Powerful Pandemic Perspetive

Cecile, left, the matriarch of our family.
Grandma with her youngest granddaughter.

I was intensely moved by Toby Levy’s January 3, 2021 Op Ed article in The New York Times. Apparently, so were 621 people who commented on her piece. Coincidentally, me and my niece Talia left also comments. Ms. Levy’s article reminded us of our own family’s matriarch, Cecile. My husband’s mom survived the Holocaust, as did his dad, by being shipped to Siberia with their families. Hunted every step of their journeys across Europe, their childhoods were harrowing and horrific. According to Cecile, dealing with the pandemic is isolating, lonely, worrisome, and inconvenient. But terrifying? No. Cecile is in better spirits than a lot of my contemporaries. I listen to her for perspective and wisdom, just like Ms. Levy.

A Holocaust survivor reflects on what it means to survive the pandemic.

By Toby Levy, a retired accountant and a volunteer docent for the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Jan. 3, 2021

These days, I’m a little bored.

The boardwalk is my lifesaver. I’m two blocks from the boardwalk. I can walk to Coney Island if I want to. I go alone. I have some friends here. We used to play canasta once a week. But when Covid arrived, my daughter insisted, “You can’t sit in one room!” So I talk on the phone. I read. The grandkids call in by Zoom. I also do a little bit of Zoom lecturing for the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

I keep very busy, and it helps me a lot. I am trying not to give up. But what is getting me down is that I am losing a year. And this bothers me terribly. I’m 87 years old, and I lost almost a full year.

I’m doing everything I can to stay connected, to make an impact. So even now, amid Covid, I tell my story to schools and to audiences the museum organizes for me, by Zoom.

Here’s what I say: I was born in 1933 in a small town called Chodorow, now Khodoriv, about 30 minutes by car from Lvov, now Lviv, in what was then Poland and is now Ukraine. We lived in the center of town in my grandfather’s house. The Russians occupied the town from 1939 to 1941, then the Germans from 1941 to 1944. My father was well liked in town by Jews and non-Jews. One day in early 1942, one of the guys came to him and said, “Moshe, it’s going to be a big killing. Better find a hiding place.” So my father built a place to hide in the cellar. My grandfather didn’t want to go. He was shot in the kitchen; we heard it.

Not long after that, the Germans said they were going to relocate the remaining Jews to the ghetto in Lvov, so my father and my aunt searched for someone to hide them more permanently. They found Stephanie, who had a house on the main street with a garden and a barn. She had known my parents their whole life. My father built a wall inside the barn and a hiding place for nine people, where we slept like herrings. It was just four feet by five feet. Pigs and chickens were on one side, and we were on the other: my parents, my aunt and uncle, my maternal grandmother and four children, ages 4, 6, 8 and 12.

Eventually, with the help of Stephanie’s 16-year-old son, they expanded the space a bit and added a way for the kids to look out. That is where I spent the next two years. I always think of the son when I get down, because when Stephanie was scared to keep hiding us, he insisted we stay.

We had lice. We had rats. But every day in the barn was a miracle. I’m not a regular person. I’m a miracle child. Most of the Jews of Chodorow never returned.

So when the coronavirus came, I thought, “I’m a miracle. I will make it. I have to make it.”

During the war, we didn’t know if we would make a day. I didn’t have any freedom. I couldn’t speak loudly, I couldn’t laugh, I couldn’t cry.

But now, I can feel freedom. I stay by the window and look out. The first thing I do in the morning is look out and see the world. I am alive. I have food, I go out, I go for walks, I do some shopping. And I remember: No one wants to kill me. So, still, I read. I cook a little bit. I shop a little bit. I learned the computer. I do puzzles.

I still sometimes feel that I am missing out. A full year is gone. I lost my childhood, I never had my teenage years. And now, in my old age, this is shortening my life by a year. I don’t have that many years left. The way we have lived this year means I have lost many opportunities to lecture, to tell more people my story, to let them see me and know the Holocaust happened to a real person, who stands in front of them today. It’s important.

I am scared that I am not going to be in the shape I was a year ago. When this started in March, one of my grandchildren, who lives in New Jersey, went to Maine with his wife; they never came back. They have a baby boy now, and I have only seen him on Zoom. This child will never know me. That’s a loss.

Some of what I’m missing is so simple. I have a male friend I know from synagogue. We would take a trip, if we could, by car. To anyplace! I would go to Florida. Maybe even go to Israel for a couple of weeks. But not now. So, again, this has shortened my life. That is my biggest complaint.

I understand the fear people have, and I understand you have to take care.

But there is no comparison of anxiety, of the coronavirus, to the terror I felt when I was a child. That was a fear with no boundary. This is going to end, and I am already thinking, planning where I am going first, what I will do first, when this ends.

Toby Levy for The New York Times

A Week of Positives: Ceramics

1,750 degrees F! That’s the temperature the Raku kiln must reach before Peter removes pottery and then sets them in a bed of sawdust where they burst into flames!

Pottery is therapy!

Wheel throwing, hand building, trimming, carving, sanding and glazing force me to be in the moment. This summer, due to Covid-19, one of my Ceramics teachers offered a limited-spot, mask-wearing class. One of the wonderful things about learning from and working with Peter Syak is ending class with an always-dramatic Raku firing. My favorites pieces from the class are a desk caddy and lamp bases (my first ever lamps!). We used an Extruder, which is like a giant Play-Doh tool, to make unique bowls. I carved them and added feet, but won’t know they turn out until I Raku fire them this Fall.

Want to know more about Raku firing? Check out Raku Intensive.

Lamp base, unglazed.

Lamp base, unglazed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unloading the Raku kiln.

Lamp bases, glazed.

Desk caddy.

 

A Week of Positives: Puppy Therapy

Bruno is a neighbor’s new puppy.

Duncan was adopted by our family friends. Shout out to Jeri and Mike!

Why do you think kitten and puppy videos are passed around like favorite recipes? Because cuteness is a salve for sore souls!

This summer, my kids and I have been tuned in to any mention of puppies. Details required! Not only do we ooh and ahh over photos, we want to know names, ages, breeds, and back stories.

My niece and her fiancé (shout out to Aline and Cherie!), who have been fostering puppies since the pandemic hit NYC, decided to adopt. Cherie is not only a Voice Over Artist and Photographer/Videographer, she’s a Stage Manager for the Broadway show Hadestown, so guess who she knows? Broadway actors! Mochi is now part of Aline and Cherie’s family, and Mochi’s sister Billie is now part of a very well known Broadway star’s family!

A Week of Positives: Patterns in Nature

The week after Labor Day feels like the start of a new year when it means Back-to-School, back to work and, sadly, the end of summer. Even though summer’s not officially over, and sunny, warm days may last through fall, I often sense a switch has been flipped and the atmosphere knows the date.

This year, that after-Labor-Day-feeling is one of uncertainty, anxiousness, and worry. How is it almost Fall and we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic? What will happen when it’s too cold and snowy to socialize, study, and exercise outside? So many questions and no clear direction has left me searching for beauty, color, patterns, humor, and cuteness (any small animal video will do). When I find them, I have to share them. Maybe the small joys will soak into our pores and in some way cleanse the filth that is our politics, divisiveness, inequality, race relations, antisemitism, economy and, yes, the virus.

Pippin Pals are Hero Helpers, Author/Illustrator Interview

:Donna Marie, author/illustrator of Pippin Pals are Hero Helpers, shares what it’s like to self publish in this interview.

Want to find out more about these pandemic-inspired picture books and E-Books and related info, activities, and free downloads? Check out Pippinherohelpers.com.

NG:  How did you come to children’s writing and illustrating? 

DM: I think like many of us in the KidLit realm, I fell in love with picture books as a young child and have always been drawn to storytelling. As I got older I developed the desire to create books myself, but never did more than write some poetry and short essays. I visited it again, briefly, before my son was born, having designed a little girl character, but never took her anywhere till the 90s. At that time, when my health declined enough that I became disabled and was moved to write poetry again, a friend encouraged me to write.

I was thinking it was the perfect way for me to be able to stay home and earn a living. Little did I know how difficult it would be to get published! Had I known, I likely wouldn’t have pursued it. As difficult as it has been as far as the pursuit of getting traditionally published, it has also been incredibly joyful because of all the many kindred kidlit friends (like you) I’ve met along the way and I can’t imagine having missed out on all that—ever.

NG:  What did you learn in the process of self publishing that most surprised you?

DM:  I can’t really say anything about self-publishing actually surprised me because I knew it was a huge undertaking having to do literally everything myself. It’s why I never wanted to do it! I hate dealing with the business/money end of anything and with self-pubbing it’s unavoidable. I considered the project worth it though. I was already very familiar with the process, but did a lot more research and purchased a few “how to” books, including the legalities, etc., all of which helped me make important decisions. Ultimately, because it seemed the wiser choice to keep as much control as possible, not limit where and how I could sell, and keep my private life and finances separate, I ended up investing in my own ISBNs and establishing an imprint.

I guess the one thing I didn’t expect was that the ebooks, though cheap and readily available, weren’t what people (at least my age) preferred. Feedback was the desire for paperback. That pushed me to re-format all six as paperbacks. I can tell you, my father is happy he—and children—will be able to hold a printed book in their hands 🙂 So am I!

NG:  Did you start with the story, the art, or was it a combination?

DM:  It’s funny—you would think with me being an artist, that art would tend to be where I start, but the only time that really happens is if someone offers a picture prompt! For me, an idea comes, regardless of what triggers it, and I write first. I visualize while I’m writing so the spread illustrations are forming from the beginning of the writing process. My word and art creativity are seamlessly connected in my imagination.

NG:  How did you manage your time in order to work on writing, illustrating and publishing the series?

DM:  This question actually made me laugh! Manage? Time? From the very beginning I felt pressure because the nature of the subject matter is very timely and I wanted it to be of use as soon as possible, at a time we all hoped would be the worst of the pandemic. (Sorrowfully and tragically, that’s not the case, and in the U.S. will be living with this serious threat for a long while.)

As per usual, I estimate something to take about half the time it actually will so, although I was hoping the books would be available by May/June, the reality of creating 6 books, a website, establishing an imprint and logo, all the glitches that happened along the way and being forced to food shop on occasion and get “some” sleep, there’s never been enough time and here we are at the end of August! And the thing is—I’m not done! Now that the books are finally published and “out there,” I can go back and create the additional artwork required to make 2 more versions: interracial and same-sex parents.

And I feel like I have to give a “shout out” to technology, without which this entire project could not have been possible. I have that proverbial love/hate relationship with it, but in this case — except for the glitches — it was “loooove.” 😉

NG:  What is one thing most people don’t know about you?

DM:  I’m such an open book, I’m not sure there IS anything! (You) might think that because I thoroughly enjoy good conversation and love to socialize that I might not like to be alone when, in fact — I love being alone!

NG:  Who would you like to read your books/what are your goals with the series?

DM:  I’m hoping families with young children, and teachers with young students can benefit by the content of the books (ages 3-8), especially now with the problems faced as the school year begins. I think children being able to see their experience in book form, with illustrations that explain something as abstract as a virus, can help them more understand it.

I did my best to show why washing hands, wearing masks and staying physically distant are so important, and by doing these things they become Hero Helpers. By doing so, along with helping the people in their own lives, they ultimately help the heroes who are risking their own lives to help others.

Naomi, thank you SO much for featuring my books on your wonderful blog and giving me the opportunity to talk about them and a bit of what is behind them.

Find :Donna Marie on: Pippinherohelpers, Writer Side UP!, Creativity Cookbook, Twitter.

Pippin Pals are Hero Helpers, Debut Picture Books

One of the positive aspects of writing Kidlit is the supportive community, and writer/illustrator :Donna Marie has been more than supportive; she’s volunteered countless hours to NJSCBWI. When the pandemic hit the U.S., :Donna wanted to find a way to help kids understand Covid-19 and why their routines were disrupted, and show how they could stay safe. She turned her idea into a reality by publishing  Pippin Pals are Hero Helpers, which are available in 6 different versions with 2 more inclusive versions on the way. In addition, on the website Pippinherohelpers.com, :Donna offers additional info and tools for kids and adults and free printable downloads to post anywhere from bathrooms to classrooms that illustrate hand hygiene, wearing/handling face coverings, and more.

What’s the story about? 

One morning in March 2020 a child wakes up and gets ready for school only to be told by Mom that he/she has to stay home—it’s a rule. The child doesn’t understand, is upset about no longer being able to play with friends and do many “normal” things like go to the playground, the movies, school or anything outside their home or family. The mother then tells the child about the pandemic—the deadly virus that’s “sneaky and quick.”

Accompanied by illustrations, she explains how easily the virus spreads, how it can make some people very sick, who the heroes are who help the people who need hospital care, along with the many essential workers we count on. The child learns that by doing “stay safe” things like staying physically distant, wearing masks and washing hands they become “Hero Helpers.”

Highlighted are many positives about staying home, and lots of “stay at home” activities, including a surprise “fun” idea Mom has the family do. The child is reassured that, until the doctors say it is “safe” again, they will visit friends and family virtually, continue to be grateful for the good things, and how they will stay strong till this pandemic passes.                          Kathy Temean on Writing and Illustrating 

In :Donna Marie’s words: 

When this pandemic hit the U.S., I saw the plethora of wonderful stuff being offered by the KidLit community, librarians and teachers to families with children to help them get through the whole stay-at-home situation and was blown away by it. My natural inclination was wanting to contribute and what came to mind was a book I wrote back when my son was in maybe 3rd grade, so 1993ish. It was called The Rainy Day and in it were ideas of what to do on a rainy day. I figured maybe I could list them and post it in a blog post, but quickly poo-pooed that since it really wouldn’t offer anything more than what was already out there, so why waste my time? But one thought led to another, I ended up writing an almost totally new story, and when I realized I had the power to execute these books digitally to make diverse and inclusive versions, there was no stopping me!

Where can people find Pippin Pals are Hero Helpers?

Check out  Pippinherohelpers.com to order ebooks on Kindle and Apple Books. Paperback versions may be ordered on Amazon.

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Author/Illustrator Bio:

:Donna is a proud and blessed mother and grandmother, and as a woman of love, hope and faith, she has loved stories since the first time she held ARE YOU MY MOTHER, THE CAT IN THE HAT and MADELINE in her hands. Passionate about storytelling in all forms, the wonder of words and pictures in books has long inspired her to tell stories of her own. As a small voice amid the glorious chorus of book creators, her hope is to add some small measure of value and joy for her gracious readers. And all of this while doing her best not to consume more “goodies” than good books! 😀

In Memory–Aleta

A dear ceramics class friend died this week, and a large group of teachers and students at the Visual Arts Center of NJ are devastated. In a year of compromised health, Aleta contracted Covid-19. Amazingly she recovered and, at a recent ceramics class social distance picnic, she declared herself, “The luckiest girl in the world!” We were beyond thrilled she had beaten the virus. Was her heart attack related to the illness? Research shows it may have been.

Aleta was incredibly smart, becoming a lawyer and professor of law at time when women were just making inroads into those professions. She was funny, curious, creative, talented, encouraging, kind, and a joy to be around. When I tell friends that I love my ceramics class because of the people in it, and because I can make a thimble and it’s still celebrated, I think of Aleta showering us all with, “It’s beautiful! Just beautiful!”

She loved her dog Gracie, had a thing for owls, always wore a Mets baseball hat, was ecstatic about the recent purchase of a dream vacation home, asked for and received an anniversary gift of a home pottery studio, loved to travel and, after a trip to Amsterdam, created hand-built tilting houses. She dispensed jokes and funny stories, shared family lore, talked politics and policies, and always expressed how much she loved her family. Her openness to learning, studying, and practicing was an inspiration. There will be an imprint in the atmosphere surrounding her favorite wheel.

I will always remember Aleta’s smile, laugh, and how she called all of us, “Honey.” My heart is heavy and my mind swirls with memories.

Sources: The Harvard Gazette, Oregon State University’s Jack Dymond

Top Ten Places to Travel Virtually

Stonehenge

Hon, hope you had a nice July 4th weekend!

This year, though our friends’ holiday bbq was nixed, we still got together, socially distancing of course. Since our school district doesn’t let out until late June, July 4th feels like the official start of summer. But what does this summer hold? Will I return to work or not? Will Elegant Lifestyles publish a September issue? Is it safe to visit family in different states? Will one of my daughters have to quarantine when she returns home after four months away? Will my younger daughter’s college hold classes? The questions go on and on. One thing we can do is travel…virtually. This is a list of places I’d love to go one day. Where would you like to go?

Top Ten Places to Travel Virtually

1. Great Barrier Reef, Australia

David Attenborough leads you on an interactive tour underwater to explore the Great Barrier Reef. Through interactive time-lapses, videos, and weather maps, the tour shows you the Earth’s most bio-diverse ecosystem.

All the while, a tracker notes miles traveled, total sailing time, and the effects of climate change during your “exhibition,” making this a great educational tour for adults and kids alike!

2. The Great Wall of China

China’s most famous attraction offers virtual tours of some of the most visited sections of the wall, 3,000 miles of which are walkable. With much of the country under quarantine measures, the virtual tour offers a reprieve from the crowds who normally come from all over the world to see the 2,000-year-old marvel.

3. Iceland

Welcome to Iceland 360 VR!Select one of hundreds of locations around Iceland in the search field, panorama location list or location map or try out our location basedand themed virtual tours!

4. Taj Mahal, India

Our online virtual tour enables visitors to interactively explore the “UNESCO World Heritage Site”, the Taj Mahal at Agra in India. Visitors may tour 22 different areas of the monument and gardens through 360° panoramas, maps, narrated mini-movies, music and text.

5. Alaska

Experience virtual tours and in-depth educational videos of Kenai Fjords National Park. Journey into the beautiful landscape of Alaska to discover the wonders of the glaciers, local wildlife, geology and so much more!

6. Ireland–25 Virtual Tours

In an attempt to bring those of you that want to be here a little closer to Ireland, we’ve created a guide that’s packed with virtual tours (and 360 photos) for some of Ireland’s best-known attractions.

7. Scotland

“Immerse yourself in the amazing history, cities and landscapes of Scotland from the comfort of your own home…virtual tours of Scotland, including fascinating documentaries and Scottish museums that offer online tours. So sit back, relax, and enjoy your virtual journey through Scotland.

8. Safaris, Africa

Get up close with some of the world’s most amazing animals from the safety of your sofa.

9. Israel

Coronavirus messing up your plans? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Join us for a virtual tour of the most beautiful places in Israel with our popular series, Postcards from Israel.

10. Redwoods, California

Join an interpretive ranger in series of VR episodes about some of the natural and cultural history of the park. Move your mouse, handheld device, or wear VR glasses to experience this in 360 degrees.