Between you and me

METRO dinner

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Here are some ways to spice up our lives. I’ve done this all my adult cooking life, and I recommend the concept. I have added store-bought sauces to otherwise bland foods, like eggs, chicken and some fish. Please read on as I explain. 

How did I happen upon this technique, you might wonder? It was a solution born of desperation over 50 years ago. I was to be married in two weeks, and my roommate at the time asked me what I was going to cook for my new husband the first night. Cook? I only knew how to boil water. It hadn’t occurred to me, although tradition at the time had it, that I was to be the cook in this pairing. 

When I panicked, she calmed me down by asking what my fiancé’s favorite meal was. “Breaded veal cutlet,” I remembered, and for the next 10 days, at dinner, she tutored me on the fine art of making that, along with a salad of greens with store-bought dressing, and spaghetti with some bottled red sauce. I then sailed into marriage prepared and duly impressed my groom with my culinary skills. 

Soon enough, we came to the menu for the second night. Again panic. I had to sit down and figure this one out. I was working and didn’t have time to digest the thick book, “Joy of Cooking,” that some kind soul had given us as a wedding present — at least not yet. Prepared foods for takeout were not invented. There were Swanson frozen dinners, but that suggested I was really inadequate.

What to do?

I thought about how I had made that first meal. I used bottled dressing to flavor the salad and also bottled sauce for the spaghetti. I wondered what other sauces might be available on the supermarket shelves. That’s when I found duck sauce. Reading the label, I saw their suggested uses; one was with chicken. Inspired, I rushed to buy a whole chicken that I brought back to our new apartment, poured all the duck sauce over it, and popped it into the oven at 375 degrees as instructed by the amused man behind the supermarket meat counter. I kept checking it, and when it looked like it was done, I served it, along with more salad.

“Wow!” my new husband exclaimed. “I didn’t know you could cook!” I was launched.

I will confess to having learned a few more things about cooking since then, including how to read a recipe, but my affection for bottled sauces continues to this day. To further my repertoire, I have gleaned the following information from a consumer publication called, “Bottom Line,” that has proven its value sufficiently to earn my ongoing subscription dollars. The article, written by Jay Weinstein, a member of the Institute of Culinary Education, is headlined, “Make Mundane Meals Instantly Exotic, with these international bottled sauces,” offers nine suggestions, and pretty much all of them appeal to me.

First, there are some Asian possibilities: banana sauce, “the ketchup of the Philippines, … usually sweet, with subtle tropical flavors,” good on any foods from omelets to whatever comes off the grill. Anther is gochujang, a dark red paste made of red chili peppers, rice powder and fermented soy beans — tangy, spicy, salty & slightly fruity — good added to eggs, noodles, dumplings or ham. Then there is kecap manis, “an excellent marinade or glaze for meat, seafood or vegetables.” Oyster sauce will add “an unmistakable Asian flavor” and will transform hamburger. Ponzu is tangy and bright and offers “a lively citrus note” to dishes. Thai peanut sauce is a particular favorite of mine. It is a good marinade, and I happen to like it on noodles. 

Then there are what the author classifies as European Sauces: aioli, “a Mediterranean mayonnaise with garlic … drizzled over vegetables or seafood”; ajvar (pronounced “aye-var”) of “roasted sweet red peppers, eggplant and … tomato.” Use atop baked potato, meatloaf and pasta or for potato salad; and Maggi seasoning, for noodles or roast chicken “or mix a little into soup.”

There are lots more, but I think I should stop. While I probably have incurred the wrath of gourmet cooks, who make everything from scratch, perhaps I have helped some new brides … or grooms.

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

The way my parents remembered Pearl Harbor is the way I remember the assault on the twin towers the sunny, beautiful September day that changed our lives. In both instances, our nation was attacked. For my parents, the attackers were readily identifiable: a hostile country declaring war. For those of us who watched the planes crash into the iconic New York buildings, the culprits were evildoers. Who were they? Why were they intent on killing the passengers on the planes and the workers in the offices, all civilians?

At first, in our total unpreparedness, we thought it was an accident. The pilot had a stroke. The plane suffered a mechanical failure. The brain struggles to supply an acceptable explanation for the unacceptable. When the second plane hit, we knew it was an intentionally horrific act. How could this be happening? Where were our defenses?

I was on my way to HSBC Bank when the first plane hit. I had been told by the bank manager to come early because I was taking out a loan to buy the other newspaper in town, The Three Village Herald, and the closing was in the attorney’s office later that day. I got there a couple of minutes after they opened, and I was the only customer. The tellers were in the private staff room, watching the television and following the sounds, I wandered in just in time to see the second plane hit the South Tower. The two women in the room screamed as the manager yelled profanities. I had never before heard him so much as raise his voice.

We were riveted to the television screen, smoke and fire pouring from the buildings, and then the phone rang. The manager left the room to answer it, and when he returned, he informed me that I couldn’t leave. He had gotten the order to lock the doors of the bank to prevent a run, and he had immediately complied. I spent the next five hours in their company. The four of us stared at the television and saw the plane hit the building over and over as the networks continually replayed the footage. The sight will be forever imprinted on my brain.

A tormenting visual over all these 20 years is one that I actually did not see. In my 20s, I worked for Time-Life on the 32nd floor of their building on 50th Street and 6th Avenue, opposite Radio City Music Hall. I had been delighted by the view from the office windows, the cars like toys and the people like ants in the streets below. I know how life unfolded right after getting to work in the morning in such a location. Women went to the bathroom to put on mascara and fix their hair, little preparations for the day they didn’t have time to do before rushing to the subway. Men lined up at the coffee trolley, affectionately called “the roach coach,” in the hall for that cup of java and maybe a Danish to bring back to their desks to help power them through the morning. These are the ordinary activities in the first hour of work.

That’s what ordinary people were doing in the skyscrapers on Tuesday, September 11, when they died.

The killers took away those people from their wives and husbands and children and mothers and fathers when they flew the planes into the towers. Those workers are forevermore missing, as are the twin fingers pointing to the sky in the Manhattan silhouette each time I cross the bridge into town. And life goes on, as it always does, no matter what happens.

We attended a New York Press Association conference in Vermont two days later, and people flocked to us when we stopped for gas and they saw our New York plates, to express their sorrow and their support. People flew American flags everywhere. For at least six months, everyone held the doors open for those behind them. Shared tragedy evokes kindness. 

We were all one that day.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Rarely do I sort the jumbled contents of my drawers. With a burst of energy, I did just that the other day, and I was rewarded with an archaeological find. There, toward the back, where I had clearly put it for safekeeping, was a $25 United States Saving Bond that had been given to my husband in 1950.

Curiously, it happened to be exactly on the day and month of our second son’s birth many years later. But I digress.

Back to the matter of the bond. What to do with this bit of Series E antiquity?

First thought was to bring it to my friendly banker, who searched for the serial number on the web and found it was worth $147 and change today. OK, not too bad, since it originally cost $18.75. At least the gift has kept up with inflation.

Next were the requirements for cashing the bond. That has proven not to be so simple for a couple of reasons. First, there is another name listed as the recipient on the front. It is that of his mother. The name on the face of the paper reads this way: that of my husband OR that of his mother. Whoever gave him the bond probably thought it was a good idea to have the parent involved as a backup. After all, my husband was just a teenager then. So, not only do I have to supply key information about my husband, like social security number and death certificate. I also have to produce the names of my mother-in-law’s parents, the county in which she died, her last residence, along with her social security number and her date of death in order to get her death certificate. Well, that’s not happening. At least not without some huge sleuthing.

At this point, kudos to my banker, who will not give up. And we do have a couple of lucky breaks here. She was born in the United States, so presumably, a death certificate can be found. Further, one of my husband’s siblings and his wife thankfully are still alive, with both retaining every single brain cell. They could tell me where she lived and her parents’ last name. They had no idea of her social security number, nor could they recall where she died. My daughter-in-law, called in to help, was able to use the internet and found her date of death.

Another kink in the thread is that the last name of both is misspelled, with an extra ‘f’ on the end. The gifter did not know their correct spelling. My brother-in-law assured me she did not spell their name that way. I don’t know how much of an obstacle that will be in this age of computer exactness.

The biggest challenge remaining is to determine in which county she died. She lived in Queens, she may have died in a Manhattan hospital, or she may have been living in an adult home in Nassau County, near her daughter, at the time of her death. I will be paying $23 and some change in order to file for a search of that elusive certificate. Perhaps I will have to do that three times.

This is not about money now. I know both those people listed on the bond would want to be made whole lo these 71 years later. I owe it to them to continue the search. Besides, as my banker explained, this is the first such conundrum he has been presented with, and he will learn from it and know how to deal with the next one.

For my part, I will consider any money I should ultimately receive, as the 1936 Bing Crosby song goes, pennies from heaven.

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Another birthday has come and gone. It was a memorable day, first, because it began with an overflowing toilet bowl, and it ended with the imminent arrival of Hurricane Henri. The latter caused my children and grandchildren, who were happily visiting, to depart abruptly for their homes before sunset. In between, we enjoyed a terrific party, with lots of laughter, board games and food, lingering over each meal long enough to plan the next one.

We on Long Island were lucky to have escaped the worst of the storm after the dire predictions. Lots of rain fell, some of it torrentially, but the electricity stayed on and the flooding wasn’t too bad. What could have been a disaster for us made me consider more carefully an article I recently read in the Spring/Summer edition of Columbia University’s magazine. 

Titled, “How to Prepare for a ‘Megadisaster,’” by Kevin Krajick and David J. Craig, it is an interview with Columbia’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness Director Jeffrey Schlegelmilch. The center conducts research to help “prevent, prepare for and respond to natural and human-driven disasters on behalf of the United States.” Megadisasters are events that would have “society-altering potential,” like the Black Death in the Middle Ages or the Irish Potato Famine. 

In our century, we are seeing more large-scale disasters, both because of human activity and our vulnerability to them. We are polluting our atmosphere, which is thought to cause more extreme weather, and we are building in flood zones and forested areas susceptible to wildfires. We are also “encroaching into wildlife areas and coming into closer contact with animals harboring exotic pathogens” that then, as we travel, spread across the globe.

Schlegelmilch names five categories of mega risk: climate change, biological perils, infrastructure failures, cyberthreats and nuclear conflict. COVID-19 could have been a megadisaster had we not responded, albeit too slowly, to the extent that we have so far. While we lacked the medical supplies needed to handle a pandemic, we did rapidly develop vaccines, which certainly are helping to control the long-term impact. Climate change, with its prolonged droughts, can cause widespread food and water shortages and their catastrophic consequences. The American Society of Civil Engineers has given the nation a C- grade on the most recent Infrastructure Report Card. Our electric grid might be the biggest problem in this category, since it is “aging, overloaded and quite susceptible to breakdown,” or to terrorist attacks. Remember that millions of people lost electricity in Texas last winter due to a couple of severe storms. More than 2,300 of our dams are structurally worrisome, as are 46,000 of our bridges.

The long-term human toll of disasters needs also to be considered and planned for, especially for children. Those whose lives are severely impacted “are much likelier to suffer anxiety and depression, to display behavioral problems and to struggle in school for years.”

So what can we do to ready our nation for disasters?

We need forward-looking strategies from governmental agencies and the many non-profit organizations to deal with these possibilities. We must demand those. Disaster response, like insurance, which we hope never to need, must be in place. Woe to those who try to catch up with a disaster after it happens. Chaos ensues even with planning. It does to a much more horrific extent without some degree of readiness.

According to Schlegelmilch, disaster preparedness really began in the US in the early 2000s, after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. He believes a lot of progress has been made since then. The strength of social bonds among neighbors and within a community makes the biggest difference in how well areas recover after a catastrophe. Also coordinating relief efforts is helped by artificial intelligence, software specifically designed for sifting through a great deal of information, then picking out the critical data for making life and death decisions. Preparedness for biothreats. however, needs attention.

Meanwhile, what can we do to prepare ourselves? 

Whatever the disaster, we will either have to stay at home for long periods or leave immediately, says Schlegelmilch. We should hope neither happens yet prepare for both.

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

The other day, I went to the kitchen sink for some water, and when I turned on the faucet, only a few drops came out, then nothing. Puzzled, I tried it again, shutting then opening the tap. No water. My first thought was that something might be wrong with the pipes in the house. Zipping around, I tried the bathroom sinks. Same result. The water line into the house looked intact, no leaks. This was going to be a big problem, I worried, worse than when the electricity cuts out. I had an awful feeling of deprivation. Where was our water?

It turned out that there was a major leak in the underground water line to our block. Before too long, the Suffolk County Water Authority workers arrived and began digging up the blacktop. It was during those high heat days, and soon the men were drenched in their own sweat, but I admired their work ethic. They kept at the job for a full 12 hours until the line was repaired. We deeply appreciated them and let them know.

I also had a new perspective on having water. We turn the handle and expect to have water to drink, to cook, to clean, to bathe. Yes, I have traveled in other countries where I had to drink bottled water, but nonetheless, water came out of the taps. I follow the news about water shortages around the world, including in our country, but it is with a different perspective now when I see such reports on television. We feel entitled to running water, but we are so privileged. To turn on the faucet and have nothing come out, even for a few hours, is deeply unsettling.

Here is an example where water is a great concern. We know there has been a drought in California for the past two years. Southern California cities have prepared for the worst by building aqueducts and reservoirs and storing water underground. Despite their more arid climate, the south of the state is prepared. Smaller northern California towns, located in what was a more rainy climate, and much loved by tourists, are caught short. Reservoirs there are at worrisome levels and even power-generating dams have had to stop producing electricity because of insufficient water. These are agricultural areas too, and farmers, as well as restaurateurs and innkeepers, are afraid they may have to shut down. To truck in water costs 20 to 45 cents a gallon compared with the typical utility company rate of less than a penny a gallon.

Further, the level of water in the Colorado River and Lake Mead, which is formed by the Hoover Dam, is falling, threatening the water supply for Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada residents and especially Arizona’s agricultural output. Even major semiconductor manufacturers, expanding there, require a lot of water to produce their much needed product. Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir, is now at its lowest level ever. The $1 trillion package just passed by the Senate does include water shortage mitigation funds.

Worldwide, over a billion people lack access to water and 2.7 billion find water scarce for at least one month a year. Countries most affected include Egypt, Syria, Somalia, Pakistan, Haiti, Laos, Cambodia, Ethiopia and Afghanistan. The irony is that over 70 % of the earth is covered by water. Desalination, which is an expensive option, could become a solution. There is also water in the air. An Israeli company called, Watergen. pulls water from the air, as much as 6000 liters a day. that is used to support entire hospitals in Gaza and rural villages in central Africa. It also helped Australia battle bush fires in 2020. Further, harvesting the pure water from icebergs is big business along Canada’s east coast.

These are all possible solutions. Perhaps most important is the care we humans must take with our precious supply, not to mindlessly pollute or overuse what we are grateful to have. I am duly reminded how lucky we are.

METRO photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

An advertiser was chatting with me the other day and mentioned that he was going down to South Carolina for his father’s surprise 80th birthday. “It’s going to be a surprise for him?” I asked, clenching my teeth. “Totally,” he said with a big smile. “My brother and his wife and children are coming from St. Louis, my sister and her family from Denver, nieces and nephews from California. We haven’t been together like that in a long time.” 

I was quiet. “What’s wrong?” he asked, noticing the pause. “Oh, it sounds wonderful to be with family and at such a terrific occasion,” I answered. “But …” 

“Yes?” he encouraged. “May I tell you a quick story?” I asked. He nodded. I proceeded to share the following.

We were once invited to a surprise birthday party that a good friend was giving for her husband. She left the basement door open for us all to gather while the couple finished dinner upstairs. After some minutes, she quietly slinked down the carpeted stairs, and in a stage whisper told us that her husband had fallen asleep on the sofa, so she was going to call to him to come down. When he did, she suggested, we could then yell “Surprise!” She also had some sparklers that she would set off as he began his descent. There were probably 30 of us in the basement, and we eagerly agreed.

“Honey!” she yelled. Then louder, “Honey!!!”

“Uh, what?” came the groggy response.

“Come downstairs! Now!”

“Coming!” he yelled back, and as we readied ourselves, we could hear his footsteps above rushing to the stairs. The sparklers started to go off. Then there was a thud. Another thud. And to our growing horror, we realized he was falling down the steps. We waited helplessly until he landed in full view on his bottom, his trousers around his ankles. Someone weakly yelled “surprise.”

He slowly looked around his basement at all our faces, as the last of the sparklers subsided, then at his wife. who seemed suddenly stricken.

“What the hell….?”  He had opened his pants belt and top button after a sumptuous birthday dinner, and when he jumped up from the couch, they had dropped to his feet, tripping him as he reached the head of the stairs.

It was at this point that my husband leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Promise you will NEVER make me a surprise party!”

Our friend did survive his unexpected celebration and went on to enjoy many more unsurprising birthday parties, but then he was only 40 at the time. Imagine if he had been 80.

Then again, I give further evidence that surprise parties can boomerang even at a younger age. My middle son was turning 16, and a couple of his friends secretly came to me to ask if they could stage a surprise party at our house. I enthusiastically joined in the plot. They would leave school early and beat my son home. Quickly they would decorate the living room, which was not immediately observable from the entryway and hide there until he arrived, ready to greet him.

All went according to plan. My son came in the door, said “hello,” dropped his heavy backpack on the floor and continued into the house. His buddies jumped out from the living room doorway as he walked past and yelled “Surprise!” at the top of their lungs.

He stopped in his tracks, turned pale, teetered for a moment, then ran for the bathroom sink and threw up. It definitely put a damper on the occasion.

The advertiser had listened to my stories, then said he would prepare his father somewhat by telling him that something nice was going to happen shortly. It wouldn’t exactly ruin the surprise but would relieve a little of the shock. I look forward to hearing how it all went.

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Intuitively we know that our behavior changed in just about every way during the unprecedented events of last year. The American Time Use Survey, a responsibility of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, asks thousands of people annually to record how they spend their daily minutes, and they came up with some research to back up our intuition on how we adapted to COVID-19 in 2020. The New York Times covered the story last Thursday, breaking out a number of categories for comparison.

As far as non-work and non-school time, the data was divided into sleeping; watching TV, movies or videos; playing games; cooking; doing housework; grooming; exercising; and texting, phone calls and video chats. It was further broken down by demographic groups: 15-24; 25-44; 45-64; and 65+. As far as sleeping goes, all the age groups slept more, with those 25-44 and 45-64 getting the most rest and both the 15-24 and the 65+ cohorts having the smallest increases. That makes sense to me because those getting more sleep are probably the primary workforce. The ones who did not have to commute as much and could sleep a little later.

The 45-64 and the 15-24 groups also spent the most extra time watching TV, movies and videos, about 25 minutes more per day. Yay for Netflix and the other streaming services who introduced us to binging. By far and away the most increase playing games was among the 15-24 folks, averaging 24 more minutes a day.  Mostly all four groups didn’t change much in the amount of cooking they did, but while the others increased slightly, the 15-24 category decreased six minutes a day.

Doing housework wasn’t much different from 2019, with the oldest category completely unchanged.

So what went down? Are you surprised to know it was grooming? The others dropped from four to seven minutes a day, but the youngest members increased four-tenths of a minute. Exercising increased four to five minutes, except for the oldest set, who decreased their exercising by five minutes daily. And everybody spent more time texting, phoning and participating in video chats, with the youngest crowd up eight minutes a day.

Last year was a difficult time for those forced to be alone. The survey tracks people during waking hours by how much time spent with people outside the household, with household members only and with those alone. The numbers for time with outsiders sank to one hour and 33 minutes less a day, while for household members, the amount rose by 31 minutes. The amount of alone time rose 57 minutes on average out of an eight-hour day. Remember all these numbers measure increases, not absolute time. For those in nursing homes, for example, who were unable to receive visitors, it was a miserably lonely year. And socializing among children was severely limited.

The greatest disruption caused by the coronavirus was in the lives of parents. With schools closed, parents became homeschoolers, particularly for children in elementary school. This burden could be in addition to working on a job from home and it affected women more than men because in most cases they carry the greater responsibility for child care. Sometimes it forced women to quit their jobs. Single mothers were particularly disrupted by the situation.

The nature of work also changed. For starters, in 2019, only one in seven people worked remotely. Last year it was one in three. And the changes laid bare disparities among workers.  Hispanic workers were more likely to lose their jobs. Black workers were most often required to go to their jobs in person, thus being more exposed to infection. White and Asian workers were often able to work from home.

There were also stark differences depending on educational levels. Those with graduate and professional degrees generally spent more hours last year working from home than in the office. Those with a high school diploma or less were often considered “essential workers” and had to function in person in the workplace, 

Will this data cause change in the future?

METRO photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

At this time of renewed attention to COVID-19, I recommend escapism. I have managed it, and this is how I did it. I immersed myself in two books, one after the other. They weren’t great classics, just hand-me-downs from a person whose reading tastes I respect. He gave me both books, and like a magic carpet ride, they took me to a different time and place with interesting characters for travel companions.

I enjoy historical fiction, and interestingly enough, both books use the siege of Leningrad by the Nazis during World War II as a critical context for their plots. Although we are being laid siege today by a malevolent virus, that act of war almost exactly 80 years ago was far different. Hitler wanted to bomb the city into oblivion, believing that Eastern Europeans were worthless, and survivors were to be starved to death. The German army was under orders not to accept any truce offer that might be extended to them by the city leadership. The siege began on Sept. 8, 1941, and ended, after 872 days of torment, on Jan. 27, 1944. The pre-war population of about two and a half million was reduced at the end to about 800,000 by extreme famine, disease and artillery strikes, one of the most destructive blockades in history. To make matters even worse, that first winter saw temperatures plummet as low as – 40 degrees. The dead piled up in the streets. There were even instances of cannibalism. The survivors were marked forever.

This is a major catalyst of the first book, “Winter Garden,” by best-selling author, Kristin Hannah. It is the story of the relationship between a mother and her two daughters, and between the daughters themselves, that bears the aftereffects of what has been termed by historians as attempted genocide in Leningrad. Anya is a cold and disapproving mother to her children, and they feel cast out to survive emotionally, each in their own way as they grow up. The glue that holds the family together is the father, and when he becomes terminally ill, the dysfunction of the women is clearly revealed. The writing is dramatic and manages to sustain a heart-rending pathos as the plot builds. I tried to keep a dry eye as I read, but in vain. Each continuing episode tugged at my heart and my tears flowed anew with just about every chapter. The surprise ending is a stunner.

Having barely recovered from Hannah’s epic story, I plowed into “City of Thieves,” by David Benioff. Unlike “Winter Garden,” in which the siege of Leningrad is considered for its profound and intergenerational consequences half a century later, Benioff’s main characters deal with the horror as it is unfolding. Seventeen-year-old Lev and 20-year-old Kolya somehow manage to make this into a coming-of-age story, with some laugh-out-loud dialogue even as they are fighting to survive. But don’t be misled. This account of the tragedy of Leningrad is, if anything, more brutal for its contemporaneous setting. 

The two young men, through a bit of incredible yet somehow acceptable events, are sent off by a Soviet colonel amidst a starving city in search of a dozen eggs. It might as well be the holy grail for Arthurian medieval knights. In the course of the quest, they see and sometimes experience some of the individual terrors of the siege in what Benioff claims is historically accurate fashion. Benioff has delineated the plot according to specifics in Harrison Salisbury’s book, “The 900 Days,” and Curzio Malaparte’s “Kaputt.” 

The latter, a novel published in 1946 by an Italian war correspondent, is about the descent of European civilization on the Eastern Front during World War II, and the former, written in 1969, is by the respected American journalist detailing the definitive story of the prolonged battle. Benioff cites them as sources for his novel.

They were hardly light reading, these two books my friend gave me, but they certainly kept my attention. They also taught me a bit, as good books do.

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Help. I have a strange problem and to this point can’t find the solution. The man who nicely takes care of our pool said that he removed 600 dead frogs last week. That’s more than the previous week, which yielded more than the week before. The problem is worsening as I write. My neighbor’s pool, according to his estimation, had 2,000 dead frogs, and so on at other houses in the area. I suppose there is some comfort in knowing that others are having the same intrusion, but actually not much. Even as I respect and enjoy nature, I would like to have the pool water for my family and not share it with dead amphibians.

The pool guy suggested I call an exterminator, which I did. I happen to know a competent one, who confessed to me after hearing my story that in his 35 years of being in business, he had never heard of such a predicament. “Call a pool guy,” he suggested. So we are right back to square one. He did kindly offer to call an expert entomologist he knew. I was grateful for the suggestion but I haven’t heard anything back from him as of this writing. 

I tried to think of someone else who might have dealt with this situation before and finally came up with the answer man (and woman) for any questions concerning our house: the good folks at the local hardware store. Ben at Ace Hardware tried hard to think of a method for dealing with hundreds of frogs and after much thought, gave me a mesh screen to tie to the side of the pool and hang into the water. The theory goes like this. The frogs are dying because they can’t get out. Maybe they hatched in the pool, maybe they just jumped in because it has been so hot. Either way, the smooth sides don’t permit them to escape. So if we give them a way to exit, they will leave. At least, that’s the hope. We’ll try that. I like it because it’s nontoxic. 

My son and daughter-in-law looked for a clue to this unprecedented dilemma on Google. They came up with a couple of answers that we will also try. One is to spray the bricks around the pool with white vinegar. Apparently, frogs don’t like vinegar on their feet. Or maybe they don’t like the smell. In any event, we have a gallon of white vinegar and a spray bottle, and we’re going to give it a go. Google also suggested giving the frogs a way out. It even suggested a froggy ladder, which they happened to sell, and we then dutifully bought. Worth a try. 

Other suggestions, with our responses:

Turn off the pool lights. Lights attract insects, which in turn attract frogs, who eat the insects.

We don’t use pool lights. We like the insect-eating part though.

Cover the pool.

We want to use it.

Install fence.

We have a fence with posts widely enough spaced for a squadron of frogs to march through. We could, however, put wooden boards or chicken wire at the base to keep them from hopping in.

Keep lawn mowed and free of weeds and debris.

Already do that. Neighbors will bear witness.

Make own DIY frog repellent.

If vinegar doesn’t work, will try a heavy concentration of saltwater. Or a mixture of bleach and water. Maybe all three.

Sprinkle coffee grounds around the pool. Acid in the coffee can also irritate their feet.


Keep pool water circulating. Frogs don’t like to lay eggs in moving water.

We could do that by keeping the filter going all day and night. It’s an expensive solution, however, because it would require a lot of electricity.

Keep the pool heated.


Keep pool sparkling clean.

We try.

When I was a kid, I dreamt of having a swimming pool. The frogs were not in my dream. It could be worse though. Australia is presently undergoing a plague of mice.

Any help for us?

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Vacations are wonderful. That’s stating the obvious. But vacationing now, in largely post-pandemic times, brings a special kind of joy. I felt it because I have just come back from vacation with a sense of happiness and peace that I wish I could bottle. And I just happened to read an article that speaks to this very subject, the “rush of a real vacation.” 

Now you might think it’s the result of breaking out after almost a year and a half of pandemic distancing, of masking and zooming and otherwise limiting and isolating ourselves. We did that, these last 10 days, driving up the New England coast slowly and spending quality time in Maine. We certainly enjoyed the freedom of the open road, stopping where we had a notion, taking back country routes on impulse, drinking in those picturesque harbor towns, eating lobster rolls, taking pictures of lighthouses. After relative confinement, that was exhilarating. 

But there was more to the experience than that. The article I read, “There’s a Specific Kind of Joy We’ve Been Missing,” by organizational psychologist Adam Grant in the July 10 issue of The New York Times, talks of collective effervescence. This is a concept introduced in the early 20th century by the sociologist Emile Durkheim describing “the sense of energy and harmony people feel when they come together in a group around a shared purpose.” 

So if you are participating in a brainstorming session with colleagues, enjoying a baseball game or a movie with new seatmates or even chatting with a stranger on a train, there is the joy of connection. That didn’t happen during the dark days of COVID-19, although there was some of that early in NYC when people were clapping and banging pots and pans with spoons at 7 p.m. every night to honor hospital workers. And it didn’t happen on Zoom, where the common response after several meetings was fatigue.

We stopped for dinner one night on the way up the seashore in Portland, where we met with an editor who had worked at The Village Times 30 years ago. She took the ferry over from one of the offshore islands and had a lobster roll with us in DiMillo’s restaurant. That eatery used to be the Martha Jefferson, a Mississippi River paddle cruiser for sightseeing and parties on Port Jefferson harbor more than 50 years ago. The present owners bought the old boat, tidied it up, anchored it permanently at the Portland docks and have over the years turned it into a seafood palace.

We spent three days in Camden, a charming fishing village with loads of tourist stores to wander in and out of, which we didn’t do but did enjoy a sailboat ride in a 36-foot schooner that we shared with a family from Alabama. There were a number of people visiting from the Deep South whom we met and chatted with, several owning summer homes in Maine. They drove the considerable distance, like us, enjoying the liberating journey. I want to salute an especially fine restaurant there, in Rockland, called Primo, started by a woman originally from Long Island, that serves farm-to-table food in delicious fashion. Diners can also tour her lush gardens in the rear. Ask for the Russian kale salad for an unusual treat. And if it’s your thing, enjoy the Farnsworth Art Museum, with its impressive collection of three generations of Wyeths.

We loved our time in Bar Harbor (or as they say, Bah Hahbba), and especially Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island. If you go, know that you will need a ticket in advance if you wish to see a famed sunrise or a sunset from the summit of Cadillac Mountain.

I have always enjoyed chatting with strangers while waiting in lines or riding in elevators, among other conducive situations. I learn all sorts of information, usually useless but not always, this way. Friends I have been with will bear witness to this voluble habit. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed those casual conversations until this trip. I certainly agree with the theory of collective effervescence put forth by Durkheim a century ago. And we awarded the title of best lobster roll, after many samplings, to McLoons Lobster Shack of South Thomaston, in the friendly state of Maine.