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

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

Dragon Boats

Dragon boats returning to dock

Dragon boats returning to dock. © Just Having Fun

You can see just about every kind of festival in New York City. My home at the northern end of Manhattan is rarely more than an hour and a half by subway from every locale in the five boroughs. Since I’m heat exhaustion prone and sun sensitive I don’t venture out too much in the summer. This past weekend was an exception. We went to New York’s “Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival” in Flushing Meadows, Queens, on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, August 9th.


Unisphere” by Nick, used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I had only ever been to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park as a small girl, to attend the 1964 World’s Fair, but knew its location because of the famous Unisphere globe which is still standing (and visible from the highway), and of course, Citi Field, the contemporary home of the New York Mets. I was anxious to see even a small portion of it and enjoy what New Yorkers seem to enjoy: crowds.

Dragon Boat Festivals, originating in China, have reportedly been around for over 2,000 years. Dragon boat racing comprises a portion of the festivities. The fair this past weekend sported a splendid number of people enjoying the day, strolling amongst the tents, eating, and watching the races on the lake.  Team sponsorship advertisements and race sponsors abounded including banks, health care providers, travel agencies, Chinese media, and insurers to name a few. Oars and paddles festooned the team tents as similarly-clad team members wandered around on their business in colorful packs.

I thought all the racing team participants would be Chinese, or at least Asian, but there were male and female athletes of a wide variety of ethnicities. Most, however, seemed to be on the youthful side. I can understand why: it is keen physical work! Ten paired oarsmen (oarspeople?) rowed to the accompaniment of a drummer who sat in the prow, facing the rowers, keeping time. Another person stood in the stern with a long oar (for stabilization?). It was difficult to examine the boats from my vantage point, but they appeared to be the same model, with a dragon’s head as a figurehead, and different paint combinations. It was lovely to watch, but the races themselves were very short in duration.

I looked for freebies hoping to snag an umbrella to ward off the hot sun and obtained some Kozy Shack rice pudding (Kof-K kosher) samples instead. I count that as success, too! Next time I’ll bring a camp chair and umbrella to further enjoy the sights and smells of a friendly summer festival.

Waiting for the Race to Start

Waiting for the Race to Start. © Just Having Fun

Changing Signs

Changing of the times at the Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Changing of the times at the Late Show with Stephen Colbert

“Late Night with David Letterman” departs from Broadway’s Ed Sullivan Theater with the installation of the new sign: “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” I’m sitting at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf store across from the theater enjoying a bran muffin and rich, dark iced (decaf) coffee on a Monday afternoon. Something over there requires the assistance of several men, and involves a man-lift, dangling wires, and a cherry-picker. The work area appears dark though my side of the street is bathed with sunlight. The wires dangle from the underside of the marquis. What my eye detects readily, the camera fails to discern.

Late Show with Stephen Colbert Sign

Efforts taken to change the sign at the Ed Sullivan Theater

Life often has layers we see easily and those that are mired in the shadows. We train ourselves to avoid appearing to avidly eavesdrop, but by the same token, we fail to notice someone’s pain when it is socially uncomfortable. For instance, do you look a grieving person straight in the face? It’s hard.  I carefully watch people in public in hope of obtaining great photos, but I can’t be too overt lest it be construed as prying. I’ve seen great emotion but haven’t always been able to record it–it’s been too personal, even for me. A recent change is that sometimes I’ve asked if the person is OK or posed a question about what’s going on around my subjects. I’ve found that it’s all right to stretch past my comfort level. Most people respond positively. Some engage me further. So much for the stereotype of New Yorkers being tough. Another change?

Different cultures enforce different areas of personal space. It changes depending where you’re at. I’m very American so my space expands to fit me and my group. But what is my group? I often find myself on the subway wanting to join in on conversations I overhear. Sometimes I feel it’s OK to chime in, especially when I have knitting in my hands and sense people have questions. Sometimes an eye-roll and smile completes my silent conversation, like when we hear, “OK folks; it’s showtime,” and the performers start swinging from the poles. Sometimes I do comment. Other times I just carry on a conversation in my head. Is this a sign of something different?

So here I sit, sipping coffee and observing, wondering if the changing sign portends any changes … other than a new show and a new host.

Visiting Day

Catskill Mountains Sign

The deep ravines, irregular ridges and rocky slopes of the Catskill Mountains long remained wild and desolate. …The mountains have long been famous as a resort area. In 1885, the State established the Forest Preserve to safeguard forever the natural resources.
Water from mountain streams stored in great reservoirs–Ashokan, Cannonsville, Neversink, Pepacton and Roundout–is conveyed by aqueducts and tunnels to supply New York City.

I’m heading up Route 17 for a ritual called Visiting Day. This occurs twice each summer when parents/friends/family visit their children who are ensconced in summer camps nestled in the verdant, cool hills of the Catskills. In my case, I’m not visiting a camper. My son is a counselor at Camp HASC, “a unique summer program which provides over 300 children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities the opportunity to enjoy an unforgettable camp experience.” It’s a wonderful place, a caring place, with a close to 1:1 ratio of staff to campers.

Visiting a camper, for the child, reconnects him/her to home. The parent brings treats, sees the facilities, gets a good feeling and the child knows Daddy and Mommy love him/her. You go home, and the child returns home in two weeks. I drove 12 hours round trip in one day to visit my sons at camp in the Poconos when they were young.I needed the visit, they welcomed it, too. I also visited my sons when they worked at a typical summer camp. Nice, great to see them, now goodbye.

Visiting a my son the counselor at Camp HASC brings up other emotions: this is where my child works, here are the people he helps, this is the kind of life he is building. It takes a special kind of person to give of yourself so deeply, to care so deeply, to work so hard for the good of others.

I’m looking forward to this Visiting Day. Soon I’ll be at camp!


Photo credit: “NY – New Baltimore: Catskill Mountains” by Wally Gobetz, used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Aligator at 205th St.

So this alligator was crossing against the light and the officer went to give him a jaywalking ticket…. Photo credit: NYPD34Pct via Twitter

It seems you can see everything in New York City. It’s true, not something you just tell the rubes coming from the countryside to gawk at the big buildings. Like wildlife. You can see a lot of wildlife–and I don’t mean the human type–here. NYPD 34th Precinct (@NYPD34Pct) tweeted a bizarre story today: they captured an alligator crossing 9th Avenue at 205th St. in Inwood today. That’s a mere 20 blocks or so from here!

This story made the news carousel at the bottom of the Bing search page! I clicked on it, and there was a story from the International Business Times! Unfortunately, the story’s first, highlighted photo was a fake prop alligator crawling into a manhole instead of the real thing. Look at it. Doesn’t this look dramatic to you?

An alligator was found Thursday in the Inwood neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. Pictured: A prop alligator went into a New York City sewer drain during the launch of the Swamp People "Taste Of The Bayou" food truck, March 28, 2011. Donald Bowers/Getty Images for History's Swamp People

An alligator was found Thursday in the Inwood neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. Pictured: A prop alligator went into a New York City sewer drain during the launch of the Swamp People “Taste Of The Bayou” food truck, March 28, 2011. Donald Bowers/Getty Images for History’s Swamp People

We don’t expect alligators (or crocodiles) to be crossing the street in NYC at any time. Leave that to those crazy southerners in Florida. They have alligators creeping into peoples’ back yards, eating their Chihuahuas and children, and causing all sorts of trouble.

We urban New Yorkers rest content with malicious squirrels, pooping pigeons, and the occasional stray dog. We expect to see cats on windowsills peering out from apartments, rats in the subway, and cockroaches a/k/a water bugs. But alligators? Aren’t they supposed to be in the sewers and not crossing city streets?

Pepé LePew (c) Looney Tunes

Pepé LePew (c) Looney Tunes

Skunks. We have them. I haven’t seen them, but I’ve smelled their presence on occasion. In September 2013, the New York Daily News published “Get these smelly skunks out of Washington Heights & Inwood, cries Councilman”, about the skunk problem in Fort Tryon Park. A photo of a skunk on Cabrini Blvd. graces the article. Imagine, you’re walking up Broadway when you see two glowing eyes. “Here kitty, kitty,” you croon. “Nice … skunk!” Hello Pepé LePew.

Add that to the cast of characters you see in Times Square, and you have a whole menagerie of wildlife to keep you gawking in and about the City.

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