The Cubs Are Winning – Or Are They?

 Written by Barry Steiger:

I heard my first baseball game in 1945 on the car radio during a car trip with my parents. The Chicago Cubs were playing and I decided I would become a Cub fan because bear cubs are so lovable. I was ten years old and this was the beginning of a lifelong love of baseball.

I grew up in Danville, IL, 120 miles south of Chicago and the signal from the radio station that broadcast the Cubs’ games was very weak. Then I discovered that I could get the station by holding my finger on the aerial button on the back of the radio. Fortunately there weren’t any local thunderstorms during the games since I had made myself a lightning rod.

The Cubs made it to the 1945 World Series because their players were older and all the really good players on other teams had been drafted during WWII. In spite of this advantage, the Cubs lost the series four games to three to the Detroit Tigers and I was devastated. The only saving grace was that Hank Greenberg played third base for Detroit. Although he was too old to be drafted, he was still a superhero, especially to Jewish boys. Greenberg was not only a great baseball player, but he was also Jewish, an oddity in major league baseball as athletic skills weren’t associated with Jewish culture. However, he was subjected to the same kind of abuses that Jackie Robinson, the first African/American player, experienced.

I was in high school before I saw my first baseball game at Wrigley Field and I still remember the excitement of being there. Before the game I had thought that the wooshing sound I heard on the radio after a foul ball landed behind home plate came from the ball hitting the net. I had even argued this point with a classmate. At the game, I learned that the wooshing sound was made by fans and it was a tradition.

I went to college in Chicago and could get to Wrigley Field easily on the El, the part-elevated, part-underground Chicago subway system. At that time, Wrigley Field did not have lights so all games were in the afternoon. During one spring quarter I had a political science course that was well known to have irrelevant lectures and tests based solely on the book. I spent those afternoons in the left field bleachers. The Cubs were especially bad that year but it didn’t matter; Cub fans were used to bad teams. I only attended one lecture and for the first time the political science final exam was entirely based on the lectures. Whoops

Wherever we lived, I remained a Cub fan which isn’t unusual as there are many fans rooting for the Cubs in all the other team’s ballparks. What is unusual is why some of us remain so loyal to a team that has failed to get to the World Series in 71 years and has broken our hearts so many times. In 1984, they led the San Diego Padres two games to none in a five-game National League Championship Series but lost three in a row. In 2003, they were again one win away from advancing to the World Series. When they were leading in the 8th inning of the third game, a fan, Steve Barnhorn, interfered with a catchable foul ball. The Miami Marlins rallied, won that game and the next two to eliminate the Cubs. The unfortunate fan became the human incarnation of “The Curse”. He had to leave Chicago and has remained in hiding.

Yes, there is a curse. In the 1945 World Series, Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis was asked to leave game four of the World Series at the Cubs’ home ballpark, Wrigley Field. He had bought two tickets as he had many times before, one for him and one for his pet goat, Murphy. This time he was asked to leave because fans were complaining about the strong odor coming from his pet goat. He was outraged and declared “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.” This curse meant the Cubs would never be in another World Series game at Wrigley Field and the Cubs, who have not won a World Series since 1908, have not been there since.

There have been many bizarre attempts to remove the “Curse of the Billy Goat”. For example a Greek Orthodox priest sought to end the curse during the 2008 playoffs by spraying holy water in and around the Cubs’ dugout. In 2013, a severed goat’s head was delivered to the Cubs’ owner in a possible effort to lift the curse. In 2014 four men consumed a 40-pound goat in 13 minutes and 22 seconds at a restaurant “Taco in a Bag” in Chicago. There have many more failed attempts. None have worked. At away games, fans of the opposing home team often wear a goat mask

It isn’t just the “Curse of the Billy Goat”. In 1969, the Cubs were leading their division as the end of the season approached. A black cat visited the dugout and the Cubs lost that game, followed by a long losing streak. Cub fans have their own folktale. Two cub fans were so frustrated after watching the last game of another losing season they drank too much, crashed into a tree and ended up in hell. The Devil came to see them and found them roasting ballpark hot dogs and telling each other jokes. The Devil asked them “how can you be happy in this miserable place?” They said “it’s OK, we are used to it; we are Cub fans.” The Devil turned off the heat to make them suffer more. He came to check on them and found them surrounded by ice and high-fiving, laughing and dancing. He said “how can you be even happier in this frigid cold?” They said, “We have never been happier. We are going to the World Series! Hell has frozen over.”

This year, the Cubs have the best record in Major League baseball and were the first team to qualify for the playoffs that would lead to the World Series. They won the first two games of the five game playoffs with San Francisco and lost the third game. Last night was the fourth game and they were losing 5 to 2 at the end of the 8th inning of the fourth game. I turned off the TV and went to bed certain that it was happening again. I dreamt about Billy Goats.

This morning I learned the Cubs scored four runs in the 9th inning and won the series. They still have to win the divisional playoffs to play in the World Series. But I know what is happening – once again the curse is going to end it. Just like Moses led the Jews through the desert to the edge of the Promised Land but died before entering it, we will be taken to the edge of baseball glory only to again say “wait until next year”.

It’s OK. I’m sure that many of us Cub fans would not be able to handle the shock of getting to the World Series let alone winning it. We thrive on rooting for the perennial underdog. We get satisfaction from loving losers. We are baseball masochists. I am going to see a psychiatrist and try to understand what is wrong with Cub fans.

 

Confessions of a Binge Watcher

I’ve heard about people who tune in to the Netflix, HBO and Amazon serials and watch all the episodes of a program in one day. They stay up most of the night, tuning in to one episode after another, making one batch of popcorn after another and rushing to the bathroom in the few minutes between the programs. Why, I asked myself, would anybody want to do this?

Then I walked into the family room when my husband was watching the sixth episode of Mad Men in the first season. Don Draper was doing something outrageous and I perched on the arm of a leather chair to watch for a moment. Soon I moved from the arm to the cushioned seat, my eyes never leaving the television.  When the episode was over, I asked my husband a lot of questions and he quickly caught me up on the story-line. That evening, he turned it on again and I sat down with him. And then I was lost.

During the month of August, we followed Draper and the rest of his advertising buddies through seven seasons. We watched two – and sometimes three – episodes every night. I bit my nails as Draper drifted from one woman to another, reconfiguring his advertising agency at least three times along the way. My husband started worrying about me when I began to yell at the TV, advising Draper to find a good therapist. I also suggested better parenting strategies to Draper’s wife. When I started to come up with my own ideas for the advertising agency’s clients, my husband began to question whether it was healthy to binge watch. I was too far gone to listen.

We watched his daughter grow up into a lovely young woman and saw the treatment of women in the work place grow from terrible to passable during the 70’s. We cheered on Draper’s friends as they searched for their place in the advertising profession and, for many of them, finally found true love! I was relieved when Draper finally got in touch with his inner soul but very disappointed when the series ended with him in a yoga pose somewhere in the California wilderness. I understand that the Coke advertisement at the end was meant to signify that he went back to advertising (with a much more wholesome outlook, of course) but it just didn’t satisfy me. I hate to be left imagining how the rest of his life turned out; I want to know!

The next evening, we sat on the couch and looked at each other. We felt an emptiness, a void, a sense of desolation. Now what? Draper, his family, his two wives and multiple lovers, his working companions had disappeared from our lives. It was as if they had never existed. However, when you think about it, they really had never existed!

So we decided to do it again. This time we watched Stranger Things, a one-season (hopefully) seven episode program. This only took three nights to watch. Then we moved on to Friday Night Lights, a series about the goings-on in a small town during football season. One episode down, five and three-fourth seasons to go.

However, it’s now September and football season has started. That means at least one night and Sunday afternoons will be reserved for football (only my husband; I find other things to do). Then the regular programs will start and I follow a few of those, such as Jane the Virgin, Madam Secretary, Orange is the New Black and whatever series is on PBS on Sunday nights. Downton Abby is over so we can check that box off.

Maybe we will get so busy as the weather cools and friends return to Florida from their summer homes that we will forget about all these series. And maybe next summer, we will resist turning them on and go back to our books, our games or other activities in the evenings. But I know deep in my heart that if Mad Men returns with another season, I will be right there, parked in front of the television, watching Don Draper and crew as they drift from one episode to another.

 

Celebrating Our Differences

I have the greatest admiration for two friends of ours. Robert and Debby are both from medium size Midwestern towns where they lived most of their lives and raised five daughters. Both were raised in the Catholic faith; Robert attended parochial school and Debby went to public schools. Debby has a great aunt who was a nun. Their religion is important to them and all their daughters attended Catholic schools. Although their daughters are adults now, the family remains very close. Robert and Debby visit the girls frequently and they are always available to help out in emergencies, such as the premature birth of twins to one of their daughters.

Debby and Robert’s daughters’ have chosen different paths in their personal lives. All of them are working at professional jobs and two are married and raising children. A third daughter, who has two children, was married to an Indian/American man who followed the Hindu faith. However, that marriage failed and she is presently living with a partner. The fourth daughter is gay and a year ago, the entire family traveled to her home to celebrate her marriage to her long-time partner. Then the fifth daughter, who had been dating a Jewish man, decided to convert to Judaism. Her parents’ only reaction was happiness for their daughter and an interest in her studies.  When she finished her religious classes, Robert and Debby traveled to their daughter’s home to celebrate her naming ceremony which officially made her a member of the Jewish faith. And soon, they will travel to her home again when she marries her fiancé.

Debby told me about all these things as they happened.  And, through it all, she and Robert never uttered a negative word. The only event that was painful was their daughter’s divorce and that was because it was painful for their daughter. They supported her, both emotionally and physically throughout the ordeal. They not only accepted their daughters’ choices, but celebrated them. When I asked Debby if their children’s choices and/or lifestyles bothered her and Robert, she replied, “No, because that’s how we raised them.”

Our son-in-law is half African/American and half Italian. With her grandparent’s and mother’s Jewish heritage, our granddaughter is truly a modern American mixture. When I am with her, sometimes I see a bit of one part; another time I see a bit of another. But most of the time, I see only a beautiful child who is the best part of this country. And sometimes I remember how things were in this country not all that many years ago; when it was actually illegal for different races to marry and when the newest immigrants – be they Jewish, Italian, Chinese or Latino – were criticized and rejected from much of American life. Thank goodness things have changed.

But have they? During this election, we have all heard Donald Trump talk about the wall he is going to build to keep immigrants out. And we’ve heard him announce over and over that Muslim immigrants will not be allowed to enter our country. We’ve seen the crowds of people cheer him on and repeat his words. It’s not Donald Trump that frightens me as much as the people attending his rallies. They are unhappy with their lives and waiting for someone to tell them how to fix it. They are looking for a scapegoat to blame their problems on and Trump has provided it: Muslim immigrants. We have returned to the past.

I am filled with visions of concentration camps and the people in Germany who followed Hitler and allowed the Holocaust to happen. I remember the genocide of some 100,000 people (primarily Bosnians) by the hands of Serbians led by Slobodan Milosevic. In 1994, extreme members of the Hutu ethnic majority in Rwanda murdered as many as 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority. There are, and always will be, a disaffected minority who can be rallied by leaders who speak to their fears and feelings of disenchantment. All they need is someone to blame; someone or some group on whom to place their anger.

But still, I am hopeful, at least for the United States of America. Donald Trump is losing and more and more influential people are speaking against him. Perhaps, in our country and in parts of Europe, we have learned from history that to do nothing is to allow the worst to happen. And today there is even more to celebrate and that is the amazing and wonderful ethnic and religious mixtures of our families.

In their book, American Grace – How Religion Divides and Unites Us, Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell write:  “As Americans have come to live by, make friends with, and wed people of other religions, their overlapping social relationships have made it difficult to sustain interreligious hostility. While not every religion escapes hostility, interreligious tensions are far more muted today than in the America of yesterday or in many other nations today.”

Another words, how can you hate someone of another religion or ethnicity when your son-in law, daughter-in-law or sister-in-law belong to that group? You know that person personally and you not only like him or her; he/she is family and their children are blood relations. My friends, Robert and Debby, didn’t need anyone to tell them this; they raised their children with these beliefs and their children will raise their children in a multi-ethnic/religious world. Their family, our family and all those families like ours are the present and the future. History shows us that we will always have to be ready to deter people like Donald Trump and his followers. And we can do that by welcoming Muslims and each new wave of immigrants after them, onto our shores and into our homes. This is not only the American way but the right way.

Amen!

Adventures On The Beach

In the winter, Florida’s beaches are filled with snowbirds enjoying sand and surf while they escape snow, ice and freezing temperatures. In fact, I used to be one of them. But now that I’m a year-round citizen of Florida, I’ve discovered the best time of year to enjoy the beaches is summer. The crowds are gone and the Gulf waters are as warm as an August rain. Most importantly, the turbulent surf transforms into a gentle lullaby, easy for a lake swimmer like myself to handle.

My husband and I drive to the beach which is only ten minutes from our home, two or three times a week after dinner when the sun is low on the horizon and a delightful breeze keeps us cool. We take a long walk along the water’s edge and then I swim while my husband watches the setting sun from a beach chair. I usually join him in time to watch the sun disappear on the horizon and the sky fill with a spectacular panorama of colors.

We do go to the beach in the winter but just for walks since the water is cold, the surf is high and the beaches are crowded. During a walk last winter, we passed a family who looked as if they had been there most of the afternoon; two large umbrellas firmly entrenched in the sand, several blankets and an ice chest spread around them. But what caught my eye was a young girl kneeling in front of a cormorant only a few feet from the family. The bird had its wings down and wasn’t moving as the girl inched closer. This was not normal behavior.

We walked on but I kept worrying about the cormorant. When we walked past the group on the way back, the family was still there and so was the bird. I asked them how long the cormorant had been there. For a couple of hours, they said. Initially, the bird had spread its wings to dry them, then it closed its wings and hadn’t moved since. I walked through the dry sand and knelt a few feet from the bird. It blinked its eyes at me but didn’t move. It appeared to be a young cormorant and something was obviously wrong. I pulled out my phone and searched for the number of the bird rescue that was located on the Island.  After leaving information about the bird and directions to this spot on the beach on the message service, we left but I was tempted to stay and be certain the bird was cared for.

When we resumed our walk, my husband reminded me (again) of my first attempted bird rescue shortly after we moved to this area. We were walking on the beach when we passed a shore bird standing on one foot. I, of course, worried that something was wrong with the bird’s other foot and walked around looking for a cell phone to borrow so I could call the bird rescue (I had left mine at home). Then we walked a bit further and came upon several more birds also standing on one foot. When we got home, I looked up ‘Florida birds that stand on one leg’ and found dozens of photos of birds in this position. My husband will never let me forget this one!

I actually did participate in a bird rescue not too long after we moved here. I was writing stories for a local paper and had the opportunity to accompany a couple, Donna and Bob, who ran a bird sanctuary and responded to calls about birds in peril. They took me with them to a marina where someone had reported sighting a young pelican that appeared to be tangled in some fishing line, a much too common occurrence for shore birds. We walked to the main dock and Donna, who was only about five feet tall and close to my age, began throwing handfuls of bait fish across the dock from a pail she was carrying. About twenty pelicans flew in to pick up the fish, most of them mature birds but also a few youths identifiable by their brown feathers.

“There he is,” Bob shouted.

“I see him,” Donna answered.

And then I saw him, a young brown pelican nibbling at the food, a three foot piece of fishing line hanging under his wing. Donna put the bucket down and dove across the dock for the bird, grabbing him in a firm hold across her lap, demonstrating an expertise that came from long practice. While she held him motionless, Bob walked over and carefully extended the wing with the fishing line, exposing a fishing hook lodged in the bird’s breast by the wing. Carefully, he worked the hook out and they both examined the wound. After deciding that the pelican was not badly injured, Bob sprayed the wound with a disinfectant and Donna let him go. We watched him fly away. Then they threw out more handfuls of food and the young pelican, none the worse for his ordeal, flew in again to take part in the feast.

Pelicans were also the stars of a beach walk on another day. We were walking on the beach at the south end of Anna Maria Island, past the remains of old piers, when a flock of more than two-hundred pelicans landed near us, on the beach and on the pieces of the pier protruding from the water. Dozens of the birds dove into the shallow water at the same time, coming up with small fish that were swarming by the thousands near the pier. We watched, transfixed, as the birds dove over and over again. We wanted to record this amazing sight but we knew it would be long over before we could go home for the camera and return. We would have to be satisfied with our memories.

Several year ago, we met friends on Sanibel Island and decided to take a walk on the beach. When we began our walk, we all noticed that the sand was covered with unusually large, beautiful shells. When we got closer, we realized the shells were moving. Each one was a live animal (or a mollusk), washed up on the shore by some force of nature. We started tossing as many as possible back into the surf but soon gave up, the quantity was too immense.

Later I found out that collecting live shells (any specimen containing an inhabitant) is outlawed in Florida. Sanibel and Captiva Island are refuge islands and favorite places for shelling although people are urged to limit their empty-shell collections as these shells replenish the beaches.  For me, the amazing opportunity to see the live mollusks crawling on the beach was more than enough; I had no desire to take any home.

It’s fun to watch people fishing on the beach, their lines stretched out into the surf while they lean back in folding chairs enjoying the view. Most of the time, there is a blue heron standing nearby, hoping for a snack if the catch is too small to keep or if the fisherman (or woman) shares a few bait fish with the bird when he or she is ready to go home. The possibility of a free meal diminishes their natural fear which is not always a good thing.

On Friday nights, the Manatee Beach holds a different attraction: the drum circle. Local people bring drums, cans, tambourines and other percussion instruments that beach visitors can shake, rattle or pound to celebrate the sunset. The drum circle members arrive with chairs and instruments about an hour before sunset and invite anyone who is interested to join them. Of course children are especially excited to have this opportunity to pound a drum and some adults (like me) are also drawn into the circle. The drumming reaches its peak as the sun melts into the horizon, another week gone by on Florida’s beautiful beaches.

I was telling our neighbors about our evenings on the beach and how lovely it is to swim that time of night when I caught the two of them exchanging looks. Did you know, they asked me, that sharks come into the shallows to feed at dusk? I did, sort of, but hadn’t really given it much thought. I had to admit hearing it out loud was a little scary. But I’d never seen one and had never heard about a shark attack on Anna Maria’s beaches. So now I’m a bit more cautious, swimming before our walk instead of after and always picking a spot in the water that has a fair amount of people nearby. Certainly they would taste better than me. It is going to take more than sharks to keep me off the beach and out of the water during Florida’s summer months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuba: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

“Es complicado,” our Cuban guide, Lázaro, said in response to a question from one of our group

108I was in a bus on a busy street in Havana with fourteen travel companions (thirteen women and two men) who were touring Cuba with Sisters Across the Straits, a group organized and sponsored by the Florida state chapter of League of Women Voters. Our purpose was not only to visit regular tourist stops but to become more knowledgeable about Cuba, the Cuban people and the country’s history.

Besides Lázaro, we were fortunate to be accompanied by Miami resident Annie Betancourt, founder of Sisters Across the Straits, a Board Director of the League and a member for more than three decades.  We were the twenty-sixth group Annie has taken to Cuba. She later explained that ‘it’s complicated’ is the standard response Cubans use to describe any difficult situation. It’s a diplomatic way of saying there is no answer to your question or perhaps there is no solution. ‘It’s complicated’ became the password for our six day adventure in Cuba.

Annie was born in Cuba and lived there with her parents until she was thirteen years old. That was when the revolution occurred and Fidel Castro came into power. Her father, an engineer, understood the changes that were coming and, like hundreds of other Cubans, moved his family to Miami, hoping that their time in that city would be short. But Fidel remained in power and the family soon realized that Miami was their new home.

Annie’s hope is that these visits will improve mutual understanding after decades of isolation and distrust between the US and Cuba. The itineraries, as you will see, are designed to provide League members with opportunities to learn about Cuba’s history, culture and society and to meet both academic experts and ordinary Cuban citizens.

­Day 1.

Our flight from Miam118i to the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana was just 45 minutes long, a reminder that Cuba is only 90 miles from the United States. As soon as our group passed through customs, we boarded the bus and started our tour with a ride through central Havana and the Plaza de la Revolucion. Annie had warned us that we were going to a third world country but it was still a shock to see so many buildings that looked as if they had been bombed. Other buildings appeared very fragile, as if they might collapse at any moment. However, they were obviously inhabited, with people going in and out of the entrances and others hanging wash from balconies ten or fifteen stories high. The American embargo and a failing economy had obviously had a huge impact.

040After a lunch stop at an outdoor restaurant in a garden setting, we stopped at the Jose Fuster Studio, the home of a ceramist who has changed the area where he lives. The entire street looked like an immense modern painting with bright colors imbedded in every yard. But as I got closer, I could see the designs created with vibrant ceramics, each one different from the one before. The artist had begun this project by transforming his own gate into an elaborate scene created with ceramics. When neighbors saw the effect, they asked him to do the same to their homes. He never asked for money, always raising funds through donations and by selling his own work. Finally, he transformed his entire courtyard into a ceramic masterpiece. Because the American embargo had made ceramics and just about everything else difficult to obtain, he has been forced to travel great distances to find the tiles he needs.

After we checked in to our temporary home, the Hotel Sevilla, and had a short rest, we joined Annie and most of our fellow travelers for a walk through the Plaza and Calle Obispo – a pedestrian street in Haban Vieja (Old City). Our walk ended at a hotel where Annie had planned to have us eat dinner at its roof-top restaurant. However, like much of Cuba, the elevator was not working. A hotel employee invited us to use the service elevator which was located around the corner. It turned out to be a small, dark box that held five people including the elevator operator.  Our group went up in shifts; I went up with my eyes closed and my fingers crossed, convinced that each bump meant we were about to plunge to the ground. However, the view of the city from the top made it all worthwhile. The food was another story.

107After dinner, four of us walked down six flights (thank goodness there was a bannister) and made our way through the plaza, looking for a taxi. Finally, we found six of them, all 1950’s automobiles, patched up and roaring to take us back to the hotel. We were herded into the backseat of one and enjoyed a bumpy, breezy and gasoline infused trip back to the hotel. As we were getting out, I noticed that much of the ancient upholstery was held together by tape.`

Day 2.

At breakfast, I heard about a lot of problems with the rooms. One of our group had hit the jackpot: her window wouldn’t close, the air conditioning didn’t work, and the door wouldn’t lock. My traveling companion, Pat, and I had been lucky. Although the room was basic (we weren’t expecting anything else), everything worked. In fact, the air conditioning was too cold and we couldn’t seem to turn it down but we weren’t going to complain. The hotel had a lovely swimming pool which we enjoyed almost every afternoon; except for the last day when it was closed down at 5:00 pm for mosquito spraying!

Our first stop was the Cuban Embassy to meet women who were members of the Cuban chapter of the United Nations. The Embassy building had been the home of one of the wealthy Cuban families who had left during the Revolution and it was still in good shape. Soaya E. Alvarez, Director of ACNU Associacion Cubana de las Naciones Unidas, spoke to us about Cuba and the United Nations and the importance of lifting the embargo. The Cuban people are suffering; salaries are $15 to $20 a month; Lázaro (who has a master’s degree) left a government job to become a guide because he could earn more money. Although health care is free, gas and some food is rationed and there is not much left over for luxuries. The Cuban dream is to come to the US; in 2015/16, 153,000 Cubans arrived in the US. People are leaving now because they are afraid the Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows a path to citizenship, will be repealed. Thus, the Cuban workforce has been diminished and the population is aging.

Our next stop was a visit to El Quitrin, a women’s clothing shop sponsored by the Federation of Cuban Women.  Annie had suggested we bring thread and needles as gifts for the women working here as these items, like everything else, are in short supply.  At the time of our visit, most of the finished dresses and shirts in the shop were white cotton. The work on the clothes was amazing but I didn’t find anything to buy (for a change).

075Later in the afternoon, we visited a conservative synagogue and heard about the Jewish population in Cuba from a young woman. There are 1200 Jews in Cuba and three synagogues; a typical situation for Jewish people in any location. But in Cuba, they are either conservative or orthodox; the modern reform movement has not reached Cuba. However, I was glad to hear that girls are having Bat Mitzvahs.

That evening, three of us took a taxi to a restaurant for dinner and made the acquaintance of a young driver who spoke excellent English. The taxi was brand new, had leather seats and purred as it made its way through town. Our driver told us it was made in China and purchased by the Cuban government. He was leasing it from the government and sharing it with another driver; each had three days on and three days off. He was married and had a toddler. When we asked him about President Obama’s visit, he said, with emotion, “Obama is our hero.”

Day 3.

Annie had arranged a visit to the newly opened U.S. Embassy. I was surprised at the amount of security – our passports were carefully examined and our bags were checked. We entered through a turnstile and were seated in a room right off the entrance. An embassy director who had been sent to Cuba to prepare for Obama’s visit gave us an overview of our country’s situation and answered all our questions. It was thorough and interesting. She encouraged us to interact with Cubans to dispel any negative impressions they might have about Americans.

059At the end of the sidewalk in front of the entrance to the American Embassy, there is a football field of very tall black poles that look like they had been planted. Annie told us that, right after the Revolution, the American Embassy began running a ticker tape with a message about freedom along the top of the building. To retaliate, the Cuban government put up the poles and topped them with the Cuban flag to block out the tape.

Our next stop was Finca Vigia, the home of Nobel Prize laureate Ernest Hemingway who lived in Cuba from 1930 to 1960. Pat and I had seen the movie “Papa Hemingway in Cuba” just a few days before our trip so it was exciting to look in the windows and doors and see where the movie had been filmed. His fishing boat Pilar has been restored and is on display at the property.

We had lunch in Cojimar, a fishing village that was the backdrop of Hemingway’s novel, “The Old Man and the Sea.” I looked out at the water and could almost see the old man rowing the boat. Lunch was at a privately owned restaurant run by young local entrepreneurs and it was delicious. Many restaurants in Cuba are owned and operated by the government but more and more people are getting permission to open their own restaurants, a very good sign.

Day 4.

Breakfasts at the hotel were enormous; five large tables filled with everything from fruit to meats to pancakes or eggs and sweet breads. By now I knew our lunches would be huge – at least four courses – so I stuck to cereal, fruit and yogurt (at least I think it was yogurt) for breakfasts. I also decided I would not weigh myself for a week after I got home.

We walked through Old Havana and visited the plazas. There were dozens of stands selling books and street artists were everywhere, displaying their work on boards and boxes. One young man followed our group, drawing quick profiles of a few women and then trying to sell the sketch to the owner. He was remarkably good and we later found out he was an art student. One woman bought her sketch; then discovered that it looked more like another member of our group. Then we visited an artisans’ cooperative and I bought a small painting to take home (my first purchase).

In the afternoon we visited the Museum of Fine Arts- Cuban Collection and I was so awed by the art that I kept moving even when my body was telling me to go back to the hotel and take a nap. Of course the elevator was out here also so we did a lot of walking.

Day 5.142 (2)

A day in the country! The bus took us through the countryside for over an hour and Lázaro kept us awake with a lesson on Cuba’s history. Now and then, Annie took over the microphone, giving Lázaro a rest and us some background from the American point of view. We arrived at lookout point in Valle Vinales in Pinar del Rio Province which is west of Havana. The unique hill formations (known as mogotes) are gorgeous; unlike anything I’ve seen before.

160Then we moved on to a rum distillery (not sure that’s what it’s called) and then a tobacco farm. We watched a man actually roll cigars which almost made me want to smoke one. Of course I bought some for my husband; he smokes one occasionally but only when I’m not home.

Lunch was on the porch of a charming country restaurant. Annie warned us there would be a lot of courses and there were; one after another, each one better than the last. Dessert was the best flan I have ever eaten.

I thought I’d never eat again but by 7:30, I was at yet another restaurant eating the best eggplant lasagna I’d ever had.

Day 6.

Time to pack our suitcases for our trip back to Miami that evening. But in the meantime, we were still moving. We visited a local arts and craft market where I searched for (and found) a humidor in which to put my five precious cigars. I also bought a beautiful, hand-made white cotton dress for my granddaughter which will probably not fit but I couldn’t resist it.  Next, our group visited an art community project in inner city Centro Habana. An artist named Salvador Gonzales Escolono first started developing art from graffiti until galleries opened and it became a street of art celebrating the African/Cuban experience. Salvador, who was leaving for Washington and New York the next day, was at his gallery and he told us to “enjoy my country but don’t try to understand it.”

Lunch was at an organic farm that also provides meals for people in need, painting and environmental classes plus classes for single mothers and seniors. When the government gave the land to the family that has produced all this, it was a swamp area. Now they grow 150 different varieties of fruits and vegetables (plus a little dog that kept getting underfoot). The lunches help pay for the free food and classes.

Next stop: The airport and the end of our adventure in Cuba. But first, I and several other travelers checked out all the duty free shops, trying to spend what was left of our Cuban money. I settled on two bottles of vintage rum which my husband tells me tastes like smooth bourbon.

Last thoughts:

A fellow traveler who has been to Cuba before was overwhelmed with the number of yellow cabs and even open-air double decker buses – all made in China. The Chinese have also built an automobile factory in Cuba. She noticed lots of tourists from Spain, France, and even a few from Switzerland. I spoke to two young men from Germany and a couple of English women who rode the hotel elevator with me. Also, there are a lot of new restaurants. Cuba, she commented, is catering to tourists.

The internet is still very difficult for Cubans to access; it’s expensive and slow. The government has begun to open up WiFi hotspots outside of some buildings where you will see lines of young people sitting, standing, leaning – all with computers in their hands.

Change is happening but it’s slow. Although the country is still under the Castro’s, I continually heard Cubans describe Raul as “pragmatic” compared to his brother. I’m assuming this means he is more open to change and to private ownership which we experienced during our visit. Personally, I believe that if the embargo was lifted and the Cuban Adjustment Act repealed, Cubans would be able to visit America, learn from all of us and then go home instead of seeking citizenship in this country. And the distribution of American products in Cuba would stop the rationing and improve every Cuban’s life immensely. The ferry will travel across those 90 miles once more and the Cuban people will be lifted out of poverty and into the twenty-first century. I know ‘es complicado’ but it’s way past time:

Lift the Embargo!

 

 

 

I’m Going To Cuba – and Other Adventures!

 

Cuba has been on my bucket list for years. I’ve always wanted to see the country as it is now, frozen in the 1950’s, unchanged while the rest of the world moved forward. My husband, Barry, didn’t want to go so my best friend Pat and I booked a trip with the League of Women Voters before President Obama’s visit. Unfortunately, it was cancelled because regulations had suddenly changed, a typical problem when dealing with the Cuban government. When we were notified that the problems were resolved and a trip was scheduled for May, we didn’t hesitate. In fact, we may have been the first travelers to send in our registration.

This is not the first time a planned trip was cancelled. Many years ago, Barry and I were all set to leave for Israel with a tour group when one of the many wars broke out between Israel and Palestine. A couple of years ago, we had to cancel an Eastern European River Cruise when I broke my heel (I tripped over a computer cord) and wouldn’t be out of the cast in time for the trip. Thank goodness we had trip insurance and were able to reschedule for another time. It was a marvelous experience traveling down the Blue Danube River (it wasn’t very blue) and seeing the Eastern European cities which were still recovering from years under Russian rule.

It’s a good thing I buy trip insurance because I had to use it to cancel a trip and get a refund for a cruise to Greece and the Greek Islands. This was another trip that Pat (who I have known since we were nine years old) and I were planning together. I was leaving from the Rochester airport because we were living at our cottage on one of the Finger Lakes for the summer. My suitcase was half packed and I was counting down the last 48 hours before it was time to leave when I decided to water a plant hanging outside the front door at ten o’clock at night. I reached up with the watering can and started to pour when, suddenly, a bat flew out of the plant, the tip of its winging scratching the right side of my cheek. And, you guessed it; I had to get rabies shots over a period of weeks, which meant I wasn’t going to see Greece this time.

Breaking bones is also something I do on a regular basis. Years ago, Barry and I escaped a Rochester, New York winter with a week’s vacation on St. John’s Island. We had a wonderful, restful week in the sun and on the beaches until the very last night. We went for dinner and walked home in the dark over a cobblestone sidewalk. I caught my shoe on something and fell forward, breaking the little finger on my left hand and bashing the left side of my face into the cobblestones.

We decided to visit the St. John’s emergency room where a doctor took an ex-ray, held it up to the overhead light and affirmed what we already knew; the finger was broken. He said I’d need surgery on it but we decided to go home and see the doctor in Rochester. He gave me a horse pill for pain that we thought we might be able to sell on the street for a good sum (I was afraid to take it). By the next morning, I had a black eye and swollen purple bruises across the left side of my face. We took the scheduled plane home later that morning and Barry stayed at least three feet in front of me, afraid he would be blamed for my beat-up appearance. Our first stop after the plane landed in Rochester was the hospital emergency room. I didn’t need surgery but it was a close call.

Pat and I have traveled together before; once to Antigua, Guatemala where we were immersed in Spanish lessons. She studied all day but I took the afternoons off to roam the city. I made the mistake of showing an interest in the young women who were selling woven table runners, tablecloths, blankets and placemats so I had an entourage following me everywhere I went. Finally I purchased something from each of them so they would go away. The only mishap we had in Antigua was the eruption of the local volcano which was about a half-hour drive from the city.  Fortunately, the lava only went down the sides of the mountain so we were safe. It was an amazing site from the roof of a local restaurant. We were actually in more danger on New Year’s Eve when the local citizens all gathered right outside our B & B window to celebrate. That’s when we realized we were right in the middle of the city and there were no regulations on fireworks! We joined the crowd for a short time but left after several fireworks went off within two feet of our feet. Explosions and small fires continued until the wee hours.

Pat also joined Barry and I and another friend on my dream trip, an African animal safari. Except for a few days of traveler’s disease, I didn’t get sick. Barry, on the other hand, developed a major case of what he called “risk desensitization”. The first risk situation was immediately after our arrival when we were told our post trip to Madagascar had been cancelled because Americans were being kidnapped. The second risk desensitization came when our guide stopped in the middle of a heavily forested area to view a lion. We had been swatting away flies for ten minutes when the guide said we probably better go since those were tsetse flies which carry sleeping sickness. Barry’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open. For a change, I knew enough to keep my mouth shut.

By the time we encountered the third risk, Barry was pretty desensitized.  At our second hotel stop, we went for a walk before dinner, admiring the herds of zebras and elephants at a watering hole far below us. Then we came to a small post that was about four feet high. In the middle of the post was a button and the words printed above it were Panic Button. It didn’t take much imagination to know what this meant. Barry shrugged his shoulders and looked pretty calm. I, on the other hand, kept turning around to be sure we weren’t being stalked by some hungry animal.

The fourth event happened towards the end of the trip when we were about to get on a small plane to fly to a new destination. Pat noticed an information plate on the side of the plane and commented that she had read about these planes in a tourist book; they had been manufactured in Czechoslovakia and the book warned tourists to avoid them because they were prone to mishaps. By this time, Barry was risk desensitized and I was in a panic. I have a bit of a fear of airplanes anyway and this set me off. Barry and Pat walked up the planes steps ahead of me, laughing, and I could barely get my legs to work. The plane was full, about thirty passengers and the entire back of the passenger cabin was filled with suitcases. I sat next to a German woman who didn’t speak any English. She took one look at my face and kept patting my arm and telling me everything was fine (in German).  Obviously, we made it and since then, I have become risk desensitized to airplanes.

And now I am off again to a destination I have waited years to see. Pat and I are certain this will be a memorable trip. We are going to see old and new Havana, Hemingway’s home, the village of Viñuales Valley, and much more. Best of all, we are going to have an opportunity to visit a sewing factory and meet women who live and work in Cuba. We might be a little late to see the really old Cuba because I understand it is already overrun by tourists but I don’t think the environment has changed much. As I have for every trip I’ve taken, I will make memories and write stories. Watch for my next essay which will be about (you guessed it!) Cuba!

For My Children

My oldest daughter (she calls herself ‘the first born’) just left after spending a week with us. It was a lovely week. My husband and I took long walks on the beach with her, we all hung out at the swimming pool (some of us reading and some swimming), we went to the theater, had lunch at her favorite beach-side restaurant and spent many hours simply talking, catching up on all the time we are not together. She and I even squeezed in a few hours of shopping time. The time flew by and when we said goodbye at the airport, it felt like she had just arrived. I am already counting the days until her next visit.

Our middle daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter will arrive for a week’s stay in early June. We visited them about six weeks ago and our daughter always does everything she can think of to make us comfortable. She and our son-in-law give us the living room (and the couch with the pull-out bed) as our room for the time we are there. She bought new sheets and pillows for our bed, cleaned out drawers for our use and laid out clean towels in the bathroom. The first night, she had dinner ready for us. She had worked hard to be certain we were comfortable and we were. That left us lots of time to spend with them and with our granddaughter. We took walks to the shopping center, visited our son-in-law’s family and played games in the kitchen. I am counting the days until they arrive at our house.

About a month ago, our youngest, our son, drove to our house from the Tampa Airport, squeezing in a day and a half with us on his way to a work assignment in Miami. We went out for sushi (a favorite in our family), and talked for a long time. In January, we visited him and our daughter-in-law at their home. They arranged dinner for us, helped us find our way around and met us for lunch. Our son is like Houdini; he always appears when we need him most. When I had a knee replacement, he surprised me by traveling to Bradenton and appearing in the hospital on the day after surgery. When we had a family emergency far from our home, he volunteered his services and was an enormous help. He never left my side when his father was sick. We will visit our son and daughter-in-law in July and I am counting the days.

Even though our three children do not live near us, they have been a huge presence in our lives, even as they have built their own lives. Although they are adults, they are still our children and my husband and I still worry about them, as do all parents. However, the things we worry about have changed to bigger issues: Are they working too hard? Are they eating right? Have they made an appointment for an annual physical or a check-up at the dentist? Are their jobs stable and are they putting money away for the future? We have learned what our parents learned before us and their parents before them; once you are a parent, you are always a parent. It is impossible to let go.

Of course, it has not always been like this. Each of them pulled away sometime during his or her late adolescence or early twenties. Although those were difficult times for us and probably for them, this is normal, something all our children must do to find their own way to becoming adults. We kept in touch and when they were ready, they came back, each in his or her own way and we welcomed them with relief and open arms.

We (my husband and I) are lucky to not only have our children in our lives, but to have them stay close; sometimes as friends, enjoying an activity together; sometimes as confidants, when we share a close moment; and sometimes as our children when we are being parents and doling out (unwanted) advice! What I hope they never become is our caretakers. But then, that’s part of parenting also.

We tease our children that they continue to come home because we live in Florida, just two and one-half miles from a lovely beach. But they continue to assure us that, even though that’s a bonus, it’s us they come to see. This, for me, is the frosting on the cake because my visits to my parents were often difficult and I would count the days until I would be going home. I don’t know what my husband and I did or didn’t do to create this attitude, but I am very grateful.

To our three children, our son-in-law and daughter-in-law, and our very special granddaughter: I love you forever.

 

The Magic House

Every time my husband and I visit our daughter and her family, we walk to the shopping area which is less than a mile away.  On the way, we pass three attached houses that have a street running on both sides. The houses on both ends are in beautiful shape; fresh paint jobs, solid roofs, manicured yards and inviting entrances. The house in the middle is an entirely different story.

This visit, I stop and give it a really good look. The grey shingled roof is in surprisingly good shape as is the redIMG_0266 brick exterior. However the windows, garage door and front door are encased in a solid wall of dirty grey concrete. Much of the house is shrouded by overgrown trees, shrubs and vines that trail over brick surfaces. Weeds are winning the fight for dominance and the brick steps that lead to street level and the area beneath them are covered with trash. Several large stones are barely visible on the overgrown lawn and once prominent plants peek through, looking in vain for a space to grow as warm weather approaches.

My granddaughter, S, stops with me. “Look at that house,” I say to her. “Every time we visit, I wonder what happened to the owners and why all the windows, the garage door and the front door are cemented shut.”

Her eyes grow large and I realize she is seeing the house for the first time even though she walks past it frequently. “Let’s take a look at the front door,” I say. I start up the front steps, watching for loose bricks. S follows me, an expression of both fear and anticipation on her eight year old face. I am having a great time, engaging her imagination.

We walk to the front door and look around, my husband shouting warnings to be careful behind us. S takes my hand and we examine the front door: definitely no way in. The cement is solid. So we turn and make our way down the steps, my husband offering a hand because there is no railing.

“Maybe the people had to leave in a hurry,” S says. “Maybe someone was sick or they didn’t have any money.” She is hopping from one foot to the other, animated and engaged in this game we are playing. All the way to the shopping area, we talk about the house and wonder why the people left. Maybe they had to leave in a hurry and couldn’t come back or there was a fire in the house. Or maybe they are still in there and have a secret opening to get food and water.

On the way back, I open the mailbox and take out the one piece of mail, a card covered with dirt and cobwebs. It has been here for a while. S and I look at it: it is dated October 2015 and it is a notice to appear in court for creating a nuisance. Of course! What else could it be.

That evening, we go to S’s other grandma’s home for dinner. At the end of the evening, the subject of “the house” comes up for discussion. S tells the story, her voice raised and her face animated. I love watching her.

We all wonder if we could find any information on the house. One guest suggest that we look at the public records. She thinks it would be hard to sell because whoever bought the property would have to pay off the creditors. Also, there might be lots of liens against the property. Someone else explains that the foreclosure process is initiated by creditors and a foreclosure sale would pay off any liens and not encumber the property for new owners. But we are all curious to find out what happened to the house and the owners. Our circle of detectives has broadened.

We talk about what might be inside. Someone suggests there could be rats floating in a flooded house; the floor boards might be giving way so the door had to be cemented for safety reasons; it most probably had been abandoned and become a pot house. Everything seems plausible.

The next day we take another walk to the shopping area. This time S takes her camera (a Hanukah present) and I take my iPhone. At the house, S and I begin snapping away, even taking photos of the mailbox. When we are home, we send our photos to each other. Then S motions to me to follow her to her room.

We sit on the bed and get comfortable.

“I know what’s in the house,” she confides.

“What?” I ask.

“It’s a magic house.”

“Magic?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says. “You have to know the magic word to get in the house and only the special people know it. And when you are in, you can float in the air and order food and eat it while you are floating.” She giggles “Then you might get nauseous!”

We both laugh. “I think you are absolutely right,” I say. IMG_0252“The house is magic.”

Mystery solved.

#                         #                     #

 

Sewing Through The Years

I started the day with a sewing project.

For me, this is not done lightly. My expertise with the needle leaves much to be desired so I usually bring clothes that need repairs to a professional seamstress. But this was an emergency. Tonight we are going to an event that requires dressier clothes, the kind I only wear once or twice a year.

My project is a black sleeveless top that I had bought on sale a year ago. But when I tried it on at home, I realized it was about a size too big on me.  I couldn’t return it so it had hung in my closet all this time, waiting for me to decide whether to donate it to Goodwill or bring it to a seamstress for repair (which would cost more than the top had cost). So I decided to give it my “quick” treatment.

I still remember my first sewing project. I was in my first year of high school and all the girls had to take cooking for half the school year and sewing for the second half. The boys took wood working which I would have preferred; however, this was 1955 and the women’s liberation movement was still 15 years away. I breezed through cooking; something I had done a lot of at home but the sewing class literally tied me up in knots!

The first project for the class was an apron. We chose our material, then learned how to cut out a pattern, thread a needle and make small, neat strokes through the fabric as we sewed it together. I struggled with each step, watching as my classmates completed their aprons and moved on to a skirt. I can’t remember if I ever finished the apron but I did learn to hate sewing and promised myself that I would avoid it at all costs.

However, I was enticed back when I inherited my grandmother’s treadle sewing machine. We didn’t have Barbie dolls in those days and I wanted to dress a favorite doll in grown-up clothes. I searched for bits of material around the house and designed some kind of outfit for the doll. After some experimenting, I learned to use the old machine. I loved the feel of the treadle, peddling it back and forth with my feet while my hands maneuvered cloth through the needle. The clothes I made had a short life span but I learned that sewing could be fun if I could chose the project.

My mother had taken sewing lessons at one point but the table sewing machine she had bought was soon put in its case and tucked away in the back of the closet. The sewing projects stopped with the class and my mother was reticent to get rid of such an expensive purchase. When I got married, she saw the perfect home for the sewing machine and sent it to me. I ignored it until early in my first pregnancy when I decided I could save money by making a few maternity clothes

I bought a pattern, material and thread and went to work. My project was a two piece outfit; a skirt and long top. I tried to follow the pattern, cutting a hole in the front of skirt to accommodate the baby’s growth. I think I wore it once or twice but by the time I was five or six months pregnant, I discovered that the hole in the skirt came down too far and the jacket was too short, exposing my pregnant belly. Those were the last clothes I ever made.

But I did get into other projects. Years later, with three growing children, I felt the need for an art project. I decided to make quilts for my daughters’ beds. Out came the same old sewing machine, still in pristine condition after years of abandonment. I bought four colorful sheets, cut them in squares and sewed the squares together; then backed them with a soft, fuzzy material and filled the interior with stuffing. Then I repeated the process for our second daughter. For a month, our dining room table was covered with fabric, thread, and stuffing – all presided over by the table sewing machine. Because the kids took so much time during the day, I stayed up late into the night, obsessively working on the projects. When both quilts were done and spread out on the girls’ beds, the sewing machine went back in its case and retired to its home in the storage closet.

Since that time, I have sewed hems and pant cuffs (simple ones that only have to be turned over), a few buttons, the occasional ripped shirt or pants, and immediate projects like the one today. I hadn’t done much sewing for some time until my granddaughter asked me to teach her how to sew. When we visited a few months ago, I brought a book on learning to sew for children and a small sewing basket filled with all the necessities. She and I spent most of one day working on a small stuffed dog (or cat or bear; I was never certain). She tackled the project with determination and did most of the work herself. However, she had energy to burn when we finished and I was exhausted, ready to go to bed! But it was great fun and exactly what I always thought being a grandma was all about.

The sleeveless top I worked on today was too long, both in the shoulders and in the length. So I pulled up the shoulders, folding the fabric over until the neckline hit me where it was supposed to. Then I pinned it and did the same on the length, folding the hem up until it hit my hips. A search through my sewing kit proved that I had every possible color of thread except black. I called a neighbor and an hour later, I had a spool of black thread! The finished project was very imperfect – lumpy shoulders and bulky hem – but it won’t be obvious when it’s hidden under a jacket. Another sewing project, another day!

 

 

Who’s Cooking Tonight?

My husband (Barry) cooks dinner most of the time now. When someone asks about my cooking, he always tells them that I have cooking burnout. He explains that I provided dinner for most of the years our children were growing up when he was working very long hours and now it’s his turn. Barry also adds that he likes to eat and cooking allows him to make the dishes he loves.

He’s absolutely right there! If I were providing dinners, I would most likely make the same old dishes that I have been making for years. I wouldn’t be cutting recipes out of the newspaper and magazines like he does; my dinners would follow the same pattern – easy, quick and put together with a minimum of mess.

Out of necessity, I began cooking when I was around twelve. Both parents worked at the family grocery store and sometimes my mother would be late coming home. She usually had dinner planned and something in the refrigerator ready to go on the stove or in the oven so she would call me and give me step-by-step instructions on what to do next. When we moved above the store, it was easier for her to run up the stairs and get dinner ready but she still left some of the preparation for me.

Still, I had a lot to learn. One year, on my mother’s birthday, I decided to make her cake myself. I started very early, while my parents were still sleeping and soon ran into trouble. I had all the ingredients in the mixing bowl but I couldn’t figure out how to put the beaters into the mixer. I know, I know. This should have been easy to figure out but it was the first time I had used the machine. So I woke my mother with the hopes that she could give me a simple answer and go back to sleep. Of course, she got up and went in the kitchen, audibly gasping when she saw the mess I had made.

Years later, when I was in my late teens, my parents went on a trip and left me in charge of providing dinners for Sukie, the general manager and butcher who was caring for the store in their absence. I really wanted to impress Sukie who was in his mid-twenties and very good looking, so I decided to roast a chicken. I worked hard on that meal and when he came up the stairs for dinner, I proudly placed the whole chicken on a plate in front of him. He picked up the fork and knife and had just managed to cut the chicken in half when he started to laugh. When I came over to see what was so funny, he reached into the chicken and pulled out the bag of giblets. I had no idea they were in there. In fact, at that time I had no idea what they were.

Actually, I’m a pretty good cook (or at least I’ve been told). My specialties tend to be the holiday dishes; potato and noodle kugel, chicken soup, brisket, honey cake, sweet potatoes with melted marshmallows on top, stuffing, carrot tsimmes. I love to make one-dish meals that are all put in the same pot and have a minimum of clean-up (soups, stews, roasts). I’ve perfected the “really easy” meal; broiled meat, microwave vegetable, baked potatoes. I do love to eat and do appreciate really good food but after years of providing my family with food, I have no problem throwing in the towel – literally!

Barry has been interested in cooking for many years. His medical school roommate was from Texas and he taught Barry how to make the Mexican dishes. His roommate also taught Barry how to make Margaritas and sometimes the two friends never made it to the main dish. Barry made enchiladas for me on one of our early dates and, in retrospect, I believe I must have recognized the future possibilities even then.

When he was still in private practice, I primed him for the future by giving him a gift of cooking lessons which he loved. A few years later, we traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico so he could attend a class on Southwestern cooking. When we arrived, we were told there were only three people in the class so I could also attend at a reduced rate. I politely declined and spent most of each day visiting tourist sites, always being careful to arrive back at the cooking class in time to eat the students’ meals.

In the years since he retired, Barry has branched out in his cooking adventures. He has amassed quite a large collection of cook books which he reads for fun. He specializes in ethnic and international foods such as Indian curries, Thai spice, Spanish dishes such as Paella, and, of course, Mexican food. He loves hot and spicy dishes and sometimes the heat is too much for me. And occasionally, the newest dish does not quite make the taste test. But most of the time, our dinners rival the food put on the table at the best restaurants. In fact, his dinners have made it harder to find good restaurants when we eat out.

The biggest problem with Barry’s cooking is that he always enjoys trying something new. This means that the stir fried eggplant in garlic sauce that we had last night and that I loved down to the last piece of eggplant will not make another appearance for years. The good news is that I get to taste something different almost every night.

So, every so often, when he needs a well-deserved night off, I take my turn in the kitchen and produce the usual from my cooking repertoire: meat loaf, spaghetti, pot roast or broiled chicken. We enjoy them because it’s been a long time since we’ve had them for dinner. And that’s exactly the way I intend to keep it!

PS: Thank you, Barry, for all the marvelous meals.