June 29, 2009

An egret, close and personal

Taking advantage of the sun’s rare appearance this June, I stole away for a two-hour break at Manor Beach today. Looking up from my book, The White Tiger, I realized a white egret (are there any other colors?) was also enjoying Mother Nature’s gift of a summer afternoon.

Living so close to the city, too many of us lose touch with the wildlife around us. We squat at mosquitoes, curse the rabbits that eat our lettuce, close the windows when the skunks appear in the neighborhood, and bemoan the geese that decide to rest at our parks.

But there it was. An egret, taking a leisurely stroll in the Long Island Sound’s shallow waters. The king of the water….all alone.

June 28, 2009

Kudos to the New York Times

Ever since I learned that the plastic bags that protect our morning papers are recyclable and I started stuffing them into one of my recyclable grocery bags, I’ve been amazed at how quickly they accumulate. The amount of plastic diverted from the waste stream from just our small household probably measures a cubic foot a week – if not more.

Checking online I quickly learned that newspaper bags are just the tip of the iceberg. Zip lock bags and bread bags; dry cleaning bags and the wrap on toilet paper; grocery bags and cereal box liners – all are recyclable and should be brought back to Stop and Shop, CVS or other large retailers.

While it’s been the law to recycle these bags for more than a year, far too many folks are now aware of the regulation.

So thank you, New York Times, for publicizing it on the bags themselves. And let's hope The Wall Street Journal, the Journal News, and all the other papers that hit our doorsteps, take the hint.

For those who need more information on where to take your bags, please check the online directory.

June 26, 2009

What's wrong with this picture?

Football and Godliness can play on the same team, according to a story in this morning’s New York Times about home schooling, but academics seems to have been lost in the scrimmage.

“It’s fun to be in a Christian environment,” said one player of the league, in which coaches sign a code of conduct forbidding tobacco products and cursing. As Coach Scott Dorsey told The Times, “This is a ministry opportunity around football” in which he can teach the boys to lead a Christ-centered life.

Coach Roger McDaniel gives the players minisermons at each game. His priorities, according to a sign posted on the football field fence, God and Family are No. 1 & 2 priorities for his players, followed by “Acedemics” and “Atheletics.”

I hope someone other than the coach is worrying about the 3 R’s.

June 20, 2009

Hey Yankees, why not take a tip from the airlines?

The Wall Street Journal reports that as seats get smaller, airlines are increasingly trying to force “passengers of size” to buy an extra seat when they fly. They’re reacting to the complaints of frequent travelers, who find the seats they paid for are too often encroached on by overweight passengers.

The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance agrees that the airlines have the right to charge extra. As a spokesperson said, “We’re willing to pay for what we are rightfully using.”

But the confined space of an airplane cabin is not the only place where excess inches can cause problems for people who paid hard-earned dollars for a seat – a seat that is designated and cannot be changed.

Take Yankee Stadium.

We’ve had the Sunday mini-series for close to 15 years and made the move to the new stadium across the street with some trepidation. After all, our seats at the old stadium were perfect, Sec. 612, just off home plate, surrounded by fellow season ticket holders who had become good friends over the years.

Leaving aside the problems of where we were offered seats, we’re now getting used to the new stadium. It is beautiful. We love the wide passageways, the many bathrooms and the elevators. So, even though we’re in the nosebleed section, we wouldn’t mind our seats, were it not for our neighbor.

We occupy the second and third seats from aisle. And the person who has the seat on the aisle is big. Large. Overweight. Or, as The Journal puts it, oversized. He also brings to each game a big plastic bag filled with supplies. Sandwiches. Chips. T-shirts. A sweatshirt. A jacket. Even a blanket.

All of which takes up all the space under and in front of his seat.

My husband keeps thinking they guy won’t be at every game. But he’s a diehard

Yankee fan, sure to outlast us. I think we should ask George for different seats. And the Yankees need to take a tip from the airlines: make the guy buy a double.

June 12, 2009

Taming the Vine

Years ago a landscape artist suggested we plant a wisteria along the fence of the patio. “It will grow along the top of the fence and make a beautiful border,” she told me convincingly.

My parent’s house in South Orange, NJ, had a beautiful wisteria that climbed a back corner, past the dining room windows to my sister’s bedroom on the second floor. I envied her the sight of the purple blossoms that crowded the windows on both sides in early spring, envied her, that is, until the bees arrived. So I was skeptical of the vision.

The landscape artist soothed my worries, saying, “we’ll plant a white wisteria,” as though that made all the difference in the world.

For the first three years or so, the wisteria did nothing. It stood, about three feet tall, putting forth a few leaves—just enough to let me know it was still alive. I now realize it was putting all its energy into the ground, building a root system and fooling me into complacency. Then one spring I was ecstatic to see the first blossoms appear. I should have realized I was in for trouble as the tentative buds opened, a beautiful pale lilac in color.

That first summer the wisteria behaved. I could easily control the few vines that appeared, weaving them into the openings in the fence. How would I know that the wisteria was preparing for battle, waking its sleeping DNA and ordering it into formation.

Sure enough, next summer those compliant vines started to resist my plans. Saturday morning I’d pull down a slender light green tendril that was trying to point skyward. Sunday afternoon I’d check and find it was now as thick as a No. 2 pencil. By the following weekend, the soft green vine had turned brown, and I needed my Felco clippers to tame it.

So I devised a new plan. I’d let the wisteria grow up upon itself and I would prune an outdoor room under its branches. Anything less than five feet from the ground was destined for the compost pile while I wove new tendrils reaching for the sky around the wood vines of the year before. The next summer a lounge chair fit under the wisteria and a cool respite for a hot summer afternoon had been created.

And then she broke out in all her glory.

The roots that had been spreading unseen and unchecked for years started creating shoots. Shoots in the euonymus, between the patio bricks, in the grass and under the driveway. And above my patio’s green roof the tendrils shot forth without challenge. They grabbed the gutter and the rain pipe and threatened to tear slates off the roof; they reached out to my neighbor’s house, twining around the car antenna and licking the windows of their second floor bedroom. She was out of control and uncontrollable.

So there I was, my first week of retirement, on top of a ladder wrestling my nemesis. Saw in hand I hacked through vines two inches in diameter; using clippers I sheared mercilessly. I was ruthless and determined, once and for all, to bring this vine under control.

Pulling on the vines, trying to get them off the juniper, I gave a big tug. Nothing happened. So I took a step down, thinking the additional distance would give me greater power. Another tug. And again, no success. So I thought, okay, down one more step and I‘ll surely prevail.

And then it happened. Stepping down, I missed my mark and fell flat on my back on the hard gravel driveway. Stunned, I thought for a flash that I must be paralyzed, but then the pain set in, deep throbbing pain.

And so now, two painful weeks later, I’m facing reality on two fronts. First, I’m beginning to see that I may need to kill the wisteria if I’m going to live to enjoy my garden. And second, my body is telling me it may be already too late.

June 5, 2009

Finding Community

At a Catholic funeral Mass today for a man who gave so much to the Village of Larchmont community as a member and chief of its volunteer fire department, the priest based his homily on a passage from Luke: "Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it."

His message, as it related to Tommy Connell,was that Tommy often risked his life to save others. "Tommy was a giver," the priest said. Tommy gave to the community, he gave to his family, he gave love and he gave hope.

As hard as it may have been to swallow the message of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven, the priest's message that "we don't have enough givers" rang true. What, after all, is a life devoted to tikun olam about, if it isn't about the message that we need to live our lives involved in the world and not separate from it?

I came to know Tommy about ten years ago, after he'd retired from work and was no longer actively fighting fires. He was a regular at the
Larchmont Tavern, where my husband and I often meet to discuss issues over a glass of wine or a cool brew. On Tuesday, the day he died, a glass of white wine sat in front of the stool he always occupied, first in from the door. And the stool was vacant, a silent tribute to a man who enchanted everyone he happened to meet.

The fire department gave Tommy a moving tribute: in place of a hearse, his casket was carried on a fire engine; it was carried into the church to the mournful sound of bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace." The firefighters, volunteer and paid alike, lined the entrance in silent attention to a man who had fought beside them for many decades.

It was a stark contrast to the funerals - far too many of them, to be sure - I've been attending lately at my Reform synagogue. It was, after all, a Mass, at which everyone save my husband, me and a handful of others scattered around the church, took communion and celebrated that Jesus had died, not just for Tommy's soul, but for theirs as well.

And yet.... The sense of community in the church was powerful; the number of people who came because Tommy had, in one way or another, had an impact on them, inspiring. And I realized that this, after all, is the primary function of religion: to help us find a community in which we belong, a place that loves us and accepts us, cares for us and, ultimately mourns us. Catholic or Protestant, Jewish or Muslim, we all need community.

June 1, 2009

The green thumb lives on...

Through LinkedIn I reconnected with a woman I worked with when we were at Howard Rubenstein Associates. It made me wonder whether my green thumb can be catching. She writes:

"I have to tell you...you gave me a little houseplant when I worked for you, and it is still alive 18 years later. My mom takes care of it now (or else it would definitely died by my hands), but I think of you every time I see it."

Not bad!