Saturday, June 3, 2017

Bit by the Cougar: A Boy Develops a Passion

My son and his running buddy, both 12, have been training many weeks now to run Grandma's half-marathon later this month. They have completed short runs and long runs, including two 10-milers, and cross-trained diligently.

This weekend, Sam returned to his running roots: the Congdon Cougar Chase, held annually at Lester River Park.
Sam ran the 1K in kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grades. In later elementary grades he joined the school's running club, trained and ran the 5K. 

On Friday, Sam ran the Congdon Cougar Chase's 10K. He finished in 50 minutes and 40 seconds, placing 2nd in the male 12-17 age group and 10th overall. His running buddy placed first in their division, 9 seconds ahead of Sam. Their mile times were 8:32 and 8:33.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Insightfulness Hits Home

I just completed J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. It’s a good read, especially if you want to glean an understanding (Does anyone think our country could use more empathy these days?) of the plight of poor whites in greater Appalachia.

Listening to a panel of authors on CBS’ Face the Nation on New Year’s Day, I had pledged to read this book and a couple of others: Diane Guerrero’s In the Country We Love: My Family Divided and Amani Al-Khatahtbeh’s Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age. Vance’s book was the first of these I came across in the new books section at Mount Royal library branch.

Beyond its relevance to the divisions in our country today, Hillbilly Elegy gave me a lot to think about regarding my own experiences growing up and living my young adult years in West Virginia. I – thankfully -- grew up in a much, much more stable family than J.D. Vance. I didn’t experience divorce, multiple fathers, a drug-addicted mother, extreme neglect, and poverty during my childhood.

But I reported on the effects of such family instability spilling over, often messily, into communities during the first five years of my journalism career covering eight rural counties around Parkersburg, W.Va. I was perplexed at some of the stupid, violent, even murderous acts otherwise calm and reasoned people committed.  And I had heard of cases where someone who was defending their family’s honor – that Hillbilly Code of Honor – wouldn’t be convicted.

I left my home state in 1989. My husband, son and I still travel back annually to visit my Mom and cousins. I’m proud of my Appalachian heritage. Sometimes I long to return and just stay in the home my mother and father built on that acre of former farmland up a hollow. It would be foolish to move my son and husband from a state that’s always near the top of the rankings on education, health, economics, environment and opportunities to a state that’s always near the bottom. And I wish that wasn’t so.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Motherhood in all its messy glory

Oxygen in the morning sun.

That’s how this “simple” post started and was supposed to end. But upon opening the photos I uploaded to my computer, my “obsessive mother” trait kicked in. The photos showed, at most, a model of an oxygen atom with 6 protons, 6 neutrons and 8 electrons.

My son had rushed to complete his model after an overbooked weekend of camping and playing piano in a music festival. He painted the protons, neutrons and electrons last night. His Dad was helping him assemble the model when I got up this morning. Had he left out a couple of protons and neutrons? 

There was nothing to do now, as the model probably was already in his science classroom. And I would be wondering all day if he had made a model of an unstable atom. Then it occurred to me that I could count the number of shish-kebab sticks that had held the foam balls he had painted. I found them – all 24 -- in the kitchen trash. The model was spot-on.

One of my most difficult and important responsibilities as a Mom is to make sure that “obsessive mother” trait gets curtailed before it impacts my son. I’m working on that.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

On the Brink

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about my grandfather.

Michal Romanowicz embarked with his brother Freidrich from Hamburg Germany aboard the SS Pretoria. The ship’s manifest list the brothers, 24 and 21 respectively, as being of Polish nationality and their last place of residence as Krechn, Austria. They arrived at Ellis Island on Aug. 15, 1913.

That was less than a year before the start of World War I. And Vienna that year had the dubious distinction of hosting Joseph Stalin, Leon Trotsky and Adolf Hitler, along with Marshall Tito and Sigmund Freud.

My grandfather worked as a coal miner in Ohio and West Virginia. The youngest grandchild in the family, I spent time with him during his late retirement years.

One of my more vivid memories is of him reading from four newspapers while watching the evening news. One was a four-page daily from the small Ohio River town in which he lived, one a larger daily from the city 12 miles upriver, a Polish language newspaper and the New York Times.

“They can take everything away from you,” he would say, possibly reflecting on family and material possessions he’d left behind in Eastern Europe or upon the worldview having lived through the Great Depression and both World Wars formed. “But they can never take away what you know.”

I have always credited my grandfather with partially sparking the passion I have for newspaper journalism. But today, as our new president’s administration puts forth “alternative facts” and orders federal agencies to restrict the information they release to the public, I hearken to my grandfather’s words in a new way. And I fear what lies ahead for our country.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Bored to Creativity

Scouts on Mondays, piano lessons Tuesdays, bar mitzvah studies Wednesdays, ski cadets Thursdays and Saturdays, religious studies and services on Saturdays -- not to mention piano practice, violin practice, a monthly camping weekend. My son's extracurricular activities can become quite the treadmill. So when he declared he was spending Sunday inside and in his pajamas all day, I was pleased at his self-proclaimed need for a break.

By late afternoon however -- even after a trip outside, in snowpants over his pajamas, to work on his snow fort -- he declared he was bored. He implored we move to another neighborhood so he could be near his friends who "all live near each other and never get bored." I suggested he go read a book, play with some of his toys or play a computer game. When he continued his boredom rant, I responded with a list of thank yous he could write and chores he could complete.

He finally went upstairs, taking along a copy of "The Pocket Guide to Mischief." He returned a couple hours later with a big bag of rubber bands. By the final minutes of the Packers-Cowboys playoff game, he had made a rubber band ball and a list of materials he'd like to get from Michael's and the Dollar Tree.

Having Martin Luther King Day off from school, we made the trip for craft supplies then went for lunch at his grandparents'. They supplied an old skillet and heat gun so he could begin making this Army man clock, as well as some flour and Elmer's glue for making a stress ball. He and his Dad finished putting the hands and timer on the clock this evening.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Tis the Season

A friend shared this photo of a ham that's on sale at Walmart for the Jewish holiday of Chanukah. For Jews, eating ham or pork any time of the year isn't kosher. Linking ham to the the upcoming Jewish holiday is totally inappropriate, even offensive.

Was this a gag, a major faux pas on the part of some ignorant store employee -- or is there a tinge of anti-semitism in the corporate culture of Walmart? Trouble is, we don't and won't know -- for sure. 

This morning, I had to move a Christmas tree lamp out of sight of my teachers and students. It had been placed on a desk in our synagogue's main office. Most Jews don't celebrate Christmas, unless they are in a family of mixed religious observance or they shirt-tail in on the holiday of extended family or friends. 

To see a Christmas tree decoration in my synagogue -- the one place we, especially our children, should be free from or shielded from the bombardment of the major Christian holiday of Christmas -- is totally inappropriate and offensive.  

Once again the same questions apply: Was this a gag, a major faux pas on the part of an ignorant employee -- or passive-aggressive anti-semitism coming out in a Jewish workplace. No matter how this is resolved, I and others who are subjected to the lamp won't know -- for sure.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


I just returned from walking to the end of the block with my son as he headed out to his middle school bus stop this morning. When I sat down at my computer, I found this in my file of blog posts I never posted. I wrote it in June of 2015. And I wish I could share it with Dara and Bryan, but I seem to have lost them as Facebook friends. 

With the end of the school year, I’ve been particularly reflective on the evolving and transient nature of “community.” 

For the past five years, we’ve enjoyed the company of a wonderful family at my son’s bus stop. The location of the stop has changed three times. (One year we were even at a different stop but could wave to each other when we headed downhill for home and they headed uphill for home.) Other children came and went for various reasons – moved from the neighborhood, changed schools, used a different mode of transportation. But this family with three girls and my family with one boy remained.

Although a year apart, Sam regularly sits with Stella, or instigates a chase with Ruby or Elsa by swiping their backpacks, or plays whatever game evolves during the wait for the bus each morning.

I knew the dynamic would change next year. Stella would head off to middle school on a different bus. Sam will be getting rides to school for safety patrol. But we’d all still see each other in the neighborhood. 

I learned yesterday, we won’t. Stella’s Dad got a job in Pennsylvania, actually a couple of hours from my mother’s home. They’re moving this summer. And our bus stop community will be no more. I’m happy for the family – better job, better opportunities. But I’m sad. We will miss them.