Sunday, December 14, 2008

December Poems

It's time for the "December" poems. One is from long ago .... must have been a very wet month that year. Or maybe it was my "too much to do" blues talking.


D defines DECEMBER,

my DREAD-full hidden DUNGEON.


© E.M. Ramos December 23, 1996

I was on jury duty this week. One thing, jury duty gives you lots of time to wait, and to write. So I finished a poem, the first I've written in many months. Enjoy the pre-Christmas frenzy, but take time to slow down and contemplate the reason for the season....

December ‘08

December’s sun burns cold.
It comforts not at all.
Christmas trees snicker at
malls making merry
while wintry Wall Street
winds wail.

Advent’s vigil turns up
the volume, squeezing
the last drop of silence
down the drain.

STOP sprinting and slow down.
LOOK deep within for warmth.
LISTEN for Him born
homeless and poor.

Breathe in the Light of the world,
the ultimate Christmas presence.

© E.M. Ramos October 9, 2008

Sunday, December 7, 2008

More Old time memories .....

More about Holiday Time in the olden days.....

I think it was good luck to eat pickled herring on New Years Eve but why, I have no idea. I never questioned superstitions when I was a kid. I figured whatever might help, go for it! I never stepped on cracks in the sidewalk or walked under ladders either. And I ran when I spied a black cat ( now I know why you shouldn't let them cross your path!) The only "bad" luck I had with a good luck charm was a rabbits foot that I lost. When I found it many months later under my bed, all the fur had fallen off and it was a skeleton foot. Yuch!

Yes, Tina there was a fire in the house 2 doors away on Christmas eve many many years ago. It was scary. Lisa probably remembers more about that family, which had a boy her age and a girl your age. The father was a fireman, which was ironic, because I think it was all the extra Christmas lights that caused the fire. Happily, no one was hurt and the fire did not spread to the other homes. Sadly, the family moved shortly afterwards. Happily, Linda moved there! Another strange thing that night of the fire. Suddenly Uncle Jim appeared at our house, a surprise visit from Florida or California.

Yes, kids. There were Salvation Army bell ringers way back then. The musical "Guys and Dolls" was based on a Damon Runyan story that featured a romance between a Salvation Army worker and a gambler. I remember the Salvation Army bell ringers outside Macys when Nanny took me Christmas shopping. Just like Chase and I met them at the mall last week. When I worked for Catholic Charities, I understood the very good social work that the Salvation Army does and I always try to support them.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Grandma's Story - Chapter 2 Part 2 "Christmas"

Continuing the story of the holidays back when I was a kid ...... the first part of this Chapter is on my November 23rd blog. "Grandma's Story" is being written for my grandkids in "grandkid language".

Chapter 2, Part 2

Our family celebrated St. Nicholas Day on December 6th. We hung up our stockings, actually they were Kiki’s long nylons, with our Christmas list attached. And the next morning, the stockings would be filled with fruit, German cookies, candy and toys, their toes bulging with oranges and apples. But the list would be gone!

We always bought our Christmas Tree and trimmed it on Christmas Eve, which was a very special day in our family. One of my favorite smells is Christmas tree; don’t you love the smell of Christmas? I loved seeing all the old familiar ornaments each year and adding to our collection. I remember when we bought the little wax ornaments: snowmen, Santa, angels – now there’s only one left. And how excited we kids were when Dad bought the first bubble lights. We all helped Dad decorate the tree. My sister Kathy would put the statues of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, angel and wise men in the stable with the blue light.

We would hear Santa’s jingle bells in my grandmother’s house and then run into her living room to open our presents. Afterwards, we’d go down to my house and open more presents. My Mom would usually finish her Christmas shopping and wrapping just minutes before we opened our gifts. One year Santa showed up and we got to see him in person in our own house! Boy, were my brothers surprised. I remember a very special Christmas gift: a Sparkle Plenty doll, that drank from a bottle and wet! Sparkle Plenty was a character in the Dick Tracy comic strip when I was a kid. But the best surprise gift ever was a Hi Fi Stereo from my Dad. It played records and had speakers. That was long before ipods and CD’s and even tapes. I spent many happy hours listening to my music on that stereo. What was your best Christmas gift ever?

Before my cousins moved to Pennsylvania, we would go to their house for more presents. All the gift giving was done on Christmas Eve. Christmas day was for church to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus. I remember how grown up I felt the first time I was allowed to go to Midnight Mass with Nanny and Kiki. After Mass on Christmas day, Dad took us to visit relatives and friends who lived nearby. When I got older, I would visit my friends on Christmas morning, see their trees and presents, and exchange gifts.

We always ate at my grandmother’s on Christmas and we always had turkey. Back then no one made turkey except on Thanksgiving and Christmas. But the very special treat for my family was Aunt Kate cookies - Aunt Kate was Pop-Pop’s sister and she lived 4 or 5 blocks away. She baked her famous cookies only at Christmas and we have passed down her recipe from generation to generation. I will make sure you have the recipe to pass on to your kids!

On Christmas afternoon, we went to visit Grandma and Grandpa L. and all my L. cousins. After Grandpa retired, he went to live with Aunt Anna, my Dad’s sister. She lived on Long Island and driving back from her house was the first time we saw houses decorated with Christmas lights. It was so beautiful and so exciting. I used to paint Christmas scenes on our windows facing the street but it was a long time before anyone put lights in city windows.

Later on, Grandma and Grandpa moved to New Jersey to live with Aunt Elizabeth. On the way to the George Washington bridge I liked to see the giant ships on the Hudson River and dream about taking a cruise to Europe. When we saw Palisades Amusement Park (it’s not around anymore) across the river, we knew we were almost there.

Let me tell you about the Christmas of 1947. That year I prayed and prayed for a white Christmas. Well, it began to snow the day after Christmas on December 26th. It was a blizzard! It snowed and snowed and I thought it would never stop. The snow hills were higher than me and I was scared. I asked my Mom why it wouldn’t stop snowing and she said that maybe some kids were still praying for snow. I couldn’t understand that at all.

But snow was so much fun for us city kids in those days. We would “ski” down the snow hills in the street and make dams of the icy, slushy water. Our woolen snow suits would be soaked and freezing when we came in from playing. And do you know what happened to all the Christmas trees afterwards? When the people threw them away on the street? On my block the teenage boys would gather them up and light a giant bonfire – right in front of my house, where the fire hydrant was. One day I was in Nanny’s living room and saw the orange flames leap up to the second floor. That was really dangerous! I am very glad that no one thinks of doing that nowadays.

In the old days, Nanny’s sister Annie and her family would come to our house on New Year’s Eve. There were a lot of those cousins too. We always had to eat pickled herring on New Year’s Eve – it was good luck or something. On New Year’s Day my Mom got to cook and we all gathered at our house to have ham and Mom’s famous pineapple ring and cottage cheese salad, with a cherry on top.

So you see. Holidays for us were always about family and friends. Just like today in your time. Some things don’t change.

December 10, 2005

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Grandma's Story - Chapter 2 Part 1 "Thanksgiving"

Now that Holiday Season 2008 is upon us, I think it’s a good time to continue with blogging “Grandma’s Story”, the ongoing saga of my life that I am writing for my 6 grandkids, in "grandkid" language. Chapter 2: Holiday Time is all about the holidays when I was a kid. Today I will start off, appropriately enough with Thanksgiving, one of my family’s all time favorite holidays. Have a very Happy Thanksgiving 2008!

Grandma's Story: Chapter 2 Holiday Time

Another great thing about my house was that my Dad fixed up the basement so we could have big family dinners there. There was a huge table and every Thanksgiving, my cousins came from Pennsylvania to have a feast with us. When I got older, there were 28 people around the table: my Mom, Dad, brothers, sister, Nanny, Kiki, Pop-Pop, my Aunt Alice and Uncle Ed, and my 6 cousins. And me! Nanny always cooked the turkey and stuffing, her special turnips, cauliflower with bread crumbs, carrots, cranberry sauce from a can, and lots of other veggies. You had to fill the plate more than once for everything to fit. For dessert we had Nanny cake and Kiki made chocolate cream and lemon meringue pies. My Mom didn’t like to cook but there was so much food, we had to use her stove. My Dad always carved the turkey – that was his job. My favorite food was the turkey and the turnips. But the best thing about Thanksgiving was seeing my Pennsylvania cousins.

In those days nobody went “trick or treating” on Halloween. Instead we dressed up for Thanksgiving and went from house to house yelling “Anything for Thanksgiving!” And we would get fruit and candy and nuts – they didn’t have mini packs of M & M’s in those days. I’m not sure that M & M’s were even invented yet. All the goodies were mixed up together in our paper bags. On Thanksgiving afternoon the Christmas season officially began and neighbor boys would sing Christmas carols in the back yards.

After Thanksgiving, my Dad and I set up the model trains on the same huge table in the cellar. I was in charge of scenery. While we worked, we listened to Christmas songs on WPAT, my Dad’s favorite radio station. I love Christmas music. Jingle Bells, White Christmas, and Joy to the World are my special favorites. But I remember the year “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” was brand new! I am so glad you get to hear those same Christmas songs I heard. What’s your favorite Christmas song?

To be continued......

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Comment on Comments

I am so happy to get comments on my blog that I need to blog about them.

First of all, Angel, about Nanny. Maybe I didn't tell you this at the time because I didn't want you to feel bad towards Nanny. I don't remember. What I do remember is one morning Nanny came into my room and sat down on the bed next to mine. She was all teary, crying in fact. You and I were getting very serious then. She pleaded with me not to marry you. She said that if we married she would drop dead at our wedding - or something to that effect. I was concerned. I don't know what I told her but I do remember going to a priest at St. Francis of Assisi to talk about it. I loved you and wanted to marry you. But I also loved my grandmother and did not want to cause her death. The priest was very wise. He asked me if my parents were opposed to our marriage. And of course, they were not. He said that it was my parents' opinion that I needed to consider. He didn't think that Nanny would die if we got married but if she did, he told me that it would not be my fault. That was good enough for me. And of course, that part of our story worked out just fine. I think it shows how much she grew to love you that you didn't even suspect her initial "misgivings". I wonder what others thought and said that they never even told us.

I have received some other wonderful memories of Nanny from family that I will post soon.

And that brings me to my other blog and how far we have come as Americans. I loved the poem that my daughter Lisa wrote in her comments so here it is.

*President Obama*

We dared to hope...And hope smiled back.
We shared a moment in history that none of us thought would ever come except in a dream.
We stood together, faces of every color, reaching out with open hands.
We healed a nation wiping away the tears of pain with tears of joy.
We dismissed the fears, the prejudice, the ignorance in favor of the change, the intelligence and the passion.
We dared to dream...
And the dream came true.

Lisa O. Nov. 5, 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Proud to be an American

Today I am very proud to be an American. Last night history was made. We elected America’s first African-American president. This is enormous. To me, it is remarkable that so many ignored the “race” issue and voted for the candidate that they thought would do the best job. I am amazed because .…

I remember the 20 year old me in the early 1960’s, full of hope for the civil rights movement. It would be hard but my generation would change the world. So many of my friends were in interracial marriages. My Jamaican friend married a Jewish man and his parents refused to attend their wedding. My Irish-American friend married a Phillipino and both families were dismayed. My Mom and Dad were very accepting of my relationship with my Puerto Rican boyfriend but my grandmother threatened to die if I married him. I did marry him and she didn’t die but learned to love him. My husband and I would discuss our future family – how our children would be enriched by having 2 cultures. And they were!

But in my wildest dreams, as I witnessed the march on Washington, Dr. King’s speech, the eventual breakdown of segregation and movie stereotypes – I never imagined that hearts would be converted to the degree that America would elect a man of color to lead the nation. How wonderful! How extraordinary!

We voted at 6 a.m. yesterday and it was already crowded. For the first time in years I was voting for someone I was excited about and not the lesser of 2 evils. People came out of the voting booth smiling. The demonstrations in Times Square, Harlem, Grant Park and all over the country were inspiring. It was truly one of America’s best moments.

Now our new president faces unprecedented challenges. But what drew me to Obama first and foremost was his calm, intelligent, compassionate vision. His community organizing skills, his willingness to listen to all sides of an issue. His deep desire to bring people together. This is what my friends in the 60’s wished for – “C’mon people now. Smile on your brother. Everybody get together. Try to love one another. Right now.”

We have a marvelous opportunity. To face bleak times together and use all of our talents, gifts and creativity to come up with the answers. To walk a new path. We’ve taken the first step.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Thanks for the Memories

I want to thank my daughter Lisa for adding her memories of Nanny in the comments on my "Tribute to Nanny" blog. That's why I love people to read my "memory" blogs and add their recollections of the same person or events. We all retain different parts of shared experiences - the whole story is enhanced when we put our memories together. I certainly will add her beautiful comments to my finished portrait of Nanny for "Grandma's Story".

But I must say something about Lisa's comments on Nanny's soft fluffy arms that she loved to play with. When I was about 10 years old, Nanny and Kiki would take me to Rockaway Beach on the subway. It was a long ride and I would rest my head against her soft arm like a pillow. It is a part of a prayer I composed to my God as "Grandmother God". "...... let me rest my weary head against your pillowy arm....."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Tribute to Nanny

This time of year brings back memories of my maternal grandmother: she was born in 1892 and died at age 90 on All Souls Day November 2nd. Nanny grew up in a tenement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Her father was a furniture maker. The story goes that he got a splinter from some exotic wood he was working with, and the infection led to blood poisoning. He was stubborn and wouldn’t take the medicine the doctor prescribed; in fact he threw it out the window. And he died leaving my great grandmother with 3 small daughters. She was a hard working single Mom, who took in laundry to support her family. And they were staunch Catholics. Nanny spoke lovingly of “Third Street Church” (Most Holy Redeemer, which is still there, the German cathedral of NYC). Nanny attended MHR school, where she learned German. Her uncle was a priest and a monsignor, who we went to visit every year in his parish in Poughkeepsie, NY.

Nanny spoke of her mother as a stern disciplinarian. When little Nanny tore her apron, she would go to her aunt, who would mend it. They lived in poverty but did not think of themselves as “poor”; but there were regrets. Like having to walk all the way uptown because they couldn’t afford the streetcar. But the worst was that Nanny was not allowed to go to High School, even though she had a scholarship and graduated top of her 8th grade class. Her mother insisted she go to work in the garment industry to help support the family. Even in old age, Nanny spoke bitterly of her disappointment that she could not study to be a teacher. She encouraged us to become teachers. Only my daughter, who homeschools, became a teacher. I hope Nanny is smiling down at her today. I think she is.

I am grateful for Nanny’s presence in my life. She was my refuge, my anchor, my inspiration. Perhaps because of the contrast of her personality to my Mom’s, her daughter. Nanny evoked an aura of calm, quiet, orderly and slow, deliberate movement, while Mom’s space was chaotic, her pace frenetic, and the decibel level in our quarters – way up there. From my earliest memories, I would escape to my grandparents’ apartment on the 2nd floor of our three-story brownstone. Especially when it got too noisy or crowded at my place. I would creep quietly down the “private hall”, out the door, up the stairs and see the entrance to their apartment. It was a promise of peace and tranquility, still an image of heaven to me.

Nanny would be sitting at the table reading the Journal American, or doing the Word Jumble, while peeling an orange. Pop-Pop was dozing in his easy chair and Kiki, Nanny’s younger sister, was busy cleaning up in the kitchen. When my Mom tried to toilet train me at age 1, because my cousin supposedly was toilet trained, Nanny let me “go in my pants” behind the chair in her living room. She accepted me for what I was, just like most grandparents do with their grandkids. Like I try to do with mine.

I can see her walking slowly up the street with her shopping cart. She had her daily routine. Her unconditional acceptance of me and calm, orderly manner was what drew me to her – and to all older people. It determined my choice of career in aging services, work I love and treasure.

Oh yes, she had her anxieties and prejudices as well. But as I got older and exposed her to new fangled 60’s ideas, she grew as well. At first she was dismayed at my Puerto Rican boyfriend, but as time went on and she got to know the man I married, they became great buddies. Even when I got older and didn’t spend as much time with Nanny, I tried to support her, especially when Pop-Pop developed dementia. Later I tried again so hard to help my Mom take care of Nanny when she got Alzheimers. When Nanny died, I couldn’t mourn. I felt she had died long ago and I didn’t know when I had lost her. But I still miss her today. She would be 116 years old! Boy does that make me feel old!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Poverty and the Elderly - Part 2

The first part of my blog on Poverty and the Elderly is below - October 15th. The following is a continuation of excerpts from "Under the Radar: Poverty Among Older Adults in New York City" (May 2007 New York Citizens’ Committee on Aging, Inc.)

With such low incomes, many seniors have a difficult time covering even their most basic expenses. Nearly half of all renters age 65 or older in New York City spend at least 35 percent of their household income on rent. In addition, research shows that on average older Americans spend 19 percent of their total income on “out-of-pocket” medical expenses annually, with more than half of these payments going toward prescription drugs and dental care (despite Medicaid coverage for many). (Crystal, S.; Harman, J.; Sambamoorthi, U.; Johnson, R.; And Kumar, R. "Out of Pocket Health Care Costs Among Older Americans." Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences 55B, no. 1 (2000): S51–S62.) As a result, debt has increased substantially among the senior population. Debt held by families headed by a person age 75 or older increased to 40.3 percent in 2004; this is up from 29.0 percent in 2001.12 A recent study by the Food Bank of New York City has shown that nearly one-fifth (18 percent) of older people in the City are without savings and “would not be able to afford food for themselves and their families immediately after losing only one month of income.” (The Food Bank for New York City. “Hunger: An Aging Issue,” 2005.) Seniors disproportionately rely upon emergency food pantries and soup kitchens in New York City. While only 12 percent of the City’s total population, New Yorkers age 65 or older account for 24 percent of all emergency food participants.

Generally speaking, there are three groups of seniors who descend into poverty (i.e. experience a large and ongoing discrepancy between income and expenses). These three groups include: 1.) those who have been economically insecure throughout their lives and thus have few resources; 2.) those who had limited resources for retirement (such as pensions) but experienced a diminution of them; and, 3.) those who undergo a crisis or other unforeseen event that rapidly plunges them into poverty (such as the death of a spouse). For a good number of these seniors living in poverty, the prospect of a golden retirement simply does not exist. As a result of various factors, seniors most at risk of experiencing poverty brought on by one of the situations described above include: women; those over age 75; individuals with disabilities or chronic health problems; immigrants; ethnic and racial minorities; those who live alone; and those less formally educated. Moreover, individuals with more than one of these characteristics are at increased risk.

The Future Outlook
New York City’s elderly population, which stood at 937,900 in 2000, is projected to increase to 1,352,000 by 2030 – this represents a 44.2 percent increase. If poverty were to remain at the City’s current 20.3 percent level, (actually more like 32% according to the NYC Center for Economic Opportunity’s more realistic poverty measure) over 274,000 older New Yorkers will live in poverty by 2030 -- this represents a 70 percent increase from 2005. The problem of poverty among New York City’s older population must be addressed now to assure quality of life is protected and enhanced for both the current and future generation.

This report was completed by Board Members of the New York Citizens’ Committee on Aging: Jessica Walker, Senior Policy Analyst at United Neighborhood Houses of New York; with Mary Mayer, NGO Representative of the United Nations’ International Federation on Ageing and Former Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Department for the Aging.
I am happy to say that the organization I work for, the New York Citizens’ Committee on Aging, has made this a priority project – using our resources and reaching out to the community to help us make a difference in lifting NYC's seniors out of poverty. For a copy of our full report and information on how to get involved e-mail me at or call 212-353-3950.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Poverty and the Elderly

Today is the day we blog about poverty, a world wide issue, even more scary in the current economic climate. In my retiree job as part time director of a small NYC advocacy organization, the New York Citizens’ Committee on Aging, Inc., we took on the issue of elder poverty when we discovered an alarming statistic. According to the data from the U.S. Census Bureau, "2005 American Community Survey", over 20% of New York City’s older adults were poor! And this in a city with such a high cost of living. We have made elder poverty our project for over a year, holding a May 2007 forum with seniors and key leaders in aging services, and following up with our colleagues to find ways to address this issue.

Needless to say, over the past year things have gotten a lot worse. Sometimes I feel that even older New Yorkers, like myself, lucky enough to have savings and a pension in addition to Social Security and Medicare, are just a step away from “poverty”, if that means being unable to afford housing, food and health care. So imagine how much harder the struggle is for our older neighbors on fixed incomes and such limited funds. What follows is an excerpt from our report, Under the Radar: Poverty Among Older Adults in New York City (May 2007 New York Citizens’ Committee on Aging, Inc.)

Poverty is more than a lack of financial resources; it is a serious threat to health and well-being, dignity, and the ability to participate fully in our society.(Economic and Social Council of the United Nations Commission on Population and Development. “Monitoring of population programmes, focusing on the changing age structures of populations and their implications for development, Report of the Secretary-General,” December 28, 2006.)

Unfortunately, in recent years the problem of poverty amongst older adults has become increasingly invisible. Many people believe that the vast majority of seniors are affluent – or at least receiving adequate assistance. The major cause behind this misconception is the success of programs such as Medicare and Social Security, which have greatly alleviated economic insecurity among older adults. In fact, poverty among Americans age 65 and older has fallen from one-in-three persons in 1960 to one-in-ten today. (Whitman, D. & Purcell, P. (2006). Topics in aging: Income and poverty among older Americans in 2005.)

These successes cannot be denied and our country should be proud of this progress. Work remains, however, for too many seniors have been left behind. While poverty among persons age 65 and older in the United States has decreased, it has actually risen in New York City. (New York City Department for the Aging. “Annual Plan Summary, April 1, 2007 – March 31, 2008, For Older Americans Act and New York State Community Services for the Elderly Program and Expanded In-Home Services for the Elderly Program,” September 2006.)

In 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau set the poverty threshold for
individuals age 65 and older at $9,367. (U.S. Census Bureau. “Poverty Thresholds 2005.”) If a senior’s annual pretax income falls below this amount then he or she is considered “poor.” While updated annually, this threshold is the same throughout the contiguous United States and does not reflect regional differences in cost-of-living. According to this measure, 9.9% of older Americans lived in poverty in 2005, which represents a continued decline of poverty among this age group nationwide. Yet, the poverty rate among older adults living in New York City was twice the national rate: 20.3%. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2005 American Community Survey.) This is a significant problem that is not mirrored in all urban areas. In fact, among the twenty most populous cities in the United States, New York is second only to Detroit, Michigan in the percentage of its seniors living in poverty.

New York City is home to over 943,000 people who are age 65 or older. Approximately 191,653 of these seniors live in poverty, but what is known about them? According to the U.S. Census: 68.3 percent of these seniors are female; 37.3 percent are male. 47.9 percent are age 65 to 74; 52.1 percent are age 75 and older. 59.8 percent experience one or more physical, mental or emotional disabilities.

Poverty is most prevalent among racial and ethnic minorities …. The poverty rate among the City’s Hispanic elderly population is three times the national average, while the rates for Black and Asian elderly are more than double that rate.

Disability can be either a cause or consequence of poverty. In New York City, the percentage of seniors who are both poor and disabled is over twice the national rate: 5.5% versus 12.1%

In basic terms, poverty results from the discrepancy between income and expenses. A person is “poor” when his or her income is woefully inadequate to cover expenses that meet basic needs, such as food, housing and transportation. In New York City these expenses are immense. In fact, New York City is the most expensive city in which to live in all of North America ( “World’s Most Expensive Cities,” June 22, 2005.)
Since this is such an important topic, to be continued.....

Friday, October 10, 2008

Remembering Ramon

One week ago, my brother-in-law Ramon died. He was one of the first of my husband’s relatives that I met – so many, many years ago. And he won me over immediately with his warm smile and sparkling personality. He was a “people” person, always welcoming, always ready with a joke.

At his funeral, his many friends and family testified to a life well lived and a man well loved. I will miss him but his memory will forever make my heart happy.

My husband and daughters wrote much better tributes to Ramon. Click on to my daughter’s blog on the sidebar for her tribute. My daughter Lisa’s tribute follows.


October 7, 2008

Pío, pío, pío my Tío Ramón sang, telling me the story of myself as a two-year old chasing chickens in Rincón by Agapito’s house. He danced and bent his knees becoming me for a moment, the room filling with squawking chickens and hot feathers and dust. His smile filled the room with light. His whole face beamed with joy, kind of like a Santa who had grown up on a tropical island. His cheeks stood out prominently and his nostrils flared above his thick mustache. His eyes moved fast drinking up your whole face under thick eyebrow awnings. I couldn’t help but laugh and remember with him even though it was only the faintest memory for me. I lived it again and again through his storytelling.

My Tío was always handsomely dressed. Quite dapper, GQ I would later say since taking a picture of him in a garden conservatory. He stood facing me, hands in pockets, long coat hanging off of his shoulders. He looked taller than he was in that coat. Muy guapo, Tío! He looked so strong, so powerful, so bigger than life to me. His words were quick and could bite if you weren’t ready, but always love flowed from him to me. He always greeted me with, “Como está?” but it always sounded like Co-mess-TAH to my ears, staccato and fast. I always answered, “Muy bien. Y usted?” and he would laugh and answer, “Bien. Mi que linda, Lisa.” My attempts at speaking Spanish were such a happy time for him.

When I got married, Tío was there watching out for me. My husband, Wes, told me later that my uncle came over to him and said, “Lisa is a very special girl. You take care of her.” Then he held up his index and middle fingers pointing to Wes’ eyes and raised one eyebrow as he said really slowly, “Marriage is for-EVER.” Tío smiled and walked away. Wes wasn’t sure who Ramón was, but he said he felt like he had just gotten a Puerto Rican hex by a little old man in my family. I laughed. We just celebrated eight years, Tío, so I guess your “PR hex” is working for us.

My last memory of you was the day before you died. I was in yoga class thinking of you. I had been looking at your picture for the past week and praying that you would be okay. We did a little prayer asking God to give us what we need because everything else was irrelevant. And when I laid down to rest at the end of class, I saw you surrounded by a bright white light. You were looking up a little to your right and had a little smile flickering under your mustache. Your eyes were black gems, like a charcoal drawing on a cloud. You were bigger than life and I sent all my thoughts and prayers and calm to you. You looked so happy and handsome, Tío.

Give Titi Carmen and Ramon Jr. a big hug for me. I miss you very much. Te amo mucho, Tío. Vaya con Díos! Make Him laugh too.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Great Depression, the New Deal and Today

I was thinking about the comment from Vicki on my blog about history affecting ordinary lives. How her mother-in-law won't eat spaghetti because that was what they got during the depression. Speaking of the depression, my Dad joined one of the New Deal programs - the CCC's (Civilian Conservation Corps)- when he was a young man. He was sent out west to Wyoming and Idaho, where he fought forest fires and planted trees - and developed a deep love of nature which he passed along to us. As I noted in my September 11th blogs, unexpected blessings can come from difficult times of pain and suffering, such as the crisis of the Great Depression. How wonderful that America had such a great leader in F.D. Roosevelt to push through programs that gave people meaningful work, helped build America's infrastructure and energy capacity (Tennessee Valley Authority), and had such an effect on ordinary lives. Maybe our current economic crisis is another opportunity for great leadership and creative programs to come to the rescue of the real victims: ordinary everyday people and their families.

Friday, September 19, 2008

History and Ordinary Lives

When I was in school, I didn’t like “history” class much. It was all about dates and wars and stuffy old men. Much later, long after I had graduated from college, I developed an interest in Medieval History. The books I read, books like A History of Their Own by Bonnie Anderson and Judith Zinsser, were mostly about ordinary life in those times, especially women’s lives. Of course, the wars, plagues and other disasters of the time affected ordinary lives in terrible ways.

A few weeks ago there was a news story about the Rosenberg trial of the 1950’s, how some evidence given by witnesses against Ethel Rosenberg may have been tainted. My daughter asked me to write about my memories of that time. And I was struck about how much that trial affected my life.

In those days, when I was about 10 or 11 years old, my family’s television set was still pretty new. I remember watching the McCarthy hearings and the comedians’ imitations of them. I sort of got the idea that “Communists” were bad but even that concept was mixed up in my 10 year old brain. I remember my Mom saying once that she was going to write to her congressman and I wondered why she would write to someone who was an enemy of America. Obviously, I got the two terms confused.

The cold war of the 50’s meant that we had air raid drills in school, where we would crouch under our desks or stand in the hall, saying the rosary. Once there was a sonic boom (probably a jet breaking the sound barrier) and my Mom came running into the room yelling “Those lousy Russians!”

But I certainly knew what the Rosenberg trial was about. It was a top news story in the early days of TV and the media milked it for all it was worth. What it meant to me was that a mother and father were going to be executed and that children would lose their parents. I was terrified, especially as the day approached for their death by the electric chair at Sing-Sing. I believe that this event contributed to my phobia about electricity. Shortly after the Rosenbergs were executed, I got a slight shock from an intercom in my house and spent a sleepless night thinking I would be electrocuted at any moment. It was downhill from there.

Now, of course I would have been plagued by phobias anyway. But it is interesting how newsworthy events change our lives, even in small ways. And who can deny how everyone’s life has been changed by the events of September 11th. Or Hurricane Katrina. Or Vietnam – but that’s another blog entirely.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Grandma's Story - Chapter 1 Part 2

Let me tell you what my house looked like on the inside. When I was five, I lived on the first floor of 1675 Linden Street with my Mom, Dad, sister Kathy and baby brother Jimmy. Later on I had two more brothers, Johnny and Jeff. Our apartment was called a railroad flat because all the rooms were connected in a straight line that looked like a train. There was a little kitchen off of the dining room, which was also our living room. My Dad turned the real living room into a bedroom because there were so many of us. I shared the big bedroom with my sister and brother for awhile. My Dad took all the doors off the rooms to get air and there was no privacy. I had to walk through all the bedrooms to get to mine. When we went to bed at 9 o’clock, I would talk and laugh with my sister and brother. That made my father very angry and we’d get a smack!

Our house had one great thing. My grandma Nanny, grandpa Pop-Pop, and great aunt Kiki, lived on the second floor. So if it got too noisy or crowded, I could sneak down the long entry way or “private hall” into the big hall and up the stairs to my grandparents house. It was so peaceful there. Nanny would be reading the Journal American, a newspaper, at the big dining room table and peeling an orange. Pop-Pop would be sleeping in his easy chair. He could fall asleep as easily as ‘Buelo. He loved to tell us corny jokes but he would laugh so hard, he would be crying and we couldn’t hear the end of the joke. Sometimes Pop-Pop would sit in the living room. My cousins, sister, brother and I would sit around him and beg him to tell us stories about Jack the Giant Killer. They were scary and we loved them!

I even remember my great grandmother, Granny. She was your great, great, great grandmother. She would show me black and blue marks on her wrinkly hands. She said the marks were from being old. I’m not so sure. She lived in Nanny’s house and died when I was five years old. I had to be very quiet, my Mom said, because Nanny and Kiki were very sad.

My other Grandma and Grandpa (my Dad’s Mom and Dad) lived down the block on Linden Street. Grandma had beautiful embroidery hanging on the walls with Hungarian writing. She had statues of Jesus and Mary on her dresser, with lighted candles in front of them. I loved to go to her house and stare at the pictures and candles and smell the delicious smells coming from her kitchen.

Grandpa was a carpenter. He built a wooden staircase outside our dining/living room window. When we wanted to play in the backyard, we would climb out the window and go down the steps. My Pop-Pop took care of the garden. His specialty was roses: white, pink, red and yellow rose bushes. My favorites were the yellow roses because they smelled so sweet and they were short, so it was easy to sniff them. Pop-Pop made us a dirt box at the end of his garden with a little seat. I loved to play bakery and make dirt pies and cookies and cakes. But I didn’t taste them!

There were no clothes dryers back then. There was a tall pole at the end of the yard and a clothes line attached. My Mom hung the clothes on the line from the kitchen window. In the winter, the shirts would come in frozen stiff with their arms sticking out, like invisible people.

It was lots of fun being five when I was a kid! (June 15, 2005)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Grandma's Story - Chapter 1 Part 1

Before you read this, go to "Grandma's Story - Introduction" (September 7, 2008).

Chapter 1 - For Sam, Age 5

Once upon a time, Grandma was five years old, just like you are now. I lived in a house that was very different from yours. It was in a place called Queens in New York City. My neighborhood was Ridgewood. It didn’t have big buildings and “too many people”. The streets were called blocks and had sidewalks and brick houses, three stories high, all stuck together.

I remember my block being a long, sunny street with three skinny trees across from my house. Each house had a gate and a stoop, four fat cement steps that led to the outside door. In the summer, we bounced our Spaulding balls (the best bouncing balls!) against the stoop. The big boys played stick ball in the gutter, where the cars drove by. Only there weren’t too many cars back then so we could even draw in the gutter with chalk and make games. I liked to play Potsy, which is like Hopscotch.

We didn’t have air conditioning either. On summer nights everyone sat in the gate on benches or on the stoop and waited for the Bungalow Bar truck to come with its ice cream pops. It was a white truck that looked like a little house and its bells were music to my ears.

It was fun living on Linden Street, my block. We rode our bicycles and scooters on the sidewalk or roller skated. Those roller skates were metal with metal wheels and you needed a key to tighten them to your shoes. I liked the feel of my tingly feet after I took off my skates. One time I was riding my bicycle and I saw a neighbor kid, Dennis W., coming up the street. It was too late to stop and I hit him and knocked him down. I fell off my bike. Later his big sister came to my house and yelled at my Mom. I was so scared. I learned a good lesson – don’t ride bicycles on the sidewalk.

When I was five, I started Kindergarten in the Catholic school down the street called St. Brigid’s. My Mom had also gone to St. Brigid’s. I was so excited to go to school. It had a sandbox and see-saw and jungle gym right inside the classroom. One day my cousin Joseph and I were playing on the see-saw with another girl. We thought it would be funny if we sat on one end and kept her up in the air. She didn’t like it at all. And we soon got tired of the game, so we got up. To our surprise, the girl came crashing down with a bang! She started crying and told the teacher, Sister Rita. Joseph and I got punished. We had to sit down and skip recess. We were also supposed to tell our mothers what we had done. I felt very sorry but I learned another lesson, a Physics lesson. I knew what happened when you take a weight off of one end of a balance. The other end comes down really fast. Oh yes. I did tell my Mom what had happened but Joseph didn’t tell his mother. I guess I learned another lesson that time.

Grandma's Story - Introduction

A few years ago I began a project for my six grandchildren called “Grandma’s Story”. In honor of Grandparents Day, I’ve decided to share this with you on my blog for several reasons. First, it will be another place to save my story and give my own family a chance to read all about it again. Second, it may give grandparents and older relatives another idea on how to share their own stories. It is also a wonderful opportunity for educating a new generation about ordinary life in extraordinary times: World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, etc. Finally, I hope that by blogging I will be encouraged to continue writing – there’s a lot more to tell.

I began writing my story for children and tried to write in that style. I will post the introduction today and then continue with short segments from Chapter 1. I welcome your comments.

Introduction to Grandma’s Story (June 2005)

This book will be all about life in the times when Grandma was growing up. Since I was born in 1941, that was a long, long time ago! The first chapter will describe my adventures when I was five years old and since Sam just celebrated his 5th birthday, this is Sam’s chapter.

Later there will be special chapters for all my precious grandkids. And the best part is every one gets to share the whole story and read about how it was to be a kid 60 years ago! I look forward to writing chapters for Marina, Chase, Sierra, Jackson and Baby Punkin’ (who turned out to be Aidan!) Maybe you can give me ideas about what you’d like to hear about. Or even interview me. We will see.

When it’s all finished – a long time from now – you will all have a story to show to your children and grandchildren. A special story that you can add to with your own stories. The story of our family!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Summers on Wheels: part two

When I had my own family, summer car vacations were more about the journey than the destination. We stopped often along the way and discovered all sorts of surprises. But another reason for long meandering car trips was the many lemon cars we owned. The kids will never forget our “Fred Flintstone” VW 411 – they had to keep their legs up on the seat in the back because there was a hole in the floor, where they watched the road roll by.

Once my husband and I visited the Montreal Worlds Fair in a car that barely did 20 mph on hills – and we had to drive through the Adirondacks! On the way home on a Sunday night, we couldn’t find an open gas station. We ran out of gas on the Northway near midnight as huge tractor-trailers whizzed by. A kindly truck driver stopped and drove us to a small town gas station he knew, then proceeded to wake up the proprietor to pump us gas, which was probably under $1/gallon back then.

But our most memorable adventure was spending a night sleeping in one of our junkier cars in an upstate New York gas station. After the mechanic got it running and we were on the way home, the car conked out for good and we hitched hiked on Route 17 with the three little ones. A man who was moving from Binghamton to Poughkeepsie – his car packed with possessions – picked us up. Enroute we witnessed a nasty motorcycle accident and just avoided running over the victims. After stopping to help, we barely made it to Poughkeepsie in time to catch the last train to NYC. We arrived in Harlem at midnight and walked across 125th Street to get the subway home.

Still later, I took many trips on wheels with my daughter Lisa. We traveled back from the Florida Keys along Route 1 - stopping at Cape Kennedy; driving through rice paddies, sometimes via ferries, in the Carolinas; and discovering the outerbanks and Kitty Hawk along the way. When we explored the back roads of Maine, we came across a Mama moose and her baby. Lisa and I had many wonderful California adventures on wheels. Each road presents a more magnificent vista - earthquake tortured rock formations; Dr. Seuss-like Joshua Trees in the desert; breathtaking mountain views; tarantulas crossing the road on a back route out of Death Valley; and of course, the Pacific Coast Highway PCH 1, with its unobstructed view of the Pacific.

For us, it’s all about the journey.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Summers on Wheels: part one

Many of our summer vacations were spent in the family car. My Dad always had a well-planned itinerary in mind. He would pack my Mom and the 3, 4, and then 5 kids in the car – no seat belts or A/C in those days – and off we’d go for two weeks of adventure. It’s funny the memories that stick. Like the accident we had in Erie, PA when a car’s brakes failed and plowed into us at an intersection. Or the trip to Cleveland, OH that resulted in a pen pal relationship with one of my distant Hungarian cousins. Or meeting another Hungarian cousin, Tibi, a gifted commercial artist in Ottawa, Canada.

We took a long trip one year to St. Petersburg, FL to visit my Aunt Helen; I can still taste those Hungarian crepes she made. On the way, we stopped at cabins or the early version of motels. I remember one evening in the 1950’s on the lawn of a South Carolina motel. I was listening to a conversation about segregation that my Dad and the motel owner were having. His argument for “white only” motels was that integrated motels would lead to interracial marriage. He pointed at me – “You wouldn’t want your little girl to marry a colored boy!” And at my tender age, I just couldn’t understand how a motel that welcomed all races could lead to my marriage; I couldn’t even imagine getting married! Later I noticed the separate hospital entrances and water fountains – “Whites only”. It made an impression and seemed strange, sad to me.

Those trips were so educational. Geography comes alive when you actually set foot in a capital city. My love of maps began on those trips. Having grown up in New York City, the other “big” cities of states paled in comparison. “This is a city?” was my reaction. But I discovered that each city was unique – like Charleston, SC so beautiful and clean, and Lexington, KY with its wonderful horse farms. When we finally made it to Florida, after several nights in sweltering cabins, I was so looking forward to a swim in the Gulf of Mexico. To my disappointment, it was not refreshing at all – more like soaking in a hot tub! Another disappointment – I so wanted to see the legendary Fountain of Youth that led Ponce de Leon to St. Augustine, FL. When we arrived, it cost too much money for the whole family to visit, so we just stared at the gates. I made up for this with my credit cards when I took my grown up vacations many years later.

At some point during every summer car vacation, we kids would get on Dad’s nerves (how many games of license plates can you play!) and he would scream at us, threaten beatings when he stopped the car, and vow “No more vacations!” Lucky for us, it never came to pass. And the next year, we’d be off on another adventure.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Summer in the Country

Just got back from a week in the New Jersey countryside at the home of my son and his family. Walking along the rural roads with my grandson Sam took me back to my long ago summers in the country, starting when I was about five or six. My grandparents and great aunt Kiki treated me – and later my younger sister Kathy – to a few weeks at a farm in Ellenville and a resort in Calicoon, New York. Many years later, one of our lemon cars actually broke down on the Route 17 exit for Ellenville. That was the time that we hitched a ride with the three kids and had many adventures along the way – but that’s another story.

At the farm, we played with the young farm kids, William and Francis. One of the games was leaping over the trap door in the hayloft; of course I fell through and was knocked out momentarily. Another great game was chasing the pigs when they got loose. Although there was no TV in those days, we never lacked for entertainment. We took daily walks along the road, where we would find lizards and wild flowers. In the evenings we played rolls of melodies on the player piano and had sing-a-longs. We even spent many hours writing and performing little plays. Kids haven’t changed all that much. Just last week, my grandkids, Marina, Chase and Sierra performed in 3 plays, written by their home school friends. I am happy to report that talent has grown remarkably in our family since the plays of my youth.

While I was in New Jersey last week we went to the Warren County Fair. It was great fun, especially the Demolition Derby. And I realize that part of my childhood country summers must have included a trip to the fair. I remember clearly wanting a special prize at a festival in the country – a Bambi stuffed animal, perched atop all the other prizes. My grandfather tried all evening to win it for me. Checking to see if it was still there, I discovered that it was gone. I was heartbroken until my grandfather came along with my Bambi tucked under his arm; he did it! Again, grandkids have not changed over the years - at every fair or theme park, they are lured by the games that promise stuffed animal prizes.

Home cooked country dinners were part of the farm vacation experience, a big draw for my grandmother and aunt. I guess Grandmas haven’t changed all that much either. One evening, the dinner menu was hot dogs and potato chips. Well, we kids were delighted. Needless to say, my grandmother was not amused and that ended our summer stays at Ellenville.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

In the Good Ol’ Summertime

Reminiscing about summers long ago. How did we ever stand the heat in those days of no air conditioners? For two years, at age 10 and 11, I spent the summer at Rockaway Beach, where my great aunt Kiki had a bungalow. This summer treat whisked us away from the hot sidewalks of Brooklyn, where we would wait for the shade to come to our side of the street so it would be safe to go out and play.

Our Rockaway bungalow was shared with my grandmother, grandfather and aunt plus my sister, my Aunt Alice, Uncle Ed and cousins. Even old Uncle Val came to visit. The bungalow was a few short blocks from the boardwalk and the Atlantic surf. I remember going to the beach every day – no sun screen in those days either! – playing in the sand and the waves. On Tuesday nights they had fireworks, set off from a barge out on the waves.

On other nights we would go to Playland, where we played skee ball and “poker” and saved up coupons to buy Christmas presents at the end of the summer. And there were the rides! From my bedroom window, I could see the roller coaster and watched the cars go up and down, imagining the screams of the riders.

Speaking of bedrooms, with all those summer tenants, we were sometimes 4 or 5 to a bed. And remember no air conditioning! Needless to say, it was hot and difficult to sleep. Sometimes my sister and I would spy on “pajama boy” jumping up and down on his bed in the next bungalow. I guess we didn’t have shades either.

There were lots and lots of kids in the bungalow colony. We played any games that involved running around the colony and making the owner yell and chase us. Only one boy had a TV; sometimes he let us watch Captain Video episodes. We also had an all summer Monopoly game going. And I had my first crush on a 12 year old boy from the Bronx. It seems like yesterday. And so long ago….

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Memories of Yankee Stadium

A few weeks ago I visited Yankee Stadium with my son and his family – to say goodbye. I remember my first visit – more than 55 years ago – when my Dad took me all the way up to the Bronx for my first major league ball game. I had been learning all about baseball and the Yankees from watching games on our little television set. But the experience of stepping into that gigantic stadium and gazing out on to the dazzling field was overwhelming. A sense of hugeness and grandeur that is hard to describe. It reminds me of how I felt visiting the cathedrals of France and Germany. There was a real felt presence lingering in the cathedrals – knowing that kings, saints, and peasants, had worshipped there over the centuries in the very spot where I stood. That is what I’ve felt at Yankee Stadium over the years – a presence. The great legends of the game: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio – all played in this great ballpark. All made baseball history. Those were the players who defined baseball and made it the American pastime.

Over the years, I would return to Yankee Stadium, taking the subway from my home in Brooklyn. Yes, I was a Yankee fan in enemy territory, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. I saw Mantle play and felt bad when fans booed him. My friends and I trailed the Mick, Andy Carey and Whitey Ford the way other teens followed rock stars. I still have photos and autographs from those days.

So it is a little sad to say good bye. We had fun at the game the other night but I realized the feeling wasn't the same. Maybe the magic is already evaporating; maybe the spirits are floating over to the new stadium to take up residence. After the game, I saw the façade of the new Yankee Stadium for the first time. I think façade says it for me. It doesn’t look real. It’s like the Mc Mansions – too clean, too neat, like a Hollywood set. I call it Mc Stadium. But I know that for the new generations of baseball fans, this stadium will be the place of memories and presence. Let’s hope so.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ministry to Seniors Part 2

Ministry to Seniors (MTS) also developed other programs and trained parishes in their implementation. Since we knew that a one shot, four hour volunteer training was insufficient to sustain a parish outreach to the homebound ministry, we used several strategies to address the issue of on-going training and preparation of the parish volunteers including:

On-site one-on-one training of the parish coordinators who were responsible for the operation of parish programs. We developed a training manual that covered particulars on recruiting volunteers, identifying the homebound, matching, record keeping, supporting volunteers, and more. And later we partnered with Fordham University’s Partners in Healing program to bring special training programs, with more spiritual emphasis and advanced listening skills to our veteran volunteers.

A quarterly reporting system and annual evaluation was devised to publish statistics and anecdotes on parish service in a newsletter distributed to all 400+ parishes in the Archdiocese. This also served as an alert to staff when problems or concerns were reported.

Ministry to Seniors staff held regional meetings for parish coordinators on a regular basis to provide ongoing support, sharing, information and training. MTS also modeled Volunteer Recognition Events, by honoring parish coordinators with awards, luncheons and gifts, Parish coordinators were encouraged to hold similar volunteer meetings and recognition events in their own parishes.

We learned that our volunteers provided real services, especially in rural areas where they transported patients long distances for dialysis or cancer treatments. From their stories and from listening to volunteers at meetings, we knew that many volunteers derived deep satisfaction from visiting. Many developed close friendships with those they served. Volunteers had been asked to serve as pallbearers at the funerals of those they visited. Others had noticed that the visiting program had bridged the gap between peoples of different colors and cultures, as they ministered to one another. And other volunteers had uncovered potentially life threatening situations and referred them to professional staff for intervention.

During this busy time in the late 90’s and even after 2001, we developed other models for parishes to serve their older members, notably Senior Link, Caregiver Support & Respite and Senior Spirituality Groups. Our programs were recognized nationally with a 1999 Daily Points of Light award, as well as other honors.

Senior Link was designed as a parish-based information and referral/advocacy program to help seniors and their families access needed entitlements/benefits and services in the community. Training and ongoing support were provided to program coordinators, mostly parish staff but also volunteers. Caregiver Support & Respite was provided through a six week workshop series based on Dr. Richard Johnson’s video course “You and Your Aging Parents” and follow-up support groups. Later we introduced the Powerful Tools for Caregiving (PTC) program in the New York area, an innovative approach to empowering caregivers to care for themselves. These caregiver services were implemented in our rural counties through funding from Older Americans Act Title IV and private grants.

Senior Spirituality Groups offered older adults opportunities for spiritual growth through faith sharing, reflection, prayer and discussion activities. Meeting on a regular basis at parishes and community facilities, the groups helped participants to see God’s presence in their life experiences. The group facilitators received training and ongoing support from Ministry to Seniors.

Looking back at this “golden age” of my career at Catholic Charities, I feel very blessed and grateful for the wonderful, talented people who worked so hard to serve the elders of our parishes. Not only my staff and colleagues at Charities but also parish staff, coordinators and volunteers, as well as the seniors themselves. It is amazing how much good people can do, with the help of the Lord. It was a privilege indeed to work with them and serve them.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My Career in Aging: Ministry to Seniors

Just realized I never finished the story of my career in aging (see Career on sidebar). The next installment is about my most satisfying experience at Catholic Charities as Director of the Ministry to Seniors Program.

Ministry to Seniors was the New York Archdiocese’s response to parish social ministry efforts to minister to the frail, homebound elderly and their caregivers. It grew out of a task force in the late 70’s to address the “graying” of the Archdiocese and which resulted in Catholic Charities’ Department of the Aging. See Blog 2/8/08.

Ministry to Seniors worked with parishes to enable them to meet the needs of seniors and their families in effective and Spirit-filled ways. Five different program models were developed that parishes might adapt to minister to the well elderly, the homebound and their caregivers:

Outreach to the Homebound
Senior Link

Caregiver Support & Respite

Senior Spirituality Groups
Social Programs

Ministry to Seniors
helped parishes recruit volunteers, conducted on-site training of parish staff, coordinators and volunteers, and provided on-going support, training and technical assistance. In 1997, 56 parishes had programs affiliated with Ministry to Seniors with over 525 volunteers providing nearly 30,000 instances of service to over 1600 homebound persons and their caregivers.

Training of volunteers at the parish level was seen as key to what Ministry to Seniors could offer parishes. We wanted to prepare these volunteers to be effective ministers to an aging, vulnerable population that was growing at an unprecedented rate and which had many unmet needs. A study funded by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation in the 80’s and conducted by Fordham’s Third Age Center found that an average parish is comprised of 25% seniors aged 65 and older, more and more of whom are frail and need assistance to continue residing in their homes. According to the National Council on the Aging, in 1996 the 65+ age group was 33.9 million or 12.8% of the U.S. population. And the older population is getting older. In 1996, the 85+ age group (3.5 million) was 31 times larger than in 1900, while the 65-74 age group (18.7 million) was eight times larger. By 2030 there will be about 70 million older Americans, twice the number in 1996 and 20% of the population. Fordham’s study showed that the first place seniors and their families turn for help is often their parish or faith community. Our mission was to help parishes meet this challenge.

Because of the tendency of most parish volunteers to be “overcommitted” timewise and averse to structured training, we designed a simple bare bones four hour basic course in outreach to the homebound. Over seven years, this basic training evolved as follows to cover four areas.

An overview of the physical, psychological, social and spiritual challenges of aging;
An introduction to benefits, entitlements and community resources for the elderly and their caregivers;
Communication skills;
The practical aspects involved in ministering to the homebound.

Challenges of Aging: This overview was usually done by a local professional in the field of aging, usually a health care professional or gerontology professor, and gave volunteers a knowledge of the aging process, the difference between normal and abnormal aging, and exposed several “myths” about aging. If the critical area of spirituality of late life was not within the expertise of the speaker, Ministry to Seniors’ staff provided a brief discussion of this topic. On some level the team recognized this deficit in the outreach training. We began to offer more in-depth treatment through presentations on Spirituality of Aging to volunteer groups, through retreats and Senior Spirituality Days, a major conference on Senior Adult Ministry and a new training for parish facilitators of senior spirituality groups, which are small faith sharing groups aimed at older persons.

Community Resources: This component of the training was usually done by a representative of the local area agency on aging and acquainted volunteers with information on the wide range of benefits and services available to the elderly. Volunteers were trained to be sensitive to specific needs of those they visited and to alert coordinators or Catholic Charities staff if a potential problem existed.

Communication Skills: A video by Ellie Waters of Oakland University was used to demonstrate “do’s” and “don’ts” of listening to older adults. The tape is designed to give trainees an opportunity to practice their listening skills, especially attending to feelings. This was one part of the training that staff felt was never given enough time. Trainees often expressed that they would have liked more practice in this area. Since there is no real on-site supervision of the parish volunteers, we were always been concerned about strengthening and expanding this segment of our outreach training. And later we did so in collaboration with Partners in Healing of Fordham University.

Practical Aspects: This segment treated such topics as: Getting Started as a Volunteer, Conversation Starters and Boosters, Guidelines for Service Provision, Setting Boundaries, Warning Signs to Look For, and more. Volunteers were provided with handouts on all these topics and to which they could later refer, as well as the names and phone numbers of contact persons in case of questions or concerns.

In the evaluations of the outreach training, volunteers were usually very positive in rating the training day. However, less than half scored themselves more than “moderately” prepared to begin their volunteer service.

To be continued….

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Many things to celebrate on this Sunday June 15th, Father's Day 2008. First I celebrate all the fathers in my life. My own Dad was a major influence in my life. He gave me my love of nature, my perfectionist tendencies and my Hungarian temper. The father of my three children has been there for me for nearly 44 years. He loves to help and was always hands on with his children's care, unusual in those days. I am grateful for his love and support. And I am proud of the next generation of fathers in my life - the fathers of my beloved grandkids. My son and sons-in-law are great Dads: playing, teaching, guiding and helping to care for their children.

Today I also celebrate the birth of Braden Michael, my sister's first grandchild, born on Friday the 13th. I am so happy for my sister; being a grandmother has been one of the major joys in my life. Now she gets to experience it. And she will be a wonderful Grandma!

Finally, Happy Birthday to my grandson Sam who is eight years old today.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Leader Test

I took this test and discovered I am Gandhi. Not bad. But I am more excited that I was actually able to paste the image to my blog! Wow!

What Famous Leader Are You?
personality tests by

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A spring poem

To celebrate my daughter's honorable mention in a recent town poetry contest, I am sharing one of my oldest poems. I'll try to get her to post her winning poem, which is really a treat.

Boulder on the Hill

I am part of the earth.

I am bound to the ground,
longing to leap alive
into the blaring blue.

Crust warm and worn
stippled and stained
insulted, ignored
decaying, defiled

Youth passes me by
flying free, singing Spring!
All a-spin in the whirlwind.

While I lie alone
so old
so hard
so forgotten

I am one with the earth

I hold the light of 10,000 suns.
I hold the tears of 10,000 storms.

Crust soft, astir
teeming with life
buzzing with wisdom
glittering with grace

Youth stops to savor my story,
transformed by my treasure
for all ages.

While I watch and wait
so ancient

so loved
so timeless
copyright E.M. Ramos 5/30/96

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Secrets and Prayers

Haven’t blogged in awhile because I’ve been struggling with a scary secret. About a month ago I discovered a small lump in my breast. My Mom died of breast cancer – it will be 26 years on May 17th – and I was totally freaked out. After a month of worrying, praying, Mammograms, sonograms, and consultations, things are looking brighter. Most likely it is benign – I go for a needle biopsy on May 19th.

During this ordeal, I have learned a few things about myself. At first I did not want to tell anyone – not even my husband, kids, sister, friends, etc. – because somehow saying it out loud made it more real. And I didn’t tell anyone for weeks. I also felt ashamed, not sure why. My body had betrayed me. I had taken all the “right” steps to avoid this disease – breastfeeding, low fat diet, exercise, annual mammogram. And yet here it was.

I also felt privileged to live in New York City where some of the best hospitals are located. And fortunate to have Medicare and Medigap insurance that allowed me to seek out the best care.

When I prayed, I just couldn’t allow myself to pray that it would turn out to be “nothing”. That sounded like “baby prayers” – “Here’s my wish list, Lord”. I am too “grown up” to pray like that! Instead, I took a deep breath and placed myself in God’s enormous hands. After all, He’s never let me down before, even through some of the darkest nights. I am not in control here. It helped but still …. it was so hard. Then I remembered Jesus’ prayer in the Garden. “Father if it be possible, let this cup pass.” Hey, if Jesus could pray to be let off, I could too. And the rest, “not my will but Thy will be done”. And that’s how I prayed. As I told family and friends, answers came, bit by bit, through them.

As always, I feel blessed. And I ask for your prayers on May 19th.

Happy Mother’s Day to all Moms out there. How lucky I am to have had such a wonderful, strong, courageous Mom, who taught me so much. And to know that my grandkids have such devoted, caring, loving mothers – my own daughters and daughter-in-law. I am blessed indeed.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Pope Comes to America

Some random thoughts on Pope Benedict's visit.

I am so glad the Pope is addressing the sex abuse scandal in the church. Especially his meeting with the victims yesterday. To say he was "ashamed" implied responsibility and is a start toward healing.

I will not be attending any of the Masses or events in New York. However I can remember visits of two other popes.

In 1965, we attended the Mass at Yankee Stadium when Pope Paul VI visited. My son was a baby and it was the first time I left him. Very difficult since I was nursing and spent all day with a breast pump. All turned out well and I still remember my excitement as the Pope motored around the field to the cries of "Viva Papa!"

In 1995, my son was living a half block from Central Park. My daughter and I stayed overnight and all three of us rose bright and early to attend the Mass in Central Park with John Paul II. It was gray and rainy and my son had a terrible cold. But once again, it was worth it. I remember the intensity of John Paul's presence, a sense of deep spirituality that even my non-Catholic friends noticed. I remember his wonderful sense of humor. He won me over that day!

And I think I know Pope Benedict in a new way, thanks to this visit. He seems warmer and gentler than he appeared to be as Cardinal Ratzinger. I love his smile. How amazed my German-American grandmother would be that we have a German pope!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Welcome Spring!

Just returned from a short visit with my daughter and her family in California. What bouncy, strong boys my 2 and 4 year old grandsons are!

Now to celebrate Spring, which returned to New York while I was gone. A poem from the past.

April’s Showers

I love the garden when it’s wet,
the trees streaked dark with sweat,
when all the woods are blurred with tears
that cling to sprouting sprigs.

The river blinks but does not pause
along its steadfast course,
while I in stirring stillness sit
beside its muddied shores.

The birds cry out in joyous song
to wake my sleeping ears.
Then all creation holds me light
and lifts me to my feet.

© E. M. Ramos 4/12/2001

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Resurrection Celebration

Lent 2008 held many blessings and gifts for me. I found a book in my library by one of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen. This was an early work – 1975 – and very brief. But what wisdom and grace it contains. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life recounts the inner journey from loneliness to solitude; the connection with community, from hostility to hospitality; and seeking intimacy with God, from illusion to prayer. And all intersect. I like what Nouwen says about hospitality: creating an open space where the “guest” can be free to be herself. It stresses listening, something I have worked hard on in my personal and professional life. He even describes the parent-child relationship in this manner: children are “guests”, which can be very freeing for a parent, who creates the space for them to realize the person they are meant to be.

The inner journey for me was never more profound than when I had a regular Bio-spiritual focusing partner.
For more on the process of bio-spiritual focusing see Were my experiences of God’s love at that time “illusion” or a taste of prayerful intimacy? I am not sure. But amazingly enough during this Lenten season I got a call from my young focusing partner whom I had not heard from in years. And we decided to resume bio-spiritual focusing on Easter Monday. There are no coincidences, no accidents here. All is gift. Check out Nouwen’s Reaching Out and have a joyous Easter season!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Poems, a Psalm and a Prayer

A parting gift for the fans of Winter: my Winter 2008 poems, a psalm and a prayer.

Wind Chill

Take a breath.

Feel the icy river
flow up and over
the throat

only to get stuck
just disappear
but where?

Is it so very
warm within
that glacial air
on contact?

Then why the feel of wrapped
in a shivering shawl?

Why the empty echo
deep inside,
the terrifying cry
of all alone,
cold as a
dementor’s kiss.

In winter’s long dark night
does a votive spark
still flicker
in some distant corner
promising Spring?

© E.M. Ramos Jan.2008

Winter’s Window

I wander in the winter woods alone,
secure in the embrace of jolly gray giants.
I look through their leafless litter
to see what I did not behold before:

the elusive hawk
the spires of the conifers
heavenly pieces of light

While on my path
the last fragments of fall
frolic merrily
in the wind.

Ah, winter’s ebb
so icily warm and welcoming.

© E.M. Ramos March 2008

Psalm 147: 12-20

Jerusalem, give glory!
Praise God with song, O Zion!
For the Lord strengthens your gates
guarding your children within.
The Lord fills your land with peace,
giving you golden wheat.

God speaks to the earth,
the word speeds forth.
The Lord sends heavy snow
and scatters frost like ashes.

The Lord hurls chunks of hail.
Who can stand such cold?
God speaks, the ice melts;
God breathes, the streams flow.

God speaks his word to Jacob,
to Israel, his laws and decrees.
God has not done this for others,
no others receive this wisdom.


Prayer of the Season

Shall we praise you, hail-hurling God,
in winter’s splendor,
in the grace of snow
that covers with brightness
and reshapes both your creation and ours?
Or shall we curse the fierce cold that punishes
homeless people and shortens tempers?
Blessed are you
in the earth’s tilt and course.
Blessed are you in the sleep of winter
and in the oncoming Lenten spring.
Now and then and always,
fill these lands with peace.