My husband’s parents are about to become transplantedsouth.
This weekend, in the on-and-off rain, my in-laws had a yard sale in attempts to sell off the last possessions they did not want to take with them to Florida.
I got a call from my mother-in-law, asking me one last time if we wanted to take a few last things:
The antique 1920′s style school desk, complete with an inkwell, that resided in my husband’s childhood room.
The orange and brown stoneware dishes that she used each year for Passover.
Though both these things had great sentimental value, they were remnants of a house that was being left behind, and they just had no place in our present lives. My heart said yes, but my brain said no. We had taken all we were going to take that could fit into our current home. The rest, would just have to live on in memories and in lots of photos.
I’ve been visiting the house at 24 Manor Road North, on a huge one-acre lot, long before I was married. I started going there as a teenager, not long after I met the man who would be my husband at a camping retreat at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires.
In fact, many of you reading this may have also shared great memories at 24 Manor Road N. long before we became the grownups we are today.
24 Manor Road North was host to our youth group’s student board retreat weekend.
I never attended one of these weekends (I lived on the other island, Staten Island) but I have heard they were legendary.
40 teens in one house for an entire weekend.
Can you imagine?
Later, 24 Manor Road N. was home to many “next to New Year’s” parties in honor of my husband’s January 3 birthday.
Now, after over 40 years of living in Long Island, my in-laws are packing up and heading to their dream retirement home along a golf course in … you guessed it – Boca Raton, Fla.
During these past four decades, they worked hard, raised four children and have done their share of babysitting over 14 grandchildren. They have rightfully and healthfully reached this well-deserved phase in their lives. I am genuinely happy for them. For the grown children however, we are left with that bittersweet realization that you can never go home again.
On our last trip to the house I took lots of photos of parts of the house that I have known forever, and now would never see again.
Like the enormous hedges that seemed to swallow the house with each passing year:
I also took some photos of parts of the house you were NOT allowed to see until you were no longer considered a guest but a part of the family. Like the upstairs “kids” bathroom that my husband shared with his three sisters, the one with the whale mirror:
And then, when you were REALLY family, you could go in the basement. On our last day at the house, we went downstairs to the basement, already filling with boxes, where my father-in-law asked if we wanted to take some paintings he created long ago
We also found remnants from the family business, Fairyland Amusement Park in Brooklyn, that was in my husband’s family for three generations:
This move has been over a year in the making, and selling the house was tough in the Long Island housing market. To sell the house, little bits of its personality were smoothed over, creating a clean slate for the minds of potential homebuyers.
With each visit over the last year, the house felt less like the home I’ve visited since I was 16. Gone from the kitchen were the dozens of hanging plants, some living, some just hanging on, that was known as the “jungle” and where, in rounds, children and grandchildren had breakfasts or July 4 hot dogs after cousin sleepovers:
Gone from the stairwell were the photos of my sisters-in-law as kids and collages of grandchildren.
Gone were the artful silver and mauve squiggles that my father-in-law painted on the kitchen walls.
Everything felt neutral. Beige. Only one room, the dining room where we had so many holiday dinners, maintained its burgundy hue.
On my husband’s last day in his boyhood home earlier this month, I didn’t rush him out despite the seven- hour drive ahead of us back up to Rochester. He watched one last Wimbledon tennis match with his parents on the big sectional couch where the family and many friends logged in thousands of hours of hanging out.
In the end, we had many great memories at 24 Manor Road North. (Feel free to add your own memories, family, in the comments box.)
We’ll just have to make new ones in Florida.
Especially over February break.
When people ask me where I send my kids to camp, I tell them I send them to Camp Ramah.
Now, when you live in a town where traveling even 30 minutes to get somewhere seems like traveling to another planet (and I’m guilty of this as well), they then reply, Oh, the Camp Ramah in Toronto.
And then I say, “Nooo, it’s actually two and a half hours further. North of Toronto. In a region called Muskoka.”
The response I hear is: Isn’t that far?
And truthfully, Yes.
Yes. It’s very far.
Yes, I send my kids for a month, and now for my oldest two months, six hours away. Many see this as a sign of bad parenting. Many cannot fathom why we’d want to get rid of our kids for a month or even two. But, I have a friend who has five boys. Once, when we ran into each other grocery shopping, she spoke to me about the beauty of summer camp.
“Everyone for one time a year gets to live in their own space. It’s really very healthy.”
I’ll remember this produce aisle advice forever.
To get to camp, they travel across an international border and this requires they all need passports. But that means they are truly away from home, broadening their horizons and meeting kids from many countries and cities who are all bound together by a common heritage and a way of observing this heritage.
This is what I keep reminding myself in the hours my husband and I find ourselves in bumper-to-bumper traffic on our way to visitors day.
The first time I drove up to Muskoka, what surprised me most of all was the traffic. I mean, I can accept traffic in the New York Metro area, but traffic in Canada?
Yes, this is my American arrogance shining right through, because I never imagined such a huge population can exist North of the United States.
In reality, the Toronto-Muskoka corridor is packed. If you want to put it in terms of an SAT verbal analogy question, then Muskoka is to Toronto as the Jersey Shore is to the New York Tri State area.
So, picture yourself on the Garden State Parkway on a Friday or a Saturday and you now completely have an understanding of the traffic scene of “cottage country.”
Except, instead of terms like the GSP, you have roads that start with “the”.
And at last, The 11.
On the 11, suddenly the traffic opens up, and you find yourself on a road that ambles along sparkling lakes and pine forests. A road that’s dotted with honky tonk motels and camper parks, kayak rental places, and fruit stands. And you know you’re almost there.
So, getting back to the “why.” Why do we schlep all the way to Muskoka to send our kids to camp? Why do we send our kids so far away when there are closer camps from which to choose?
For many reasons.
Friendship and Kehilah Kedosha (holy community) It’s the smile on the kids faces that I see on nearly every photo that is posted on the camp website. The photos where nearly 600 children, freshly showered and dressed and arms linked, make their way down to the waterfront for another Shabbat service, that gets me every time. I know that we are doing right by our children for parting with them for a summer of this:
My children are developing deep friendships and in turn, we are also making friendships with the families of these children, all within the framework of an immersive Jewish education program that is nearly impossible to duplicate outside of camp (but I keep trying).
Inclusion: When we arrived at camp for visitor’s day, the very first child my 15-year-old daughter talked about and wanted us to meet was her new friend Julie:
Julie, who has Down’s Syndrome, is participating in Camp Ramah’s Tikvah program. Each day, Jolie meets with Julie to tutor her in Hebrew and through these lessons a friendship has blossomed. I am sure the girls will keep in touch long after camp is over.
Family – In truth, campers, and in turn their families, become one extended family. But I have actually reconnected with extended family members on my grandmother’s side that before our Camp Ramah years, I have not seen in decades. Now, the great-grandchildren of my grandmother and her eldest sister attend the same camp. We stay in touch during the year over Facebook and we’ve got plans to visit them in Pittsburgh at the end of the summer.
New Hobbies: Because of his summers canoeing and kayaking in Skeleton Lake, I got into a canoe with my son with confidence. I sat in the front of the wobbly canoe, knowing he would be the one to give me direction on how to stroke and where to steer the boat:
My daughter also took up a hobby, making her own boat in woodshop:
She also painted the sets for and was one of the angels in “Beauty School Dropout” in the Camp Ramah production of Grease.
And all plays at camp Ramah – the lines and the songs – are performed in Hebrew.
I don’t know how to sing “Beauty School Dropout” in Hebrew just now, but I bet my daughter will teach me when she gets home.
Finally, off camp, there is the town of Huntsville with the world’s most amazing candy store and ice creamery, great restaurants, art galleries inside and out,
and nearby Arrowhead Provincial Park where you can swim in a pristine lake, hike to a waterfall and climb in and see fish swimming around you in the current:
And, at night there is darkness. A rarity in our increasingly lit up world, the skies are dark enough to see THOUSANDS of stars, and even spot a fast-moving satellite:
Really, there are stars in this photo. If you don’t believe me, you’ll just have to go up there for yourself. I’ll even tell you which field to stargaze.
So, we’re back. I try not to think about how far away my kids are, kind of how an extreme rock climber just keeps looking up and doesn’t think how high off the ground they are. But we are happy in our space, and they are happy in theirs.
And the schlep is completely worth it.
It’s been a rough week for parents who send their kids to Camp Ramah. We are reeling from the news that a blind camper was not given the accommodations needed to finish out the summer. We are also reeling from the Internet Fallout of a blog post that went viral from his understandably hurt father.
If you did read that post, I hope in turn you will read this post, written by Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, National Director for the Camp Ramah Commission. And please don’t let this one mistake undo decades of Ramah’s reputation for serving Jewish campers with special needs.
While gardeners and farmers feel the drought first, it won’t be long until we all feel it. No one, not even your neighbors who keep watering their lawns despite the news that more than 50 percent of the country is facing a drought not seen since the 1950′s is immune.
This summer has been brutal on our water supply. Newspapers and media reports are full of the plight of the farmer as they watch crops wither because most are at the mercy of rainfall for water.
But perhaps this drought is waking us up to appreciate the most precious resource we all take for granted. And it may be time to rethink and apply some extreme agricultural practices as the earth heats up.
In times like these, we can take a lesson from Israel.
Israel is one of the driest countries on the planet. On average, it receives only 19.4 inches of rain annually. Yet, thanks to cutting edge technology, and even more, the stubborn willingness of a people who know that in order to practically live in Israel, you have to believe in miracles, Israel blooms.
This tiny country has learned to efficiently use every drop of water that falls from the sky in the summer or coats the mountains in the north in winter to grow some of the most beautiful produce in the world. Check out this photo of huge greenhouses growing vegetables like eggplants, tomatoes and peppers in the Negev Desert. Check out this photo courtesy of Daniel Lawrence’s blog:
Israel not only makes the desert bloom, but it has developed technology and methods that the rest of the world can use to reverse and prevent desertification, as noted in this post from israel21c.org. Israel21c.org is an online magazine that offers topical and timely reports on how Israelis from all walks of life and religion, innovate, improve and add value to the world.
So here are a few tips we can learn from Israel to conserve our water resources not only during times of drought, but for the long haul:
- Stop Watering Your Lawn. Right Now. – You! Yes, you, the suburbanite! Fuggetabout your lawn. (okay, fuggetabout it is technically a Brooklyn/New Jersey and not an Israeli term, but let’s get back on topic) Israelis don’t have silly things like lawns. Lawns are nothing but vanity. I’ll say it again: STOP WATERING YOUR LAWN NOW. Your brown lawn has gone into dormancy and watering your lawn artificially just puts more of a strain on its root system. It will come back soft and green when the rains return.
- Use drip irrigation – Did you know that agriculturalists in Israel invented drip irrigation technology? Instead of wastefully watering your garden through a sprinkler, where most water evaporates into the air, use drip irrigation to deliver the water right to where the plants need it – the roots.
- Save that H2O from your A/C - As shown in the photo above, Israel has developed technologies that draw humidity out of the air for irrigating crops. On a smaller scale, you can do the same by catching water runoff from your central air conditioner (my hose empties into the slop sink) to water plants and vegetables
- Less Wasting Water at Restaurants – When you sit down at a restaurant in Israel, don’t assume that the waitress will automatically fill your glass with endless glasses of water. No way are they just giving water away if it’s not asked for. You have to ask for the water, sometimes twice – in two different languages, until the waitress gives you a glass of water. So, next time you dine out, if you are not going to drink the water, tell your server not to pour, or refill your glass.
- Selective Flushing – Here is a picture of just one type of toilet flush in Israel: The flush mechanism is divided into a big section and a small section. If you are reading my blog, you are indeed a very intelligent person, so I’ll let you figure out what purpose each section serves.
- Shower Shorter, or Shower with a Friend - a drought is a great excuse to share your shower.
- Rejoice in the rain: Finally, instead of getting all bummed out when your ball game or picnic gets rained just be thankful. Think of the farmers who need the rain for their crops and livestock (a.k.a. your food, right down to that box of Cheerios and glass of milk at the breakfast table). Any event, even a wedding, can have a postponement, a change of venue or a rain date. But there is no substitute for the blessing of rain.
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:
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!
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.