LONG DISTANCE LIFE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I used to have a vibrant and full social life with lots of lunch dates with women and dinners with couples. There were trips to museums and shows with friends, dinner parties at people’s homes, meetings with fellow volunteers and ‘play dates’ with our children.

This sounds normal, but it assumes that your friends actually live near you. That was the case when I was younger – not so much anymore. Now I’m removed from most of my friends – separated by geography. My closest friend moved from the next town to Virginia many years ago. Another close friend moved to Florida. Two other couples moved to LA and Portland, Oregon, respectively.

Several good friends live in New York City which is driveable, but very inconvenient. We often spend over two hours in the car one way and have to pay $30 or more to park our car when we get there. Two other friends live in Massachusetts, a two and a half hour drive, which is not taken often.

Other nearby friends have drifted away over the years, like the parents of my kids’ friends who were apparently only convenience or proximity friends. Add to this the fact that my wonderful daughter has lived in LA for almost ten years!

The upshot of all this is that my connection with the people I love is more electronic these days than face to face. I have had to adjust to a life of texts and emails and the occasional phone call. I actually make ‘dates’ with one friend to have a long phone conversation every few weeks to stay caught up and to just chat.

My daughter and I have long phone conversations about everything but she hates the phone so this doesn’t happen as often as I would like. I love talking on the phone so staying in touch by phone satisfies my desire for connection.

It seems that my everyday contact is more and more through texts and emails, which are good for some things but not for others. It’s great to be able to share a cute photo of my dogs or show off the new lamp, or dress I just bought. My daughter has sent me selfies from the dressing room of a store to help her pick which outfit to buy. That is great. So is sending quick news flashes about insignificant happenings.

It falls short, however, when complex things are going on in your life or when there’s an emotional issue that requires more than a few lines to explain. Sometimes you just need a reassuring voice in your ear. On the other hand, sometimes a few lines of moral support from a distant friend can be very meaningful and helpful. Not quite a hug, but not all that bad.

My intimate conversations are mostly done by phone now. I have a few close friends nearby but they are not retired yet and have very busy lives. So finding time to sit and talk isn’t always easy, even when we live down the road.

I’ve gotten used to this situation and can feel satisfied after a good phone talk in lieu of an in-person interaction. I don’t love Face time or Skype. I don’t feel seeing a small, usually distorted photo of my friend on a small screen, really adds anything to the conversation.

My son has also moved one and a half hours away so we talk on the phone every day and text a lot – mostly jokes and memes and quick updates. I still feel very close to him, which may be easier because I get to see him every few weeks.

These in-person visits add to the relationship because they give us time to just hang out together. I’ve realized how important that is. I’m closer to my boat friends because we spend lots of time sitting on each other’s boats, talking laughing, drinking or just reading together. It’s this unstructured time I miss most when I have to rely on my cell phone for personal contact.

My future holds more texts, emails and ‘phone dates’ and less in-person contact as more friends retire and move away. I’ve coped so far, so I guess I’ll just get to love my phone more as my main contact with the outside world.

ADULTING 101 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I read a fascinating article from Today, on Facebook. It was written by Meghan Holohan on March 29, 2019, and is titled “ ‘Adulting’ Class at Kentucky high school teaches crucial life skills.”

What a great concept! I’ve always thought high schools and colleges should offer life skills classes so kids aren’t left totally unprepared when they move into adulthood (that is if their parents don’t prepare them, which most don’t).

In the Kentucky school, ‘Adulting’ seminars were offered and the response was overwhelming and positive. Parents were as thrilled as the kids when the project started blowing up on the internet. Seniors could choose three out of eleven workshops to attend with the goal of gaining more general knowledge and specific skills needed to help them navigate their lives after high school.

The classes offered were awesome and totally practical. Some of them were: Dorm Room Cooking, How To Interact With the Police (I’m assuming it’s an inner city school), Healthy Relationships and Boundaries, It’s Money, Baby, i.e. Personal Finance, Writing a Resume and Cover Letter, Filling out an Application, Basics of Checking and Savings and When you Need to See A Doctor.

The first class to fill up was dorm room cooking. The Police were the second most popular and the third was Healthy Relationships. Apparently, a lot of young girls were not sure how and when to set boundaries in a relationship and what you should and should not expect — or accept — in a relationship. If you don’t see good relationships in your life, I guess you need to be taught what a good one looks like and how to get it. Very sad.

This school’s adulting classes are hopefully the start of a new trend. I looked online and found an adulting class for millennials that teaches them ‘survival’ skills like monthly budgeting and how to open a wine bottle with a cork. A library in Oregon offers “Adulting 101: Basic How-To’s for ages 16-25.”

Apparently, neither mainstream schools or parents are preparing kids to take on the world beyond home and high school.

I’ve read several conflicting explanations for why kids today seem so clueless when it comes to basic adulthood skills. Some blame it on the fact that so many kids continue to live at home through their 20’s, and even later. But one article pointed out that in the 1940s, people lived at home in even larger numbers and for even longer periods than recent generations. But those kids also did chores and were given adult responsibilities while at home, so making it in the real world was not a problem for them when the time came.

That points to late 20th-century parenting as the problem.

One author argues that both parents usually have to work crazy hours just to provide good lives for their families, so no one has time to teach life skills to their kids. Another author blames helicopter or snowplow parents who treat their kids like delicate, pampered snowflakes, do everything for them and expect nothing from them.

Another school of thought blames high schools, which used to teach skills like cooking, shop, and bookkeeping but now don’t. My husband had a great home economics class and learned how to cook as a teenager. He was the only boy in a class full of girls! Win, win!

Another author argues that every generation of young adults is equally ignorant of life skills and that most people learn them in the field, as adults. I had never cooked a thing until I reached law school and had my first apartment. Many kids don’t have their own checkbooks when they live with their parents and so they don’t learn how to manage one until they are living and working on their own.

I’m not sure which theory I believe, but I agree with the person who said that whatever the root causes of their egregious lack of ‘adult’ knowledge, the kids today should be commended for trying to learn what they realize they don’t know.

Hopefully, there will be a big spike in enrollment in the Adulting School that has opened, which offers classes in cooking, sewing, and basic conflict resolution. I know some adults who could use those classes. I know many career women who don’t know the first thing about cooking, except ordering out. I still can’t balance a checkbook.

Where do I sign up?

DISHES AS DECOR, PART 3 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I use all kinds of plates and dishware as decorative elements all over my house. It makes sense in the kitchen and dining areas, but I also use them in my bedroom and bathroom and in my bookcases.

This is an arrangement of prints and plates on my small bedroom wall

On the large wall of my bedroom, I used a mid-century mirror from the Algonquin Hotel in NYC as the centerpiece. I surrounded the mirror with prints and plates to create a large vignette across the entire wall.

Long shot of the wall
This is my ‘toilet room’, as you can see by the toilet paper holder in this decorative vignette
This is a decorative baker’s rack used to display plates and chatchkus in the bathroom
Whimsical teapot and teacup in my bookcase
Teacups and matching dessert plates used with bookends to create a fun moment in my bookcase

DISHES AS DECOR, PART 2 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I love to use all kinds of dishes and serving pieces as part of the decor in my home. I find it’s an inexpensive way to fill the walls and the shelves all over the house.

In Part 1, I showed you the kitchen area, where you would be most likely to find dishes as part of the decor. Now we’re moving into my family room, my dining room, and my foyer, where I also use decorative plates and other dishes, such as candy dishes.

These plates are in the wall cabinet in my dining room. I use the other dishes from these sets when I have company.
One of my favorite mid-century candy dishes used in the hanging shelves in the dining room
These two mid-century candy dishes are in the large, decorative bookcase in the family room
Red and blue mid-century candy dishes accent my artwork in the family room
This Crate and Barrel platter works beautifully with my art deco decanter and a modern glass box in my foyer. They sit on a 1906 stove with a glass top over the burners.

SPRING HAS SPRUNG – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I don’t love summer because I’m very sensitive to heat. I actually feel sick when I get hot because my sweat glands don’t work properly and I rarely sweat. Great savings on antiperspirant bills but it sucks when everyone else is happily sitting outside in the sun and I’m stuck inside with the air conditioning.

Apple Blossoms

So, summer is not my favorite time, even though I have a boat and summer is the prime boating season. I spend most of my boat days – you guessed it – sitting in the air-conditioned cabin, often by myself. Even my loyal dog, Lexi, who usually follows me everywhere, lays in the sun on the deck on a nice day and abandons me to the interior of the boat.

Daffodils

But spring is great. The obvious joy of spring is watching the grass and the flowers and the leaves bloom, turning the world from grey to a rainbow of colors.

Spring!

Spring is when my waterfall is fully flowing. I can open the windows to hear that wonderful sound throughout the house. In the summer, the stream usually dries up since we have less rain and more heat. So the view from my window is glorious – a picturesque waterfall in the middle of a continually greening wood.

The stream

Another, more pedestrian plus of spring is putting away my darker and heavier winter clothes and pulling out the bright-colored clothes of this bright-colored season.

I pay particular attention to my spring/summer wardrobe because when I hang out on the boat, I schmooze with people every day, as opposed to winter when I can go days without seeing anyone other than Tom. And when I make my rounds to the Post Office and the local stores and coffee shop, people can see what I’m wearing because I’m not wearing a coat that covers up what is underneath.

Brighter colors of spring

Not wearing socks is another wardrobe benefit of spring and summer.

My socks bunch up all the time and I have to take my shoes or boots off regularly to adjust them so I can walk comfortably.

There’s also the problem of navy versus black socks. I can’t seem to tell the difference in my bedroom, but as soon as I get downstairs, I can tell immediately that I’ve picked the wrong one and have to go back upstairs and change. (Yes, I care!)

Sock drawer, abandoned in the spring

Not wearing a coat or a sweater is also a spring thing. Outside, the temperature is perfect (same in the early fall) so no outerwear is necessary.

I don’t have to wear a sweater inside because the air conditioning everywhere isn’t at full blast as it is in the summer. I always carry a sweater with me throughout the summer in case I am subjected to frigid A/C’s.

Sweaters necessary indoors in A/C weather

Spring also means that the many local farms in my town reopen their markets and I can get beautiful, fresh produce and other gourmet treats, right in my backyard. The freshly baked bread is awesome!

In the offseason, I have to drive 20 minutes each way to a supermarket to even get an onion or a potato. Now these staples, as well as the seasonal fruits and vegetables, are just a few minutes away.

Tom is happy in the spring because he can start working on the boat, preparing it to go back in the water in May. So spring has a lot going for it in my world. I don’t hate winter, like most people, and I love snow, but spring really is a lot better.

Except for the hordes of tiny black ants that invade my kitchen every spring. Here they come! Get out the ant traps!

A UNIQUE PRODUCTION – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I recently had a unique, rich and rewarding experience. I wrote and helped put together a multimedia theatrical production about a horrific pogrom in 1919 that wiped out over half of the 1200 inhabitants of a Ukrainian town called Felshtin. We performed it on April 14, 2019, in New York City to a very appreciative audience. Let me describe the long road that led to that wonderful afternoon.

I’ve been working for over a year on this project for my audio theater group, Voicescapes Audio Theater. Usually, Tom and I write a short script, either comedy or drama, and then we edit it, cast it and rehearse it. Recorded sound effects and music are added and in a few months, we have a new piece in our repertoire.

This time we were commissioned to write an hour-long dramatic presentation to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1919 pogrom. A pogrom is an organized massacre of a particular ethnic group, usually Jews in eastern Europe and Russia. However, the word massacre is too polite and sanitary to convey the havoc, destruction, brutality, and butchery visited on the towns subjected to pogroms.

Script for the show

The group that hired us, The Felshtin Society, is an American organization made up of descendants of people who lived in Felshtin throughout its history (it disappeared after World War II). Many of these descendants are related to survivors of the 1919 pogrom so this piece would have personal meaning for them.

In 1937, the society got many of the survivors to write personal accounts of their and their family’s experiences in the pogrom. These stories were turned into a book in Yiddish, Russian and other local dialects. This was translated into English painstakingly, over nineteen years.

My script was based on the survivor’s words in this book.

Handout at the performance

There were the stories of people who hid in attics and basements, pigsties. and haystacks to avoid the clutches of the Russian marauders. Many Felshtiners escaped into the neighboring fields where they huddled together for days, freezing and starving, without shoes or coats. Many were lucky and could bribe the Russian soldiers to let them live. But many more witnessed family members and friends being tortured and sadistically butchered.

Even the survivors were shells of their former selves when this nightmare was over.

In the book, the survivors wrote about the thriving town that existed before 1919, including a synagogue with a treasury of rare books and a rabbi who attracted scholars from all over the region. The survivors then talked about the husk of a town that limped back into a meager existence after the pogrom.

There were organized efforts, locally and in the United States, to raise money, food. and clothing for the bereft, impoverished and frequently homeless inhabitants. Money also went to establishing an orphanage for the more than 50 orphans in the town.

Photo of Felshtin Rabbi projected behind actors rehearsing

The Felshtin Relief Committee was the American organization founded to help the town recover. It was a subcommittee of the Felshtin Society. This committee managed to help numerous survivors emigrate to other countries, especially to America, where relatives welcomed them. This was fortunate because the people left in Felshtin in 1941 were wiped out by the Nazis.

I spent several months reading through these searing and heart-rending accounts. This was difficult and depressing for me. I had to then turn these random stories into a short, theatrical script.

I picked out the most well-written and poignant accounts. I put these segments into an order which would make them roughly chronological.

I divided the script into sections like “Before the Pogrom,” “Accounts of the Pogrom,” and “Aftermath of the Pogrom.” This last section included burying hundreds of bodies, treatment of the wounded, feeding the starving population. and rehabilitating the town and people.

Sande and Robin working on the script with me.

The Pogrom section was further divided into the different types of experiences people had. One group was about those who hid in the fields or town, those who went to local gentiles for help, those who successfully bribed their tormentors, and those who lived through grenades or fires set throughout the town.

To tie everything together, I added narration to the words of the survivors.

My original script was two hours long, but we were limited to one hour. I had to cut the script in half. This was painful. I had grown attached to the people and the stories I’d chosen.

It was heartbreaking to edit them down and in some cases, to cut them entirely. I went through seven edits to finally get a tight, dramatic script. It was important to do these stories justice, to give them the emotional gravitas they deserved.

Tom said when he first read it that it took him days to shake the sense of horror and tragedy.

List of characters whose words we used in the script

Once we had a script, we hired a musician to compose music to accompany parts of the script, a Jewish man who was well versed in the Klezmer music of Ukraine. We hired a young, local violinist to play the music live on stage.

We usually record music for our pieces, but we felt a living musician would add a level of intimacy and intensity to the piece. We also recorded sound effects to use when needed.

Fitting the music into the script with the violinist at Sande’s house in NYC

We collected photos from before and after the Felshtin pogrom. We found photos of memorials to the pogrom and created a power point presentation to be projected on a large screen behind the actors on stage.

The melding of actors, sound effects, violinist and photos created a powerful piece of theater.

It took a lot of time and effort to coördinate these elements into a cohesive whole. We rehearsed each element separately, then together. I was worried that with so many moving parts, we wouldn’t have enough time to seamlessly pull everything together.

I was wrong.

Rehearsal at the venue

I was onstage for the performance, turning the pages of the script for the violinist so he could see when to play and pause. I’m usually in the audience for our performances so this was a new experience for me.

On the other hand, Tom is usually onstage acting for an ordinary Voicescapes show, but this time he was in the audience with the director. He ran the power point presentation as well as being in charge of the many technical aspects of the show. Tom and I switched places and it worked.

It was amazing to feel the positive energy on stage from the actors and the audience. You can actually feel the rapt attention and involvement of the audience.

From the audience perspective, Tom said this was a fantastic experience.

The performance

When we took our bows, I saw people getting up from their seats and assumed they were getting ready to leave. But, no!

They were giving us a standing ovation!

A hundred people were standing up and applauding for our show! It was exhilarating. Tom says the smile that spread across my face was priceless.

After the show, there was a wine and cheese reception which gave us the chance to mingle with the members of the audience. People came up to us and raved about our beautiful production and complimented us on how magnificently it was all put together.

We were told we had to perform this piece in other venues and that it should be seen by a wider audience.

The beautiful venue for the performance

Most moving, descendants of people we quoted told us how meaningful and emotional it was for them to hear their ancestor’s words in this context. This added another level to our experience of the afternoon.

The next day, we got an email from one of the pogrom descendants who was in the audience. What she wrote made us all so proud and happy. She said that in the pogrom, her family had to watch as her great-grandfather was slaughtered. She thanked us for the care, kindness, and talent with which we distilled and recreated what her ancestors had suffered. She said that we captured the hearts of the audience and that  there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. She went on to say that bringing the victims’ voices to life was a priceless gift and she thanked us for this gift.

Program for the Felshtin Society event

The 25-year-old violinist said that he was honored to be part of our production. This job was special to him because it hit him in a really deep place. The technician from the Center for Jewish History, where we performed, said he was deeply moved by our show and was thrilled to be even a small part of our production.

All heady stuff! I went home floating on a cloud of praise and gratification. But mixed in with this elation was a sense of sadness and loss.

Felshtin had been part of my life for over a year and I would miss it. The last few months were filled with feverish work, including rehearsals, meetings, and endless phone calls. The camaraderie was invaluable and I will miss being part of such a significant enterprise. Everyday life will seem a bit more ordinary.

It will be a long time before I have something like this in my life again. But for now, thanks for the memories!

HOUDINI DOG – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Tom’s brother, Todd, came for a visit with his dog, Houla, a Catahoula Leopard Dog. She’s only fourteen months old so she’s still a puppy, with puppy energy and a puppy’s desire to play constantly with my two, older dogs.

My three-year-old dog, Remy, played with Houla a lot and the two of them chased each other around the yard at top speed. What’s surprising is that my nine-year-old, Lexi, also played with Houla. This is great because it gave my otherwise couch potato dog some exercise. So the three dogs got along fine, unlike Houla’s younger days when we constantly had to intervene to break up overly aggressive or enthusiastic wrestling matches.

The problem is that Houla discovered a way to get out of our fenced in backyard. We have a tall, reinforced fence covering a large area around two sides of our house. Our dogs have not breached the perimeter for years. Remy found a hole in the fence when we first adopted her but has not found another way out since we plugged that hole. Apparently, she just wasn’t looking.

Houla six months ago

One day we realized that Houla was not in the room with us and we went looking for her. She wasn’t downstairs and she wasn’t upstairs so we went out to the backyard and called her. She instantly appeared, happily wagging her tail at us, from the outside of the fence. We brought her back inside and in short order, she was out again.

Houla outside, looking for trouble

We had to figure out how she was getting out so we all took turns watching her when she went out. After a very short time, she made a beeline to a spot in the fence and started digging and prodding the fence with her nose. Houla had found a small area of fencing that had a hole on the inside, which Houla made bigger. Then she managed to pull on the fence with her teeth and dislodge it from the ground so she could wiggle under it and out the other side.

Houla in a rare quiet moment

This was the beginning of a two-day battle of wits and wills between Tom and Houla. Tom started by putting logs up against the loose part of the fence, but Houla just pushed them aside and escaped under the fence again. Tom then put a large garbage can on the outside of the fence and rocks and more logs on the inside. No problem for Houla.

Tom’s early attempt to stop Houla from getting out

Tom was frustrated and kept piling more things on the trouble spot. Each time he was sure that he had come up with something that Houla couldn’t possibly get around. His confidence was adorable, but he was always wrong. He even used stakes to keep the fence attached to the ground – to no avail.

Another cute photo of Houla as a younger puppy

To add to the problem, when Houla got out, she found a large mud hole to splash in and kept reappearing wet and dirty at the outside of the fence. We had to hose her down and dry her off before I would let her back into the house.

Houla with Todd

Now things got serious – except that I kept laughing at Tom each time he’d get outsmarted by a dog. But we couldn’t all leave the house at the same time because while Houla was adept at getting out, she couldn’t get back in and we didn’t want her wandering out to the road or getting lost in the woods.

Finally, Tom pulled out all the stops. He put a heavy bucket of salt from the winter on the outside of the hole and blocked the inside with an even heavier metal ramp that we use to get the dogs on and off our boat. Success! Houla has gone outside and poked around her escape route but has not managed to get through again.

Tom finally managed to plug the hole in the fence

Crisis averted! Tom is vindicated! For now.