To Stretch or Not to Stretch–That is the Question

There are many types of stretching. Stretching on awakening to confirm that everything is still working –practiced mostly by the geriatric crowd, stretching into a yoga pretzel, stretching one’s credulity – something we are forced to do every day when confronted with the slanted news–and stretching for self-improvement.

My blessings include working very hard rehabbing old houses in Cincinnati most of the year (call me crazy, but I thrive on work) and then going to the sleepy town of Naharyia in Israel for about four months a year, spread out over two or three trips. When there, my Cincinnati business only takes several hours a day as I cannot be on site, cannot supervise, cannot do my daily twice, sometimes thrice, Home Depot (or Lowe’s) runs, and cannot nag the workers except by email. Now I have only myself (and my husband) to nag. I remind myself of my promises to myself that I will whip myself into shape, lose weight, get out those watercolors, write, and promote “Forty Days and Forty Nights, Rain, Rain, Rain”. This is truly a nasty job to beat myself up but who else will do it? My husband is too busy beating himself up.

After giving myself lots of excuses;  catching up on the bookkeeping (takes about a week), getting over jet lag, getting acclimated to the rhino-weight humidity here, giving myself a well deserved rest, getting over jet lag. Oops, I think I just ran out of excuses.

Yesterday I took my beloved bike out of storage for a spin. Purchased three years ago I have been waiting for my husband to join me but finally gave up waiting. He would rather wear himself out by running on the treadmill and lifting weights. The bike fits my personality – it has one speed, one hand brake and can also be stopped by pedaling backwards. It’s old, reliable, past its prime and a little beat up—that’s me.

My off and on romance with biking never included learning how to use the gears. In fact, I probably didn’t bike for close to 40 years after dropping into a pothole on West 56th Street in New York, flying over the handlebars, and falling (skirt up) in the middle of the street in front of a moving taxi.

After a serious confrontation with my conscience, I biked seven miles yesterday with only one three minute break. It took an hour. Today I biked over ten miles (an hour and twenty minutes with no breaks), began writing this essay, and did a watercolor. My brain is overjoyed, my legs are like jelly and I fear for my sanity tomorrow. Being into one-upsmanship (with me and only me), what will happen tomorrow when I have to top this???

Stay tuned .

FlowerpotRocks web


My Article as Published in ESRA Magazine


by Joan Gross Category: Israel Issue No. 168

Returning from the grocery store, I spotted a bird. I paused in mid-step. This was not your ordinary, everyday bird, but an insanely bizarre bird. Regally perched on his head sat a cocky headdress, much more regal than a cardinal’s. His colors were subtle like a morning dove – halfway down his body that is; then a stark transformation to black and white circular stripes. Was this a joke? Did someone put him together with scraps from several bird-making kits? Was he squeezing out one more bird from his pile of rejects no matter how ridiculous it looked? The bird flew away and I suddenly remembered that there were three hungry children waiting for their breakfast.

This was the last day that Eliav (11), Eviatar (9) and Batli (7) were visiting with Mick and me. Since they had moved back to Israel two years ago, I had only seen them once last year for a brief weekend and the year before for three short visits. I had lived with them for close to two years in Brooklyn and helped them learn English and become “American”.

The three children had immersed themselves in Hebrew after their family had split in two, and their half (those three with their mother) had moved back to Israel. Their father, with his new wife and their two older brothers live in New York City. In the two years that Eliav, Eviatar and Batli have been back in Israel they have totally forgotten their English. After just a few days with us, Eliav’s English has miraculously been largely restored, although Eviatar and Batli could only manage to say a few words. Eviatar rejoiced in correcting our Hebrew in a very methodical, syllable-by-syllable manner. I smiled at his new skill while at the same time feeling the loss of the wonderful conversations I used to have with him.

That morning, the children decided that they all wanted eggs and chocolate milk. Mick had awakened and was at his computer, and I asked him about the bird I had just seen. “It is the national bird, the hoopoe,” he informed me. I said, “Wow – I thought it would have been the kippah bird.” I did not know the name of this brown bird with the black “skullcap” on its head that I referred to, but I thought it appropriate that it bear a name indicating that it covers its head in the sight of God—hence the kippah bird.

After breakfast, I rounded up the children to go for a walk on the beach to collect shells, ocean-rounded pebbles and water-polished glass, and to walk to the moshav next door.

Eliav said that he did not want to get his feet wet, but suddenly we were all in the water watching the ripples tickle our feet and enjoying the coolness of the waves. The air above was hot, heavy and humid. Each step I took felt like I was dragging 20 extra pounds with it.

Here, in Naharyia, the sea looks different every day. Today there were stripes of blues, aqua, cobalt and sapphire, interrupted only by rippling white foam. The children live inland, and my pleasure in watching the sea was heightened as I tried watching it through their eyes.

We walked further, past a canal that meandered through the moshav, past the beaches with their large umbrellas and cabanas where the more subtle waves better suited our non-immersion style of refreshment.

Batli stepped onto a slippery rock and suddenly it wasn’t only her feet in the water but her entire lower body.

As we headed back, the children discovered that there were stones by the canal. They splashed the stones and I thought again about the “jumble” bird: just like Israeli Jews who are also a jumble—we settled here from Morocco, Iraq, France, China, India and Ethiopia. We began with no common language or customs, some of us are religiously observant, some secular, some atheist, but all melded together to build up this land that G-d gave us. Anyone seeing our faces – black, brown, white, yellow and red, and listening to us speak Hindi, Arabic Farsi, and French and on and on, would definitely find us as bizarre as the bird.

A passerby expressed her disapproval of the children throwing stones, and I coaxed them back on the path home.

Batli, despite still being wet from her accidental immersion, was wilting until we came across a drinking fountain close to where the bandstand is set up on the beach. The fountain had five spigots, each spigot sprayed water in several directions at one time. Hardly any of the water reached their gaping mouths but splashed onto their bodies. The children shouted and ran back and forth to the fountain as they took turns maneuvering the water to spray each other. Their rush to get back to our apartment was forgotten.

The boardwalk had a raised lookout and the children stood there gazing at the waves, three little specks against the broad spectrum of the sea and sky, hugging every breeze that embraced them. For a while they made dog and rabbit shadows on the sand below, and questioned me about what looked like an abandoned fishing rod propped upright on the beach. I pointed at the owner. He was sitting beneath the lookout, drinking a beer, talking on the phone and casually watching the rod for any sign of success.

With their pockets full of seashells and their minds full of today’s memories, we walked back to the apartment. We were our own version of the jumble bird: three children who had lost half of their family, and myself, the only non-related constant in their life for the past seven years.

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Winners, losers and keepers

Life is full of winners, losers and keepers. Five years ago I decided to apply this test to my friends and relatives. The inspection and subsequent fallout was a revelation. The winners:

1. My children. I looked at them as people and decided yes, they’ed be keepers even if they weren’t mine. However, I decided that I had finished raising my 29-year-old daughter who was still living with me. So I moved. To another state.

2. Rosie. She was demanding, loved to do imitations of people we knew and generally engaged in outrageous behavior. During prayer services, she would look around to see whose eye she could catch and then blow them kisses. She flirted with everyone from 6 months to 99 and her humor and mirth were utterly irresistible. She has passed on and I learned from her to relate to people of all ages. It has enriched my life. When I think of her I smile and pray that God wasn’t looking while she flirted during prayer services.

3. My free range chicken supplier. While I decided the chickens were too expensive, her friendship was a bargain. She turned out to be a kindred creative soul and there was another bonus: her talented husband wrote the music to and sings the “Forty Days” song.

4. Everyone else that is not listed under losers.

The winners are also the keepers.

And, ta da the losers:

1. A bi-polar friend who usually refused to answer the phone when I called. He often called me, though. And his timing was impeccable.  The phone would ring just as I was slipping into bed and he demanded that I stay on the phone with him because he wanted to talk. I would try the bathroom routine – you know – I gotta pee. Gonna say good night. His answer, “I’ll hang on til you come back.”

2. Husband number 4. When we were geographically separated he would call constantly to find out what I was doing. Hello–I don’t think marriage is a jail house. (Husband number 5 lives in another country and he never calls and says, “Where are you?” He just keeps telling me I am beautiful, my writing is beautiful and my paintings are beautiful. He came later but he is definitely a keeper.)

3. The friend who was the co-author of an advice column for my local, monthly newspaper. One weird problem; two answers. But truthfully, I didn’t get rid of her. She decided I wasn’t worth keeping. After following her advise to always print reader letters, she was angry that I printed one that criticized her answer.

4. My newspaper. Too much work and not enough money. Now I deal with tenants instead and I have to decide which ones are losers and which ones are keepers. If I ever find out who was the person that required another tenant to put up this sign– that’s a loser.


5. The tenant who tells me he left for work at 5 in the morning and didn’t come home til 11pm demands that I pick up his rent check–he can’t get to the bank and refuses to use his bank bill payer. The mail? He can’t afford a stamp, he says. He ends every conversation by telling me I am his only friend in America because I went to court for him in a custody case with his ex-wife. I’ve decided to keep my sanity by picking up an old love that I haven’t engaged in since B.C. (before children). See my watercolors below:

FlowersFeb6A copy FlowersJanIs2 copy


Vanilla, Chocolate or Something Else – Life’s Choices

By Joan Gross

I am spending seven weeks in Israel and every day my choices are overwhelming. What should be my priority today; working, sightseeing or visiting friends? I determined today would be a working day.

My husband, who lives in Israel, has a Cellcom modem for his computer. That means even though I brought my laptop with me and my Ipad I can only use them on the train, in the train station and at the bus stop near our home. Although most of the buses do not have wifi I get right on at this particular bus stop.

So, after much nagging hubby has agreed to go to the shopping center nearby to the Cellcom storefront and do something about the situation. I said I would join him if we walked instead of taking the bus since this is the first day in five that there has not been torrential rainfall. The monotony of the rain was relieved yesterday only by intermittent hail. We got caught in it and even though we tried to shield our faces we were pelted by these sky- delivered missiles.

We set out to the shopping center which involves walking along the Mediterranean on a promenade that gives way to a gravel path with a small bridge separating Naharyia from Sh’ve Tzion, a small village. I had always laughed when I saw the danger sign about 15 feet before the bridge. Danger of what I wondered? Today the sign vindicated itself. Water, at least a foot high gushed rapidly over the bridge into the Sea. I could see myself slipping on the bridge, falling into the water and being washed right out.

I don’t mind walking a mile out of the way as long as I am not retreading my same footsteps and challenged hubby to follow me across the fields in the hope that we would find another cross over, or just wend our way to the highway. He stopped in his tracks when he saw some pottery shards. I helped search and sort through these artifacts. Of the ones I found, one is an arrowhead, another part of a rim of a pot with an interesting design, and a third part of a handle. I left him several times to see what big white birds were circling overhead. I shadowed a tree, not moving and finally one of the birds alit. It was a pelican.

By the time we finished collecting shards in the field my husband declared it was time to go back home. No Cellcom solutions for my computer today.

We came back, washed the shards and took photos. My husband is mailing these photos off to an archeologist that he has been communicating with about an impression of a sword embedded in a large rock on the beach.

I will have to save this blog entry on a flash drive to enter it on my husband’s computer and the photos you see will have been emailed from my Ipad at the bus stop.

So today I have traveled into history instead of solving my technology problems. Ah, the choices we make.

Now for tomorrow, will it be chocolate, vanilla or something else?

Daily prompt: 32 flavors

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When Is Enough, Enough

By: Joan Gross

When I was a young teen I desperately wanted a bicycle. I fantasized about the freedom it would bring me, the places I would go, the wind flying past me as my newly muscled legs would peddle me into new adventures.

 Our road was our world and it was a small world. There was an older couple with a grown daughter and a family with small children. The other two houses on this half mile road were populated with faces and names that I either never knew or escape my memory. Our road, for our early teen years, was a lonely road. Later there would be two families with teenagers, but that was knowledge that I did not then possess. I only had one friend in junior high school and she lived far away and in another world. We tended to our farm chores early in the morning and late in the afternoon. My father worked for the railroad and my mother at Fannie Farmer Candies. We had everything we needed but not much extra.

At that time I earned $1 a week for my job of collecting, sorting and candling eggs. My father promised me a dollar for every dollar I saved and I began to earnestly save for my dream bike.

In 1955 a new car cost under $2,000 and a gallon of gas a quarter. The bicycle probably cost about $36. It definitely took me longer than 18 weeks to save for the bike, partially because my sister and brother and I pooled our money together at appropriate times for gifts for mom and dad’s birthdays and other occasions. And sometimes we would take the little children that lived across the street to the far end of our road—the end that hit Route 9W, to treat them and ourselves, to a single scoop of vanilla ice cream served in glass Sundae dishes at the Glenmont Diner. The song most doo wapping from the jukebox was “Little Darlin” by the Diamonds. I can still hear it.

Finally dad took my share of the money and came home with a beautiful bike. It was large and shiny and the most expensive item I ever owned. I learned to ride it in our driveway and shivered in anticipation of my new adventures. Unfortunately the bike I had was not meant for traveling on pebbled, rutted roads. Each foot I advanced was a frustrating chore and after two days of trying to master the road, enough was enough and the bike was put in the garage and never came out again.

Let’s fast forward fifty-five years. What happened to my bicycle fantasies? Somewhere in the middle of those years I did have a bike and biked with my daughter. Then I moved and the steep cost of moving necessitated shedding many things, including the bike.

But my dream lived on. I purchased a bike in Cincinnati. Because I live at the bottom of a long hill I figured that first I would buy a bike in Naharyia where my husband lives and practice there. Riding in Naharyia promised to be easy and pleasurable. The entire town is flat and there is a promenade along the Mediterranean. It is common to see young and elderly on bikes and there are racks scattered throughout town where they can be securely parked.


The promenade in Naharyia. In the distance is Rosh HaNikra and Lebanon

So when I next visited my husband, I nagged him into shopping for two used bikes so that we could go out riding together. My old bicycle fantasy had given birth to a larger fantasy.

Finally the bikes were purchased and I relived my teenage excitement. We went out together to test our bikes. I jumped on my bike, I peddled fast and furious and felt the freedom I always longed for. The wind was flying past me. My legs felt strong and supple and they circled round and round effortlessly. I was gleefully flying north on the promenade, sure that my husband was behind me. Suddenly I took note of his absence and headed back to our starting point. There I found him sitting on a bench a block from the starting point, holding the bike and staring at it dejectedly. He was frustrated about his inability to ride. He had never learned. He had grown up in a big city and never owned a bike.

For now the sole function of both of the Naharyia bikes and the one in Cincinnati is that of large dust collectors.

I think about all the driving I do every month (over 30 hours), and my thrice yearly 11 hour each-way plane trips to see my husband, and I wonder why I still have the fantasy of the freedom of a bike.

Maybe because when it comes to a dream, enough is never enough.

(Joan Gross is the co-author, with husband Michael Jaron, of “Forty Days and Forty Nights, Rain, Rain, Rain”). http://www.TurnipTimes.com


What Is Your Worst Quality?

By: Joan Gross

My worst quality is that I refuse to recognize that I have a worst quality. Looking at myself through rose colored glasses has taken a lifetime of discipline.  For at least sixty years, I always compared myself to others and found myself sadly lacking. Everyone else was prettier (who cares?), everyone else was smarter (who knows?), and everyone else was more charming (who was the judge?)

One day a Jewish philosopher changed my life. He said that when someone sees a bad quality in you, they recognize it only because they own that very same attribute. So, if someone accuses you of being a procrastinator, or pompous or worse, a prevaricator, you might want to run for them thar hills. After all, when they point their accusatory, menacing forefinger at you and it hovers somewhere between your nose and your mouth, and you’re tempted to take a juicy bite out of it, three fingers are pointing back at them. They harbor at least three times that obnoxious quality.

Recognizing bad qualities in myself was like tying an elephant around my waist. My “bad qualities” loomed so large that I was defeated before I ever got off the ground.

If someone else was prettier, how would I find the right husband? If someone else was more charming and smarter, how would I get ahead in business? When I decided that I was just as pretty as anyone else (after garnering four husbands that were not right for me), I found the fifth. Since I think I am pretty, he also thinks I am pretty. Positive thinking is a miraculous quality.

Deciding I was just as charming, or even more, just as smart, at the very least, new avenues of thought have flashed through my brain and I feel capable of, and have accomplished, more in business than I ever dreamed.

Bad qualities you want to discuss? Not me. I have decided to see only good in me and in you too.


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The Art of Tongue Biting and Other Grandmother Lessons

By: Joan Gross

Parenting can be a mind-numbing,brain-draining, Herculean challenge. But on the bright side, we’re wonderfully free to speak our minds. Of course I have never had to say anything like this to my “perfect” children, but I can imagine other parents saying things, like “You are not leaving the house dressed like that. What street corner were you planning on standing on?”  Or, “You only thought you were going to Jim’s party tonight. That was before you brought home your “C” in gym, three “Ds” and 2 “Es” report card.” No tongue biting here.

Now suddenly those children are responsible adults with their own children and I’ve been fired. The proverbial pink slip was never exactly slid under my door, but I feel it, lodged somewhere in the back of my throat.

I watch as my grandson tests his power, throwing tantrums when he can’t get his way. He exercises his vocal cords so ably that I want to run for cover with my impaired hearing before I am deaf! And now my-grown-up-child is caving in to this amateur display of clout. What, I think, will happen when this child takes a stand on something that his parents can’t give in to? That’s when I bite my tongue. When things calm down, I reflect on my own mistakes—different than theirs – but mistakes never-the-less.

That’s what makes tongue biting so difficult—it is the knowledge of and rejection of my parenting and my mistakes.

Of course, it makes for very interesting and sometimes comical drama. I have one grandchild who has been coaxed to speak his mind and he has fallen madly in love with three little words “I don’t want.” I watch the frustration of his parents’ faces as they prepare food for him, the food that he demanded and then doesn’t want because it wasn’t prepared exactly to his specifications. He is three and a half.

He came to me recently and said sweetly. “Please, I want an apple.” I peeled the apple and then cut it. He was outraged. He wanted it whole. He seized the apple and ran to the garbage pail screaming, “I don’t want.” I executed a quick block, but resisted tackling him, and rescued the apple. He took another apple out of the refrigerator and handed it to me. I caved in to his request. I don’t want to fight with my children or my grandchildren and peeled the apple for him.

This child happens to be a delightfully happy child. He dons his Spiderman costume and leaps from tall couch to tall couch bouncing off the cushions and laughing raucously. You can’t help but laugh when you watch him. Until it comes to food, that is. He found and uses the power of his parents being worried that he won’t eat.

This little blip in my visits is annoying but doable. Until one day, after an eleven hour drive to visit him. I pulled into the driveway. He espied me. He gravely looked at me, pointed his forefinger in my direction and said loudly to the babysitter, “I don’t want.” Translation, grandmother, go home. Double ouch. I guess I will have to give in to the whims of this plus three tyrant, bite my tongue even more, enjoy his company, and go home knowing that his parents will have to deal with the tantrums and I can bask in the glory of my children getting back some of what they gave me.

Biting ones tongue does have some perks. Even if my tongue is sore.