Thursday, December 31, 2009

Celebrating Dad's 100th Birthday

Monday December 28th would have been my Dad's 100th birthday. My brother Jim had the idea of the five of us - me, Kathy, Jim, John, and Jeff - getting together to celebrate him and share memories at a gala dinner. Some of us started the day by visiting the cemetery and laying a wreath on Mom and Dad's grave. Then Jim and Michelle, John, and Angel and I went to visit the old neighborhood in Ridgewood. Big mistake! The block was dowdy, not the bright sunny street of my memories. The old three story brownstone looked all beat up. The stoop that Nanny had once scrubbed with a brush weekly was gone - replaced by brick steps. The old gate and fence looked frail and sad. The entryway was unwelcoming. I peeked into the hall from the vestibule, at the stairs to Nanny's apartment, my once upon a time safe haven. They looked naked and empty, devoid of the anticipation and love that filled little Eleanor as she climbed them so often to the peaceful grandparent nest. Maybe the worst was the cascade of cable wires hanging down the outside of the building, along with all the garbage bags in the gate. Even the little bush was gone. Overall we all felt it was depressing. I guess you can't go home again.

Happily, our celebration at Koenigs was just that - happy, relaxed and enjoyable. In a private room with Christmas decorations and a fireplace, we traded memories,enjoyed good food and celebrated Dad. The five of us were seated up front of the two tables of family. I am proud that my sister and brothers love and respect each other and keep in touch. In the days and weeks to come, I will post my memories of my Dad.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Letter 2009

Merry Christmas to All!

As another year speeds to a close, I am grateful for many blessings: family and friends; new adventures and opportunities to grow. My health continues to be stable and I get plenty of exercise walking to my part time job in lower Manhattan and in my beloved Botanical Gardens.

What a glorious time my granddaughter and I had in Italy on the Cathedral HS trip in February, thanks to my pal Sister P. We toured Rome, Pisa, Venice and even San Marino; but our favorite city was Florence. I will never forget the early morning trek over snow slicked cobblestones in Assisi to attend Mass at the basilica. In August I visited my daughter and her family in California and was there for the big fires. Scary! We also took mini-trips to San Francisco, Ft. Ross, the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, and Legoland.

My daughter Tina is still home schooling and doing her amazing comic strips on her blog (you can get there by clicking onto "My daughter's blog" on the sidebar). Chase is 13 and growing taller and handsomer by the day, with his curly dark hair and dimples. Sierra has enjoyed more time with us; one day she accompanied Angel to the Senior Center plus trips to the Zoo and Gardens with me! My son coaches Sam's Little League team and we went to a game to see Sam pitch. Also enjoyed Sam's Celebration of Learning Day in May and a minor league ballgame in July.

We spent lots of time with my sister Kathy and family and her new grandson Braden. Kathy and I took a trip to Pennsylvania on Halloween weekend to visit all of my H. cousins' new houses. It is a joy being with them and their families. I am looking forward to being together with all my siblings - Kathy, Jim, John and Jeff - to celebrate the 100th anniversary of our Dad's birth on December 28th.

A theme of 2009 - friends. I even wrote a poem, "Shoes". From the past - got to visit my dear friend Mary, 94 years young, in California and was surprised by a visit from the H.'s, Ann and John. Frequent friends - Pat N. and I saw South Pacific on Broadway. Wow! My Met Club pals meet faithfully every month. Phone friends A. and cousin Jan call often. New friends from my job and from my Spirituality Group.

Just like me, my "toys" are aging, so I bought a new car and a new laptop - thank you Reed for setting it up. I co-authored a blog about elder poverty on, and have a chapter in a book to be published next Spring. Happily many poems came to me this year. Click on the sidebar to read a few.

Although 2009 was a challenging time economically for many of us, it gives you an opportunity to put things in perspective, to understand what really matters in life. And to realized you don't really need all that much stuff. And so I look forward with great hope to 2010.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Technology overload

Haven't posted for awhile. I got a new computer and have been trying to get used to it. Thankfully my son-in-law Reed set it up because I am clueless with all this new technology and wish to remain in a state of ignorance - in that realm anyway.

Does anyone care that the new technology, especially communications technology, evolves before one gets a chance to learn how to use it? In my case I don't even know about the existence of new thingys and they are already obsolete! Is it only me who wishes for a law that would do away with one form of communication before a new one is permitted to be invented?

Right now I still love old fashioned snail mail and hand written Christmas cards (another reason I haven't posted lately). I will tolerate voice mail and I do love e-mail. But why do we need faxes anymore?

Finally, I refuse to twitter, tweet, facebook or blackberry. I think I'd even give up my cell phone. I guess I'm really getting old. Good for me!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Colors of Joy

I think that Autumn is my favorite time of the year. And this year the colors are so vibrant it makes me shout for joy. As I walked in the NY Botanical Gardens the trees inspired a poem, which I share with you.

Colors of Joy

I can’t be sad in autumn.
The trees won’t allow it.
They roar in red faced glee
‘rousing my eyes awake.
They dance delightful
orange jigs in my soul.

Fiery shrubs, sienna
burnt, shout out as I pass
‘neath golden canopies,
‘midst magic magenta,
through the last gasp of green.

They yell oh so loud
my heart explodes in song
as I grovel in
glorious gratitude.

© E.M. Ramos

Friday, October 23, 2009

National Parks - The Best Idea

A few weeks back, I watched all six episodes of Ken Burns PBS epic on the national parks. Many parts of this series relate to Michael Moore’s film "Capitalism" (See my blog below). "National Parks" covered history, conservation, natural science and the politics of launching and maintaining our magnificent National Parks System. So many Americans were involved in that struggle: ordinary citizens and wealthy businessmen, politicians and conservationists, young and old. A true coalition. Some like John Muir faced personal attacks in the quest to save our wilderness areas of incredible beauty from blatant exploitation.

The war is never won. If you lose a battle, that valley – like the one in Yosemite – is lost forever; if you win, you know that future generations will have to fight all over again. Greed goes on.

One episode focused on the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC’s), one of FDR’s New Deal programs to help America out of the Great Depression. The CCC was aimed at helping young unemployed men, and at the same time, sprucing up the National Parks System. It gave them structure, an army barracks style discipline, and job training. They fought forest fires, built ranger stations, planted trees. For many, it was their first glimpse of the natural wonders of the West and they developed a deep love of nature. The interviews with three CCC veterans were poignant. But I know personally how great this program was because my Dad was in the CCC’s and told us how it changed his life.

And here’s where the National Parks series touches on the "Capitalism" film. The CCC was the kind of "win-win" project I had hoped the president would promote to get us out of the current economic decline. Not a bail out of the villains who got us into trouble in the first place! FDR’s New Deal put Americans to work and helped the nation in innumerable ways. Why haven’t we learned this history lesson?
By the way, you can still catch re-runs of the Ken Burns National Parks series on PBS. It’s worth a watch.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story

Last week we saw Michael Moore’s latest film, which addresses the economic crisis in America and the system of Capitalism. Now I know that Moore is controversial but he comes across to me as passionate about ordinary hard working people, who believe in the American dream, and who are suffering. He is also an outstanding film maker: funny, confrontational, and thought provoking.
I found myself chuckling at times - like when he strung yellow criminal tape around the headquarters of the big financial institutions: Chase, Citigroup, AIG, etc. And I shed tears at people losing homes that had been in their families for generations, or their jobs, leaving behind veritable ghost towns. There were also moments of real hope: the grassroots opposition to the bailout of Wall Street. I had almost forgotten. Probably because the Congress backtracked and sold out after all. I believe it when Moore points out the scare tactics that were used to pass the bail out bill. And I agree that democracy is under attack by vested interests – within our capitalist system. There’s plenty of blame to go around – for Democrats and Republicans alike. And while I don’t believe that unions are all that innocent, my heart goes out to working people.
At any rate, the film clarified for me a lot about how we got into such an mess. I remember thinking not long ago – when did monopolies become legal? What would Teddy Roosevelt say? I was surprised, but not really surprised, at the insidious way that corporate greed has taken over. It is outrageous that most of the wealth of America is in the hands of one percent of the population. And the gap widens. The rich did not suffer from the economic decline – we bailed them out! But the rest of us sure did! I also liked how Moore looks into the teachings of Jesus - they don't support the Capitalist system as it has evolved today. Tell it like it is, Michael. Meanwhile, why not see the film and decide for yourself. If nothing else, it will spark discussion.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Prayer Always Works

Prayer always works. When I’m feeling "murky", I thank God for everything I can think of – from my grandkids to the brilliant blue sky. And suddenly, I feel whole once more. I was diagnosed with cancer in 2008. Monitoring appointments fill me with anxiety. On the day of a recent appointment, I was feeling very sorry for myself – like no one knew or cared that I was facing this ordeal alone. I prayed "Lord be with me", and as I walked to the doctor’s office, something made me check my cell phone. There was a message from my sister that I hadn’t noticed the night before. I listened to her voice reassuring me about my appointment and of course, she remembered. I felt so grateful to God for being present to me in my sister that day. I was not alone.
Recently I had a disagreement with a friend. Knowing I had done nothing wrong, but desiring peace, I decided to apologize and prayed for the right words to say. Next day I saw the person and began my apology, only to have her apologize to me instead! Our relationship was healed instantly. What a surprising answer to my prayer. I truly believe that God is a God of surprises. And prayer always works.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Rainy Sunday

Last Sunday I waited and waited for the rain to stop. I was desperate to get out, to walk in my beloved Gardens. Finally, I just put on the rain gear and went. Somehow the Garden in a gentle cleansing rain is a blessing. The usual Sunday crowds don’t materialize; in fact it was kind of deserted, the way I like it. You see things you would not notice were it not for the rain. And a poem came….

A Rainy Sunday

Softly, the rain invades
my worried world,
its whispered touch washing
whatever’s in its wake:
Sated trees, shining
with sweat laden leaves.
Dainty droplets dangling
off pine needles
and holly berries.
The once anemic Bronx
River swollen into
Even Le Sportsac is
soaked to the skin
mindless of my efforts.

September Sunday rain
doesn’t ruin
a garden walk.
It brings the path
into focus.

© E.M. Ramos 9/27/2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

California Treats

Spent a few weeks in California with my daughter and her family last month. California is fascinating and I can see why people love it despite the fires, earthquakes, smog and mudslides. Each road brings a new adventure and unique beauty –breathtaking ocean views from twisty mountain roads, giant Sequoia forests, the awesome wonder of the desert – and so much more. I discovered some new places well worth a visit on a trip north from LA with my daughter and grandsons.
Fort Ross, about 100 miles north of San Francisco, was once a Russian fort, a stop off on the way to Alaska. It’s on an inlet of the Pacific that was deep enough to load their ships. I liked the photo ops through decaying fences, the Russian Orthodox chapel and the museum displays of 19th century artifacts. A fairy tale-like kitchen, workshops to make all the metal and wooden tools the fort dwellers needed (no malls in those days) and a room for spinning and making cloth. An arsenal plus cannons intrigued the kids; there was plenty of room to run around too. And trails down to the beach.
On our way back to Burbank, we stopped at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. This is a Victorian mansion with a fascinating history. In the late 1800’s, Sara Winchester, married to the heir to the Winchester rifle fortune, lost her only child and was widowed 15 years later. She consulted an occultist who told her that she needed to buy a house (with her millions) and keep building on to it to quiet the spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifle. So she kept hundreds of workers and craftsmen busy night and day for 38 years! The result is windows facing nothing but walls, doors that open to a three story drop, and tiny winding steps to accommodate her arthritis. There’s even a staircase to a ceiling. The genuine Tiffany windows, vintage wall coverings, floors and fireplaces are worth the price of admission. And there are many strange stories about the recluse who lived there. Like the SF earthquake that toppled the top three stories of the mansion and trapped her in her bedroom.
These “treats” can be enjoyed by young and old alike. If you are in the vicinity, look them up.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Grandparents as Resources

When I first heard that my daughter wanted to home school, I thought back to the New York City teachers strike in the 70’s, my only attempt at home schooling. I lasted less than a day. But hey! My daughter is at a different place than I was and I respected her decision. What I could do, and what our family does so well, is help.

My career has been spent as a gerontologist, working with older adults. So I know that today’s grandparents are very different from my own grandparents. They are often better educated – both my husband and I have Masters degrees – and many have been professionals. They have so much to offer to the home schooling experience. I also believe that all grandparents have talents, gifts, knowledge, skills – whatever their educational level – that can be turned into a resource for the home schooler.

At the turn of the 20th century, my own grandmother, who finished 8th grade and went to work in NYC’s garment industry, had longed to be a teacher (maybe that’s where my daughter gets her skills.) She taught me to sew. My husband grew up in Puerto Rico; his native language is Spanish. What a help to home schooled grandkids learning a language. Plus he can fill them in with a first hand account of what it was like growing up in a culture so different from their own.

My bachelor’s degree is in Math so I sometimes help out when an algebra problem proves a bit too challenging. Having worked for non-profits for over 30 years, I was able to give my granddaughter an experience of social service work. She helped at one of our Harlem soup kitchens one year, giving out Thanksgiving turkeys. And she was able to observe and participate in the process of the event every step of the way. What a lesson in organization and planning, transferable to a multitude of real life situations!

My favorite home school resource role is enhancing my daughter’s lessons. Many retirees have the time and desire to take grandchildren on learning excursions, whether day trips or longer vacations. I enjoy bringing my grandchildren to the Bronx Zoo and Botanical Gardens for onsite nature and science lessons. They really read all the descriptions of the plants and animals! When I take them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, they recognize many masterpieces and artists from their Mom’s lessons.

Last February, thanks to my connections to the traditional school community, I was delighted bring my granddaughter to Italy on an educational trip with a Manhattan high school. There is no greater education than experiencing history and culture on the spot. I was so proud of how she prepared for our trip, learning Italian phrases and studying about the museums and cities we would visit. A win-win for both generations.

And of course, grandparents are the source of living history. The end of World War II, air raid drills during the Cold War, the early days of television, the Mc Carthy hearings, the Rosenberg trial – I lived this history as a child and can talk about it from that perspective, growing up in the 40’s and 50’s. As a young adult, I lived through Vatican II and Vietnam protests, Civil Rights and the Women’s Movement, assassinations and the first man on the moon. I remember my grandmother telling me how hard it was during the depression; it made that time come alive for me. I’ve left a written record of my memories – "Grandma’s Story" – for the next generation. I add chapters on everyday life way back when – which is my idea of history. Each of my grandkids receives the chapters in old fashioned book form but it’s also posted on my blog.

There’s much more that grandparents can offer as resources. Ask your own elders what they can share. But, of course, the best gift we grandparents can give is our love and support to both the home schooler and home schoolee.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


I’m not complaining. We’ve had a delightfully cool summer this year. But when the heat and humidity returns, it doesn’t take long to be frazzled and fried. Anyone who’s lived through a New York City summer doesn’t need this poem explained.


I know I’m not a
I feel like a fish
breathing in a bowl of
liquid air that
drenches and drains.

While my green
friends soak up
the drippy atmosphere
and party.
I look
They look marvelous.
Guess that’s the upside
of humidity.

© E.M. Ramos 7/31/2009

Friday, July 31, 2009


Since last Fall, six of our relatives have died: brother, sisters-in-law, cousins, aunt. These deaths plus my own aging get me thinking scary thoughts about my own mortality. And as I focus on this, I realize that it’s not only death I fear, but maybe even more all that I leave undone. A constant refrain across my life: never enough time to get it all done the way it "should" be. And instead of working on my unfinished business, I give in to distractions or obsessions that give some semblance of familiar comfort: like cookies and reading mystery novels compulsively. After all, then I don’t have to face the fact that I will never be perfect and never be finished. It’s a life long struggle, a life long issue.

My reflections brought back a memory from long ago. My grandmother had told me the story of how my Mom had gotten a perfect report card in fifth grade: 100% in every subject, 100% in average. Although I had gotten my share of 99%’s, I’d never achieved perfection and I was definitely aiming for it. So here I was in fifth grade, taking a test – a minor subject at that – taking my time to make it absolute perfection. When my teacher announced: "Five minutes left". I panicked. I wasn’t nearly finished. Flashes of shattered dreams raced through my head. Not only would I not get the perfect report card, I might fail! I was audibly panting; kids turned to look at me. And I scribbled desperate answers all over the page.

I don’t remember the outcome of that episode; I am sure my teacher made some concessions. But the memory of all this inspired a poem. Here it is.


Fantasy filled fifth grade
dreams – my quixotic quest
to be the best of all -
forever forgotten
eternally lost.

Terror still stalks
the memory of
no time left to score
the perfect percent
as panic racked breath
screeches its zig-zag
path across the page
of the unfinished test.

So deeply rutted still
in well worn ways
which never worked
the fuzzy feel
of friendly fear
and lazy anger.
So stuck in not to
be I cannot see
the treasure that is me.

© E.M. Ramos 7/30/2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Gift from all the rain

We have had lots of rain this summer. I am a true believer in the "every cloud has a silver lining" theory. Both in nature and in life. Last week as I sat outside the Botanical Gardens café, under their awning, a summer storm rose up out of what had been a sunny sky a few moments before. And I received the gift of a poem.

Summer Storm

I love to watch a summer storm
- from a safe dry space, of course -
Pounding the pavement.
Creating instant rivers.
Filling the awning above
me to drip-right-throughness.

In just a blink the sun
regains control. Its steamy
breath sends will-‘o-the-wisps
slithering skyward.
Brooding clouds evaporate.
Rain-made rivers disappear.
The path is dry and I can
walk embraced by cool breezes,
inhaling grassy air,
holding the storm in my heart.

© E.M. Ramos 7/9/2009

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Lessons I've Learned

In one of her blogs last week, my daughter posed an interesting quiz on learning and self-education and challenged her readers to take the quiz themselves.

What is a memory you have of learning with your Mom?

My Mom took a very active role in our education. She "heard" our lessons every night. My memory improved dramatically under my Mom’s tutelage because if we did not recite the catechism or history answers back to her "perfectly", we were sent off to study "until you know it!" My sister can attest to many homework papers that were torn up because she had crossed out or erased. OK in fairness, a few times she had erased holes in the paper. Maybe my success in school was a direct result of Mom’s encouragement, because she would not settle for less. She taught me to always strive to do my best.

I also learned many other life lessons from her. Like how to be a savvy shopper, hunting out bargains way before it became stylish. I will never forget the trip in-between dress racks to a remote corner in Bloomies to find a lone hidden rack of sales items. Now in those days, it was pretty awesome for us to find something affordable in Bloomingdale’s but Mom managed to find bargains in the classiest places. Just to negotiate her way around that store was admirable to me, who, like many others, finds it a major challenge just to find the exit out of Bloomies!

What is a memory you have of learning with your Dad?

On the meandering car vacations, which brought American history and geography alive for me, my Dad taught me a love of traveling, visiting new places and reading maps! I was not geographically challenged, as many Americans are today, because I had personally visited capitals of states or spent many car hours searching for them on road maps.

Dad also taught me to appreciate and reverence nature. He would point out interesting cloud formations and instruct me to take pictures out of the car window as we traveled the highways to some vacation destination. He never failed to point out sunsets, whether on a fishing expedition upstate or looking out the window from his easy chair. We spent many quiet hours in row boats on lakes, waiting for fish to bite. Now I realize I was learning to observe nature; in a way it was my first lesson in meditation. And it felt so peaceful.

What kind of education do you think you gave yourself?

Like my daughter, I loved to draw when I was a kid. It certainly spurred a lifelong love for art. In school, I did not enjoy history – it seemed to be all about dates and wars. Ho Hum. So after I graduated from college, I took on a project to find out about everyday life in other times. I was especially interested in medieval times and Barbara Tuchman’s classic "A Distant Mirror" got me started. I discovered that history was very interesting indeed and found a different perspective. I especially enjoyed the book by Bonnie S. Anderson and Judith P. Zinsser, two Columbia University professors. "A History of Their Own" approached history from a woman’s point of view, not chronologically but categorically: Women of the Fields, Women of the Churches, Women of the Castles and Manors, etc. I learned that women did yield power even way back when and my love for history was born. As a result, I have a sizable collection of history books, especially Medieval History focusing on everyday life. Any one can get an education by reading. Just ask my granddaughter, Marina!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

America the Beautiful

This Independence Day I feel very grateful for being an American. I am so proud of my beautiful country and so grateful that I have seen so much of it. I have fond memories of childhood vacations when my Dad piled the kids in the car and took us on adventures in upstate New York, to Pennsylvania, to Florida and once to Kentucky. I learned so much about the history and geography of America on those travels.

Later I spent vacations in the majestic Adirondacks, meditated on the Hudson and thrilled to the sounds and sights of my hometown, New York City. I know every inch of the Bronx Botanical Gardens and the Bronx Zoo and have gotten lost too many times in magnificent Central Park. My daughter and I traveled the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to San Diego, explored the back roads of California, discovering a new wonder around every bend: Josiah Tree, Yosemite, Mt. Whitney. We stopped our car in Death Valley and got out to experience the sound of silence; it was also on a back road in Death Valley that I witnessed a parade of tarantulas.

Lisa and I once drove up and down the Atlantic coast to the Everglades, seeing the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, driving through rice paddies in the Carolinas, and watching the moon rise over the ocean from the N.C. shore. In Maine I tasted my first lobster, laughed at puffins flying around their little island near Acadia National Park, and saw a moose along the road.

How blessed I am to have seen so much of this beautiful land! And there’s so much more to see!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My De Mello Retreat: The Statue

Two weeks ago I spent a week at Mariandale Retreat Center on a retreat based on the writings of Anthony De Mello, a Jesuit from India. His books – Sadhana, The Song of the Bird, Awareness – contain wisdom from Eastern religions as well as Christianity and exercises that are a great help in self-understanding and in meditation. I am amazed at how quickly I seem to come down to earth after a retreat, diving right back into busyness and "too much to do". Yet I am so grateful for having had the "time apart" to refresh body and spirit.

Today I share my favorite "fantasy" exercise from the retreat. It’s called "The Statue". There is a statue of you in a museum. Which museum? Where in the museum is your statue? How big is it? What’s it made of? Title? You enter the museum and find your statue. You converse with it. Is there something you want to tell it? Then you are in the statue and hear people’s comments as they look at it; your friends stop by and you hear what they say. Then Jesus comes. He knows you are really in the statue. What does He say?

My statue is in the Met. In the rooftop garden overlooking Central Park. It’s a marble statue, bigger than life, of me walking. The wind is tossing my hair gently, my arms swing out, my trusty Le Sportsac around my neck. Clad in jeans, T-shirt and walking shoes. The caption is "She Who Loved to Go Out and Walk".

I find this statue of me easily. I love this statue. It’s when I am happiest, feel free. Walking, saying little cheers to myself, meditating, focusing. Walking to stay fit, lose weight, be healthy. The only exercise I ever enjoyed. And it had to be out of doors. I always want to be OUT. Even as a child, I would gaze through the kitchen window to look at the back yard and my grandfather’s garden. So this is the perfect location for my statue, atop the Met overlooking Central Park, where I began my walking in earnest, where I was gifted with poems and marvelous insights. No wonder the expression on my statue face is of quiet joy. I never realized before how happy this combination of nature and walking makes me. It’s where I’ve experienced some of my most profound spiritual gifts.

Now I jump into the statue. Passersby wonder what the silly pocketbook is doing there. Well I do have my baggage, don’t I? I am still "attached". I know it. Not ready to "let go" of everything yet. But someday, maybe it will chip off. The people notice the statue is of an older woman. Wouldn’t a younger person be more aesthetically pleasing? But this is not about external beauty. This is ME when I finally came to discover the most important lessons in life – the decade of my 50’s. When I was truly blessed in the midst of suffering and pain.

Now my friends pass by. Especially my Met Club. Well she sure belongs here, they say. They know me. They know this statue puts it all together: my love of nature, art , walking and my "stuff" (in the Le Sportsac). Yep, they say, the sculptor really captured Eleanor.

Enough for today. Maybe I will share more of my retreat next time.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Grandma's Story - Chapter 5, Part 2

Chapter 5, Part 2

My sister and I had favorite TV shows. There was Serial Theater, which consisted of episodes of old movie serials, a different one each day. Flash Gordon was a sci-fi space serial; Tim Tyler’s Luck took place in a jungle, with the Jungle Cruiser; Gene Autry combined westerns, mystery and sci-fi; and a serial about the navy at war with a nurse named Mercedes. We also watched lots of Westerns on early TV: we liked Crash, Dusty and Alibi, and Hopalong Cassidy. Channel 13 in those days was a kid’s channel, all old cartoons and westerns from the movies. After school we watched original made-for-TV programs like Howdy Doody with Clarabel the Clown, a nasty creature, and Buffalo Bob – I was envious of the kids who got to sit in the "Peanut Gallery" and be on the show. Kukla, Fran and Ollie, a puppet show, was a favorite. My friends and I liked a kids game show called "Sense or Nonsense" and we desperately wanted to be contestants. Later, our favorites were the space themed shows like Tom Corbett Space Cadet and especially Captain Video, with the video ranger and the alien Spartak. These were very low tech indeed compared to Star Wars and Star Trek. But they were great fun!

My Grandpa also had his favorite shows but no television set; he and Grandma lived across the street from our church, only a block away. He would come to our house to watch the Lone Ranger and the Groucho Marx quiz show "You Bet Your Life". Only he had listened to the Groucho Marx show on the radio the day before and tell us the answers and the jokes.

Of course, we did many things – even 50 or 60 years ago – that you and your friends still do today. Like the movies. On Saturday mornings, the Parthenon Theater was turned over to kids: cartoons, serials and double features. Too bad you couldn’t hear a thing with all the noise and screaming. I liked to go to the movies with my Mom on Thursday nights, the night they gave away free dishes. In those days there were always two films, a double feature, with newsreels and cartoons in between and of course, coming attractions. My Mom and I always got there late, in the middle of a picture. We’d see the second half, the next movie and then stay until Mom announced "This is where we came in." Knowing how the movie ended did not spoil the fun for me.

We may not have had video games or computer games, but we had lots of board games, some that you still play like Clue and Scrabble . When I was 11 years old, we spent the summer at Rockaway Beach. My summer friends and I played one Monopoly game that lasted the whole summer. Mainly because Joey Hannigan, who was always winning, would throw us money when we went bankrupt. We also loved to play cards and the games were ones you know: Old Maid, Go Fish, Rummy, War and Knuckles- if you lost at Knuckles, you got "knucks" on your knuckles with the edge of the card deck. Ouch!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Grandma's Story - Chapter 5 - for Chase

Last Wednesday was my the birthday of my first grandson, Chase. He turned 13 and I look forward to spending time with him today at the Mall, hunting for his birthday gift and eating lunch at one of the cafes. Things we like to do together. This year I wrote a chapter of Grandma's Story dedicated to Chase.

What Did You Do for Fun?
For Chase
Today young people have so much to keep them entertained – like your SPORE game on the computer, television and DVD’s. Some of your friends probably have I-pods and Wii’s and other techy play things I haven’t even heard of. So maybe you wonder what kids did for fun way back when Grandma was a kid.

There were no computers in those days. Not even TV, at first. I remember the first time I even heard the word "television". It was at the dinner table and someone mentioned that a kid in the hospital had gotten a television set. I wondered what is that? and imagined it was like an erector set. The first time I watched TV was at my cousin’s house; all of the kids gathered around this little television set with a tiny screen to watch a cartoon show.
Meanwhile, my family listened to the radio. We liked Jack Benny, Amos n’ Andy, Fibber Magee and Molly, and Fred Allen – all comedy shows. We listened to the "Inner Sanctum", a scary program that opened with a squeaky door. And there were radio shows just for kids. I would imagine what the characters on those shows looked like. Once my Mom took us to see the radio show being broadcast; we were in the audience. How surprised I was to discover that the radio personalities looked nothing like I had imagined.

We got a television set when I was 7 or 8 years old. It was a big tube, with lots of smaller tubes, in a wooden square box. My father would try to fix it by fiddling with the tubes in the back, while I told him if the picture had stopped jumping or if it was in focus. When that didn’t work, he gave it a whack on its side and very often that whack did the trick. Television in those days was a test of patience. Many were the days that the studios’ signal went out and we would just sit in front of the set, staring at a test pattern. Which was kind of like a target that didn’t do anything.

To be continued .....

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Marina, Mom and May

Yesterday was my granddaughter’s 16th birthday. And Marina is the epitome of Sweet Sixteen! Our whole family is grateful for the blessing of this beautiful young woman. But I’d like to talk about a special gift I received just from her May birth.

As a teen and young adult, I loved the coming of Spring. When I smelled the fresh new growth, saw the trees begin to swell with budding life, felt the soft rain, and heard the cheery chirping of the birds – my heart would overflow with happy memories associated with this season of life: baseball season back, playing outdoors, school term coming to an end.

Then one year, my Mom was so sick, dying from breast cancer. She died on May 17th. The next year when I smelled and saw and felt Spring approach, I was overwhelmed with sadness. I burst into tears at times. My body knew, before my mind figured it out. Spring and the month of May were now sadly linked with Mom’s death. This continued year after year. May was ruined for me.

In 1993 my first grandchild, Marina, was born – on May 15th. And to my astonishment, the joy of Spring and May returned to me with this wonderful gift of Marina, and later, two more May grandkids. Now when I smell the trees and see the colorful Spring flowers, I once more experience joy and excitement. I like to think my Mom in Heaven had something to do with this gift. Like it was her way to give me back Spring and May. That would be so like my Mom. Always giving. Thank you Mom. And thank you, Tina and Reed, for the gift of 3 beautiful May grandkids.

Star Trek

What a treat my 2009 Mothers Day was! Dinner at Weight Watchers’ friendly Applebee’s and a huge azalea from hubby; a box of delicious, nutritious fruit, and 2 gorgeous bouquets from my kids. And then my son-in-law treated us all to the new movie – Star Trek.

I have already confessed what a Star Trek addict I am. I’ve seen all 5 TV versions over and over again. In fact, I watched 5 episodes of TNG this week and am currently renting DS9 from Netflix for the second time around. But I never really got into the Star Trek movies; one or two I’ve never even seen.

So how happy I was to be absolutely enthralled by this new Star Trek movie about the early history of Kirk, Spock and crew. From the action packed opening blast that treated of birth and death, I was totally hooked. The villain was nasty enough, the action was non-stop, the story flowed. Even the time travel didn’t give me a headache. And this film was funny; in fact, it was great fun! Enjoyed by 3 generations in our theater row alone. I know from the reaction of my 13 year old grandson who was sitting next to me.
But what really worked in this film were the characters of Kirk and Spock. To capture their individual personalities, and then to develop their unique relationship, was a gem of filmmaking. These young actors made the old beloved characters come alive and blossom for me once more.
I loved the ending, which is the opening of the first Star Trek TV series. I hope it means much more to come. Star Trek – Live Long and Prosper.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I Remember Mom

This Mother’s Day I feel very grateful for the legacy that my Mom gave to me. Her strength, courage, perseverance and dreams have inspired me and shaped my life. Elizabeth (Betty) L. was a stay-at-home Mom who was definitely not your typical ‘50’s homemaker. She wasn’t much for cooking or housecleaning. She loved shopping – always for everyone else – and going to the movies. Mom was very involved in our schooling, "hearing our homework" every night and demanding near perfection – just ask my sister! She attended a two year high school and made it clear that I would go to college. I think she would have liked to go to college and have a career herself. I believe that it was this desire of hers that helped me achieve so much academically, including a B.S. degree in Math and an M.S. in gerontology. Plus a career serving older adults. Thank you Mom for your faith in me and your not-so-gentle pushes that I sorely needed.

When Dad died suddenly at age 55, Mom was already working and now had 4 children still at home, including my youngest brothers aged 13 and 10. She never felt sorry for herself but did what needed to be done. I have often said that I inherited my "bouncebackability" from my Mom. She never gave up. Her battle with cancer is a lesson in how to deal with illness and dying. How lucky I am to have been blessed with such a Mom!

I am also grateful for all the wonderful mothers who have been part of my life: my grandmothers, aunts, sister, cousins and friends. And the next generation of Mommys: my daughters, daughter-in-law, nieces, including Audra, the newest Mommy in the family. And on and on. Happy Mother’s Day!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Friends and Feet

Four retired Catholic Charities colleagues and I get together monthly to visit the Met or other cultural attractions in the NY area. I call it the Met Club. Of the group, two are long time friends; now the others are friends as well. The other day we were chatting about foot problems, experiences with physical therapy and podiatrists, and the "right" shoes to wear. All of us had had some foot complaint recently. So I got to thinking and got inspired. This poem is dedicated to all my dear friends: young and old, old and new, family and non-relation. This poem’s for you.


When you find that pair of shoes
The ones that fit so sweet
That feel like walking in a cloud
No matter how rocky the road
You never want to lose them
However old or worn
They are your true companions
through the years

Then you spy a brand new pair
That liven up your feet
They make you feel like dancing
To such a different tune
So chic, so colorful, so now
Strolling down exciting paths
You never walked before

And so you set these newer shoes
Beside your well-worn friends

© E.M. Ramos 4/26/2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Resurrection and Central Park

When I worked at Catholic Charities on the east side of Manhattan, I would walk through Central Park every day on my way to work. This jewel in the center of the city has twisty trails and lots of forks; it’s very easy to get lost. It took me many trips to learn my way and then, off I would go to explore a new trail.
The most daunting part of Central Park is the Ramble, a wild quiet area with rambling streams, waterfalls, and a surprise around every turn, like a hilltop gazebo under the trees. It takes courage to enter since it is really a maze and it’s kind of isolated. I would get so lost in the Ramble that I’d find myself climbing over boulders to find my way out. Once I encountered a questionable character – I really walked fast that day! The Ramble proved such an enigma to me that I wrote a poem about it.

But after retirement, my part time job way downtown precluded treks through Central Park. I really missed the park. Which brings me to Easter 2009.
The day after a joyful Easter celebration at my sister’s house, I overslept and got a late start to work. I missed my commuter train by about 3 seconds or 10 steps. So out with Plan B, a 10 minute walk up to the subway. This route allowed me to make a detour and visit my beloved Central Park. As I entered the park, I noticed an unsettling feeling deep down inside: was it fear? anxiety? sadness? But I also noticed that Spring had come to the park. Happy daffodils everywhere and all the trees sprouting their new leaves. I discovered that all the long time renovations to the lake had been completed; the fences were gone that had closed off my usual entrance to the Ramble. Should I venture in? What if I get lost? What if I don’t remember the way? It still looked pretty deserted.

So I took a chance and walked right in, climbing familiar trails, getting a view of the surrounding city skyscrapers and the wooden benches at the foot of a waterfall, hearing the birds sing happily. It all came back and it was even better than before. And then I realized that the deep down feeling had turned to gratitude and hope and even joy. Yet another rebirth of my spirit, and another day to savor the gift of life. How appropriate in this park that experienced its own resurrection from deterioration and fear in the 1970’s to the glorious gem it is today! Thanks to a great public-private partnership, the Central Park Conservancy. This is one non-profit I support with an open heart because the results of my donations are so crystal clear for all to see.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Grandma's Story - Chapter 4 - Easter

I decided to add another chapter to Grandma's Story, a story for my grandkids about life in the olden days. And since it is Easter, this chapter is all about how our family celebrated Easter. By the way, Happy Easter!

You come from a very devout Catholic family – both on my side and on ‘Buelo’s. Buelo was even going to be a priest and was in the seminary for several years before we met. And I once gave a thought to becoming a nun. Many of my school friends did enter the convent.
Nanny, my grandmother, and her sister Kiki, my great aunt, had an uncle who was a priest. August A. was the youngest brother of their mom and he studied at the American Seminary in Rome. He was pastor of a church in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. and later he became a monsignor, a rank in the Catholic clergy just below bishop. My Dad always had him bless any new car that the family got; the blessing was better than a St. Christopher medal. Nanny and Kiki took Aunt Kathy and me to visit Msgr. A. every year. I loved going way up to the "country" on the train. But Msgr. A. was gruff and a bit scary. I remember the dark furniture in the rectory with its carvings of angels and gargoyles that added to the feeling of mystery that he had about him.
Nanny and Kiki also had a cousin who was a nun. They visited her in California in 1947, traveled all the way across country by railroad. How I wanted to go with them! Kiki would take me to the Miraculous Medal novena every Monday at St. Brigid’s, our parish church. Aunt Kate, the sister of my grandfather Pop-Pop, wanted to be a nun but her mother refused to give her permission to enter the convent. Many years later her own daughter Florence asked to become a nun and Aunt Kate told her to wait, to work for a year and then see. A year later Florence still wanted to be a nun and when her mother said "no", her father, my Uncle Val reminded Aunt Kate of what had happened to her. So Florence became Sister Mary Alma, a Sister of Mercy.
My parents sent us to Catholic schools and we had religion class every day. Even Dick and Jane in our readers were Catholic. And I remember my Dad sitting on the edge of his bed, his head bowed in prayer, before he went to sleep each night. My favorite photo of Dad is one taken when he was in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC’s) during the Great Depression. Dad and the other young men are gathered around an altar, located in the great outdoors in front of Jackson Hole Lake, the majestic Teton Mountains towering in the distance. That was his kind of cathedral. My Hungarian grandmother had statues of Jesus and Mary with lighted candles in her home. They fascinated me along with the embroidered religious wall hangings, with Hungarian writing.
With this history, is it any surprise that Easter is one of my favorite holidays. In those days, Lent, the 40 days before the feast of Easter, were days of fasting and sacrifice. For us kids, that meant giving up candy or cookies for Lent and saying extra prayers or rosaries. My friend Ellen and I went to daily Mass at St. Brigid’s during Lent. I loved the liturgy of Holy Week. There was a procession on Holy Thursday, with girls dressed in white throwing flower petals before the Blessed Sacrament, which was carried by the priest in a golden holder called a monstrance under a canopy. Then it was placed for adoration on a side altar decorated with flowers and drapes. The next day, Good Friday, the day Jesus died on the cross, my friends and I visited the decorated altars in the churches in our area – I think we were supposed to go to seven. Afterwards we attended Good Friday services and listened to talks on the seven last words of Jesus. We spent the whole day in church. And we did not listen to the radio or watch television on Good Friday in remembrance of the cross. One Lent, Kathy and I were watching a movie on television "Arsenic and Old Lace". At midnight it was Good Friday and my Mom turned off the TV in the middle of the movie – to our dismay! I can still see the look on her face, sort of a sheepish grin.
On Holy Saturday I loved to go to the Easter vigil liturgy. It was so beautiful but back then it was held in the morning and hardly anyone was in the congregation. I would sneak into the vestibule of the church to try to watch the priests doing the blessing of the Baptismal font and the holy water – they chased me away. Now the people are part of these liturgies that I treasure. My eyes would tear up when the bells rang out at the Gloria -–for the last 2 weeks of Lent there was no organ, no music and all the statues were covered with cloths. This was to show how sad it would be without Jesus. But during the Easter vigil Mass, all the coverings came off the statues, the organ played out, the bells rang, and the gold drapes of Easter were raised. It was a wonderful experience for me.

On Easter Sunday, my Dad gave my Mom, sister and me corsages to go with our new spring outfits. Mom got an orchid, Kathy got carnations, and I got a gardenia corsage; I love the smell of gardenias to this day. On Easter Saturday my family colored Easter eggs, which were hidden by the Easter Bunny. I believed in the Easter Bunny more than Santa when I was a kid. On Easter morning we hunted for the eggs and our Easter Baskets, filled with Chocolate bunnies, jelly beans and fancy non-edible eggs with a little peek-a-boo window – when you looked inside you could see a mini-Easter scene. After Mass on Easter morning, we would go across the street to my Hungarian Grandma’s house for her scrumptious pastries; my favorites were the apricot pastries. We got to see all our cousins there too.
Easter is a very special day in our family. April 11, 2009

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Family Gatherings

My brother just e-mailed my sister, brothers and me that he would like to celebrate what would be my Dad's 100th birthday this year. Although Dad died suddenly of a heart attack at age 55, he is very much with me and I was very aware that 2009 is the 100th anniversary of his birth - and wow, does that make me feel old!

Anyway, I love my brother Jim's suggestion. To have a big family getogether at a restaurant - he suggested New York even though he lives in California. This is my idea of paradise - sharing a special meal with those you love. It was how we were raised: birthdays, holidays, especially Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter were family affairs. Lavish dinners cooked by my grandmother. The whole family sitting around one - or two tables. Later we gathered at my house or my sister's or brother's to celebrate, as older family members passed on and new ones were born. And with Holy Week here, I am thinking that the Last Supper was Jesus celebration with his family and friends.

My dream is to have everyone and all their families - brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, cousins, grandkids - around one glorious dinner table. In the last scene of "Raising Arizona" there is such a feast; they are gazing into their future and imagine all their children and grandchildren celebrating a meal together. The scene brings tears to my eyes. I know why.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Grandma's Story - Chapter 3 Part 2

Chapter 3, Part 2

My best friend when I was 13 was Ellen B., who was in my class. Ellen had those 50’s style glasses with blue plastic frames; she had bunny teeth and straight hair with bangs. Ellen was a great writer, loved Elvis Presley (I didn’t) and in the early days of TV, we both loved “Captain Video”, a program about space. Even then, I was destined to be a Trekkie! Ellen’s family had a bungalow in Rockaway Beach for the summer. We would write each other long (20 pages!) letters during the summer. I would write her all the episodes of Captain Video that she missed since she had no TV set at the beach.

During Lent, Ellen and I went to daily Mass and then we would walk up and down Linden Street talking. We talked about school and boys and deeper things. Like God and life and growing up things. Ellen became a nun, a Sister of Mercy. After many years, she left the convent and was going to write a book about her adventures there.

We also liked to read Nancy Drew books. The first book I read was my Mom’s. You probably know that Carolyn Keene, the author of Nancy Drew, wrote way into her 90’s. Ellen and I also play acted Nancy Drew. I was Nancy, Ellen was George, Aunt Kathy was Carolyn Keene, and our friend Mary was Bess.

Mary W. was another good friend who lived on our block. She was Kathy’s friend first. Mary was Protestant and went to public school. Her Mom and Dad were divorced, which was very unusual in those days and her Mom had to work (also unusual) cleaning house for the S. family. Mr. S. was our druggist. His wife was great at getting things out of your eye and taking out splinters. By the way, Kathy and I are friends with Mary to this day and still write to her.

Finally the BIG day was coming. A week before graduation, my Mom went to the hospital to give birth to my brother Jeffrey. She vowed she would be at my graduation no matter what! And she was. I did win lots of prizes at graduation plus surprise gifts for winning the essay contest and the scholarship. I had to carry them in both hands walking down the aisle. I tried hard not to feel proud but I was proud. My face broke into a wide open mouthed grin as I bit back the happy tears. It was a wonderful day and a great start to being a teenager.

May 2006

Friday, March 20, 2009

Grandma's Story - Chapter 3, Part 1

Now that I’ve finished my Italy blogs, I want 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 3: Grandma the Teenager was written for Marina almost 3 years ago when she turned 13. And it is about my 13th year. To see the other chapters, go to the sidebar under "Grandma's Story".


Grandma the Teenager

For Marina, Age 13

Being a teenager in my time was very different (but not really different) from the way the world is for you.

It was 1954 when I turned 13 and I was in my final term at St. B.’s School, the grammar school where I had spent eight years of my life. I was looking forward to graduation the next January. In those days, Catholic schools had graduation twice a year; they changed it when I was in high school, which is why I graduated from high school in three and a half years at age 16. But that’s another story.

Graduation was a big deal to me and my family. Since I was the “smartest in the class”, I figured I would get lots of prizes at graduation. It was hard being top of the class and I’m not only talking about the pressure to study and get high marks on tests. Some of the kids didn’t like “smart” kids. Maybe they were jealous. Or maybe I acted a bit “stuck up”. Whatever. Although I had friends, I was definitely not Miss Popular. I used to wish that God had made me “dumb” so the other kids would like me and my parents and teachers wouldn’t expect so much from me. Passing was good enough for most students but I was supposed to get 100%! Once when I got 99% in average on my report card, my Dad asked what happened to the other point. Can you imagine! No wonder I became Miss Perfect. It was a hard burden.

But it had its rewards too. In my last term, the Holy Name Society held an essay contest for the whole diocese. The topic was “What the Marian Year Means to Me”. 1954 was a year dedicated to Mary by Pope Pius XII. Sister Mary Fides (we called her “Fido”) was my 8th grade teacher. She would pick an essay from the class to enter into the contest. First time around, my friend Margaret R.’s essay was best but Sister said it was not good enough to win. So she gave us some pointers and told us to re-write. This time mine was the best. Sister sent me out of the class so she could explain to them why she would choose my essay and not Margaret’s. She was a wise teacher. And I won the whole contest! I got a huge statue of the Blessed Mother that sat on my dresser for many years.

Of all the prizes at graduation, the one I wanted most was “Perfect Attendance”. There was a scholarship test at McAuley H.S. that Fall. If we went to take the test, we were marked present. I felt so sick that day, but went to take the test because I didn’t want to mess up my perfect attendance. I just rushed through, putting down the first answers that came into my throbbing head. I didn’t care about the scholarship; I just wanted to finish, go home and go to bed. As a result, I did not outsmart myself by over-analyzing the questions. One morning my grandmother’s phone rang (my family didn’t have a phone.) It was the principal. I had won the scholarship! It really helped my family not to have to pay tuition - $12.50 a month. I told you that times were different. With four kids and one on the way, money was spread thin.

I was very happy to go to McAuley High. The same nuns, Sisters of Mercy taught there. And I liked their uniforms: maroon jumpers and gold blouses, with saddle shoes. Plus the McAuley girls were very sweet to me when I was a little kid in 2nd or 3rd grade on a class trip to their bazaar. I had spent all my money and hadn’t won a thing. So I was sitting at a table looking sad and hungry. The “big” high school girls came over and asked what was wrong. They brought me hot dogs and soda and made me feel so much better. I still remember their kindness more than 50 years later.

I also began to love Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” when I won that scholarship because it set me off on such a different path, never to turn back. If I had not wanted “Perfect Attendance” and stayed home, I would have gone to another school and maybe would never have wound up in Catholic Charities, where I met “Buelo”. And you wouldn’t be here to read this story! I am so glad I took the test.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My Trip to Italy - The Last Days

The last days – Spoleto and home

On Wednesday after we left Assisi, we stopped at a ceramics factory and picked up last minute unusual and authentic Umbrian souvenirs: pottery, pasta seasoning, olive oil and chocolate. Then a stop in medieval Spoleto; unfortunately our climb to an ancient Roman aqueduct found it closed. We learned that the aqueduct still works – ah, those Romans could really build! Driving back along the autostrada, drinking in the tiny towns atop the mountains and the lush patchwork hillsides, I knew I would really miss Italy. It was hard to say goodbye to Andreas, our superb bus driver. I felt so safe with him, even on the mountain roads in the snow. I feel that my friendship with Sister Pat has deepened on this trip and I treasure the Florentine mini-ceramic picture she gave me, which remind me of our good times together.

On our last night, the hotel outside of Rome appeared to be the most luxurious so far. That should have been my red alert. Despite “adjustments” to the heater, it was the coldest sleep of all. In my clothes under the blankets, I was counting layers instead of sheep and finally got up onto the icy floor to get my snow jacket and hood – it was like a comforter. I think I will only come to Europe during warm seasons.

We arose very early on Thursday and drove through traffic (Rome’s LIE?) to the airport. Margaret, our good shepherd, was there until the last girl got through security. Marina and I exchanged e-mail addresses with our new friends. Finally we were flying home. It was hard to imagine that our adventure was over. Bouncing around in turbulence like a ship in choppy seas, as Marina observed. I am extremely grateful that I made this trip. Marina is the perfect traveling companion.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My Trip to Italy - Days 6 and 7 - San Marino and Assisi

Day 6 and 7 – San Marino and Assisi

When we left Venice on Tuesday we traveled through the Apennine Mountains – it was exhilarating! The twisted beauty of these mountains, pushed and pulled by earthquakes and geological forces, remind me a little of California’s landscape. But in Italy you see medieval towns atop and spilling down the hillsides, a castle tower here, an ancient basilica there. I will miss this wonderful country with its bright green fields and tall cypress trees. And I love tunneling through the mountains.

We visited the republic of San Marino atop Mt. Titano; a country within a country, it dates back to Roman times. It has its own government, stamps, taxes, flag, etc. Very medieval with hills that challenge, twisty alleys, cobbled streets and wonderful shops. We ate at a cave-like café where Marina tried the local cuisine, a rondido – sort of a panini. Oh, I must mention the glorious cioccolatta falda I had in Venice. It was melted chocolate heaven!

We arrived in Assisi after dark. Now it was really cold – we had driven through some brief snow showers. The Hotel Giotto, located in the middle of Assisi atop a hill, treated us to a view of the new town in the valley and its twinkling lights. It took me back 50 years to a college retreat I made at Mt. Alvernia Monastery in Duchess county; I remember a similar view from that hilltop. The Franciscans chose their site well. Back to the hotel: all our hotels have had their good points and their lows. This one had excellent food, lovely rooms, fluffy towels (so welcome after the “kitchen” towels in most bathrooms)….But no heat! I slept in my clothes and a sweater plus 2 blankets but it was not a restful night.

Next morning we rose early to go to Mass and found snow outside our door. After a wrong turn– these medieval towns are hard to figure out in the dark – we found the Basilica of St. Francis. The monks were chanting the morning office in the lower church at the tomb of St. Francis. What a blessed way to end a special trip! I thanked God for such a joyful journey in Italy and prayed for all my family and friends at the resting place of this beloved saint, who lived 800 years ago.

After Mass, the cobbled streets had turned icy so we picked our way very carefully back to the hotel. With the group we returned to the Cathedral to meet our guide, Roger. He was very special, like all the guides, natives of the towns and cities they led us through, all of them so knowledgeable and passionate about their hometowns. But Roger was spiritual as well, a true son of Assisi, a blessed town. The basilica, restored and re-built after the earthquake of 1997, dates back to the 13th or 14th century. Its special features are the frescoes, especially those by Giotto depicting the life of Christ and the life of Francis. I love the Byzantine-like decoration along the gothic arches. How different these Italian gothic cathedrals are from those in France and Germany. Then a tour of the town and the very square, in front of a Roman temple turned church, where Francis stripped naked and cut off his ties to his earthly father.

We saw the cathedral built to honor St. Clare, founder of the Poor Clares, the feminine branch of the Franciscans, and heard the remarkable story of this wise, beautiful, intelligent and deeply spiritual saint. A strong woman, with excellent administrative and organizational skills (could be my patrona), she got what she wanted from the powerful rulers of her day, including popes. We saw on display the original rules of her order, the first written rules of a religious order by a woman. The cathedral also had the original San Damiano cross. Even in the chilling cold, this was a very worthwhile experience. I would love to return to Assisi for a retreat.

Friday, March 6, 2009

My Trip to Italy - Day 6 - Venice

Day 6 – Venice

On Monday we were off via bus to the pier, where we joined other EF Tours on the ferry to Venezia! We sat with another group that turned out to be from Harrison HS in Westchester. One girl even attends the same church as Marina. It’s a small world after all …

I love Venice. No cars or bikes on the cobbled streets to run you down. Many romantic bridges to cross over the canals – we actually walked over 7 of the 118 islands that make up Venice. And perfect weather: sunny and cold and dry, no flooding in Piazza San Marco today. We had a tour of Venice with Carlo, who pointed out a palazzo that his grandfather had once lived in but missed an opportunity to purchase. It was lovely with its Byzantine, Medieval and Renaissance features: windows, columns, etc. It is so expensive to live in Venice that the population of residents has decreased from 160,000 to 60,000 in a few decades. But there are hundreds – thousands during Carnevale – of tourists that flood Venice, a city rich in culture, history, art and fun. I liked the Venetians – of all ages – dressed in costume and masks, strolling through the streets and squares, and posing serenely for photos. The costumes were gorgeous (you can see pictures on “my daughter’s blog”) and couples were color coordinated. Even some silvery prehistoric “birds” or raptors on stilts came by to delight us.

Of course, the main feature of Piazza San Marco is the basilica of San Marco, the apostle Mark; his bones supposedly reside there. A tall column with his symbolic winged lion atop is at the entrance to the piazza. The basilica is beautiful with mosaics on the exterior and dozens of columns to show off Venetian conquests throughout the ages. We shopped for masks – so many to choose from, some are works of art. We saw a glass blowing demonstration at the Murano glass works and got genuine Murano glass souvenirs, with certificates of authenticity.

Then a highlight of our day – Marina and I took a gondola ride. It is so peaceful, quietly gliding along narrow canals, under arched bridges, reflecting the glimmering light of the water. You can see the high water erosion of the walls. Most of these buildings have peeling facades; you see the bricks peeking out. Then you emerge into the Grand Canal. Wow! But the decay is real and Venice is sinking. They have plans – the Moses project – to stop the flooding. But who knows? Venice, a proud, powerful state for many centuries and contributor to so much of civilization: glass, shipbuilding, government, commerce, etc. Who knows if one day it may disappear to the bottom of the lagoon. How lucky I am to be able to experience this city.

In the afternoon we toured the Doge’s Palace. We had plenty of time to view the extraordinary art work – the golden staircase, paintings, a Titian fresco of St. Christopher. And the institutional halls which housed the councils and senate that ruled Venice in its glory days. At the end of the tour, a visit to the prisons, or should I say dungeons, where Casanova was once interred. Before we left Venice, Marina had a chance to call her Mom and Dad and tell them about her adventures. Wish we could call home every day but most hotel phones would not accept our calling cards. The next morning Marina and I walked to the beach and saw the Adriatic. I hope that one day she will have a chance to return to Venice – in the summer!

My Trip to Italy - Day 5 - Traveling through Tuscany

Day 5 – Traveling through Tuscany

Sunday, February 15th was a travel day – restful and rewarding. It is lovely, even in winter, traveling through Tuscany with its stately cypress trees, villas and olive groves. Then suddenly you see the Alps on the horizon and soon you have these ancient snow capped mountains as a traveling companion. A surprise stop in Verona, a cute little town with narrow streets and alleys, a large town square surrounded by medieval and renaissance buildings and an arena, dating back to Roman times, though smaller than the Colosseum. The big attraction here is Juliet’s balcony. Under the arch leading to the small square with her statue and balcony, hundreds of lovers have left their names, with felt tipped pens. Similar to Florence near the Ponte Vecchio, where they leave locks on a chain and throw the key in the Arno to “lock up their love forever”.

We arrived at our hotel, located on a seaside Adriatic Beach. Our hotels have all had their pluses and minuses. This one was a 4 floor walk up to our room. It was hard even with Marina’s help. No tub, just a shower stall. No soap, lucky I brought my own. But it was warm! And this hotel had the best restaurant so far; I enjoyed the dinners with fresh salads and green beans! The next day we would be off to Venice.

Monday, March 2, 2009

My Trip to Italy - Day 4 - Pisa

Day 4 – Pisa

Good news - the new room was warm and toasty. I love the deep European tubs – what a treat to take a relaxing soak. Another delightful day, with bright blue skies and crisp cool air for our short ride to Pisa – on the west coast. Our guide Luisa showed us the field of miracles, the cathedral, bapistry, cemetery, and of course, the famous bell tower, the leaning tower of Pisa. All of these structures date back to the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries. Unfortunately, most were destroyed by fire or bombed and much of the original art was lost. However, out of suffering comes blessing. When the frescoes in the cemetery building were destroyed in World War II, they removed them and discovered original sinope – sketches by the artists, not their students.

We also got a science lesson on why the tower leans: first it is too heavy – all these structures are built of marble; columns, stairs, walls. Second, the ground, near a river, is too soft. They actually straightened the tower by 36 cm a few years back. It is rather impressive and great fun. (See Marina’s pictures on “my daughter’s blog). The cathedral was so beautiful; I loved the baroque ceiling, which the Medicis donated after the fire. Actually, they conquered Pisa and took responsibility for restoring the cathedral.

The gypsies in Pisa were especially troubling. One came up to me and when I ignored her, she grabbed my arm and my pocketbook. Luckily I have my New York smarts. We’ve discovered, with Margaret’s guidance, cafeterias where there are delicious choices (veggies and zuppa) for lunch.

After Pisa, we returned to Florence and visited the Academie des Fines Artes, where we saw Michelangelo’s David, the real thing! This exquisite work of art, with its beauty, hugeness and detail, was overwhelming. I felt grateful for the gift of such genius (despite his cantankerous personality), and that so many artists and architects were able to use their gifts to create such masterpieces. And now, I have the opportunity to appreciate their work and to grow from the experience. It is humbling.

I do feel rested, restored and relaxed here in Florence. We went to Mass in the Duomo and I had another chance to soak in the wonder of this magnificent cathedral – inside and out. The angels around the portals have expressions of such terror. The trimmings are curly and scallop-like but just a delight. Even the columns are decorated this way. All the space is covered with marble decorations, coats of arms, stylized flowers, etc. Superb. Loved Florence and felt so fortunate to have come on this trip, and especially to share it with Marina. And with my good friend, Sister Pat.