My 25-year-old daughter doesn’t have her driver license. If you’re from New York City and you just read that sentence, you probably aren’t too shocked. Many New Yorkers never learn to drive. There’s no need to. Subways and buses, which go to most parts of the five boroughs, run 24/7. (Or not, depending on the on-going service disruptions due subway construction. This recent article from the New York Times captures our sense of entitlement, frustration and dependence.) In fact, I had a much easier time of the teen years than did my friends in the suburbs, ex-urbs or car-dependent urban areas: I did not have to worry about my kids driving drunk. Sure I had to worry about all the other things parents of teens do — teens do stupid things and can end up in trouble, or, worse, hurt. And it wasn’t until my son was in college that he mentioned that one night their senior year of high school, his friend Ben had taken his grandparents’ car (with permission) and driven them all to Great Adventure down in Jersey. But back to my daughter. While many New York City non-driving kids do learn in college because getting off campus becomes imperative, my daughter went to school outside of Boston, and was within walking distance of the “T.” (My daughter had one friend in college at Emory who owned a car before she managed to get her license, and got in trouble at a routine traffic check because she was driving without a license. As I said, young people can have lousy judgment.) So here she is, at age 25, without a driver license and maybe about to move out of New York City. (Yes, I wrote those words, and I’m sick over it, but that’s another blog.) Her permit had actually run out. But she took care of that. And now we (and her boyfriend) have been giving her driving lessons. I must say that this time around–she actually did try half-heartedly several years ago–she is fantastic. She steers well, keeps to the speed limit, and shows great confidence and determination. She came upstate for a few days and drove the long way to the supermarket (six miles) and the very long way back. We had even thought of making a trip to the outlet mall in Lee, MA on Friday. I90 may be one of the easiest interstates around. But we woke Friday morning to snow, and that killed our outing. No more driving lessons from us for a while. No outlet bargains for us.
1/2/12 On New Year’s Eve we went to the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington to hear the Berkshire Bach Ensemble perform all six of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti. The founder, harpsichordist and conductor, Kenneth Cooper, was his usual ebullient self, giving a really virtuoso performance of the solo in the 5th concerto. And Eugene Drucker is such a fine violinist. The whole troupe, though, was great — and in a festive mood, as was the audience. Although Howard at one point joked that the average age of the audience was 72, and would have been 74 were it not for the two 20-somethings sitting nearby, the spirit was wonderful. Not everyone attending was a connoisseur of baroque music, but it didn’t matter. When people applauded in the middle of a movement, or between movements, or after a particularly roaring solo, it all felt so right. And being in the Mahaiwe is such a privilege. Built in 1905, it was the home to vaudeville performers, and is one of the oldest theaters in the country. John Phillips Sousa played there once. In 1930 it became a movie theater, and that’s how I knew it when my kids were little. It was dilapidated and freezing in the winter. I saw Saving Private Ryan there, as well as Duck Tales: The Movie (which I deserved a medal for sitting through). At some point the theater suffered a terrible fire, and we figured that was that. But starting in 2005 funds were raised for an amazing and meticulous renovation. My photos do not do it justice. The Mahaiwe is the theater we all dream about: sumptuous details, boxes overhanging the stage. Now on the National Register of Historic Places and featuring incredible acoustics — well, let me say that the next time you’re in Western Massachusetts, it’s worth a visit.
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
14 Castle Street. Great Barrington. MA 01230
Box Office: 413-528-0100
Mahaiwe Box Office Hours:
Wednesday – Saturday: 12noon – 6pm
plus 3 hrs prior to all showtimes
Have you been there? Let me know. Any other historic theaters you love? Tell me about them in the comment box below. As always, I’m at on Twitter @wordwhacker.
Jewish Christmas. It’s a hashtag on Twitter. @JewishTweets and @JewishConnectiv both asked people about their movie/Chinese food plans. We, of course, had those plans, as we have for years. I can’t even remember when we first did this; certainly I didn’t get it from my parents. In the 1950s-60s Chinese food was still exotic enough that I don’t think I even had some until I was a teen. My mom did buy canned Chung King stuff, though. We also almost never went to the movies when I was little, only drive-ins in the summer.
For many years, when the kids were little, we spent every Christmas vacation in Florida visiting grandparents. There were the weeks when our days completely revolved around the pool and we had such a good time with other young parents and kids similarly visiting their families. Then there were weeks when we bundled up in our winter coats and went to Sea World. Several times the fake waterfall outside my in-laws condo development froze. Even south Florida can get cold in December. But without really knowing that we were on the cutting edge of something that would become A HASHTAG!, we would take the kids to the movies Christmas day because there was nothing else to do, and then we’d eat Chinese food for dinner because no other restaurants were open. The kids loved driving by all the houses with Christmas lights. That was one thing about south Florida: Christmas was obvious in a way it wasn’t necessarily in New York City.
These days my now-adult kids say they never felt deprived around Christmas time. They say the accepted completely that Christmas was a holiday we didn’t celebrate. The year my son was six, his friend Willy confided that he was getting suspicious about Santa Claus because Santa had used the same wrapping paper as his parents. “I think that’s proof,” I overheard my son tell his best friend.
Me, on the other hand, I had horrible Christmas envy. Growing up, the only other Jewish family besides my uncle’s (who lived next to us) in the neighborhood was the rabbi of our synagogue. The Jews in Worcester lived in and around the streets that had once been part of “The Ellis Estate.” We lived on a 1/3 acre that had been part of the “Salisbury Estate.” My parents tended to do things differently. When they finally retired, they went to Sanibel Island and then wondered where all the Jews were.
So there I was on Waconah Road, looking out on Christmas decorations on every house. Friends’ parents invited me to tree-trimming parties, which my parents let me do (though my mom would not let me go to the WASPy “Cotillion” classes when they began). I even went to midnight mass with friends. One of my nicest memories is waking up on a Christmas morning when it had snowed a foot during the night, and all the neighbors, including my father, uncle and brother, were outside to shovel the street so people could get to church. So even though I what I really wanted was a Christmas Tree and a stocking hung up on living room fireplace, what I have carried into my adult life is a good value: help your neighbors, no matter what their religion.
New Years Eve also seemed to pass me by when I was a child. One year we went to a fancy party thrown by my best friend’s parents. Kitty wore a sleeveless green velvet dress with a drop waist that her father had purchased in Paris. I wore a wool skirt. (No wonder I’m always afraid of being dressed incorrectly.) Yeah, my college, post-college New Year’s Eves were filled with drunken revels. But once I was married — the Florida thing. Professors have Christmas vacation. We’d go out to dinner, but we were certainly in bed by midnight. So in the years when friends started their New Years Eve rituals, we were in Florida. A few years back, when there was no longer any reason to hit the tropics, we found we had nothing to do.
Several times Howard and I went outside before midnight and walked to the boat pond gazebo right off Central Park West to see the New York Road Runners Club Midnight Run and fireworks. That was great fun. But then it got crowded; it became a “thing,” like the blowing up of the balloons before the Thanksgiving Parade. Last year we went into Great Barrington to hear the Berkshire Bach Ensemble play Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. This year we’re going again–with our daughter’s boyfriend’s parents. Then it will be back to their house for dinner (the concert ends about 7:30) for Veuve Clicquot. I expect we’ll be home by midnight. But we will have had a wonderful time.
People make a big deal of the holiday season. Considering how short and dark these days are, it’s a good idea. I loved how Hanukkah came so late this year. It gave the candle lighting more joy–menorahs in the window! (The last night, with all those candles going, we set off the fire alarm. Oh well.)
The holiday customs we inherit, those we make ourselves–it’s interesting, especially considering that baby boomers are the largest population cohort ever. You can leave your comments below. I’d love to know:
- What holiday traditions have you inherited and still keep up.
- What holiday traditions you have make up.
- Whether you think holiday customs are important or have anything to do with who we are.
To everyone out there: Wishing you the best holiday season. See you on the flip side.
8 baking potatoes
2 large onions
1/2 cup flour
I use one large potato for every person, and adjust the recipe accordingly. Peel and grate the potatoes. I do this in the food processor, although I know latkes taste better when grated by hand. Mix everything together in a large bowl (not metal) so that it’s one big mess. Drain off the extra liquid. There will be more and more of that as the mixture sits. Also, grated potatoes left out in the air turn kind of orange. That doesn’t matter. I use a cast iron skillet with about 4 tbls of oil for each batch. I take out enough grated potato so it’s the size of a small hamburg and press it pretty flat. Each batch has about six pancakes. The flame is medium high because they need to cook through but be really crisp. If necessary turn over more than once. Keep adding oil. Remember: Hanukkah is all about the oil. I then drain them on paper towel that’s on a baking sheet in the warmer drawer. This way everyone can eat at the same time. Serve the latkes with applesauce and/or sour cream. As I make them only once a year, the latkes are the feature of the dinner, and the sides include whitefish salad, marinated vegetables, etc. Most people use them as a side dish with some other “traditional” main dish, like roast brisket.
Always remember you can tweet me @wordwhacker
I would like to call this recipe my “no-fail pumpkin cake” recipe. However, yesterday, Thanksgiving, I had a minor disaster. At about 11 a.m. when I poured the mixture into the fancy bundt pan from Williams Sonoma, the batter didn’t look right. An hour later when I pulled it from the oven, it still looked wrong. I’ve been making this cake for over 35 years; I should know. I let it cool, turned it over, and, boy, did it look strange. So I called the taste-tester, um, Howard, and asked him to cut into it. I mean, I was desperate. This cake was going with us to our friends’ Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t want to show up with a cake with a slice cut out; but neither did I want to offer something awful. “I left out the sugar, right?” I asked. Howard said, “yeah, probably, but it tastes OK.” So I took a bite. It was kind of like biting into canned pumpkin with flour mixed in. Luckily, I had the ingredients on hand for another try–and enough time. Second go-round, I got it right. Anyway, here’s the recipe. This must be one of the easiest cakes in the world to make. You only need one bowl and a measuring cup. The fancy bundt pan makes it look prettier on the table. I got the recipe from my college and graduate-school roommate Karen Altman, who got it from her mom. I remember Karen’s recipe card said, “Mim’s Pumpkin Cake.” I have the feeling, though, that Mrs. Altman got it off a can of Comstock pumpkin.
Mix together in a bowl:
- 3 cups flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 15 oz can of pumpkin (Comstock if you can find it; I can’t anymore)
- 1 cup oil
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 8 0z bag of chocolate chips, or more if you’d like
- 1/2 cup chopped nuts, if you’re into that, but I never add nuts
The batter will be a nice orange color. Make sure the sugar and flour are both mixed in well. Pour into a well-greased bundt pan. (I use spray stuff.) Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour and 10 minutes. A toothpick should come out clean, unless you stick it into the chocolate. Let it cool for a 1/2 hour or so; turn over onto a cake plate.
We became Thanksgiving nomads shortly after my brother died. For a year or two my sister-in-law continued to gather everyone for the holiday. Then there was a while when we’d go to my parents in Massachusetts and I’d take care of everything there. That stopped when my parents decided to begin their annual snowbird flight to Sanibel before the end of November. So somehow we joined the gang at our friends Marjorie and Doug’s–their parents, in-laws, cousins, cousins’ kids and any strays without a Thanksgiving to attend, because that’s the way Marjorie and Doug are. Generous. Everyone makes something: Marjorie’s cousins Susan and Larry make this scrumptious sweet potato dish that has evolved over the years–the recipe calls for condensed milk. I think they now use skim. Yummy anyway. I make cranberry sauce (in the pot in the photo above) and a scrumptious pumpkin chocolate chip cake. Ask me and I’ll give you the recipe.
The Thanksgiving Parade was baked into the tradition during the early years, when the kids were young. We live right off the parade route, and Howard and Doug would set off early to secure a spot on the sidewalk curb. A couple of hours later I’d join them with the well-layered children, blankets, a large thermos of hot chocolate, and a bag of homemade blond brownies. (One year it snowed and we managed to find seats in the grandstand. Luckily during the parade years it never poured.) Then we’d go home, change our clothes, and walk down the block to Marjorie and Doug’s. I can mark some of the years with images of Ariel’s winter dress-up coats: year after year of navy blue or green wool with velvet collars and cuffs. The dads would then take the kids to Riverside park for some football (the girls in their maryjanes and white tights, yes, crazy but true) while everyone else prepared the feast.
From the beginning Marjorie instituted a pre-meal ritual where we’d go around the table and everyone would say what he or she was grateful for. The kids hated this. Whether there were six or ten young ones or teens, they’d all say, one after another, in a sing-song voice, “I’m grateful for family and friends.” For a couple of years they were banned from doing this. Now when Michael, 28, says he’s grateful for his sister, Dana, 32, we all go, “awwww.”
I have always dreaded this saying-what-you’re-grateful thing too. For several years I was caring for my mentally and physically deteriorating mother. Yes, I always knew I’m so lucky to have what I have, but that fact of my life kind of soured the picture when I had to put things into words. Likewise, this year I really haven’t been looking forward to it: the kids remain unemployed. The economy is bad. I worry about what will happen when the republicans take over in January 2013.
Then a couple of days ago Howard showed me an article in the New York Times about being grateful. Actually, everyone was linking to it on Twitter and Facebook (http://nyti.ms/ruQIQN). According to the research John Tierney gathered, being grateful for things and expressing our gratitude makes us feel better. Tierney writes that as Robert A. Emmons, of the University of California, Davis, advises in his book Thanks, “If you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep.” So here’s me doing some gratitude counting. I go from the sublime to the seemingly trivial. But nothing here is small in my life. And, of course, the list is incomplete. The more I think about it, the more I have to be thankful for.
- I am thankful for my family. I have a wonderful, smart husband who loves us all. My kids may be unemployed, and this does stress us all, but I know we’ll look back on this as just an episode in our lives. They’ll get jobs. That dog in the photo above: That’s Landry, my daughter’s “rescue” dog. Off of Craig’s List. Yes, I had a fit. But he is the best, sweetest pup. How lucky he was that they found him. How lucky I am to have him at my feet as a write.
- I am thankful for my friends. The people I know astound me (a natural cynic) with their generosity of heart and spirit. They make my world.
- I am thankful for my parents. My father’s been dead over a decade, my mother for nearly five years, but every day I benefit from the blessing of being their child: my intelligence, my talent, my values, what I am deep inside–I owe that to them.
- I am thankful for social media. Yes, this may seem a little trivial, but social media has opened for me a whole new life, a new platform. Through Twitter I have made astonishing connections and met people who devote their lives to promoting social good, people I admire.
- I am thankful for my piano. Yes, I am. Music enriches my life; my piano Mason & Hamlin concert grand, dating from 1904, is special.
- I am grateful for WQXR and WMHT radio. When I think about how these stations improve the quality of my life . . . .
- I am thankful to the American Ballet Theatre. The beauty of movement and music coupled–I love ballet the most of all the arts.
- I am thankful to live in New York City. Truly this is the best place in the world. I feel so privileged to be a half block from Central Park, resplendent in all seasons. Lincoln Center is a walk away–and there is where I go the hear the New York Philharmonic, an organization that also brings me such joy.
- I am thankful to the authors of the wonderful books I have read this year. The list is long, but thanks guys.
- I am thankful for my country house. This gift from my dad keeps on giving every time I drive up the driveway and see the red brick chimney reach into the sky, the blue house surrounded by fields and trees. Even you deer out there that eat my plants, I guess I’m kind of grateful to you as well. You are part of the whole nature thing.
What are you grateful for? From the important to the silly, you probably have a list like mine. I’d love for you to leave comments below, but finding me on Twitter at @wordwhacker or on FB at either Facebook.com/Linda.Bernstein or Facebook.com/LindaBernsteinPhD. I’m even on Google Plus. Circle me.