October 2016: 86 Degrees in Besieged Industrial City

October 18, 2016

October, 2016:  86 Degrees in Besieged, Polluted, Industrial City

Writers from Nick Virgilio’s House, Fireworks Art House and Center for Environmental Transformation! You can’t come soon enough to document what’s happening in our besieged Waterfront South neighborhood and in our whole nine-square-mile city of Camden, N.J.

It is 3:00 a.m. and I can’t sleep. My dogs and I are coughing from breathing more-than-normal polluted air yesterday. Right outside my row house workers are laboring to dig deep enough – 9′ – to bypass underground pipes in order to replace a cast iron 9″ gas main with a 12″ steel gas main. Help!

Holtec is coming. Eastern Metal Recycling is here. Yesterday downtown Camden had unbreathable air in 80 degree October weather. Today it’s going up to 86.

We must balance with our writing, the realities of over-industrialization, with the pure air of poetry and prose celebrating a universal, soaring spirit of sentient beings.

More later…

A Sacred Place

September 26, 2016

View of Petty’s Island & Philadelphia from Cramer Hill, Camden, NJ

A Sacred Place

A sacred place – a state of being – between the past and future:

on a path in Cramer Hill Nature Reserve where one isn’t afraid of being shot by a teenager…

in a presidential election in a country fueled by freedom and bondage…

in a church with images of a crucifixion and resurrection…

in a synagogue unveiling texts of horror and bliss…

in a temple where silence is broken by music and dogma…

on a street where young and old are shouting and laughing…

in a world which is neither evil nor perfect but is just HERE – being realized.

Cocktail Parties

September 15, 2016

Cocktail Parties: a great prompt for writing, a great prompt for establishing a life style

Fresh out of college – a Manhattan apartment.
Cocktail parties where competition was fierce
and wall flowers aplenty.

I’ve always cheered for the underdog
probably because I’ve been one myself.
Foreigners are underdogs at cocktail parties.

I love talking to foreigners.
I love hearing them manipulate their second languages.
In Japan, I praised my elementary school students for their creative English.

I can compete now, in old age, at cocktail parties
by talking about The Far East.
No one has been there but me.

And so people walk away – I win.
They don’t want to hear about The Far East.
And I don’t want to hear about their newest condominiums.

This Artaware blog is running the gamut of my life, starting in my fifties – and
now going back to my twenties.
It’s all about art – art aware and life aware.

Lost in the Woods – A Short Story from 2006

August 26, 2016
Lost in the Woods 7/26/06
In her sixties, my mother got lost in the woods near her house in the beautiful Connecticut countryside. Her husband called the police when she didn’t return for several hours. It wasn’t Alzheimers, she just wasn’t used to hiking. She laughed about it afterwards – that was Betsy, always taking things in stride.
She was like the sister I never had. She felt for me, I think, being an only child, having been the youngest of three herself. But I don’t think she ever regretted ending that one pregnancy my father told me about – the one that would have given him a son. She didn’t think she had parenting skills with me, so what was the use of bringing another
child into the world when she also knew she would end her days living under her husband’s roof (actually it was the house her own father had paid for).
Try as I might, I could never get my mother to write a chronology of my first ten years, the years she was married to my father. One of these days, when I delve into stored boxes, I think I’ll be able to piece together those years from my own letters which she never threw away and from her’s which I never threw away.
1939 to 1949 are the years in question, which included the war years and the recovery years when her father was often featured in the newspapers meeting with his Washington constituents and being part of delegations in San Francisco to create a United Nations.
I have pictures of my father during that time working in their victory garden in Forest Hills and later on, clearing out their backwoods’ property on Long Island from which he got a case of poisen ivy that hospitalized him. On that one day, not only did he pull up the poison ivy, he burned and inhaled it. He had the virulent pustules inside and out! I
have a professionally- shot picture of him in his hospital bed, head and neck perhaps whole body under the sheet, covered in bandages, droopy eyes peering out from a face dark with stubby beard. The only picture I have of my Burt Lancaster-look-alike father lying prone, incapable of action.
Actually, I do have another picture of him looking vulnerable – when he visited me in Japan, his 6′ frame stretched out on a tatami mat at a low table holding up a piece of dried fish with chopsticks, looking like he was about to get sick.
Since he spoke no Japanese, I was the one in charge when he visited me in Tokyo. In retrospect, perhaps that is the very reason I moved there – to be out from under his never vulnerable, opinionated, energetic self.
I love the Greek Tragedy sense of my parent’s lives, now that I can look back on them from a great distance.
Now eight years after my mother’s death and 22 years after my father’s, I want to somehow piece together those years when we were together and make sense of the years when wewere apart.
My dear mother, if living today, might tell me “Just forget it!” but I can’t. In spite of  her deliberately not writing that chronology, here I am, 60 years later still wanting to.
Betsy always tried to take things in stride, from her father’s nomination for the U.S. presidency, to her piano performance at age 18 before both Houses of Congress, to her divorce from my father (when divorce was a rarity), to the blindness of her beloved second husband, a gifted baritone singer with whom she gave many concerts, to being mother of me.
Given all the personalities involved, life didn’t revolve much around me – except for my arrivals and departures from my parents’ lives. I was always greeted enthusiastically andalways felt loved (while at the same time felt there was something in me both parents hated: that part of the other!). I grew up amazed when sometimes my tiny voice stood out like being Editor of the high school year book, President of my sophomore college class, a voyager to Japan, who learned Japanese!
I look back now and wonder if I had any influence on my mother. I started using mascara in my teens, she started in her fifties…was that my influence, much delayed?  At 65, she went hiking alone in the Connecticut countryside. Was that because a few months earlier (at one of my “arrivals”) we had hiked together?
I think I also influenced the last utterance on her death bed. Through the nurse on the phone, because I was 200 miles away, I told her I loved her. She whispered to the nurse”I’ve been a bad girl.” That was all she had strength for. When the nurse relayed those words to me, I interpreted them as “I’m sorry.”
Then and now, I say to my mother’s spirit “There’s nothing to be sorry about. You lived the life that was given to you and taught me to take life as it comes, to walk the mountains and valleys and to get lost – and to be found – in the woods of the world – in my own stride.”

Snorkeling at the Camden Kroc Center

August 24, 2016

kimg0867I’m so grateful for the pool at the Salvation Army’s Camden Kroc Center. I feel as if I’m back in Hawaii where I often snorkeled at the foot of Diamond Head in Doris Duke’s natural pool which was open to all.

It’s strange to see snorkeling paraphernalia at the competition pool at the Kroc Center. Not everyone goes to the extremes that I do. Some just use a few swimming aides. But at my advanced age, I need all the help I can get. So my gear includes foot-long flippers, goggles, snorkel and hand paddles. I feel like a fish.  I don’t have to gulp for breaths and swim a leisurely ten laps without stopping and meditate on the blue lines at the bottom of the pool and the progression of depth from four to seven feet.

Recently the Kroc Center introduced fish to the pool – chlorine-resistant fish – so pretty in many different sizes and colors. Sometimes mermaids join them, for instance in the form of my friend, Kandy Lippincott.

When next I go to swim, I’ll have someone take a photo which questions if this person exists in a Camden, N.J. indoor sports facility.

And if you believe everything in this blog, we truly need to be friends!

Dancing and Bowling with Camden City Seniors

August 4, 2016


KIMG0721 (1)


For sixteen weeks in the Spring of 2016, Camden City Seniors bowled together.

On August 2nd, 2016, we took a field trip to Wayne/Paterson, N.J. and got a chance to eat and dance together at The Brownstone with entertainment from Ace in the Hole Productions.

I have lived in Camden for thirty years and know well the children I have taught, but am just now learning to know Camden senior residents for the first time through bowling and line dancing.

What a vibrant group they are and so much fun!

Our leader, Cynthia Paige, from Camden City Office on Aging, really is a caring person and knows how to make everyone, from 65 to 100 years old, regardless of bowling or dancing skills, feel welcome and at ease.

Senior Bowling Friends Are Works of Art!

May 30, 2016

KIMG0719 (1)Ten frames. Twenty balls per game. Sixty balls for three games thrown in one morning with my Camden City Bowling League. The members of this senior league are all works of art! With only two more sessions this season, I want to record faces reacting to: a strike, a spare, first time breaking a score of one hundred, misses of a ball to pins by one quarter of an inch, one foot – all the way to gutter balls.

How I enjoy the faces of seniors  – ages sixty to ninety plus and their expressions of joy, chagrin, anger, defeat in the bowling alley. How I identify with all these newly-found friends and their desire to harness their own power to knock down all the pins.

The game is a metaphor for a life well-examined. How can I be so successful one monent (a strike!) and such a disaster the next (a gutter ball!).

In the future I hope to post some digital images of my bowling friends – with their permission, of course.

Art Aware at Camden Kroc Center

May 21, 2016

Barbara’s Story

 In December 2014, Barbara Pfeiffer became a bell ringer and rang the bell at the Walmart shopping center in Audubon. She hasn’t stopped serving The Salvation Army since.

 Pfeiffer, who officially registered as a volunteer in March of 2015, has contributed over 210 hours of service, serving as a Kroc Ambassador giving tours, working at the Welcome Desk, the library, instructing at summer camp and teaching Art in Kroc Kids.

 “I’ve lived in Camden for 30 years and I knew that this was going to be a place that was going to bring people together,” said Pfeiffer. “I have found that everybody is in their own little section in Camden and this was a place that could bring them together.”


May 10, 2016
For Jessica Febus Caraballo – Happy Mother’s Day – your artwork as a child…time passes quickly, doesn’t it!
Barbara Pfeiffer's photo.
Barbara Pfeiffer


Different worlds – one end of the block from the other.

At fifty years old I lived at 1701. Jessica, at eleven
years old, lived at 1731.
She came into my world at the end of our block
to do some artwork which I taped to my kitchen cabinet.

Twenty years later that picture she drew of a little girl,
with black hair, hands on hips, in front of a row house,
with a multi-leafed tree, is still there, although tattered.

Jessica, now thirty-one years old, is a middle school
science teacher in Baltimore, and she looks exactly the same
as when she was eleven.

I recognized her in a Zumba class in Cinnaminson.

I don’t know who lives in 1731 today but I reconnected
with the child who lived there twenty years ago. In between
Zumba dance pieces I said

“I know you, but from where?”

We traced our lives back twenty years and arrived
at the house numbers in Camden
on the same street at opposite ends of the block.

“I have a picture you created, pasted on a cabinet
in my kitchen.”

“I remember telling a boy not to bother the lady at
the end of the block and him telling me – ‘Hey,
she likes to do art projects with kids.'”

How amazing that we got together in a class given
by Viviana, a Zumba teacher in Camden
as well as in Cinnaminson.

“You look exactly the same,” I told Jessica.

“And I have a daughter who looks just like me!”

I’m a foster grandparent at an infant care center run
by Leap Academy (where Viviana teaches older students).
I wondered if twenty years from now it would be possible
to meet one of my toddlers grown up. I’d be really old
but still I’d recognize his face and say:

“I know you. When you were eighteen months old,
you built fantastic Lego castles.”

I’ve never had children or a traditional family
or even a neighborhood of my own. Growing up in
Manhattan, an only child of divorced parents,
traveling long distances between persons, places
and things my whole life, I’m comfortable with
a very large world being my family.

But I have found it is also a small world.

In 1967 I was a young college graduate teaching
English to college students at Sophia University
in Tokyo. Forty years later in 2007, I visited
Tokyo and reconnected with one of my students.

In my short life, I’ve experienced not being a
member of a particular tribe. I’ve experienced
the loneliness of not knowing who lives at the
other end of the block. I feel I’m part of an
abstract, spiritual, urban, global community.

Also I’ve experienced a small, wonderful world that
Louis Armstrong sang about. I believe in it.

I revel in the picture on my kitchen cabinet –
a photo copy of the original (now falling apart) –
because I want it to last another twenty years,
when I’ll be ninety and
Jessica’s granddaughter might be eleven.

Camden County Library Ferry Avenue Branch Display – 2016

April 14, 2016

KIMG0589 - Copy