Baby Got Back

The past few months have been a whirlwind. When I had my kids I worked full time. For the first, I was back five days post-delivery, for the second and third, blessedly, living in Israel, I had three months maternity leave. So nannies were on the scene right from the beginning.
Now the wheel has turned, karma is in play, and I am sitting two days a week for Lev as Yael goes back to work after a four month maternity leave (it helps to work for a human rights organization).

Baby Got Back

These days, I have babies on the brain. Has anyone else noticed the astonishing number of Brooklyn Baby Bumps? So when I heard that a new Birthing Center had opened in Buffalo just down the street from our house there, I called to ask to visit.

What a difference from my remembered hospital setting!

The Birthing Center of Buffalo was founded by Dr. Katherine Morrison. It took her five years to work through the bureaucratic entanglements standing in the way. For one thing, this is one of only two free-standing Birthing Centers in New York State. That means, it is not located inside the walls of a hospital (though a hospital is located less than five minutes away).

The setting is very attractive, a bit like an upscale extended-stay hotel.

You enter a waiting room, with a couch and comfortable chairs, the ubiquitous wall TV, and a small kitchen. Family or friends are welcome to wait there. Sliding opaque glass doors, which can be fully opened if desired, separate the living room from the bedroom.

BCB Kitchenette

And bedroom is the proper term. No slab hospital bed, instead a queen-sized real bed. Then there is a Jacuzzi across the room, a Swiss ball for bouncing on, and a swing contraption hanging from the ceiling for variety.

BCB Doors

 

BCB Birthing Tub

Beyond is a large, modern, private bathroom.

My two daughters were born in Israel with the aid of midwives and my husband. He was one of the first husbands to be at a birth there, and all the interns and residents came in to observe. I don’t think any doctors were invoked at all, since the births went according to the standard script.

It is astonishing to me that it has taken so long for midwifery and birthing centers to begin to enter the mainstream for birthing babies in the US. Brooklyn has one freestanding center, the Brooklyn Birthing Center, and another center is located in a hospital, at Mount Sinai-Roosevelt, at 59th and Tenth in Manhattan.

There is a strict vetting process preceding births in the centers. Various issues, such as your age at a first birth can exclude you, and if the pregnancy passes the 41st week, you can’t deliver there. Epidural anesthesia is not administered, but various non-drug techniques are available for pain relief, or at least attenuation.

For a woman who prefers not to be “there” during labor, a birthing center is not the place to be. But for women who want to be fully engaged, supported by a partner and friends, and truly “give” birth, midwives and birthing centers are finally providing the place and support for her.

Note: I wrote this piece months ago, before Lev’s birth. Since life does have a tendency to shape our opinions, I hesitated to publish it until now. The reason? While I am still thrilled by the possibilities offered by a Birthing Center, I am relieved that Yael’s plan to give birth in one ran into issues and she was on the hospital floor for Lev’s birth. I was there, and there were complications, and I am grateful that the full force of medical intervention was available instantaneously. But I still think that having the option for a different experience is valuable, with all the attendant caveats.

The Wheels on the Bus

One of the best things about living in Brooklyn is that we don’t need a car. One of the worst things about living in Buffalo is how much we do. In Brooklyn, the car stays parked, moved only to shuttle back and forth as needed for Alternate Side of the Street Parking requirements on Monday and Tuesday. We are half a block from the subway line that takes us to Manhattan and one daughter in twenty minutes, and half a mile from the one that takes us to our other daughter’s new Brooklyn apartment. The Botanic Gardens, Brooklyn Museum, and Brooklyn Academy of Music are a fifteen minute walk in various directions, and there are two supermarkets a block from the house, not to mention Fresh Direct and Amazon Direct to deliver whatever we need in groceries. Hair and nail care, Chinese,Italian, Lebanese, Thai, and French food, all within two blocks. We look forward to the day when we sell the car
But not yet. We are in Buffalo for a few weeks without it, having left it behind to ease the Brooklyn move. The train ride up the Hudson is beautiful this time of year, though the scheduled nine hours inevitably extends to ten and a half or eleven, as we are shunted to the side to let the freight trains pass. Goods before people! Then the evening trip on Buffalo’s Subway to Nowhere, where you can’t buy a ticket, but will get tossed off without one.

But all that pales next to car-free daily life. We live at the absolute center of this city, which has 250,000 inhabitants. And we have to walk a mile for a quart of milk. How dare they call this a city? And the second largest one in New York State, to boot! The first few days it rained heavily, and since food shopping required a long walk in that rain, we had a lesson in “eating from the fridge and pantry.” Long on beans and short on eggs. Finally on Saturday we decided to trek to the new Trader Joe’s. The ten minute train ride to the end of the subway was followed by a twenty-five minute wait for the bus. That actually left us on TJ’s corner. We loaded up our backpacks and then waited in the rain for the return bus, and miraculously, connected immediately with the subway.

Since we had stripped TJ’s clean, my backpack weighed twenty-five pounds-Phil dragged it upstairs to weigh it since I was prostrate once we reached home, insisting it must be at least sixty pounds! And for the rest of the week we will only have to walk that mile for milk and eggs.

But limping in another person’s shoes gave me some time to think about what life must be like here for people who can’t afford cars, or gas, which remains a stubborn fifty cents per gallon more expensive than the national average. How do you get to work? What do you do when the bus is late and you miss a connection? How do you cope when it snows? This is Buffalo of the 100 inches a year of fluffy stuff. How do you provide for your family’s food needs when the closest supermarket is a two mile walk away?

We are on the West Side of Main Street, and have that hike to a supermarket. There are no supermarkets on the East Side at all, and there haven’t been any for forty-four years. But that is a story for another day.

Meanwhile, walking everywhere has lat me appreciate a beautiful Buffalo Fall season this year…

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We Were Half A Million Strong

Apparently life is what happens when you are planning a post on your blog. Being a grandmother for the third time is exhilarating, and something of a distraction, even if a welcome one. But back to that post…

I know how the saying goes, “If you can remember Woodstock, you weren’t there.” Well I can and I was, at least for a day. And for me the memory remains a sweet one.

I had actually bought a ticket to the event. Wonder where it is now? I know I kept it for years afterwards.

It should have been a 3 hour drive, but long miles from the entry point, the traffic jam began. We crawled for hours, as I frantically knitted. Finished the entire front of a red wool dress that proved too itchy to later wear.

After complete stasis was achieved, we realized that everyone was just pulling off to the side and abandoning their cars. So we did the same, and started walking. And walking. We knew we were still eight miles away, carrying neither food nor water, but we trudged on.

I don’t know how far we’d gotten when I realized how bad an idea it had been to wear my wooden Dr. Scholl’s sandals, with that supporting bump in the front. It was hot, my feet were sweaty, and that bump started to chafe. Some miles in I had acquired giant blisters on the ball if each foot, and had to walk barefoot the rest of the way. It wasn’t too bad, because torrential rains had already turned the dirt road into mud, which was softer on my sore feet.

But we made it! The fences were down, and the ticket takers had abandoned their posts. We wandered into the fields and woods and crowds. There was a break in the music, and we just took in the scene. It is too familiar for me to describe, but the sheer mass of young people (and not so young) was astonishing. Lines for food, drink and toilets were overwhelming, and the sites overwhelmed.

We found a spot on the hill as the next act warmed up. A long-haired young guy uncorked a bottle of water, took a swig, and passed it on. I was so grateful! All that Peace and Love that was promised in the ads for the Festival washed over me.

We heard a few of the acts (was it Santana, then Mountain? Did we actually leave BEFORE the Grateful Dead?), but then the rains started again. Not too reluctantly, we started the trek back down the road, along with dozens of others. As the cars pulled out, drivers invited the hikers to hop on the hood, roofs and fenders as they crept down the hill. We hopped onto the back fender of a VW Beetle and clung to the roof until we reached our car.

Then we returned to my mother’s to pick up almost three-year old David #stillbitter, who is now making up for our abandonment by hitting the West Coast festival circuit. But sorry Dave, there will never be another Woodstock-even at Woodstock.

By the Time We Got to Woodstock

When I was President of a University, a Professor of History asked me to come and speak in his class. Rumor had gotten out that I had been at Woodstock (yes, THE Woodstock, not its pathetic imitations) and the students wanted to hear about it. I was flattered that my inherent hipness and cool was being recognized, so long after the reality. That is, until I mentioned to a student that I was planning to speak in his class, and he said, “Oh yeah, we were really interested to know more about those olden days.”What? What? Fortunately for my ego, the class was never scheduled.

I was struck by that memory recently as I read about this being the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of World War I. That event has always been in the ancient past (or “olden days”) for me, and at a century remove, it really is far in the past. But in the article it was pointed out that World War II began only 25 years later! Twenty-five years? Why 1989 was 25 years ago. That was the year my father died, and I can still remember him vividly.

Time has a funny way of collapsing, the older I get. My brother just had his 50th high school reunion. Some schoolmates were recognizable, but he was grateful for the (hopefully large type) name tags on others. “Time heals all wounds, and wounds all heels,” as the saying goes.

Being young has not really prepared me for being old. I had few elderly “role models”, and even those I had lived in a world so different from today’s that I can’t say they had many lessons to impart. One big surprise for me was how I have adapted to not working a full time job. My father worked until the day he died at 74; and my mother, until 85, was a nurse in the Operating Room, sometimes working a five day week. She broke her arm, and while it was healing, they closed the hospital on her! She wasn’t about to start somewhere else at that point. I figured that I would do the same, more or less.

But when I lost my job in the recession, trying to raise funds when there were no funds to be raised, I was suddenly in a whole new world. And I hated it. I wanted to be gainfully employed, dammit! Not faced with hours to fill every day. But slowly, slowly, those hours filled. And now I am one of those obnoxious types who complains that they don’t have enough hours in the day, and just don’t know how they ever had time to do a full time job while they were still employed.

I’ve written two mystery novels (yes, I will publish them, as soon as I have the time), am studying Spanish and French every day. I meditate, have two part time consulting jobs at the moment, and walk and work out lots (maintenance of the physical status quo has become top priority). And with time for cooking, Phil and I eat very well (which also necessitates those walks and gym visits).

Here’s the view from my home office:

Off

“We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” But not too soon.

Maisha: “If We Don’t Tell Our Stories, No One Will”

The blog has gone dark of late because I have been working to deadlines, writing grants for the Maisha Film Lab. Maisha was founded nine years ago by director/writer/producer Mira Nair, to build up the film industry in East Africa. While there was once a thriving film culture, when Idi Amin came to power, most cinemas closed. While many have reopened, the quality of the films offered is often very low. The Maisha Film Lab first offered an annual 26 day Filmmaking and Technical Lab in Kampala, Uganda. Now their offerings extend to 8 day Screenwriting Labs in Kampala, Zanzibar (Tanzania), Nairobi (Kenya) and Kigali (Rwanda), Film Clubs for the youth in Northern Uganda (until recently the turf of The Lord’s Liberation Army), a Documentary Lab in Kampala and a Film Festival there as well.

The Labs are taught by an impressive group of international filmmakers, including Annmarie Morais, from Jamaica (“How She Move”), Patricia Riggen, from Mexico (“La Misma Luna”) and Malia Scotch Marmo (USA, “Jurassic Park”), and the students receive one-to-one attention. At the end of the Film and Technical Lab, the best four scripts written in the first week will have resulted in four short films made with professional actors (worth taking a look). The Lab participants learn about adapting scripts to film, directing, sound and editing.

The background for the Screenwriting Labs is the paucity of good scripts overall. Those who complete that course (15 from each country) end with a script suitable for pitching, or submitting to the Film and Technical Lab the next year.

The Youth Film Clubs, in which young people view and discuss quality films from the United States, Africa and Denmark (the program is funded by the Danish government), has resulted in the young people in Mbale setting off to make their own films. So one of the grant proposals that I was writing was in support of that effort. Maisha would support their filmmaking through providing the mentors and equipment.

The other deadline concerned a Screenwriting Lab just for women, again in the north of the country. The war there was particularly hard on the youth, who were forced to serve as child soldiers, and on the women, who were often raped or lost their entire families. Telling your own story takes on additional weight when the stories bear a tragic burden.

Today I wrote two letters of inquiry, one for the Women’s Screenwriting Lab and one for the FIlmmaking and Technical Lab. We have funding for that signature effort from the European Union for this year, but have to look forward to 2015. Since the Labs are at no cost to the participants, funding them is an ongoing effort.

When I was President at Acadia, I was stunned at the abilities of students brought to Canada from some of the refugee camps in Kenya, exiles from the Sudan or Somalia. They had been educated often outdoors or in tin-roofed shacks, but they competed successfully with the Canadian-born students in academics. A group of our students wanted to help out, and thought to provide books for the camp schools, but the African students asked them instead to raise money for a toilet building for the girls in the camp. Since they had to go out into the fields, they wouldn’t come to school when they were menstruating, and often missed a week of school every month. The Acadia students provided funds for the shed, and then we had some women from Somalia join us.

China has been investing in Africa for decades. It is time that the United States realized the wealth of talent that the continent has to offer.

Everybody Has A Mother

Tulips

I am all for celebrating mothers and motherhood on one Sunday in May every year. Philip, on the other hand, calls it a “Hallmark Card Holiday”, and, ironically, it seems that it’s founder, Anna Jarvis, later turned against it because of its commercialization. At the risk of appearing an ingrate, then, it strikes me that we could use some celebration the other 364 (or 365 leap) days.

When my son David was born, I was a graduate student here in the US. My pregnancy was greeted with disapproval my the faculty at Einstein, and even by my advisor. The chair of the department had been known to say that a Department only needed one woman faculty member-to arrange staff picnics and deal with the “colored” help. Yes, he said that! Yet, the Department had two women members. Neither of them had children, however.

So I was determined to prove myself. David was born on a Saturday, and I was back at work the next Thursday. Five day maternity leave! And I nursed him as well, when the breast pump looked like a bicycle horn, and used only hand power, not electricity! My course work and research went well, and I had started to prepare for the Oral Exams at the end of the summer, when I was unceremoniously dumped. Told, “A woman with a child cannot stand the rigors of research.” End of scientific career.

It took me ten years as a lab technician and high school teacher to resume that career once again. In Israel, where Phil was doing his Master’s and I was teaching and eight months pregnant, I was invited to come for an interview to resume studies as a doctoral student. I waddled in, answered the questions and was accepted, post-delivery and post three month’s paid maternity leave! Israel recognized that 50% of the brainpower of a small country cannot be put on the shelf against its will. But a new mother was also given the time to recover and get to rebalance her life.

In Canada, my University gave one year’s paid leave for maternity. I saw instances where this was abused, but they were rare.

So I remain appalled that the United States is the only First World country without a decent maternity leave policy. There are individual companies that have excellent policies. Human Rights Watch, not surprisingly, is one, and Yael will benefit from it.

And I won’t even start on the issue of child care!

All the Mother’s Day cards, flowers and dinners can’t really make up for the fact that mothers and motherhood receive so little support in this country all the rest of the year.

To Paris and London, via Jerusalem

I am an inveterate collector of cookbooks, preferably those of the “food porn” variety. I consider it a triumph when my creations look half as good as the photos in the books. And here I, the owner of my seventh Kindle,and an old iPad in my kitchen with most of my recipes, admit that those paper creations still rule. Three recent acquisitions have me entranced: “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, “Plenty” by Ottolenghi and “My Paris Kitchen” by David Lebovitz. I follow Leibovitz’s blog, and his account there of what went into creating his latest book chased me out to actually buy it. In fact the book is written so well that I am reading it cover to cover, like a novel, and have now gone to Duolingo to refresh my French in addition to learning Spanish. Who has time to hold down a full time job? Lebovitz has lived in Paris for ten years, and his blogs and this cookbook are as much about the daily experience as about the recipes.Having lived in three other countries (Israel, Canada, and Australia), I appreciate the quirky details he shares, as well as the (mostly) good humor he shows in dealing with various inefficiencies and craziness he encounters-like the bank that refused to let him pay a bill for 34 Euros because they didn’t have change for his 35 Euros! Ottolenghi is an Israeli and Tamimi aPalestinian, and they have three restaurants in London. Their recent cookbook “Jerusalem” shares the recipes from their homeland, while “Plenty” also treats vegetables in wonderful new ways, based on their restaurant experiences. Both are readable as well as cookable, but don’t quite approach Leibovitz”s “joie de vivre.” Daughter Yael made the “Very Full Tart” from “Plenty” (p. 84), and her iPhone picture inspired me. But she used a prepared crust, and my resolution for this year is to finally learn to make pies and pie crusts (that’s in addition to the French and Spanish studies) and so I decided to start with Leibovitz. I made the quiche crust on page 155 and left it in the fridge too long, so it had to warm up again before I could roll it out, but finally coaxed it to 14 inches and into the spring form pan. crust   Meanwhile I turned to “Plenty” and that tart recipe on page 84. Red and yellow peppers were heated on a sheet for 36 minutes at 425 degrees, with zucchini chunks and peeled sweet potato added 12 and 24 minutes in. Meanwhile sliced onions were slowly cooked in olive oil till sweet and brown, 30 minutes in my cast iron frying pan. Then the layering into the crust-onions first, cut vegetables and torn pepper pieces, topped then with feta and ricotta cheeses and cut cherry tomatoes. veggies   cheeses Finally the cup of cream and two eggs, well mixed, over all. Bake at 375 degrees for twice as long as the recipe says (an hour, not 25 minutes), let stand ten minutes and enjoy and enjoy again tomorrow cold for lunch, and the next day too! yum As to “My Paris Kitchen”, I am wanting to make every recipe I read.And I haven’t even given a thought to French cuisine since Julia Child provided my very first cookbook! And salted butter caramel sauce awaits!

Getting Married in the Morning

My brief blogging hiatus (noted or not) was due to my recent duties as Mother of the Bride. Yael and Paul took their longstanding relationship to a new level when they married recently. The ceremony was at our apartment, and was truly a family affair. There were just thirty guests, and as the critical moments arrived, my sister-in-law Marilyn was getting the final wrinkles out of the wedding dress, while daughter-in-law Miriam put the final touches on the bouquets and boutonnieres. Noa, as bridesmaid, did just about everything . Phil played the processional, the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind” which he had to transcribe, since he couldn’t find sheet music of the right version. Abby and Elena entered, as flower girls (very serious), then Yael came to the chuppah. The chuppah was held by Paul’s brother and two nieces, and by Kwame, Noa’s boyfriend. David, Yael’s brother, performed the ceremony. Paul’s mother, Maria, and I, lit candles. After the wineglass was definitively smashed, we all yelled “Mazal tov” and went up to the roof for pictures.

Wedding

Then off to Beauty and Essex, on the Lower East Side, for a brunch with forty additional friends and family.

I find it interesting how wedding often seem to be all about the bride, in their current formulations. And Bridezilla reigns! But in the planning and execution of their wedding, intentionally or not, Yael and Paul affirmed my deep belief that the wedding is not about the couple, so much as it is about the larger society. We use weddings (and funerals as well), as times to be together, to affirm the importance of individuals, but also the relevance of the larger group. We were shocked that 11 friends and family in California (most of whom we did not expect could come), were able to join us. That said so much!

And everything went so well that there are no stories to tell, except the happy ones of being with the people we loved and being grateful for the efforts they made to be with us.

Mazal tov to all!

Things I Spied VI-New Ways to Learn

After a life spent as an educator, “You can take the girl out of the classroom…”, I remain committed to constantly learning. But there is no way you will ever get me back into a classroom. Not with the many alternative ways I have found to learn. And not surprisingly, they all involve my technological toys-I mean tools.

First up is Duolingo, which I prefer to use on my iPad. Learning Spanish has been an ambition since high school, where I studied French. In college, it was German, later on, Hebrew. And even a smattering of Chinese (“Lung se le” or It’s cold as death” has come in very handy at my favorite Chinese restaurant this Winter. But I digress.

Duolingo has short daily lessons, using scrambled sentences, transcription from Spanish to English and back, repetition into the microphone and picture associations for new words. A perfect score yields bonus points, as you stay “on track’ or fall off it. You can even compete with friends. And the program includes Portuguese, French, German and Italian, once I am fluent in Spanish. Chinese and Japanese are pending. I have made more progress with this approach than with any other one I have attempted. And it’s fun!

Meanwhile, John Green, author of “The Fault in Our Stars”, a must-read before the film debuts) has created a series of weekly World History and Literature video YouTube lessons at Crash Course. His brother, Hank covers Chemistry and Psychology. Some may find them kitschy, as he uses cartoonish graphics, and talks even more rapidly than I do, but I have been entranced by them. I particularly liked his take on the Odyssey, and Hank’s overview of the structure of the brain. John’s explanation of the history of the Ukraine and the present situation I thought was particularly brilliant.

These alternative forms of learning have real appeal for me, partly because I have lost whatever “sitzfleisch” I once had for sitting in a classroom or listening to someone lecture at length. It was probably slipping away before the advent of the constant ping of technology, but now I really need a hook of some sort to stay engaged.

I signed up for Dan Ariely’s online Coursera course on “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior” and was completely taken with him as a lecturer, in 20 minute segments, and with the delivery of course material through online reading. I considered it the best course I had ever taken, for as long as I lasted. But the demands were actually so great that I “dropped” the course, alas! I tried a Coursera course, in Logic, and dropped after only one class. The prof’s tics drove me crazy, and, up close on my computer screen, were impossible to ignore. I hearkened back to a college English prof who regularly rolled up her eyes to the point where we decided she had her lecture notes written inside her eyelids. That was a required course, so dropping it was not an option. But with age and the Internet comes power!

It’s Been A Long Cold Lonely Winter

I woke Sunday morning to the sound of a bird. At first, befuddled by the time shift, I wasn’t even sure what I was hearing. It was a chirp, not a song. And it felt like years since I’d heard a bird at all.

This has been a hard winter. Lots of snow and brutal cold. But what has me bemused is that this is the way winters used to be. How quickly we are to forget!

I remember that when I went to elementary school wearing my navy blue uniform jumper, my thighs were like chunks of red meat. Knee socks warmed the lower legs, but since pants were forbidden, not much could be done elsewhere.

Buffalo used to routinely get 100 inches of snow, and you never saw the sun in February. That was the way it was, and you just accepted it. This year there were 120 inches, and counting (more expected in the next two days)and even some February sun, but it all felt just awful, as the past 8 years have been so much milder, with as little as 40 inches of the white stuff.

Last week we are got the second blizzard this year, the first time in recent memory that Buffalo has had two in a winter. Yesterday it was 50 degrees.

photo-1

That’s Phil and two neighbors shoveling out in the middle of the storm. I am encouraging them from the upstairs window.

photo

 

And that’s the backyard the next morning. Fortunately, we aren’t using the air conditioner (foreground) and composting will have to wait (rear).

I have friends (a few, very few) who don’t believe in climate change. I wonder what kind of evidence they need to be convinced that things are changing? I’ve never asked, because it is easier to avoid the topic and maintain our friendship. I tend to get emotional around these issues. Whoever thought that science was dry and dull? Alright, some scientists are, but the issues are riveting and intense.

I read recently that parents who don’t vaccinate their children become even less likely to vaccinate once presented with the evidence of why they should. What’s that about?

The human mind is a strange and wondrous thing. But how can we change minds, if facts are not enough?

I was excited to see the debut of the new “Cosmos” last week, hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Of course he sent the creationists into spasms, and his casting light on the little known story of Giordano Bruno and his burning at the stake caused some direct attacks on Tyson. Fortunately, we don’t burn people at the stake any more, just flame them on Twitter and in blogs. But it is past time that issues of science and cold, hard facts are brought to the fore again. As Tyson has said, “The good thing about science is that it’s true, whether or not you believe in it.” Looking forward to exploring the cosmos and our place in it-fortunately, “Downton Abbey” has finished for the season, so it has no competition at all.