photo-93After two weeks in Dublin, five weeks on Hydra, my friend Dan bullied me into accompanying him to Bulgaria. I resisted the pressure for a week and finally (because he was also helping me edit a new piece of work*) he used his PhD in bullying to a good end. I blew off my return ticket to New York. Instead, Dan and I flew from Athens on a small spritely prop-jet to Sofia, rented a car, sat in it waiting for Kristina (Dan’s partner, my friend too), to arrive from Paris. (Meanwhile working on the ms.) When she touched down, we three filled our pockets with Bulgarian Lev, and drove along the highway to the City of Plovdiv once called Philipopolis when Philip of Macedon conquered it in the 2nd century BC. Along the way we passed vast clusters of blooming lilacs, blooming roses in profusion, mustard-colored grape seed fields, forests, mountains off in the distance in the direction of the Greek border.

We settled into Plovdiv’s Old Town, high on a hill. (In my hotel’s breakfast room were great stones from 1st century Roman ruins. More work on the ms. there too.) Povdiv is Kristina’s home town. As it happened, our visit coincided with Orthodox Easter (1 May this year). Our week-long visit included a traditional Easter meal with Kristina and Dan, Kristina’s parents, Dincho and Ivanka, as well as with her grandmother, Maria, called Gran, who is so old no one knows her age anymore. Beside Easter, we ate just about every meal together in the family apartment overlooking central Plovdiv’s tall treetops during which I experienced hospitality and warmth the likes of which I’ve rarely felt before. (One small but touching example: To make me feel more at home, salt and pepper shakers in the shape of the Statue of Liberty were part of the table setting.) Our Easter dinner of slow-cooked lamb and colored eggs was sublime. But so were all meals, all dishes, all soups, deserts, salads, meats, all flavors – unparalleled.


Though I speak no Bulgarian and Dincho and Ivanka hardly spoke more than a word or two of English, our many gatherings around their dining table were never stiff. Dincho told stories, Ivanka added charming counter-points while Kristina patiently translated phrase by phrase, including an occasional comment or story offered up by me, so nothing was lost.  Dincho comes from the village of Krasnovo an agricultural area north of Plovdiv. His family were landowning people who grew wheat, rye, barley, vegetables and had forests as well as hundreds of honey producing beehives. After the WW II ended, his (and all) land was socialized and became a cooperative. At some point the hives were set on fire by a spiteful worker who resented those who once owned land.


In his youth, Dincho was an athlete, the 400 meter hurdle his specialty. He became Bulgarian national champion in 1960 and traveled the world in competitions. When his sporting days were finished, he studied agricultural management and became a director of a regional grain producing company. Dincho and Ivanka met at a party. He confesses that the moment he saw her he knew she was the one for him. Ivanka was from a well-to-do Plovdiv family, had a passion for science. She had lost her father when she was quite young so her mother, Maria, had become a nurse to support the family. Ivanka studied bio-chemistry and later became the director of a lab that kept control of (and monitored) all the drinking water in the region. They had two children, Steve, first, then Kristina next.

photo 2-2

The family adjusted when communism came in 1945, and – in 1989 – when communism went, and inflation sky-rocketed to 2000% making all savings almost worthless, the family also bore up. For five years Dincho fought to get some of the Krasnovo land restituted; and, in 1995, succeeded. In 2007 he was able to own bee hives and the whole family helped with their tending. Kristina assisted by centrifuging the honey, Ivanka would scrape the honey combs even though it made her nervous when bees got into her curly hair. There was enough land  for a vegetable garden, a profusion of tomatoes, also for roses and other flowers, fruit trees too.

At our first meal I mentioned how taken I was by the wild roses I’d been seeing since my arrival in Bulgaria. Kristina explained that I was seeing the thirty leaf Bulgarian May rose. How much I would love to take a cutting of this rose back home to my sister for her birthday, I pined. Ivanka and Dincho said that if they could get to their land in the next days, they would see if they could get me a cutting to take 1-2Each meal was a banquet. My special favorites (all home made, naturally), Luteniza – home grown tomatoes and sweet peppers, baked, roasted on a fire, cooked down, thickened. Out of this world! Yogurt and cucumber soup. Sublime! Home made baklava – shiny with honey made by the family bees. Beyond description! Between meals – walks through the Old Town, a trip to Bachkovo Monastery founded in 1083, yellow hand-made candles lit in various Ortohodox Churches for dead loved ones. And, of course, work on the ms. until (on our final afternoon), we transferred it to a memory stick after which Ivanka led us to a copy shop where bound copies of a completed draft were produced. (This piece of creative non-fiction tentatively titled: *Found and Lost.)


On our last evening after our luscious meal, Ivanka, Kristina and Dincho presented me with gift after gift, each accompanied by a conspiratorial smile. A cornucopia of their home made goodies passed from their hands to mine: A jar full of fresh Luteniza. A plastic water bottle filled with pale amber honey. Another with dark mocha-colored honey. A plastic bottle filled with clear Rakiya (much like Turkish Raki or Italian Grappa), made using their own tiny plums. Bags of herbs. Ceramic bowls. Rose perfume. Rose soap. And the grand finale, two small wrapped-moistened, ready-for-travel, Bulgarian thirty leaf May rose bushes, one pink, one red.

It was necessary for me to buy an extra suitcase.

After a trip by car to Sofia, an airplane ride to Istanbul, another to New York (my pockets still full of most of the original Bulgarian Lev ready for another visit), all arrived safely. Not a drop spilled, not a glass or branch was broken …



The coughing girl


A large bumble bee has been noisily jackhammering the west-facing window glass near me, can’t seem to find his/her way out through an open door not three feet away. Is he/she stupid, or what? I’m tired. I’m working. The beauty of the scenery stops me in my tracks  wherever I turn.

A 90-year-old red-headed relative died near San Diego, California two days ago. I was quite fond of her. I hadn’t seen her in a long while. I remember singing California, Here I Come over and over with her in New York, in my mother’s backyard, when I was about five. Each time we sang the lines, So open up your gold-en gates... we’d both  spread our arms and hands wide. In her memory, the song done by Al Jolson in 1924. Also, Ray Charles. (Click links above. Note: I’m being cryptic since I’ve been asked by another relative not to write about this person just yet, and will do as asked.)

Amanda Divine, whom I hadn’t seen in a million years, sister of my poet friend, Rick Vick, former resident of Hydra, died in Stroud, England three days ago. I remember beautiful Amanda (who seemed to float across the scenery) visiting Hydra accompanied by her corkscrew-haired daughter Fern, who once hit me on the head with a rock when her mother and I had a converstion that went on a bit too long. At the time Amanda wore long colorful skirts, frilled blouses. She could have starred in a cinematic adaptation of a Jean Rhys novella. Another poet friend, Kevin McGrath (who teaches Sanskrit and Indian Studies at Harvard, also a lover of Greece and things Greek) has dedicated his poem –


– in memory of Amanda Divine –


THERE is a door to the river      that no one can know    

Where breaking through light      we enter the world

Stone threshold of love      where we pass from illusion      

Crossing the floor      in a long endless current


There ships by themselves     move through the hours      

And trees bear fruit      throughout the years


Where children play     on avenues shining       

As the universe stands     staring quietly at life


We are subdued      by the rind of sorrow

The sweetness of being      runs away all the time


Speechless till sprinkled      with blood at our birth

Men and women ordained      to sleep apart


We are touched by hands      that reach from the sky

Enter our heart      for the joy we must hide


So turning we see      there was no river

Nor was there life      just one beautiful door


The little neighbor girl in the house below mine has a cough. When she is not at school she coughs at least once

Image-1-27every three minutes. (Yes, I’ve timed her.) The sound of this barky/croupie cough is blighting an otherwise tranquil sojourn. It reminds me of the cough that Eric Newby describes in his unforgettable memoir Love and War in the Apennines that became the epilogue to my book Fiet’s Vase, on war, suffering, survival:

That night something happened to me on the mountain. The weight of the rice coupled with the awful cough which I had to try and repress broke something in me. It was not physical; it was simply that part of my spirit went out of me, and in the whole of my life since that night it has never been the same again.

Kits, cats, coughs, deaths and lives, how many are going to St. Ives?

Remembering Jules Schelvis, a friend

Sent to me yesterday by my Dutch friend Friso van Gent: SOBIBOR-OVERLENVENDE JULES SCHELVIS (95) OVERLEDEN, the title of an article from NOS, Netherlands. My heart began to ache, Now it’s Jules. Wrenching, but not surprising. More surprising had been, year after year, the unique New Year cards designed and printed and signed by Jules received  from Amstelveen, where he lived in the last years, that seemed like they’d go on forever.

Jules Schelvis was a valued friend and interviewee. We first met through the daughter of a survivor I had interviewed in Amsterdam in 1984, just after he published several small books in English that he’d designed and printed himself. They were touching and beautiful. Not surprising as, I soon learned, he had been and still was a printer by trade. One of these was a compilation of verse written by his wife, who died (along with her Polish-born family) almost immediately after she, they and Jules were deported from Holland in 1943 because they were Jews. The second book, a shortened version of his memoir Binnen de Poorten, tells of his travails in many Nazi concentration camps across Europe as a captive, including one of the most horrific, little known, death camp, Sobibor. He soon wrote a difinitive book titled Sobibor, and became a world authority .

An excerpt from today’s Associated Press obituary: Jules Schelvis, founder of the Sobibor Foundation, died yesterday night, April 3, 2016 at the age of 95. Anyone who knew Jules Schelvis well might have thought that it would never come to this. Despite his age Jules kept on working tirelessly. With the same power of comprehension and interest in the world developments. Up until the very end Jules read two newspapers, electronically on his tablet!

Jules Schelvis started his working days at 7.15 am sharp with an iron discipline. In his apartment in Amstelveen, where he lived up until the end, Jules would work in his study on a daily basis. He wrote, printed, scanned, photocopied and edited in a most modern way and with the latest equipment. In this study Jules also painted his copies of Chagall, Picasso and Breitner. These paintings were covered all over the apartment. A few selected people would receive a painting as a gift.Image-1-27

The following is from Jules’ section from my book Fiet’s Vase and other Stories of Survival, Europe 1939-1945On May 26, 1943, Jules Schelvis – whom I would come to know very well in his old age – was a handsome young printer from Amsterdam. He and his family were awakened from sleep by the loud, hollow sound of harsh voices broadcasting from loudspeakers. He was living with his new wife, Chel, and her Polish parents, David and Gretha Borzykowski, on Nieuwe Kerkstraat in the heart of the Jewish Quarter, which had been marked by the Germans with yellow signs on the corners of the streets since their attack and occupation of Holland in 1940. Jules got out of bed and looked out of the window. The streets were deserted. The voice blared, from a loudspeaker on top of a car, that all Jews were to prepare for departure, that no one was allowed to go out into the street, that all the bridges in the quarter had been pulled up.

From the window Jules saw in the moonlight that it was true: The Magerebrug, the bridge at the end of the street, had been pulled up. Escape was impossible. His parents, who worked in the diamond trade, and sister Milly lived in another quarter, on Henriette Ronnerstraat. He had no way of contacting them at that moment. Jules, Chel and the Borzykowskis gathered their dearest books, photographs and other things of value and hid them behind a wall. Then they packed their rucksacks and breadsacks and waited. He spoke about this frantic interval to me in a quiet voice in his living room in Tricht, Holland, a small village a few miles outside of Amsterdam. We were drinking strong Dutch coffee and eating ginger cookies, and almost sixty years had passed since the war: ”At the time we still thought that the Krauts – barbarians though they were – had some remnant of civilization. We assumed that we would be made to work in camps under police surveillance, that we, the men, would have to work very hard and that the women would probably have to work in the ammunitions factories or would have to clear rubble in the bombarded towns in the east. Maybe we would not get enough food, but we would probably hold out. Yes, that was what we thought then.” Jules explained to me that he imagined that the nights “in the east” in captivity would be long, so he decided to strap his guitar onto his back. He thought that playing music would help to pass the long nights.

Inside his rucksack was clothing, a water bottle. A pair of shoes was in the side compartments, and a rolled-up woolen blanket was on top under the flap. The sack also contained extra food. Straddling the rucksack was the guitar. Through the window Jules and the others saw the Griine Polizei coming toward their building. Then they heard the doorbell ring. He pulled the handle that opened the outside door and let them into the building. All were taken downstairs and marched to the corner of Weesperstraat, where they were told to wait in front of Moos van Kleef’s fish shop for more Jews to be brought. When the group was large enough, they were taken to the Jonas Daniel Meyer Plein and registered in the Great Synagogue. Next they were put on trams to the Muiderpoort railway station, then transported by train to the Dutch transit camp called Westerbork. On June I, 1943, he and his wife and in-laws were packed into trains and sent to a Polish hamlet called Sobibor. Here Jules was separated from his wife and in-laws. Out of thirty-four thousand Dutch Jews who left Westerbork between March and July 1943 with Sobibor as their destination, Jules was one of three men who survived. Today there’s a nature reserve and scenic picnic stop beside what was the Sobibor stop on the rail line. Today, only a watchtower and the commandant’s house remain as monuments to the place in which hundreds of thousands met death, where an SS officer enjoyed putting a tin bucket onto a Jew’s head like a top hat and practicing his shooting. Where once stood the camp and where a gas chamber once sent flames licking the sky stands a monument of a woman holding a child in her arms. Another monument is a tall block of rectangular stone.


Besides his statistic-defying survival of Sobibor, Jules further defied his statistical chances at Auschwitz, Dorohucza, Lublin, Radom, Tomaszow, Unterriexingen and Vaihingen. “How?” I asked him, incredulous after hearing the daunting names of all the places in which he’d been imprisoned. Jules joined the thumb and forefinger of his left hand to the thumb and forefinger o his right like links in a chain and pulled, straining. “The chain held.”

Demonstrating again, he explained, “Each time … again and again … the chain simply held.”

On April 5, 1945, in Vaihingen, Jules remembers: “Our guards left the camp. They came down from the watchtowers and walked away quietly as if they had never had anything at all to do with us. Their guns hung loosely on their shoulders. I watched them leave till they were out of sight.” Not knowing what to do, Jules and the few other living prisoners simply waited. “That evening I went to bed late and slept restlessly. I thought it was because of all the emotions of the nerve-racking day. But the next morning, I ran a very high fever and was not able to get up. The diagnosis was typhoid. I was near despair. For two years I had lived through misery again and again, hoping that a miracle would happen, that I would survive this damned war and that I would return to my beloved Amsterdam where I hoped I would find someone left, maybe, of my family or friends. And now, at the end of the race, with one foot over the finish line, now I caught typhoid. A dangerous illness in a camp.”

Delirious, with a high fever, he passed three days and nights. On April 8, a French officer entered the barrack. The officer spoke words no one understood; he gave the prisoners cigarettes, chocolates and shook hands with those who were able to lift their hands. “Some of us, who could still weep, let their tears run freely. For me, at this important moment, there was no joy. I had imagined the splendor of liberation so very differently. To die, after liberation had come … I wanted to go out too and plunder the village, just like some others, to take back the radios and bicycles that the Krauts had stolen from us, long ago, at home.” The French set up a field hospital to treat the sick. “Skilled French nurses helped me shower and took care of me in a most touching way. Dressed in a pair of neat pajamas, I was then carried into one of the waiting ambulances, which brought me to the Vaihingen-Enz hospital.” Gravely ill, he lay in hospital from April 15 until June 20.

When at last his physical health had rallied and he was well enough to travel, he set out for home. His route took him through Strasbourg, Nancy, Arlon at the Belgium-Luxembourg border, then on through Brussels to the Dutch border at Oudenbosch. “At the railway station of Ouderbosch, I got out of the carriage to demonstratively stand on Dutch soil again. The lump in my throat was too big for me to utter a sound.”

In Amsterdam he walked and walked, simply breathing in the air of liberated Amsterdam. From the Koningsplein he walked toward the Herengracht. “I walked down the Herengracht, to the Amstel River, where I got to the Nieuwe Prinsengracht by the Magerebrug. No one seemed to notice me; it was as if I belonged to the many Amsterdammers who had gotten through the famine winter. I wanted to cry out to everyone I met that I was one of the very few exceptions who had come back from the extermination camps of Sobibor and Auschwitz. That I had been in Dorohucza, Lublin and Unterriexingen. That I had returned from Hell. But, this was the worst dream of the past two years. Returning to the reality of the moment, I went, weeping openly. Everything had truly happened, and there was no one to comfort me. All those I had loved were no more. Murdered!”

When Jules died, he was the final survivor of Sobibor. Now there are none. Jules shared the same birth date as my son – January 7. In Jules’ memory, a concert of music commemorating one of the many Nazi concentration camps, (Mauthausen) written by the great Nikos Theordorakis, performed by the heart-tearing singer Maria Farantouri.

PS in Swords


Must get bus at 4:30 to airport to make flight.

Told to turn clock forward one hour. Did so: 3:30 became 4:30… (Had put clocks forward two weeks ago in New York. Have now lost not one but two hours of my life.)

While waiting for my take-out Irish Puff Pastry with steak and gravy a fist fight broke out in the restaurant between two men.




In a holding patterning (about to go on retreat in a few hours, preparing to pivot while floating for a few days more as the birds awaken in the garden below), thoughts of what was/is indelible, soothes without fail during such a limbo. From my Rosebud file:

Sledding after dark

Four nights and five days at the Hotel Paradise in Krynica, Poland taking the waters, reading, readying, reading (perhaps I. Singer and C. Milosz)

Canoeing down the Delaware River through whitewater, in the stern, feathering, dip dip and swing

Landing after a turbulent 14 hour flightIMG_1717

Holding a baby (any baby) in my arms starting with my own, a perfect creature whose entire foot fits into my palm

My father’s voice singing:

Those are the legal laws.
The snow may never slush upon the hillside.
By nine p.m. the moonlight must appear.
In short, there’s simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In Camelot

My father listening to Walter Huston singing the “September Song” from 1938

Greece when wildflowers bloom as they are doing now

Nina Simone: “Here comes the Sun” from 1971

My dead loved ones coming back for long visits

Cold heavy cream poured on top of hot chocolate pudding for all





My son was born during a transit strike

According to the Socialist Workers Party, the transit strike that winter trumpeted the still vital power of the working class as 36,000 workers walked out on the 2nd day of the new year. [see The Militant by Farrell Dobbs] Not one subway, bus or ferry moved for 12 days, paralyzing the city during a very cold winter. One of the union leaders, Irishman Mike Quill, about to be arrested despite poor health, told the press: “The judge can drop dead in his black robes. I don’t care if I rot in jail. I will not call off the strike.” That’s how union leaders spoke in those days.  And, off he went to jail only to (shortly) be whisked to hospital, and by month’s end, die a martyr’s death.


On the evening of the 6th of January, I, who at age 20 cared nothing about strikes or politics or current events or anything unselfish, was watching an old Bette Davis movie from 1944: Mr. Skeffington

— [Claude Rains: Do you think I’d ever have looked at another woman if I’d received one grain of affection from you? Bette Davis: I’m sorry. I’m really sorry I can’t love you. CR: That’s alright Fanny, you can’t really love anyone. BD: I can’t bear to look at you Job, your eyes have such a hurt expression. CR: A woman is beautiful when she is loved. BD: A woman is beautiful when she has 8 hours of sleep and goes to the beauty parlor every day.] —

when labor pains eerily began. (Yes, I was pregnant.) Timing the twinges as instructed. I couldn’t imagine the time had really come. Around 9:30 pm wrenchings were strong enough and close together enough for my red-haired doctor (Dr. Berk) to order me to go to the hospital. I wen to University Hospital, a newish construction beside the East River, was driven there and put into the hands of a nurse. Becoming unsettled because the nurse was nibbling on a tuna sandwich while examining me, I was sent to the communal labor room where a variety of women were in various stages of labor. Accurate or not, that’s how I remember it.

The evening wore on, then the night did too. Between pains, in and out of a hospital bed with a railing, I wandered aimlessly trying (for modesty’s sake) to hold the white (maybe it was blue or candy-striped) cotton gown that had flimsy ties that barely went around my girth closed. (Yes, I was modest.) Looming outside the window was the 59th Street Bridge, its cables lit. Through the night, the lights of an unbroken line of vehicles trying to thwart the strike inched their way into Manhattan from Queens. At dawn dirty murk faded into a pale blue winter sky. I must have been given something or else the pain put me into an alternate reality since I started going in and out of consciousness, lost track of time, later, total amnesia about everything that came next.

The sky was darkening once more when I came to. I was in another place, I didn’t know where, but could see the 59th Street Bridge gridlocked with the same unbroken line of headlights pointing one way and red brake lights the other, the last light of day had left orange wiggles on the river below. I was told it was January 7th, as it is once again. A smiling white-clad nurse stood over me holding a package wrapped in a blue blanket. She came very close to my face, unwound the wrapping, and lifted out a perfect alabaster sculpture, translucent yet durable. She pointed to one of its feet. Counted the toes: 1,2,3,4,5. She pointed to the second foot. Counted the toes: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. She held out a minute hand, counted fingers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Did the same with the other hand: 1, 2, 3, 4,5. Said: He’s perfect.


…Of the dark past

A child is born;

With joy and grief
My heart is torn…

[Excerpt from Ecce Puer [It’s a Boy] a poem by James Joyce]  

And, truly, my heart was torn. He was perfect; and is, as perfect, as much of an alabaster statue now, of museum quality, as he was then.

Happy Birthday to my priceless monument who remains the most meaningful and lovable and valuable gift offered to someone as undeserving as me during my otherwise ragtag life.



Erasing the holiday


Put away scotch tape, scissors, two kinds of wrapping paper. Cross out names of dead or disappeared from card and gift lists. Return lists to folder in filing cabinet. Tear interesting stamps off cards received to bring to Bill P. in Greece for use in collages. Tear up envelopes, add to bag of used wrapping paper, ribbon, packages. Discard dead tulips. Put away vase. Put rubber band around cards received. Bolster will power in order to discard as many cards as possible. Leave those remaining in rubber band and try to sacrifice a few more tomorrow. Stop eating Lindor Peppermint Extra Dark Chocolate Truffles. Stop eating Granducale Panettone from Italy. Give leftovers to neighbor.


Turn off string of colored lights twisted around postcard rack. Untangle green wire; wind up light string. Put away in linen closet. Put a touch of Evidence Essential Oil from France smelling of patchouli, bergamot, rose and jasmine on each wrist also a smear on back of neck for good measure. Take long transporting sniff. Use dust buster to suck away bits of currants, candied orange/lemon peels or zest and other crumbs from Panettone. Take bag full of paper residue downstairs to recycling. Take scale from linen closet; put in bathroom. Take string of colored lights back out of linen closet and restring around postcard rack. Make list of Thank You notes to write. Return Ten Commandments to refrigerator door.

Relief at holiday’s end is palpable. How things have changed; at one time the end of a holiday was like the end of the world. Remember? Think of: A Song on the End of the World by Czeslaw Milosz, [translated by Anthony Milosz]. I’ve substituted the word holiday for the word world, forgive me Czeslaw.

A Song on the End of the Holiday


On the day the holiday ends,

A bee circles a clover

A fisherman mends a glimmering net.

Happy porpoises jump in the sea,

By the rainspout young sparrows are playing

And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.


On the day the holiday ends

Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,

A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,

Vegetable peddlers shout in the street

And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island

The voice of a violin lasts in the air

And leads into a starry night.


And those who expected lightning and thunder

Are disappointed

And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps

Do not believe it is happening now.

As long as the sun and the moon are above,

As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,

As long as rosy infants are born

No one believe it is happening now.


Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet

Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,

Repeats while he binds his tomatoes;

There will be no other end of the holiday

There will be no other end of the holiday. 


Encomium Zoe

I have very few skills and, with the passing of time, some I once had (like fencing, card games, life guarding, dancing through the night) have fallen into disuse. It might be possible to re-nourish those gone to seed but I doubt it will happen. One of my few enduring talents, though, has been my capacity for appreciating people. I’ve been blessed by a ragtag cornucopia of delicious friends all over the world. These have been the diamonds and sapphires in my life’s jewel-box. That many have died and some are near the end has rendered those remaining even more precious. Especially those with time on their side.

One such  youngish, newish friend named Zoe – whom I’ve hung out with about eight times in her short life in three different countries – doesn’t often cross my path because she lives above the Arctic Circle. Nonetheless, she keeps me threaded into her life and current with photos, emails, and we trade funny things for her cat blog. i.e.


If Zoe is busy with other things, her mother (whom I’ve known all her life almost) keeps me up to date and explains or translates or simplifies if the need arrises. In early December Zoe contributed to Prosjekt Fantasi (Project Fantasy) – a Norwegian national competition to which children were invited to send ideas for inventions. Zoe’s mother shared Zoe’s entry:


She explained: The invention is called “Human Gills”. It’s a small mask that filters oxygen from seawater. It includes ear buds and speakers for communication.


Juries in each region of the country will pick 20 winners.

I was excited. Not only was Zoe a funny young friend she might be a genius as well.

Not long after that, Zoe’s mother sent an excited email: I just got a call … Zoe is one of the regional winners! I can’t wait to tell her when she gets home from school. The winning entries from each region will be sent on to the national level competition….

My oh my oh my!

More recently, in late December, I learned that Zoe had was busy again. She and her mother had worked tirelessly on a gingerbread house because Zoe wanted to contribute to the gingerbread “town” in their town library.


Seeing the photo, it certainly looked like a great effort had been made.

We worked on it for a week, Zoe’s mother explained.

I was impressed. Curious too, I asked, Do the houses get eaten?

The reply came back, Good question.

Details soon followed: Contributors can take home their entries after Christmas. However, after they’ve been on display for a month, possibly with lots of little grubby hands touching them, they’re no longer particularly appetizing. Most people choose to leave their gingerbread masterpieces at the library at the end of the contest.


A few years ago the library delivered the left gingerbread creations to a goat farm in the area. However, the goats didn’t much like them. I suspect this was because most of the gingerbread houses contain distinctly non-edible material, such as wire, cardboard, plastic, aluminium foil, cotton balls, and glue (and I don’t mean icing “glue”).

Even sadder.

I like to imagine that the goats would have been happy to eat our own gingerbread houses, since we always make them 100% edible. But I don’t know if goats actually have much of a sweet tooth. I personally couldn’t bear to eat even one corner of a gingerbread house. Nowadays, the gingerbread town is just thrown away, which is a pity.

I asked, May I share what I’ve learned?

She replied: I guess so, although I wouldn’t want to heap scorn on the event.

I promised. No scorn.




It’s Chanukkah … lighten up


A woman goes to the post office to buy stamps for her Hanukkah cards.

She says to the clerk, “May I have 50 Hanukkah stamps?”

The clerk says, “What denomination?”

The woman says, “Oh my God. Has it come to this? Give me 6 Orthodox, 12   Conservative, and 32 Reform.”


Last December, a grandmother was giving directions to her grown grandson who was coming to visit with his wife. “You come to the front door of the apartment complex. I am in apartment 14T.”

She continued, “There is a big panel at the door. With your elbow push button 14T. I will buzz you in. Come inside, the elevator is on the right. Get in,and with your elbow hit 14. When you get out I am on the left. With your elbow, hit my doorbell.”

“Grandma, that sounds easy,” replied the grandson, “but why am I hitting all these buttons with my elbow?”

To which she answered, “You’re coming empty handed?”