"If it's not fun, why do it?"

Fall Back

Daylight Savings Time is over for the year. Did the change to Standard Time come easily for you?

In the USA, we turned our clocks back (“fall back” is the mnemonic) last Sunday morning at 2 a.m. Many of us are still suffering from the disruption. Sure, we got an “extra” hour of sleep on Sunday morning, but it is nearly dark at 5 p.m. here in New York City, and my head can’t wrap around the change. Disorientation confuses me. Aren’t I supposed to be asleep about now?

My friend’s baby awoke at 4:53 a.m. today. My friend was not ready to awaken at that hour and was not pleased. She would like the baby to sleep until 6 a.m. The baby cannot tell time, however, and wakes up whenever his body says to do so.  He’s probably thinking, “Hey! Where is everybody? I’m up. Why aren’t they up? Party time!”

Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “It’s only 10 p.m. Why am I getting sleepy?” Although I’m a night person, this change disrupts my system. I awaken in full sun again, having just gotten used to the darker mornings. I watch the sky darken from my office window before I’ve left work. I don’t know whether to nap, eat, or crawl under the covers for the night when I get home.

Why has the length of daylight savings time creeped to become longer and longer? It used to be six months. “Check your smoke alarm batteries when you change your clocks.” That made sense when we changed the clocks every six months. Now it is eight months of savings and four months of standard. How many battery checks are ignored in April because it’s too soon since the last one in November?

I’m going to sleep now. Set the alarm, go to sleep, wake up, have coffee, go to work, have more coffee, leave work, eat dinner, go to bed. I’ll get used to it eventually… about the time we need to “spring forward” and change the clocks again.

Bicolour Ladders

Bicolour Ladders pattern sample

Bicolour Ladders pattern sample in Day Glo Green and Army Olive. © JustHavingFun

Sometimes you just have to do it even if it isn’t perfect.

I was itching to knit again in a big way. My last project was completed over a year ago! I’d been diddling around with swatches (test squares) using all sorts of yarn on all sorts of needles for several different patterns looking for the right combination that would propel me into the “zone.” I gazed at patterns on Ravelry.com until my eyes bugged out. I tried to match the types of yarn in my stash with patterns for which I had sufficient yardage. Yawn. Socks? No, that didn’t feel right. A sweater? Not enough yardage. I longed to knit but nothing spoke to me.

Knitting has two basic stitches: knit and purl. Gauge and pattern determine if the project will succeed. Gauge relates the number of stitches across to the number of rows in a particular pattern using a particular size needle and yarn. Two knitters using the same equipment can get different gauges due to variations in how they knit! The typical “knit” pattern (called “stockinette”) requires you to knit across one row, turn the work around, and purl across the second row. There’s a flat side and a bumpy side. Then you count the number of stitches and the number of rows in 4″ x 4″ area and that’s your gauge. Easy peasy. Patterns are like recipes, written in abbreviations or charted, and keep you on track. If you consistently make your stitches with the same tension, it is likely the project will come to look like what it’s supposed to look like in the size it’s supposed to be.

I can knit. I can purl. I can do stockinette squares. So I swatched.

Ugh! So many times my gauges did not even approach the designer’s requirements! My stitch counts exceeded the recommended number for the patterns so I changed needles to adjust the stitches per inch—didn’t work. The lovely Rowan yarn seemed too dark; the fluffy Knit Picks yarn was too thin. I didn’t have enough of the tweedy yarn from England to do knee socks, and I’m not quite skilled enough yet to use the unspun Plötulopi from Iceland I’ve been saving. That’s when I put it down and waited.

I even tried crocheting a yarmulke (kipa; skullcap) for my son. As I’d crocheted lace when I was younger, I was not afraid of this task. But yikes! I couldn’t see the stitches!! My 30-year old eyes were much sharper working with white cotton, and working with black crochet cotton and a teensy steel hook was madness!!!

But I was itching to knit. The idea buzzed around in my mind like a mosquito seeking fresh skin. Knitters reading this are nodding. They know the feeling.

Mon Tricot Knitting DictionaryI decided to just do it. Starting was hard. I swallowed, took a deep breath, and went to the yarn stash. It wasn’t going to be perfect. It wasn’t going to be the dream project I’d wanted to do with the lovely yarn in my stash. Oh no. With my fingertips I teased out the fugly yarn I’d inherited from my sister Michele. Acrylics. Oddball colors. Strange textures. Lumpy ends. I decided to do what all knitters must do eventually; I started a stash busting project. I picked up my 40-year old copy of Mon Tricot Knitting Dictionary that my sister loved to snitch from me and found a stitch pattern that required a multiple of 6 stitches plus 5. I cast on the unusual number of 29 Day Glo Green stitches while squinting. Then I proceeded to knit.

Did you know that people advertise for volunteers on LinkedIn.com? I saw an ad for some organization requesting knitters to make scarves and hats for charity. A light bulb lit up in my mind. I could have my yarn and knit it, too. Although I was uncomfortable knitting this combination, I was more uncomfortable not knitting.

Hence, I’m stash busting.

To get in the zone, I had to get out of my comfort zone. I simply had to move where I saw no room to go forward. I needed to circumvent my usual route, the safe, comfortable path, and go outside the walls of perfection. Surely this scarf will win no prizes when it’s finished. My stitches are neat and regular but aside from that, the colors clash and the pattern is bumpy on the other side. Someone will wear it, though. It will be warm. It will be made with love. It will scratch my knitting itch. It’s an experiment, a new beginning. I will knit on the subway and get odd stares or elicit conversation. I will knit in the pizza shop after washing my hands to while away the time until my next appointment. I will traipse these sad skeins of yarn throughout New York City while I eyeball a good place to sit and knit. And knit I shall.

These bicolour ladders will let me climb to a new, sublime place where I can be my imperfect self, working toward a higher goal, and getting some good knitting time while doing it. Plus, I’ll use up the ugly yarn and not have to look at it ever again!

Autumn Beauty

W. 187th Street stairs, looking east.

W. 187th Street stairs, looking east. © JustHavingFun

The autumn colors sing to my soul! I am certain this peek into the Creator’s paintbox carries me through the gray winter. It feels like fall came late this year. But while last week the temperatures were in the 40s, today it’s expected to hit 75. Crazy! I broke out my jacket, though, and put my sandals under the bed. The toes are getting cold so I know the oppressive heat is over. Gearing up now for the frigid winter seems more real day by day.

Speaking of crazy, there’s a certain pleasant vibration in my head that’s caused by the look of yellow maple leaves against rain-darkened tree trunks on a gloomy day. It puts me in mind of a long ago leisurely drive in the country near Poughkeepsie.

Brilliant gold maple leaves against dark branches.

Brilliant gold maple leaves against dark branches. © JustHavingFun

The day started off as if it had a headache. First the sun came out, then it ducked behind clouds. A wind blew up and fallen leaves swirled like dancers. The sun’s rays through the clouds highlighted odd sights off to the side of the road: a patch of late-blooming chrysanthemums, a kitschy mailbox, a faded American flag left over from July 4th, nude fields, homes festooned with carved pumpkins. I drove over the crest of a hill and lo, ahead of me, was a spectacular stand of maple trees limned against the gray, brooding sky—a vision so powerful so as to remain with me these thirty-some years!

Enjoy the autumn. Savor the crunch of leaves underfoot. Cherish the colors. Memorize the scents. This may be your own dramatic memory in thirty years!

Hidden Gems

Man-made crystal specimen

This specimen is man-made but oh, what glory! © JustHavingFun

Why would crystals like these exist deep inside the earth? Hidden, secret, rare… perfect. I can appreciate them on so many levels. Their beauty is undisputed; they delight the eye. Their chemistry is exquisite; they reveal the order of the universe.

Red stones in the corundum family are rubies, and anything else is a sapphire. While pure corundum can be colorless, sapphires might be blue, green, yellow, orange, pink, purple or even show a six-rayed star. Only a tiny atomic change, the inclusion of the element chromium, makes a deep blue sapphire become a red ruby.

Carbon lacks the sparkle of diamonds. Coal. Graphite. Soot. Yet tons of pressure and kilocalories of heat create diamonds, harder than any other natural rock or mineral. Quartz crystals emerge as gems (amethyst and topaz) or captivate us as clear crystal spears. People carve and polish it into a crystal orb and divine the past and future in its depths.

The hardest carbon is diamond. Science explains its allure: the high refractive index allows light to bounce around within the cut and polished stone and sparkle in myriad colors as no other gemstone.  De Beers coined the phrase “A Diamond Is Forever” in 1947. They created a lust for diamond engagement rings like never before in history.

But isn’t a diamond just a rock?


Minerals” by Eric Hunt, used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Why are some crystals needle-like and others cubic? Why are some embedded in volcanic rock and others, geodes, inside hollow nodules? Why are opals iridescent yet moonstones glow? Knowing the chemistry explains some details but it doesn’t explain my captivation. Wonders beyond wonders.

These gifts from on High can remind us of the Order in the universe. Things don’t happen randomly. These wonders were emplaced for us to find, study, and rejoice in.

The lessons I glean from my fascination with gems, crystals, and mineral specimens parallel my determination to live a life of happiness:

* Looking within hidden places for treasure just might reveal some.
* Adopting minute changes can make grand differences.
* Embrace everlasting truths for what we value can be capricious and trendy (they are just rocks, after all).
* Enjoy the beauty and sparkle while you can.

Chipper thoughts

Chipmunk scampering down pin oak tree.

Chipmunk scampering down pin oak tree. © JustHavingFun

Chipmunks scampered busily around the base of a tall pin oak in Central Park. Acorns dropped steadily as I watched them run across the grounds, up and down the tree. I’ve never seen so many chipmunks all together out in the open!  I’m used to seeing a single chipmunk darting across my path while I walk on a wooded trail. To see this group of at least a dozen at a time was quite a treat. I couldn’t catch them with my camera; they ran too fast!

Not a squirrel was in sight. I wondered if a chipmunk posse had chased them away. I imagined gangs of wild chipmunks intimidating the rodent population of Central Park. They’d be wearing little fedoras and spats à la 1930s gangsters.  “Beat it, fur face,” the tough one would squeak menacingly in a Bronx accent. ”Dis here tree is our turf.” A mini-drama would ensue: nuts flying, fur bristling, little squeaks erupting like machine gun fire.

Marauding chipmunks? Menacing squeaks? I think it’s time for coffee!

Happiness is My Choice, 10

There’s a lot to be said about the practice of contemplation and self-improvement. In these days between the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur—the so-called Ten Days of Repentance—we turn our thoughts toward our actions and character traits which have allowed us to act in a particular manner. This period is a time for appreciation of our freedom to use our wills for good or for selfish ends. We don’t flagellate ourselves when we find ourselves lacking; rather, we contemplate the means to change ourselves for the better.

I liken this week to an employee performance review. Like the yearly progress assessment, we review our success in achieving goals set in the previous season and we formulate future goals. Where do I excel? How can I parlay this strength toward future endeavors? Where can I be better? What tools can I use to improve what is sub-par? Have I failed utterly in any area? What is taking me off track? And if I just can’t proceed in that positive direction yet, what is holding me back? On Yom Kippur, we give a full accounting to the Boss and state how we may improve ourselves toward fulfilling the Company’s goals.

Rather than castigate and flagellate myself for perceived imperfections, I can choose to look at this annual review as an opportunity to learn more about myself. Others may quake in their shoes, fearing punishment and retribution, but I choose to take the opportunity to reboot myself as it were, and get a fresh start.

Rabbi Ezra Schwartz reminded us on Rosh Hashanah that we are not bad people. We just need improvements.

Improvements. This thought makes me … happy. Otherwise, I would be so despondent all of the time, wallowing in guilt and unhappiness for my failures and inconsistencies. If I could not take the opportunity to move on from today into an improved tomorrow, I would feel like the executioner’s sword was inching closer and closer—sure doom—defining my fate. We have so many characteristics that make us who we are. Some are expressed at the wrong times, others are not expressed often enough. Our characteristics are many, like the seeds of the pomegranate which—once you find them and use them—can be a delight for the eye and palate.

Instead of facing severe punishment, we are given a chance to take our measure accurately, and alter the pattern. The Hebrew word middah (מִדָה) literally means “a measurement,” and also refers to character traits. How poorly clothing would fit if the tailor could not make adjustments to the pattern. So, too, we are given the ability to contemplate the pattern and adjust the reality. We are given a new chance at life, forgiveness, and our eyes are opened to our true characters!

Yeah, it’s scary facing our shortcomings. I don’t like admitting where I’ve failed, fallen short, not risen to the moment or shown the darker side of myself. but rather than quake with trepidation, I’m calculating, building, planning, adjusting. I’m using my Ten Days of Repentance to adjust the template and shift the pattern.

Hope! Everyone gets a second chance; not everyone can use it properly. I’m taking this opportunity to increase my internal awareness and assess how good it can get. This is my choice, leading to happiness.

For all of my friends and not-yet friends, I wish you a meaningful period of contemplation, leading to a fulfilling Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement, to be sealed in the Book of Life for a good year!

Urban Orchard?

Urban Peach Orchard

Urban Peach Orchard? ©JustHavingFun

People plant fruit trees because the blossoms are beautiful. They bloom in the spring about the same time as the early flowers such as daffodils and tulips. Fruit trees frequently make up a portion of formal plantings that bloom in sequence. Think of the cherry blossoms that adorn Washington, D.C.

As a child I learned how to identify plants by their leaves and trees by their bark in nature studies classes. I would spend hours hiking in the woods marveling at the diversity of species in my area. I retained these skills into adulthood and at some point became a gardening enthusiast. Although I lack a garden now, I enjoy looking at other people’s plantings. I like seeing how each apartment building distinguishes itself from the next in the foot-wide strip of soil between it and the pavement. Hence, I stop to “smell the roses”—or Rose of Sharon—whenever I can.

There are few fruit trees in Washington Heights. It is a Jewish custom to say a particular blessing over a blossoming fruit tree in the springtime, in the Hebrew month of Nissan (approximately mid-April to mid-May). Since most New Yorkers can’t identify fruit trees by their leaves and bark, lacking the nature studies classes I enjoyed, some Jews took it upon themselves to publish a map identifying the fruit trees in the certain neighborhoods! Some people even hang a placard from fruit trees with the text of the blessing to aid their fellow Jews. There is one such tree on Bennett Avenue across from the Mt. Sinai Jewish Center. I visited that tree and said the blessing at the appropriate time last spring.

I knew about this particular tree on Overlook Terrace without seeing it on a map. I’d espied it and watched the fruit all summer. It’s unusual to see fruit tree blossoms that actually come to fruition in the city. It’s even more unusual to see one of these trees smack dab up against a building, adjacent to a fire escape, hiding behind a hedge of exuberant Rose of Sharon. Peering at the tree, I spy little blushing peaches emerging from under the leaves! It lives! It is growing!! Next to the subway station yet!!!

There used to be farms in this part of Manhattan. Oh, it was long ago, but it is indeed documented. What would those farmers say about their acreage now? How could this tree happen to grow precisely here? Did an opportunistic peach pit grow between the hedge and the bricks? Not likely. Unsprouted peach pits that are hundreds of years old have been excavated from the trash heaps of Old New York. These hard hearts don’t sprout easily. Could someone actually have planted this tree? Maybe. There is evidence it is cared for: it is tied where it intersects the top of the ground floor window. There’s a scar where it had been pruned.

Will these peaches rot on the tree, get pecked by birds, or be plucked by the person whose window they cover? Someday I expect I will emerge from the subway station and see some nouveau urban farmer climbing a ladder to harvest the peaches. Straw-hatted and overall-clad, he will set each booted foot carefully on the rungs as he climbs. He will test the ripeness of each with a little squeeze. He will pluck each one and lay it in a wicker basket depending from his arm like in an old-timey painting. Thus he will reanimate the ghosts of long ago farms in this part of the island. A fanciful dream, but what a dream!

Happy September!

Aaaaah, the promised end of oppressive heat: September! Cooler temps are on the way! I can go outside again!!!

I hate looking at all of these photos of happy hikers, joggers, runners, sunbathers. I seethe in jealousy. Why? I’m a person who can’t tolerate temperatures above 80ºF (27ºC). I hang out at the freezer cabinets in the supermarket, fanning myself. I fill my cup with ice and blow on it for cheap air conditioning. I’m the person in the office saying, “Why is it so hot in here?” while my co-workers shiver in sweaters and turn on the heaters under their desks.

Anticipated view of days to come.

Anticipated view of days to come. (c)JustHavingFun

Little Miss Furnace, that’s me.

So when September comes, when the leaves start to brown and rain from the trees and cooler air wafts in from the north, I revel; relief is imminent!

I’ve wondered if I can change my heet-feeling nature with biofeedback, accupuncture, or hypnosis. It’s a metabolic flaw, my inability to properly regulate my inner temperature.  Thus, I gloat over cold drinks like sludgees, welcome cloudy days and summer showers. and anxiously await the New Year (the Jewish New Year, that is) which heralds the advent of cooler weather.

Oh happy me!

Happiness Is My Choice, 9

What difference does it make

What difference does it make? – Peanuts © Charles Schulz

I could have put my pedal to the metal and sped up when being asked to slow down. I could have seated the guests on the right, facing a painting, instead of the left, across from the bookcase. I could have sliced the dessert lengthwise instead of widthwise. I could have worn my hair styled in a fancy manner instead of wrapped in the bohemian scarf. I could have done many things just for spite, control, or defiance.

For some reason, all of these mild requests irked me and had me thinking to do the opposite of whatever the request was. My back arched and my fur bristled. “Who do you think you are?” my inner control freak screeched.

A well-meaning person made a request of me and I bristled internally with hubris: “I’ll darned well do it my way!”, “Harumph! Who are you to tell me what to do?”, “No, I’m not going to kowtow to you”, and “Who asked you?” I could have worked myself into a fine tizzy, gotten angry, spit out unkind words. What was happening? What set me off like that?

Do I have ODD: Oppositional Defiant Disorder? No. It’s more simple than that: I felt irritated.

Irritation, a feeling of not being in control, led to arrogance. My way or the highway. Conceit, pride, haughtiness, and egotism all raised their crusty, creaky voices to get a piece of the action. Hauteur, contemptuousness, smugness, disrespect, and self-importance yammered for attention. My self became more important than you, her, him, them, and those others. My yetzer hara, the “evil inclination,” the nether self, that lying, poisonous snake coiled in the pit of my gut, took over my brain and implanted insanity.

Oh dear reader, don’t think I’m a saint because I identified the snake. He still lashed and slashed. I recognized the beast, then let him feast anyway. I fumed; he gnashed and snarled, gurgled and fussed. I stewed in smug self-righteousness… until it tired me out. I don’t want to be that person. Happiness is my choice. Lest I let the beast and chaos rule, lest I get into an accident or hurt someone’s feelings, I needed to oust it. I needed to choose what to do, how to respond.

But the first step was recognizing what was going on.

I’m not normally offended or offensive. I’m typically calm and not snide. I want my life to be pleasant and placid. I choose to surround myself with good: good intentions, good wishes, good feelings. I want to have the pure joy you get from recognizing someone else’s good fortune, taking pleasure in the beauty and good surrounding us. I want to dance at weddings, reveling in the gladness. I want to spread smiles and good cheer. I have the discipline to put myself in a place to harvest joy.

What difference does it make?
—Charlie Brown

I consciously remember good events and minimize the not so nice. I find ways to allow others their faults and let them have a “pass” when they’re not filling my expectations. I’m easy, pretty unflappable. The world will keep turning if I am not in control. Let it be. Irritation pushed me down a short slide into the maws of unhappiness. It erected a barrier between me and my serenity.

I can’t allow anything to exist between me and serenity. If I do, I get detoured from my daily connection with the One, the Source of All Good. I can put that snake down by refusing to succumb to its venom. All joy beckons me because I recognize the illness causing my discomfort: a false sense of reality. I’m not so important that my will matters above all. Does it really matter whether they sit here or there? Charlie Brown had it right: What difference does it make?

Next time the evil inclination bites me, I’ll know what to do: I’ll drive slower, let the guests choose their own seats, slice the dessert as each wants, and wear my hair as I please.

Frederick Douglass Memorial

Frederick Douglass surveying his boulevard

Frederick Douglass surveying his boulevard.  ©JustHavingFun

I rode the M2 bus through Harlem last week. It follows 7th Avenue, also known as Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, below 155th Street. The neighborhood looks much like my own with apartment buildings housing small businesses on street level lining the streets. Some buildings boasted elaborate cornices belying their ages but others showed the worn look of properties that have been purposed and repurposed over the decades. Nail salons, restaurants, cell phone shops, storefront churches, schools, and groceries hunkered by the sidewalks. When I alit near my destination, I enjoyed walking along the pleasant boulevard as it neared Central Park.

After my business was complete, I made my way to catch the C-train. I had never taken the subway to the Cathedral Parkway station so was unaware of the striking memorial awaiting me at the corner of 8th Avenue (Frederick Douglass Boulevard) and 110th Street. The Frederick Douglass Memorial boasts an eight-foot bronze portrait sculpture as well as a focal fountain wall.

Frederick Douglass Memorial fountain wall

Frederick Douglass Memorial fountain wall. ©JustHavingFun

Frederick Douglass stood in his generation as a defender of human rights. A refined man and former slave, he became an abolitionist leader, a prolific writer, orator, and publisher. His voice still resonates. Large granite blocks immortalize his words at the memorial. The plaza itself greets visitors with stellar words from the masthead of his newspaper, The North Star, carved into the paving.


It is well worth taking the time to pay a visit here. It is our duty to think upon the freedoms conferred on us and about those who have fought for these rights to apply to all men and women.


Frederick Douglass quote 1851. ©JustHavingFun

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