[I take no credit for what follows.  It’s part of a package of materials I was given last week after I volunteered to do one-on-one tutoring in English conversation for the Davis International Center at Princeton University. My international student for the next five months will be a visiting scholar from China, who has come to work at the Princeton Plasma Physics laboratory.

International students at the University must read and write English at an acceptable level or take a remedial course.  Being able to speak so that others can understand is something else.  And then there are the idioms!  I’m meeting my student for the first time later this morning, and so won’t know what his conversational problems may be until then.  In the meanwhile, however, here’s something for you to enjoy.  We anglophones are so lucky!]


I take it you already know

Of tough and bough and cough and dough?

Others may stumble but not you,

On hiccough, thorough, laugh and through.

Well done! And you wish, perhaps,

To learn of less familiar traps?

Beware of heard, a dreadful word

That looks like beard and sounds like bird,

And dead: it’s said like bed, not bead —

For goodness’ sake don’t call it “deed”!

Watch out for meat and great and threat

(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.)

A moth is not a moth in mother

Nor both in bother, broth in brother,

And here is not a match for there

Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,

And then there’s dose and rose and lose —

Just look them up — and goose and choose,

And cork and work and card and ward

And font and front and word and sword,

And do and go and thwart and cart —

Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start!

A dreadful language? Man alive!

I’d mastered it when I was five.

T.S.W. (Only the initials of writer are known)




Don’t worry; the soup in this picture was made just a few hours ago.  It’s the recipe that’s historic. I was aiming for the cabbage soup my Russian mother used to serve when I was a little girl. Since she probably learned how to make it from her mother, that would put the recipe back to the last years of the nineteenth century. (Whether or not my grandmother acquired it from my great-grandmother, thereby making the recipe even older, is purely speculative.)

Oddly, my mother always called this historic soup “borscht” even though there were no beets in it. Whatever. It tasted very good. Competitive to the end, she managed with sly evasions never to give me the recipe. Which may have been just as well, because I recall that what she did was a complicated all-day affair involving a huge pot and “goluptsi”  (little birds) cooked in the soup.  And complicated all-day cooking is not for me, irrespective of the taste thrill at the end.  What are “goluptsi?” Big cabbage leaves wrapped around a seasoned combination of chopped meat and rice.  The soup would be the opener, the little birds the main course.

So the recipe I’m referring to here is not exactly my mother’s (or grandmother’s).  However, something that looked as if it would taste very much like their soup eventually showed up in “EAT!” —  a cookbook published by the Parents and Teachers Association of Public School 166 (Manhattan) in March 1975.  I was a P.S. 199 parent of two boys at that time and therefore felt obliged to buy “EAT!” (Especially as I had two recipes included in it myself.)


The soup in “EAT!” was called “Reena Kondo’s Cabbage Soup.” The contributor of this recipe, known to us all as Miss Kondo, had been my younger son’s kindergarten teacher the year before.  She was of Polish-Jewish descent, and I am quite certain the soup recipe had come to America one or two generations prior to reaching her, probably also through the maternal line, thus escaping annihilation in the Warsaw ghetto.

Instead of goluptsi, Miss Kondo’s mother and/or grandmother had added a few pieces of cut up beef and carrots. I have omitted them. I have no recollection of cooked carrots in any maternal soups of my childhood, and my mother would never have wasted a good piece of beef by boiling it in soup.  However, stripped of these decadent refinements, the following reconstructed recipe will taste remarkably similar to what I was lapping up at the kitchen table in Washington Heights in the 1930’s. It makes at least three suppers-in-a-bowl for two adults as a main course. Easy-peasy too. And remember: cruciferous vegetables are very good for you.

[P.S.  If you can’t find sour salt anywhere, squeeze four or five lemons, salt the lemon juice heavily, and add the salted juice to the pot.]


1 head of white cabbage

2 14 oz. cans diced tomatoes

handful (or several handfuls) of white raisins

several pieces of sour salt (to taste)

Regulär table salt (to taste)

Honey and/or brown sugar (to taste)

2 apples, peeled and cut into eighths

Cut the cabbage into small pieces or shred it.  In sizeable pot, cover the shredded cabbage with cold water and add all the remaining ingredients except the apples, which should be put in towards the end.  Cooking time is about two hours, but after an hour or so begin tasting and adjusting the salt, lemon juice (if you’re using it) and sweetener till you achieve a sweet/sour taste you like.

I don’t know about Reena Kondo, but my mother always served it with a big blob of sour cream on top.  I use yogurt. (Goat’s milk yogurt, to be precise, but we’re peculiar. My mother didn’t know about goat’s milk yogurt.)


At the table, mix with your soup spoon. Serve with black bread, French bread, no bread.


If you were to make it tomorrow (Thursday), you’d be all set through Saturday.  Who wants to be in the kitchen too often, now that it’s (nearly) spring?



I’m not a spiritual person.  Never have been.  I’m not calm, I don’t take life in stride.  I find it hard to start new things and hard to stop things I’m doing, or to say goodbye. Although I can love specific people fiercely, I can’t truly say my heart is full of loving kindness for all mankind.  While I tolerate a lot, when the worm finally turns, it turns.  And like an elephant I never forget.

That’s not to say I’m proud of these qualities.  I’ve always wished it weren’t so. Unfortunately, that’s the self I’ve got, despite the wishful thinking.  (Definitely Type A, and medicated for hypertension since the age of 43.)  But I have tried to change. I first signed up for eight sessions of meditation at the local Y at a time when I was much younger, living modestly in Manhattan with  two small children in grade school. I thought it might quiet me, make me nicer and better.  I even thought I was going great guns in that class.  (Probably an inappropriate metaphor for a would-be meditator, but you know what I mean.)  Then during comment period afterwards, I put up my hand and asked the leader if it was supposed to feel almost like an orgasm in the head because that’s how I had felt a couple of times — and everyone laughed.  There went any sense of progress. (Not to mention those kinds of feelings.)

Subsequently, I occasionally bought a small book on the subject and read it on the toilet (because small books lend themselves to short reading periods), but never found the time or inspiration to pursue the subject more deeply after leaving the bathroom. Until Bill came into my life.  Bill had spent several unhappy years between wives seeking peace and wisdom at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center, where he had sometimes fallen asleep during exceptionally long meditations but also did enough of the shorter ones to know he wasn’t very good at it although he admired those who were.  (He has, like me, a mind like an unruly horse.)

However, after the first flush of geriatric passion had somewhat ebbed for us, we did try meditating side by side in our living room for several weeks, an electric timer letting us know the moment of release. Then we discovered Netflix, a more meretricious method of passing the past-prandial hours, but much easier.  Also with Netflix we could hold hands.

Let me cut to the chase. Last spring we joined a neighborhood Community Without Walls, thinking we perhaps needed to connect with some real people other than each other. Half a year later, I was eventually invited to a session of dreaming up group activities that weren’t just eating together, sing-alongs, scrabble and going to movies.  Out of the vasty deeps within my aging self a question bubbled up:  How about meditation?

And thus it was that I am, at least for now, the facilitator of a group of, so far, four ladies plus a married couple who are willing to meditate together once a week in my living room. (Bill has promised to join us and not fall asleep, but didn’t want to come to the first meeting till he heard who was there. Is that frivolous, or what?). One of the guests has assured us there is more power when people meditate together.

What do I know about meditation that enables me to “facilitate” these sessions?  Enough to buy a very good app for my i-Phone of six twenty-minute meditations led by Jack Kornfield, one of the co-founders of the Insight Meditation Center in Cambridge where Bill used to doze between bouts of would-be mindfulness. After preliminary who-are-you-and-what-are-you-hoping-for chat at the initial meeting, I played the first one — a mindfulness meditation for beginners — and it was a success!  Everyone wants to do it at least once more next time, before we move on to the second meditation on the app.

But next time, I’m going to begin by reading something aloud before I press “play” on the mindfulness meditation again. It’s an excerpt from one of Kornfield’s books included for reading on the same app, and it’s so good I’m going to copy out most of it it here.  It may be my age that makes me at last receptive to these words, because only when you’re getting old do you, perhaps reluctantly, recognize the truth in them.  However, everyone in my living room will be as old, or nearly as old as I am, so that won’t be a problem.  If you’re a relative youngster, you may want to go away until I post something more amusing.  On the other hand, the Kornfield excerpt is a great answer to the question at the top of this post. It also presents a great project to tackle before, ah, time runs out.  Are you up for it?


by Jack Kornfield

Here is a story told about the Buddha shortly after he was enlightened. As he was walking down the dusty road he met a traveler who saw him as a handsome yogi exuding a remarkable energy. The traveler asked him, “You seem very special. What are you? Are you some kind of an angel?  You seem inhuman.” “No,” he said. “Well, are you some kind of god then?” “No,” he said. “Well, are you some kind of wizard or magician?” “No,” he replied. “Well, are you a man?” “No.” “Then what are you?” At this the Buddha answered, “I am awake.” In those three words — “I am awake” — he gave the whole of Buddhist teachings. The word “buddha” means one who is awake. To be a buddha is to be one who has awakened to the nature of life and death, and who has awakened and freed one’s compassion in the midst of this world.

The practice of meditation does not ask us to become a Buddhist or a meditator or a spiritual person. It invites us to fulfill the capacity we each have as humans to awaken. The skill of becoming more mindful, and more present, and more compassionate, and more awake is something we may learn sitting on a meditation cushion, but this capacity for awareness helps in computer programming, playing tennis, lovemaking, or walking by the ocean and listening to life around you. In fact, to awaken, to be really present, is the central art in all other arts.

What is that which we can awaken to? We awaken to what Buddhists call the dharma. Dharma is the Sanskrit and Pali word that refers to the universal truths: to the laws of the universe and the teachings that describe it. In this sense, finding the dharma is quite immediate. It is the wisdom that is always present to be discovered.

It is different than waiting for God to come down to us in a cloud of glory, or a big spiritual enlightenment, or a wonderful, otherworldly experience. The dharma of wisdom, what we can awaken to, is the truth that is right where we are when we let go of fantasies and memories and come into the reality of the present. When we do that and pay careful attention, we start to see the characteristics of the dharma in the very life in which we live.

One of the first characteristics of the dharma that shows itself in meditation is impermanence and uncertainty. “Thus shall you think of this fleeting world,” it says in one Buddhist sutra. “A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream, a flash of lightning in a summer cloud, an echo, a rainbow, a phantom, and a dream.” The more quietly you sit, the more closely you observe, the more you realize that everything you can see is in a state of change.  Ordinarily, everything we experience seems solid, including our personality, the world around us, our emotions, and the thoughts in our mind. It is like watching a movie; we can get so caught up in the story until it seems real, even though it is actually made of light flickering on a screen. And yet if you focus very carefully on what you are seeing, it is possible to see that the film is actually a series of still pictures, one frame after another. One appears, and then there is a slight gap, and then the next one appears.

The same thing is happening in our lives. Because that is so: nothing in our lives lasts or stays the same for very long. You do not have to be a very adept meditator to see that everything is changing all the time. Have you been able to get any mental states of any kind to last very long? Is there anything in your life that stays the same?

This brings us to dharma’s second law. If we want things that are always changing to stay the same to get attached to them, we get disappointed, we suffer. Not because we should suffer — this is not something created to punish us. It is the very way things are, as basic as gravity. If we get attached to something staying the way it is, it does not stop changing. Trying to hold onto “how it was” will only create suffering and disappointment, because life is a river and everything changes.

So when we start to see the laws of nature — that things are impermanent, that attachment causes pain — we can also sense that there must be some other way. And there is. It is the way that can be called “the wisdom of insecurity.” This is the ability to flow with the changes, to see everything as a process of change, to relax with uncertainty. Meditation teaches us how to let go, how to stay centered in the midst of change. Once we see that everything is impermanent and ungraspable and that we create a huge amount of suffering if we are attached to things staying the same, we realize that relaxing and letting go is a wiser way to live. We realize that gain and loss, praise and blame, pain and pleasure are part of the dance of life, given to each of us, born into our human body. Letting go does not mean not caring about things. It means caring for them in a flexible and wise way. In meditation, we pay attention to our body with care and respect.

When we ask, “What is the nature of the body?” we can see that it grows up, it grows old, it gets sick sometimes, and it eventually dies. When we sit to meditate, we can directly feel the state of our body, the tensions we carry, the level of tiredness or energy. Sometimes being in our body feels good, and sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it is quiet, and sometimes it is restless. In meditation we sense that we do not actually own our bodies but rather we just inhabit them for a short time, and during that time they will change by themselves, regardless of what we want to happen. The same is true for our mind and heart, with its hopes and fears, the grief and joy. As we continue to meditate, we learn to relate more wisely to what Zorba the Greek called “the whole catastrophe.” Instead of fearing painful experiences and running away from them, or grasping after pleasant experiences hoping that somehow by holding onto them they will last, we come to realize our heart has the capacity to be present for it all, to live more fully and freely where we are. When we realize that everything passes away, not only the good things but the painful things as well, we find a composure in their midst.

….You can learn that you do not have to fear that which is painful and you do not have to grasp for that which is pleasant. We have often been conditioned to believe this way, but as we meditate, it quickly becomes apparent that grasping for what is pleasant or fearing things that cause us pain does not lead to peace, and it does not lead to happiness. The truth is that things change whether we want them to or not. Becoming attached to things as they are or pushing things away that we do not like does not stop them from changing. It only leads to further suffering.

Instead, in meditation we discover a natural, open-hearted, and non-judgmental awareness of our bodies and our feelings. We can gradually bring this kind and open awareness to witness all that’s in our minds. We learn to see and trust the law of impermanence — this means we begin to see the world as it is really is. In the midst of it all, we begin to see how we can relate to all of it with compassion, kindness, and wisdom.



I’m not really a house person.  I did help occupy a house for eight years in Duxbury, Massachusetts, when I was still the mother of growing boys and had a (second) husband reasonably good at fixing things that broke.  But apart from that, I’ve spent all of my childhood and most of my adult life in urban apartments, where there are supers you can call when things go wrong.

Bill is the first to admit, with a candid smile, that he’s not handy.  So when we moved into a suburban condominium townhouse here in Princeton, it was reassuring to know the grounds and the leaves and the snow and the gutters would be taken care of by the condominium association.  I could put my mind to more productive and satisfying matters than property maintenance.

Little did I know. Yes, the association takes care of the outside. (And charges extra when the winter weather’s really bad.) But there’s also the inside — the part we ownWhy just in the past month or so, while I’ve been beguiling myself (and hopefully you) with seductive blog posts about times gone by, the present has gone on making its destructive inroads into the status quo.

All the electric plugs in the master bathroom have given up the ghost. That means the comforting little night light now fails to go on at night.  My electric toothbrush has stopped working. After I wash my hair, I have to plug my hand-held hairdryer into a socket by the bed where’s there no mirror and I can’t see what I’m doing.  TO DO:  Call Gold Medal for electrician. After said electrician replaces the electric plug (for $145 plus tax), he is sure to find some other expensive thing to fix while he’s here. He always does.

Bill helped himself up from the “guest” toilet downstairs by grasping a handy towel bar and pulled it out, dislodging some plaster in the process.  Now the “guest” towel hangs by a dowel protruding from a partially open hole in the wall. (Can we invite real guests to do their business in such an unsightly venue?)  TO DO:  Call Don for appointment to make repair estimate. Don is the nice man who helped another nice man take to Cranbury Books many of Bill’s excess books at one time piled up in the garage. On that occasion, Don claimed ability to do all kinds of  construction or repair work in the home and thrust his card at me.  No job too small! (He said.) Any port in a storm. (I say.) What will Don charge, I wonder.

Condo association has just voted that all dryer vents must be cleaned every three years. Copy of paid invoice should be filed with association office by June 1.  (What will they do if I fail to comply? Evict me?)  TO DO:  Call guy recommended by condo association management company, which has negotiated special price of $69 plus tax with this person, based on volume. (There are 52 units for him to work on.)

The winds of March blew out the pilot light in the gas-powered fireplace. This morning, a cold one, I wasted half an hour on my knees (cushioned against the hard floor by throw pillows) — peering into its dusty innards and pushing switches marked “on,” to no avail, although the cats loved the dusty innards and acquired a dusty coating themselves.  TO DO:  Brush cats before they spread dust everywhere. Then call local fireplace guy to get pilot light on again.  The last time he was here (and reproached us for the dust, but who dusts inside a gas-powered fireplace?) — his help and reproach cost $125 plus tax.

The cleaning ladies, a Polish mother and daughter ever-vigilant against moths, saw one fly out of my closet and another out of the upstairs litter box, which is filled with corn-based litter.  With Slavic looks of reproach difficult to withstand, they are strongly urging that next time they come they should empty my closet and scrub it from top to bottom with noxious-smelling substances, after which they will replace my clothes, probably hanging them in the wrong order. For this I will have to pay them extra, and then rearrange everything after they’re gone. No, I am not a total wimp. I did refuse to replace the litter with a non-natural brand. If moths want to feed where my pussycats defecate, so be it. TO DO:  Purchase noxious-smelling substances at hardware store on Tuesday, when there’s a senior citizen discount.

I have agreed to host a new group of would-be meditators on Tuesday afternoons. We live in a no-parking-on-the-street neighborhood. There’s room for only one car behind our two in the driveway. If there were less “stuff” along the sides of our garage, Bill’s car — slightly smaller than mine — would fit. Then there would be room for four carpooled guests in two cars to park behind mine. TO DO:  Call youth who works part-time in hardware store and ask if he would like to make extra money by helping move heavy “stuff” from garage to basement. Neatly.  Discuss with Bill how much to pay him. Discuss with Bill how to make sure he’s neat. (He wasn’t, last time.)

Please notice there’s no “TO DO: Write next amusing TGOB post”  on this list. Now you know why.



IMG_1431 I may be pushing the envelope here, especially since the previous post in this series failed to bring a symphony of pings, but I couldn’t put away those tear sheets of print ads, demonstrating skills no longer marketable because television has swept away the market, without at least one last fond glance of farewell.  It’s a glance at a campaign I’d quite forgotten until it turned up in that stiffening black leather ad portfolio while I was gathering the illustrations for the five posts preceding this one.


I liked doing these particular ads then; having rediscovered them, I like looking at and reading them now. They gave the finger to all the fashion advertising that took itself so seriously and made my working life such hell — and got away with it.  The client, Zero King coats and jackets for men, ran them for over a year, with apparent retail success.  Which may just show it really didn’t matter what any of us in the “ad biz” were doing with or writing about ready-to-wear (except for getting Art Director Association awards, where it mattered too much), as long as the ad had a good clear photograph of the merchandise in it.


The campaign came about because Zero King brought an interesting request to Mervin & Jesse Levine, the agency where Jerry Fields landed me a job in June 1961.  Could the agency do a campaign on the cheap using photographs already shot for next year’s in-house catalogue?  No hiring fancy fashion photographers, no elaborate studio set-ups, no expensive team meetings to devise award-winning campaigns.

Never one to turn away a client, however small its contribution to the profit picture, Mervin handed this thorny problem to his art directors.  (He had two, plus a Creative Director who’d been an art director himself. Careful readers of this blog with good memories may recall the second half of  “Sex in the Office,”  in which I exchanged longingly horny glances and some determinative dialogue with this very Creative Director.)  Creative Director and numero uno art director were otherwise too occupied to mess around with stock photos of menswear; they had big profitable accounts, like Ship ‘n Shore, with which to wrestle.  Stingy Zero King ended up on the second art director’s desk.


The second art director’s name — the newly legal name I knew him by — was Marty Scofield.  He was in his late twenties, had blondish-brown straight hair that kept falling over his blue eyes, a light smattering of freckles on the bridge of his tip-tilted nose, and fresh rosy cheeks.  From the look of him, you’d have sworn his parents came from England or Ireland. But as he confided later, he was really Martin Skolnick — or had been, until his last name kept him out of every big ad agency to which he’d applied after graduating with distinction from Pratt, the art school that hatched so many New York art directors.

At last someone in Personnel at J. Walter Thompson, who must have liked the look of him, suggested he lose the “Skolnick.” When he did, she hired him.  He discovered he hated giant ad agency culture. So here he was, working for Mervin, who would not have minded a Skolnick on his premises, but it was too late to change back.

Marty wasn’t exactly thrilled with small ad agency culture either. (He was also gay, although well closeted, which may have contributed to his quietly jaundiced view of our nonsensical occupation.) It doesn’t take long for the disaffected to find each other. We were already lunchtime friends. Marty took one look at the Zero King photographs and called me up. (He could have walked around the office to where I sat, but then he would have had to walk back again. Better I should do the walking.)  He had superimposed one of the photos on a blank piece of paper and drawn a cartoon figure of an admiring woman next to it. Wasn’t it one of the ten commandments of 1960’s fashion advertising that we should sell no garment without alluding to its sex appeal?


Marty’s cartoon was right up my alley. I could be nutsy too. We chuckled our way through a whole series. And what do you know? Zero King was perfectly happy.  For the price of the magazine space and a small markup representing a tiny percentage of our salaries, they had a national campaign.  Creative Director, who also had to sign off on it, lifted an eyebrow. Then he shrugged. Let’s run it up the flagpole, he said, with stunning lack of originality.  (How could I have been eyeing him so lustfully?)   As long as I worked in all the merchandise details and the price, it seemed we were okayed for take-off.


Success breeds intimacy.  As Marty and I laughed together (not too loudly) we grew closer.  By now I was divorced. One Sunday, he invited me up to Connecticut to see where he lived. He actually owned a whole house. In my limited experience, out-of-office socializing wasn’t much done between co-workers; I began to think I might have been wrong about him.


With savings from his J. Walter Thompson salary, he had bought an eighteenth-century farmhouse which had been much underpriced because it had a ghost. He was now slowly restoring it.  By hand. With the help of his friend. He walked me from room to room, explaining what he’d already done and what he planned to do next.  “A real ghost?” I asked.  “Well, there are sure some strange noises in the attic at night,” he said.   “And on the stairs.”

“Aren’t you scared to live in a house with a ghost?” (I would have been.)  “He hasn’t done anything to us yet,” said Marty. He was thinking of the ghost as a “he.” I would have supposed an eighteenth-century ghost to be a lovelorn “she.” We left that one unexplored.


Following a very good dinner, which he had cooked ahead of time, we sat by the fire. His friend, who’d been away visiting his parents that weekend, would be back later that night.  It became awkward.  I knew he liked me. I liked him, too. He was a couple of years younger than I was, but under other circumstances we would have kissed. Instead, we looked into each other’s eyes for what seemed quite a while. Then he looked away. I said I’d better be going. He became solicitous about my driving back to the city in the dark. “I’ll be okay,” I said reassuringly, not meaning the driving.  What had been such a lovely day had turned so sad. He looked sad too as I closed the car door and drove away.

Afterwards, I would ask how the house restoration was coming. We both also talked in a general way about my visiting a second time, on another Sunday.  But he never specifically invited me and I never specifically suggested it. So I never saw what the house looked like when he and his friend finally finished it.


About a year after I left Mervin & Jesse Levine for more money at Altman Stoller & Chalk (another Jerry Fields placement), I received a letter from the Virgin Islands.  It was from Marty.  He had sold the fully restored eighteenth-century house in Connecticut, said goodbye to advertising, and with his equity bought a bed-and-breakfast in St. Thomas.  He didn’t say whether or not his friend was still with him. He did invite me to come down on my next vacation.  By then I had met the man who would become my second husband and the father of my two children. I suppose we could have gone down to St. Thomas together, except we’d already put a rental deposit on a Wellfleet bungalow. And the following summer we got married and went to Bermuda. I must have answered Marty’s letter but can’t remember what I said.

Now that it’s the twentieth-first century, I’ve been able to find almost everyone I worked with during my years in advertising on the Internet, usually through an obituary but not always.  Marty’s the only one who’s disappeared.  I’ve tried Skolnick and I’ve tried Scofield.  Nothing. He’s gone to earth. All that’s left are his zany sketches for Zero King.  (Another reason I like the ads so much?)

But Zero King —  that’s another story: A man with a taste for vintage can still pick one up on e-Bay.  Maybe not exactly a style I’ve just shown you. But something equally as appealing to the woman in your life.


In closing, let me add that if you should miraculously run across Marty, either digitally or in real life, do let me know. I’d love to hear how he’s doing.