Times they are a Changing

Our first grandchild is about to spread her wings and leave for her first semester in college.
zoe leaving
Fifty eight years ago, I did the same.  I couldn’t help but compare the excitement and anxiety she’s feeling with those I had so long ago.  The anticipation is similar. From experience, I know that life for her and her family is about to shift profoundly.
She is more ready for her academic career, than I ever was.  She’s already registered for her classes.  She has filled out forms that have determined who her most compatible roommates will be.  She has a sense of a career path. She’s spent many months visiting schools and winnowing down her choices. She was fortunate enough to get into her the college that was her first choice.  She’s worked hard and I have no doubt will continue to work hard to achieve goals that I could not even dream of.

College for Women 60 Years Ago

My college registration process was a nightmarish free for all, as I remember it, that required staring at catalogues, then going into lecture halls, staring at blackboards where the classes were listed, to see if classes that you wanted or needed were still open. If you were lucky, you could complete the process in one very long day of running all over campus.
Most of my high school classmates who went on to college, went to the University of Massachusetts in nearby Amherst.  I was determined to get away.  U Mass just wouldn’t do as an escape plan.  I chose the University of Miami because I’d visited Florida on a few occasions and found it fit in perfectly with my idea of living a hedonistic life style. If I had to summarize my hedonistic philosophy it would have been something like this:  Like the beach?  Spend all your free time there, then.  Get a killer tan while you’re at it.  Date boys with convertibles.  Like clothes?  Go shopping.
Visiting other schools was not a part of the college selection process back then. In fact, I’d never stepped foot on the University of Miami campus until I arrived as a freshman.  My parents couldn’t afford to take me to college.  They put me on a plane, one late summer morning, and said good-bye. Those were the days when my mother was able to hug me goodbye on the tarmac.  I think she had tears in her eyes.  Maybe they were tears of joy?   I boarded that DC-7 feeling euphoric, as if I was bound for paradise.
The selection of my roommate was random.  We didn’t get to know who it would be until we went into our dorm room for the first time.  We had strict curfews and dress codes, now completely erased.
I had not one idea about a career.  I was part of the unfortunate generation who joked about going to college to get an M.R.S. degree.  Finding no suitable mate on the horizon for me, my mother urged me to become an elementary school teacher.
Instead, I became a philosophy major because a cool boyfriend at that time was one, and I was enamoured with everything he did.  I held no delusions that I’d ultimately find work as a philosopher, but I liked the classes which made me THINK, and it wasn’t something everyone else, i.e. all the women were doing.
God only knows what my parents thought when they sent me off to college 1500 miles away.  But they did let go, God bless them. College was to them, if not immediately to me,  a definite dividing line between financial support and the expectation that after college, one would pay one’s own way.  Maybe that’s why my Mother often repeated this offensive advice all through college my college years,
Remember it’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as it is to fall in love with a poor man.
I shudder to think of the response I might get, even saying that in jest, to my wise,  intelligent, and savvy granddaughter.  Thank the Lord for changing times.

The Revenge of the Firefly Squid

Firefly squid.  Just think how much fun life could be if your first name was “Firefly.”  Firefly Vapnek sounds very interesting, don’t you think?  I think the name “Firefly”initially influenced how I felt about eating these small creatures.  Fireflies are beautiful; to be caught, enjoyed and valued as a seasonal treat.


I’d never heard of firefly squid until we traveled to Ishikawa Prefecture in Japan for a self guided tour of the Noto Peninsula.  From what I’ve learned since our visit, they have spectacular bioluminescent properties in the water, glowing a pulsating electric blue as they congregate in the spring to mate. This is the time of year they become targets for the fishermen and for the mouths of eager Japanese.

blue squid

The squid made its first appearance in my life as part of a set menu at a famous sushi restaurant in Kanazawa. I’d had several cups of sake before the grinning chef put the squirming little guys on a small platter before us.  I watched and videoed as the chef separated and cooked them on a hot rock in front of us.  I was equally fascinated and horrified, but the world of fish is ruled by the maxim of eat or be eaten.  I wouldn’t have been at a sushi restaurant if I believed the catching, cooking and eating of fish and other ocean creatures was unethical.  In case you missed the- not -for -the -squeamish- or -animal -rights -activists video on my facebook page, here it is:

Unfortunately, my firefly squid encounters continued for several days.  They were on every set dinner menu that was presented to us at ryokans we visited.  I ate them raw, as tempura, then preserved in vinegar. I went from initial curiosity to decidedly-less-than -happy to see them reappear on my plate, but I managed to eat them with no problem, especially since I try to fit into my adopted country. But, the squid had started to be a running joke for me and my husband.

Until they appeared at my breakfast table!

shabu shabu

This time, they were served as an ingredient of shabu-shabu.  They were to be placed and cooked in a pot of boiling broth, along with other, more savory ingredients. I cooked most of the vegetables first, but ultimately I was faced with the remaining squid. I gamely put it into the sizzling pot.

All went ok until I tried to remove the squid from the broth.  It unexpectedly split in two as I tried to extract it, literally spilling its red guts into the broth.  My usually calm and appreciative demeanor while eating Japanese food vanished abruptly. I watched  in horror as the simmering both, which you’re supposed to drink after all ingredients have been cooked in it,  slowly turned pink and pinker. Breakfast was now over.

Yuck!!! was quickly followed by, “This is disgusting, I can’t even look at this anymore!”  My husband was amused.  I was not. I quickly covered the remaining uneaten squid with a small bowl, so that I didn’t have to see it.  I was forever done with eating firefly squid.

I won’t be changing my name to “firefly” anytime soon.


Rediscovering Spring


Each year of my life I rediscover Spring.

The insane energy of it.

The intoxicating scent of it.

The seductive beauty of it.

The wonder and exuberance of it.


Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems. Rainer Maria Rilke

Each year, Spring becomes my favorite season for as long as its promise lasts.

Before its flowers fade.

Before its green changes from brilliant to subdued.

Before its birds have found their mates.

Before the scent of orange blossoms vanishes.

Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn’t last

For more than a few moments.
It’s one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,

is that, once you’ve been there,
you’re there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?

Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then––open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.

-Mary Oliver

Now, each Spring may be my last, but hasn’t that always been true?   Would we know spring without winter? Can we know life without death?

Dew Evaporates
And all our world is dew…so dear,
So fresh, so fleeting”
Kobayashi Issa

In a few short weeks, I’ll travel to Kyoto again.  If I’m lucky, my trip will be timed with cherry blossom season (sakura); perhaps, the most extravagant celebration of spring on this earth, but one, like life, that is fleeting and unpredictable.


“Soaring in white clouds, The cherry trees are in full bloom, Every branch bending with loaded blossoms. But the wind is ceaseless as the peak is lofty, And day after day falls the spring rain; The flowers have scattered from the upper sprays. May the blossoms on the lower branches neither fall nor lose their beauty, Till you, who journey, grass for pillow, Come home again !”  Mushimaro, 8th Century



and the seasons they go round and round.

speed 1 “After Halloween it’s a downhill slide to the holidays.”  I’ve said that for years.  Now, I can add, after turning 70, it’s a downhill slide to 75.  These days, I’ve become more preoccupied with the 3/4 century mark.

This decade of my life is just going too damn fast. I’m now making some accomodations for my shortness of breath from copd, and it’s making me feel old. (older?)  I stopped going to zumba several months ago because I got too short winded. Excercise, some days, is simply not an option. Having been very physical all my life, I don’t like it.  How to accept the new reality and not give up too much?  I’m working on that one. My guess is that will be an increasing challenge in the coming years.

There’s nothing new to the observation  that time seems to speed up the older you get.  What’s changed for me, is that time seems to be in damn overdrive these days.  Someone’s put the pedal to the metal. I want to scream at the driver to slow down.

Speed can be exhilarating, but it also can be scary because of feeling out-of-control.

out of control

I’m familiar with the old shibboleth that advancing age allows us to value each day more. That’s obvious, but hardly satisfying.

I recently read that some wise person, or person who thought they were wise, would start each day by asking himself, “How would I live this day if I knew it were my last?”  This produces the same mind stop as the Buddhist monk greeting, “Remember you’re dying.” It separates the wheat from the chaff, but is a little too confrontational for my taste.  Maybe this concept needs to be experienced gingerly and gently, like entering an unfamiliar dark room.

I’ve always considered myself a realist. I like to think I look clearly at what’s so.  Why go through life in denial?  Sooner or later, one should confront the Truth, or it will bite  your not so little butt.  But then, maybe there’s something to be said for Denial.


I decided at 69 that I would not hide the fact that I was turning 70. I really felt no different physically.   Now at 74, I’m a little taken back that I really have begun to feel “older.”   Maybe I’m finally transitioning from prolonged middle age?

It doesn’t seem productive to remember the days when everything physical came easily.  On the other hand, I know very well that turning 75 is a privilege not afforded to many, and I’ve got a lot to be grateful for.  Coming to terms with the changes that accompany aging seems to be my next challenge.  Just maybe, if I’m successful and lucky, it will be the most gratifying.

The Jewish New Year Demise of the Fabulous Red Petticoat

The Jewish New Year is bittersweet for me because it requires looking over my shoulder; in particular, it means missing my parents.  My husband might be described as memory neutral when it comes to the religious impact of his childhood.  Therefore, any acknowledgement of the holiday, be it going to services, eating a special dinner, etc. must be initiated by me.  I’ve gotten lazy over the years and no longer care whether I attend services or not.  This admission brings Jewish guilt.



The Jewish New Year brings back memories of my childhood and time of year that was of great importance to my mother. She was not a particularly religiously observant person, but she fervently held on to the High Holidays and expected her children to follow suit without question.  This meant going to religious services at our conservative synagogue for both the first and second mornings of Rosh Hashonah, an inevitably dull and tedious affair for me.

Because the synagogue wasn’t large, if there was a crowd of congregants, children had their own boring services in the ugly basement of the temple building.  Teenagers could move out of the basement and into the sanctuary.

At least in the sanctuary of the synagogue, I was able to stare at the stained glass windows to relieve the tedium of a service in a language I could read but could not understand.  I did enjoy the traditional music and would come to life when they were sung because I knew the lovely old melodies and had memorized the Hebrew words. Continue reading “The Jewish New Year Demise of the Fabulous Red Petticoat”