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A quick life recap in a few words & pictures

What do you do when life feels overwhelming? Well, if you’re anything like me you stop doing anything, well at least anything that seems productive. I know the things I need to do but I shut down, like all the way down. I get in to a creative rut and instead of being productive I end up watching Netflix every day after work. It’s like my brain forgets how to work and even enjoy the things that I love to do like, write, read, and sit at coffee shops.
I have just come off of a super busy but really fun month or so. I moved in to my new place and immediately jumped into wedding season for a couple of friends. I was so thankful to be a part of both weddings, one as an incredibly ecstatic guest and the other an honored bridesmaid. I also was surprised and wicked away to New Orleans for my 30th birthday. Oh yeah, I also had a couple of okay dates and some really good ones 😃
Since all of these moments have been good things I want to make sure I have an attitude of thankfulness instead of being overwhelmed. Now if I can just tackle a few of life’s adult things I’ll be good…maybe that can wait till tomorrow.

Off to Italy!

At JFK and had to get a quick post out before boarding. Lufthansa is making boarding calls now so I’m typing quickly on my phone!

This is a dream trip for me. I often choose countries based on food or a photograph and Sicily became a dream trip after eating the most delicious olives and I realized they were from the western part of the island. 

More importantly, this is a dream come true because 10 years ago I spent a summer in Parma and Padua and made a life long friend. Sonia and I have been mailing each other chocolate and letters for 10 years. We used to call ourselves ICE, the international chocolate exchange. Then I moved to Miami and I received a package from her, put it directly into my purse to bring inside and chocolate pooled in my purse, my wallet, everything was ruined. We switched to mailing each other tea bags instead. I’ve always wanted Patrick to meet her and after all these years he finally will! 

I lost a rubber tire on my front suitcase wheel running for the jitney near the Lincoln Tunnel, so the whole day through the subway, airtrain and airport gates, my suitcase sounded like a prop plane. People kept looking behind them to see what was coming towards them.

Our high level itinerary: explore Western Sicily, then drive from Naples to Parma, stopping along the way. I can’t wait to eat, explore, drink Marsala wine, eat Sicilian olives, eat fresh parmesan cheese.

Ciao for now!

Rainy Day Gardening in Harlem

My Saturday was muddy. We enter the Harlem Grown main garden on 134th and Malcolm X,  grab garden schwag: green juice, a packet of herb seeds, and watch the chickens in their coop, the morning yoga class stretching as we wait for and greet other members of my company’s volunteer work party. I’m the only spouse here, Patrick whispers to me as he introduces himself to my co-workers.  I’m sorry and a nervous laugh is my only response.

After morning yoga ends on the deck that I assume was built by volunteers, the leader of Harlem Grown, Tony Hillery jumps on the wooden stage and introduces the team, the organization, the mission. To hear him is to know a what a true community leader sounds like: an everyday person in the neighborhood who saw a problem in his Harlem home—undernourishment, type 2 diabetes, obesity, sparse access to and awareness of nutrient-rich cooking and eating—and matter-of-factly worked to change this.

He emphasizes the Harlem-based origins of the organization and that having well-meaning researchers and grad students from elite schools preach to their community about food deserts and disease related to eating food laden with sugar and artificial ingredients was not going to change the Harlem residents’ eating habits and perspectives on food. By his tone, this must have happened frequently. Indeed, I remember food deserts were a hot topic in NYC a few years ago before I moved to Miami (and then back again). Food is ingrained in the psyche through socio-economic history, emotional memory, habit, chemical addiction.

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In order to transition to a healthier lifestyle, the food revolution had to originate from within the community, not by listening to PhD students. And it did, slowly, organically—so to speak—with a vacant land lot and material donations, local parents volunteering to run the program, and most emphatically at Harlem Grown: with kids at the heart of every program so that they taste lettuce and strawberries straight from the ground for the very first time and bring the free produce home to their families to demonstrate how to cook the foods as they were taught at a cooking class. Hillery’s mission made me teary-eyed. I taught children from a similar socio-economic background in Orlando and remember the excitement I incited when food was involved in my lessons plans. In exchange for learning how to grow their own food and cook it and having access to free produce to take home, kids donate their time hoeing and shoveling with adorable kid-sized garden equipment, planting seeds, painting wooden tables and flower boxes with giant lady bugs and smiling suns.

Our work was a well-organized Honey Do List for four hours in another lot donated to the organization. We dispersed. The Apple Team would be in the greenhouse, the Juice Generation team in the main garden. Our team shoveled dirt into wheelbarrows, which became mud under the perpetual rain that was too light to stop working, but consistent enough to triple the weight of our labor. The cutest girl and boy of 4 and 7 years helped us shovel by standing on the top of the pile with their kiddie tools and dumped a thimble-full of dirt and announced every earth worm. They never complained about working in the rain and were rewarded with frequent wheel barrow rides. Secretly, Patrick liked it too. His get shit done tendency was perfect as other members of the team debated the design of the walkway we laid out to lead from the street to the first garden box of greens.


My favorite part of the day was touring the greenhouse. The greenhouse manager is a parent who started as a volunteer until the greenhouse expanded into its own lot and became sophisticated enough to demand a full-time manager. The kids help her after school in the greenhouse, which is heated in the winter with a corn-feed furnace, and features a sophisticated irrigation system to maximize space, nutrients and water. As she picked mustard greens and lettuce straight out of the pods and we ate the leaves from her hand, the pride beamed across her face. These plants are her joys and so are the kids volunteer with her and bring home these vegetables to their families.

Four hours later, with a beautiful vegetarian lunch donated by Pret in between, our group had repaired the work shed, leveled the ground with soil, arranged a sitting area with furniture the kids had painted, transplanted strawberries, built plant boxes, planted spinach seedlings and covered ourselves with mud. We can’t wait to visit the garden to see our work being enjoyed by the neighborhood kids.

We reward ourselves with a bottle of cava from Pompette, a local wine shop with a cool Harlem vibe whose owners didn’t mind our muddy shoes. If you volunteer with Harlem Grown, definitely  bring a change of clothes and eat at BLVD, a Harlem restaurant that ties Harlem soul and Southern classics with these amazing cheddar biscuits with way too much butter baked in for your own good.
Coffee Break:

“Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant  act you can do. Plus you get strawberries.” —Ron Finley

“The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul.” — Alfred Austin

“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” — Masanobu Fukuoka

 

 

 

A Quick Weekend in Atlantic City

Never Always dare your romantic, competitive husband to plan something special by lamenting that he hasn’t done anything recently. Patrick booked a surprise weekend getaway to AC and Brigantine, telling me a few weeks in advance there would be a surprise and warned me not check our AirBnB account. I was honored that my offhand remark prompted a getaway, but secretly I was hoping to guilt him into trying this Indian-American fusion restaurant in Hoboken. My plan failed, but I got a weekend at the Jersey shore instead.

The week before we left for AC, he casually revealed his entire plan to me while at a balcony barbecue in Astoria. I love surprises… love love love them. I was eating the most delicious spanakopita of my life, made by a Greek grandmother, I hope—from a local grocery in Astoria, Queens—and drinking my new favorite wine—the only rosé I like the taste of and whose dryness won’t give me an instant headache. I was in mid bite of my spanakopita talking to my friend when he casually walks up to us: By the way, we’re going to Atlantic City next weekend to see the Killers. I pulled the spinach square from my open mouth. Why’d you tell me?!  My surprise buildup prematurely deflated. He shrugged,  I don’t know… Are you surprised? Did you know that’s what we were doing?  I was completely off. My suspicion was New Hope, PA to go bike riding and antiquing but now that I think about it there’s no way in hell Patrick would subject himself to the pain of a small town weekend alone with me. Disappointed, not in the weekend itself, but in the theft of my surprise, I replied I don’t even want to see the Killers! Aah, the joys of torturing each other.

Fast forward through the work week and here we are in Atlantic City. Knowing that I like quaint towns, Patrick booked an Airbnb on Brigantine Island, separated from AC by a small bridge about 3 miles away from the heart of the famous boardwalk. The Killers were amazing– we met Tampa natives earlier in the day at Harry’s Oyster Bar that travel around the country to see them play– and so were their opening band, Public Access TV. The bands played in a room that holds 2500 people, standing only, so it was more intimate than an arena or stadium. I swear we were the only people dancing to Public Access TV, which always pisses me off– why go to a concert only to sit still?!

More and more, my uber and lyft drivers are integral to my vacations. I love hearing about their day jobs and passion projects that uber driving is supplementing. They give me the local spots and the history of the city. Often they’re cooky, sometimes scary, fascinating. Our uber driver from Brigantine to the boardwalk gave us the dish on the billionaire investors attempting to revive AC, the good old days in the 50s and 60s when Atlantic City was a premier destination, the dangerous places just off the boardwalk to avoid.

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Sections of the boardwalk feel like Universal Studios and other parts are  sad, the remnants of a once booming area are now vacant or derelict. The vacant Taj Mahal hotel is eerie; Its gaudy Indian sculptures and faux grandeur look like a zombie hideout. Then other parts live up to the Jersey Shore vibe: A $10 cover to get into Bungalow Beach for a private beach party reminiscent of Nikki Beach in Miami with a swimming pool in the middle and over-priced drinks and done up girls. It was an experience though, and we paid because why not. A Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and a ghost buster ran through at one point, but no one was drunk enough to find it funny yet. There were lots of boat horns being blasted by the DJ. It was that kind of vibe.

In the afternoon an uber driver, a painter who hosts Paint Night parties and just had her first art exhibit, whose bubbly personality reminded me so much of my mom, dropped us off for sunset drinks and food. The gentrified area of AC is now Back Bay where cargo containers bars and gift shops face the marina. We ate a pre-Killers meal at Back Bay Ale House, had a drink at a container bar where the bartender’s attitude was, well, like she lived in a garbage can– her name was “Poopy Pants” the whole night. I bought a magnet of a reprint of the famous diving horses at the Steel Pier. We got into an uber and I showed Patrick my magnet, remarking I didn’t think horses had the disposition to leap off a diving platform into water below. On the contrary, our uber driver told us. They LOVE it– he used to watch the horse show at the Steel Pier when he was a kid. I found a youTube video from 1964, but the height around the country for horse diving was really the 1880s to the 1920s. It’s a boring video, but you’ll get the idea.

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We walked the pristine beach of Brigantine on Sunday morning then ate breakfast a second time at Mad Dog Morgan’s before heading back home 2 hours to Weehawken and the city heat.

Next stop: In 9 days we’ll be in Italy!!

Celebrating Age in NOLA

New Orleans is the American city to celebrate age. My sister Sarah, our friend Christine, and I surprised VLM for her 30th birthday with a trip there, hence the recent posts on New Orleans—I was hoping to build her excitement for the city to make it more meaningful when we arrived. I was also surprised for my 30th birthday by Patrick with a trip to Austin. Sarah, we’ll have to do the same for you to keep the tradition going!

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This week, exhausted from the quick but packed weekend, I reflect on age in a city that becomes more charming the older she gets. When I was 29 a few years ago, and my birthday approached, I was a depressed. I hadn’t accomplished everything I had dreamed of doing by age 30. Then a voice struck me over the head with tough love—this loud voice wakes me occasionally in the middle of the night to tell me important things. The voice yelled at me: You are a cancer survivor! You should be celebrating every year you get older. 30?! 30 is just the beginning. I listened and immediately reset my annual clock to count up every year since 25 that I am alive– it’s been 8.5 years with only one recent scare. Now that my mom died at 56, the same age as her mother, I have a new goal: to outlive them by a healthy, adventurous three or four decades. I imagine myself like my great aunts in Northampton or my cousin Lilian who died at 94, still painting, wearing colorful makeup everyday, laughing and singing.

As I wander, I admire the peeling pink and green and purple paint on the walls of the French Quarter, overhear musical duets with bright purple ruffled costumes, walk through cemeteries housing the remains of New Orleanians whose official language and citizenship was French when they died, age isn’t a curse at all—Age is the beauty of life well lived, of history and stories to tell, illustrated by smile lines, freckles from years of summer vacations, waves of dismissal as young people lament about heartbreak or politics after living through it many times before.

New Orleans is the exuberant elderly cousin who mixes the generations freely: an inherited beaded clutch “Made in the Orient” that holds her iPhone. She doesn’t care that her arms are flabby but wouldn’t be caught dead without lipstick and perfume on. Over a brunch of crawfish corn bread, crab sausage and poached eggs, we are serenaded by a three piece brass band playing “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” That afternoon we ate catfish and shrimp po’boys from Johnny’s. I overhear a horse drawn tour guide explain the disputed origin of the po’boy name: a street car strike in 1929, the restaurant Martin Bros, whose owners were former street car operators, served the strikers sandwiches made with day-old baguettes, the middle hollowed out to hold inside ham and cheese or fried oysters straight from the Mississippi a few hundred feet away. We tried those same oysters—pulled fresh from the river—at Crescent City Brewery; the brackish water of the Mississippi more mild tasting compared to east coast oysters. We were transfixed as they were shucked by two young men—one of whom has been shucking oysters since he was 15, and showed us the scars on his palms.

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We grab terribly sugary cocktails that shouldn’t have been sweet at the Columns Hotel, another place with history sweating from the wallpaper and the spooky chandeliers and dark wood. We eat a nouveau Creole cuisine of seafood gumbo, pulled pork (cochon) at Cochon that night in the warehouse district, then catch Rebirth, a brass band bred on the New Orleans streets 34 years ago and mixing inherited NOLA jazz and brass songs with “Smells Like Teens Spirit.”

We pass out around 1 am then wake at 6:30 to beat the line at Café du Monde, another place that is worthy of her age and wisdom, and who can not be substituted by the younger Cafe Beignet. We drink café au lait and google the reason that chicory root is in nearly all NOLA coffee. Our old cousin NOLA tells us another story that only one with the experience of the ages can tell: the story of coffee gaining prominence as an F- you to the British who were taxing our tea. And a Union naval blockade of imports to Confederate ports carrying coffee, leading to the South stretching coffee supplies with chicory root. After the war, other regions went back to pure coffee, but in New Orleans the chicory lives on.

A second and proper breakfast at Carrollton Market near Tulane. Breakfast so delicious that the conversation stopped and all talk consisted of a description of each bite we all took. I had a French omelet for the first time—fluffy and bright yellow with no trace of white, almost the thickness of a pancake but made of pure egg whipped continuously as it cooks then wrapped like a burrito around the filling of melted goat cheese, fresh spinach onion roasted red peppers — and forevermore I will eat an American omelet with regret. We celebrated Venice’s birthday breakfast with a homemade cinnamon roll, birthday candle lit inside for instagram photos, and Pimm’s mimosas. The girls ate brisket eggs benedict over cornbread in lieu of an English muffin, cream cheese stuffed French toast and a cheese burger. For the first time in my life, I was so in love with my meal I didn’t need to taste anyone else’s.

Then off to the airport and to bed I went where a fertility voodoo doll sits on my nightstand, gifted by a friend who acquired it in New Orleans more than 10 years ago, passes it along to friends who breed a little more 

 

 

Coming Through Slaughter

I’m acclimated to the spastic writing of Ondaatje now and officially in love with Coming to Slaughter. I finally recognize the different narrators in the story, although I’m unsure of how many there are. This book requires silence and complete concentration as the art is in the words themselves rather than the plot. Buddy Bolden is called the father of jazz and he died very young prior to be being recorded. There exists somewhere in the world a single phonograph cylinder of his cornet playing, according to interviews with his band partner Cornish. The phonograph was a cool connection for me as I just went to Edison’s original factory in West Orange, NJ (post to come) and took pictures of some of the first phonographs. I found some of his music being played by jazz musicians long after his death to get a sense of who he was as I read about Buddy Bolden and absorb Ondaatje’s songs.

Some of my favorite excerpts from the book:

Buddy walks his kids to school each morning after performing at a jazz club the night before:

“He slept from 4 till 8. His day had begun when he walked the kids a mile to school buying them breakfast along the way at the fruit stands. A half hour’s walk and another 30 minutes for them to sit on the embankment and eat the huge meal of fruit. He taught them all he was thinking of or had heard of, all he knew at the moment, treating them as adults, joking and teasing them with tall tales which they learned to sift down to the real. He gave himself completely to the them during the walk, no barriers as they walked down the washed empty streets one on either side, their thin cool hands each holding a finger of his…By 8 they were at school and he took a bus back to Canal, then walked towards First, greeting everybody on his way to the shop.” (pg 13)

While Buddy plays the cornet in Shell Beach in the middle of the night until the sun rises:

He played till his body was frozen and all that was alive and warm were the few inches from where his stomach forced the air up through his chest and head into the instrument.” (pg. 33)

His band mate Frank Lewis recalls:

We thought he was formless, but I think now he was tormented by order, what was outside it. He tore apart the plot– see his music was immediately on top of his own life. Echoing….Where did he come from? He was found before we knew where he had come from. Born at the age of twenty-two. Walked into a parade one day with white shoes and red shirt. Never spoke of the past. Simply about which way to go for the next 10 minutes.” (pg. 37)

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This is the best; after Buddy goes on a several day drunken bender. I can see and smell these words as I read them. This is NOLA, this is NYC, San Francisco under your fingernails: 

For two days picking up the dirt the grime from the local buses before he was thrown off, dirt off bannisters, the wet slime from toilets, grey rub of phones, the alley shit in his shoe when he crouched where others had crouched, tea leaves, beer stains off tables, piano sweat, trombone spit… Nicotine from the small smokes he found burning into his nails, the socks thick with dry sweat… And then finding home in the warm gust of soup smells that came through pavement grids from the subterranean kitchens which kept him in their heat, so he travelled from one to another and slept over them at night drunk with the smell of vegetables…” (pg. 41)

Photographer E.J. Bellocq  is a character in the book. I was not familiar with his work until I googled him and recognized his photographs of the New Orleans jazz age underworld. He photographed landmarks and ships for money, but at night took pictures of the Storyville prostitutes. Ondaatje writes:

One snap to quickly catch her scorning him and then waiting, waiting for minutes so she would become self-conscious towards him and the camera and her status, embarrassed at just her naked arms and neck and remembers for the first time in a long while the roads she imagined she could take as a child. And photographed that.”

New Orleans, I’m even more in love with you now.

Google Hangout, 7 pm, 5/23/2017.

 

 

 

 

Countdown to Book Club: I’m Struggling!

I’m struggling to finish the novella for our first online book club meeting on May 23rd. Venice and I were so excited about it– the magical New Orleans jazz age setting,  the prize-winning author. The prose is beautiful, but after long hours at work every day the sing-song rhythm of the words are difficult to grasp; As I reread pages I realize that it’s written with a jazz-like absence of rules: little attention to conventional structure; improvised, non-linear, loopy and superfluous at some points, simple at other points.

Never fear: we will finish the book, but my intention is to put at ease the two people I know for sure will be at the online book club to discuss: we are not the Nazi book club. This was really just an excuse to hang out and be nerds with other people under a pretense of pseudo-intellectualism.

Because I’m a total nerd, I thought it would be fun to google the topic of finishing books that are difficult. One post revealed that there was a twist at the very end of The Goldfinch that the author used as an example as to why one should finish a book. The Goldfinch has a gripping plot, but at 34,000 pages, I eventually got bored at page 33,900 because I thought the novel was winding down but apparently I missed something huge. I’m pissed! Now I need to track down that friggin book that made it’s way from New Hampshire to Arizona to Miami to Haiti to Fort Lauderdale where it’s probably in Venice’s storage unit. Another post cited literature and authors such as Kafka, Lawrence, Beckett which are so demanding that the reader, author, or even the characters are so exhausted they abruptly abandon the plot; I imagine a drunken nineteenth century author in love and tortured by a woman created on his pages who he has to dismiss with a few sentences for his own emotional survival.

I made a difficult personal choice a few years ago to never struggle through a book I’m not enjoying. That brings my life rules total to two: the ‘don’t feel guilty for one moment about quitting a book’ rule; and the rule/non-rule I just professed last week and I’m currently practicing to get right: Life is too short to not eat [fresh baked] bread [with butter, hard cheese and honey; or fresh oysters, 90% chocolate with coffee every morning, or laugh so fearlessly that bystanders are annoyed and envious.] Words in brackets are my addition to Nora Ephron’s manifesto; it changed my life when I read it (sad, but girls, I know you can relate).

As I drone on about my bookshelves and nightstand and tabletops of unfinished books– I will see some of you on May 23rd!

Let Life Be Thy Medicine: This Week’s Health Reminder

Last week, I got a suspicious MRI result in the same trouble-making breast that tried to kill me 8 years ago. In true 2017 fashion, I received the news via the NYU medical center’s smartphone app on my way home from dinner with friends. I cried the entire length of the Lincoln Tunnel at 10 pm on the jitney while trying to cover my face; Patrick met me on the street halfway home with a hug. The next day at work, I hid behind my computer screens, tears streaming down silently. My immediate thought was to go on a crazy– person regiment consisting of herbal detox, Vitamin C IVs, coffee enemas; I will never see my first love Chocolate again, I proclaimed. Never have a glass of wine. No more dancing or karaoke or dinner parties. No more homemade pao de queijo. No more fresh blue points with cava. I’m already meditating twice a day religiously, so I have that part covered at least. And thankfully I met an amazing herbalist in Littleton, NH who treats cancer with herbs– many from her own farm in Vermont. The parking gods brought us together on a random wander and now I know why!  I got flashbacks of being on chemo and was near a panic attack as I ran through the list of my favorite things that were secretly plotting to kill me.

When I relayed my plan over the phone to my aunt Zee, she described how when my mom was dying of cancer she lamented constantly that she was embarrassed because she had been obsessed with health and alternative medicine for decades. Embarrassed that she had terminal cancer. That hit home. My zest for life is founded on experiences and satisfying my curiosities: food, music, laughter with friends, family, alone, with strangers. Giving that up for an ascetic lifestyle to potentially live a few years longer would mean giving up a huge part of who I am. How cranky and bitter and boring and anal would I be if I had to sacrifice everything that makes life colorful??? How many more years would I really gain if I lived that way?

I can never invest like Warren Buffett but I can embrace his philosophy on about food and longevity. He’s famous for eating McDonald’s and drinking Coke daily. At the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting on May 6th, an audience member lectured him about Coca-Cola. The 86 year-old replied that if he could live one year longer by eating nothing but broccoli and asparagus, he’d instead choose to keep eating stuff he likes. Agreed.

For the record:

I spent the week being poked and prodded and just learned that it’s benign!!  I celebrated the news with a green juice in a wine glass. And picked dandelion greens from my yard and ate them in a salad.

My life is filled with an abundance of love and light. Everyone in my life is here for a special reason and I thank the parking gods every day for this wonderful life I’ve been blessed with. I love my family and friends more than words!

I’m never giving up my green juices or my 90% chocolate daily fix, or my pao de queijo, or fresh oysters and cava.

F*ck you, CANCER!!!!!!!

 

Dating in 2017

The first thing you all should know is dating is HARD! Ask any single person, ask anyone who has had to date for years, but you should not ask those who have only dated 1 or 2 people, that’s not so bad.

Dating is made even harder when you’re a Christian and know what you want and aren’t willing to settle. It gets worse when the people you know are all married and only have married friends. Do you believe me now? It’s hard, trust me.

So what’s a girl to do? She goes online. She goes online because her daily activities are home, work, back home, and the occasional dinner with a friend or just chill at home. (I’m actually really fun, I promise!) Online dating isn’t exciting, it’s not pretty, but it’s what needs to happen. I continually have to remind myself that at least I’m actively trying. I can’t give up right? Well, it would be so much easier to give up and succumb to the life we all love; pajamas, Netflix, and ice-cream. Ah, the sweet life.

The advice that people like to give when you’re frustrated with being perpetually single; don’t worry, it’ll happen when you least expect it. Ugh, (cue exasperation and eye roll). I’m sorry, that makes it seem if I keep trying, keep holding out hope and looking, that I will never find it?! How is that any encouragement at all? And isn’t the whole point in dating for most of the world, the hope and expectation that it will turn in to something more?

Just because I date with expectation doesn’t mean I date with desperation. I date with intention. I date because without dating it’ll make it nearly impossible to meet someone. I date to meet people to learn what characteristics I like and those I don’t. I don’t date just because I need something to do on a Friday, Saturday, or random Thursday night. I date in the hopes of finding someone that I connect with, share core beliefs with, and want to spend time with. That’s dating with hope.

So, the next time a friend comes to you exhausted by dating, not meeting anyone, or is crushed because andy or all of their expectations haven’t become a reality, just listen to them. Be empathetic.

                                                                              – VLM

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Abracadabra: a Prayer to the Parking Gods

While I waited in line for a falafel in Tzfat, Israel a man sitting on a ledge by open window, crossed legged and robed in white, started a conversation with me. His wispy black beard galvanized my memory of an older wise cleric, but as I look back in the photos now I realize he is probably in his late 30s, early 40s. Tzfat is one of four holy cities in Israel, the birthplace of Kabbalah, with gender separated synagogues, art galleries and cobblestone walkways and walls that span 2,000 years.

Photo credit: Warren Lee

He asks me if I have heard the phrase Abracadabra- of course- and if I know the meaning? no I don’t. The phrase is Aramaic, he explains, and means I create as I speak. We create the life we want with our words; Events are manifested when we speak them into being. I thanked him, took my falafel and joined my grandparents to continue sight-seeing, not immediately thinking much of my encounter.
Israel is magic. The people are vibrantly alive there– possibly because they pay a fatal price to live in Israel. Despite the white stone and the heat and arid air, the cities’ walls and streets sing stories of Crusaders, of Alexander the Great and King David, Queen Victoria’s colonialism; Catholic tourists on pilgrimage walk past Jerusalem walls with bullet holes from the war of 1967. People dine on bright tomatoes and crispy cucumbers and fresh parsley and tahina (the BEST food I’ve ever eaten in my life was in Israel, in every city, for every meal). My grandparents asked an older woman for directions in broken Hebrew near the city bus stop. We could barely understand her. She laughed, exhausted from repeating herself and gesticulating, then handed us a fresh baguette from her bag as a gift. Gorgeous Russian women in decadent dresses and high heels wait at the bus stop with us, Arab and Israeli men selling fruit in the shuks ask me if I am Italian, and blonde haired, blue eyed young soldiers in groups, with guns, politely heckle at girls as they pass.

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After researching the history and meaning of Abracadabra for this post I learn that the phrase’s Aramaic etymology is tenuous and my falafel guru didn’t google his facts before he preached it to tourists standing in line for food. In all fairness there is debate about the phrase being derived from Hebrew or other Aramaic phrases used in historical texts. No matter, the power of his message is real for me. The entire spring and summer I was backpacking in 2008, I had been lamenting that I wanted a sense of home. I was trying to do this first in Tokyo, then London, but it wasn’t working out. I got exactly what I craved in the form of a cancer diagnosis that brought me home to my immediate family. I bonded with my mom, my sister and VLM. I finally felt Home.

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Throughout the past 9 years I have invoked his lesson, manifesting things and events simply by proclaiming them to be. I will pass a professional exam; In 5 minutes I will no longer be angry at Patrick; I am healthy; I am safe. When Patrick would drive relentlessly searching for a parking spot on the Upper West Side for more than an hour he would ask me to make a proclamation for a parking spot and without fail a car would pull out for us. I was even able to do it over the phone as he called me desperately, but only after he assured me he had already been searching on his own. (I didn’t want to waste the magic on futile wishes or laziness.) People who don’t live in NYC cannot comprehend this for the miracle it truly is. My friend calls the act “praying to the parking gods.” I prayed to the parking gods by proclaiming she would be accepted into all three graduate programs she applied to. She was accepted. I prayed to the parking gods during a very stressful condo sale in Miami. 16 day cash closing. The key is to proclaim the end result and let it go with full faith that the parking gods will deliver. They haven’t failed me yet. Although my wish doesn’t always look the way I envision it, I always get what I was really asking for and what I truly needed.

My prayer to the parking gods now: I will live to be a vibrant grandmother.