One Puzzling Lesson.

When we visited the base Marine Corps Thrift Store, I was impressed.  Putting aside the massive amount of stuff filling the shop, the items were well organized and displayed.  A small child’s play area, along with a television, is located next to the gently used toys and puzzles.  It was there I made a rookie parenting mistake. 

Given my daughter’s love of the sea, my Husband’s fondness for dolphins, and my love of puzzles, I purchased a seascape “mega puzzle” for .75 cents.  That was months ago.  Since then, the box has remained hidden away in a closet, never having been opened. 

A few weeks ago, I decided to introduce [S] to puzzles.  I was speaking to a dear friend of mine on the phone and mentioned opening the puzzle.  In rapid fire succession came the questions.  “How many pieces are in the puzzle?”  750, I replied.  “What is the recommended age range?”  12 and older, I acknowledged.  “How big is it?”  I don’t know. 

“No.”  It was firm.  It was matter-of-fact.  It was finite.  “That puzzle is far too big for [S],” she explained.  “You don’t want anything with small pieces,” she continued.  “And you definitely don’t want anything with more than 50 large pieces.”  Admittedly, the dolphin puzzle may have been too advanced for a soon-to-be-three-year-old, but I thought I could help her and it would be a good experience.  My mother-of-three friend knew differently.  “Don’t open that puzzle.  Do you understand?,” she demanded.  “I’m looking online right now.  Here’s a puzzle of the ocean.  It’s a floor puzzle; it’s two by three feet.  What’s your address?  Okay, it’s ordered.” 

Last weekend, [S] opened a package containing a large piece puzzle, specifically designed for children three years old and older.  As I watched her open the box, I began to understand my friend’s admonition not to open the 750-piece puzzle.  Within a few minutes, pieces were everywhere.  Fortunately, they were large easy-to-find pieces.  Then, the magic began.  Sitting on her father’s lap, [S] began to learn how to put the pieces together.  And she did so over and over again. 

To my dear friend, thank you.  Thank you for averting tears of frustration (both mine and [S]’s).  Thank you for gifting a beautiful puzzle to [S].  And, most of all, thank you for not laughing at me when I told you about my ambitious–and foolish–750-piece puzzle endeavor. 


The Perfect Pairing.

Since moving to Okinawa, I’ve picked up two new hobbies:  collecting sea glass and familiarizing myself with Japanese scotch.  Imagine my delight when I managed to pair the two together, while taking a small step to lessen my impact on the environment.  Ever since my first trip to Sea Glass Beach, I’ve been asked what I plan on doing with the many bits and pieces of collected contoured colored glass.  I wasn’t certain, but knew I wanted to fill a few glass jars with sea glass to use as a home accent.  Think beach-themed decor. 

Last week, Russell left an empty bottle of Suntory’s Hibiki whiskey on the kitchen counter, where items to be recycled are placed.  I tried placing the bottle in the recycling bin, but walked back into the kitchen with the bottle in hand.  It’s a heavy, well cut, good looking bottle.  Instead, I peeled off the labels, washed it and let it dry.  The next day, I filled it with blue hued sea glass and filled it with water.  The result?  Better than I imagined.

The rub?  While reusing a glass bottle headed to the recycling bin gave me a righteous lift, a quick online search for Hibiki whisky revealed that empty bottles–along with original packaging–are sold on eBay.  Really. 

The Sincerest Form of Flattery


Many years ago, a dear friend invited me to her home in Queens.  Unknown to me, she had prepared a feast for lunch.  I watched as she threw together hummus.  “Don’t you do this,” she instructed, as she casually blended garbanzo beans, water, lemon juice, and tahini in a blender without the lid.  As she made cacik, a Turkish yogurt and cucumber dish, her husband noted the importance of using fresh lemon juice.  Moments later, I watched her toss a palm full of dill into the yogurt with curiosity.  (It’s a necessity, giving the dish a tangy bite.)  She showed me how to make cheese and meat filled borek or kalem böreği (I don’t know which).  As I sat at her kitchen table with her family, the number of plates and bowls filled with bites too numerous to count, I wondered why her family would ever want to eat out. 


Of course, that meal was more than a meal.  It was about hospitality.  It was about family.  It was about about teaching me to prepare food.  It was about love.  It was more than five years ago.  Homemade cacik, hummus, and baba ganoush have been go to healthy comfort foods ever since.  Tonight, I tried my hand at borek or kalem böreği.  Our table featured only a fraction of the dishes I was treated to years ago–and my spread certainly wasn’t as pretty.  But tonight’s meal reminded me of the joy of cooking for loved ones and the honor of being cooked for. 


Alas, Forward Movement!

For weeks, I’ve been blindly reaching for my iPhone upon waking.  Blurry eyed and laying in bed, I’ve been scanning my e-mails looking for that e-mail from our adoption agency.  This morning, I quickly glanced at my e-mails and stopped when I read the subject matter “Pre-Travel Online Meeting.”  I looked at the e-mail and was left no better informed than I was before reading it.  It was then I scrolled down and saw five other e-mails from our adoption agency.  Our exit process paperwork has been approved by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.  Finally.  Next up?  A court date in Korea this Spring. 


Hugh M. Cleveland: Rest in Peace (1918 – 2017)

My Grandfather at my wedding in 2011.

February is my least favorite month.  It seems far too long to be the year’s shortest month.  February plays host to both the winter blues and the seasonal blahs, making me ache for the first day of March. 

Perhaps, then, it is fitting that my Grandfather passed away last Friday, February 17th.  He was 99 years old.  Or, as he liked to put it, he was in his 100th year.

I’ve known my Grandfather for nearly 45 years, meeting for the first time upon my arrival to the United States in 1973. 

By all accounts, my Grandfather lived an impressive life.  But he was an even more impressive person.  He lived each day with purpose, determination, and understanding, including those days after he entered hospice earlier this month. 

He was an avid reader, an ardent puzzle solver, and formidable bridge player.  I am unable to recall seeing him at home without a New Yorker or major New York newspaper nearby.  Once a daily crossword puzzle solver, his enthusiasm for the puzzles waned as he found them less challenging and started dabbling in creating them. 

My Grandfather was an intellectual heavyweight.  He was well-read, well-traveled, and well-informed.  His thirst for knowledge was unending.  He asked thoughtful questions, listening intently to the response.  One could tell what he thought by watching his facial expressions.  He was never one to suffer fools or indulge in false flattery.  But he was never rude or disrespectful, only matter-of-fact.  Indeed, not one to waste words or effort, he reserved many of his opinions and thoughts for those closest to him. 

Growing up, I loved visiting my Grandparents; as a young adult, I enjoyed my Grandparents’ company.  They were a pair–a team–when I thought of one, I thought of the other.  I couldn’t imagine enjoying cocktails with only one of them.  I couldn’t think about having a telephone conversation with only one of them.   I couldn’t think of visiting only one of them.  Being close to my Grandmother left to me wonder about the relationship I would have with my Grandfather after she passed away almost nine years ago. 

Looking back, there was no need to wonder.  My Grandfather was still my Grandfather.  My desire to impress him–a desire speaking volumes about me and little of him–was replaced with the desire to love him, to comfort him, to be with him.  After my Grandmother’s death, the sternness I recalled from years past had been replaced by a gentleness of spirit.  He talked about missing his wife.  He spoke of loving me.  He spoke of my parents lovingly.  Of course, he still articulated his thoughts.  The man who traveled to more than 127 countries, wanted our family to travel.  The man who had been a successful businessman, wanted me to continue working as an attorney.  And the man who had been married to his college sweetheart for 66 years and raised two successful children, wanted us to enjoy being a family.

My favorite memory of my Grandfather?  When I lived in Manhattan he would ask me the same question each time I saw him:  “What have you been eating?”  The question was both genuine and reflective.  He had lived there.  He had worked there.  And he had eaten there. 

* * *

Hugh Millan Cleveland

Staff Writer,

Hugh Millan Cleveland, 99, died February 17, 2017. A resident of Willow Valley Communities for 24 years, he formerly lived in Chatham, NJ where he was active in community affairs.

He was born January 27, 1918 in New London, CT, the son of Irvin L. and Florence Cross Cleveland. Growing up, he was an Eagle Scout. He graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in Ceramics Engineering and was a member of Delta Upsilon fraternity. An avid golfer, he was a member of The Madison Golf Club, The New Jersey Seniors, and The Summit Old Guard. He had traveled abroad extensively and during retirement was a tour director in China.

Lt. Cleveland served in the U. S. Navy and commanded Sub Chaser SC-1365 in the Pacific theater during WWII. His Sub Chaser served as a Beach Control ship during the battle of Leyte Gulf and survived typhoon Cobra. Remaining in the reserves after the war, LCDR Cleveland USNR retired in 1966.

He was with AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories in New York City and Murry Hill, NJ for 38 years and retired in 1983 with four credited U.S. Patents and as Head of the Department for Information Analysis.

In Lancaster, PA, he was a volunteer Appraise Counselor at the Office of Aging, a member of the Leader Lancaster SVS Council, the RSVP Council, the American Red Cross of Susquehanna Valley, and First Presbyterian Church.

Hugh Cleveland was married for sixty-six years to the late Margaret Merchant Cleveland who passed away in July of 2008. He is survived by a son David J. Cleveland and daughter-in-law Charlotte G. Cleveland of Bozeman, MT and a daughter Diane C. Baldwin, her husband John D. Baldwin, Jr. of Columbia, MD, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Services will be private and burial will be in Mount Freedom, NJ.

* * *

My Finisher.

Yesterday, Russell ran the 25th 2017 Okinawa Marathon.  He signed up for the race months ago.  Then, he didn’t know he would battle a nasty bug five weeks before the race.  He didn’t know about a two-week visit by relatives three weeks before the race.  He hadn’t anticipated a business trip taking him away from Japan one week before the race. 

Despite the interrupted training schedule, he picked-up his race packet Saturday afternoon and perused the vendors’ wares.  Oddly, packet pick-up is one of my favorite pre-race rituals.  One can feel the anticipation of the runners.  The mood is festive with a hint of apprehension as to the task ahead.  One can see the immense amount of preparation and organization required of staging such an event.  And one can imagine the organized chaos that will ensue the next morning.  My favorite aspect of packet pick-up?  That I’m not running. 

Unlike other races, [S] and I dropped Russell off at the start venue and returned home.  The race was a single one-way loop.  Given the traffic restrictions, we would be able to see him once during the race–right outside of the gate.  [S] brought her upgraded sign and her eisa drum to cheer on the runners and we sat on the median strip, joining a handful of other Americans, and did just that.  Despite the fact that more than 10,000 people started the race, I spotted Russell cresting the hill easily, his height giving him away.  Once we spotted him, [S] started yelling, “Go Daddy, Go.” 

He stopped for a photo op and continued on, finishing the race, and joining more than 8,000 others who completed the marathon that day. 

Mile 21ish.

The race featured participants from around the world, including characters such as Im So Young from Korea.  Runners donned a variety of costumes, wigs, and hats.  And the nutrition stations were unlike any in the States.  But why try to describe what I heard second-hand when an actual race participant could paint a more colorful and accurate picture of the event?  No, I’ll leave that tale for another day, to be covered by another writer.