Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Bah! Humbug! and "Funeral Face"!

I cracked up this morning when I read that Pope Francis had chided? berated? his inner circle for such things as walking around with a "funeral face." He also accused the Curia of "spiritual Alzheimers" and  "spiritual petrification."
Is it because they are high-ranking clergy? Or simply because they are a bunch of  "old" guys.
I don't use the term "old" often on this blog, since I feel it is more a state of mind than a state of body.
You can have a young spirit that makes a face light up, a body appear to prance. But an old spirit….
Pope Francis:  Scrooges all around

That's really what Pope Francis is talking about.
"Funeral face" doesn't need much explanation. It's the outer manifestation of someone who has lost his or her sense of humor. Who only sees the negative, not the opportunity. Who's likely to say "no" to any new idea, any adventurous proposal, anything that takes then out of their ever-narrower comfort zone.
"Spiritual Alzheimers," according to Pope Francis, is a "progressive decline of spiritual faculties" leading people to live in a "state of absolute dependence on their often imagined, views." That, to me, sounds like they're stuck in their own reality or unreality.  Not listening; talking over others. Hibernating -- atrophying --  in their own thought vortex.
Another of the 15 "spiritual diseases" which Pope Francis outlined is "existential schizophrenia" -- a phrase that deserves recognition. This, he said refers to a "double life, a result of the hypocrisy typical of mediocre people and of advancing spiritual emptiness, which degrees or academic titles cannot fill." You might call it "resting on your laurels," as if what you did or who you were in the past is enough for the future. We must keep on growing, adding ever more to our CV of life.
As for "Spiritual emptiness..." Let's hope you're not feeling this way this holiday season. Open your windows, let fresh air blow in.  Take a walk. Put a smile on your face. If you practice smiling long enough, you will really smile. That's a proven -- and free -- remedy for what ails the spirit.
Thanks for reading my blog and have a Happy and a Healthy New Year.!!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Kurt Herman: His Voice Still Heard

Arriving in U.S. in 1939, Kurt Herman, 9,  is just left of life ring; the Krauses are in the center.

I remember the twinkle in Kurt Herman's eyes, his smile, his joy in life. After all, he was one of the rare survivors. When Gilbert Kraus, a Philadelphia lawyer, and his wife Eleanor arrived in Vienna in 1939, determined to rescue 50 children, Herman's parents offered him up.
The mission became the largest kindertransport to the United States out of Nazi Europe, and more recently a movie and a book.
Kurt Herman, who died yesterday at age 85, featured in one of my first blogs. And for reasons only social media can explain, it has garnered the most "hits." Maybe because his story is that of a miracle. After all, few escaped Hitler's mass murder machine.  Or maybe people are drawn to the unbendable determination on Gil Kraus, who argued his way through torturous red tape on both sides of the Atlantic to accomplish his mission.
Or maybe it's simply because this is an unfathomable chapter in world history whose tellers are leaving us.
Kurt had that kind of double-edged view of life that comes from hard experience. He was an optimist and loved every moment; he was also a realist, saying "friends are great but you can only count on family." His friends, he said, abandoned him the moment Hitler arrived.
These are words he shared with hundreds of Philadelphia school children over the many years that he would go out and speak to them, despite his big jobs as an accountant. They are also words he would share with his grandchildren, as he did with me in an interview on YouTube.

Also here is a story I wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Kurt's funeral is 9.30 a.m. at Goldsteins' Rosenberg's Raphael Sacks, Second Street Pike, Southampton.
His story, and that of the other children, also will live on in the movie and the book-- 50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple's Extraordinary Mission into the Heart of Nazi German, of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus, by Steven Pressman. A journalist, Pressman married the Krauses' granddaughter and unearthed
Eleanor's diary.
Thanks for sharing so much with us, Kurt. Let us pray that the world remembers your lessons.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Tom Thomas: You Can Row Home Again

Tom Thomas: Coaching city kids is his passion
Rowing. That’s what William C. "Tom" Thomas Jr. really loved -- even as he married, raised a couple kids, worked in college administration and as a lawyer for 27 years.
That and coaching young people.
So Tom was in his element on the Schuylkill River as I watched him coach city youths a few weeks ago in a non-profit program called Philadelphia City Rowing.
You can find him working by the river almost every afternoon. He makes sure the boats, housed in a narrow shed at the end of clubby Boathouse Row, are shipshape. He encourages the teens to erg on rowing machines, do push ups and jump on and off a balance beam to strengthen all the muscles in their bodies --virtually every one of them is used in the strenuous sport of rowing.

Philadelphia City Rowing: sweating and erging

And, you’ll see him out in the coach boat with his megaphone, urging his charges to swing their bodies in rhythm with the pull of their oars in the exquisite choreography of sculling.
As I tried to hear him over the buzz of the outboard motor on the coach boat, Tom told me how he had come to help city kids get onto the river and learn a sport for which they would otherwise have little access.
Throughout the history of Boathouse Row, the high schools that have dominated rowing were the prep schools and the Catholics -- and more recently suburban public high schools. With only a few exceptions, the city’s public school kids haven’t had a crack at this sport, which involves costly boats and boathouses, unaffordable in a city that barely supports music or libraries.
Philadelphia City Rowing, funded by foundations, private donors, and a handful of dedicated staff and volunteers, is finally making it happen. Besides the rowing, the students are expected to keep up their grades, so PCR coaches them academically, as well, and gives them college counseling. So far, every kid who stuck with rowing through his or her senior year has made it to college.
Every muscle gets used
Tom said that as a student at Washington-Lee High School, in Arlington, Va., he had the luck to row for legendary coach Charlie Butt. He also spent summers as a lifeguard at the Jersey shore in Ventnor “under the watchful guidance of Stan Bergman,” who coached at Holy Spirit High School and was later head coach at the University of Pennsylvania. Tom later rowed four years at Rutgers. Still, he knew he would never be the athlete his father was. “My dad was extremely competitive, a national caliber runner, all-state football in high school.  Very accomplished.”
With his son rowing, his dad, too, became excited about the sport and bought a double scull after retiring from a 30-year career as an Air Force pilot. Father and son competed together in the Head of the Charles in Boston in the 1980s. “In his 60s, when I’m rowing with him, I’m trying to keep up with him and I’m in my 30s! My dad inspired me. Though I had his shadow to kind of walk in,  I always felt it was an encouragement, not an ‘I can’t measure up.’  I didn’t worry about it. I just did the best I could.”
Time passed. Suddenly Tom was in his late 50s. With his kids grown and a law career that left him unsatisfied and wanting more, he circled back to his first love.
“I’m here all day, every day. It has to be done,” explains Tom, who works as director of PCR’s rowing program.
Tom: working to create opportunity
This fall about 80 city high school kids from very diverse backgrounds came out, a record for the five-year-old program, though the number is likely to settle somewhere in the 60s.
How does he feel about his post-vocation avocation?
“In almost any non-profit you don’t get what you’re worth. By the same token it’s a matter of trying to make this program do something and you can’t do it with 20 or 30 hours a week. You’ve got to put more in.”
Before the kids arrive from school,  Tom's out in the sliver of land PCR has wrested from Boathouse Row, fixing boats, getting practice plans together, watching coaching videos and keeping abreast of the sport. “I can’t sit on my laurels,” he says.

His reward? ‘Just watching these kids work harder and grow into rowing.”

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Gifting to Me: So Egg-cited!

Out with the Old
For months I searched for a gadget I love. You may laugh. It's an electric egg cooker.
Not just any electric egg cooker. I wanted the exact same one my mother gave me that my husband and I have been using for decades. A vintage Sunbeam, probably from the 1960s.
For all the excitement about having new adventures with my so-called free time in unretirement, there are some things I just want to keep boringly and contentedly the same.
It's bad enough that with every phone or computer upgrade, I have to take a course in how to work it. Why should I challenge my graying matter to relearn how to make a perfectly runny soft boiled egg?
My mother had several such devices, each a little different. A couple of my daughters have them now and they offered to give them back to me.
Daughter's cooker (not the same thing)
No, I wanted the exact same Sunbeam automatic that I have  -- without the  cracked top and broken-off handle, on which I've tested numerous types of glues over the years. (Gorilla glue worked best.) I tolerated those repairs; the electronics were still perfect. It was when holes emerged in two of four plastic poacher compartments (which I marked with a x's with a black Magic marker in case I wasn't wearing my glasses in the morning), that I finally decided I had to go shopping.
What a shock! On ebay, they were selling the same appliance -- used -- for $40 to $80 plus shipping. (Anyone who shops ebay knows that people are making plenty of money on shipping these days, jacking prices up to $10 to $12.)  At Zabar's in New York, I found a half dozen egg cookers for under $40,  but who knows if they're as good as my tried and true? And Amazon had some with chicken heads that were really ugly.

Bed Bath & Beyond barely had a selection. And some didn't poach -- they just created hardboiled eggs for an army at Easter.
After lurking on ebay and watching numerous egg devotees shell out big bucks for these antiques,  I finally found MY SUNBEAM  for $40 with free shipping. The plastic top and poacher are pristine. The metal inside is only slightly rusted.

 Happy Holidays to me! 
Victory: When Old Is NEW!