Archive for January, 2015

Decluttering: Ah, The Memories

In America, we collect stuff.  I don’t know how it happens, but soon we realize our houses are overflowing with things we had to have but do not need.  I have yet to meet an American rich or poor who does not suffer this sickness.  We live in a tremendously materialistic culture, and are constantly bombarded with advertisements telling us how much we need the latest, greatest, newest, or best.  When we can’t afford it, we use credit cards, because we can’t live without it, whatever “it” might be.  Or it was on sale or on clearance and how can we resist such a great deal?  Even if we don’t need it we might need it in the future.  So we buy, buy, buy. Partly it’s because even the simplest American homes are bigger than most houses in other parts of the world and we have storage space.  And of course, there are plenty of McMansions that can really hold a lot of crap.   I know people in Europe and Israel who don’t have collection fetishes as Americans do, but that’s because their physical environment is so much smaller.  There is simply no room to put anything anywhere, so they desist.  Heck, most homes in Europe and Israel don’t even come with closets!

One thing I love about March and April, even though I kvetch about it, is Pesach cleaning.  This goes way beyond the gentiles’ Spring Cleaning.  We Jews are supposed to turn our homes upside down looking for leavened foods, called chametz , which are forbidden to be eaten or owned by Jews during the week of Passover.  Pesach cleaning and preparations take two weeks to a month.  But in the process, our homes get really clean and downright immaculate.  And best of all, we throw out mountains of stuff that have nothing to do with actual chametz, but are superfluous to our lives.  To be honest, the act of getting rid of stuff and cleaning is an exhausting pain, and we do it strictly out of religious obligation.  But when it’s complete, it’s not only a relief; it’s a release; a cleansing of the soul; redemption.  It forces us to take stock of what’s really important in our lives, and the answer, of course, is not “stuff.”  It is, indeed, a religious experience.

One of the hardest tasks facing a person once their elderly parent dies is getting rid of that parent’s “stuff.”  The thing is, it wasn’t just “stuff” to the deceased.  If they kept it, it was usually because the item had real meaning, whether it was a souvenir that reminded them of a trip once taken, some tschotchke that was part of a hobby collection, assorted memorabilia or photographs of family and friends from younger days.  In other words, a life of memories.

I hate to sound harsh, but . . . well, for the most part, one person’s treasure is another’s trash.  My parents’ memories are usually not my memories.  Going through their clutter helps me better understand who they were and what was important to them, but ultimately . . . it’s still clutter.  And even though I wish I could incorporate their nostalgia into my own oeuvre, and even though I feel guilty as heck getting rid of stuff that I know was an important part of my parents’ lives, in my own house it’s a huge space-taker and dust magnet.  But oh, the guilt!  The sacrilege!

My mom was a life-long collector with fabulous taste.  Even objectively, I can see that most of her stuff is nice.  But: I. Do. Not. Want. It.

It pains me to know that my mother would have been unhappy about my getting rid of her stuff.  Usually there is little I want.  I ask family members if they want it.  Other than a few tokens, the answer is most often “no.”  So I post her things on craigslist, and offer other things to auction houses, consignment stores, and donate things to thrift shops.  I have yard sales, garage sales, and estate sales.  Occasionally people buy stuff that they are really delighted with and then I feel good; because my mother would have loved that her things brought someone else joy and that these strangers appreciate – – really appreciate – –  the same things that she did.  Other times priggish antique and junk dealers swoop in like vultures, offering me pennies on the dollar for things that cost my mom a small fortune.  Usually I say no, because I know how upset my mom would have been by their cold, calculated greed, and that they were buying to make a profit and not because they loved whatever it was that she so cherished.  And so, much of her stuff still sits in my house, collecting dust in cardboard boxes.

For better or worse I may be stuck with my mom’s stuff but if I’ve learned anything, it’s that I don’t want to do this to my kids.  So for the past 4 years, I’ve slowly been getting rid of my own things big and small.   Furniture.  Accent pieces.  Extra cookware and serving pieces.  Things that I no longer use regularly.  Things I needed in my twenties that I don’t need in my fifties.   I always ask my kids if they want it before I get rid of it, and usually the answer is no.  And I try to divest myself of things the same way I tried with my mother’s things:  yard sales, craigslist, consignment stores, thrift stores.  The difference is that it’s my stuff and no one else’s, so it’s easy to give myself permission to let it go.

Fortunately I am not a tschotchke collector (not because I don’t like tschotchkes, but because I am a terrible housekeeper and I couldn’t bear the thought of dusting every few days).  But I have tens of thousands of papers and books and photos that sit in boxes that will eventually suffer either from mildew or dry rot.  I admit it:  like my mother with her stuff, I cannot bear to throw these things away.

The good news is that unlike my mother’s objets d’art, technology has provided me a solution to my media hoarding:  scanning and digitizing.  All those articles I wrote or were written by others I admire that, let’s face it, will probably never be read again, can now be scanned.  (Maybe, just maybe, my kids or grandkids will be interested in my writings and journals and photographs some day?)

I have been slowly going through my bookshelves and re-reading everything.  Not every story brings me the joy I thought I remembered.  So slowly I am dissolving my library; I donate my books to our little rural library here in Maine.  What they can’t use they sell as overstock and that also provides paltry but necessary funds for the library’s use.

But the worst clutter offender:  my photographs.  So far my husband has scanned over 20,000 (!) photos which — and this is almost physically painful for me – – I have then dumped into the trash.  Thanks to an Adobe software program called Lightroom, when he scans the photos, he “tags” them with keywords so anyone with access to our digital library will be able to quickly and painlessly retrieve specific photos based on names, places, family members, events, or approximate dates.  No more going through albums and boxes.  I think there are approximately 35,000 photos total.  But that doesn’t include thousands of slides and film negatives.

Recently I bought a slide and film converter at Costco.  You simply place a negative film strip or slide transparency inside the converter, and in 3 seconds it digitizes the image and stores it on your computer  (essential:  backing up one’s separate hard drive!).  There are professional, expensive converters/scanners out there that do a fabulous job; this one is not that.  The resolution is not terrific and the color renditions and clarity are somewhat off.  But I realized the chance of me or my children (I asked them first) wishing to enlarge a digitized image from their 5th birthday party that happened 30 years ago into a quality 8×10 print copy was indeed remote. Even if I could make prints of all the slides and negatives, it would take an entire room just to contain the albums that would hold them.  It’s nice to view the images and relive the past – – for a few minutes.  Neatly archived, the only space my life’s memories take up can fit on a disk drive . . . or is that just plain, sad commentary?

And then, it’s time to move on.





Free-Range Kids

I just read a fascinating article in the Washington Post which will undoubtedly provoke strong debate.

I am cutting and pasting this article in its entirety:

Maryland Couple Want ‘Free-Range’ Kids, But Not All Do

January 14 at 9:28 PM

It was a one-mile walk home from a Silver Spring park on Georgia Avenue on a Saturday afternoon. But what the parents saw as a moment of independence for their 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, they say authorities viewed much differently.

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv say they are being investigated for neglect for the Dec. 20 trek — in a case they say reflects a clash of ideas about how safe the world is and whether parents are free to make their own choices about raising their children.

“We wouldn’t have let them do it if we didn’t think they were ready for it,” Danielle said.

She said her son and daughter have previously paired up for walks around the block, to a nearby 7-Eleven and to a library about three-quarters of a mile away. “They have proven they are responsible,” she said. “They’ve developed these skills.”

The Meitivs say they believe in “free-range” parenting, a movement that has been a counterpoint to the hyper-vigilance of “helicopter” parenting, with the idea that children learn self-reliance by being allowed to progressively test limits, make choices and venture out in the world.

“The world is actually even safer than when I was a child, and I just want to give them the same freedom and independence that I had — basically an old-fashioned childhood,” she said. “I think it’s absolutely critical for their development — to learn responsibility, to experience the world, to gain confidence and competency.”

On Dec. 20, Alexander agreed to let the children, Rafi and Dvora, walk from Woodside Park to their home, a mile south, in an area the family says the children know well.

The children made it about halfway.

Police picked up the children near the Discovery building, the family said, after someone reported seeing them.

Police on Wednesday did not immediately have information on the case. But a spokeswoman said that when concerns are reported, “we have a responsibility as part of our duty to check on people’s welfare.”

The Meitivs say their son told police that he and his sister were not doing anything illegal and are allowed to walk. Usually, their mother said, the children carry a laminated card with parent contact information that says: “I am not lost. I am a free-range kid.” The kids didn’t have the card that day.

Danielle said she and her husband give parenting a lot of thought.

“Parenthood is an exercise in risk management,” she said. “Every day, we decide: Are we going to let our kids play football? Are we going to let them do a sleep­over? Are we going to let them climb a tree? We’re not saying parents should abandon all caution. We’re saying parents should pay attention to risks that are dangerous and likely to happen.”

She added: “Abductions are extremely rare. Car accidents are not. The number one cause of death for children of their age is a car accident.”

Danielle is a climate-science consultant, and Alexander is a physicist at the National Institutes of Health.

Alexander said he had a tense time with police on Dec. 20 when officers returned his children, asked for his identification and told him about the dangers of the world.

The more lasting issue has been with Montgomery County Child Protective Services, he said, which showed up a couple of hours after the police left.

Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for CPS, said she could not comment on cases but that neglect investigations typically focus on questions of whether there has been a failure to provide proper care and supervision.

In such investigations, she said, CPS may look for guidance to a state law about leaving children unattended, which says children younger than 8 must be left with a reliable person who is at least 13 years old. The law covers dwellings, enclosures and vehicles.

The Meitivs say that on Dec. 20, a CPS worker required Alexander to sign a safety plan pledging he would not leave his children unsupervised until the following Monday, when CPS would follow up. At first he refused, saying he needed to talk to a lawyer, his wife said, but changed his mind when he was told his children would be removed if he did not comply.

Following the holidays, the family said, CPS called again, saying the agency needed to inquire further and visit the family’s home. Danielle said she resisted.

“It seemed such a huge violation of privacy to examine my house because my kids were walking home,” she said.

This week, a CPS social worker showed up at her door, she said. She did not let him in. She said she was stunned to later learn from the principal that her children were interviewed at school.

The family has a meeting set for next week at CPS offices in Rockville.

“I think what CPS considered neglect, we felt was an essential part of growing up and maturing,” Alexander said. “We feel we’re being bullied into a point of view about child-rearing that we strongly disagree with.”

Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.

This is yet another example of government intervention, with the government saying that they know better than you do.  Or is it?  Is it safe to let kids walk around Washington DC by themselves?  Perhaps you remember the story of another “free-range kid”, a 9-year-old boy who was allowed to ride the subway in New York City by himself.  And on the flip side, there is the horrific story of Leiby Kletzky and that tragic ending, despite parents who did everything right.

Were Danielle and Alexander Meitiv putting their children in unnecessary danger, or were they teaching them independence and self-sufficiency?  Is there a fine line between risk management and child endangerment?

I cannot comment on the Metivs specific situation because I don’t know their geographic area well.  I know that where I lived in L.A., we would never have let our children walk a mile alone without a parent, because unfortunately there were genuine risks involved.  On two occasions people attempted to kidnap my son when he was small!

Once I was in a market and had him in the cart.  I turned away for a moment and the next thing I knew a woman who looked very sketchy was pushing my cart towards the entrance of the store with my baby! Naturally I charged towards my cart and grabbed it away from the woman, who quickly ran from the store.

Another time – – this goes back to 1980 – –  I was in my own home, and my son was only 21 months old.  He was playing in our fenced backyard while I nursed my newborn daughter in my bedroom.  Our dog, a Doberman Pinscher, was outside with my son.  My bedroom window was next to the gate that led to the backyard.  Suddenly I heard a voice outside the gate:  “Hey little boy, wouldn’t you like to come with me?  I will give you lots of candy . .  .”  But suddenly my dog ran to the gate, and threw her entire body against the gate while barking and snarling furiously.  It looked like the doberman scene from the movie, “Boys from Brazil.”  The next thing I heard was a car’s wheels squealing as it made its getaway from my dog.  My son was safe, thank G-d.  From my position in my bedroom, I simply could not have gotten to my backyard quickly enough to rescue my son from that evil man.  With HaShem’s help, my dog saved my son’s life that day.  I never saw the man nor his car – – it all happened too fast.

Many of my grandchildren live in Baltimore, and there, too, walking alone is not a good idea.  Little kids as young as 8 years old on bikes are surrounded by gangs of children, and their bikes are stolen right out from under them.  If they protest or attempt to defend themselves, they are beaten by these thugs-in-training.

The real question is, why would anyone want to live in a place where kids – – or adults – – cannot feel safe?  I think we get caught up in complacency.  We get used to situations and that becomes the new normal.  We get rooted in our communities due to our jobs, our families, our kids’ schools, our friends, but meanwhile within this so-called comfort zone things are going to hell.  And we put up with it, because we weigh the risks and decide that it’s not so bad.  Of course we are fooling ourselves.  Yes, it is that bad.  We do have choices, and we can live in a community that has a high quality of life where we and our children can feel safe, but that involves change and most of us don’t like change.

I cannot express strongly enough just how basic a right it is for every person on this planet to feel safe in their own environment.  When you get used to living in a place where you are not safe, you are constantly on alert.  Being on alert is exhausting both mentally and physically (and if you’re not on alert, you should be, because perps choose people who look vulnerable and unaware).  You are suspicious of strangers.  You find it difficult to give people unknown to you the benefit of the doubt.  You are uneasy about trusting someone until they’ve earned your trust.

Here in rural Maine kids feel safe.  I feel safe.  For those who live in unsafe areas, I can only say, you don’t have to live this way.  You do have choices.  Your kids can walk to school or to the store or to a neighbor and you can relax.  This is normal.  If you live in an area where you cannot feel this sense of security, then please, get the hell out.  Do it for your kids’ sake.  Let them be free.  Let them be kids.



Maine Burqa:

2015-01-13 17.03.36_resized

Je suis Juive.


Je suis Charlie.











Walking on Water

Although it was considerably warmer today than it’s been, Little Pond, which sits at the bottom of our driveway, is now frozen solid.  It was a rather grey, bleak day, but we still try to get outside once or twice a day, seven days a week, to enjoy the fresh air and take walks no matter what the weather.  We decided it might be fun to walk across the icy pond, and get a different perspective from our usual view.


Our dog Spencer stands on frozen Little Pond.

Our dog Spencer stands on frozen Little Pond.


It was kind of fun to say we walked on water

It was kind of fun to say we walked on water

There are several large beaver dams at the edges of Little Pond.  Trappers do lay traps here.

There are several large beaver dams at the edges of Little Pond. Trappers do lay traps here.

Cattails along the edge of Little Pond

Cattails along the edge of Little Pond


We're on the pond looking across to our house, hidden in the woods (designated by red arrow)

We’re on the pond looking across to our house, hidden in the woods (designated by red arrow)

Here is a closeup of the same picture.  You can barely make out our snow-covered roof.

Here is a closeup of the same picture. You can barely make out our snow-covered roof.

footprints on frozen Little Pond

footprints on frozen Little Pond

Our house.  You can see how snow has slid off part of the metal roof.

Our house. You can see how snow has slid off part of the metal roof.

Our 16 x 20 shed was completely stacked with cut and seasoned wood by the end of summer.  The “problem” is that the last few winters have been relatively warm and we haven’t had to use much wood in the woodstove, thanks to our very well insulated house.  Some of the wood has been sitting in the shed for more than 5 years.  The problem is that after a certain point, wood can get too dry and brittle.  At that point it won’t burn very hot and will burn so quickly that it’s not really fuel-efficient.  So this year we decided that rather than adding more cut wood to the shed, we’d just take our extra wood and leave it under tarps until we could make a serious dent in the “old” wood that’s been stored since we first built the house.  Because it’s been very cold, we have been using more wood for heat in general.  I think we still have several years to go, though, before the shed is emptied of the “old” wood, but hopefully we’ll use it up before dry rot sets in.


This shed wall was filled with 4 layers of wood stacked 6 1/2 feet high at the end of summer 2014.  We've managed to use up quite a bit by January 2015.

This shed wall was filled with 4 layers of wood stacked 6 1/2 feet high at the end of summer 2014. We’ve managed to use up quite a bit by January 2015.


But as you can see, we still have plenty of wood left in the rest of the shed.

But as you can see, we still have plenty of wood left in the rest of the shed.

I still can't believe we split and stacked most of this wood ourselves, log by log - around 20,000 lbs!

I still can’t believe we split and stacked most of this wood ourselves, log by log – around 20,000 lbs!



January Fun

Today while driving to the mechanic to get studded snow tires installed on my car, I passed Kewaydin Lake, summer home of my kayaking, swimming and fishing adventures.  The lake is frozen solid now, and people are starting to put shacks onto the lake for ice fishing.

It’s been bitterly cold:  last night it was near 0 degrees but with windchill our home weather station measured a -43 F reading and during the daytime it’s been in the low single digits.  Tomorrow it’s supposed to be -13 F without windchill.  So I was very impressed as I looked out onto Kewaydin Lake and saw that someone had laboriously removed about 1′ of accumulated snow to create his own 70′ x 15′ personal ice rink.  This fellow and his dog were having the time of their lives, the man skating up and down the cleared icy area and shooting a puck with his hockey stick, and the dog slipping and sliding and racing ahead to retrieve his master’s shot.  Pure joy!

A Mainer and his dog making the most of a cold winter day

A Mainer and his dog making the most of a cold winter day (click to enlarge)




Apocalypse, Prepping, and the U.S. versus Israel

A reader from Israel wrote to ask my opinion about America’s obsession with apocalypse – – that an external force (famine, natural disaster, disease etc) “will wipe out most of the population and only a few pockets of individuals will be left.”  Why, she wanted to know, are Americans “so concerned?  Do you suppose it’s from the time of the Cuban missile crisis, or did it start before?”

This question came at a funny time.  Jerusalem is supposed to get 3″ – 9″ of snow and the city is in a total panic.  This snowstorm is not going to last days or weeks, just a matter of hours, and then it will be done.  But the mayor has ordered all roads leading into or out of the city closed as soon as the first flakes hit.  The supermarket shelves have been wiped clean of all food (bottled water, disposable diapers, and meat were the first items to sell out).  Because snow hits Israel’s capitol about 3x every 10 years, the city lacks the machinery for effective snow removal.  Most people do not own snow boots, and you’d be hard pressed to even find snow shovels for sale in the stores – – most people use brooms and dustpans to clean off their cars and a bit of sidewalk.

I thought the whole apocalypse-prepper phenomena would make for an interesting essay, since we live in rural Maine.  We are somewhat isolated – – and insulated – – from potential apocalypse-related disasters.  We are not anticipating an apocalypse anytime soon but we are “preppers” out of necessity since the nearest supermarket is 45 minutes away and weather conditions and poor roads often make winter travel challenging.   We are pretty self-sufficient here and live mostly off the grid. Our closest neighbor is 1/4 mile away and the next one is 3 miles down the road.

I find my Israeli reader’s question about the American obsession with apocalypse especially significant, since unlike America, modern Israel has been actively living with conflict, terrorism and war(s) since its declaration of Statehood in 1948 (and well before).  Yet there is no concept of general apocalypse other than a prophetic, somewhat esoteric religious one that will lead to Israel’s Final Redemption, and even more significantly, there is no active “prepper” movement on an individual or community level – – yes, there are residential bomb shelters but typically they are not stockpiled with food or medicines and at best may contain a lone mattress and folding chair.

My observations and opinions are strictly anecdotal, and may be an over-simplification, but this is what I know:

I was in first grade in the 1960s when our teacher put us through the “duck ‘n cover” drills against what was then a grave concern of nuclear disaster (the US-Soviet “Cuban Missile Crisis”).  We were told to lower the venetian blinds, shut the windows, and crawl under our desks in a kneeling-to-the-floor fetal bracing position, with our hands grasping our necks, and our elbows tightly tucked and held close to our bodies.

duckandcover Somehow, even then, I knew this was utter bullshit, realizing at the tender age of 6 that it might protect us against shrapnel but we would in any case fry from the radiation.  I remember laying awake at night in bed, completely unable to fall asleep.  I was not worried about the monsters under my bed but rather, terrified and certain I was going to die from the upcoming Soviet invasion onto US soil and an atom bomb that would surely be aimed right over my head in Encino, California.

At the same time, in Hollywood, California where my future husband lived with his family, his father, a Holocaust survivor and partisan who lost his entire family during WWII,  ran out and bought a gun as soon as he became a US citizen because he was never, ever going to be defenseless again, and invested thousands of dollars he couldn’t spare into the excavation of his backyard to accommodate a pre-fab fall-out shelter.  (Sadly I never had the opportunity to know my father-in-law; he died of a sudden heart attack years before I met my husband.)  This thing had all the bells and whistles, with only a flat door running parallel to the ground giving hint to its existence.  It had thick metal sides to absorb radiation; the door had an internal latch and steep ladder leading several feet beneath the earth to the internal space, with an air filtration system, stockpiles of food and water, and a rifle.

This 1960s  bomb shelter door is in Wisconsin, but is similar to the one at my husband's childhood home in Hollywood.

This 1960s bomb shelter door is in Wisconsin, but is similar to the one at my husband’s childhood home in Hollywood.


But life in Southern California, at least until the 1971 earthquake, was idyllic and safe and once the Bay of Pigs crisis resolved, there were no more thoughts about impending doom.  The ’71 and subsequent earthquakes did serve as a wake-up call to Angelenos that having several days’ supply of food and water, batteries, flashlight and first aid was a good idea, but it did not, in my opinion, breed the current fear of apocalypse.

I think the current American preoccupation with apocalypse is the result of five factors:

  • The Y2K panic/hype
  • Hurricane Katrina, and the resultant Superdome chaos
  • The Internet
  • Right-wing Christian religious belief regarding Apocalypse, End of Days, and Rapture
  • Apocalypse as a genre in popular culture via books and movies


There was genuine fear bordering on panic starting a couple of years before Y2K, much of it promulgated by the media.  The fear, which seems unbelievably silly now, was that by referring to year dates by the last two digits instead of all four, “00,” 1900 was indistinguishable from 2000.  In embedded systems, this date mix-up would cause havoc with telecommunications and utilities infrastructures, resulting in chaos that would spread not only to the grid, but to food and fuel delivery systems, transportation, the pharmaceutical industry, and anything programmed and run by computer, et al. This might result in riots, martial law, etc.  Weapons were stockpiled by many who thought this would be their only possibility for defense against marauders that would scavenge for a failing food supply in total blackout conditions.  A new industry was created:  living off the grid.  Catalogs circulated that were full of products that enabled people to live comfortably and safely without electricity.  (My husband and I were delighted, a year after the Y2K panic had passed, to buy a $200 unused kerosene space heater for $25 from one such suckered consumer.)

While any immediate sense of urgency passed with the coming of January 2, 2000 and no apparent crisis at hand, only five years later Hurricane Katrina would create a different kind of havoc in New Orleans and the country at large.  It was the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States, with over 1800 people dead (135 people remain missing to this day), causing damage in 7 states in an area 90,000 sq miles (almost the size of the United Kingdom); severe flooding left hundreds of thousands of people homeless; over a million people were left without power; and environmental damage including oil spills and toxic waste.   But the damage was not only physical and financial.  With the total breakdown of available services from disaster relief organizations and government, mayhem ensued.  The New Orleans Superdome, which sustained some hurricane damage, became a giant refugee center for the city’s poor, but roving gangs there inflicted robbery, rape and murder on those who sheltered there.  Elsewhere in New Orleans, nursing home patients died of dehydration and starvation when assistance was unavailable for days, and even weeks, after the hurricane hit.  The stores not hit by looters survived only because the store owners were heavily armed with personal weapons, standing guard on the roofs of their shops 24/7.  National Guardsmen from all 50 states were called in to restore order, but they were spread thin and it was too little, too late.

Rather than being united in this time of crisis – and there were several “good Samaritan” stories of course – – the images the media captured of the New Orleans’ free-for-all greatly demoralized the country.  For the first time, Americans felt vulnerable and distrustful of their fellow citizens, as things had deteriorated into a “it’s me or them” state of mind, instead of “we’re in this together.”  In the social order of American culture, this paradigm shift was epic!

This is when the Internet came into play.  Suddenly the Web was filled with “survivalist” forums and websites.  And, reactive to Katrina’s massive failure, it was not only about being prepared with emergency supplies during disaster.  The American public was being asked, for the first time on a national scale, to imagine frightening “what ifs” and contingency plans for the survival of immediate family with things like “bug-out locations,” the most effective firearms for self-defense of one’s home and supplies, how to lose one’s identity to avoid government surveillance or accountability, and how to live a self-sufficient lifestyle in terms of food, shelter, clothing, heat, etc. without the necessity to rely on others for subsistence.

In a time when the American public is increasingly suspicious of the toxins resulting in the industrialization of basic necessities, such highly processed food, a bad-tasting water supply, chemical pollutants, disease cluster populations, etc., the concept of a healthier lifestyle; of going “back to the land” and becoming more self-sufficient; and in recognizing a general wimpyness that has overtaken the American population – –  the survivalist mentality of getting back to our roots and becoming more independent could not have been more timely.  With political divisions becoming more extreme within the United States, increased religious fervor and both conservative and liberal political ideologies are often reactive and emotion-led rather the result of thoughtful intellectual reasoning.  It’s a world that seems to make less and less sense, where once concrete notions of Good and Evil are now subjects for debate and moral relativism and political correctness aren’t just about semantics, but a sea change for how we evaluate everyday ethics.  People want answers, and when those answers are less than satisfying, they will look to a Higher Power at one end of the spectrum, or disavow everything at the other end.  And forgive my cynical American self, but in our land of opportunity, where there is money to be made, anything goes.  Hence, not only do we have a media frenzy about the latest sexy whatever ad nauseam, we also have movies, books, and TV shows about zombies and Nights of the Living Dead, aliens of the extraterrestrial variety,  and end-of-the-world scenarios.  Which would be laughable, except the very realistic images on the screen have many Americans convinced that zombies are not the product of a screenwriter’s imagination; they are real.

My own evolution into the world of prepping has a lot to do with my decision to live, for now, in Maine, but it’s not the result of dogma.   Among die-hard survivalists I’d be considered naive and misguided.

As long-time followers of my blog know, my original heave-ho to urban living was the result of a personal and emotional crisis, not a sense that the End of the World was near.  Both my mother and mother-in-law lived with us near the end of their lives (at the same time!).  One parent was battling Alzheimer’s and cancer; the other’s problems were emotional and financial, in addition to congestive heart failure.  The stresses were enormous, and unlike the saintly people you read about in motivational books and magazines and newscasts, I was psychologically and spiritually  ill-equipped to deal with it.  As a caretaker of my loved ones, I constantly strove to make myself into a better person, but the trials and tribulations, and the harsh judgement and disowning of others close to me for my failures, perceived and real, brought me to the edge of a nervous breakdown.  I started questioning everything:  relationships, responsibility, love, faith, religion, sense of place, my city, my environment; but I was so confused and angry and sad that clarity was lacking.  I needed a change, and it had to be a drastic one.  I admit it – – I was running away – – but I was also running towards something.  I wanted to see if by reducing life to its most basic form, I could somehow manage to exist in a way that was more than going through the motions of daily living.  By living in a very isolated, rural environment, I would be challenging myself anew on many levels.  And by sheer need of the circumstances – – I live 30+ miles from the usual conveniences – – I would need to be prepared for many types of emergencies in a practical, girl-scout sort of way.  Over the years in Maine, my competence level for practical knowledge in day-to-day living has increased.  I’m content here.  My husband and I are alone, but not lonely.

And then, in the summer of 2014, Operation Protective Edge – – the war in Gaza and Israel – – happened, preceded by some terrorist-caused tragedies that led to the declaration of that war.  Via the Internet where I voraciously consumed news of Israel and following a personal visit there, I realized that “surviving” according to the American apocalyptic version, versus the Israeli version, are two very different concepts and are realized in nearly oppositional ways.

As a country and out of necessity, Israel is highly prepared for conflict.  Even young children know not to pick up tempting objects from the ground, such as a doll or a grapefruit – – both have been used by terrorists to hide explosives.  If someone leaves a backpack or lunch box or stray package behind on the bus and someone notices it – – and someone always does – – the bus is evacuated and a bomb squad is called in.  Usually a robot is used to inspect and “disable” the object.  This constant, heightened state of alert is imprinted in every single Israeli man, woman and child.  And yes, it means the mind and body can never really relax.

Perhaps that is why Israelis are so brash.  They have big hearts, but also big mouths.  They are quick to forgive.  They will lend their opinion about everything, unasked.  And while this can be annoying as heck, one realizes that the reason a complete stranger isn’t afraid to tell you how to run your life, is because they don’t consider themselves strangers – – all Israelis consider themselves part of one (often dysfunctional) family.  They really care because ultimately they realize that they are part of one cohesive family unit, despite individual differences.  This bond goes even beyond statehood; it is a bond of nationhood, and is perhaps the key to understanding why, despite all odds against it, Israel continues to thrive.  An Aramaic phrase from Talmudic times sums this up:  “kol Yisrael arevim zeh l’zeh” — all Israel is responsible for one another.  This concept of communal responsibility is far-reaching.  If one Jew sees another acting sinfully or irresponsibly, he has the imperative to intervene.  It also obligates Jews to ensure that basic needs of his Jewish brethren, such as food, shelter and clothing, are taken care of.

Already you can see why, especially in times of conflict, the survivalist vision of a discreet, heavily armed and stockpiled compound in West Virginia that is completely self-sufficient and built to keep out others is in complete opposition to the Israeli model.

There are countless examples from Operation Protective Edge that turn classic American-style “survivalism” on its edge.  Here are but a few:

  • I called some friends living in the Galilee to ask how they were doing.  They couldn’t talk because they were in the process of welcoming a woman and her 5 children to their home – – people who were complete strangers to them.  The woman’s husband was called up to fight, and meanwhile the family, who were from Israel’s south and were under constant bombardment – – were mentally and physically exhausted.  Every time a siren indicated a possible attack, they had only 15 seconds to get to a shelter.  Sleep, meals, bus rides, school, going to buy food – – all activities were constantly disrupted, and they were under tremendous stress.  My friends would say they did nothing exceptional by welcoming these strangers into their home for a period of several weeks, completely without expectation of payment for their trouble.  In fact, thousands of Israelis in the North welcomed families from the South – – just as families in the South had done to families from the Northern regions when villages and cities had come under hundreds of missile attacks from Syria and Lebanon in 2006.
  • When it was difficult for businesses in the South to remain open due to the constant bombardment, competing businesses in the North gave up sales they might have had and invited their competitors in the South to set up merchandise fairs in the North in town halls and schools, as well as inviting them to send their stock to the North so these businesses could help sell things on their behalf.  This included merchandise such as school supplies, giftware, clothing, books and jewelry.
  • When it was known that a platoon would be passing through a town, residents rushed to make care packages for the soldiers consisting of socks, phone rechargers, toiletries, and home-cooked meals, sodas, baked goods, candy, and notes of encouragement.  The response by residents was so overwhelming that the soldiers actually had to tell them to stop.
  • Many towns didn’t wait for soldiers to pass through.  Instead, they organized “care packages” and had truckloads driven by residents who personally delivered the items to the combat zone border.
  • One civilian man rigged a solar shower contraption and drove from field base to field base so that soldiers could take hot showers.  He also supplied toiletries and clean towels free of charge.

Israel, on a national scale, is prepared for war.  Haifa’s Rambam Hospital recently opened the largest (2,000 bed) underground hospital in the world.  It is designed to protect staff and patients safe in the event of chemical or biological warfare, as well as from missiles and rocket attacks.  Newly constructed apartment buildings and private homes now have “sealed room” bomb shelters within the living space.  And yet, the overwhelming majority of Israelis do not stockpile food or water or emergency supplies in their homes and residential shelters in times of war! How ironic, then, that when a snowstorm of a few inches threatens every few years, the entire country goes into a crazy panic!  Entire supermarket shelves are completely emptied before impending snow.  And yet this store-storming buyers’ panic does not occur on the eve of a war.

While I personally believe keeping extra water and a small supply of food and medicine is a good idea for the sealed rooms, perhaps Israeli  reticence is based on the idea that no man is an island:  that to win in adversity, one must cooperate and share resources and help one another get through whatever trials life brings.  Because ultimately, despite the craziness, Israelis have each others’ backs.

Seeing how Israel behaved during last summer’s conflict forced me to ask myself this question:  in a survivalist’s bug-out location, one can survive Apocalypse — but does one want to be a survivor in such a world, where people unknown to you are the enemy, and one must live only for oneself and one’s immediate family at the expense of another?

I love my life here in Maine, but I think a large part of my heart is tied to Israel.  Living in Israel is about being part of something greater than myself, about being a part of history, and a part of destiny – – a perhaps-irrational desire that emanates without logic from my Jewish soul.

Aliyah (living in Israel some day) is a dream that I hope will become my new reality in the near future.

Reading Glasses

2015-01-03 19.52.16_resizedDo you remember when your kid was a baby, and addicted to a pacifier?  It didn’t matter if you bought one pacifier or ten, it invariably got lost and somehow could never be located when your baby really needed it.  This dire state involved sending out one’s husband to the all-night Rite Aid or Wal Mart in hopes of getting another or else no one in the family was going to sleep that night.  Of course it couldn’t be just any pacifier so one had to give very detailed instructions:  it had to be silicon not rubber, ages 6 months to a year not newborn to 6 months, it had to be a Nuk not a Mam or a Gerber, etc.  and if instructions weren’t followed to the letter it meant yet another trip to correct the iniquity and meanwhile the baby wouldn’t stop screaming.

Now that I’m long past that stage in life, it seems I’ve entered another that is just as angst-ridden:  The Reading Glasses Stage of Life.  Like the pacifiers of yore, it doesn’t seem to matter if I buy one pair or ten (thank goodness for Dollar Stores):  they’re never where I want them when I need them, which is constantly.

Lately I seem to be grappling with another strange problem:  my eyes are constantly changing.  Besides needing one power for reading and another for the computer, depending on the light or amount of eye strain, my vision is constantly fluctuating, sometimes even within an hour.  So I might start reading at +2.0 and then as the night progresses, find that a +1.50 or +1.75 works better, or vice versa.  (I’ve tried prescription progressives, but after losing two pair at $200 each, I’m back to the Dollar Store varieties).  Since I own 5 pair of glasses in a single prescription at any given time (ideally one for each room in the house, the car, and my purse), this means I have 15 pairs of glasses lying around somewhere in varying magnifications, but I’m never really sure where, and it also means that when I locate a pair, I have to try it on and guess which power magnification it is, so just getting ready to read is something of an ordeal.  No, my glasses don’t look alike – – but having 15 pair of 15 different styles makes it hard to remember which ones are the +1.5 versus the +2.0.

So the last time I made my pilgrimage to the Dollar Store (after not being able to find a single pair of reading glasses that day), I decided to heck with it, and I left the little sticker with the magnification power remaining on the lens.

“Hey, you know you forgot to take off the sticker from that pair of glasses,” my husband commented, when he saw me reading at home later that evening.

“Yeah, I know,” I said, “I did it on purpose, so I’ll know the amount of magnification,” I answered.

“You look really dumb,” he said.

Intimidated, I took off the sticker and placed it on the inside of the temples.  But the sticker fell off and I was back to square one.

The next time we went shopping  – – in TJ Maxx  – – I wore my Dollar Store glasses with the sticker on the lens.

My husband was mortified.

“You look ridiculous leaving the sticker on your glasses!” he said.  “But worse, the store is going to think you are stealing their reading glasses from the ones they have for sale!” he added.

I had to admit, he had a point, so I took off my glasses and put them in my purse, sticker intact.

“Oh, great,” my husband complained, “now the security cameras are going to think you’re shoplifting by putting them in your purse.”

“Fine,” I said, taking them out of my purse and putting them back on.

“You look ridiculous,” he said with genuine embarrassment, and left me standing there as he retreated to the car.

One of the great things about living in Maine is that you can look really dumb, or weird, or eccentric, or different, and no one gives a hoot.  Maine seems to attract people who march to a different drummer  – – a polite way of saying people who don’t fit in anywhere else.  (I guess that’s why I’m happy here.)

My solution  – – pardon the pun – – was visionary.  Now I always wear two pair of reading glasses:  one on top of my head, and one hooked onto the top of my shirt.  Both have the stickers, but show different magnification numbers.  That way, it’s obvious that these are two completely different pair of glasses for different purposes, and I’m merely being an eccentric but practical nerd, rather than a  kleptomaniac.

Even though I look really dumb.

(P.s. My husband is not a snide ogre.  He just has a thing about glasses with stickers when they involve me.)

Our Pond is Haunted




Little Pond

The past couple of weeks saw warmer than normal temperatures and rain so whatever snow is left is hard-packed and icy with many bare spots showing through. Even though the days have been sunny, yesterday and today were quite cold, with temperatures in the single digits at night.   Little Pond, the bog which sits at the bottom of our driveway, is frozen over.

Yesterday I experienced perhaps the most unusual natural phenomena ever in all my years in Maine.

Around sunset I decided to take the dog for a quick walk.  As we reached the bottom of the driveway, I heard a strange, unearthly noise unlike any noise I’d ever heard before, coming from the pond.  As I stopped to listen – – the air was completely still with no other signs of life nor sounds nearby in the vast, bleak emptiness – – the noise came and went in odd spurts, sometimes in a crescendo, sometimes sounding like a low, ghostly howl; knocking; moaning and groaning; at other times like the crack of a whip as it traveled across the pond.   I strained my eyes but could see no activity above the water.  At first I thought it might be the sound of beaver activity under the ice. But the sporadic sounds came from different locations in the pond:  first near me, then the opposite shore, then the far end, and other times from the middle, etc.  There was no pattern nor rhythm, and the sounds varied.  I can’t honestly describe them – – they were unsettling, and ominous, and ghoulish, and other-worldly.  My dog was terribly afraid by these noises – – he refused to walk further and returned to the bottom of our driveway, planting himself firmly there, refusing to budge and anxiously waiting for me to follow him home.  I walked to different parts of the pond’s edge but did not get any closer to solving the mystery.  Instinctively, I felt it was some sort of underwater noise or signaling — since I couldn’t pinpoint its direction or source I still wasn’t sure if the noises were emanating from above or beneath the ice – – but how? Why? What did this mean?  And why, with my daily ventures to the pond over the past 5 years at all times of day and night, in good weather and bad, had I never heard these sounds before?

(This is actually one of the things I love so much about my life in Maine.  There is always something new to experience and to learn, to see and hear and feel.  It’s a near constant explosion of sensory awareness, providing that one is patient and receptive and can slow down enough to be open to it.  And when I slow down, I mean really slow down:  I find a spot, close my eyes, and take several deep cleansing breaths.  Then I consciously work on breathing deeply and quietly and slowly, and open my eyes.   By now I feel my heartbeat has slowed.  My blood pressure is low.  My muscles are relaxed.   I concentrate deeply on listening and seeing and on each of my senses individually, only allowing them to integrate when I feel I’ve absorbed each sense at a high level of awareness.  I may stay in a single spot for fifteen or twenty minutes, or as much as an hour (and by then my dog is usually fully bored and exasperated with me, sighs, and lays down on the ground in surrender).  I guess some people would call this a form of meditation, but I’ve never studied meditation and I don’t really know much about it.  But it is during these periods of concentration and alertness that I’ve been especially successful in observing Nature.  And it never, ever gets old.)

After searching on the Internet, I finally found the sound that I had heard earlier in the day at Little Pond:  “dispersion of sound waves in ice sheets.”  It is an unusual phenomena that has many people scratching their heads.  The sounds were described by others as “creepy” and “eerie” so I was in good company.  I’ve provided some links below so you, too,  can get a taste of the unusual.

Creepy sounds in St. Paul MN:

A frozen lake in Berlin, Germany (with a great explanation of the phenomena):