A Feminist Since Birth

This past Sunday I attended a meeting of WAGE International (Women and Girls’ Education International) and I was so very inspired by the experience. I was invited to the meeting after I had been asked by their president Heather Mistretta … Continue reading

The Moment My Taste Buds Came Alive

Rachel's school photos minus the year at Erehwon!I have always enjoyed food—and food is certainly a topic that fits into many of my memories of childhood. I indeed baked a lot as a little girl (see Ode to Baking Chocolate Chip Cookies) and I cooked many of our family’s meals. But I don’t think as a kid that I would have ever called myself a foodie (though the trendy term foodie probably didn’t exist then—maybe gourmand in that era?). Whatever you call it, I did not become one with food until I became an adult. Nonetheless, there are several events from my childhood that foretold that I would become a foodie. One in particular stands out as the moment my taste buds came alive.

Poems written at Erehwon when 10-years oldThe year was 1971 and I was 10 years old. This year was an important one for so many more reasons than my awakening to food. This was the year of many firsts: first learning some French, first reading and writing poems (see the photos of the index cards of my poems), first learning how to give back massages (I am still pretty good at that for a non-trained masseuse if I don’t say so myself), first really kissing a boy, and first riding a motorized mini-bike to name a few. This all transpired because it was the year that I went to a private “Free School” called Erehwon. Erehwon (nowhere spelled backwards) was located in a house in Princeton Junction, NJ where 50 or so children of all ages attended. The school was based on the famous Summerhill School in England,  an alternative open school where much of the learning was (and still is) experiential rather than entirely textbook trained.

Me with friends at ErehwonAlthough there was some learning of traditional materials, for me the year was a year of learning about relationships and social rules and broadening of my mind culturally. I would have remained at Erehwon for more than just one year but financially the school couldn’t make it. I wonder how I would have fared academically if I had been schooled that way until high school. When I went back to my grammar school after one year and having only missed the traditional 5th grade, it was as if I had never left and I continued to excel.

More PoemsThe day in 1971 that remains vivid to me after all these years is our trip to BAM—Brooklyn Academy of Music. Well, to be honest, it isn’t really about the show at BAM. I can’t even remember what we watched (though I think it was dance). What I remember is the drive there. We were spread across a couple of station wagons and I got to sit all the way in the back—those days many station wagons had a row of seats facing backwards. From my perch, I waved to my friends in the other car of our caravan and tried to get strangers to wave back at me as well. And most of all I remember our pre-theatre meal in lower Manhattan at an Indian restaurant. Yes, BAM is in Brooklyn, but we took a detour via the Staten Island Ferry into Manhattan for dinner before going over the Brooklyn Bridge to see the show.

Erehwon LogoI had never had Indian food before and I can almost conjure the experience of my first whiff of the aromatic surroundings in that restaurant. I remember the miraculous moment that I ate a piece of lamb in a creamy orange sauce (I am guessing now that I know Indian food that it was probably Lamb Korma). It was amazing! I didn’t know food could be so rich in depth in flavor and color and aroma. I was in a trance and that probably explains why the rest of the evening is barely observable in my memory. From that day on, I have been trying to recreate the experience of my taste buds dancing and singing and coming alive! I’ve had a lot of success finding divine eating moments in my life since then and I remember many of them. But none are as profound as the moment my taste buds came alive when I was just a sweet young girl coming alive to all the wonders of the world during 1971.

XOXO Rachel

Cloud hopping

Clouds to skip over the Hudson Valley RiverToday is a perfect day for cloud hopping.  What, you ask, is that?  Well, I have a particular proclivity to daydream in the clouds.  I like to look up on a day when there are puffs of cotton ball clouds that dot the blue sky.  I imagine myself leaping from cloud to cloud, landing in a soft and springy embrace in the next cloud.  I might bound from a low cloud and vault up to a higher one, or take a long lead and jump a great distance between clouds that are far apart.  Mostly I hurdle like a dancer leaps, one leg stretched out in front of the other; a jeté.  Rarely do I jump with two feet together.  Sometimes I soar from cloud to cloud in one long stretch as if I were playing checkers and jumping over 10 pieces in one successive move.

California wine country-style cloud hoppingMy favorite days for cloud tripping are breezy days when the clouds are moving with a moderate to brisk pace so that I can vary which cloud I go to next based on what is floating nearest.  A few weeks ago, Andy and I were working in the garden on such a day and it took a great deal of restraint for me to focus on the gardening task at hand and not go cloud hopping.  I did manage to squeeze some jumps in when I took a break to lie down on the grass and stretch my back (the gardening work was intense!).

Flying is something that I have been doing since I was a little girl.  My first early experience was at night in my dreams.  Probably due to watching Bedknobs and Broomsticks, I began my treks in the sky on my four-post bed as a child.  In the movie, the children go on adventures on a magical brass bed with their caretaker (who is a witch).  I went on my own adventures as I flew my bed way above my New Jersey hometown.  Mainly I would just watch the goings on from above.  I still love to go up high into the sky and watch the world and I have had those floating dreams many, many times over the years beyond childhood.

Driving along a New Mexico highway - Cloud hopping along the wayAnother media impact on my (you might say unusual, I say wonderful) flight behavior was the TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  As a little girl, I have a very distinct memory, one that seemed real even when I was old enough to know it wasn’t, of looking out my bedroom window into the sky and seeing Santa and his sled with Rudolph at the front.  I determined when I was a bit older that the angle of Santa’s flight that I saw was exactly what occurs in the very last frames of the animated special.  My lifelong fascination with the sky and memories of my night flight adventures are very dear to me.

Day skipping in the clouds, conducted while awake, is very calming to me and something I am happy to do anytime.  It’s a form of daydreaming so not surprisingly, the clouds can be very distracting, even as I sit here and write.  My desk is in front of a large window and I have a great view above our tree line of a piece of neighboring mountain and best of all, the sky.  I might be in the middle of a sentence when a cloud catches my eye and I decide to go on an adventure in my mind – and in the heavens.

Cloud hopping on a Hawaiian sunsetBut cloud hopping is also very useful and productive.  Because of the meditative quality of the experience, I often solve problems or just become more relaxed when I am way up there.  If something is upsetting me and I am lucky to have the right conditions in the sky, I do a little bouncing from puff to puff and whatever was bothering me becomes less important.  Or I suddenly have clarity and make a decision that is authentic, based on my gut knowledge of what is best for me.  Like the time just a few years ago when I was on a bus in Florida and the sky was particularly splendid in deep blues and puffy pristine clouds.  I realized during that 15-minute bus ride between the media conference and the hotel that I was done with my corporate gig.  I immediately began my serious plans to leave.  The clouds served me so well that day because now I am happy as a child, floating above the sky and doing my own creative work.

Jersey diners and conversation

Saddle Brook DinerWhat is it about Jersey diners that make them such perfect spots to meet up with friends and family?  Yesterday, Andy and I caught up with my parents at Saddle Brook Diner in Saddle Brook, NJ.  Now, neither my parents nor we live near Saddle Brook, but it is about an hour drive for both of us.  Jersey diners, well diners in any state, are happy places to get together, eat and chat.

Red Line DinerWe frequent Red Line Diner in Fishkill, NY, that opened about a year ago.  I find that it is always a bubbly place with lots of positive energy due to the good food, friendly staff, but mostly because of the people who dine there.  I have noticed that many people who dine there show up in small groups but meet up with others.  I love watching as the first group of people are seated and then the rounds of hugs and kisses that begin when the rest of their party arrive.  Often there are parents meeting with their children and their grandchildren.  I can tell that in many cases they have not seen each other for a while.

For the last year, there have many been times when I unexpectedly begin to cry thinking how I want to meet my family here; but alas no one lives near.  I would love to casually get together with Andy’s sisters and their families, or his brother or Mom, but they are in California.  I fantasize that I could meet up with my brother and his wife and son, but they are in the DC area.

Americana DinerThen an idea popped into my head about a month ago when I realized that I wanted to see my parents more regularly but the 2+ hour drive each way made it a bit long for a day-visit.  We did try the day-trip idea on my dad’s birthday on April 3.  Andy and I shared the driving and we celebrated Dad’s birthday at the Americana Diner in Hightstown, NJ.  After a wonderful late morning breakfast, we went back to my parent’s house and spent a few hours talking and looking at very early works of my dad’s.  It was a wonderful day – and we were pretty tired from the activity and driving 4 hours.

Park West DinerMy idea to solve this problem was to find a Jersey diner that was halfway between my parents and us.  That would make the drive do-able for both of us and give us a chance to see each other with ease.  Plus we get the added enjoyment of trying out any number of good Jersey diners.  We began with a visit to Park West Diner in Little Falls, NJ.  Because this was our first test of the idea, our excuse (as if we needed one) was that we had to make some returns to Ikea (and we actually did have some items to return).  We had such a wonderful time with my parents, and they looked so happy to see us that we determined that this would become a regular outing.

Jersey Girls Diana and RachelMy mom has decided she will try a mushroom omelet at each diner for comparison.  My dad always has “two over light”.  Andy and I are more variable, but usually French fries are involved.  I am putting together a list of mid-point Jersey diners and the fun and food comparisons will continue.  This Jersey girl is very happy to set foot in Jersey regularly and at diners to boot!  Of course the best part is seeing my dad and my favorite Jersey girl, Mom.

Walking around a lake

Walking around a lake while camping or day picnicking in a camp area has magical memories for me.  When I was between the ages of about 7-9, my parents, my older brother Erik and I went camping in Southern Jersey two times.   Both times we drove south on fairly small roads through the Pine Barrens to Bass River State Forest (I am pretty certain it was called a State Park, not a State Forest back then).  One time we rented a cabin and the other time we pitched a tent.  On the trip where we rented a cabin at the edge of Lake Absegami in Bass River, Erik and I decided to go for a hike (though as I think about it we probably didn’t call it a hike then, just a walk on a path or trail).

Venturing off on a path was not so uncommon for Erik and me.  Every summer for perhaps 5 years or so, our parents took us to Washington Crossing Park to see outdoor theater.  Around the theater were wooded trails that snaked around gentle hills above the amphitheater.  Before the show started, after we had our picnic dinner or got hotdogs at the concession stand, Erik and I would go off and explore the paths.

I don’t remember if we told our parents that we would be away for long, but I do remember that when Erik and I left the cabin we went out on our walk with no particular plans.  Of course as a child that is the norm whereas as an adult I never leave without looking at a trail map first.  We started our walk and before we realized it we were nearly half way around the lake and had to make a decision.  I remember being tired and grumpy but our only method to get home to the campsite was to walk back or continue and either route felt too long.  So we decided to continue and complete the loop.

I have no sense of what we did other than walk – perhaps we were quiet, perhaps we talked or in a rose-colored memory maybe we sang songs.  However we progressed we eventually made it back to the cabin and I do remember the feeling of immense satisfaction for having made it around the large lake.  When I glanced at the lake, I could hardly believe that my legs actually took me around it.  I have that similar sense of amazement when I hike a trail that has elevation and look back to where I started – is it possible that I made that much distance in my human vehicle?

In grad school, when I was dating Andy who later became my husband, I went with his family for a day trip to his childhood camping area in Northern California.  His grandparents had a cabin that they owned nearby Pinecrest Lake, and for several summers Andy and his two sisters and brother and parents got the cabin for their own week long vacation.  We arrived and walked around the camping grounds and meandered around the roads to look at the cabin that had been unfortunately sold by Andy’s grandparents before anyone of their kids or grand kids could have bought it.  We had lunch at a picnic table near the looming lake.

This was the 80s and “jellies” were in at the time.  “Jellies” are rubber shoes styled to look like elegant flats.  Now these days it isn’t uncommon to find rubber shoes but the difference is that today they have good construction and lots of padding.  Jellies were almost like walking barefoot except that you always got blisters.  (Mine looked like these without the bow).

Not realizing that we were going to be doing anything other than lounging around (what was I thinking), I wore my favorite pink jellies and sundress.  The kids (Andy, his siblings and me) decided to go for a walk around the lake.  I went and I remember feeling the same sense of grumpiness as my childhood experience after walking and sweating and getting sore feet about half way around the lake.  But soldier on I did, trying my best to be sweet to Andy’s siblings who I didn’t really know all that well yet.  They thought I was nuts, of course, walking around in the pink jellies, but what was I supposed to do?  When we got back to the picnic table where Andy’s parents were hanging out, I again had the feeling of personal triumph as I conquered yet another camping lake trail.  By the end of that trip my jellies had ripped, but I had made it.  And as I gazed at the lake, I was again astounded that on my own, I had gotten around that large body of water.  I am at awe of how resilient and powerful our human bodies are, including my own.