Thursday, December 31, 2015

Good-bye 2015!

Growing up in New York, I always knew the year had ended when the ubiquitous ball dropped in Times Square. Even now, although I've lived in the Chicago area for over 40 years, that event still seems to make the new year official. This year I can't wait until then to wish everyone a happy, healthy, peaceful new year. All I can hope is that 2016 proves to be calmer, more peaceful, less violent, less desperate for everyone around this beautiful world of ours. This Earth is the only one we all call home and we have to do a better job of caring for it and sharing it with one another.

In that spirit, I want to say Good-bye 2015!

Good-bye to terrorist attacks.
Good-bye to indiscriminate use of violence by police against minorities in United States cities and towns especially Chicago which has been my home since 1974.
While we're at it, good-bye to gang violence and the death of innocent civilians by each other.
Good-bye to the need for people to flee war-torn countries in the Middle East and Africa.

On a personal level, my husband and I enjoy good health as do our children and grandchildren. Some of our friends and family do not and I hope the new year brings less stress and more calm.

One good thing that happened is that my book Breaking the Fall is now available on Amazon as a Kindle and a paperback. I'll be talking more about that in the year ahead.

To all of you, happy 2016. May we all enjoy a happy, healthy, and calm New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Learning About Never Again in Skokie, Illinois

Never Again! Not to Jews, not to people in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Africans or anyone else.  But can it be happening again? With the current rise in anti- Muslim hatred and Trump's extremist proposals, there’s a palpable fear in the air that it could.

With that in mind, we visited the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Illinois ( Skokie, an adjacent suburb of Chicago, was once the home to the largest concentration of Holocaust survivors in the United States. Out of a population of 70,000, 7,000 were Holocaust survivors and their families. The survivors, knowing that they were blessed beyond measure to still be alive, felt that their mission was to educate future generations about what happened. The current museum opened in 2009. 

We’d been to the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and to Terezin, the transit camp just outside of Prague. Both of these sites have extremely powerful messages. Somehow, however, the Skokie Holocaust Museum exhibit was much more personal. It was personal to see pictures and videos of interviews of people my husband had known growing up. Some of them had never spoken about their experiences to him. Many had never talked about the Holocaust at all. After Neo-Nazis marched in Skokie in 1978, the Survivor community realized that they had to share their experiences before they passed away so that people coming after them would know what happened.

As we entered the Museum, we had to pass through a metal detector and were told that photographs were forbidden. Thus, I have no pictures of the exhibit to share with you. The permanent exhibit does a great job of showing the rise of Nazism, the way Jews throughout Europe slowly lost everything, how they were herded into ghettoes, and then the Concentration Camp experience itself. They showed the Jewish uprisings in the ghettoes and what happened to the survivors after the War.

What particularly resonated with me was seeing that as Hitler rose to power, many people- Jews included -dismissed him as a comical man who couldn’t possibly be taken seriously. It felt very much the same as the reaction I’ve had to Donald Trump and his proposals about Moslems. It sent a chill down my spine. Many Jews didn’t realize until it was too late that they needed to leave Europe. By the time they realized it, many couldn’t get out.

There is a part of the exhibit toward the end showing how many people in each of the countries of Europe collaborated with the Nazis either actively or by failing to speak up against them. It was a moment that the world went mad. It could happen again.

At the end of the exhibit, there's a short film with some of the Survivors telling their stories. At the end, they leave us with this caveat:

Now I have told you my story. The rest is up to you.

That says it all. Now it’s up to you to go see this powerful exhibit.  

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Standing Together Against Islamaphobia

It was reassuring to see that hundreds of people of many faiths stood united in Evanston against Islamaphobia in Fountain Square the night of December 15th. There are many reasons for me to be concerned about the rising tide of hatred against Muslims. One of many reasons that I feel affected by this development has been my volunteer work with immigrants and refugees some of whom are Muslims. I've heard their stories and learned about the cultures from which they came. The experience of sharing has enriched my life. I feel that are lives are all made better by meeting and learning from each other.

Another reason is that for me as an American Jew, it feels wrong for this country of immigrants to be against immigration. It does not promote justice and is against everything our better selves stand for. Except for the Native Americans, all of us or someone in our families came from somewhere else at some point. There are only about 5.2 million Native Americans left in the United States. That leaves about 325 million of us whose families were originally immigrants.

My great-grandparents and grandparents left Russia and Hungary fleeing anti-Semitic pogroms. If immigration laws and quotas had been in existence at that time, I wouldn’t be here now. Thanks to the first Amendment of the United States Constitution, we have Separation Between Church and State and my ancestors were given safe shelter here for which they were always grateful. Now political leaders such as Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump are suggesting that we only let Christian Syrians enter the United States. Will they think about kicking me out next? The whole prospect is extremely frightening.

America has done better than it’s doing now as far as immigration is concerned. That’s why we have people from so many different countries living here enriching each other’s lives. We’ve had our moments of shame as well. The internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II comes quickly to mind. The turning away of the S.S. St. Louis from Miami does as well. I remember my grandmother telling me stories about how her father, my great-grandfather, stood with other Jewish leaders in Miami pleading with the government to let these refugees in promising to take care of them so that they wouldn’t be a burden to society. These efforts were for naught and the refugees were returned to Europe to face the gas chambers. We need to stand up to the forces that want to descend to that level of darkness again.

This moment brings to mind the poem by Martin Niemoller. The son of a pastor, he was born in Lippstadt, Germany in 1892.

            And Then They Came for Me
                                By Martin Niemoller

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a communist; 
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a socialist; 
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist; 
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew; 
Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak out for me.

As we confront the rising tide of hatred in our country, let us all keep this poem in mind. We as Americans need to and can do better. It's the best part of who we are.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Fighting the Cold On A Wintry Chicago Day

Chicago has great museums, a magnificent lakefront, fabulous architecture, and many other wonderful attractions. I usually recommend that people visit here between the middle of April to about the middle of November when the weather is pleasant or at least bearable so they can enjoy being outside to see all the great things that Chicago has to offer.

There is a way to enjoy Chicago in the winter, however. I don’t know why the city of Chicago doesn’t give it more publicity. That way is utilizing the Pedway. This system of underground walkways in downtown Chicago is quite extensive connecting many buildings and subway stations to each other. One can use it to navigate a good part of Chicago’s downtown to avoid going outside when it’s too cold or rainy.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) at, which gives about 80 walking tours of various parts of Chicago, gives two walking tours of the Pedway-Pedway East and Pedway West. Since we’d already taken the Pedway East tour, we decided to take the Pedway West tour last week.

Our tour began on the lower level of Block 37 at the Guest Services Desk. This block has gone through many changes but is now being used to house stores, restaurants, an AMC movie theatre, and will soon have a Condo building. Prior to the tour, we ate lunch in the building at Latinicity, a

lower level of Block 37 
new Latino fusion restaurant. Only open a few weeks, it is already very busy. Word must have gotten out about how good it is.

After lunch, we met up with the CAF tour. Our docent Roy Slewinski did a great job of ushering us through the labyrinth known as the Pedway. He pointed out the Pedway’s logo that one can see on the walls and use as a guideline to follow throughout the network of walkways. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of these logos and it would be difficult to find your way relying solely on them. Thinking of everything, Roy provided us with maps of the Pedway. These would be helpful for anyone unfamiliar with it. I think it would be great if the Chicago tourist office handed these maps out to anyone visiting Chicago in the winter.


Pedway Logo
Walking through the Pedway, we went up to the Richard J. Daley Center, the County Building, the 120 N. LaSalle Building, the Leo Burnett Building, and the James R. Thompson State of Illinois Building and several others. Along the way, we learned something about the architecture and the history of these buildings and about the Pedway itself. It was a cold, rainy day, but who cared? We didn’t have to go outside for any of it.

at the Daley Center looking across at the Burnham Center

lobby of the State of Illinois Building looking up

lobby of the Marriott Renaissance Hotel

The CAF offers the Pedway Tours from October through February. You can check the CAF website for details of their schedule. I highly recommend this tour.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Pen Pal for Hi-Tech Times

Throughout my junior high, high school, and college years, I had an English pen pal named Irene. She lived in Northern England and we’d write to each other every week. It wasn’t unusual to send each other four and five page letters complete with photos and drawings. Nowadays I can’t even remember the last time I sent someone a letter via snail mail. In fact, it’s unusual to sit down and write anything by hand at all. That’s probably a factor in the decision of many school systems to eliminate cursive writing from their curricula.

While I understand that few people these days –myself included- have the patience to sit down and write, I sometimes miss the passing of those long letters sent through the mail. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a pen pal again in a foreign country. After all, most of us can’t travel all the time and many don’t have the opportunity to travel at all. Our world is getting smaller and it’s fun to connect with people from around the world.

Fortunately, one organization has come up with a modern day equivalent. It’s called If you sign in, you can find a partner to e-mail with or talk to directly on Skype. They have some group discussions as well. The purpose of this website is to provide an opportunity to practice speaking each other’s language. The website includes people speaking any language looking for a partner speaking any other language.

I have found someone to Skype with who speaks French and lives in Quebec Province. She wants to practice English so that she can talk to people when she goes to Florida in the winter. I want to speak French because I love the language.

Since I’ll probably have more opportunities to speak French to the Quebequois when I visit south Florida than when or if I ever have the opportunity to visit France again, it seemed like a good match. I’m still getting used to her accent and some different word usages. Just as Europeans learn British English, most Americans who study French in school learn Parisian French. Sometimes the change is difficult for me, but I enjoy the challenge. She’s sent me an easy recipe for Crème Caramel. I fully intend to try it. I’ll let you know how it comes out.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Saint or Sinner - You Be the Judge

When Lt. (GI Joe) Gliniewicz was murdered in Fox Lake, Illinois, an extensive manhunt was organized to search for him. Thousands of police from all over the United States attended his funeral to pay their respects to this local hero who had mentored so many and been active in helping the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs in Fox Lake.

After the funeral, many of G.I. Joe’s transgressions came to light. Apparently he committed suicide and had it rigged to look like a murder to hide his crimes. Allegedly, he had been embezzling money from the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs that he purportedly helped for years. In addition, there had been many other incidents and complaints against him involving sexual harassment, drunkenness on the job, and other violations of the public trust. Does the bad erase all the good that GI Joe did? Was he a saint or a sinner?

The whole controversy surrounding Lt. Gliniewicz’ death brings to mind a trip we took to Argentina in February, 2012. Before leaving, I asked an acquaintance who had grown up in Buenos Aires for ideas about places of interest to see. One of her top recommendations was the cemetery in Ricoleta, a very prominent Buenos Aires neighborhood. Another top recommendation was to go to the Evita Peron Museum.

Prior to our trip to South America, I had always thought of Juan and Eva Peron as dictators who ruled Argentina with iron fists from 1944 to 1952 and caused many of their political opponents to be disappeared and/or imprisoned. The Perons-BAD! The Evita Peron Museum painted a totally different picture. She advocated for labor, women’s rights, the decamisados (the shirtless i.e. poor) and women’s suffrage and is remembered for having single-handedly established a women’s health clinic and organized low-cost housing. Eva Peron was adored by her constituents for this.
Eva Peron

The cemetery at Ricoleta is worth a visit to see all its elaborate monuments and could be the blog post subject in itself of many a writer. At Eva Peron’s grave, people are still coming to this day to bring flowers and pay tribute to her. I was surprised to see written on her grave “Don’t cry for me…” I thought it was just a song written for the musical. Does this mean that the Perons were not dictators who had their opponents sent to prison and/or disappeared? Were they saints or sinners? Again, you be the judge.

Eva Peron's tombstone
Eva's grave with fresh flowers left by her supporters 50 years later

For me, the take-home message of that South American trip is that we human beings are very complicated. Few if any among us are all good or all bad. For most people, it is easier to see others in stark black or white than in shades of gray. Yet, that’s who we are. Saints or sinners? Let history be the judge. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Revisiting the Handshake - What Do We Have When It's Lost?

Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat with Pres. Clinton - the historic handshake
Twenty years ago, on November 4, 1995, Yitzhak Rabin, then Prime Minister of Israel, was assassinated at a peace rally in Tel Aviv by a religious extremist. On that day, the chance for peace between Israel and the Palestine territories suffered a setback from which it has never fully recovered. As violence in the Middle East again escalates, I bemoan this lost opportunity.  

In the early 1970’s when we lived in Israel, some of our Israeli friends told us that we were naïve. “Don’t you know that the Arabs only want to push us into the sea? You don’t know what it’s like.” At the time, they couldn't imagine Israel signing peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan yet that came to pass. How tragic that they were never proven wrong about peace with the Palestinians. Yet what are the choices if that never happens? Do they continue to have continued rounds of violence forever until they're ultimately destroyed by it?

I’ve often wondered since we returned to America if I would have continued to feel the same way about peace if we had stayed in Israel. Would we be part of the peace movement there or would the events there have caused us to think differently? After all, we’re shaped to a large extent by our experiences.

It’s impossible to know the answer to that question. From the vantage point of living here in America, however, I think that chances are better for peace with a two state solution than in a bi-national state. According to population statistics, if Israel retains the Palestinian areas, the Jewish Israeli population will be only 49% by 2020. Can Israel survive as a haven for Jews fleeing persecution in a bi-national state?

One state hasn’t worked for the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Even the Czechs and Slovaks separated albeit peacefully. And rumblings of separatism from the Flemish and French have been heard in Belgium. Israel can learn from other countries’ historic mistakes. I mourn Yitzhak Rabin’s death twenty years ago and hope that Israelis and Palestinians and those of us hear can somehow revive what was begun and tragically aborted by Rabin's assassination. The future of peace depends on it.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

An Easy Trip to South Korea

In the 1960’s, ‘70’s, and even 80’s, in the United States,we didn’t hear much news about South Korea or for that matter, many other foreign countries outside of Western Europe. We heard about other countries when something cataclysmic happened – the Gdansk workers in Poland striking or the fall of Soviet style Communism. News reached us when it directly affected Americans – Russia and the Cold War, Vietnam and Americans being sent to fight and die there. Therefore, I am still somewhat surprised and very intrigued whenever I have the opportunity to learn about and meet people from other countries around the world. 

I recently finished reading a third book by Kyung-Sook Shin, one of the most popular writers in South Korea today. Even translated into English, her books, exquisitely written, resonate with an audience far beyond South Korea. One thing I’ve enjoyed about her books has been the glimpse they provide into modern South Korean history and culture.

Ms. Kyung describes the third book that I read The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness, as part fiction and part non-fiction. In it, she shares her struggles in the late 1970’s in South Korea working at a factory with sweatshop conditions and attending high school at night. She accomplished this while living in one cramped room with a cousin and two brothers. The backdrop is a South Korea governed by autocratic regimes where labor unions are suppressed and workers have no rights.

I’ll Be Right There is the story of university students in South Korea attending college during several autocratic regimes and students protesting and getting disappeared. She focuses on three college students who become friends and support each other through very difficult times. 

The book I found the most compelling was Please Look After Mom. In this partial fantasy, a mother of several adult children goes missing as she and her family ride the subway in Seoul. As all of them desperately search for her, they share their memories of the role that Mom played in their lives.

As a volunteer, I’m tutoring a Korean woman in English and we’re re-reading Please Look After Mom together. She has a copy of it in English and another copy in Korean to refer to when the English overwhelms her. She tells me the book is about traditional Korean values that Americans don’t share. I ask her to explain. Not knowing the word in English, she gets out her smart phone with its app that translates Korean to English instantly. (Most immigrants seem to have smartphones with this app on it translating their native languages to English and vice versa.) “Sacrifice” she writes. The mother sacrificed for her children much more than American parents –even helicopter parents- would do. Sacrifice – sacrificed. Add a ‘d’ or ‘ed’ as the case may be and verbs become past tense. She’s learned a lesson in English and I’ve learned something about South Korea. The world shrinks again and I hope that someday soon we’ll all learn to live in it together.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Back to My Roots in Ukrainian Village, Chicago

We were excited to visit some of the buildings open to the public during the fifth annual Open House Chicago It’s organized and run by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. This event opens many historic and cutting edge buildings all over Chicago during the third weekend in October.

Since we were nearby in the Logan Square neighborhood, we decided to visit the Ukrainian Village neighborhood. This neighborhood is distinctive because many in the Chicago Ukrainian community still live there and/or maintain ties to the area returning to attend church, run their businesses, or visit friends and family. It seems to be a very cohesive community. At the same time, it has also become somewhat trendy. In recent years, some modern buildings have been built there. Enough historic ones remain, however, for it to be visually interesting to see.
modern apartment building in Ukrainian Village

typical housing in the area

My maternal grandmother came to America from the Ukraine with her family in 1905 when she was about eight years old. They were fleeing pogroms there during an outbreak of anti-Semitism. This family history has not motivated me to visit the Ukraine, but the idea of visiting Ukrainian Village was intriguing.

I enjoyed hearing people speaking Ukrainian to each other. Several Ukrainians at each site were on hand to answer questions. They told us that Ukrainian is very similar to Russian. They are both Slavic languages that use the Cyrillic alphabet. Their word endings and many word usages are different, however.

Several buildings in Ukraine Village were open and we visited a few including the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Cathedral designed by Louis Sullivan in 1903 and the St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral designed by Worthmann and Steinbach in 1913.
Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Cathedral

interior of Cathedral


interior of St. Volodymir Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral
The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art had an exhibit of works by Nataliya Tyaglo, a young artist in her 30’s whose exhibit, The Ukrainian Soul, evoked the feelings if not the  style of Ukrainian artists of the past.
painting by Nataliya Tyaglo

Our last stop was the Ukrainian National Museum. This history and folklore museum is certainly worth a visit. We talked to several Ukrainians and learned about their families’ immigrant experiences. The Ukrainians, had four main waves of immigration to Chicago- the late 1800’s, the early 1930’s following a famine, in the 1940’s immediately following World War II, and right after
museum volunteer in traditional Ukrainian costume
the fall of Communism in the early 1990’s. Their families, unlike mine, had arrived in America more recently. We’ll have to return to view the history exhibit more thoroughly. Time didn’t permit on this visit.

On our way to our car, we passed by Ann’s Bakery at 2158 Chicago Avenue. While this wasn’t part of Open House Chicago, it should have been. All the baked goods looked delicious. Besides, how can you go to an ethnic neighborhood or foreign country without sampling the food? We bought a loaf of bread, sweet and interlaced with poppy seeds. We had slices of it with dinner. It was scrumptious. I’m sure it won’t last long.

I’m looking forward to Chicago Open House next year. Who knows what ethnic group we’ll discover next time. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Journeying to the World of the 1%

According to the IRS, you are in the 1% of wealthiest people in the United States if your adjusted gross income is $343,927 per year and your net worth is at least $8.7 million.

There is another 1% that most of us don’t strive to be part of - the homeless. According to Census figures, at any given time, 1% of the United States population is homeless.

I don’t have any great travel pictures of this world and that feels fitting to me. Most homeless people are invisible as they move among us spending time in our public spaces. As the weather gets colder in our northern communities, they will move indoors to our stores and fast food places and our libraries. Many of the homeless can be identified when we see them walking with all their possessions but many others look just like you and me. Their condition is invisible.

This week I volunteered at the Interfaith Action of Evanston’s Hospitality Center. This is a great support in Evanston for homeless people. For a few hours each morning, homeless people can get a cup of hot coffee and a snack, some assistance from a job counselor, some help on the computer. I mind the entrance and remind people to sign out. If they want to stop to talk for a minute, we chat. I expect to feel their anger, but I don’t. Most people thank me for coming or tell me that I’m blessed. One young man thanks me for smiling at him. “It’s worth a million dollars,” he says. I wonder how long it’s been since he received a smile from anyone else to find my smiling at him so special.

Before we turn around, winter will be upon us. I can’t think of anything worse than being homeless in Chicago in January. Honestly, I can’t really imagine what it’s like to be homeless at all. Like most of us, I have been fortunate to have never experienced this horrid condition. Nevertheless, when I think about it, I feel the cold.

John H. Sibley, a Chicago artist, once found himself in the unenviable position of being homeless. In his book Being and Homelessness, Notes From An Underground Artist, he describes his experience visiting a museum. “Say, buddy,” a burly white security guard tapped me on the shoulder. “The museum will close in 30 minutes.”

“He didn’t see me. He only saw my old gym shoes. My wrinkled clothes. My battered fatigue jacket. He looked at my poverty as if I should be dragged from the museum and shot.”

Homelessness has to be a wretched experience. The causes of homelessness are complex and can’t be discussed thoroughly in a short column so I won’t begin to try. Nevertheless, I believe that our society is partially responsible for allowing this condition to continue. We all need to find a way together to end it.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Re-Visiting the Crime Scene Fifty Years Later

We’ve driven past the Crime Scene many times on our way to places on the North Side of Chicago. A few nights ago, we were reminded of it. My husband screamed in his sleep and jumped out of bed. “What I’ve dreamed about for the past fifty years has just happened,” he said and he held the bridge in his hand that had been his three front upper teeth since long before I’d met him.

Fifty years ago, Howard and three of his friends were walking home from a high school football game at Winnemac Park. They attended Sullivan High School, one of many North Side Chicago High Schools that shared a football field with Amundsen High School. Unfortunately for them, their team had won. Students from the opposing school, who had come a long way to watch the game, were incensed that their school’s team had lost. They attacked my husband and his friends as they walked to the bus stop. The attackers had brass knuckles and knocked out three of his teeth. Headlines in the local paper screamed “Honor Student Attacked!”

While this is a haunting memory, the good news is that my husband has been alive all these years to remember and retell this story. Had this occurred today, most likely he would have been killed given the easy availability and unchecked use of guns especially here in Chicago. In the 1960’s, guns weren’t half as prevalent. In Chicago,this past weekend alone 47 people were shot four of whom were killed.

Destruction can be wrought with brass knuckles, knives, and forks as well. Usually, however, the person wielding them can be subdued before he kills many people. We allow but regulate the use of potentially dangerous substances and objects such as alcohol, tobacco, and cars. Why do we keep letting ourselves be held hostage to the NRA and refuse to pass sensible gun legislation? Those of us who are heartsick at hearing about children shooting each other on an almost daily basis want to know how many Americans need to die from gun violence before we do something as a society to stop this devastation.

We revisit Winnemac Park to remind ourselves –as if we needed a reminder – of the need for gun control legislation. A lot has changed there. Where the football stadium was, a new one was built in its place in 2004. Outside of Amundsen High School, the Chicago Park District has planted prairie gardens complete with walking paths. It looks so peaceful. Who would have thought?

new Winnemac Park football stadium

plaque in memory of the coach  whose sons had the stadium restored and renovated
new prairie development area
the bus stop they were heading for

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Green Lake, Wisconsin

            Refugees from the Middle East and Africa are overwhelming Europe. Closer to home in Chicago, we hear about children dieing from gun violence almost daily. Sometimes, I like to take a break from the news, avoiding even hearing or reading about what’s going on out there. At such times, it feels good to get away.
            At these times, a trip to the country feels really good. For once, I don’t have a social message to my travels. Green Lake in central Wisconsin not far from Green Bay is a place to listen to the crickets and the water on the lake. It’s a town of about 960 people on the north side of Big Green Lake. People go there for fishing, boating, swimming, and relaxing.
            We were happy to meet friends there who live in northern Wisconsin a few weeks ago. We stayed at the Heidleberg House, a resort with its own lake front and small beach. It has a restaurant on the grounds and even an ice cream shop. What more could we ask for? We enjoyed a weekend of catching up and enjoying the scenery. You can often find good deals for weekend or one-night getaways to it on the website
            Absent my usual social messages, here are a few pictures of the area. I get relaxed even looking at these pictures.

on the grounds of Heidleberg House


evening in the town of Green Lake

view from Big Green Lake

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Climbing in Walt Whitman's Footsteps

As we climbed the stairs of the famous Powell’s Book Store in Portland, Oregon, I couldn’t help but notice the writing on the stairs. Highlighted in purple are the words, “What do Walt Whitman, Gertrude Stein, Beatrix Potter, and DH Lawrence have in common? They’ve all self-published.”

I climbed the first stair stepping over the words “Are you next?”

If I decided to take that step, I knew I’d obviously be in good company. Nevertheless, at the time, I wasn’t ready to climb to the next step: “They’ve all self-published.”

In the past two years, the publishing world has continued to change. With the growth of e-books and print-on-demand, traditional publishing has become tighter and harder to penetrate as a new writer. At the same time, self-publishing has lost a lot of its former stigma. The questions swirling in my mind were how much time did I want to spend sending query letters and waiting for answers? How much back up help would traditional publishers provide in the way of promotion? Could I do this? I weighed the options and decided that yes, I was ready to climb to that step. And so I entered to world of self-publishing.

As a social worker, I listened to many stories from people who most people don’t have the opportunity to know. I’ve listened to their conflicts and pain crossing into places that many of us fortunately will never enter. Bridging that gap, I bring you their stories. Since I want you to know these people, I opted to join Walt Whitman et al. Yes, I’ve figuratively walked over the steps. They’ve all self-published - Are you next? -Yes I am.

And so Breaking The Fall is out there on Kindle and  Smashwords and coming soon on Nook, I-Phones, and Amazon as a print-on-demand book. 

Breaking the Fall opens as Sherry Berger, a therapist on the northwest side of Chicago, contemplates how to reconcile her apparently middle class life with the life and death emergencies of her clients. Sherry has secrets of her own and she hopes that these secrets won’t impact her ability to help her clients.

As readers meet Sherry’s clients, they’ll see Sherry’s frustration and agony. Sherry tries to help her clients overcome barriers to their healing that our society places before them, often unexpectedly and at crucial times in their lives. They often face obstacles to achieving their goals, maintaining their equilibrium, and in some cases, even surviving.

Will Sherry decide to continue to work with these challenges or will she choose another path? Will she resolve her own family issues or will her clients’ problems engulf her?

After reading Breaking the Fall, I hope you'll understand it better. I've entered the world of self-publishing. Now I welcome you to learn about my world.  

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Re-visiting The Stranger

A few months ago, I re-read The Stranger by Albert Camus. We had read a passage of it in my French conversation class and my curiosity was piqued. I admit that my memory of the details of the book were sketchy. As those of you who read it may remember, it takes place in 1963 in Algeria toward the end of their war of independence from France. The main character Meursault is arrested for and charged with killing an Arab Algerian. He is tried in court but also tried in the court of public opinion for his apparent callousness toward his mother’s recent death.

In The Meursault Investigation written by Kamel Daoud, an Algerian journalist, and translated by John Cullen, The Stranger is turned inside out, told by Daoud from the Arab point of view.  The language that Daoud uses is quite descriptive and very poetic. It is a parallel story of what became of the family of Mersault's victim.

The main point of The Meursault Investigation is that Meusault’s victim is never referred to by his name and his body is never actually found. Equally anonymous are the victim’s mother and brother who are never able to move forward with their lives after the murder. Instead, they spend the rest of their lives unsuccessfully trying to make sense of it as it destroys their lives.

The book brings to mind the Woody Guthrie song “All They Will Call You Will Be Deportees.” One way to de-humanize a victim is to take away his name. Once the victim becomes less than human, it is easier to assuage one's guilt feelings while abusing another human being. Meursault’s victim’s family never achieves closure. The Deportees – Mexican migrant farmers – are lost in everyone’s memory. Concentration camp inmates had their names removed and numbers tattooed on their arms. Some lessons are universal and the ones taught in The Meursault Investigation are instructive in the refugee/ immigration situation today. Woody Guthrie made that point powerfully in the song "All They Will Call You Will Be Deportees." 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Children's Week in Chicago

Our grandchildren were coming to visit and we had several places we wanted to take them. We have four grandchildren between the ages of four and nine. It’s difficult to find places that appeal to all of them but we usually come up with several ideas.

On this visit, we planned to go to the Lincoln Park Zoo – an old favorite. It’s one of the few big city zoos that is still free of charge. It has a wonderful primate house and a lot of other great exhibits. We also wanted to go to Maggie Daley Park – which has recently opened downtown. Having heard great things about it, we were anxious to see it ourselves.

This time, for a change, the kids’ visit was blessed with great beach weather. What kid doesn’t like going to the beach? Since they were happy to go to there every day, we didn’t make it to some of the places we planned. I’m sure we’ll have plenty of other opportunities. Most people don’t think of Chicago as a place for a beach vacation but all the beaches in Chicago along Lake Michigan are free. Lake Michigan is so vast that I can almost forget that I’m not at the ocean when I’m there. Many of the suburbs along the Lake also have beaches many of them with smooth sand and the Lake temperature had actually warmed up enough to swim in.

Touhy Beach

Two of the places that we did get to are ones I really like because of the community involvement in creating them. A favorite that all the kids requested is Indian Boundary Park in the Rogers Park neighborhood. It has a wonderful playground area that was built by neighborhood volunteers. The kids had a great time in it playing hide-and-seek.

Indian Boundary Park
Playground at Indian Boundary Park
The area that used to be a mini-zoo is now a garden and conservation area. It’s a beautiful park and certainly worth a visit.

The beach at Touhy Avenue has an annual event and fundraiser in which individuals and community groups donate money to paint a section of a large concrete bench that is located just beyond the beach. During a weekend at the beginning of the summer, everyone involved gathers to paint their sections. It sounds like a wonderful community weekend. My youngest granddaughter went with me to see the benches. I asked her which one she liked the best and she picked the one with the balloons. She also liked the one with the butterfly.

the painted benches at the Touhy Beach

Next time they come we’ll have other exciting things for them to do. Chicago always has ample opportunities.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Upward Social Mobility and the British

You don’t always have to travel long distances to meet someone from another country. When I was growing up, throughout junior high, high school, and even college, I had an English pen pal named Irene. I would receive lengthy letters from her each week and reply with a lengthy letter of my own. We often felt as though we knew each other better than we knew many of our other friends as a result of all those letters.

I was reminded of Irene this past week when we went to see the play After Miss Julie.  Performed by the Straw Dog Theatre Company at 3829 N. Broadway in Chicago, it was written by Patrick Marber and directed by Elly Green. The story takes place in 1945 on the estate of a wealthy landowner on the election night of the Labour Government that initiated the British National Health System.

What was remarkable about the relationships among the characters in After Miss Julie was the complete social separation and subsequent differences between the upper class people living on the estate and their peers and the working class people that worked for them virtually as serfs. Successive generations of servants had grown up on the estate and never known or dreamed of any other status in life.

I won’t give away the plot of this play because I hope that Chicagoans reading this post will go see it. Even in the previews, it was seamlessly performed. Anita Deely, John Henry Roberts, and Maggie Scrantom did fine jobs as the actors in this three- person play. It will be playing at the Straw Dog Theatre through September 26th and I definitely recommend it.

By the mid 1960’s when I was corresponding with Irene, it seemed to me that the social mobility situation in England hadn’t improved very much from how it had been in the 1940’s. I was shocked when at the age of 15 or 16, Irene failed a test that determined whether or not she would be allowed to continue high school. After two years of high school, she was required to drop out. She got a job as a clerk at Woolworth’s and for her, that was that.

I was pleased when I met British people on our last trip to hear that that exam is no longer given in the English public (what they call private) schools. Hopefully, the opportunities for social mobility for working class people have improved dramatically. I haven’t corresponded with Irene in decades and have often wondered what happened to her. Did she actually work as a clerk at Woolworth’s forever? Did she ever think about doing anything else?

Seeing After Miss Julie inspired me. I don’t know how to find Irene. Not knowing her married name, I wrote a letter to her at the last address I had for her. If I don’t hear from her, I have a few other places that I can try. I probably have a 5% chance that I’ll find her. If I do, I’ll ask her what she thinks about After Miss Julie.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

How to Maximize Your Frequent Flyer Miles and Travel Around the World

Traveling is great. It's even greater when you can fly to your destination for free. When we first started traveling outside of the United States, we had miles saved from my husband’s travels from work. Those got used up a long time ago, but we’re still traveling. We’ve become so adept at using our miles that people ask us for tips.

Here are a few:

   1. Book your flight as early as possible.
In Rotorua, New Zealand, a Maori village
The airlines only reserve a few seats on each plane for use by frequent flyer mile users. Our experience is that most airlines let you book eleven months before the planned trip. Whatever the earliest time is for your particular airline that’s when you need to book your trip. You’re not sure that you’ll be able to go then? Buy travel insurance, but make the reservation ASAP.

  1. Be flexible.
You want to travel on Tuesday but you can only get a flight on Wednesday? Take the flight      anyway. You don’t want to make stops? Well, the airlines are making it increasingly difficult for the occasional tourist to use the miles so sometimes that’s as good as it gets. When we went to Ireland, all the frequent flyer seats were booked for all flights within a week of our target date. We booked tickets for London instead and then bought Aer Lingus flights from London to Dublin for $24 apiece. We still got there. When we wanted to fly to New Zealand, we flew to Australia and changed planes. On our flight to South America, we found that if we came home on March 1 instead of February 28th, we would each need 30,000 fewer miles. We came home on March 1st.
Valparaiso, Chile

   3.   Change Credit Cards when companies offer deals.

        Many credit card companies offer bonus frequent flyer miles for signing up with them. Check         the terms of the credit card. Sometimes it pays to get one if they’re offering enough bonus             miles. “Oh the places you’ll go,” wrote Dr. Seuss.

 Happy traveling everyone!
folk music group in Guatemala

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Planes, Trains, and Weather Delays

the legendary Pont D'Avignon - our last stop in France

We had reservations for the TGV (high speed train) from Nimes to Barcelona and were looking forward to it. We wondered what would it feel like to travel at 180 miles per hour.

We arrived at the train station with ample time. The station was clean and modern with new messaging boards clearly telling the time and the tracks. There were plenty of SNCF employees to help customers and answer questions. Contrary to the stereotype about the French being rude and arrogant, they were all very polite.

The train was beautiful. It had cushioned seats, big picture windows, and quiet tracks. It left on time and zipped along at 180 miles per hour. We couldn’t even feel the speed and were enjoying watching the passing scenery – until a torrential downpour started.

Somewhere near Perpignan the train came to a halt. Within a few minutes, a train official announced on the loud speaker that because of the rain, it was unsafe to continue and we would be kept informed of developments as they occurred.

Indeed, every ten minutes, we heard another announcement. After the third announcement, they distributed complementary box lunches. They were pretty good – a tuna pasta salad, a green salad, a roll, juice, and dessert. With the lunch was a card apologizing profusely for the delay.

The flip side of the card had the SNCF’s delay policy. Anyone with proof of a ticket purchase could apply for a refund of 25 to 75% of the ticket depending on the length of the delay for any time lag of more than 30 minutes. There were instructions for how to apply for one.

 Very impressed by this service, my husband said, “If we had been on a plane in America, we wouldn’t have gotten anything and they would have left us sitting on the tarmac wondering what was going on.”

We enjoyed eating our lunch courtesy of the SNCF and chatting with the family from New Zealand sitting across from us. Our delay lasted for three and a half hours.

in Barcelona

Sure enough. On our flight home, we had a connecting flight from Charlotte, North Carolina to Chicago. When we arrived in Charlotte, the departure board showed several flights to Chicago had been cancelled or delayed. Ours hadn’t been. “This is a bad omen,” I said.

We boarded on time and then sat on the tarmac for over an hour. There was one announcement saying that the delay was due to bad weather. By the way, we passengers received no food or drinks to compensate. Finally, we heard an announcement that because of the weather, we would be taking a different route. We had to go back to the gate to refuel. The new route would circumvent the storms by flying over Kansas City, back over Des Moines, and finally to Chicago. A 500-mile flight would now be 1200. In all, we had a three and a half hour delay.

No one in Europe or America or anywhere else on this Earth has control over the weather. Things happen. How we respond to them, however, is up to us. You decide which way you want to be treated. 


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Academics Too Low in America? Change the Paradigm

On our trip, we were often asked what we think of when we think of France. Do we think of Paris, French cuisine, wine, the French fashion centers, the Cannes Film Festival? Before this trip, I usually thought of Paris, the Impressionists, and French cuisine. After this trip, I’ll also think about how the French respect and honor their intelligent people, especially those who had significant achievements. 

We took a Viking River Cruise from Chalons-Sur-Saone to Avignon. Our first stop was Beaune in Burgundy. We visited a Vineyard, toured the Hotel Dieu, and walked through Beaune. The town was lovely and I was surprised to see a statue in the park dedicated to a teacher, Gaspard Mongé. He was born in Beaune and was also a prominent mathematician who participated in the Revolution in 1792.

statue of Gaspard Monge
Our next stop was Lyon where we saw wall murals on several buildings of prominent citizens current and past of Lyon. One of these gave prominence to the Lumière Brothers, initiators of the first motion pictures. The main university in Lyon is named after them as well. 

wall painting of the Lumiere Brothers

Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince, was also featured on several murals. Their airport is named after Saint-Exupéry as well. 

the Little Prince and Saint-Exupery
In Bellecour Square, Lyon's main plaza, there is a statue of André-Marie Ampère, physicist and mathematician for whom the measurement of electric current is named. Next time you want to know how many amps an electric appliance has, you can think of him.

statue of Andre-Marie Ampere

In Tournon, as we got off the boat, we saw a statue of Marc Seguin, engineer and inventor of the first suspension bridge. As we looked across the Rhone, we saw that bridge spanning the river.
statue of Marc Seguin
the first suspension bridge

Arles, as expected, had many statues and sites dedicated to Vincent Van Gogh. He spent the last two years of his life in Arles and painted many pictures in Arles enthralled by the sunlight and colors of the south of France. All over Arles there are monuments and other signs indicating that he was there. The people of Arles have kept the memory of his stay there so palpable that I could almost feel his presence as we walked through that beautiful town. 

hospital in Arles where Van Gogh was treated

picture and actual Cafe Van Gogh
Here in the United States we could learn from this French example. We certainly have many people who have achieved considerable feats but most are not esteemed every day in the general culture. Let’s start erecting statues of our teachers, engineers, scientists, writers, social workers, and thinkers and honoring them. Maybe when our children see alternatives to gaining fame, respect, and fortune as athletes and celebrities, some will change their choices of role models.  Maybe with the ubiquitous presence of our instant news cycles and instant messages it's too late, but I think it’s worth a try.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Visiting Paris Post Charlie Hebdo - Just As Beautiful As Ever

What do you think of when you think of France? Do you think of the incident at Charlie Hebdo or of Paris or wine, Impressionists, French cuisine, iconic landmarks?

Arc de Triomphe

We had booked our trip to France several months before the Charlie Hebdo killings occurred. After it happened, we considered canceling it, but with the placement of French soldiers and police at the major tourist sites as well as the Jewish schools and synagogues, we decided to go as planned. I reasoned that with the increased security, it was probably safer than it had been. Besides, we had been in Paris for a couple of days 42 years before and I was very excited to finally return.

Discover Tours (, free walking tours of several neighborhoods, were a highlight of our stay. All of the guides are Parisians who speak fluent English and most of them, many of them college students, are young adults. No payment is required but tips are strongly suggested. It’s the only payment that the guides receive.

The Discover Tour of the Right Bank provided a glimpse of the beautiful and elite of old Paris. This tour started at the Opera House and went to many famous sites including the Café de la Paix, the Tuileries, and ended at the Arc de Triomphe. There were about 25 people taking the tour with us but fortunately, the tour guide had a voice that carried well.

Opera House

the Grand Hotel

We also took the Marais  tour and were the only people on it. This gave us the opportunity to talk to our young guide and the two interns accompanying her that day. The guide’s boyfriend joined us later on the tour. We learned a lot about the Marais and also heard about life in Paris. Yes, it’s difficult for young people to find employment. Yes, it’s expensive to live there but there is a safety net. Each district of Paris is required to have Public Housing. The waiting list to get in isn’t as long as it is in most places in the United States.
Place des Vosges

public housing in the Marais

The young people providing the tour endorsed the French policy of laicite viewing it as a bulwark against religious persecution. Although women are forbidden to wear hijabs (headscarves) in some French public places, we saw many women wearing them as they walked through the Marais.

We saw Jewish people as well, religious and easily identifiable by their clothes, as well as nonOrthodox Jews. While we’d heard and read about increased anti-Semitism in France, we were fortunate not to witness it or sense it on this trip. This is not to say that it doesn’t exist, but it wasn’t as visible and palpable as it was for us last year in Hungary.

outside the Musee du Judiasme

The people we spoke to were upset by the increased military presence on their streets. Charlie Hebdo seems to be France’s 9/11. “You’ll get used to it,” I told them at the same time hoping that the proud French would not.

Despite any problems that may exist, Paris is still Paris and we had a beautiful time there.