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Somebody Is Watching You: Part II

When I am rehabbing houses, my shopping involves hitting all the fine emporiums, such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, Surplus Warehouse, Sherwin-Williams and even the dollar stores. I have purchased enough paint, just from the Spring to now, to paint a foot-wide line that would go from New Jersey to Salt Lake City, Utah. So ,they know me in Sherwin-Williams, but not by name. I am sure I am memorable, if for no other reason, then the incident where one of their customer/friends took off, mistakenly, with my keys.

The folks in Surplus Warehouse love to greet me by name when I walk in. You’d think I was a celebrity! I am not one of their bigger customers as I mostly purchase laminate and tile for flooring from them, but we always have a great repartee. One of the men takes joy in reminding me about the time I locked my keys in the car and had to wait for Triple AAA. (There seems to be some evil karma involving  my keys.)

That said, most of the time and in most of the places, I am anonymous when I shop. Or, at least I thought I was. But there are always people watching.

Recently, when I was checking out of Home Depot with some small purchases, and brooding about a broken boiler in one of the properties I manage, the clerk said, “Is everything okay? You always look so happy and today you are not smiling.” If you had asked me if I ever saw her before, I would have said “no”. Yet, this woman remembered me, and remembered me as cheerful and friendly. I really felt like I had let that clerk down by not being a bright spot in her day on that occasion.

Generally I try to treat people with respect and appreciate what they do for me. I strongly believe in that old, worn out saying “what goes around comes around.”

Year ago, I had a small monthly newspaper (a good news newspaper in New Jersey), and was calling on an advertiser. On that particular day, he  was nasty to one of his workers. I said to him, “You just made that guy feel badly, and now he will take it out on someone else, maybe one of your customers.” He looked at me quizzically and asked, “You really think so?”

I asked him to think about the last time his wife was nasty to him and how that affected how he treated the next person. “Nouf said,” as they say.

Any way, yesterday I was in the dollar store looking for some wire for hanging pictures. After exhausting my patience and not finding it, I approached a woman restocking the shelves. She stopped what she was doing and walked me over to point out what should have been already obvious. I looked her in the eye and smilingly thanked her for helping me.

She was ready to walk away, but then said, “You don’t remember me (she was right), but you showed me a house and my circumstances changed and I was not able to rent it from you.”

My husband always says that he would not want to be in a police lineup with me choosing the criminal because I don’t look for details. I guess he is right but I have no recollection of ever having seen that woman but I was so happy that I treated her with respect since she “knew” me.

There is no hiding. Someone is always watching. For me, I try to remember that it is the Almighty. That usually keeps me on my toes.

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This painting is now framed and hanging on the walls at Amma’s Kitchen in the Roselawn neighborhood of Cincinnati


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Tzfat’s Karo Synagogue is Calm and Cool

Tzfat has more knooks and crannies than any city I’ve seen. Narrow alleys give way to mountain vistas and open doorways allow you to peer into other alleys with mryiads of doors and gates.

Though in Tzfat at least half a dozen times, I never entered the Joseph Karo Synagogue. Karo, a tzadik legend, and the author of the “Shulcan Aruch” where many of us turn to with our questions on Jewish law, was born in 1488. He was a victim of the Jew haters of that time that were forced to flee Spain. His family moved to many inhospitable places until as an adult, Karo finally settled into his last residence, including at the end his grave, in the Tzfat cemetery.

A synagogue was built in his honor on the spot where he headed the Rabbinical Court of Justice but it was destroyed in the earthquake of 1837. It was rebuilt several years later but is probably not as grand as the original.

Joseph Karo was one of the great kabalists of his time and Tzfat embodies the spirit of artists and mysticism. Sitting quietly in this blue oasis, it is easy to feel spiritual and creative at the same time. Below are photos of the interior of the synagogue and two watercolors I did, including one of a gate in Tzfat (Sefad).

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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 .

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Professor No Taught Me Everything I Know

As a shy, country girl who tried my best to be invisible, I had the self-confidence of an ant racing away from the shadow of a size 10 shoe as it looms large over its existence.

Being “less than” was an identity tattooed daily on my psyche.  Our two-grade class room, all through grade school, was further divided into those that could and those that couldn’t.  Need I mention that I was in the “couldn’t” section? While others were learning, I was secretly reading a book tucked into the storage area of my desk. Why constantly court failure by participating? A particularly degrading day came, when out of school for two days for Rosh Hashanna when I was in first grade, I walked in the next day to find out we were having a test. I zipped triumphantly through the test and handed in my paper. I was confident of a good mark. I got a ZERO! They had learned subtraction while I was still on addition and, of course, I never read the test’s directions.

I entered Junior High School where 90% of the class was on the college tract. Other ideas were advanced at home. “Be a secretary and get married” was the mantra of my daily existence. So it was shorthand and typing for me. However, I did take art classes and I loved it. No matter how much my teacher berated me for having “no control” I cheerfully continued to flow my watercolors like a raging river.  This art teacher, Mrs. Marsden, I later found out, told the rest of the class “Why can’t you paint like Joan? You are all too tight and afraid to experiment.”  That statement whispered into my ear by another student, failed to compute, but I filed it away in the “maybe there is hope for me” cabinet at the bottom of my brain.

High school is supposed to prepare us for life – especially those of us who are on the business tract and not going to college. We took an aptitude test to help us decide where our talents lay. I was told that nothing definite leapt out from my test results, but there was a leaning towards making of an auto mechanic. I had no mechanical skills—couldn’t even change a tire—so I felt wary of ever finding my niche.

After high school I worked as a secretary for a while but boredom took over and I decided to go to the big city from upstate New York and go to art school. I hated it. It was too rigid. They concluded I was without talent, which is what my father had told me before I left home. “No you can’t” from a plethora of Professor No’s, became a chorus of deep throated frogs singing off key and negating my existence. I tried Hunter College. I failed. I went to the Art Students League where you were not graded but even though I sold some art work here and there I realized I might become just another starving artist. I then decided to attend Pace. Pace made me prove myself and matriculate. I worked full time and took 12 credits at night, racking up two A’s and two B’s each semester.

Did I mention that I was married before Pace and after Pace? I was. My first husband told me not to go to college. “Your father didn’t send you, why should I?” The second husband decided I should run his office.  In the meantime, we had adopted two children and his consistently telling me that the two children were “not the same as having your own”. That, along with his blaming me for everything wrong that ever happened, threatened to happen, or could possibly happen in his life, gave me cause to chalk up divorce/failure number two.

As the divorce ground on, slowly stripping me of everything that was secure in my life, I enrolled in Georgia State.

My college creative writing teacher told me I was a “no” talent. Mid-way through the second creative writing course with him (after telling me that I also had no talent for poetry writing), he decided to enter my short story into the Southern Literary Festival.

At this point I had become so weary of “You can’t” that I had worked myself up to a 3.5 point average and was told I could graduate cum laude but had to do a successful project. How handy that I had a short story that my creative teacher liked! That would be my cum laude project. Except the professor in charge of that assignment told me that my story was not even college level. After the eighth rewrite (two rewrites after winning second place at the Southern Literary Festival), I gave up.

After my third divorce I smugly informed my father that he should be very proud of me. He told me to be a secretary and get married. I had been a secretary for about ten years, and I had gotten married, and married, and married. Poor dad was speechless.

Husband four didn’t work out either but I am now married to my knight in shining armor who encourages all my schemes and dreams with positive enthusiasm.

I have tried my hand at retail (I had the first ever cartoon store outside of Disney World), created, published and edited a monthly good news newspaper in New Jersey for eleven years (along with an area guide for the local hotels) and I am now a rehabber. I take tired old houses and smack them back to life by constantly encouraging my workmen into finishing projects while trying to come in under budget (we never do). I have dull doors drenched in varying shades of  tangerine or green, add shiny toilets with new plumbing, have crumbling walls plastered and painted. My tenants think I am an artist. My friends think I am superwoman and the energizer bunny rolled into one. But I am just trudging along, trying my hand at whatever pops up, proving to all the Professor No’s in my life, that he/she/they are WRONG.

Below is a watercolor I recently finished and a small seascape that I am working on:

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