Burlington – Not the Railroad, But an Ugly Merchandise Depot

I am a sucker for off-rack clothing stores because I love bargain shopping. I am a fan of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, Ross, and Nordstrom Rack – although I don’t shop as frequently now that I am self-employed. There were also a few more obscure stores that I frequented many years ago that are all out of business – Dimensions in Fashion, Extreme Value, Value City, etc. I am forever amazed when I walk into a Burlington Coat Factory. I have purchased items here over the years, but the ugliness factor of their clothing has increased at a greater rate than inflation. And going to one location in particular is as good as Walmart for people-watching – and I am being kind. Nowadays, if I am in the neighborhood, I walk in here for sheer amusement, not expecting to buy anything. Most of the clothes are so hideous that I cannot believe that they were made in the first place, and secondly, that anybody would buy them. I have never seen a single soul parading around in some of the freakish creations they sell on the racks here.

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The Peculiar Paradox of the US Post Office

I never would have guessed when I bought postage online and chose to receive tracking at USPS.com that they would be so anal – this is the polar opposite of the service I receive at my local post offices. At the latter, the attitude of most of the clerks ranges from downright surly to nonchalant to inept. At one post office in particular, something is always broken – whether it is one of two Self-Service stations or the one drop box that you are supposed to use if you opted for the Self-Service stations. And the line is nearly always out the door. So I avoid using the counter at all costs and for eBay shipments, always buy postage through them. My older sister’s birthday is on April 6 – the Big 60! So I decided to put together a little birthday package and ship it to her in Boca Raton, Fla. She just told our mom that the postal service is pretty poor down there and that her mail delivery is unreliable at best. She lives in one of those condo buildings with common balconies – kind of reminiscent of cheap motels of the 1970s. So I thought I better play it safe and opt for tracking notices for shipping and delivery. What a freakin’ mistake that was. Unlike the local post office, USPS.com is so anal that I have received a blow-by-blow account of the package’s wherabouts. I believe that I checked off this option for my sister’s email as well. And for some reason, I have received duplicates for every stage of this delivery, so I am already up to 24 emails and this bloody thing has not yet arrived at my sister’s door! I am surprised I haven’t been apprised of the mail carriers taking coffee and potty breaks.

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Reflections on RISD and Providence – The Good, The Sort of Bad, and The Beautiful

A few weeks ago, a young man from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) called me with a pitch about giving money to fund scholarships. He identified himself as a sophomore printmaking major and we had quite a nice chat. Unfortunately, I could not commit to giving anything to this worthy cause, due to my current financial circumstances. His call gave me the kick in the rear end to finally write this article – one that has been ruminating in the recesses of my brain for some time. In essence, I have come full circle since RISD and a brief explanation of how I got from there to here and back is required. I have exhibited my fine art over the years, but after a divorce in 1995, I found myself pretty much responsible for raising a then 7-year-old as a single mother. While I followed a career path in the non-profit sector that I did not anticipate, I discovered that it was indeed a good fit, in lieu of making a living from my fine art. This 18-year ride took me from a communications department administrative assistant and managing editor of newsletters – to national media relations director – to director of communications at a prestigious international medical association.

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Spectacular Moves in Winter Olympics Elicit Awe and Lead to Inevitable Injuries

As I watch some of the events in the 2014 Winter Olympics, I am amazed at the moves that these athletes attempt and master. Olympic events that are new additions, or relatively new, have spawned unbelievable feats of grace and athleticism, while other sports have progressed so much that one has to wonder if this generation of athletes is genetically modified. I find myself gasping at the jumps and lifts in pairs figure skating, and incredible flips and moves in events such as slopestyle skiing and snowboarding, aerial skiing, and snowboarding half-pipe. And let’s not forget the great speed in skeleton and luge and the brutal impact freestyle moguls must have on knees and other body parts. If you have been watching, you know that quite a few athletes have already been injured, while others have taken nasty spills, but seemingly are alright. Somehow I think that more than their egos are bruised.

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Valentine’s Day Can Be Whatever YOU Want It To Be

While Jeff and I have been very happily cohabitating with our kitty Pepper for more than a decade, we chose to opt out of the commercialization of Valentine’s Day about 11 years ago. While neither of us was ever that keen on this holiday, what sent me over the proverbial cliff was when Jeff bought me wilted roses at Dominick’s as a show of his undying affection. I think not, honey, dear, sweetie – jerk! What ensued was that I fled the house and treated myself to a really fattening meal at my favorite neighborhood burger joint, Fratellos. A hamburger and some of the best French fries east of the Mississippi helped put things in perspective and calm me down. So after the fallout – and the extra padding on my love handles, we made a pact to never celebrate Valentine’s Day in a traditional way ever again. Now I can tell you that more than 10 years later and flower-free, our relationship has weathered quite a bit and our deep bond has grown stronger.

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The Two Faces of Ella – A Tribute to My Enigmatic Late Aunt

I have recently become fascinated with my Dad’s family, perhaps because many of them are an enigma. I never met my paternal grandparents – my grandmother Nettie died in 1951 at the age of 67 and my grandfather Abraham died in 1955 at the age of 71. My dad is 90 and has beaten the familial odds by leaps and bounds – a 26-year colon cancer survivor; he has been on medication for hypertension since he was in his 40s. I wrote about my grandfather Abraham in my Triangle Fire article. When I was younger I was not that interested in discovering facts about my mysterious grandparents, but with my dad’s own mortality looming on the near horizon, I feel compelled to fill in the missing pieces. The problem now is that my dad’s memories have faded, although some of the facts were probably unknown even when he was a much younger man. My dad was the youngest child and his eldest sister Ella essentially served as a surrogate mother because my grandmother was in a deep depression after immigrating to America – and for very good reasons. She was separated for years from my grandfather, fending for herself and her children and being forced to board a German soldier in her house during WWI. Most of her family died in Poland, either in pogroms prior to WWII or in the Holocaust.

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Overnight Camp Ushers in the End of Carefree Days and Childlike Innocence

The late Fritzi Jane Vee and her husband Chris Vee (Vlachos), who died in 1992, ran several camps in Wisconsin, but most notably Camp Sandstone on Green Lake, from 1958 until it closed in 1972. This was the girls camp and the boys camp was called Camp Day-Cho-Lah. In September 2009, at the age of 86, Fritzi met an untimely death when she was hit by a truck while crossing the road at the intersection of Water and Lake Streets in Green Lake. When I was in the sixth grade, my parents decided that I should be shipped off to overnight camp. I really did not want to go, but my younger sister Janet and I were getting into increasingly nasty spats, and in retrospect, I guess they thought this was a good idea. The previous summer we had gone on a family trip to California and I was blamed for the constant bickering with my kid sister. Not wanting to repeat what they claim was a vacation from hell, my parents opted for this alternative. Back then, camp representatives made house calls, giving personalized pitches on why this experience would be life affirming and wonderful. My friend Alison wanted to go to overnight camp and my parents went to her house to hear the pitch. A family friend’s son and daughter had gone for years and loved it so much that they became junior counselors, so the camp came with a personal recommendation. The girl, Kathy, was my age – she was an expert swimmer and later excelled on our high school swim team. Needless to say, because she was a junior counselor and a seasoned camper, our paths rarely crossed once I was up at camp.

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Toys from the 1960s-1970s That Would Never Pass Modern Safety Tests … or Are Just Too Lame for Today’s Kids

With Christmas just around the corner and millions of kids eagerly waiting to open presents, I thought it was a good time to look back at a few toys of the past. Considering the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) didn’t exist before 1972, late Baby Boomers got away with playing with a lot of toys in the 1960s-early 1970s that would never pass muster today. Some of these were toys I blogged about when I was waxing nostalgic for the Sears Wish Book of my youth. Kids who have been playing computer games since they were in diapers, with all sorts of other high-tech toys at their disposal, would likely turn up their noses at a few beloved toys of yesteryear. Bicycles Without a doubt, the most dangerous toy of the 1960s-1970s was not a toy at all, but a bicycle. And biking continues to be a dangerous activity, but at least far more kids are wearing helmets now. Still, according to the CPSC, there were 276,425 children 18 and younger treated for bicycle-related injuries at U.S. hospital emergency rooms in 2012. I cannot remember anyone wearing a bike helmet when I was a kid and somehow my friends and I all escaped with minor injuries. It’s not that we were more resilient or had harder skulls – it’s because no injury surveillance systems were in place monitoring these injuries. Deadly biking accidents weren’t publicized and if any prevention organizations existed, they certainly weren’t as active as they are today. My friend Myra once fell off her bike and suffered some bad scrapes on both knees and an elbow. And I had an incident with younger boys in the neighborhood chasing me on their bikes and trying to knock me off mine. I was wearing flip-flops (I know, really brilliant), and when one of…

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The Haunting, Elusive Faces of the Triangle Fire Victims – My NYC Pilgrimage

I have been fascinated with the Triangle Fire tragedy since I was around 8-years-old. I first read about this disaster in a book entitled, Portal to America: the Lower East Side 1870-1925, edited by Allon Schoener. I paged through this book endlessly, honing my drawing skills by copying the photos of poor immigrants by Lewis Hine and others. Although there are just two pages on the Triangle Fire and one photo in this book, there are quite a few photos of garment workers and sweatshops that enthralled me as a child. I didn’t experience this depth of sadness again about the immigrant experience until I read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle when I was a teenager. The hardships suffered by these immigrants and their remarkable resolve in a strange, foreign land was incredibly poignant to me, even as a child.   I forgot about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire for many years and I am not sure what renewed my interest, but I delved into the subject like never before about 6 months ago. This is a tragedy of almost unspeakable sadness – one that still grips the imagination and attention of thousands of people every March 25, and forever in the hearts of relatives of victims and survivors. In preparation for my September 2013 NYC trip, I did as much research as possible – with the goal of writing some type of article and creating a collage as homage to the 146 souls who lost their lives more than 100 years ago. Tragically, these workplace disasters are still occurring today, especially in underdeveloped countries. Much has been written about the Triangle Fire and I do not endeavor to duplicate the efforts of others. I only hope to infuse it with something artistic, meaningful, and that does justice to the memories of the…

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My Love of Jewels – Past and Present

My love of jewels, cabochons, beads, gemstones, rhinestones, vintage jewelry and other baubles goes way back to my early childhood. So it was with great anticipation and near glee, when I stumbled upon a terrific article heralding a wonderful hidden treasure trove of such things in NYC. The 17 Apart article prepared me to some degree, but when my friend Barb and I actually ventured into CJS Sales last month, we were dumbstruck. This was a dream come true for me – reminding me of my youth, but on a much grander scale.   When my younger sister Janet and I were very little – probably 3 and 8 respectively, we had a secret stash of jewels in a little cardboard jigsaw puzzle box. We carried this beloved stash on outings, including when our mom traded in her massive light blue Chevy station wagon for a new car. Much to my dismay – Janet was really too young to panic – after we drove out in our new vehicle, I realized it had been left behind, hidden under the seat. Luckily, we were able to reclaim it and we had this box for at least another 5 years, adding to its content here and there.

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