Waiting Is

Even if you’re not a Robert Heinlein fan, this pandemic can make you feel like a stranger in a strange land. I’ve used the upside down emoji more times than I can count as it perfectly expresses how I’m feeling: inverted, but with a little smile on my face because, well, I agree with those friends who think that some good has already come from our changed world, and more may be on the horizon. Yes, you’re hearing this from someone who is no stranger to the dark side in these pages. So, as an example of how quickly shift happens these days, let me just mention two things that are in orbit for me right now, both of them new. Mars juli-kosolapova-pZ-XFIrJMtE-unsplash copyPhoto by Juli Kosolapova on Unsplash

I. Last fall, I became a member of a newly-formed book group, most of us women of a certain age with sufficient differences of backgrounds and views to make discussions lively. We started meeting in each others’ homes, with socializing and food always an important component. But now, like so much else in this strange landscape, we’re holding our monthly discussions on Zoom. For some of us getting used to the meeting technology was and is a quick study and we’ve taken to it like the proverbial web-footed to water. So, we mentor our sisters. Video conferencing is also the only way we can gather in the summer when we are geographically dispersed. After a session or two, we all got the hang of muting when not speaking, and some may be experimenting with the feature that helps you look your best in that little lighted box, whether you’re in pajamas or haven’t had a haircut or manicure since January.

There’s a serendipitous glitch in the program caused by distance and terrain, evidently mountainous: a slight lag between one speaker and the next. Musicians find this intolerable and most professional video conferencing involving music or dance, has found ways around it. If you watch CNN,  you have probably grown so accustomed to that slight pause between question and answer, you no longer find it odd. For my money, that extra beat or two of silence promotes better attention, patience and possibly even respect. We’re obliged to simply wait. “I speak, you wait. You speak, I wait,” as my friend, Sylvia, puts it. What’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing.

II. Here’s an article from Motif, a newsletter based in Providence, RI,  where I am now, that covers news, events, music, shows, film, art. If the pandemic has sharpened your concern about our very sick healthcare system, a recent article, No Doctor? No Problem! offers a different perspective. It resonated with me because:

1. Although I deeply respect the professionals who devote their lives to the healing arts and sciences, the system in which they — and all Americans — are all currently trapped, needs more than tweaks. It needs a revolution. You probably know the stats as well as I do: how much we spend on healthcare vs. our dismal metrics compared to the rest of the developed world. We may also be the most over-prescribed population in the world, and certainly have among the highest rates of drug, including prescription drug, addiction. This is intolerable.

2. Pandemic has postponed all but the most urgent procedures to make room for Covid patients. These ‘routine’ procedures include annual physicals, redundant tests, and some elective surgeries. This hurts the business of medicine immediately, of course, and possibly permanently. But it also raises these questions: are we over-medicalized as a nation? are we paying too much for below par care? are there some circumstances when less is more? The fact that even emergency rooms have started to have fewer non-Covid-related visits suggests this could be true. Elder care and end of life care, are two categories I’m actively concerned about given my age and age cohort. If you are also, get hold of a copy of Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande.  There is a readers’ discussion guide in the back. You could consider warming up by forming an ad hoc reading/discussion group based on the Motif article.

Our groups next book selection is Jane Austen’s posthumously published Persuasion. Though written in English, the language is so of its period, you have to slow down, sometimes circle back. Yet I’m finding much to appreciate about the author’s witty skewering of the landed gentry with their endless amusements and schemes to preserve their wealth and status. Without a class system and convenient wars that built fortunes, Austen’s world could not have existed. No less ours.

Signing off with another back-to-the-future idea:  now that human habitation of Mars has become a thing, I’m thinking Stranger in a Strange Land could reward a second reading.  Maybe dig out your copy of the other cult classic of its moment, Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig while you’re at it. Stranger things have happened. Time expands. Waiting is.

 

Indies and Underdogs

I once lived over a bookstore. I know what you’re thinking, but this was in Manhattan and on the 11th Floor of the building that housed Barnes & Noble, then more famous as an academic book center that would buy back your books and sell you new ones. I doubt it had a cafe then (’88-90), or much motivation or room to permit private work nooks. But it was one of the greatest of indoor common spaces open late in the city to share with students of all ages, representing every race and culture. Melting Pot Manhattan.

B&N College division still operates nearly 800 stores at universities across the country. But the Barnes and Noble branch you may still have in your community if you’re lucky, is getting hammered by Amazon’s online advantage. But then again, who isn’t in the world of retail? True, the ‘big box’ discounter trend is nothing new. Sam Walton launched his first discount store in 1962. But Internet shopping, an answer to our addiction to convenience and speed, is the obvious accelerator. Driven by any darkened strip malls or once-thriving downtowns lately? I have, even in an upscale neighboring town. (Confession: although I’ve quit Prime and vowed only to use Amazon to read the free samples of books, then buy them used elsewhere, I do occasionally falter.)

That said, if you’re as hungry for any bit of good news these days as I am, you might be pleased to learn that independent book stores are making a comeback.  The Book Cellar in Lake Worth just south of me, is the perfect example of what an independent establishment can do for a community, beyond featuring books and hosting authors the old-fashioned way. With its cafe offering coffee, wine and light fare, including many vegan and gluten-free choices, this cozy, friendly corner spot on busy Lake Avenue has become a meeting place for a number of organizations. As long as you reserve in advance and use their food service, there’s no charge for the space. How many little mom-and-pop coffee houses and taverns in Philadelphia served as launch pads for the designers of the American Revolution? You might well ask.

BookCellarI’ve hosted a meeting at The Book Cellar with my spoken word troupe and Emergency Medical Assistance, preparing for last year’s show of monologues on abortion. The Palm Beach County Chapter of Women’s March meets there regularly, and so does the Jazz on J Street group, well-known for its encouragement of young performers. The Book Cellar is open late, so you can stop in after a movie at yet another local indie favorite, the Stonzek Cinema, now the only screen in my area you can find good indie films. These include well-made international films that remind you there’s a much bigger world out there. One of their bravest choices in subject matter for 2018 was First Reformed starring Ethan Hawke, about a pastor confronting not only his own dark night of the soul, but religious extremism, corporate domination, and environmental apocalypse. Maybe it was too dark to make the cut at Oscar time, though early reviewers were predicting ‘Best Picture.’

OK, eye-rolls for my nostalgia for little book stores or for Saunders Hardware in my New Jersey hometown (especially after a frustrating search at Home Depot). Or when I fondly recall the barber who cut my little boy’s hair; or the laundry that always remembered you liked light starch in the dress shirts; or the shoe or jewelry repair places. Does anyone fix anything, any more? We are not better off today with the homogenized culture that has overtaken us like a tsunami, or with social media becoming a license to mislead and inflame. Already, we’ve become less interesting and interested; less engaged with each other, socially and politically, and in real-time; less open-minded, more tribal, risk-averse, fearful. Not to mention grammar-challenged. But the bigger question is, what will happen as we become increasingly afraid to speak up or challenge authority; when the hand that feeds (houses, clothes, and entertains) us, holds a big stick? Or a gun?

Granted, compared to the challenges we as a species will be facing in the next decade(s) on a hotter planet, to push back against Big Box World and switch our allegiance to the small farmer, artisan and craftsperson, family-owned business and so on, is a drop in the ocean. But maybe it could improve our lives and our communities in ways that count but can’t necessarily be accounted for. That’s worth the candle.

From the Ukraine, With Love

My friend, Henry, brought me a crock of sour dough bread starter, aka ‘mother,’ the other day, along with instructions on its care and feeding. He also brought a recipe for a Rustic Loaf, and directed me to a You Tube video that featured Julia Child, looking remarkably lively, and Nancy Silverton, who has seized the French Chef baton as regards sour dough bread making.

I watched the 11-minute video start to finish, then baulked at the recommended technique for forming of the loaf – all that parchment paper and dough flipping — and the constant spraying the oven necessary to produce the characteristic crisp crust. I’m basically someone who will always choose a simpler method if its available, and not just in the kitchen. We’re talking bread here, not Baked Alaska or the great American novel. Bread, no matter how perfect, is quickly eaten and soon forgotten. Or so I said to myself, as I rummaged for another recipe.

SourdoughBut not so fast. The fact is, the arrival of Henry’s starter in my house has revived fond memories of my mother’s way with sour dough and how it all came about. It seems that my mother, a Burma-born immigrant and self-taught cook, became fast friends with a Ukrainian-Canadian[1] (I suspect they were members of the same curling club). The friend shared a sour dough starter she had nurtured for decades, along with instructions on how to keep it going. If the starter hadn’t actually landed in Canada with the friend, then the family recipe certainly had. In other words, it goes back.

Mom stored hers in glass jars and took such good care of it, it lived there happily for decades, through daily feedings, transfers to clean jars, and used often to bake bread, rolls, biscuits and so on. Knowing her enthusiasm and generosity, it was probably shared widely with other friends.

Whenever my parents visited us from their home in Edmonton, Mom would ‘import’ – smuggle, actually – a small quantity of Ukrainian ‘mother’ in an airtight glass jar wrapped in underwear and tucked into her carryon bag. Never mind that my father looked askance at this unlawful practice. In those pre-TSA days, the chance this affable grandmother would be questioned, let alone searched, at the U.S. Canadian border, was nil.

Once we got home, Mom would transfer the starter to a glass bowl and beat in equal parts of unbleached flour and whole milk to ‘feed’ it and let it recover from its long journey. Then, having recovered from her own travels, she would produce the first batch of biscuits. In the next days, she took over the kitchen, turning our breads for the family and eventually, our neighbors, with a breathtaking command of her materials and technique. “And when did you say your Mom was visiting …” (Bob and Sally next door.)

If you let it, sour dough starter can take over your kitchen, if not your life, very much like an exotic pet, which is what Henry calls his. I haven’t given mine a name, yet. The starter goes to sleep in the refrigerator (and suspended animation in freezer, according to Mom) and is quickly revived with a feeding. You need to smell and taste it to make sure it is thriving before proceeding with a recipe.

Like all fermentation processes, sour dough starter depends on the capture of wild yeast that is all around us – a process common to the making of beer, wine, yogurt, sauerkraut, and cheeses. In the Julia Child video, Nancy Silverton demonstrated this yeast-capture technique using a bunch of grapes placed in a bundle of cheesecloth, lightly mashed with a wooden mallet, then placed into a batter of room temperature flour and water. As this mix starts to ferment, you see tiny bubbles forming in the batter. It seems magical, but it’s basic food chemistry. For a newbie to sour dough, this is a bit like witnessing a birth.

A regular practice of making anything at home these days is a declaration of independence from the dominant culture. Beyond that, I’m pleased to be a miniscule contributor to the growing interest in the microbiome, the vast collection of microorganisms that essentially colonize every body, contributing to health and/or disease. We literally, as Walt Whitman put it, ‘contain multitudes.’

It’s a good thought to hold in your mind while you’re kneading a batch of sour dough bread. I froze a cupful of Henry’s starter, in case I managed to kill off the sample (it happens). So far, I’ve made two traditional loaves (one for the freezer), and last night, I made whole wheat sour dough pita to go with the labneh – a yogurt cheese, dressed with olive oil and Zaatar, a Lebanese spice mix. Here’s the pita recipe in case you want to follow me down this delightful rabbit hole.

As I shaped the springy, risen dough into lemon-sized portions, then pressed and rolled them into pita to be cooked in an iron skillet, I could almost sense my mother at my side, beaming.

[1] Canada, it turns out, has the world’s third-largest population beside Ukraine itself and Russia.

Further reading:

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life Ed Yong

The Art of Eating, M.F.K. Fisher (available at your public library)

 

 

 

 

 

Reskilling: Why it Matters

If you’re unfamiliar with the term reskilling, perhaps it has a Small-is-Beautiful, DIY, hippie commune, neo-Luddite, back-to-the-land vibe. What you may not know is that reskilling is bedrock for the Transition Movement founded by Rob Hopkins which holds that: “… in a carbon constrained and localized world, communities will have to provide for many of their basic needs which means possessing the skills to do so.”

Of course, basic needs are open to wide interpretation. For some of us, it means fast, reliable Wi-Fi. Some of my most adored people would put shampoo, conditioner and a hot comb on their list of essentials, right up there with waterproof eyeliner (mine!). I kid, but seriously, we are so used to enjoying potable water, hot showers and plug in everything, we don’t think twice about what it takes to produce them, or what happens if they for any reason become unavailable.

I think of reskilling as a way of reclaiming the know-how that previous generations – parents, grandparents, trusted elders — passed down to us, along with values like thrift, making-do, cooperation. If even some of us embrace down-shifting, cutting back on our demands for generated power, it just might give the earth a chance to recover from decades of over-extraction.

A lot of people have been energized by recent events and in my area, weekly demonstrations along the motorcade route to/from the so-called ‘winter White House’ were a thing, along with Town Hall Meetings, and steady pressure on one’s Members of Congress when s/he doesn’t speak for you. All good, all the time. But I believe quieter forms of resistance to consumerism and the damage it is doing, belong in the mix. Reskilling IS Resistance.

So, could you make fire if you had to? Milk a cow? Forage for wild food? Sharpen tools without electricity? How about capture wild yeast to make bread? Mend or repair clothing? Could you distinguish between edible or poisonous mushrooms, or navigate using a simple compass? If these sound like Boy Scout badges, bingo! The point is, there are as many ways to reskill as there are people willing to teach what they know. But don’t take my word for it.

Check out the Firefly Gathering (thank you, Dylan Ryal-Hamilton), in Asheville, NC which begins June 29 and goes for four days. Everything from Archery and Blacksmithing Basics to Zen and the Art of Wood Splitting, over 100 classes and still growing at this writing, are being offered. No one is saying this specifically in the FAQ’s but it seems obvious to me that people go there eager to teach, AND learn. I am excited about experiencing  this event first hand…maybe next year.

More reading on this topic here:

What Is Reskilling Anyway?

Green Hand Initiative. Blogger Clifford Dean Scholz has a stunning article on Navigation.

http://www.skills-for-life.org/

http://greenhandsreskilling.weebly.com/

Going Sour for Good

I stumbled upon Sandor Ellix Katz’s book, Wild Fermentation: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Cultural Manipulation at The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health bookstore last November, and because I’m feeling greater kinship with all things wild these days as well as the D-I-Y culture of Whole Earth Catalog*, I snagged two copies.  One as a house gift for friends we were visiting when we left our yoga retreat, and one for us.

My spouse adores fermented foods.  We are never without plain yogurt and sour pickles in our larder (Bubbies or Batampte), and often I’ll catch him drinking the last bit of brine from a soon-to-be empty jar.  I used to tease him that he was embalming himself from the inside out, but his energy and stamina at age 80 are, as they say, proof of the pudding. Our Florida grandsons have picked up on Papa’s pickle habit and that makes me feel better about their otherwise almost vegetable-free diets.

One of my new women friends — a sister spoken word performer in Women Aloud — is an avid maker of pickles and every time we meet to share monologues and work on our next show, she brings everyone a jar of her latest batch. So, something wild is in the air, right in our own homes, and I believe ready to be domesticated for our own good.  In case you haven’t been following your Dr. Oz updates, probiotics (available in all fermented foods, yes, even wine) are hot. Anyway, with Sandor Katz’s wonderful book in hand, we decided to launch ourselves into sauerkraut production. If you like a laid-back prose style, e.g. “I never measure the salt, I just shake some on after I chop up each quarter cabbage,” he is your man.  Here’s our annotated recipe from Wild Fermentation:

First, you steal two cabbages…bada-bing.

Actually, homemade sauerkraut really begins with a quest for a good, old-fashioned stoneware crock like this one my spouse found at the local Good Will Thrift Boutique, first time lucky. Finely shredded cabbage — thanks to the new Cutco knife (if you have a college-bound grandson, the brand needs no explanation) — kosher salt and about an hour of your time. You pack the crock with shredded cabbage in layers, green and red if you like, sprinkling about a tablespoon of salt on each layer. Press down firmly with a potato masher or your fists. After all the cabbage is used up, insert an inverted clean plate into the opening. It should be sized to leave just enough space around the circumference so you can see some cabbage. We used a butter plate about 6 inches diameter. On top of the inverted plate, place a clean gSauerkraut 1lass or ceramic bowl, then pile on whatever clean weights you can find: several large cans of tomatoes is what we used.  Cover the whole thing with a clean kitchen towel to keep dust out and walk away. Needless to say, everything that touches the kraut-in-progress should be clean, but sterilization is unnecessary. Unless you keep your home on the cool side, the ambient temperature should be sufficient to cause the weighted cabbage to exude some natural brine which rises to the level of the plate. If not, slowly add about a cup of salt water until it does. Lift the cloth and give it a sniff every day until you see some liquid rising and it gives off a slight sour fragrance.  If it gets dry, repeat the addition of some salt water. In about a week, you will likely be able to scoop out enough of young sauerkraut to enjoy with your pan-grilled dogs or Reuben. Always wash the plate before you replace it into the crock and clean off any weights that may come in contact with the cabbage. We kept watch over our developing kraut as one might a sleeping child or beloved pet. A little more than a week along, some scum came to the surface of the brine, normal, said the directions, so we didn’t panic. We removed it carefully, scraping with a flexible spatula works.  At this point, you can repack and let the fermentation process continue for a more sour taste.

We decided our kraut was just the way we like it: slightly crunchy like cole slaw and with a delicious but not overpowering tang.  So we decanted it into several clean jars and refrigerated it.  Some for us, some for friends.  You could, according to Katz, let your sauerkraut continue to ferment for as long as you wish, assuming you are willing to repeat the steps.  You simply take what you want to use for a meal any time during, repack the crock (as above) and let sauerkraut and dogit do its thing. Eventually, the sauerkraut will compress down into something closer to the product you can find in the supermarket deli section. After it is to full strength, it can keep for a long time, which is probably why frugal societies that ‘put up’ foods in a way that preserved their nutrients for later consumption, were so keen on these fermenting techniques. The Korean staple, Kimchi, is close cousin to this European concoction, and other Asian cuisines include fermented fish products in many favorite recipes.  Our homemade sauerkraut went on this dog, with a generous helping of Grey’s Poupon mustard and Nancy’s jalapeño pickles.  Are you salivating yet?

If you enjoy preparing food, let me warn you that these adventures in the art of fermentation could be habit-forming.  As we completed this morning’s project and stored our crock for next time, I had a strong intuition that our kitchen was probably humming with live culture.  What better time to  capture what was in the air with a batch of sourdough starter? I fell in love with sourdough thanks to my mother who acquired a hand-me-down batch from a friend in Alberta Province, and kept it going for over 20 years.  She fed it weekly, and baked biscuits, rolls and bread of unparalleled flavor and texture for family, friends and neighbors. Once, she even smuggled a cup of starter through customs in her cosmetics bag. There is also something that appeals to me deeply about being part of an ancient tradition, the idea that one needs to feed ‘Mother’ every time you take some for a recipe.  A permaculture vibe: regenerative, rather than merely sustainable. I haven’t had much success with earlier attempts at sourdough starter, but that’s before my kitchen went wild.

Here is a link to a free pdf copy of Sandor Ellix Katz’s book: Wild Fermentation: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Cultural Manipulation although I encourage you to look for it at your usual book sources, help keep a roof over his head, and his fermentation workshops full.  He is also the author of This Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved and his http://www.wildfermentation.com/, also looks amazing.

*about Stewart Brand, editor of Whole Earth Catalog, not so much.  See George Monbiot’s critique

What We Can Know

Like transplants from elsewhere, we go to Florida’s beautiful, relatively uncrowded beaches in summer to fill our lungs with salt air, press our bare feet into the sand, and look for turtle tracks. It turns out that 2015 has been a record year for turtle nesting in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.  Sure enough, there were plenty of fresh tracks in evidence on a recent Sunday morning, many new nests, and a researcher on dune buggy taking his morning tally.

Preserving life other than our own is for many people an instinctive response, one that affirms our interconnection with and interdependence on all living things, including the Earth itself.  Some years ago on this same stretch of beach, we rescued about 20 turtle hatchlings by keeping hungry seagulls in the air while the young made a dash for the waves. This race that relatively few actually win, apparently also hones the turtles’ survival skills and increases their chance of living into adulthood and reproducing. We were giddy with joy that morning, though none the wiser about the way of turtles, e.g. how do they know which way the water is? Or how is it that their mothers, and some day these newly hatched females grown to adulthood, catch a ride on the Gulf Stream and return to this very beach to lay their eggs? Loggerheads, Leatherbacks and green turtles are (unlike urban trees, alas) protected by law, so evidence that they are thriving is reason for celebration. But more than that, I’m curious about how significant this shift, if indeed it is a lasting one, could be in big picture terms. What might it suggest about the future health of our world if turtles, like bald eagles, any life form for that matter, do well enough to be removed from the endangered list? Or when damage can be reversed as we step back and let nature takes its course. We don’t always know what will work until we see what happens.

You have to be encouraged about the most recent news about bees, too, as well as for ‘a new breed of bee keepers‘ who are swelling the ranks, according to a recent story in the Palm Beach Post’s business section. The newcomers are entering the business as a sideline, drawn by the high demand for honey, but what if they could become part of a citizen movement to preserve and strengthen bee colonies? An associate professor of entomology is quoted as saying that CCD (colony collapse disorder) is “gone or pretty minimal,” which suggests that a turnaround via human intervention is possible. And bees are kind of important to our food security.

Whatever drives us to discovery, anyone of us can only know a small fraction about our world relative to what there is to know, and most of what we discover is through hands-on experience, experimentation and observation. But I believe we are obligated to engage with and learn whatever we can, and in that process come to love the world and want to save it. In that context, here’s a photo of one of our grandsons, an incoming high school senior who aspires to become an aeronautical engineer, Shaw harnesses the winddoing an experiment of his own with wind power on Mousam Lake, Maine. Earlier, he and his youngest brother successfully ‘sailed’ their canoe across this same lake using this same outsize umbrella. When you recall that before the discovery and rapid implementation of fossil fuels, humans explored the known — and unknown — world entirely under sail, perhaps this augers well for the great re-skilling, a back-to-the-future, intergenerational strategy I believe is inevitable for our survival as a species. I am glad to leave speculating on origins and causation to scientists, philosophers and those of religious persuasion. And when we need a little humility to prick our 21st century techno-arrogance bubble, we might channel rock star astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, who reminds us that something called Dark Matter is accelerating the expansion of our universe, but we don’t even know what it is. I highly recommend his terrific on-demand StarTalk Radio Show, a combination of Car Talk (a lot of joking and boisterous laughter) with great interviews and razor sharp observations. In the recent edition that included snippets of deGrasse Tyson’s interview with Ariana Huffington, she noted that far from being in opposition, scientists and people of faith are united by a sense of wonder. One cool woman. The show ended with a call for greater scientific literacy for everyone. May it be so, and may it begin in the home, in schools, and the House.

Throwback 70s: My Decade of Change

Naomi Klein [This Changes Everything] writes: “… if we want to live within ecological limits, we would need to return to a lifestyle similar to the one we had in the 1970s, before consumption levels went crazy in the 1980s.” Who else remembers that place/time? Seemed like a very good life to me.

I posted this on Facebook recently and it resonated with a number of FB friends. That started me thinking more about the 70s and I realized that the “Me” decade, the oil crisis decade, the decade that saw the flowering of feminism, the first Earth Day (April 22) and Jimmy Carter’s solar panels, cardigans, the creation of the Department of Energy and a national energy policy, as well as Kent State, Three Mile Island, and the completion of the world’s tallest buildings, was also a decade when everything did change for me. It began with Father Knows Best and ended with The Brady Bunch.

The SeventiesI sorta missed the 60s by getting married and starting a family, so it wasn’t until the 70s that the Summer of Love and all that it meant caught up with me. Or maybe I’m just a late adopter. A traveling show of the musical, “Hair,” came to my town (Philadelphia), and overnight, it seemed, I wanted the Age of Aquarius and San Francisco with flowers in my Afro more than I wanted cocktails at 6 sharp and membership in The Junior League. In the 1970s, I stopped shaving my legs, went back to school to earn two degrees, and changed life partners. Some standout memories:

1. Flashback, New York City, 1965: I am reading Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique while recovering in the hospital from the birth of my first child (three days was normal then). In walks my OB/GYN. “Hmmm,” he says, “Isn’t it a little late for that?” (I didn’t much like him, even before that, and No, it wasn’t.)

2. Montclair, NJ, 1973. We’ve returned here after a career misstep that temporarily uprooted us to Pennsylvania, and are now ensconced in a wonderful classic Dutch colonial on a tree-lined street: 5 bedrooms, 3.5 baths, big basement and backyard, separate garage (with mismatched doors), to the tune of $60K. Back in the day, a young couple could afford the $40K mortgage payments, taxes and upkeep, on one modest salary. We have one utilitarian pre-owned car.  We do not suffer from auto-envy or any other kind.

We moved to Montclair for the schools,  family (pillar of the community in-laws), and commuter service to New York City extraordinaire. With one school-age boy and a 4-year-old girl in part-time nursery, I had more energy and time than I knew what to do with. Who knew skipping the beauty salon and shaving razor would free up so much?

One day, The Montclair Times delivered my salvation: news of a generous ‘re-entry’ program for older adults at Montclair State College, formerly a teachers’ college, currently a Ph.D-granting university. I went for an interview the same week and was accepted into the program. I also made a life-long friend while there.

3. MSU was 10 minutes drive from my home. My professors would have been stars anywhere, but the job market for Ph.D’s being what it was, there we all were: on a hilly campus in suburban New Jersey, with a clear night view of the lights of New York City on the horizon.

My earlier education had been undistinguished, so I surprised myself by graduating with honors in 1976. Yet it was without a clear path to future employment while my children still needed a mom around the house. So when the Department of English offered me a teaching fellowship that enabled me to earn an MA gratis, and also provided a small stipend for teaching in the writing lab, I grabbed it. In 18 months, I was able to save enough to purchase a used Volkswagen bug that I drove up to the Bread Loaf School of English in Vermont for the summer session in my final year.

4. Community life on Buckingham Road. In the summer months, some of us grew food, mostly New Jersey tomatoes like Rutgers’ Early Girls and Better Boys (an instant nostalgia point for me), and this also nurtured a culture of sharing: in addition to an exceptional tomato harvest, tools, labor (moving heavy furniture, hedge trimming, small repairs), child care, backyard barbecues, car pools and rides, recipes and advice. I didn’t know the political leanings of my neighbors, or care to, and the idea that one only socialized along those lines would have been laughable.  Hello Transition Street before its time?

Both my adult children – the eldest turns 50 this year — are nostalgic for the walkable, bikeable, friendly, green, safe community they grew up in: badminton in the backyard, Frisbee in the parks, neighborhood friends, and best of all, the freedom from constant parental supervision. Maybe it really does take a village.

And I feel nostalgic for the 1970s in a small town on their behalf, and not only because eggs were cheaper and life simpler (and you got to go to sleep-away camp) but because between then and now, the decades of ‘shop until you drop,’ ‘greed is good,’ ‘Made in China,’ and ‘upgrade everything,’ brought us to where we are today.  Is there a way back to the future? Perhaps.

Naomi Klein again: “…if there has ever been a moment to advance a plan to heal the planet that also heals our broken economies and our shattered communities, this is it.”