…then there was the time…

If you sit long enough with a family elder inevitably you will begin to hear “and then there was the time…” something. Some story you may have heard before but listen closely for newly remembered details and ask questions.  Especially the nagging questions.

I had lunch recently with my mother before taking her to her doctor’s appointment.  She’s a fan of MacDonald’s hamburgers and always seems to get talkative when we eat them together.  Just the two of us, no Toti so she’s fully present.

She began by saying, and then there was the time I stayed at Aunt Nettie’s during the summer when she lived on 42nd St (and 3rd Avenue) across from the Church of the Immaculate Conception. She was on the second floor.  We were three in the bed and every night they would light the statue and it would shine in the window and we could see it from the bed. (When recounting this to my sister she immediately confirmed it would freak – her – out.)

The Church is still there but they are all long out of the city.  She went on to say that Aunt Lucy lived on 1st Avenue so they would make tomato and egg sandwiches and have a picnic in the park. “I made myself a tomato and egg sandwich the other day but it wasn’t the same” “I get that, I prefer potato and egg”, to which she stated you’re just like “Your Aunt”.

I knew which Aunt she meant, she never called her by name, she was always “Your Aunt”. Taking the mention, I can’t help myself, I say, speaking of My Aunt is that how I got to go and stay with her in Astoria when I was a kid?  Was it a thing?

I was asking because as much as it’s one of the highlights of my childhood I never understood how it came about.  I figured it was because I was a pain in the ass but she said no. It’s because she never had kids so first it was me (my mother) then it was you. I might have mentioned my sister has a theory…

I have very vivid and fond memories of one of the “sleepovers” but in talking with my mother I didn’t even remember the other one. The timeline seemed odd, the one I remember was in 1965 the other was in 1967.  Ahhh my sister said, “the year everything changed” (you can be pretty sure you’re never going to see a post on that)…is the one my mother remembers most vividly. Interesting on so many levels.

There is insight in the timing but there was more insight in the rest of the conversation. In the end it confirmed the contention that existed between my mother and I and my mother and “My Aunt”.  “She had to take charge, nobody could do anything without asking her (did anyone ever try, no I did not ask that question…) she always knew best, she wanted everyone to be like her, do things her way.”  Oh boy, I’ve lived in that space.  In some ways I still live in that space and ironically my mother won’t make a decision without “asking Sandi first”.

Per my mother she was a pain in the ass, you might have noticed I recognized earlier that I too was a pain in the ass.  But she was important to me, I remember later in her life listening to her lament about being old and not belonging, of not being able to do the things that were so important to her once, like cooking her own meals. Something as seemingly small as a gallon of olive oil being thrown away when she moved from her beloved apartment strickened her. All the while she talked the tears ran down her face.  I remember thinking that no one should have to cry when they get old.

I’m never going to be a mother’s daughter, I think we’ve established that many years ago, and there’s a very good chance that I might turn into “My Aunt” with a kinder edge perhaps.  In this past month of ah-ha moments I’m noticing many of her endearing traits coming out in me. Movement is important, cooking for oneself and enjoying what you eat is important, dancing (even just around your living room), truthfulness with a touch of restraint and empathy (she might have missed that part) is important and living life to the fullest you’re capable is important.  This she did in spite of her regrets and her highhandedness. She’s been gone well over a decade but I have her picture at my desk and discuss things with her often.  There are times I think she’ll answer me and a tiny bit of fear crawls up my neck but that’s ok, I’ve also had that effect on people and in the end the goodness always comes through.

I’m looking forward to more of those ….and then there was the time…moments.

Have a good week and look for the ordinary moments, it’s where legacy lives.


Gardening Rituals

You don’t have to be a gardener to benefit from these rituals, they will fit almost anywhere.  In fact, they already reside in kitchens, business and just plain daily living. They are born from common sense, you remember that right?

Start Early

If you’re going to get anywhere in the garden, or any of the above alternatives, you’ve got to start early.  Plant at the optimum time.  Seeds and seedlings (or ideas for that matter) have an optimum time to go in the ground not just to survive but to flourish.  It makes no sense to defy your cleared frost date or you’ll find yourself starting again.  It makes no sense to plant fall crops at the beginning of spring.  You’ll want a progression that builds on the changes of the growing season (or the market…) to take full advantage of the varied conditions.

You’ll also want to start early in the day.  Before the sun beats on your back and exhausts you and burns you (or burns you out).  Pace yourself to the environment you’re working in, be aware of the changes and use them to your advantage.  For example, get your plants in before the rain so they get a good soaking and weed after the rain when the soil will yield to your hoe.

Gardening Mise En Place

There is no difference between kitchen mise en place and gardening mise en place.  Everything must be in its place in order to conserve your energy, insure good flow, prevent injury, and make this gardening work a pleasure.  Another part of mise en place is to clean as you go.  At the end of your morning in the garden when you’re done you’re done, no back and forth and diminishing the joy you’ve just experienced with gathering and cleaning the multitude of tools you’ve used.  More than anything this insures nothing will be left behind in the garden. There is nothing worse than wondering where the hell that damn trowel went…

Protect Against Intruders

In a community garden there are a different set of intruders.  There are the rabbits.  There are the deer.  There are the birds.  There are the residents…and yes there are the other gardeners.  It’s true there are times we just can’t help ourselves.  Just one seed pod.  Just one cutting. Just one clump of this overgrown name the perennial.  We don’t mean to steal, in fact I don’t think any gardener considers this stealing but just the same we sometimes forget to ask first.

Fencing becomes one of the most popular ways to protect against intruders and many a community garden becomes strewn with ingenious and elaborate fencing. Most gardeners prefer not to use chemicals to keep pests away, especially if they are growing edibles, so any number of home remedies can literally stink up the place.  This too might keep away the human poachers.

Rest and Pace Yourself

Gardening, especially at the beginning of the season, can be back breaking work.  I’ve learned from the elder gardeners to set small tasks for myself and assign them over the course of different days. I can see the changes in their gardens each week when I return.  It is incredibly hard to do but in the end it prevents me from becoming debilitated too early.  I do get there eventually (not debilitated)…and by that time the garden just needs occasional grooming and then of course harvesting.


This is the equivalent of whistling while you work.  Gardening is like many pastimes in that it is at once joyful and frustrating, you know like golf. But occupying all the areas of the brain can reduce the frustration part of whatever pastime you call your own while increasing the joy centers. Science says so and despite the recent maligning of scientific findings, I still believe in it wholeheartedly.

This woman was clapping her feet together to release the dirt from within the treads of her shoes just moments before I took this picture.  All the while singing in her native language delighted that she had completed her morning in the garden.

Our lives are full of rituals, they are a combination of habit and proven technique.  Without them we just go face first into one thing or another without a compass or guidebook.  They are ordinary and brilliant and give us comfort and guidance especially if they are handed down by those who have become experts.

Enjoy your week.


Lekvaar Bars

I had the pleasure and privilege of joining my neighbor, Barbara Oreshnick, in her kitchen recently to learn how to make her holiday Lekvaar Bars. Lekvar (which is the most common way to spell the name) is a fruit butter of central and eastern European origin.  It is smooth, creamy, rich and delicious.  It can be made from any number of different kinds of fruits but Barbara prefers Lekvar made from prune.

This recipe, a Russian Polish version,  came from her mother-in-law.  The funny thing about this recipe is that it might never have come into Barbara’s recipe book along with her mother-in-law’s poppy seed cake and nut rolls.  Seems Barbara never wanted to try these delectable bites…then….once she finally tasted them she was hooked.  I can see why and I’m grateful she’s carried on the tradition.

Barbara’s kitchen is nostalgic and warm.  It gives a nod back to a certain period in time when not everything needed to be upgraded to the latest and greatest simply for the sake of upgrading.

The process is much like making any basic dough.

Speaking of nostalgia the site of Barbara’s canisters sent my heart reeling.  For those of you who know me, vintage aluminum is my jam…these were a shower gift to Barbara back in 1954.  Oh how I adore them.

Then on to forming the dough. You’ll notice the jelly roll pan is not greased.

Now for that wonderful Lekvar.

The filling is spread thick and evenly across the dough. Barbara makes the painstaking process of shingling the upper crust of the bars look easy in that “these hands have done this a hundred times” kind of way.

As I watch Barbara I’m reminded of our Italian crostata.  Similar in that it has a bottom layer, a fruit filling but instead of shingling the upper crust we cut strips and make the lattice top.  The first time I tasted these Lekvaar Bars I knew there was a familiarity about them, now I made the connection.  I once had a wonderful crostata recipe that somehow got misplaced so I can see re-purposing this recipe in that direction.  I know Barbara won’t mind.

Into the oven for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.  Like most experienced baker’s Barbara has a system for clean up and my time with her was coming to a close.

Days later, when I came home from a wonderful Christmas Eve celebration I found a bag of goodies hanging from the nob on my front door.  I couldn’t wait to open them up.

They did not disappoint, they were absolutely delicious.  Even more so now that I know their history.  I can’t thank Barbara enough for sharing this heritage recipe with me, and now you.  The thought of these wonderful morsels being lost just breaks my heart.  I hope you’ll give them a try, I know like I know you will enjoy every crumb.


Sing Every Day

“He who sings scares away his woes.” ― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

It’s no secret I like to poke around the community gardens at the senior housing building where my mother lives.  It’s rich in soil, produce and wisdom.  This is Amalia (not sure of the spelling), who I met enjoying the day in the gardens several months ago.


Can I take your picture? Instead of saying yes she got up and posed near one of the planted areas.  It’s such a reflection of that generation that having one’s picture taken means posing near just the right spot.  I have dozens of them, mostly black and white that look just like this.

Even with our language barrier we had a wonderful conversation about my mother and the lifestyles of the elders living in the building. Her advice to my mother was simple, sing every day.  Singing she said does something healthy to the brain.  She motioned that the energy travels up from your voice to your brain and fills it with something wonderful that travels back down and through your whole body.


It can’t help but make you happy every day.  Her song was delightful, though I didn’t know a word of it, and I could indeed feel it travel from her voice to my brain and through my whole body.  I smiled all day. Thank you for that good advice, which I passed along to my mother and now to you.

“And all meet in singing, which braids together the different knowings into a wide and subtle music, the music of living. ” ― Alison Croggon,




August was…

August was

Bee-like.  Busy in a laid back sweltering way, creatively productive, sweet in its return on courage manifested and hopeful.  I had the opportunity to take part in August Break 2016 on Instagram.  Using the thoughtful prompts from Susannah Conway I thoroughly enjoyed each day of capturing my ordinary take on the subject and sharing among her many followers.  Making space on her site for us to share our blogs shows the true measure of her generosity.  Not only am I grateful but I’ve taken away many a lesson.

One of the prompts was “handwriting”. Of course it came at the exact moment I was trying to figure out where to start my summer work:

once you see it

It was my intention to use my down time to launch the Elder Beauty Project instead I’ve scraped it.  As a project, I’ve scrapped it as a project because the real project is and always has been Ordinary Legacy. Thank you David for reminding me of that and now I see it again.

The fact that I’m tired of talking about myself remains.  While this has been the outcome of my summer work, the month long journey to get there has been amazing.  After a somewhat delayed start, read procrastinated for weeks, I worked up my courage to send an email to the director of the Mahwah Senior Center, Susanne Small, telling her about what I do and how I’d love to do it.  She loved the idea, with enthusiasm and more generosity I was invited to the center to share my vision.  I was also invited to speak with several of the seniors about my vision.  While they are a bit curious, I’ll need to come back with a bit more for them.  Suffice to say you’ll be seeing more of this:

sr wood carvers0011

Susanne has graciously offered to work with me to develop the questions most likely to yield the result I’m looking for, she knows our seniors and what makes them open up.  I’ll be able to leave brochures for them to consider working with me sharing bits of the ordinary that make their lives distinct.  That got me investigating and developing a concept brochure.

Which in turn led to Bergen County Camera, where collectively they know everything, to look for a new lens for my DSLR.  I mean they know everything so showing them what I do now and how I want to tweak it took a bit more courage.  They didn’t flinch at my work, thank God. It always helps to lead with the fact that you understand full well that you are an accidental photographer… I have a new lens, which I like but the jury’s still out on whether or not it will perform the magic I require.  What? I’m practicing and keeping an open mind, I mean believing in my talent…like I always say, you shoot enough you’re bound to hit something.

True to form once you allow yourself to see it, you will see it everywhere.  Like here:

Amalia 20152

And here:

eagle scout project005

And here:

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These are the stories, the ordinary legacy stories that have been right under my nose while I was too busy being all about me.  Not very Jeanette-like as it turns out.

So going forward Ordinary Legacy will continue to be about preserving the ordinary stories that are all around, hopefully full of senior insight, definitely traditional recipes that may be lost, collections and oh those amazing ordinary legacy moments in time.

I can’t let go of the Heartlines series I just started because it’s been so well received.  If you haven’t seen them yet, they are heart shaped letters to a specific someone but not addressed to them.  They tackle that someone’s current situation/dilemma/angst/ without mentioning their name.  In the end there are always several people who would swear that the Heartline is meant for them.  The beauty of us all being in the same boat as it turns out.

For me September has always been the beginning of the New Year.  I don’t do resolutions but I can see this year I’m headed away from Facebook, because their algorithms are becoming a pain in the ass, and leaning toward and loving Instagram where images=stories, duhhh.  I’m glad to be back, renewed and ready to keep allowing myself to see all those ordinary stories I’ve been overlooking.  Hope you’ll stay tuned and join forces along with me.