Sunday, December 30, 2012

Hazel (A Mighty Myth)

Hey readers, did you know our holiday fund drive is in session and ending TOMORROW? We really need your help to help others. Give to Grow at

Hazel showing off her reindeer ring! At our holiday party we discovered the cupcake decorations are little rings for kids, so naturally(!) the seniors each put one on ;)

Happy aaaalmost New Year everyone! This story may be the size of a pea but its breadth and human reach is so wide - a perfect inspiration for a new year. After Hazel read this story out loud, I was like, Oh! I have never had black eyed peas for New Year's! And all of them responded, Oh really? And I realized they see me as so totally one of them that they don't realize I am not black (most of them happen to be, just because our venue is downtown Philly), that in our group not only are we ageless but cultureless, which is kind of amazing.

Hazel Nurse
A Mighty Myth

As far back as I can remember, it might be when I was 3 years old (according to some experts, our memory extends to that time), at home New Year's Eve was a guaranteed time to enjoy my favorite dish, black-eyed peas.

Under firm supervision of my mother, all Christmas decorations had to be removed before the New Year came in. Also black-eyed peas must be boiling when the New Year came in so we would have good luck. The determination and belief that one must start the New Year humble so that it will end great remains. I observe these rules faithfully and will possibly be superstitious forever.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Gloria (This Isn't Soul Food)

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Well, well, well, who ate too much last night? And is still gonna eat a few more big meals this week? What can I say? I am a skinny mini but I really like good food!

I’m thinking Gloria’s story about her love of food, and about her love of her mom, really, is perfect to get us all “filled up” and pumped for 2013.

My favorite line is when she said her mom “metaphorically traveled through her culinary explorations to France, Germany & Italy.” When Gloria read that out loud, I jumped up because that’s what I do too. Is that silly? When my husband and I get tacos, I say, “Off to Mexico!” When we get Pad Thai, I say, “We’re going to Thailand today!”

PS. In case you are a new reader to our blog (well, first, welcome and so glad you are here!!) our whole class calls Gloria “daughter” and Aileen “mommy,”  and they always come to class together sitting side by side, so when you read this story, picture that, or imagine you are Mommy “Aileen” hearing your daughter say all this about you, think of how proud that would make you to hear all this.

Gloria Washington
This Isn’t Soul Food

When I was growing up as a child of 6, 7, 8 and up through early adolescence, my sisters and I didn’t eat fired chicken, potato salad, macaroni & cheese or collard greens. We didn’t eat pigs feet or chitterlings. There was no corn bread. Instead my mother consulting her Good Housekeeping cookbook or NY Times Magazine recipes would step outside the boundaries. She metaphorically traveled through her culinary explorations to France, Germany & Italy. We had Quiche Lorraine before it was popular in the 80’s with the “in crowd.” On Saturdays for breakfast we had the deliciously tantalizing sweet breakfast cake, Georgia Sally Lund. Around the holidays I would sit patiently by her side as she assembled the ingredients and special pans for Buche de Noel. A decadent, rich, rolled chocolate cake that literally translates to Christmas Log. Other mornings I would awaken to the enticing scents of Panettone, the rich, Italian egg bread studded with dried citron we purchased especially at Strawbridses gourmet food court.

These transcendent offerings tantalized us. This is what we knew. This was our world, our mother, our repertoire for adventurous, delicious eating that gave us snapshots of other cultures through dining. There was more; chicken cacciatore, some American favorites, and ratatouille – the rich, garlicky eggplant mélange – long before the popular Disney movie of the same name came out. My sister and I never thought of this food as different. When we visited our friends homes and were offered standards of fried chicken and potato salad we took no offense. It was all good. Today I love a good potato salad, although I never make fried chicken (except for wings dusted with Chinese spice or doses of cayenne). I prefer roasted eggplant with edamame, Moroccan tangerines or a simple sirloin. That’s just who I am. I guess my mother’s love of languages: French, Italian, Russian & German contributed to her epicurean attitude.    

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Helen (Is it Still Christmas?)

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I thought this one would be a cute sequel after Helen’s story before… in case you are wondering about Helen’s comment about leaving her decorations up for a loooong time. Oh yeah, because, hey, why not ;)?

“Why not” is actually one my favorite questions in life ever, so that’s one reason I think this story is cool. Making your own tradition and embracing your own quirks is kind of fabulous, don’t you think? I also think this is cool because Helen is dressed in completely and complexly color-coordinated outfits with full accessories without fail every single week. She is literally beautiful and colorful inside and out. So when I picture the inside of her house, I am picturing her in it, dressed and jewelry clad in a mix of oranges, blues, pinks, with a bright orange-red lip to match, looking at it all, nodding to the music, smiling.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Helen H Lahr
Is it Still Christmas?

Why this question when everyone knows that Christmas was on the 25th of December?

I can ask because in recent years my family and I remove the outside decorations but we don’t touch those on the inside until after Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday.  This would never have been done years ago because this was not the custom.

Eventually I thought, “Why can’t I enjoy my decorations longer?”  Also, by the time that the holidays arrive, most of us are exhausted and it’s wonderful to sit down and relax enjoying my beautiful (or so I think ;)  decorations, including my ever-present manger scene.  All of this I experience accompanied by soft holiday music.  Can anyone ask for more?

On Tuesday I had a 5:30 appointment at home.  The sales person came in the foyer and the first thing he said was “Beautiful, I’m going to tell my wife to leave our decorations in place until Dr. MLK’s birthday.”

I felt good about that.  ;)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Tribute to Our Children, in Memory of Our Children

Hey readers, did you know our holiday fund drive is in session and ending soon? We really need your help to help others. Give to Grow at

Today, a tribute to the unending brilliance of our children's souls in light of the lives lost in Newtown this past week. Helen wrote this story a few years ago and it takes on new meaning this week - even
when things seem hectic and confusing, our children's souls will see us through and create beauty when we least expect in the world. This is a photo of the impossibly bright December sun in Philly today. As I was walking down a narrow sidewalk, and the words of the post were forming in my head, I looked up and this is what I saw.

Helen H. Lahr
12/17/ 2009
Our First Christmas In Our New Home

We lived in a home where our children were born and grew up. Naturally, they grew up with other children on the block. When my husband and I moved in, other young couples did likewise. It was a lovely environment to rear children and they thrived.

Years later our sons had married and moved outside of the city and I had lost my husband. Our daughter and me were they only ones left in the house. Eventually we decided to relocate so we moved 27 miles away. The month was December, near Christmas time. You can imagine how hectic a time this was. Our home sold almost immediately and the people moved out of what was to be our new home, almost immediately. On the surface this would seem to be an ideal situation but in reality it was not. Packing, etcetera, had to be done right away. Finally everything was done and we were on our way to our new home.

Needless to say, boxes were everywhere. Members of the family wanted to see the house; even my son, who lived in New England, came down with his family. My grandchildren put the large Christmas tree together. When my children were growing up we always had a live Christmas tree; after the boys were married we purchased an artificial tree because we were to tired of dismantling the large tree, taking it down and cleaning up all the thistles from the carpet. I always kept my decorations up until Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday.

Getting back to the unpacking, the boxes were all over the place. We had labeled the contents of each of the boxes but when it came time to decorate the tree we couldn’t find the box with the ornaments. My grandchildren improvised and decorated with other bric-a-brac and the tree turned out looking cute. Anyway, since we were filled with holiday happiness it all seemed to be pretty.
Hope you feel as inspired by this story as I do.

All my best, Benita

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mr. Gordon (How to Start Talking)

Hey readers, did you know our holiday fund drive is in session and ending soon? We really need your help to help others. Give to Grow at

Everywhere I turn, it looks and smells and tastes and feels like the holiday season and I find years of holiday stories from my senior buds suddenly jumping up and down in my mind like, Remember Me?!

Well, hey there, oh yes I do!!! Cool thing about stories is that they never go out of style, they are relevant year after year. So for the next few blog posts, how about a walk down holiday drive on memory lane?

Here is Mr. Gordon telling us how to talk with our extended family at our next family gatherings. It was once of you who inspired this story ;) !! 26-year-old Rebecca L., after attending one of our senior storytelling events, wrote in to us:

Thank you so much for coming and sharing your life stories. I was so inspired! And also encouraged to get to know my family better. Do you have some suggestions for what questions I should start to ask them?  - Rebecca L.

After Mr. Gordon read the note, he dedicated this to Rebecca.

Arlin Gordon
How to Start Talking

A lot of times we know about our immediate families, but don’t know other family members, such as a father’s sister or cousins. The family members that you do know, begin to talk to them about other family members.

It can be done in a casual setting. It doesn’t have to be formal. Begin to search for different family pictures and look at them together at the holidays. The holidays are good time for learning about family history because people come together at this time of year.
Most families gather around certain days of the year. On these occasions, there is joy and people are more willing to talk.

You can start the conversation by asking, “Who else’s birthday is in August, January, etc…?” Then you can expand on the conversation.

Remember to document what you have learned.

There is also the Internet. You can find out a lot on the Internet- find lost connections.

Once you begin these conversations, stay in contact.

Hey you know what? Let’s all give Mr. Gordon’s suggestions a try!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hazel (The Tide)

Last Thursday, I walked back into the classroom after making some xeroxes (of our Give to Grow Page for our seniors to hand out to family) and gasped. Literally, I opened the door, froze, and gasped.

Here I was in my hands, heart, head, thinking and wanting and knowing that this project needs to grow in some larger-than-life way, and a few feet away from me that universe that I dream of is thriving. It is so alive.

I saw my senior buds Hazel giggling with Loretta at the corner of the classroom, they looked at me casually, like, Hey, what’s up! But knowingly as well, like yes, We know there is something special about this moment too.

OK how do I explain this.... There are all these nuances that I have built into my hour-ish (it turns into three with a lot of chatting and everyone helping out after!) every week with my senior buds. And one nuance is that while most of the group is reading and writing at the table, seniors who are blind or have arthritis or for one reason or another can’t write each go to a corner of the room, so they can tell their stories verbally, and a volunteer or myself can write their words down for them. This way the table remains quiet, and each senior can have their own mental space to really think and really put their hearts on paper.

Loretta, who has severe arthritis, came into class late that day – she had actually walked by me at the xerox machine a couple minutes ago and I told her I would be right there to help her write. So imagine my surprise when someone, not a “young” volunteer but one of my senior buds, was sitting and writing for Loretta already, when I opened the door. I mean, it was so beautiful. Tears filled my eyes while I stood there frozen.

Hazel said she had finished her own story earlier at home so she could write for Loretta - and I remember specifically that she didn't use the word “help.” She said something about how fabulous and fun Loretta is, that it is a privilege to be sitting with Loretta. No one claims to be “helping” anyone but everyone is helping everyone.

I know this project has changed lives in big ways, like a month ago, we told you how Loretta’s long lost family found her through this blog (click Here to reread that post).  But small moments like this to me are just as life-changing as well. Generosity. Friendship. Happiness. Identity. Wonder. Spontaneity. Surprise. Leadership. Service. I don’t know the right combination words for that moment. It was nothing but it was everything.

Hazel Nurse
The Tide

Yesterday, after seeing another display of tempting, fancy, French pastries, I decided to do as our old family saying goes—“Buck the tide.”

Years ago, and still today, purchasing expensive, highly decorated cake was not considered a wise thing to do since homemade goodies were always more tasty and less expensive.

However, I convinced myself to pay the price for a lemon pastry and a chocolate cupcake. They were the two cheapest items that I saw with a cost of nine dollars and fifty cents.

To my dismay, they tasted no better than any other baked goods. Now my curiosity was satisfied, but bucking the tide, one can drown.

This was a story that Hazel wrote a few months ago. After reading, she took out two boxes, each with a fancy pastry for the class. Just two small boxes. Just a small moment. But it was like, I don't know, like the story was the perfectly understated excuse to display a lot of love for the group.

I remember gasping that time too.