, beautiful dunes, and wonderful restaurants with amazing selections that didn’t scream “tourist-y.”

Three days after our arrival at the shore, we drove the hour and a half down the coast to Wildwood to visit with family who were also on vacation.   Part of the fun of going to Wildwood for the father in this  family, who now actually live in Texas, was to show his young kids where he had vacationed as a child.

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The beach in Wildwood

Wildwood is the quintessential Jersey resort, and is the beach of our youth!  In fact many of the hotels we passed seemed to have a distinct ’60’s or ’70’s feel to them that we could easily have stayed in way back when.

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The roller coaster on the Wildwood Beach

It also boasts  a large  beach, roller coasters and bullet rides along the water and a boardwalk.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3b23The boardwalk is that slice of wooden planks  that separates the ocean from the kitschy shops, eateries and souvenir hawkers where people meander or take the famous tram car  that’s been in operation from 1949 and starts in North Wildwood, passes through Wildwood and ends in Wildwood Crest.  It’s no surprise  that songs have been written for over a century about the boardwalk and romantic strolls along its pathway.

Beach Haven does not  have a boardwalk but a few blocks to the south of our house,  we found a large number of  places for family outings:  carnival-like ride parks, ice cream parlors,  bars, souvenir shops with the ubiquitous faux sea shells, pictures of lighthouses, cards  and more sweatshirt and T-shirts that you can count.  As I write this,  I realize I’m making it sound tacky but really it is not.  People expect to bring back memorabilia from vacations and I think that if these items and places were not available, the place would disappoint and be somehow boring.   But in Beach Haven because the rides, shops and souvenirs are in town, the beach itself remains pristine and peaceful.     There is  definitely more of a Cape Cod feel to Beach Haven.

Later in the week we spent two beautiful days with  other friends near Egg Harbor, close to Atlantic City.  We even did a walkthrough of  the new casinos in AC, the Hard Rock and Oceans.

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The ceiling of the new Hard Rock casino in Atlantic City

 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3b3f  I continued on  my quest to eat my fill of the freshest eastern seafood all week long.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3b13As with all the places we stayed we had  wonderful dinners starting on the first day of our visit with a clambake of lobster, clams, corn, sausages and baked potatoes,  continuing on with mussels,  tuna steaks, sea bass, calamari – my mercury level is probably glowing but I love it!

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All in all, our  trip to the shore was a throwback to a very simple and fun time in my life.  The ocean always invigorates me.  I had been looking forward to it for several months and I loved every minute of the  being down the shore again.

 

HISTORY, FRIENDS, FAMILY

During the past two weeks my husband, Frank, and I have been in Europe, this time visiting Germany and Holland. I can’t cite actual statistics but I would guess that a more typical destination for a vacation in Europe might be Italy, France, Spain, or Greece. We love those countries and have been fortunate to visit each of them. Our family has been going to Europe for more than thirty years. In addition to just wanting to see iconic places in person that we see in books and on TV, with regard to Italy, we eagerly go back about every 3 years to visit family living in Lecce in southern Italy and to fit in side trips to places like the Amalfi Coast, Matera, Sicily, and Otranto. But I get the sense that countries like Germany and Holland are viewed as sort of second tier when planning European vacations. Indeed in the months that led up to this trip we were asked more than once why Germany? Why Holland? Regarding Germany, Frank lived and worked in Germany for about 8 months in 2005 and 2006, and I visited often. He is currently semi-retired from the company he’s worked for since 2005 and goes back periodically for business, or in this case, to see friends and colleagues. I have to admit that Holland actually is a country that we might have overlooked were it not for family that lives there. This was my fifth or sixth time in Germany and my third trip to Holland. But as always because of family or friends, we’ve grown somewhat familiar with these countries and particularly love venturing off the usual tourist path and seeing how the real people live.
This trip, our first stop was Munich, a beautiful medieval city to which we had never been previously. Astonishing to realize that the very vibrant city in which we stood was heavily damaged in World War II and then rebuilt over the last 50 years. My husband is an avid history buff, and one of his major interests is Germany in the 1920’s and ’30’s and circumstances that led to the rise of the Third Reich. In fact, a mini-theme of this trip became the sites that played major roles during the Second World War. Munich was the birth place of Nazism. We took a walking tour of the city – entitled Hitler’s Munich – with a guide discussing the important facts and seeing the sites that were emblematic of this dark chapter that ended with this beautiful city in ruins.

Night after night and day after day we spent a lot of time in the beautiful Marienplatz, the plaza where in 1923 Hitler tried to launch a failed coup. We people watched, took in the impromptu concerts that sprout up, drank beer, ate wienerschnitzel, but never seemed to be there when the glockenspiel did its thing – the twice daily chimes and dances of the statues.

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The glockenspiel in the Marienplatz in Munich

Next we visited Dachau, a forced labor camp that was the first concentration camp set up by Hitler’s regime. Hitler became the Chancellor of the German Reich in January 1933 and less than two months later, the concentration camp near Dachau was opened. It turned out to be the prototype and the beginning of a system of camps that spread into many other parts of Europe over the next 12 years. The list of the atrocities committed during that time is sobering indeed. By the time that Dachau was liberated by American troops on April 29, 1945, Dachau had housed an estimated 188,000 political prisoners.

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The entry to the Dachau camp – the inscription says “Work makes you free”

It’s sobering that a monster who failed at everything else in his life was able to generate a movement so persuasive as to coalesce people to follow his vision for his adopted country. His one gift – that of screaming oratory and striking the right message for a desparate country – was sufficient to rally enough people to follow him to the gates of hell. He didn’t invent hatred or anti-Semitism. But his mad genius was his ability to transform a kernel of what a segment of people were already feeling into a national mandate so powerful that at the end of his rage 6,000,000 Jews were left massacred. And because of a war that was started when Hitler invaded Poland, 52 million people in Europe alone died. It’s not that there wasn’t resistence but the resistance was never enough to forestall his siege. I think it’s important that places like Dachau and Auschwitz are seen so that we never forget what happened there, that we always stay vigilent in this world so that monstrous acts like these are not repeated.
Our guide at Dachau was a German woman who was born soon after the war ended. It wasn’t until her early teens that she started asking her parents questions about what had happened during the war and what they had known at the time. For years her parents deflected her questions without adequate answers. In 1978, a made-for-TV movie produced in the United States about the Holocaust showed on German TV. It was after this showing that our guide became relentless in her queries of her parents and others who lived through that time in Germany. Eventually she was essentially told that people didn’t really know much but also often didn’t make waves for fear of reprisals to their own families. It was an emotional, stirring and touching end to our tour of this hallowed place where a documented 32,000 people were ultimately put to death, and thousands more, died.

 

It’s always been powerfully moving to talk with the German people – many of whom were not even born during that time – about the national guilt that overtook them for many decades following the war or to read their public declarations of their ownership of their responsibiity of the horrors of that time.

 

On the last of our four days in the Munich area we went to the Neuschwanstein Castle, built by King Ludwig II. It is the prototype for the castle that tinkerbell flies over in the iconic symbol of Disney World. It’s nestled in mountains in Bavaria across the border from the Austrian Alps. In addition it’s surrounded by a lovely little village whose obvious primary industry is tourism. It was a 2-hour bus trip to go there and another 2 hours back to Munich, but we were so glad we did it.

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Neuschwanstein Castle

The next day, we drove the six hours from Munich to Dortmund, Germany, in the the Ruhrgebiet, the heart of the industrial part of Germany and the site of the company’s manufacturing plant where Frank worked and twelve years ago. We had a fantastic time having dinners catching up with friends and colleagues that I have also come to know over the years. During this part of the trip Frank and I also drove to Munster,

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The cafe in Munster where were had a wonderful lunch

a university town known for its 13th century cathedral St. Paulus Dom. Here in the cathedral we finally saw their glockenspiel “performance” and well worth the wait.

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The glockenspiel in Munster’s cathedral

We spent three days in and around Dortmund. Time to move on to Holland.

My Frank’s aunt and uncle live in Alblasserdam, Holland, about 10 miles from Rotterdam. Alblasserdam is a small village with idyllic scenes of windmills, cows and canals, just what we expect the Netherlands to look like.

With my Frank’s cousins we visited Amsterdam, a city we had last visited about twelve years ago. Back then, we had taken a canal ride, went to the Hague, visited beach towns, Delft, and, yes, saw the notorious Red Light district. Amsterdam is one of those cities – same is true for places like New Orleans and San Francisco – where when you arrive you know you’re there immediately. A city with its own style. Amersterdam is a beautiful city of canals, bicycles, Dutch homes with their unique designs and levers on which to hoist furniture and other heavy objects to the upper floors, a car-parking system that can make Chicago look cheap by comparison, and incredible museums. As Rick Steves says, “From houseboats to sex, from marijuana to the Old Masters, you can find a museum to suit your interests.”

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The bikes of Holland – bikes everywhere!

My one disappointment was that I wanted to take a tour of the Ann Frank House, the attic in which she and her family hid from the Nazis for two years prior to being captured. This is probably the most popular of the tourist sites in Amsterdam and, unbeknownst to me until it was too late, tourists are advised to reserve tickets at least two months prior to the visit so my request in early May for an early June slot was too late. We did visit the Vermeers and Rembrandts in the Rijksmuseum which was a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

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The gardens of the Rijksmuseum

Continuing our focus around the Second World War, we visited the area around Arnhem, in the town of Oosterbeek, where the monumental Hartenstein Villa was the headquarters of the British Airborne Divison during the famous Battle of Arnhem in 1944, and the subject of the film “A Bridge Too Far.” The Villa is now the home of the Airbourne Museum. It was incredible to see.
On the recommendtion of family, we also visited Breda, with its wonderful outdoor restaurants and its amazing Grote Kerk, the amazing church that broke ground in 1410 and opened in 1547 as Roman Catholic and is now a Protestant with a spire that sails 97 meters (about 100 yards) into the sky.

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Grote Kerk

We spent a lovely Sunday in the town of Utrecht: watched the end of a 10K race, shopped, ate along the canal and just generally kicked back.

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We finished the day back in Alblassardam at the home of Frank’s aunt and uncle with a wonderful family dinner and a magnificent dessert.  UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3ae5

It doesn’t get better than this.

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With all the traveling we do, you’d maybe expect that my husband and I would be better trip planners. We just aren’t – we generally have an idea of our “must-sees” but much of the time we wing it. I don’t have the patience for intense research and my husband often doesn’t have the time. With this trip, we had the advantage of friends in Dortmund and family in Holland who led us to places that often people wouldn’t know about, even with a guidebook. Sometimes it takes a local to get you to the hidden gems.

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Ultimately, we realized that this trip more than any of our others  showed us incredible beauty: the ancient churches and castles, the canals, the amazing people, the Alps;  and reminders of unspeakable horror, as we traveled Hitler’s path in Munich, traced back to the carnage at Arnhem, silently and reverently bowed our heads at Dachau.

Thanks for taking this tour with us…..

 

 

50-PLUS SHADES OF GRAY AND A RE-DO OF INTERIOR DESIGN

Anyone who’s ever had to make a decision about home renovation or decor already knows this.   So many of the decisions we make about our homes generate the onslaught of too many choices. Whether looking for wallpaper, granite, fabric, tile or paint, or any number of other things for the home, there are simply too many options to consider! The task becomes massive!

About two postings ago, I wrote about my husband agreeing to my long-standing campaign to have our trim and other wood in our home painted a shade of white. (See The Elephant Gives Birth! ).   Once we achieved that, I realized that it was also time for our kitchen, adjoining family room and mudroom to have a full paint job, including walls and ceilings. The paint for the trim had already been chosen due to the color used on other wood in the house – bookcases and stair risers – that had been painted last year: Benjamin Moore’s White Dove, a classic, softly shaded white. One decision made:  the trim  would also be White Dove.

Next came the dilemma of the wall color. My initial thought when I first started to think about this a year or so ago was that I eschewed what I called Ubiquitous Gray. Over the past few years it seemed I’ve seen gray everywhere – on walls, on cabinetry, and even on floors. As an alternative I knew I didn’t want my walls to be beige, not that I don’t like beiges and taupes but simply because part of my goal with the new white trim was to remove much of the brown that I saw as I looked around my main floor. And beige or taupe was just too much of brown’s distant cousin for my current tastes. So I started to look at other possibilities  such as variations of sea foam (but worried about it fighting with my blacksplash) and Swiss Coffee (Benjamin Moore) which was a beautiful bright off-white but, alas, too close to the current color on my walls, and it really didn’t allow the white trim to pop sufficiently. Besides, my husband and I agreed that we wanted to see change in the color on the walls. Within that vast, overwhelming paint color wheel, surely there had to be new colors to consider, right?
I don’t know if you noticed but this Spring, magazine covers screamed out  “Go Bold,” “Color Calling,” and with a throwback to the Fifties, more than one article celebrated use of paint combinations such as fuschia, turquoise and yellow. I was looking for ideas and have never been adverse to color but I knew I couldn‘t live with Coney Island Pink in my kitchen. And I’d already served my time with Salmon walls years ago. It may be the current trend but it’s not the look I wanted now.

So I went back to Plan A, searching for the calm, classic and relatively unobtrusive hue I originally envisioned. There was the beautiful Muslin (Benjamin Moore) that I have loved for fifteen years but felt now that on my walls it came off just too beigy to make the cut. I started to see actual grays on actual walls in the well appointed  homes of  friends and family – all of which looked absolutely beautiful, colors that were establishing themselves in my mind as definitely in the running. With the arrival of the painter looming, I started to slather swatches on my walls.   And I was clearly leaning toward all the shades of gray!

There was beautiful Wickham Gray (Benjamin Moore) which shows on my friend’s walls as a stunning whisper of blue. I was convinced that was to be the color. But in my lighting, it came off  much darker than I wanted. There was Agreeable Gray. (Sherwin Williams).  Popular Gray (Sherwin Williams).  Palest Pistachio, which sounds like it should be green but it was almost white (Benjamin Moore).   There was Silver Ash (Behr).  There was the Revere Pewter (Benjamin Moore) of my son and daughter-in-law’s beautiful kitchen and family room and one of the first gray shades that got my serious attention. Throughout the course of living with the swatches on the walls, Revere Pewter just seemed too dark in my spaces and was virtually eliminated right out of the gate. Some  turned into an unexpected shade of violet or almost turquoise.   What I wanted was a relatively pale gray, that would still be strong enough to show off the white trim.   It became an huge task with too many options and now I was facing a pressing deadline.

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I was really at a loss, that is until one morning when I came down into my kitchen and saw the Revere Pewter swatch propped up against my backsplash. What struck me was how beautifully it matched with my kitchen cabinets that remain stained,  and, most of all, with how it drew out the gray imbedded in my mosaic backsplash. Was it possible that this had been the color all along? It was then and there that I locked onto Revere Pewter as my color.  There’s nothing like the pressure of painter arrival to force focus and a needed decision!

Now that the white is on the trim and Revere Pewter is on the walls,  I see the transformation I was looking for in my home!  It has been achieved and I love it!   It is just the way I wanted my rooms to look – updated, fresh, and clean!   More importantly, my husband and I both love it!    In fact, we loved it so much, we had the wall under the chair rail in our dining room also painted Revere Pewter since the dining room is visible from the kitchen.

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The newly painted dining room looking into the den

Now I’m taking another look at my “decoration” around the house. Since painting requires scaling back – furniture needs to be moved out and walls bared – it’s an opportunity to re-think what stays and what goes, to recreate the design and decor used in the rooms.   For example, contemporary parson’s benches which are now upholstered in a dark animal print in our family room will be re-covered in a light airy fabric.

Our home is a traditional colonial. While our decor is fundamentally traditional, incorporated are elements of some collectibles and antiques, a bit of contemporary. I believe the white trim and new wall color create a more classic contemporary feel that accommodates a variety of styles.
While I’m not an antique fanatic, interspersed throughout our home are cherished  pieces that have great meaning to my husband and me, collected over the years that are, and will always remain, part of our home.   Among them, there are the lights, original to our 1920’s home in  Pennsylvania and that we removed before we sadly put that house on the market: the twenties-era cranberry glass ceiling lamp that adorned the entry to that home  is now the lighting above our relatively modern, oversized dining room table,

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The 1920’s cranberry glass light in our dining room along with the relatively contemporary art on the walls

as well as another art deco ceiling lamp that now lights part of our entry hallway.  UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_39b2

There is a folk vase from Czechoslovakia from the 1930’s that belonged to my grandmother.    UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_39c0

There is the 1880’s Civil War Reconstruction era cannon-ball brass bed – now the centerpiece in one of our guest rooms – that was a wedding gift to us from my mother-in-law. It has helped us create our version of the Lincoln bedroom.   UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_39b3

We also bought at a private sale in Pennsylvania about forty years ago, and still use, a set of 1880’s dressers.   My mother’s 1930’s cedar hope chest is displayed in front of one of our bookcases.    These are heavy brown pieces but they are  pieces held dear by us that will happily remain as they are in our home.

I’m excited as I sparingly and slowly add back only some of the items that previously hung on our walls. While my home is far from minimalist, I believe that quite a number of walls and nooks that previously had some embellishment, will now remain bare.  Unless I get too bored with that…..

Thank you for stopping by.   Until next time…….