Forward To The Past

Forward To The Past

“What’s a record player?” the clerk behind the counter asked when I had finally decided that my faithful decades-old machine needed replacing. My classical music collection of LP’s includes some of the operatic greats. Toscanini conducting “La Traviata”. Leonard Warren as Rigoletto. Marilyn Horne and Joan Sutherland in “Norma”. Maria Callas. Even Rosa Ponselle and Enrico Caruso.

I repeated my intent to the puzzled young man in the music store. “I would like to buy a record player.” Again, he responded, “What’s a record player.” I had the uncomfortable sensation of being in a time warp. He was not kidding. He really didn’t know what I was talking about. And he was looking at me the way those people looked at Michael J. Fox in the film, “Back to the Future”. To see if there were any other strange characteristics besides my peculiar inquiry.

I persevered. “ A record machine. You know, the kind that you put the records on. With a turntable and the automatic arm that drops the records one by one.” Oh,”, he said, “You mean the machines that people used to have in the old days before the cassettes and C.D.s? ( I aged two decades with that comment) Now, it was my turn. “C.D.s What are they?” (CD to me means certificate of deposit or civil defense and I didn’t think he was on either of those wave lengths.)
He explained, “C.D.s are compact disks. They’re the latest thing in the sound business. The best possible way to hear music next to being there. Would you like me to play one for you?” “Well”, I went on, “It’s not that I don’t believe you, but I have this huge collection of L.Ps at home. Something of a lifetime investment, you might say. I think I’ll stick with what I have. That’s why I need a new machine. Don’t you carry them at all anymore?”

At this point, we had reached an impasse. He obviously regarded me as an alien in the modern world of music. It also occurred to me that he might not even know what L.P.s were. It was clear that I was not a potential buyer of C.Ds, the sound of the future. He turned me over to the assistant manager, who diplomatically informed me, “We really don’t have any call for the type of machine you are describing. Perhaps a second-hand store or an antique dealer might have one.”

Help! Alvin Toffler was right. My world is becoming archaic. My machine is an anachronism. Toffler predicted in his book, “Future Shock” that this would happen. At the time, I didn’t believe him. After this consciousness raising session at the music store, I decided to keep my old machine. The sound may not be perfect, but I know it well and its sounds right to me. I also began t think about other things that have become outmoded, outdated and out of stock. I didn’t have to search too far. Here’s my starter list:
Clotheslines and wooden clothespins.
Dry goods stores.
Watches and clocks that one winds and sets.
Stockings, not pantyhose.
Rouge, not blusher.
Soap, not a body bar.
A manual typewriter.
A malted milk shake.
Five and Dime stores. At least one per town.
Roller skates that clip onto your shoes.
The metal key to tighten the skates.
Fountain pens. Other than the status models.
Bottles of ink for the fountain pens.
Ink eradicator to correct the blots.
A baby stroller that is simple in purpose.

Have you tried lately to buy a plain canvas what-we-used-to-call sneaker? The variations on this form of footwear are awesome. Tennis. Walking. Jogging. Running. Racing. With reinforced arch. Without said arch. High top. Low top. No top. Leather. Nylon. Canvas. Wide laces. Narrow laces. Stretchable laces. And all of these choices occur before you enter the world of different brands and myriad colors.

Many people yearn for the days of the past. For the simple rural society and its values. For fewer choices. For the small town with the 5 and 10 cent store and the corner drugstore with soda fountain. I cannot say I belong to that segment of the population. I guess I am somewhere in between that world and the present one, with a clothing chain store on every other block. One for women. One for men. And one for children. Is this really necessary?

How I would love to see tucked away on one of those blocks a nostalgia store. A store that stocks all the anachronisms and archaic objects I crave. All the hard-to-find record machines, needle threaders and wooden clothespins. This image conjures up the legendary store that used to exist in a neighborhood. It might have been called a hardware store, or a general store in the real old days. In every case, this store was the place of first and last resort. Merchandise usually spilled down fromm the jammed aisles. Threading one’s way through the aisles took determination. But the reward was finding exactly what you needed. In the right size. And the right color. And just the brand you usually bought.

The owners of these stores knew their inventory and the hiding place of every item. They honed in on the most obscure request with unerring accuracy. “I know I have a few in stock. On the third aisle, top shelf, under the rubber spatulas.” And there they were!

Having such a store in our neighborhood would gave me a wonderful sense of security. As I am catapulted into the future, I could visit the nostalgia store from time to time and hold on to the comfortable past.

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Israel and Gaza: An Assessment

Israel and Gaza: An Assessment

To understand what is happening today, it is important to review the 20th century history of the Gaza Strip, the narrow region on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, that borders Egypt on the southwest and Israel on the east and north. The Gaza Strip and its 1.7 million people have been through many changes of governance and occupation.

The Palestinians in Gaza were under British rule from 1923 to 1948. Immediately after Israel was formed by the United Nations in 1948 , the young country fought and won the War for Independence against five Arab armies. In 1948, an All-Palestine government was also established by the Arab League in the Gaza Strip, managed by the military authority of Egypt. The All-Palestine government was dissolved in 1959, followed by Egyptian military control and governance of the people in the Gaza Strip. When Israel fought the Six Day War against Egypt in 1967, they captured and kept the Gaza Strip. They withdrew from the large Sinai area which they had won. From l967 to 1994, all civil facilities and services in the Gaza Strip were under Israeli military administration. The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993, created the Palestinian Authority as the administrative body that governed Palestinian population centers, while Israel kept control of the airspace, territorial waters and border crossings with the exception of the land border with Egypt.

In 2004, the Israeli government after much debate approved acting on the “Land for Peace” principle in the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the former war hero, was in charge of putting the “Unilateral Disengagement” plan into effect . There were 9,000 Israelis at the time who had moved into the Gaza Strip after 1967. They had put down deep roots — building homes, irrigating the land for productive farms and sending their children to schools. The Israeli government offered monetary compensation and relocation options, but many settlers were bitterly opposed to the move. Sharon also faced harsh criticism from political opponents at home as well. The settlers fought the troops who came to drag them from their homes with widespread media coverage broadcast around the world. It was a very difficult time for Israel, but the entire plan was completed by September 15, 2005. The bitter postscript was that Palestinians burned many of the orchards and destroyed the irrigation systems and farms that they took over.

In 2007, The Palestinian Authority held elections and Hamas, the extremist wing won, taking over control of all areas of life in the Gaza Strip. With their adamant belief that “Israel does not have the right to exist“, the “Land for Peace” plan was dead. The statistical proof is the fact that since Hamas has been in control of the Gaza Strip, over 15,000 rockets have been launched into Israel. There is documentation as to the years and exact destinations of the rocket attacks. At the same time, a network of tunnels was built from Gaza to Egypt that accounted for smuggling parts of military materials and other supplies. After Mubarak was overthrown in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood came into power for a period of time, with Morsi elected President. They considered Hamas as an ally which led to skirmishes in the Sinai between extremists and the Egyptian military. Israeli forces were on constant alert along the entire Gaza Strip border.

Fast-forward to June, 2014. Three Israeli teenage boys were kidnapped in the West Bank and murdered by Palestinian men. A tape recorded phone call came from one of the boys in Hebrew: “I’ve been kidnapped!” Then, a man’s voice in Arabic, “Get down!” Finally a groan and a shot were heard. Silence…. After three weeks of hundreds of Israeli soldiers searching the West Bank area — with an entire nation alarmed and focused on “our boys” — the three boys’ bodies were found buried under rocks in a field. Their funerals were held within days according to the Jewish tradition. They were buried together, side by side with each body wrapped in Israel’s flag. The perpetrators were never found.

Within a week, a Palestinian boy was abducted in East Jerusalem, bludgeoned to death and his body burned in what was described by his community as a ‘revenge killing’. Protests erupted in East Jerusalem with boys and men throwing rocks at Israeli police who responded with tear gas. Three Israeli men were found and arrested for the murder. On July 7, a rain of rockets began from Gaza and escalated in numbers. Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered the Air Force to retaliate, targeting rocket launching sites and tunnels. In the past, Hamas had stored rockets in buildings used for civilian purposes like hospitals, mosques and schools. Israeli intelligence has tracked these tactics and activities over the years. Netanyahu declared that “Hamas sends their rockets into our cities and towns, aimed at civilian homes and meeting places. Yet, they use their civilians as human shields for their rockets.”

Over the years, Israel has developed the Iron Dome, a rocket and missile defense system that targets them in the air and destroys them. In addition, many rockets fall in the desert or uninhabited places. As a result, there have been very few Israeli fatalities. Hamas now has rockets they acquired from Syria and Iran that reach as far as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. They have specifically warned that Ben Gurion Airport is a prime target. The lives of Israelis are spent running to shelters when the warning sound is heard. In Gaza, Israeli planes drop leaflets in advance and dummy bombs that hit the roof but do not explode as warnings. However, nearly two hundred civilians had been killed in Gaza by July 15.

On July 14, Egypt proposed a cease-fire that would be followed by leaders from both sides meeting in Cairo with United Nations and American officials. The meeting was to be followed by negotiations between Israel and Hamas. Netanyahu convened his Security Cabinet who voted to accept the cease-fire offer on July 15. Hamas rejected the cease-fire plan and demanded a list of pre-conditions be accepted first. By July 16, after a brief lull, the rockets from Gaza and the Israeli bombings resumed. Hamas had fired about 1,000 rockets during the week preceding July 15. Egypt helped broker the last cease-fire after eight days of fierce violence in November 2012 . That respite lasted only 19 months. Within Israel, there is a growing call for an international disarmament of Hamas rockets — or for Israel’s military to move in and gain control of the entire Gaza strip once more.

On Thursday night, July l7, Israeli tanks and military invaded Gaza. The mission was to destroy the tunnels that store arsenals of rockets and give Hamas infiltrators a passage under the border into Israel. On Friday, July 18, President Obama said, “No nation should accept rockets being fired into its borders, or terrorists tunneling into its territory.”

Orchid Fever

Orchid Fever

Twenty six years ago, when I first ventured into Waldor Orchids, the lush greenhouses a few miles away, to find one perfect white phalaenopsis, Bill Off, the owner fixed a practiced eye upon me and pronounced, “You are going to become an orchid junkie!” “Now, how do you know that?” I asked. “This is the first orchid I have ever bought. I don’t even know how to grow them.” His answer reminded me of what Justice Potter Stewart said when he was asked for his definition of pornography. Bill just smiled and said, “I know one when I see one.” And that was that. Of course, he was right.

Today, Bill and I are close buddies. I’m in the greenhouses on a regular basis. And the orchids are taking over our house. I certainly have not become an expert, but I have learned a lot about the growing and care of the amazingly hardy plants. And I’ve discovered a new dimension of nurturance and creativity along the way.

First, let me share that the first orchid, the one I call my “oldest living baby” is alive and well, putting forth seven to eleven exquisite flowers every year on a single, long graceful stem. Each identical white bloom has a dark purple center and lasts for up to six or seven months, delicate and ephemeral in appearance, yet actually strong and hardy requiring very little care. Bill had given me a culture sheet that spelled out the optimal conditions of light, shade, water and food that a particular variety need. Two hours attention a week take care of the twenty plus plants we now have.

Maybe it was luck that my first orchid plant did so well. Or maybe it was that walking into that greenhouse was for me what the Greek poet Kazantzakis meant about having one’s “brush and colors and painting Paradise.” In I went and what an aesthetic treat it has been. Most of my orchids live on the floor in the family room next to the sliding glass doors in full southern light. Some of the most popular varieties require 4 to 6 hours of sunlight, and our indoor garden is three rows deep to catch the best light. Never mind that we cannot reach or open those doors. A small casualty for the cause. We can reach the deck through the sliding doors in the adjacent kitchen.

Other orchid varieties reside on tables next to northern and western windows in the living room, southern windows in the dining room and arrayed around the Jacuzzi tub in the master bathroom. Where there’s space and light, there’s room for a new baby. My husband has been very cooperative and I’ve steered clear of his office.

So, why do all this? And what does “requires very little care” mean? Most orchids need water and food only once a week. Different species thrive with different light, temperature and humidity, all detailed on the culture sheet. Food is a liquid mixed with water at the sink in a large plastic pitcher. Thursday is usually Orchid Day at our house, taking about two hours. All the plants are brought into the kitchen where they sit in plastic drain dishes on the counters. Each is then taken to the sink to water, feed if necessary with Grow or Bloom depending on their progress in a yearly cycle, and thoroughly drain. Water should be tepid and added until it runs out of the hole in the bottom of the plastic or terra cotta pot. All reside in lovely decorator pots during the week.

Wow! Sounds like real work. Yes, but nothing compared to the rewards. Each Thursday, I may spot the beginning of a spike or efflorescence on at least one plant , just a tiny green nub pushing its way out at the base of the leaves or between bulbs. I call my husband and he oohs and aahs with me. The next week, I check to see the extent of growth of the stem that has already grown two to four inches. Over the months that follow, buds will emerge on the lengthening stem and develop into flowers. Once they are ready, a flower may open overnight. One can almost watch the petals unfold. Thus, each stage of the yearly cycle has its pleasures for the grower. Very different from buying an orchid plant from a florist with flowers in full bloom.

Bill says I should consider a small greenhouse attached to the house on the back deck . I told him I’m not ready for that kind of commitment yet. This love affair with the oncidiums ‘Dancing Dolls’ , exquisite yellow flowers, and ‘Shary Baby” , tiny lavender blooms with the aroma of chocolate, has to be kept under control. But when ‘Kaleidoscope‘, the spectacular phalaenopsis whose petals are coral with fuschia stripes, and ’Golden Elf’ a yellow cimbidium with a lemon scent bloom at the same time, I know I may be weakening.

Meanwhile, I’ll just drive over to the greenhouses to walk around and enjoy the hundreds of gorgeous orchids in bloom. Chat with Bill a little. He always takes time. Maybe, bring one new baby home. There’s always space for one more on the family room floor. It’s a beautiful sunny day. Why not?

Beware of the “I” Message!

Beware of the “I” Message!

When business and professional managers are asked to list their major problems at work, the one that usually comes out on top is communication. It is ahead of employee turnover, competition and even profits. “I tell them what I want done. And there’s no follow through.” “I said I need the reports as soon as possible and only two came in.” “Isn’t anyone listening to what I say in the office?” “Do I have to say everything twice?”

Divorce lawyers, when asked to name the main reason for marital breakups, cite a basic lack of communication, rather than money, sex or “growing apart”. Spouses fail to share what they feel, want and need from each other. “We never talk.” “We’re both busy working; there’s very little time to just be together.” “I’m not sure he or she knows who I am anymore.” “What else is there to say? I’m too tired to even discuss it.”

As for parents with teenagers, they can be heard complaining across the land. “I can’t get him to sit down and talk for five minutes.” “There’s no way we can hold a coherent conversation.” “ As soon as she comes home, the music’s on and she’s talking to her friends on her cell phone.” “They just saw each other ten minutes ago. Are you sure these are our kids?”

An interesting survey found that there are six main barriers to successful or effective communication. The number one offender was called the “I” message. “I said I needed those numbers on my desk as soon as possible.” “I just can’t talk to you. I give up!” “I want you to clean up your room. Now!”

I. I. I. The “I” message goes forth. Sometimes, it is delivered in a peremptory or abrasive manner. Other times, it is low-keyed and modulated. The inflection and tone may vary, but the opening word and clear messages are the same. I want. I need. I told. I have to have. All translated into I am the one around here who is important. And by the way, I am also in charge.
Communication experts suggest we ask ourselves six questions:

l. Am I sending the “I” message most of the time?
2. Do I ask for ideas or feelings from other people? At home? At work?
3. When others talk, so I really listen? To family? To colleagues? To friends?
4. Do I use vague words and expect specific results?
5. Am I willing to admit that I am wrong. With my spouse? Children? Co-workers?
6. Are my actions consistent with my words?

These questions ask each of us to stand back and try to be objective about this very important area of our relations with other people. The answers to the questions directly affect our success or failure to live and work in a harmonious way with our family members, friends and our work associates.

The first and second questions go hand in hand. The ‘I’ message leaves little room for someone else’s ideas or feelings. In a family, all members have thoughts and feelings. They also have particular roles and responsibilities. Parents are usually in charge. There’s still room for involving children and teenagers, in particular, in decisions and problem solving.

“I want your room cleaned up. Now!” Does that familiar refrain work? Contrast: “Dirty clothes belong in the hamper. Clean clothes belong in the closet. Every day, please.” Both are tough statements. The former is the “I” message. And a one time event. The latter sets out specific acts to be followed. Every day.

Listening is more important than sending in successful communication. Listening as distinct from hearing, is an active process that involves one’s attention and concentration. Some basic guidelines for effective listening are : Keep eye contact. Ask questions. Listen for feelings. Is the other person uneasy, impatient, angry, bored with the subject? Don’t just wait for a pause to jump in with your point of view. There needs to be a response to what you have heard. Attentive listening tells the other person what he or she is saying matters to you. Here’s an easy way to remember this: Two E minus one M equals Successful Listening. E are ears and M is mouth.

Vague language can add to “I” message problems. Parent: “I don’t want you staying out too late tonight.” What does that mean? Are there other implied messages about where the teenager is going and with whom? Teens guard their privacy and friendships with tenacity. Ground rules should be set. “If you’re going to be later than eleven, call. Twelve is the outside limit.” Of course, an open line of communication with teenagers had to be established years before during childhood. Children who learn that telling the truth will bring punishment, also learn how to become skillful liars.

One of the hardest hurdles in communication is admitting one’s errors. People who are sure they have the one right answer are usually hard-liner “I” message senders and very poor listeners. In families, when children can hear a parent say, “I was wrong about that”, they understand that they too can be wrong at times. This is especially true with young children who see their parents as all-knowing and very powerful. When they hear a parent admitting a mistake, it saves them from learning to lie to cover up their mishaps and errors.
This translates later into more open communication during the teenage years, when they weigh peer pressures against parental guidelines.

The bottom line for all communication is the credibility or measure of one’s words. Are one’s actions consistent with one’s words? In the work setting, owners and managers earn the trust and respect of the people working around them on the basis of their honest communications and efforts toward common goals. At home, parents are warned, “Don’t say something unless you mean it.” Children learn very early, by two or three how to manipulate their mothers and fathers. By teen years, they are experts. “I want you to come straight home after school and do your homework or no TV for a week.” The stage is set for much whining and cajoling when the sophomore wanders in near dinner time knowing his mother has not followed through in the past. And it’s no surprise that the TV is on the next night. Moral of story: Never threaten unless one follows through.

Credibility and integrity lie at the heart of positive communications. Words and actions are consistent. A climate of trust is developed in marriages, families and work settings. It’s a Win-Win combination — rather than overusing the “I” message and wondering why you are not getting the results you want.