I wasn’t a fan of jigsaw puzzles until I got married. In lieu of hard partying at a big New Year’s Eve bash, the Wolfram clan traditionally brings in the first of the year by completing a picture puzzle. Over the years I’ve played enough NYE gigs to know that puzzle-making is a more peaceful (if less lucrative!?) way to celebrate the holiday, and I’ve grown to appreciate them.
Certainly jigsaw puzzles, like board games and other pastimes, have flourished during these pandemic lockdown times. And they are satisfying to assemble; I’ve found them to be calming to work on, giving a sense of accomplishment and control as the pieces come together and the picture takes shape.
What makes a good-but-not-too-challenging puzzle is up for conjecture. Go on YouTube and you’ll see there are many differing opinions – some prefer still life, or scenic beauty, while others like abstracts. I lean towards scenes with lots of tiny details, because sometimes the loveliest photo has too much same-colored background, making it almost impossible to finish.
I’m comforted by the familiar – old LP covers of records I used to own, or Times Square in NYC, or old movie posters, or candy bars from the past. (Hey – a gal can dream!)
“So what have you done lately?” It used to really bug me when my dearly departed dad would ask this question; while I’d be eager to show him my newest song, I sincerely doubted his interest, as I rarely felt he actually liked any of my work.
And I felt challenged, as if what he was REALLY asking was, “what have you got to say for yourself? Give an accounting of what you’ve accomplished to justify your existence!” It almost felt like an attack, although I’m pretty sure that wasn’t his conscious intention.
‘Tis the season for Christmas letters, and as one might expect, we didn’t receive as many as we have in earlier years; 2020 was a year of delays, postponements and cancellations, so many of us didn’t have as much to report. (Maybe it’s enough that we survived!?)
Which reminds me of the first attempt we made in 1984, to include a Christmas letter in with the greeting cards we mailed to family and friends; we’d moved precipitously from Chicago to Los Angeles (on a wing & a prayer, AKA hope & credit cards!?), and had recently purchased our first computer. The word processing program had a
We didn’t have much actual NEWS to share, and were frankly floundering, trying to get our bearings in a new market. But after 6 months on the west coast, we still felt hopeful we could break into the Hollywood music biz, and we included all of the new people we’d met since our move on our mailing list, many of whom we hadn’t followed up on after our initial meetings. We hoped the holiday letter could be a way to reconnect and perhaps build relationships.
We got one response that took our breath away; an anonymous recipient of our holiday greetings had gone to the trouble to write a very snarky letter back, using the same format. Since we didn’t really know many of the folks we’d mailed to, we puzzled for weeks over who we had offended so grievously! And we haven’t written many Christmas letters since then!
I don’t have the greatest track record when it comes to New Year’s resolutions; sure, I’ve MADE ’em – but haven’t had much success at KEEPING ’em! But it occurred to me a few days ago that I could take a baby step in the right direction this last week of 2020 – by cleaning out the freezer of pre-cooked meals of indeterminate age and genus! A week of Freezer Surprise will create a Fresh Start in 2021 by LABELING these meals before committing them to their frosty depot! Alas, reluctant cook that I am, I don’t have the skills to identify mystery meats like the cashier at the studio commissary in BLAZING SADDLES (https://youtu.be/_AOeSrLCD-U); trying to guess whether a dish contains chili or beef stew or chicken divan or curry, without opening it up… well, it’s not my forté. But armed with a grease pencil (and my resolution for a new paradigm!), I may yet be able to predict what exactly we’re having for dinner before defrosting in the future. For the next week or so… well, it might be Tuna Surprise!?!
One year we stopped by our friend’s 2-flat in Wrigleyville (after having endured a glum church dinner); Pete’s friends were theater folk and we had SUCH a great time hanging out with them… and then were sent home with a LOT of leftover pies! YUM!
This year we’re staying pretty much low-carb, so… no pies!! And there won’t be anywhere near as many HUGS as I’d like. But I’ve recently reflected that every day, year ’round, I get plenty of smiles from my loved ones; on FaceBook, in emails, and framed in the living room. I’m grateful to have so much love surrounding me; whether from people still on earth or dearly departed, they warm my heart beyond measure. Until this pandemic passes, I’ll content myself with these and count myself incredibly blessed! 🍁
All the current scuttlebutt about destroying the Post Office brings to mind the many times I’ve interacted with the USPS; from early childhood I remember how special it was to receive a card or letter from Nana – with MY NAME on the envelope! – and how I signed up for penpals thru ‘TEEN magazine (which I subscribed to and received in the mail every month!!)
Getting mail is a privilege and a right for Americans thru our Constitution and it’s illegal and immoral to attempt to destroy this precious service that helps us communicate and stay connected.
Over the years I wrote and received letters and cards I treasure to this day; a letter from a neighbor who had moved away, encouraging me to keep writing poems and songs when I was a teenager, a stack of love letters and greeting cards from when my husband and I were courting, the final PAID-IN-FULL invoice from my college loans, and decades of letters from my dad… might not matter to anyone else but they sure mean a lot to ME!
One of my favorite memories of receiving mail was when Mark and I lived in NYC and would receive thick envelopes every month or two from his dad, who lived in Tucson. Enclosed with his note would be a stack of coupons he’d clipped from newspapers and magazines. In the early 1980s, Tucson was a test market for a lot of new products, so there would be coupons for items we’d never even heard of…! Dad LOVED his bargains and we felt like we could splurge trying out new things because we had those coupons he’d sent to us!
Mostly we knew he was thinking of us, and that was the best thing of all. Nothing takes the place of a letter from home.
We depend on our postal service to ship our sheet music and CD recordings to our customers. Reliance on the USPS is a non-partisan issue; personal and professional. The difficulties being heaped on our postal service now are indefensible; at every turn, postal employees are being cheated, service hours are being truncated and critical deliveries are being delayed. Today I spoke with our carrier who delivered a shipment from Germany, bills and advertising circulars and a box of vitamin supplements – and I reassured her, “we have your back. We’re union people, too. And America will not let the postal service die!”
Sometime in the early 1980s my Dad took the train from NYC to visit his younger brother, who lived in the harbor section of downtown Baltimore. Daddy was an avid walker, and on a whim, (between card games, probably), they strolled over to Pimlico racetrack for an afternoon’s amusement, as Uncle Larry and Aunt Katie would do on occasion. None of them were schooled in the vagaries of gambling on the ponies, but noticing that a horse named Willard Scott was set to run, my dad placed his first bet; the odds were 20 to 1, Willard Scott won and my dad went away $150 richer.
He never looked back. The Sport of Kings took over; it became a passion. His lifelong enthusiasms (books, records, acting, writing, movies, playing ukulele, banjo, guitar, etc.) all took a backseat as he worked tirelessly perfecting his handicapping “system”. Sometimes he would win, but mostly he’d lose. Then he’d go back and make further adjustments.
All of this constant tweaking would need to be shared with his loved ones as he puzzled out the permutations… with brother Larry, of course, who had gotten him started – and each of his daughters in turn, none of whom had ever expressed even the slightest interest in his methodology. He wrote out his theories (and even got some published!). He spent countless days taking the subway+bus out to Aquaduct or Belmont Park where he could place his tiny 1-dollar bets (to test out his theories), and spend time with his fellow gamblers. If he felt tired, he’d just go downstairs and place the minimum 2-dollar bets at the corner OTB storefront. Nonstop daily study and research of the racing form was a given.
Once when Larry and Katie were visiting him in NYC, my dad insisted on showing off Belmont Park. After a winning afternoon, as they drove back from Queens into Manhattan, instead of calling it a day, Dad decided it would be a good idea to keep going on out to the Meadowlands in New Jersey, where they could engage in nighttime sulky racing. None of them had a clue what made that sport tick, however, and they lost all they’d won earlier in the day. I don’t think my dad ever bet on a harness race again.
Having grown up with the idea that he was an intellectual fellow, I never understood my father’s fascination with the ponies, and why the ravenous hunger to WIN!!! took him over. I was glad that this desire was kept in check to the degree that he didn’t borrow money from the mob to feed his habit, though – and I loved watching him get SO excited about it, even if it never made sense to me. All I know for sure is that it engaged his mind, heart and soul – it made him happy – and happy is a good way for a Harris to be!
I read both of Marie Kondo’s books when they were first published in English and I’ve noticed her publicist has been working overtime, increasing her visibility since her Netflix TV episodes began airing earlier this year. While I adopted some of her ideas right away – (folding and storing so that all socks, shirts, etc. are visible just makes sense!) – I find her “throw everything in a pile” approach to be unnecessarily violent and even punitive; there are kinder, gentler ways to sort through and discard clutter without shaming ourselves. I find I need time to process tender feelings, especially dealing with unfinished business and items with sentimental value.
What we choose to keep says a lot about who we are, and releasing our possessions can be a spiritual as well as physical and emotional journey. Even going through “junk drawers” in the kitchen takes more time than I would’ve thought – what to do with half-dead batteries? My collection of twist-ties and tired old rubber bands reveals how hard I try to “keep it together” – and my willingness to sort through and discard such detritus tells me I’m ready to release a lot more stuff I don’t need.
I agree with Gil Hedley (above), who champions the spiritual nature of sorting through, examining and recycling our “stuff” – knowing that while it doesn’t literally define us, it’s still a potent force to be reckoned with – in his words; “psychically and biologically active”. Dietitians have been saying, “you are what you eat” for decades – perhaps now is a good time to entertain the idea that “you are what you keep!”
I’ve been noticing how certain items DO seem to carry an energetic charge – and that broken items are somewhat distressing to me; they cause a disconnect of sorts. As I become more aware of how my possessions actually make me FEEL, I’m hoping to release more than STUFF these days – I’d like to think I’m ready to let go of old habits and attitudes that don’t fit and/or don’t work for me any more – maybe they never did!?
Both of my parents were minimalists and left behind very little by way of clutter; they purged their belongings periodically and I wound up inheriting one office-sized storage box for each of them, the contents of which I scanned and shared with my sisters and other relatives. Knowing how my friends have grappled with their own parents’ possessions, I’m grateful my folks left such a small footprint. My dad’s box contains his plays, reviews and indecipherable diaries, written in his own secret shorthand, along with a beret that stopped smelling like him many years ago, alas. My mom’s box has her drawings, writings, paper pop-up experiments, letters and cards.
The items of theirs that I’ve kept remind me of the REAL treasures they shared – the time they lavished on us, their artistic flair and aspirations, their love for us. What else is worth cherishing?
Although NYC was Mecca for my family, I moved away permanently almost 35 years ago. Still, some things about living in the city have stayed with me; my visceral reaction to the energy on the streets of “the city that never sleeps”, the memory of the sounds and smells, the incredible amounts of noise and traffic, and, like a true New Yorker, my inherent distrust of strangers when it comes to handling my purchases, bags, etc.
One of the things besides classical music that made 2017 survivable was that throughout this past year I received The New Yorker magazine in the mail. Frankly, I was puzzled, because I had only signed up for a brief 6-issue special subscription, and yet… it kept arriving! I knew that I hadn’t paid for it, and I was slightly tempted to bring this apparent snafu to their attention – but I was enjoying the writing so much that I really didn’t want it to stop coming! While I’d always enjoyed the cartoons, I experienced a deep satisfaction from the stories and articles about life in general as well as commentary on our current political climate. With all the sensationalism of these events, compassion and insight have been absent in much of the media reportage lately, and it’s comforting to read about how people are coping in these tumultuous times.
My benefactor was revealed today; a dear friend who also had moved away from New York in the 80s – and I thanked him profusely for the generous gift. Even though neither one of us was originally born within the city limits, once you’ve claimed NYC as your home, at heart you are ALWAYS a Native New Yorker , with all the privileges such sophisticated status bestows!
I became aware of the “double standard” pretty early, but I was stunned when my dad explained dating once I hit puberty; he told me that many men see women as “pieces of meat”, as that had been his experience growing up and especially while serving in the US Marine Corps during WWII. In my early teens, I had a great deal of resistance to this idea; having read a lot of magazines, my head had been filled with romantic notions, aided and abetted by pop songs of the 50s and 60s. Even back then, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” sounded pretty innocent and non-threatening.
It often takes me a while to process difficult emotions, and this past year has been especially challenging in that regard. Like every woman I know, I’ve been sexually harassed, and although such abusive treatment has diminished in my advancing years, it’s still a fact of life which grieves me deeply, as I’d hoped we would have made more progress as a society in regards to treating ALL people equally and equitably. Alas, that has not been the case – a fact that has been rubbed in our collective faces, especially since Election 2016 when DT became PussyGrabber in Chief.
I almost wish I could just point the finger at “toxic masculinity” and leave it at that, but I think that having the inequities of our society in such bold relief, in regards to race as well as gender, has encouraged intolerance and contempt for one another. It’s no surprise to me that more people are coming forward these days with their stories of being molested – there have always been “dirty old men”, but as I feared, these men have become emboldened by the so-called leadership of our country. It’s now officiallyOpen Season on the female gender. What else can we do besides #metoo ?
I’ve recently taken comfort in revisiting YouTube videos featuring kinder, gentler men from my youth, the cadence of their voices and the kindness in their demeanor – men like Art Linkletter, (whose warmth and humor reminds me of my uncle Larry), Mr. Rogers, who liked you “just the way you are”, and my favorite, Captain Kangaroo The Captain sang, told sweet stories, dealt with challenging cohorts like Dancing Bear and Bunny Rabbit – he even did his own housekeeping! And he featured the absolute BEST political candidate: Mr. Moose – whose campaign promise, “if you elect me, every American will have antlers! (or uncles!?) … and all of our friends will be bunny rabbits!”
Sounds a lot better to me than promoting pussy-grabbing.
– as well as the house where she and my mother grew up in Rye, NY. The former is HUGE, on many levels, with beautiful sunlit rooms everywhere – and in my dreams, I can never find a bathroom! The latter is remembered here, drawn by my mother’s hands and memories.
This house was HUGE in comparison to the apartments where I grew up! I remember warm summer evenings after dinner; the swing on the screened-in back porch – large enough for at least a couple of us kids at once. And the backyard, so green and lovely, seemed to go on forever.
The cellar was earthy, dark and mysterious, with lots of secret nooks.
It’s not on this floor plan, but for ME, the MOST important part of the house was on the first floor – the baby grand PIANO!! I love that my mother remembered where the marigolds and lilies of the valley were planted! She was a surprisingly impressive companion walking through a park or Botanical Garden – she knew a lot more about flora than you might expect!!
I haven’t figured out the significance of these locations, but they touch something deep inside me when I wake and remember where I was visiting during dreamtime.