Black-Lead Pencils

Until the 1550s, the British wrote with quills and ink. When black graphite, thought to be a form of lead, was discovered in Borrowdale, Cumbria, it was dubbed ‘black-lead.’

Book of Hours, Rosenwald MS.Evangelist with lion

Because graphite sticks alone were too brittle for writing, they were originally wrapped in sheepskin or string. By the 1840s, however, lead-pencil manufacturers were compressing graphite powder into solid sticks, inserting them between two grooved wooden halves, then gluing them together. The official catalogue of The 1851 Great Exhibition, Hyde Park, London, informs artists, architects , and engineers that their ‘Purified Lead Pencils, Perfectly Free From Grit, May be Entirely Erased, and Will Maintain a Firm Point.’

Eternal Father, Strong to Save

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the rest-less wave…

“Eternal Father,”  alternately titled “The Navy Hymn,” was written by two Englishmen, Rev. William Whiting (lyrics) and Rev. John B. Dykes (music) between 1860 and 1861,   drawing  inspiration from both the Old and New Testaments.

its verses reference familiar texts such as   Psalm 65, (“who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations”).

She tied my boat to the North Star so I would not grow up while she was gone.

There are  alternate verses to this hymn. One, for example, written  in 1965 , is dedicated to naval submariners:

Lord God, our power evermore,
Whose arm doth reach the ocean floor,
Dive with our men beneath the sea;
Traverse the depths protectively.
O hear us when we pray,
and keep Them safe from peril on the deep.

Another  version  appears in Noye’s Fludde, a one-act opera for amateur performers by Benjamin Britten.  It features  “the grinding conflict of Britten’s passacaglia   theme against   Dykes’ familiar hymn-tune in the storm” …

Hear it here. 


Ai Yai Yai, Ai Wei Wei

Recently  we went to  Ai Wei Wei’s exhibit,  “Maybe, Maybe Not”  at the Israel Museum.  Other than hearing vague, related  tales  of Chinese repression, we knew very little about this artist– it turns out, this political artist. The most arresting part of his exhibit were the huge, gigantic, bigger-than-life trees that he assembled from parts of actual trees, pasted and bolted together.                                                   Image result for wei wei tree

Facing a wall constructed of thousands of  slips of paper, documenting donations (in Chinese)  by people who supported his political cause,  was a  spacious replica of a  ceramic tiled floor.  That is, it looked like a tile floor– but it  turned out to be — a rug.  When we were asked to remove our shoes before  exploring its  subtle tile-y hues and textures, however,  we demurred.

What luck.  Instead, we came across a tiny exhibit that touched me personally.  In a recent piece I wrote about  novelty teapots, I learned that original Chinese ones were one-cuppers — drunk directly  from curved spouts. And Ai Wel Wei was evidently as  fascinated  as I.  He exhibited a handful of –what in Heaven’s name are these?– antique broken teapot spouts!
Image result for wei wei  teapot spouts

I love it when things come  together like that!

Made my day.











Mint Tea Memories

I am not a big tea fan. Though I recall once serving tea and tangerines to my dolls, tea, in our house, was strictly medicinal. It was reserved for dosing sore throats and barking coughs.

Moroccan friends, however, introduced me to a different world of tea.

Imagine a small room, wintry but for small kerosene stove glowing red in the corner. Atop sits a tiny, dented aluminum teapot, its contents, a handful of tea leaves, a bunch of greeny mint, ample sugar, and a bit of water, simmering merrily. My hostess pours a smidgen into a glass, topping it up with boiling water. Then raising it head-high, she deftly pours its contents down into a second glass on the table below. Again and again she pours the golden stream   through the air from glass to glass. Then she hands me my tea. Voila. The minty liquid has become cool enough to drink. Ah, the fragrance, the elegance.

courtesy Chris RubberDragon, WIKI


Genealogy: when too much is too much

Preface: a piece written  for Family Tree Magazine several years back:

Don’t Prune That Tree

Wherever we go-whether it’s Israel, Canada, Colombia, Slovakia, Australia or America-I can usually name a local cousin or two from the thousands of people I’ve researched over the years. My kids, exasperated, invariably ask, “A real cousin? Does he know you?” They, for whom any cousin past first is too distant, understand I have no problem embracing second and fifth cousins equally. I also welcome cousins by marriage (and their cousins, too) as my own. My family tree is wider than it is high. If your clan is small, you take what you can get, right? And besides, I believe all Jews are brothers.

So when my son planned a trip across America, I suggested an alternative to the motel route. He could travel genealogically, staying with cousins. Our forefathers emigrated from Russia to New Jersey, Poland to Pennsylvania, and Slovakia to New York. Today, I exchange e-mails with their grandchildren in Massachusetts, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota and California. To me, that’s a mighty fine itinerary. But my son sought excitement. Anonymity. Spontaneity. The last thing he wanted, he laughed, were cousins. He wanted to live his own dream, not mine.

Human Alphabet

Let him laugh. I haven’t yet met all our e-mail cousins in person, and perhaps I never will. But I have been blessed.


Recently, I asked Geni, the noted genealogy site, to compute my relationship with a distant cousin– but one close enough that I knew personally.

Their response?

xx  is your second cousin’s husband’s sister’s husband’s nephew’s wife’s second great uncle’s wife’s niece’s husband’s nephew’s wife.

Got that?