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Between You and Me

A market scene in Marrakesh, Morocco. Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

A number of calamitous events have dominated the news lately: floods, fires, hurricanes, cyclones. They have caused thousands of deaths around the globe in places that are remote for us, and as such, inspire our compassion and even our financial aid, but they are not particularly part of us. We are not personally connected to them.

An exception for me was the recent earthquake and its devastation in Morocco. It breaks my heart to think of those welcoming people lying dead in the streets of the picturesque rural Berber villages, the quake stealing lives, destroying families and homes in its wake, continuing still, with its deadly aftershocks. At least 3000 dwellers are estimated to have died in the mountains southwest of Marrakesh. 

I visited Morocco some years ago and found it to be one of the more exotic and memorable of destinations: the calls to prayer five times a day, the women’s total cover-up abayas with only their eyes showing, the dramatic Atlas Mountains crowned with snow in the distance, the wonderful food, especially tagines or casseroles, the conspicuous patriarchy where only men sat in the coffee houses smoking and laughing, with few women on the street, the special sunlight, the bold colors and omnipresent scent of spices, the squares filled with vendors in hooded djellabas tending their stalls of foods and crafts. Also I saw water carriers, musicians, snake charmers, along with an acrobat and an animal trainer holding a colorful beast on a leash.

A special standout was the ancient city within Marrakesh, with its red walls constructed from the red sandstone and its Medina, a concentration of narrow alleyways, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The City was founded in 1070, right around the time the Normans were conquering England far to the North and west. Marrakesh grew rapidly and became a cultural, religious and trading center. Eventually sultans built fabulously decorated palaces, sumptuous mosques, citadels, casbahs and monuments, richly decorated with Moorish calligraphy, geometric shapes and ceramic tiles, some of which were visited before the quake. Who knows now what remains?

There is something about the sunlight in Marrakesh that has attracted artists. Colors seem more intense. Delacroix, Matisse and Dali, among many others, spent time there, painting behind the walls. Churchill loved to secret himself with his paints and brushes, creating what has been considered quite good art. One such painting, “Sunset over the Atlas Mountains,” was painted in La Mamounia, a beautiful hotel, two-centuries old but dramatically updated, with a 20-acre magnificent garden, where I, too, stayed with my tour. Is it still standing and intact? 

In Morocco, residents drink mint tea. It’s surprisingly refreshing from the heat during the warmer seasons, and it was a mark of their hospitality that a glass of the tea was offered as one entered a store. Our tour was led to a rug emporium, and sure enough, we were given glasses of mint tea. I accepted mine gratefully and sat on the sidelines as salesmen rolled out rugs for many of my companions. I did not need a rug, and so I watched as the scene unfolded.

“Be careful,” our tour guide whispered in my ear. “By the third mint tea you will buy a rug.”

I laughed. I kept accepting refills. We were there for perhaps an hour when the guide summoned us back to the bus. I was intrigued by the couple in front of me, who had been negotiating the price with the salesman for a dramatically colored large rug. Now they turned away as we all got up to file out. Panicked, the salesman called out after them the price they had been offering, but they didn’t turn back. 

Desperate, he saw me eyeing the rug. “Would you like to buy?” he entreated.

“How much?” I asked. He dropped the price even further.

I bought the rug. It sits on my living room floor, connecting me to Marrakesh, which will never again be the same.  

METRO photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

My favorite meal of the day is breakfast. Now I’m not one of those happy people who awaken with the dawn, but I will say that my first thought after I open my eyes is usually breakfast. It used to be that I had to get up and walk the dog, but that’s history. Now, as soon as sleep is over, I am hungry.

Maybe that has something to do with the fact that I don’t eat past dinner, and that my dinner usually ends by 7:00 p.m. or even earlier. That means I have been fasting for at least 12 hours, maybe even 14, so my lustful appetite would seem valid. I start thinking about what I am going to make for breakfast while I am brushing my teeth. It’s almost never what you might expect.

I guess the traditional American breakfast is eggs and toast, and maybe some sort of meat, like bacon or ham. Or people start the day with cold cereal and milk in a bowl or hot oatmeal, with maybe some fruit on top. That’s if they have time to fix breakfast. 

Many people just run through the kitchen, put on their jackets and rush out the door to work or to school. Perhaps they might snag a roll or a piece of fruit on the way out, maybe even a cup of coffee if they remembered to plug in the pot the night before and to push the button on the way to the bathroom in the morning. Incredible as it sounds to me, I even know some people who eat nothing until dinner—a big dinner that then stretches right up to bedtime.

So what do I eat?

I might eat an egg with some veggies thrown in if it’s a weekend and I have time to cook. I particularly like English muffins with Irish butter and one of any number of different jams I harbor in my fridge. More often I will heat up some green lentil pasta that I prepared in advance, top it with low sodium spaghetti sauce and a couple of spices, and munch away. (Don’t Yuk! Just try it.) The green lentil flour, which comes in a box, is loaded with good nutrients: 11 grams of fiber; 25 grams plant-based protein. My favorite shape for the flour is rotini; it makes me think I am eating wheat pasta. And by the way, it’s made in Italy.

Or, I might finish off the previous night’s leftovers. That could be anything from shrimp, which I love, or a kind of white flaky fish like branzino or salmon. Now you might be taken aback by the nonconformist choices I make in the morning, so I will explain. I have had the pleasure of traveling to a number of different countries and eating their traditional breakfasts, so I am not in the least put off by eating my leftover sushi that I brought in the previous night. It makes me think I am in Bali.

On rainy mornings, I have the urge for pancakes because my mother, when I was a child, often made silver dollar pancakes for breakfast when it rained, especially if it rained really hard. The wonderful smell would fill the kitchen and bring us quickly to the table. I never put butter or syrup or powdered sugar on them; they were just delicious straight from the pan. I confess, though, that now I hardly ever have time to make them. I’m too busy looking for an umbrella.

Instead I grab a smoothie, filled with frozen fruits and dark green leafy vegetables, like baby bok choy and baby kale, that is pre-made in the refrigerator and carry it to my office, where I sip it through a straw for a couple of hours.

Another unorthodox breakfast that I enjoy is a salad, one with cucumbers, tomatoes, pears and walnuts, perked up with a little balsamic vinegar. I don’t care for iceberg lettuce much, preferring romaine and mixed greens.

I have learned that only some 35 percent of Americans eat breakfast every morning. How about you?

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

A book whose subject caught my eye this week is, “Young and Restless, The Girls Who Sparked America’s Revolutions,” by Mattie Kahn. The story appeared in the New York Times Book Review this past weekend, and I read of these female exploits, marveling at the young ages of the subjects.They were indeed girls, most in their teens or younger, not yet women by today’s standards. Now my mother, who was born in 1906, was only 11 when she began her work life, a graduate of 8th grade with a further degree from a bookkeeping school. While I have long been amazed at that, these stories begin with the Lowell mills girls in 1836 and Harriet Hanson, 11, who led a “turn-out” of 1500 young women refusing to work.

I was not familiar with the Lowell mills history. It seems Francis Cabot Lowell was impressed by the textile factories he saw in England and returned to Massachusetts to build similar workplaces and participate in the Industrial Revolution. For the most part, the workers were girls and young women. The early mills were a kind of “philanthropic manufacturing college,” to which such luminaries as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Edgar Allan Poe came to lecture. These were the first places where girls, who were not the daughters of rich men, and hence not at finishing schools, could gather and learn as they worked. It was here, at a factory in Lowell, Massachusetts, where the first all-female-staffed magazine in American history was started.

When the girls were informed that their pay was to be cut, they went on strike. Hanson organized the walkout with what she later called “childish bravado.”

The book tells stories of many more such young women—girls really—protesting in different circumstances. “There’s Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, who led 17,000 people up New York City’s Fifth Avenue on horseback in the 1912 march for women’s suffrage.” Anna Elizabeth Dickenson was an abolitionist orator in her teens and became the first woman to address the House of Representatives. Heather Tobis (Booth) at 19, “founded the legendary abortion referral service Jane out of her dorm room. Clyde Marie Perry, 17, and Emma Jean Wilson, 14, integrated their Granada, Mississippi schools in 1966 and then successfully sued to stop expulsions of pregnant students like themselves.”

Perhaps the girl who interested me most because she overlapped with my life was Alice de Rivera, dubbed by the New York City media as the “crusader in mini-skirts.” She was 13, had scored on a citywide test in the 99th percentile in math, but was denied the right to take the entrance exam to Stuyvesant High School in 1969 because she was female. She and her parents, Joseph, a psychology professor, and Margaret, an educational therapist, lived in Brooklyn at the time, and the high school she was supposed to attend did not have appropriate classes for her further education. Stuyvesant, one of the best high schools in New York City, did.

Now I am familiar with Stuyvesant. I went to the all-girls Hunter College High School in the 1950s, and we would periodically have “socials” with the Stuyvesant boys. They were more like milk-and-cookie gatherings, but nonetheless at one of them I was asked out on my first date.

Alice de Rivera met with the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, where she was introduced to Eleanor Jackson Piel, who took her case pro bono. Fighting educational sexual segregation was a radical idea at the time. Most specialized schools and even the Ivies were all-male. But on the grounds that it violated Alice’s 14th Amendment of equal protection, they filed a lawsuit on January 20, 1969 against the state’s Board of Education. She received a lot of publicity, and by May, the Board voluntarily repealed Stuyvesant’s sex restriction. It was a cultural precedent that broke barriers.

What happened to De Rivera? She and her family moved out of New York City, so she didn’t go to Stuyvesant. Today she is a physician, living on a farm in Maine with her husband, a retired math professor, and working at a clinic she started, helping Lewiston’s large population of Somali refugees. She also works at another facility that serves people who can’t pay for their medical care.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

You have probably heard about a police raid on a local newspaper in a small Kansas town.The act was so egregious that it prompted emails from friends around the country who were concerned about us, even though the event happened some 1500 miles away.

We should all be concerned.

To fill you in, local police and county sheriff’s deputies seized computers, servers and cellphones belonging to the seven-member staff of the Marion County Record. They also searched the home of the publication’s owner and semiretired editor, along with the home of a city councilwoman.

This ostensibly had to do with how a document about a local resident got to the newspaper, and whether that person’s privacy had been violated. But according to the editor, the real issue may be tensions between the way officials in the town are covered by the paper. Newspapers, making up what has unofficially been termed the Fourth Estate, after the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of our government, have long enjoyed legal protections in their news coverage “to speak truth to power.” Newspapers historically are considered the watchdogs of government, informing readers about the actions of public servants, which creates what one press association director described as “healthy tensions” between the two.

While the Record has a circulation of about 4000, its owner has had a long career in journalism, both as a reporter on a daily and as a professor at the University of Illinois. His father worked at the Record for half a century before him, rising to be its top editor, and the family eventually bought the newspaper, along with two others nearby, according to the New York Times in an article this past Monday. 

“On Sunday, more than 30 news organizations and press freedom advocates, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Dow Jones, the publisher of The Wall Street Journal, signed a letter from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to Mr. Cody [chief of police] condemning the raid,” according to the Times.

The issue in question had to do with the copy of an official letter sent to a Record reporter privately via Facebook that instructed a resident how to go about restoring her driver’s license after a drunken driving citation. That resident was now seeking approval from the City Council “to operate a liquor-serving establishment.” The letter had been given to a city councilwoman with the apparent intent of affecting the decision, but the newspaper owner denied sharing that letter with the councilwoman. Meanwhile the resident is in ongoing divorce proceedings, she pointed out.

So was the letter forwarded by the newspaper? Was the resident’s right to privacy violated by the newspaper? Apparently that was the nature of the search. And while news media are sometimes subpoenaed by government officials to supply interview notes and sources, “The search and seizure of the tools to produce journalism are rare,” according to the NYT. And while”federal law allowed the police to search journalists when the authorities have probable cause to believe the journalists had committed a crime unrelated to their journalism…[not when] the alleged crime is gathering the news,” according to the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

Needless to say, the newspaper is having great difficulty trying to publish its next edition without its computers and servers that contain other filed stories, pictures, layout templates, public notices and ads.

Newspapers have become fragile entities. Since the arrival of the internet, many of the advertisers that traditionally supported newspapers have moved away, forcing newsrooms to shrink in size and even to close entirely. Some 2200 local newspapers have disappeared in the last 20 years, creating what are called, “news deserts” across the nation. From 2008-2020, the number of journalists has fallen by more than half. 

But communities are vulnerable to ill-conceived and rapacious actions without news sources to inform and defend them, as well as to educate, entertain and tie them together as a hometown.

METRO photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

My oldest grandson is now engaged to be married. At twenty-eight, his timing is altogether appropriate, but it is a wonder to me. The idea of having a grandchild tying the knot, when I am only 35. All right, 45. Um, 55? Oh, never mind. You get the point.

Further, I am intrigued by how the couple is going about the process, especially in contrast with how my husband and I wed. I’ll explain.

Not long after the initial phone call from my grandson telling me the exciting news of their engagement, I was told that the wedding was planned for two years hence. That was, of course, fine, but I couldn’t help but marvel compared to what my husband and I did. 

We informed my astonished parents that we wished to marry in six weeks. My husband-to-be was moving to a new apartment at that time, and we thought it would be romantic to start our lives together then. In those days, couples decidedly did not live together until after they married.

My grandson did the traditional thing, getting down on one knee. The scene, though, was anything but traditional. He managed to position himself onto the floor of the Tomorrowland People Mover car as they went through a tunnel at Disney World, one of their favorite rides, and popped the question.  Her parents were in the car behind them, and as she witnessed what was happening, her mother enthusiastically screamed with delight.

My husband told me he loved me and asked me over the phone to marry him. I never did get an engagement ring. It should be explained that he was at school in Chicago at the time, and I was in Boston. 

We had a wedding in New York City, where I grew up, with all the trimmings, including bridesmaids, groomsmen, a full ceremony, music, hors d’oeuvres, dinner, dancing and 175 guests. I wasn’t even there for the planning. I was working in Boston right up to the weekend before the event. My mother managed it all. And after the wedding, she practically collapsed for a month.

I did come back for a wedding dress fitting. It was all done efficiently. My mom and I went to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where there were multiple shops that took care of such needs, and climbed the brownstone stairs to the one recommended, I don’t remember which one. I picked out the material, style and trimmings I wanted, measurements were taken, and presto! The day before the wedding, it was ready, fit perfectly, and I wore it, long train and all, the next day.

My granddaughter-to-be, on the other hand, had the great pleasure of trying on many and ultimately picking out her dress with the company and input from her mother and the groom’s mother. Photos were sent, via cell phones, to others tuned in. It must have been a leisurely outing that provided a joyful lifetime memory for all.

There is to be a bridal shower brunch to honor the bride-to-be back in the place she grew up, with her many friends and loved ones in attendance. That, of course, wasn’t an option for us, given our tight schedule. I don’t think it even occurred to me, more is the pity, because such events are part and parcel of the delicious anticipation for my grandchildren.

Her friends put out a request for favorite recipes to be sent, with the plan of providing the couple a Friends and Loved Ones cookbook. What a clever idea. I only knew how to cook breaded veal cutlet, mashed potatoes and canned peas, which I practiced on my roommate each night for three weeks before the wedding. And we weren’t registered anywhere for gifts. We just opened the envelopes and counted the money immediately following the wedding that night on our flight to Chicago.

There will undoubtedly be a bachelor party. In fact, my grandson just returned from one for a dear friend that involved a three-day cruise to Mexico. Yes, Virginia, times have changed. And why not?

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Who could forget the frantic scene of Berliners tearing down the Wall? That one action marked the beginning of a changed world.

It was 1989 when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Berlin Wall came down. Officially the end of the government came on December 26, 1991, with the 15 consistent republics gaining their independence, but the disintegration had been apparent for some time. Berliners were able to tear down that Iron Curtain, symbol of East-West separation and the Cold War, because the Soviet soldiers simply walked away from their posts. 

Why did they walk away? 

They hadn’t been paid in many months due to acute economic problems, food shortages and widespread political upheaval in the Soviet Bloc and in East Berlin, the Communists’ foothold in Western Europe. Government and its systems were bankrupt.

Yes, the West had won the Cold War. But as its name indicated, it was not a military war. It was an economic war. In trying to globalize Communism, the Soviets had spent themselves into insolvency.

Once again, the West seems to be locked into a struggle with Russia, the successor government to the Soviet Union. This time there is a military, “hot” war, but the economic war remains. And the Economic War may ultimately dictate who wins. The western allies have been sending hundreds of billions of dollars in the form of armaments into the battlefront of Ukraine, and the Russians have been doing the same, not only militarily in the Ukrainian war front but also within their country. 

The internal toll was revealed in a front page article of The New York Times this past Tuesday. The domestic economic fallout of the Russian effort is enormous. There is a state-led spending boom that has propped up the Russian economy from the effects of far-reaching sanctions imposed by western countries. As a result, this economic boom has helped maintain popular support for President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian war effort. But Russian economists have warned of a threat to the country’s financial stability. Can their economic high be sustainable?

Russia’s expanding military production and the increased funding for Russia’s poor in the form of higher pensions, salaries and benefits like subsidized mortgages, particularly offered in marginal regions with the most military recruits, is fueling inflation. Lending by the government has stimulated the economy and kept down social unrest. Mortgages supplied by Russia’s top 20 banks rose 63 percent in the first half of this year, with one out of every two mortgages subsidized by the state. Soldiers’ salaries are much higher than average local earnings, and families of those who die get payments that can be greater than their annual earnings. And with 300,000 men called up to fight, worker shortages are extreme and salaries have risen, furthering inflation.

Even as Russia’s federal government has spent almost 50 percent more in the first half of this year than in the equivalent period in 2021,  the country’s energy revenues have fallen by half.  “Sanctions have forced Russia to sell its oil at a discount and European countries slashed purchases of Russian natural gas,” according to the NYT. And hundreds of thousands of predominately white collar workers have left the country in protest of the war or to avoid the draft, an additional loss to earnings.

So once again, money is pouring out, and not just from the Russians and their allies. We, too, are spending prodigious sums to maintain the war effort, and doing so in the aftermath of previous huge outlays to sustain Americans during the pandemic. Our economy seems strong, for the moment, even as our growing national debt seems to bother few officials. 

The war in Ukraine has become one of attrition, with Russia and its allies waiting out the American-led coalition in the belief that we are a short-term nation in our war endeavors and will withdraw sooner or later. While that may well be, whoever withdraws first may be the side in financial ruin.

'The Capture of John Andre' by John Toole. Wikimedia Commons

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

But for the fact that three militia men were playing cards and having lunch in the bushes alongside the Albany Post Road south of the West Point fort in 1780, we might be speaking English with a British accent. 

It was down this road that British Major John Andre came galloping, and when the three stopped him near Tarrytown, N. Y. to ascertain his business, they searched him and found detailed maps in one of his boots. It was key information about the fort, and the men realized the rider was a spy, trying to get behind the British lines in New York City.

As it turned out, Andre was coming from a meeting with Benedict Arnold, the commander at West Point, who was about to turn over the fortification to the British and join them in the Revolutionary War. The fort was a most important installation, blocking the British garrisons from moving up the Hudson, splitting New England from the rest of the colonies and connecting with their troops in Canada. This strategy could well have ended the war. 

The British troops had tried to overwhelm the fort but failed. There was a British ship moored in the Hudson, and when Arnold got word that Andre had been captured, he boarded the ship and crossed over to the other side of the river where the British were camped, making his escape and marking him for all of history as a traitor to his country.

The Fidelity Medal

Andre was recognized as an important figure and turned out to be head of British intelligence. The Colonists questioned him in detail. The map and information he carried would have allowed the British to enter and capture West Point. Andre confessed his role and ultimately was hanged as a spy, much as Nathan Hale had been four years earlier.

During the time Andre was held prisoner, he succeeded in charming his captors. A well educated man, of keen wit and culture, he was appealing to the upper-class American officers, including Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette, of the Colonial Army for his patriotism to his country. Ironically, we have heard of “Poor” Andre and Benedict Arnold, but most of us have never heard of John Paulding, David Williams and Isaac Van Wart, the three who captured the Brit. That is, until now.

Van Wart and the other two were farmers in their early twenties and were part of a local militia attempting to protect the much harassed residents sandwiched between Washington’s forces in the Hudson Highlands and the British army in Manhattan. That is why the three were stationed along the dirt road. Andre tried to bribe the men to release him, but they handed him over to American forces. 

The men “were recognized by the Continental Congress with hand-wrought, silver military medals, now considered to be the first ever awarded to American soldiers,” according to a New York Times article in last Saturday’s issue. And while two of the three medals were stolen from the New York Historical Society in 1975 and never found, the third was held by the Van Wart family for over two hundred years and has now been donated to the New York State Museum in Albany, where it can be seen starting in the fall.

The three men met with Washington, were given the medals, and each a plot of land and a lifetime annual pension of $200, which was then a “princely sum.”

Van Wart died in 1828, and the medal was passed down through the generations of his family until it reached Rae Faith Van Wart Robinson in White Plains. She was inordinately proud of her ancestor and kept the medal in a shoe box under her bed, taking it out to display at historical events. She never married, had no children or siblings, and when she died in 2020, she instructed that the medal be given to a museum where it could always be viewed and the story told. The front of the medal prominently bears one word: “Fidelity.”

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Big mammals must appeal to me. I love horses. When I visited South Africa, I fell in love with elephants. And now that I have returned from a few days on Cape Cod, I am totally smitten by whales.

It was my first whale watch foray. We boarded a ferry-size boat in Provincetown, off the eastern tip of the Cape, and I was surprised to see at least 200 people, who had the same idea, seated on two decks. It was a perfect day to be out on the water, hot, humid, with only a soft breeze barely stirring the ocean. We finally found seats in a shaded section of the upper deck just as the boat took off heading north east into the Atlantic.

Everyone seemed in a holiday mood, talking and laughing for over an hour until someone yelled, “Look! There are mists ahead.” Then silence, as everyone peered at the horizon. The captain slowed the boat and as we got closer, we could see the backs of two whales, diving and surfacing, expelling air through their blowholes as they breathed.

“Those are humpbacks,” the tour guide explained over the PA system. “There are many different kinds of whales,” she continued. It seems there are about 80 species of living whales, and they fall into two groups: baleen and toothed. We were seeing baleens, a word that refers to the manner in which they secure their food. Instead of teeth, baleens are like broad vertical Venetian blinds that grow down from the roof of the whale’s mouth. They are hard, like our finger nails, each one at least a foot long, maybe five inches wide and close together. They act to filter what the whale takes in, excluding anything wider than plankton.

Two years ago, around this time, a whale swallowed a man just off the Cape. This is a true story that made headlines all over the globe, and the man, Michael Packard, lived to tell the tale. 

“I’m done! I’m dead!” was the immediate reaction of Packard, who is a lobster scuba diver, when he was sucked into the mouth of a whale that came up behind him as he was descending to the seabed to search for lobster. Whales feed by opening their mouths like a wide elevator door, squeezing whatever is ingested, then spitting out what doesn’t get filtered by their baleen. 

Suddenly he felt a huge shove and it got completely black, and Packard realized he was inside a whale. “ I could feel the whale squeezing with the muscles of his mouth,” said Packard, as quoted by Newsweek. “I thought to myself, ‘there’s no way I’m getting out of here.’”

But then the whale “started going up. All of a sudden it just got to the surface, and he started shaking his head and getting all erratic … and then boom!” The diver flew out of the whale’s mouth, traveled a distance of some 50 feet and lay floating on the surface, looking up at the sky. “I think I’m going to live,” he remembers. He was inside the whale for about 40 seconds. Packard was picked up by a crew member, who called to shore, and when they arrived at the pier, an ambulance was waiting to take him to the hospital. He wound up with one broken rib and some soft tissue damage. Three weeks later, he was back diving for lobsters but now also making TV appearances with the likes of Jimmy Kimmel.

Actually, the whale didn’t swallow Packard. A whale’s throat is too narrow for a human to pass through. The humpback held Pachard in his mouth, then surfaced and spit him out.

We were lucky on that trip, seeing 18 whales, according to the tour guide’s count. Once the boat stopped, the whales surfaced and dived around us, almost as if they were entertaining us. One whale, estimated by the captain to be about 6 months old, cavorted and flipped  not far off the starboard side of our boat for at least 15 minutes. Some of us believe he was encouraged by our screams of approval and deliberately putting on a show.

METRO photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

When I make my way downstairs in the morning, I am often singing, usually some show tune. This never occurred to me as being something special until now. But I recently read an article by Alexandra Moe in The Washington Post that “singing is good for you.” Since it’s always nice to learn that something you do is actually good for you, I am sharing this result of significant research with you. Perhaps now you will feel emboldened to sing beyond the shower.

In a study called, “Sing With Us,” conducted on members of a choir in a London suburb, tests performed before and after they sang indicated an increase in their physical and mental health. This was no ordinary choir, but rather one made up of cancer patients, and their singing “reduced stress hormones and increased cytokines, proteins that can boost the body’s ability to fight serious illness.” Ultimately the study involved 192 patients. 

Other studies have found singing “lessened anxiety, stimulated memory for those with dementia, increased lung capacity and an easing of postpartum depression.” While singing in a group offers additional benefits, like social bonding and community, just singing because you feel like, if you are alone or with someone else, is calming and promotes a sense of well-being.

My mother would sing often when she was in the kitchen preparing meals. So did my dad, who would break into song at no particular time. I never thought about it then, but they did have nice voices, and they did sing on key. They didn’t sing together, just spontaneously. And they really were singing, not just humming along while they worked. No one thought it was strange, as far as I knew. It was in this way that I learned the lyrics to any number of World War I songs, which were popular when my dad was a teen. When, as a child, I would start to sing one of them, older people who might be sitting on a park bench, for example, would look surprised and ask where I had learned them.

And that is how my children learned Broadway show tunes. When we went on long car trips, in particular, we would spend much of the time singing together. I grew up amidst the Rogers and Hammerstein, then Rogers and Hart musicals of the 1940s and 1950s, the “golden age of musical theater,”and my children know those lyrics as if they had seen those magical shows, which were well before their births.

Some of our favorites were: “Oklahoma!” from the show of the same name, “Getting to Know You,” from “The King and I,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” from “The Wizard of Oz,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” from “South Pacific,” and “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better,”  (a natural for our three boys) from “Annie Get Your Gun.”

All I had to do was start with, “Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry, When I take you out in the Surrey,” and they would all start singing from the back seat of the car. 

While I loved all the melodies, my particular favorites were from “My Fair Lady,” including “The Rain in Spain,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “Just You Wait, Henry Higgins,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “You Did It,” “Get Me to the Church On Time,” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.”

I share this with you so you will know what I am singing when I begin. It is, I’m afraid, not always apparent. On the other hand, I would encourage anyone to sing, even if you think you can’t carry a tune or have a terrible voice. A friend was asked to try out for a play when she was in junior high, and when she began to sing the required song, the teacher interrupted her with, “No, really.” He thought she was kidding. But it was “really,” and for many years, she never again sang until she met me.

Everyone should sing, softly if you must, but do it. And if anyone asks, it’s for your health.

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

“I’m bored!” exclaimed my cousin, when we were about 10 and sitting in the backyard of my grandfather’s former dairy farm in the Catskills one summer afternoon.

I thought about that for a few seconds. “What does bored mean?” I asked, genuinely puzzled.

“It means I have nothing to do,” she railed. 

“Oh. I’ve never been bored,” I replied unhelpfully.

“What do you do when you have nothing to do?” she demanded.

Again it took a few seconds. “I think,” I offered lamely.

My aunt, her mother, who was sitting nearby, burst out laughing.

Looking disgusted, my cousin got up and walked away.

I thought of that exchange, so many years ago, when I saw the headline in last Tuesday’s New York Times: “Let Children Get Bored. It’s Good for Them.” The article went on to advise that “in moderate doses, boredom can offer a valuable learning opportunity, spurring creativity and problem solving and motivating children to seek out activities that feel meaningful to them.”

How, exactly, did I spend my summertime hours when a visit from my cousin was a rarity and there was nothing structured amid the grassy cow pastures?

By the beginning of July, during my elementary school years, I had my books already signed out from the neighborhood library. There was a rule limiting the number that could be withdrawn at one time, but the librarians knew me, knew that I would be taking them away for the summer, that I would take good care of them and return them in September, so they let me exceed the number. Often they would make recommendations that added to my pile. So reading made up a large part of my waking hours.

I also remember picking blueberries from the bushes that grew in the pasture behind the house. They were wild berries. I don’t think anyone planted them there. They were sweet and delicious, and when I had my fill, I would bring back a small amount for my mother and sister, who were with me during the week. My dad would come up by Shoreline Bus on the weekends, and then I would roam with him across many pastures, marked by low stone walls, collecting blueberries in greater quantities.

I would invent games, like selecting a large rock as a target, then throwing small rocks at it from increasing distances, keeping score from one day to the next. If it rained, I would empty the glass jar in which my mother kept loose coins, place a pot against the far wall of the kitchen, then try to pitch the coins into the pot. To this day, I have pretty good aim when I toss something.

As an offshoot from reading, I guess, I would write sometimes. One of my favorite stories was about the antics of the Bobbsey Twins, by Laura Lee Hope, and I would try to dream up adventures for them when I had finished their books. I also loved horses, read the whole series about the Black Stallion by Walter Farley, then tried to extend it with my own amateurish episodes.

Sitting in the shade of a tree, I know I did a lot of daydreaming. I don’t remember any of those thoughts, but I do recall that I loved the smell of the nearby evergreens when the breeze blew and the warmth of the sun on my skin as it dipped down below the level of the tree limbs. In the evening, we could hear the frogs croaking and see fireflies momentarily lighting up the night sky. There were stars, millions of stars that were not visible in the city. And there was The Lone Ranger on the radio at 7:30.

My sister was two years younger, and I would make up scenarios in which I would be Miss Brown, and she would be my secretary. I would send her on all kinds of made-up errands, like mailing a letter at a pretend postal box a block away, and she would gladly run to oblige.

There was an innocence and a peacefulness in those loosey-goosey days that I think today’s youth, with their cell phones and video games, never know.