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That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Word From the Weiss

I died and went to heaven.jpg        Sorry that I failed to post a single word last week, but I have a very good excuse.
        I couldn’t because I died and went to heaven.
        No doubt that begs a whole lot of questions, but before you even ask, let me head you off at the pass. No, I cannot tell you if there is actually a Got in himmel (Yiddish for “God in heaven”).
        What I can tell you is that there's no blogging in heaven. Hence, I could not write.
         And God only knows I couldn’t phone.
        I also can tell you that my personal tour of paradise did not start on such a heavenly note.
        It started, rather, with a major milestone in my life – a dreaded one, to be honest – and a need to do something to celebrate it even though I acutely dreaded it (to be perfectly honest).60 is the new 58 at best.jpg
       
My inability to get into a festive mood was not just a matter of vanity. Sure, turning 60 felt anything but sexy. Far from. Thanks to a sense of impending doom, decline, and eventual decrepitude, the occasion was hitting me harder than entering any other decade had before.
        It didn’t help much that my older brother kept phoning to inform me that despite popular claims that “60 is the new 40,” let’s face it – it was really only “the new 58 at best.”
       
But a confluence of other unfortunate factors was conspiring to really get me down.We went to New Orleans for my 50th.jpg
       
I’m not someone who truly relishes parties or being the center of attention. So when I turned 50, a decade ago, I elected to mark the occasion with a family trip to New Orleans, somewhere that I had never been before and had always wanted to go.
       
It proved to be such a welcome and uplifting distraction that this time around I decided to rely on the same basic formula. So I planned a family trip to Florida’s South Beach, somewhere that I have been countless times before, but have never failed to enjoy.South Beach at night.jpg
      
As the time approached, though, I began to feel wistful and melancholic thinking about my own mom, who joined us for our original jazz- and jambalaya-filled trek in 2005, but had since departed this earth nearly six years ago.
      
The real problem, however, was that my daughter had moved to Hong Kong last summer and was still there now. Allegra had just visited home in the fall, and there was no realistic way that she could join us once again.Allegra is still in Hong Kong.JPG
       
I felt unbearably sad to exclude her, and she felt unbearably sad to be excluded, which only made me feel even more melancholic, not to mention – being a nice Jewish mom – racked with guilt.
       
I considered postponing the trip until she returned. The problem was that we had no idea when she might be back. Besides, my mid-January birthday coincided perfectly with school break for my son Aidan and his girlfriend Kaitlin, who are both pursuing their Ph. D’s in NYC. But had we waited any longer, they would have been unavailable too.Aidan needed a break.jpg
        Besides, in the preceding few weeks, Aidan had finished writing a book, completed four final papers for school, and covered the NYC Winter Jazzfest for JazzTimes magazine. He needed a vacation, and he needed one now.
       
What’s a mother to do?
       
I’ll tell you what I did. I decided to go ahead with plan A and assured Allegra that I would be 60 for a whole year and that we’d have our own private celebration whenever we could be together.
       
This did little to lift my spirits, however. Or hers. It also did little to discourage her from coming up with wild schemes to try to be there, if only in spirit, in any way that she could.Our hotel, the SBH South Beach Hotel.jpg
       
We flew down very late on a Sunday night, and she FaceTimed me the moment that we arrived at our lodgings, the SBH South Beach Hotel. I told her how surprised I’d been to walk in and discover that the management had sent up a bottle of champagne for me, along with a mini hazelnut mousse cake encircled by chocolate-covered strawberries.Allegra sent me champagne and strawberries.JPG
        The real surprise, though, was to learn that the management had done no such thing. It was all a gift from Allegra and her wonderful boyfriend JP.
       
As grateful as I was, I chided her a bit for going to such ridiculous extravagance (even if I had made a similar gesture only a month earlier, sending her flowers and champagne for her 25th birthday, which I had been in absolute agony to miss myself).
       
Allegra automatically waved off my objections, though, delighting in having managed to arrange this special delivery from halfway around the globe.
        She also divulged that there was something even more extravagant on the way.
        More extravagant? Oy, Got in himmel!Harlan by Riviera pool.jpg
       
I tried my best over the next few days to cheer up as we engaged in the many pleasures that Miami Beach and its temperate environs have to offer.
        We
lounged beside the nearby pool to which our hotel gave us access (although I was sorely disappointed to discover that it was a small, unheated one and much too cold to swim in).Rick and Harlan after tennis 2015.jpg
       
My husband and I played tennis almost daily at a small slice of heaven called Flamingo Park with our old friend Rick, who lives down there year-round.
       
 And each night, we went out to dinner with Aidan, Kaitlin, and their various friends who also live down there.
       
But when it came to the actual (but still dreaded) birthday, I wanted to keep the event as just a family affair. But not necessarily low-key.Sabrina, Harlan, Pattie, Aidan and Kaitlin.jpg
       
I figured that we still had to go somewhere worthy of marking a milestone. Somewhere not just very special, but over-the-top. And searching online, I found it.
       
Barton G., a South Beach restaurant run by renowned Miami caterer Barton G. Weiss, is not just over the top, but truly out of this world.
       
Everything that we ate there was exceptional, but what made it truly extraordinary was the way that that the food was presented, which ranged from whimsical to outright whacky.Barton G cocktail with dry ice.JPG
       
Most cocktails there include a dry ice popsicle, which envelopes them in a magical cloud of vapor.Barton G Aidan and popcorn shrimp.jpg
       
Aidan’s appetizer of popcorn shrimp was served in a big, old-fashioned popcorn machine full of freshly popped corn… and succulently breaded trayf.
        My husband's so-called "Samurai Tuna" came with an actual full-sized Samurai sword, and t
he scrumptious surf and turf entrée that Aidan and I shared arrived on a wooden platter embellished with a mammoth knife and fork projecting two feet or so up in the air.Barton G surf and turf.jpg
       
And the dessert we ordered for the table, called Pot Pie Garden, consisted of five flower pots filled with assorted pies served on a tray of crumbled chocolate cake “soil” complete with a trowel and garden glove (and two blazing sparklers in lieu of candles).Barton G Pot Pie Garden.jpg
       
After the sparklers had blazed their last, there were some lovely gifts, including a fabulously funky necklace from Aidan and Kaitlin made by a Jewish designer from Paris; a fragrant Magic Muscles massage bar from Lush given by Kaitlin’s friend Sabrina, who joined us; and two pairs of gorgeous earrings from my husband (which I must admit I had picked out myself).Necklace from Aidan and Kaitlin.jpg
       
As for Allegra’s promised gift, I learned that she had not been joking. “Extravagant” didn’t begin to cover it.
       
She had bought me a gift certificate for the spa at the ritzy Fontainebleau hotel, perhaps the oldest, grandest, and most immense hotel in all of Miami Beach. This entitled me to a choice of a facial, a manicure and pedicure, or a Swedish massage, as well as a two-course lunch and use of the hotel pool and other spa facilities for the day.
       
And according to the email announcing the gift, it had set her back a whopping $215.At Barton G with my presents.jpg
       
I would like to tell you that I was thrilled to receive it, but that is not entirely true.
       
Of course I appreciated that Allegra felt moved to go to such expense on my behalf. But I was also horrified to have her go to such expense on my behalf.
       
In fact, I was horrified that anyone would go to such expense on anyone’s behalf.
       
For in case you haven’t noticed by now, I consider myself to be frugal by nature.
       
Sure, I like to shop as much as the next woman (especially to shop for my kids). And my husband would probably say that I shop too much (especially for our kids).
       
But I don’t go in for what I deem to be unnecessary luxuries. I get my nails done once in a blue moon. I go to extraordinary lengths to track down sales and bargains on everything from clothing to restaurants and hotels. And I have only had a professional massage twice in my life – once as a gift, and again last fall when Allegra and I had massages and mani-pedis in Thailand (for which we paid a mere $15 apiece).Massage in Thailand.jpg
       
I’m not saying that I dreaded going to the spa the way that I dreaded the birthday. Certainly not. It’s just that I’m a nice Jewish mom, so I have this nagging voice inside my head that says, “I don’t need to be pampered, nor do I deserve it. Please give me the broken cookie or smooshed piece of pie. Save the perfect one for someone else.”My mother returned all of my gifts.jpg
       
Yet Allegra had gone to such trouble to find something that I would enjoy that I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. Nor did I want to seem ungrateful. And I especially did not want to be like my own mother, for whom I always had shopped ardently for birthday gifts, only to have her break my heart by instantly returning almost each and every one.
       
So I thanked her profusely and tried not to feel so distressed about how wasteful it was to spend good money on something frivolous that I clearly could have lived without.Pattie and Harlan at Orange Blossom 2.JPG
       
Meanwhile, our week in the sun whizzed by as fast as the tide could wash sand from the beach.
       
We savored wonderful, leisurely breakfasts each morning at a stylish café around the corner from our hotel called Orange Blossom.La Sandwicherie.jpg
       
We ate many a lunch at our favorite place in Florida, or perhaps on all the earth, La Sandwicherie, which has the best sandwiches anywhere, heaped with fresh veggies and served with a drizzle of their in-house secret sauce, a tangy and very French mustard vinaigrette.Pina coladas in Miami Beach.jpg
       
And I stumbled upon the best bargain on the beach, a burger joint on Washington and 14th called Deco that offered delicious frozen pina coladas, margaritas and other tropical drinks during happy hour for a mere $6.75 for two. (How’s that for being frugal?)Birthday dinner with Rick and Lynn.jpg
       
We also were treated by Rick and his lovely wife Lynn to a lavish birthday dinner, complete with assorted fine wines, elegant French food, and a key lime birthday pie.Sari Pattie and key lime pie.jpg
       
We had incredible takeout food (and yet another key lime pie!) from world-renowned Joe’s Stone Crabs while visiting our dear friends Arthur and Sari.
       
And I got to spend an unforgettable afternoon once again visiting my mother’s best friend Nada, sharing many a memory of their years together and of times gone by.My mother's best friend Nada 2015.jpg
       
But all the while, Allegra’s big splurge on the spa day loomed ahead.
       
I had decided to save it for our very last day in Miami for several reasons.With Aidand and Kaitlin at Puerta Sagua.jpg
       
I wanted to spend as much time as possible with Aidan and Kaitlin, who were leaving only a day or two before us to visit her family, who live elsewhere in Florida.
       
It gave us something to do after we checked out of our hotel on our final morning, since we weren’t flying out until 9 that night.
       
And of course I wanted to save the best for last and finish the trip with a bang.
       
That “bang” came a bit earlier than I had expected, and not in a good way.
       
After checking out at around noon, we had a quick errand to run before going to the spa. We agreed that I would drop my husband off to do it while I drove over to La Sandwicherie to buy one last sandwich to share for dinner on the plane that night.16th Street South Beach.jpg
       
Then I doubled back to retrieve him. He said that he was waiting on the corner of 16th Street and Collins. But when I arrived, he wasn’t there. I called him. He insisted he was. An argument ensued.
       
Then he realized that he’d given me the wrong cross street after all. He said he was on 16th Street and Lincoln. It took a while to go through several lights to get there. But when I finally arrived, he wasn’t there either. I called him. He explained his actual location, which was blocks away. Another argument ensued.
       
By the time I finally found him, 10 minutes lataer, he was furious and let me know it. This upset me no end.
       
I hollered back that poor Allegra had spent $215 to give me a restful, relaxing afternoon at a spa, and that this was now impossible because he had already ruined it for me. Ruined my day. We continued screaming at each other all the way to the hotel.Miami museum of contemporary art.jpg
       
His plan was to go to an art museum while I enjoyed my 50-minute Swedish massage (the option that I’d chosen over the facial and mani-pedi). And I had phoned the hotel in advance to arrange for him to be able to join me by the pool afterwards. But now I didn’t want him on the same planet, let alone anywhere near me. I just wanted to be alone.
       
Whatever.
        Fontainebleau lobby.jpgAs I made my way through the hotel’s opulent lobby hung with massive crystal chandeliers, I tried to calm down and get ready to submit to luxury, like it or not.
       
I needn’t have tried so hard. Or worried so much. After a long trek through the hotel’s lengthy corridors, I arrived at the serene and supremely elegant Lapis Spa. What was not to like?
       
When I’d called to make the appointment, the young woman who booked it had asked whether I preferred to have the massage performed by a man or a woman. Having so little experience with this, I'd asked which one she recommended, and she had replied without hesitation.
        “A man!”
        Then she had said that she was going to give me Lucas.Fontainebleau spa silent room.jpg
       
Upon arrival, I was given a soft terrycloth robe and flip-flops to put on, a private locker in which to store my belongings, and a quick tour of the lavish facilities, including a quiet waiting room in which I was able to take a quick nap on a chaise longue under a luxurious, furry white throw.I got a robe, slippers, and a nap.JPG
       
Then I was ushered into another waiting room stocked with fresh fruit, urns filled with vitamin-enriched water, healthy snacks, and herbal tea.
       
Lucas turned out to be a gorgeous, muscular young man with soap opera good looks and an alluring European accent. He escorted me into a compact, dimly lit room outfitted with a narrow cot and then left briefly so I could disrobe and slip under the sheets.Lucas at the Fontainebleau spa.jpg
         I have always been extremely ticklish, and when he first touched my bare neck and shoulders with chilly hands I tensed up and giggled awkwardly.
         "Sorry, I'm a little nervous," I apologized.
        "Are you nervous because I am a man?" he countered.Fontainebleau massage room.jpg
        This only made me giggle more.
        "Wait -- you're a man!?!" I wanted to reply. But I restrained myself and assured him I was fine.
       
Then, while ethereal music played softly, he proceeded to firmly rub and knead the skin and muscles of my toes, feet, legs, hands, and back, and almost every other inch of my body.
       
I sighed. I swooned. I melted into a pool of human Jell-o. Every cell of sorrow I felt dissolved. Any failure or frustration I had ever endured evaporated into the stratosphere.
       
Not to be trite – and no offense to my husband, wherever the heck he was – but this wasn't just dying and going to heaven. It was better than sex. 
       
The only disappointing aspect of the entire experience was that it eventually came to an end too soon. (Then again, any time that it came to an end would’ve been too soon!)Fontainebleau hot tub.jpg
       
No matter. I was now entitled to Fontainebleau spa iced cucumbers.jpgdrown any new sorrows I felt by exploring the rest of the exquisite facilities, including the Lapis Ritual Water Journeys – a circuit of mineral-enriched water therapies from mist to rain and steam.
       
I basked in the gigantic hot tub while applying iced cucumber slices to my eyelids.
       
I floated in a palm-tree-lined mineral water pool rimmed with gentle aqua jets.Feeling cool as a cucumber.jpg
       
Then I repaired to a novel “rain room,” in which warm torrents of heated raindrops cascaded down on my skin.Fontainebleau spa iindoor pool.jpg
       
By the time I was done, I was ready and even eager to rejoin my husband by the hotel’s immense outdoor pool, where I found him relaxing contentedly under a cabana.Cabana man.jpg



       
Then I took a leisurely swim, marking languorous laps through the gentle water, which was heated to the perfect temperature (just shy of bath water, yet still refreshing). Although I’d been in Miami for over a week, this was the first time that I’d actually relaxed and completely let go.I finally took the plunge.jpg
        
The two-course late "lunch" I was then served in Vida, one of many restaurants on the premises, was more than ample enough to be a sumptuous dinner for two (and even too much for us to finish).Fontainebleau salad.jpg
       
By the time we left for the airport, I was completely sated, incomparably rested, and feeling so upbeat and rejuvenated that I could have sworn I was several years younger.
       
OK, 60 might not be the new 40, but it was turning out to be the new 52 or so.
       
I had thought my daughter’s gift was a crazy extravagance. Turns out I had been wrong.The new 60?.jpg
       
It was, rather, a sane extravagance. I’d found it to be such a complete and unprecedented pleasure that I realized that sometimes excess is anything but wretched. And maybe sometimes I did deserve the perfect piece of pie… or 50 minutes with a hot young guy.
       
Why, it had been so nice that I almost found myself looking forward to the next milestone birthday, if only so that I might deserve a day at the spa all over again.
       
Then again, I still have another celebration in store when Allegra finally returns. Maybe this was one rare moment of self-indulgence that deserved a replay.
        Sure, it was pricey, but it was worth it, and so, perhaps, am I. And at the rate that I’m going in reverse, I could end up back at 40, after all.
6:15 pm 

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Word From the Weiss
In with the nu?.jpg
        Out with the old, as they say around this time of year. In with the… nu?
       
OK,
I aim to be as optimistic as anyone when making New Year’s resolutions, but I’m not delusional. A good friend recently declared “No more guilt – especially at our age!” I readily agreed and even sealed it with a toast. But let’s get real. That’s not in the same category as the usual vows to eat less and exercise more. I mean, all that self-improvement mumbo-jumbo is admirable, however improbable. But banning guilt? For a Jew?
        Not within the realm.life is too short to sweat the small stuff.jpg
       
Instead, I’ve decided to stick with another goal that might help lighten my psychic load (if not the one I measure on my bathroom scale each morning): Don’t sweat the small stuff. That may sound trite, but for me, “Let it go…” is a brand new mantra. I mean, if there were a company called Worry Inc., I’d be its undisputed CEO.The bathroom scale I step on each morning.jpg
       
But we all have days, like I did last week, when all the small stuff starts to go wrong. And you begin to worry that this is just a harbinger of bigger bad stuff to come. And nobody actually says, “Don’t sweat the big stuff.”
       
Do they?
       
Seriously. You might as well tell a nice Jewish mom to hold the guilt.
       
My small stuff issues actually began in mid-December, when my husband and I learned that our insurance deductible was going up again next year. And when I say “up,” I really mean UP. Up to $10,000, that is. Which really got me down.
       
It also got me to schedule every medical procedure known to man, or at least every one for which I was due, and pronto. Because we already had met last year’s deductible, so if I had all of those procedures done by December 31st, they would be free.Doctor with stethoscope.jpg
        That meant
instead of sitting around getting a jump start on my New Year’s resolutions (and/or delusions), I found myself submitting to a colonoscopy, two ultrasounds, and blood work.
       
As nasty as the pre-gaming segment of a colonoscopy may be, let me assure you, if you’ve never had one yourself, that the actual procedure is quick and utterly painless. (Try it. You may not like it, but it’s not that bad!)
       
The bad thing for me, for many reasons, is my annual mammogram.
        T
hat procedure, although admittedly uncomfortable, is not really so bad either. The bad part for me is the dread about the results.
       
I’m in what they call a high risk category, you see. It’s not just that I’m an Ashkenazi Jew, meaning that I have a higher probability of developing breast cancer than the general population.Aunt Gloria and my mom Bunnie.jpg
       
My mother and her only sister both died of breast cancer.
       
What is most disturbing to me is that the disease was first detected in each of them at around age 60 (although my mother continued to live – in staunch denial – until she was 81).
       
Never mind that I underwent genetic testing after my mother died and learned, to my infinite relief, that I don’t carry either the dreaded BRCA 1 or 2 genes. I have continued to get my yearly exam right at the end of the year. And every year, as I’ve grown closer to age 60, I have suffered increased trepidation about what it might show.
       
That reached a pretty decisive and dramatic climax last week, because – as much as I hate to mention it or admit it – I am about to turn 60 next week.About to turn the dreaded 6-0.jpg
       
Something else I generally hesitate to mention is the, er, shape of my anatomy. To put it delicately, I was a bit of a late bloomer. But ever since I hit puberty, part of me has managed to arrive wherever I go a good minute before the rest.Pattie in gold sequined tunic.jpg
       
This may sound like a good or even enviable thing, but in many ways it’s really not. It’s not when you are trying to find clothes that actually fit. It’s not when you’re doing vigorous exercise (something that I vow to do more of in the coming year – really, I do!).
       
And it’s not when you are having tests to check if you have cancer in your breasts.
       
Regardless of their size, mine are what are classified as “dense” breasts, which makes it harder for possible abnormalities to be detected by a mere mammogram. So my gynecologist recommends that each year I have an ultrasound as well.
       
Some women elect to space these procedures out by having them six months apart. Given the level of anxiety they cause me, as the CEO of Worry, Inc., I prefer to get them over with in one fell swoop. That swoop this year was scheduled for the day before New Year’s Eve.
       
To combat my burgeoning anxiety, I planned to get a good night’s sleep the night before. But face it. You can’t will yourself to get a good night’s sleep any more than you can will yourself to lose weight or fall in love. The harder I tried, the worse it went.
       
I tossed.
       
I turned.
       
I watched the red LCD numbers on the clock through the (nearly sleepless) night.I tossed. I turned. I watched the clock.jpg
       
And I awoke feeling not just far from rested, but nowhere near the top of my game.
       
Rather, from the moment I got up, everything seemed to be going wrong.
       
Long before I had scheduled the mammogram for early that afternoon, I had made a hair appointment for that morning so that I would look my best on New Year’s Eve. (So even if I got bad news at the procedure, I would at least still look good. Huh?)Christmas present I wrapped.jpg
       
Given that it was the holidays, I had wrapped small gifts the night before to give to Luis, my stylist, and the receptionist at the salon along with their holiday tips.
       
But after a mostly restless night I woke up late with a terrible headache and found it hard to get out of bed. So of course I arrived for my hair appointment 10 minutes late.
       
And of course while running into the salon from my car, I dropped all of the gifts, and the bows and candy canes that I had carefully taped onto the packages fell off.Luis at United Artists.JPG
       
This is embarrassing to admit, but along with no longer being the natural redhead I once was, I am allergic to hair dye. So before Luis “touches up” my color every five weeks, I have to pop a Benedryl. I walked into the salon carrying that little pink pill along with all of the packages, but while putting them all back together I misplaced it.
       
So after arriving 10 minutes late, I had to spend another five minutes finding it.earring in newspaper.jpg
       
After he was done with my hair, I went to put on the earrings I had removed before he’d started and discovered that one was missing. I took everything out of my purse TWICE before finally finding it wrapped up in the newspaper that I had been reading.
       
Then I looked for my checkbook because the salon doesn’t take credit cards, and I couldn’t find that either. So I took everything out of my purse all over again – TWICE! – and finally discovered that it had fallen beneath the chair when I had taken everything out the first time (or maybe the second, third or fourth time – who the heck KNOWS?).
       
On the way home, I stopped at the gas station near the salon and filled up. Then I looked at my watch and realized that I had just enough time to drive home and walk the dog before going to my mammogram. But the gas station I was at has really good coffee -- freshly brewed coffee for ONLY A DOLLAR -- and it was a cold day, and I really wanted a nice hot cup.I really wanted a cup of coffee.jpg
       
Normally, I’m scrupulous about moving the car to the side of the station before going inside. But I was just pressed enough for time that I decided to leave it for once. So I locked the door with my purse still inside and had this sudden sinking feeling.My keys were locked inside the car.jpg
       
Then I saw that my keys were sitting on the front seat, and my heart really sank.
       
My appointment was in less than an hour and miles away. What the heck was I going to do now?
       
My first impulse was to call AAA (the Automobile Association of America, to which we belong, not Alcoholics Anonymous; I hadn’t been drinking, I can just be absent-minded when I’m overtired or overwhelmed, and in this case I was both).  
       
The problem was that I was really pressed for time, and they can take awhile to get there. Also, a car can be damaged in the process of trying to open it without the keys. Wouldn’t it make more sense to get home somehow and retrieve a spare set?
       
So I went right to plan B, which was to call my husband. This being a weekday, he was presumably at work, a good 25 minutes away. But perhaps he could help anyway.My husband is a newspaper reporter.jpg
       
With luck – my first and possibly only stroke of it that day – my husband, who is a newspaper reporter, said that he had just left a meeting that he had covered and was on his way home to write the story about it there instead of doing it at his office.
       
He readily agreed to go there, locate my spare keys, and come to rescue me.
        That might sound like my problem was solved, but I was far from convinced. For one thing, he often gets caught in heavy traffic on the way home. For another, finding stuff is, well, not exactly his forte. He is more adept at the losing part of the equation, and I had little confidence that he would be able to find my spare keys.
       
So while I was waiting, I phoned my cousin, who lives near the gas station. Unfortunately, she was also about 25 minutes away. She offered to come get me, but there was no way she would arrive before he did.
       
So I waited… and waited… and drank my coffee… and then I waited some more.He brought all the spare keys.jpg
       
And suddenly my husband pulled up dangling a whole handful of car keys.
       
The first three sets I tried didn’t do a thing. But when I pressed the clicker on the fourth set, my lights flashed and the door popped open. I was saved in the nick of time.
       
In fact, I arrived for my appointment 10 minutes early. Could my luck be changing?
       
I didn’t even dare hope.mammogram image.jpg
       
I don’t believe that everyone is given their mammogram results right on the spot. In fact, I seriously doubt it. But I am not everyone. I think they take one look at my medical history and choose to have mercy on me. Or maybe I’ve been going there for enough years that it is well known I’m a basket case. At least when it comes to mammograms.
       
Once again, the procedure was a little uncomfortable, but not unbearably painful. The painful part came after I was ushered back to the cubicle in which I had removed my clothes and was told I would have to wait for my results until a radiologist read them.People magazine with Brooke Shields story.jpgMammogram office waiting room.JPG
       
Anticipating this, I’d pinched an outdated copy of People magazine from the waiting room. I did my best to distract myself reading about Brooke Shields – her men, her mom, and her crazy life.
        Of course, I was all ears (or at least eyes) about the former Pretty Baby's "shocking new memoir." At least under normal circumstances I would have been.
       
But under these circumstances all I could think about was my own crazy life and how much longer it might continue.The waiting is the hardest part of mammograms.jpg
       
After quite awhile, the technician who had done my procedure came back in and told me that the radiologist on duty had just begun performing a biopsy on another patient, so it might be quite a while longer before I heard anything, but I was still welcome to wait.
       
I told her I would wait for as long as it took and even longer if necessary.
       
Then I tried to distract myself reading about the Dallas nurse who had survived Ebola. But of course all I could really think about was whether I would survive... whatever I might have.Dallas nurse Amber Vinson survived Ebola.jpg
       
Finally, after about 20 minutes, the technician returned and told me in a hushed voice and with what looked to me like an ashen face that she needed to do some further testing because there was an “area” that the radiologist really needed to see better.
      
She also told me apologetically that there would be no more pussyfooting around with the apparatus. The doctor had ordered her to bear down as tightly as possible in order for him to get a better look at this dubious "area."
       
“I’m going to have to squeeze you in there as much as you can stand it,” she said.
       
But what she actually did was squeeze me even more than I could stand it. Imagine pie crust being rolled out as thin as a pancake. Only this time the pancake was me.
       
She squeezed. I screamed. Then I held my breath until she had gotten the picture.Kate Middleton and her royal baby bump.jpg
       
After that, I went back into the little cubicle down the hall and read about Princess Kate Middleton showing off her royal baby bump. But all I could think about was how much more time I would get to spend with my babies if they found a not-so-royal lump.
       
Then after what seemed like another eternity, the technician returned and peered at me through the curtain. Her voice was still hushed. But her face was no longer ashen.
       
“You’re fine,” she said. “All clear!”
       
Just like that.
       
This might have been cause for celebration. Or at least cause for me to give a deep sigh of relief. But I’d already scheduled the ultrasound to be performed right after.
       
So as promising as this seemed, all it really meant was that I’d get to do it all over again.
       
Sure, there was a moment when I regretted that one fell swoop business. I could’ve used another six months to recover from the stress I already had endured. But I was already there and dressed in a cotton gown open in the front. Why not get it over with?ultrasound of a breast.jpg
       
Soon a different technician appeared to usher me into another exam room. I had to lie down this time and raise first one arm above my head and then the other. I tried to stay calm as she squirted a thick goop all over my chest. At least the goop was warm.ultrasound of someone's breast.jpg
       
Perhaps the other woman had told her about the delay that I had endured already. Or maybe the radiologist was no longer otherwise engaged. But this time there was only minimal waiting while she scooted down the hall before returning with my films.
      
And a broad smile.
      
This was a more sensitive test than the mammogram. And it, too, was all clear.
       I was halfway to the elevator before I realized that I was still clutching that People magazine to my chest. And although I barely had digested a word of it, I went back and returned it to the waiting room. I had my own people and life to worry about.
       A life that would continue for at least a little bit longer.
       All clear for a happy new year.JPGAs I drove out of the garage, I realized that I’d misplaced the parking ticket I’d had stamped, and I had to empty my purse – YET AGAIN! Then a pushy lady in another car barged in front of me seconds before my allotted time was up and I would have to pay.
        No matter. I was clear. All clear!
       It would be a happy new year indeed.
       Besides, although I might still be racked with guilt, I was no longer sweating the small stuff. And even if I might still sweat the big stuff, there was none of it to sweat – yet.
        I was clear. All clear! At least for another year.
11:59 pm 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Word From the Weiss

        Happy New Year and, yes, happy Jew Year from NiceJewishMom.com!New Year's Eve 2014 from Pattie and Harlan.jpg
       
Every year at around this time, they (whomever “they” may be) come up with the word of the year. You know. The one that everyone used. Or maybe even overused.
       
Like “like.”
       
In 2013, the year before last, that word was “selfie,” something that we all did, said, and certainly saw way too much… yet continued to do, see, and say even more in 2014.
       
The new word, according to the folks at Chambers Dictionary, whatever that is: “overshare.”
       
Wait. That’s a word? Who knew? Certainly not me. I’m a blogger. I share, therefore I am. Do I share too much? Really? I only wish I had more to share. And if I did, I would.
       
Isn’t the point of social media to share? Share and share alike and also, like, “like?”I share therefore I am.jpg
       
Whatever (also an overused word, if I ever heard or used one).
       
In the interests of not “oversharing,” for once, I will not treat you to – or bore you with – any juicy or possibly Jewy details of my very lovely New Year’s Eve... including what we ate or what we drank (for to tell you how much we over-imbibed would truly be oversharing).New Year's Eve 2014 toast.jpg
       
Suffice it to say that it was a pleasure and an honor as always to ring in the new with old friends.
       
But seriously.
        Has another year really come and gone?
        Where the heck was I?
       
Don’t answer that. Rhetorical question. I've been here, and I’ve been there. In fact, this year has been a far far farther-away thing, geographically, than any year I’ve ever known before. I went to Asia and back and lived to tell about it… and then write about it.Baby monkey in Bangkok with Harlan and Pattie.JPG
       
Here.
       
Come to think of it, I never did finish writing about it here. Maybe I will next week. For now, I just want to let this year go out with a bang. And also an unusually short blog. No whimpering (or whining) from me.
       
After all, all things considered, it's been a pretty good one. Yes, there has been some serious chaos in the world at large, and some profound losses closer to home.Uncle Gerard and me.JPG
       
But when I sat down to make my annual holiday photo montage this week, I pored over all the pix I had taken in the past 12 months and was stunned to see how many there were. And how many of them showed good times spent with my kids.
       
There’s nothing better than that. Aidan, Kaitlin, Allegra and Pattie after Purim 2014.jpg
       
It was overwhelming to choose from among the many wonderful things we’d done.
       
It was also gratifying to realize that this was perhaps the most productive year ever – for my kids, anyway. As you will see on the holiday card pictured below.Allegra and Aidan at Black-Eyed Sally's.jpg
        Among the highlights (although it is not shown on the holiday card), was the recent night that Allegra sang songs from her new CD while Aidan played along on his bari saxophone. Two doses of naches for the price of one! I tried to keep my maternal pride and picture-snapping down to a dull roar. (Never mind the ecstasy on her face. Believe me, the pleasure was mostly mine.)Nice Jewish Mom Spiel of approval.jpg
        Speaking of pleasure, I can once again say without reservation that it would not have been nearly as good a year for me without all of you, my readers. There are more of you than ever now (over 2,300 just last month). You help give me a sense of purpose. You give me another reason to live, if only so I can then write about it here.
        I blog – and share (OK, so maybe I even overshare) – therefore I am.
        When I began filling this space, over four years ago, I feared that there might come a dry week now and then, when I would have nothing much to say for myself. But once again, it turned out that I needn't have worried. Whether they’re reasons to kvetch or better yet kvell, when you're a nice Jewish mom, as Gilda woulda said, there's always something.New Year's Eve 2014 Latke and friends.jpg
        I hope that the coming months will bring more of the former than the latter for you. As it says on the card below, I'm all ready for better days ahead and to start with a clean slate. Aren't you?
        Until then, let me wish you a happy and a healthy from my nice Jewish dog Latke, me, and NiceJewishMom.com!
Happy New Year 2014.jpg
10:03 pm 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

Pattie dressed for Festivus.JPG        No, I assure you, this is not a case of Festivus for the Rest of Us. It’s just that after eight straight nights of latkes, I was invited to a friend’s house for Christmas Eve dinner, and I was doing my best to get into the spirit of the holiday. And yes, wearing red and green with a gold Star of David was the best I could do to get into the spirit of the holiday.
       
I also am doing my level best to be prepared to move on to yet another year. But let’s face it – I’m not ready for 2014 to end any more than I’m ready for 2015 to begin. I mean, how can I be set for New Year’s Eve when I still haven't managed to finish my account of Thanksgiving?
       
I left off my saga about that all-American celebration on the night of Allegra’s first CD release party. She had breezed in from Hong Kong along with her witty boyfriend JP to launch her CD in NYC. But after surviving these festivities-slash-ordeal, I passed out past 2 a.m. on the eve of Thanksgiving, moments after it dawned on me that I still had to cook a turkey and all the trimmings, then help host another CD release back home.The worst travel day of the year.jpg
       
Everyone knows that the day before Thanksgiving is the second worst travel day of the year (surpassed only by the Sunday after Thanksgiving). A dire forecast for snow and sleet only enhanced our resolve to get an early start back to Connecticut. But after the hectic days we had just endured, that just wasn’t gonna happen.
       
By the time we had emptied our hotel rooms and made our exit, it was already noon. Since we had been obliged to pick up Allegra and JP almost simultaneously at two different airports, my husband and I had driven two cars into the city – a fortuitous thing, since we now needed to transport our son Aidan and his girlfriend Kaitlin home from Harlem too, and there was no way all six of us and our luggage would fit into a single car.bellhop carrying bags.jpg
       
The fact was that Allegra had schlepped so many gifts and other hazzerei from Hong Kong that we could barely fit all of her luggage into my car. So after a nice bellhop named Sal had crammed in as much as he possibly could, he assured us that he'd put the rest into my husband’s car. This seemed like a foolproof plan, since my husband took over my spot in the loading area out front the second I drove off.
       
Well, maybe "foolproof" was a bit optimistic. Because even though we are evidently fools, we managed to flub it.
       
About an hour after I’d left the city, my husband wrote to say that, thanks to holiday gridlock, he had just reached Aidan’s place in Harlem, only to realize that one of his bags was missing. Upon further inspection, he realized that both of his bags and JP’s suitcase were missing too.
       
It turned out that when he had pulled up to the hotel right after us, Sal had mysteriously disappeared. And after glancing around the lobby, my husband had taken someone else’s bags erroneously, assuming they were ours.
       
It took him another hour to return to the hotel, retrieve the right bags, relinquish the wrong ones, and head for home in even heavier holiday traffic, not to mention snow and descending darkness. Boy, did I feel guilty!We had to settle for mediocre Chinese takeout.jpg
       
Our plan had been to take everyone out to dinner that night so that I wouldn’t have to quickly cook and clean for the crowd on top of starting to make Thanksgiving dinner. But by the time the second car at long last arrived, everyone was too beat to move.
       
The best I could do was to subject JP to a terrible first impression of our country and the state by sending out for horrifically mediocre, lukewarm takeout Chinese food.I baked two pumpkin pies from scratch.jpg
       
The next day, I must say, remains little more than a blur. I woke up having not prepared a single thing, and somehow managed to bake two pumpkin pies from scratch, then prepare copious hors d’oeuvres, a turkey, homemade stuffing, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, green beans, and gravy, and get it all on the table by 6 p.m.
       
Then our good friends Pat and Michael stopped in to see Allegra and meet JP. After that, everyone was in such a food stupor that I cleaned up almost single-handedly.
       
The next day, even more friends stopped by to see Allegra and yes, meet JP.A very Levy Thanksgiving 2014.JPG
       
That day was also what they call Black Friday, which I believe has something to do with doors, or busters, or getting a leg up on the next holiday. (It is not a turkey leg, I think.) Personally, I prefer to take my holidays one at a time. (Remember the travesty that was Thanksgivukkah last year? Need I say more?!?) But Allegra, excited to be back on capitalist U.S. soil, prevailed upon me to take Kaitlin and her to the mall.Alex came along for the ride.jpg
       
As it happened, we had another guest for the occasion. Alex, the very sweet son of my friend Lisa, my BFF since childhood, had joined us from Boston, where he is in grad school. He had a Megabus ticket home for early that evening, and I could not imagine abandoning him for the rest of the afternoon. So I invited him to come along for the ride.Dumb and Dumber -- There's a chance!.jpg
       
I had been shopping with these girls before, and I knew in my heart of hearts that the chances of my getting them out of the mall in time to make Alex’s bus were slim to none. But I told myself it was still within the realm of possibility, if only along the lines of that scene in the movie Dumb and Dumber, when a beautiful actress tells Jim Carrey’s character Lloyd Christmas that the chances of her dating him are one in a million, to which he responds elatedly, “So you're saying there’s a chance!”
       
And there might have been had it not been for the ensuing Black Friday Bonanza.There was no express line out of Express.jpg
       
The girls’ favorite store, Express, was extremely well stocked for the holiday sale. So they stepped into the dressing room and did not emerge until each of them had tried on all 5,000 or so garments they had brought in with them, all of which, unfortunately, fit.
        There was no express line at Express, of course, particularly on Black Friday.There was no Megabus in sight.jpg
       
By the time we had checked out and driven many miles at breakneck speed to the Megabus stop, there was a mega disaster -- no bus in sight. Had it never come? Had it already left? Either way, there was not another one scheduled until Sunday. I had no choice but to bring poor Alex back home. Then I took everyone out to dinner (since they’d already demolished the leftover turkey for lunch). Then I drove Alex all the way back to the real bus station in plenty of time to put him on a Greyhound.Allegra's Black-Eyed Sally's CD release poster.jpg
       
The next day, it was already time for Allegra to prepare for her show that night. For the New York show, we had expected dozens of people, but this one, being on a Saturday night and so close to home, would draw at least twice as many.Allegra in The Hartford Courant CAL section.jpg
       
At least this time she would not be obliged to perform live with musicians she had never even met. For the hometown show, she had engaged a group of players she knew well. Some she had performed with for years. One, she had known her whole life.Aidan plays the bari saxophone.JPG
       
When she had initially asked her brother if he would like to perform with her, Aidan, who plays the baritone sax, had staunchly declined. It wasn’t just that he was busy with both grad school and a looming deadline for the book he is writing. He said that it should be her night and hers alone.
       
She had continued to plead with him nonetheless. But it was not until he’d arrived home from the city with his sax case in tow that we knew he had finally succumbed.
       
The rest of the band arrived mid-afternoon to begin to rehearse in our living room. Seeing all those guys march in, I knew that I had better rustle up some grub. I also figured that Allegra might invite multitudes back to the house after the show. So along with all sorts of drinks, snacks and a pizza, I picked up a sheet cake at the market on which I had the bakery department write the name of her CD.
       
After all, it was kind of its birthday, wasn’t it?
       
By the time I’d gotten home, Allegra had changed into a seriously slinky red dress. It was almost showtime!Black-EyedcSally's.jpg
       
Black-Eyed Sally’s in Hartford, CT, tends to be a raucous scene on almost any night. But this was not almost any night. I had booked a table for 16 just to seat our own family and many of our closest friends. But stories about Allegra had run that week in all of the local papers, and her dad and I had managed to plaster posters all over town.
       
So there wasn’t just not a spare seat in the house. It was truly standing room only.Allegra and the band at Black-Eyed Sally's.jpg
       
Gazing out at the crowd after she’d sung her opening number, Allegra joked that it reminded her of her bat mitzvah. It reminded me a lot of that, too. With so many people I knew there, I felt obliged to circulate from table to table and welcome every one of them.Allegra and Aidan at Black-Eyed Sally's.jpg
       
This was made all the more exhausting by the fact that I mysteriously had come down with a severe case of food poisoning the night before and could barely stand up. But that didn’t stop me from making the rounds repeatedly… nor from kvelling wildly to see both of my kids perform.
       
It also didn’t prevent me from dragging poor JP around the room with me. Allegra may have been the star attraction, but everyone wanted to meet him too, and I began to think his initials stood for Jovial and Patient. He may not have remembered the names of all 100 or so people to whom he was introduced, but he was relentlessly charming and an awfully good sport.Allegra and JP on Thanksgiving.jpg
       
With luck, Allegra only invited a small crowd back home for cake afterwards. Because the next morning we had to get up, pack up, and go back to the city again.
       
I am not going to bore you with every detail of the rest of our excursion. Suffice it to say that JP is no longer a stranger to NYC. He has seen it all.Aubrey Allegra and JP.JPG
       
And seen it all in too short a time. After being away for almost five months, Allegra wanted to catch up with everyone she had ever met. And they all wanted to meet JP, who (whether he wanted to meet half of New York or not) was still being a good sport.
       
The only quiet and truly tranquil moment I can remember is when the two of them let us join them late one morning on a scenic stroll through Central Park.Allegra and JP in Central Park closeup.JPG
       
The rest was just a whirlwind of eating, sightseeing and seeing people round the clock, which reached epic proportions on their last day thanks to a grave miscalculation.Mystral.jpg
       
Before Allegra had arrived home, she had mentioned that her good friend Mystral wanted to go on a double date with her and JP to a Broadway show. But with the two CD release shows and Thanksgiving factored in, the only night that they were available to go was Allegra’s last night in New York.
      
The show they wanted to see was Cabaret, starring actress Emma Stone.Emma Stone in Cabaret.jpg
       
“Wouldn’t you rather see something a bit more upbeat on your last night home?” I asked. “Something without Nazis, perhaps?”
        Cabaret was the least cheery show I could think of.
        Why, even among shows about Nazis, it was the least cheery show I could think of.Cabaret marquee at Studio 54.JPG
       
Never mind that the tickets were also enormously expensive. They went out and bought them anyway. And since it was Allegra’s last night home, I went online and bought four more tickets on Theatermania so that Aidan, Kaitlin, and my husband and I could go along too.
       
It was only after this that it occurred to me that Allegra had made a major gaffe.
       
She had told me she and JP were flying out on Wednesday night December 3 at 12:50 a.m. But I suddenly realized that December 3 at 12:50 a.m. was Tuesday night. They weren’t leaving for Hong Kong the next day. They were leaving right after the show.
       
In fact, the show ended at 9:30 p.m. and they were supposed to be at JFK 20 minutes later. Never mind that we’d have to get the car and JFK is about an hour away.
       
But we already had eight pricey tickets, so somehow we'd have to make it work.
       
It didn’t help that Allegra tried to fit a lifetime of activity into that very last day.Matisse cutouts at MoMA.jpg
       
She and JP met a friend for breakfast. Then they met a friend for coffee. Then they met another friend for lunch. Then they went to the holiday market at Columbus Circle. Then we met up with them and went to the Apple Store to try to buy her a new phone.
       
Then we went to the Museum of Modern Art and saw the amazing Matisse exhibit.
        Dinner at Da Tomasso with Mystral.jpg
Then we met up with Aidan, Kaitlin, and Mystral for our very last supper out together at a lovely Italian restaurant near the theater called Da Tomasso, where we surprised Allegra and JP by singing happy birthday to them both two weeks in advance.
       
Then, suddenly, it was showtime all over again.
       
I must confess that Allegra was right – Emma Stone really shone in the part of Sally Bowles. And although her singing may not be anything to write home about, or even to write a blog about, that only enhanced her credibility in the part of a pathetic, aspiring chanteuse.Alan Cumming kills in Cabaret.jpg
       
Alan Cumming, meanwhile, was no less than astonishing in the Joel Grey role.
       
And still… it was indeed about the least cheery show ever, with or without Nazis.
        No matter. S
uddenly the lights went up, and we were among the least cheery people ever.
       
Racing to the car, which was parked in the garage next door, Allegra became distraught upon discovering that she had left my scarf and hat, which she had borrowed, back in the theater. She became even more frantic to realize that Aidan and Kaitlin were still inside as well and she hadn’t gotten to say goodbye.
       
So after we got the car, I pulled around the corner and let her jump out and bid the kids a hurried farewell. (There was no time to search for the lost items.) Then she got back into the car and really became hysterical.
       
Is it any wonder that I began to wail too?A heavy rain battered my windshield.jpg
        To top it all off, a
torrential rain had begun to fall. I don’t know which was harder to see through, the veil of tears on my face or the canvas of raindrops on my fogged-up windshield.
       
All I know is that I was behind the wheel the whole way there, navigating through heavy precipitation and fog and even heavier holiday traffic all the way to the airport.
       
I was terrified that they wouldn’t make their plane.
        I also was terrified that they would.Allegra and JP leaving from JFK.jpg
       
When we reached their terminal, I bounded out of the car to hug them both goodbye. Late as they were, it was hard to let go. To say that Allegra and I both lost it would be the understatement of the year.
       
Then, although we had managed to deposit them two hours in advance, we stayed parked outside until nearly midnight awaiting confirmation that they would get onto their flight.
       
To my great relief, as well as grief, they would. And did.
       
Then I crashed.
       
No, not the car. In spirit. After 10 days of being on the go nonstop, it was hard to get out of bed.
       
I was tired. So tired. Thanksgiving and two bat mitzvahs in a row will do that to you.Pattieforlorn.jpg
       
But mostly, I was very sad. Getting used to having my daughter back? That had been a breeze. But having her gone in a flash all over again was somehow even harder than her leaving had been the first time around. Because when she had left last June, it had been for only three months. That, at least, had been the plan.
       
Now there was no real plan. And nearly a month later, there still isn’t.
       
I don’t know when she will be back here.
        I don’t know when I might go back there.
       
But whenever I feel a twinge of despair, I remember that last night at JFK and the words that she whispered in my ear.The Terminator.jpgAllegra and me after Black-Eyed Sally's gig3.JPG
       
When Arnold Schwarzenegger said them in The Terminator series, it was a threat.
       
When my daughter whispered them to me, it was a promise. A promise that she is sure to keep.
       
“I’ll be back.”
       
I don’t know when. I don’t know how. But I know she will.
        And knowing that time will bring her back, I guess I'm really ready to move on.Allegra at Black-Eyed Sally's closeup.JPG

To hear Allegra sing her song "I Don't Want to Be in Love" at Black-Eyed Sally's, click on this YouTube link: http://youtu.be/J_HGtZ0SO7Q

To hear her sing her song "The Duet" there, click here: http://youtu.be/RkjQS65MJe8

1:00 am 

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Word From the Weiss
Poor Latke has never had a latke.jpg

        Happy Hanukkah from all of us at NiceJewishMom.com, including Latke, who has finally learned to chime in during the blessing over the candles each night, but remains a bit baffled to hear her name bandied about much more than usual at this time of year.
       
I assume you’re as busy as I am and won’t mind if I keep it short and sweet this week. For here in the land of the Levys, there’s much to do… and much to celebrate.
       
First of all, I must give a big shout-out and hearty congratulations to my son Aidan. We all know about the valiant Maccabees and the oil that burned for eight days and nights. But poor Aidan has been burning the candle at both ends now for eight whole months of days and nights! That’s because he got a book contract last spring, and soon after that he was accepted to grad school. Which of these golden opportunities would he choose to accept? If you knew Aidan like I know Aidan, then you’d know the answer.
       
Both, of course.Aidan just finished writing his book.jpg
       
He started his Ph. D in English at Columbia in September, but kept plugging away on the book and turned in a 450-page manuscript this past Tuesday night, just in time to make his deadline and light the Hanukkah lights. Talk about modern miracles! (Excuse me if I can’t keep my kvelling down to a dull roar. But I’m not just a nice Jewish mom – I’m a very proud one!)
       
Not to be outdone, his sister Allegra had yet a third release party for her new CD this past Wednesday night. But to my infinite frustration, I could only be there in spirit this time, and had to settle for ogling the few photos posted afterwards on Facebook. This one, after all, was held a bit far away – at a club called Orange Peel in Hong Kong!Allegra's Hong Kong CD release show.JPG
       
As if this weren’t enough cause to celebrate, Allegra turned 25 the very next day. By odd coincidence (or beshert?), that happened to be her boyfriend JP’s birthday too.
       
To my added frustration, the care package bearing both Chanukah and birthday gifts that I’d mailed them from the States failed to arrive on time. But having limited faith in the U.S. postal service, and even less in its Chinese cohort, I had a back-up plan.Allegra and JP at her Hong Kong CD release show.JPG
       
It was tough enough that I wouldn’t get to see my girl (er, young woman) on her big day this year. Never mind that we already had given her a special, high-tech birthday gift while she was home for Thanksgiving, and had even done some birthday pre-gaming by lighting a candle atop a slice of cake in advance. A birthday like this one was too much of a milestone to let pass without some kind of substantial acknowledgment.Flowers I sent to Allegra in Hong Kong.jpg
       
So I sprang for sending her flowers on the actual day, all the way to Hong Kong. For good measure, and added festivity, I threw in a bottle of champagne. (Well, “sparkling wine,” anyway. I did not spring for the actual Moet & Chandon.) I’d prefer that my husband not know what this splurge cost, so I’m not about to tell you either. Suffice it to say that when I realized she might not receive these items if she wasn’t home when they arrived, I began to bite not just my fingernails, but toenails as well.
       
Meanwhile, without the Hanukkah supplies I’d sent from home, Allegra ventured forth the day that the holiday began in search of latkes, candles, and a menorah.Ohel Leah Synagogue.jpg
       
She went to Ohel Leah, the synagogue that is the epicenter of Hong Kong Jewish life. When we’d gone there with her in September to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, an Israeli-sounding man out front had demanded to see our passports and interrogated us aggressively before finally believing that we were actually there for the right reasons.
       
Now, without we alter cockers in tow, poor Allegra was truly given the third degree. (Mysteriously, she noted, this fellow displayed no such suspicion about JP, who does not exactly look Jewish.) This time, the cross examination was so rigorous that she found herself delineating the details of her Jewish upbringing – five years attending a Solomon Schechter Day School, followed by a bat mitzvah and Confirmation class. Then she volunteered to recite any prayer that her interrogator might request in Hebrew.
       
At last she was allowed in, only to discover that the Judaica shop inside was closed.The mother urged her young son to
       
When she began to inquire about when the store might open again, a young mother retrieving her children from religious school overheard and began haranguing the little boy she had in tow. The youngster had evidently just finished fashioning a hand-made menorah in class, and the mother urged him earnestly to retrieve it from his backpack.The boy had made a menorah in class.jpg
        She wanted him to give his freshly painted creation to Allegra.
       
But the child, who was all of about 5, was reluctant to comply. “No!’ he retorted flatly.
       
“C’mon,” the mom persisted sweetly, urging him to “do a mitzvah” again and again.
       
As touching as the woman’s magnanimity might be, Allegra was mostly mortified.
       
“I would’ve been embarrassed to take a kid’s handmade work!” she later stated on Facebook. Accepting the boy’s menorah would’ve been like taking candy from a baby.
       
This awkward exchange gave her a sudden flash of inspiration, though. After all, if there's one thing Allegra has learned from all her years singing jazz, it is how to improvise.
       
With luck, she managed to find Chanukah candles at a market. She also bought some paper cups. Then she went home, covered eight of the cups with aluminum foil, poked a candle through the bottom of each, and viola! Instant homemade menorah.Menorah Allegra improvised in Hong Kong.jpg
       
(By the way, I never would’ve asked her to relinquish this handiwork to a stranger. Even at the not-so-tender age of 25.)
       
Her work was far from over, though. She still had to prepare a Hanukkah meal.
       
The package that was still somewhere in transit had included a box of latke mix. At home, I never use a mix, and neither does she. We always make latkes from scratch. (For the recipe posted on my website, see the navigation bar at right.)
       
I’d sent the mix because she had extremely limited cooking equipment in Hong Kong. At the very least, I knew she didn’t have a food processor.I used to make latkes with a metal grater.jpg
       
When I was young, I was the one in my family who grated the potatoes for latkes each year. I did this using an old-fashioned metal grater, and I can still feel how sore my knuckles would be by the time I was done with this medieval instrument of torture. Now that I’m grown up, I use a Cuisinart instead. That may defy tradition, but it’s fast and painless, and the results? They taste just fine.Latkes Allegra made in Hong Kong.jpg
       
But Allegra is not one to stand on ceremony, nor to consider celebrating Hanukkah without latkes. She bought a cheap metal grater, shredded the heck of a bag of spuds, and managed to fry up an impressive batch of potato pancakes.
       
Meanwhile, her nice Jewish friend Matt threw some kosher meat on the grill.Hanukkah dinner Allegra made in Hong Kong.JPG
       
Needless to say, no one at her holiday dinner seemed to have any complaints.
       
In fact, the only one involved who remained a bit disgruntled may have been me.
       
Along with the menorah and Hanukkah candles I’d sent, I also had enclosed some festive birthday candles and small gifts for both Allegra and JP. Even if the holiday paraphernalia didn’t arrive by Tuesday, there were eight more nights to the Festival of Lights. But there was only one actual birthday between the two of them, and I wanted them to receive something. Especially when my daughter was so far away from home.
       
That’s why I sent her the flowers. And the “champagne,” which was for them both.My dad gave me a Snoopy doll for my 25th.jpg
       
The florist also offered the option to attach a birthday balloon, but I thought the champagne was far more appropriate at her age. When I turned 25, my father took me out to dinner and gave me a wristwatch, but also a big stuffed Snoopy doll. I guess he wasn’t quite ready for me to grow up and needed to remind me that I was still his kid.
       
At 25, my own daughter is grown up enough to live on the other side of the globe. And wants us to know it. No balloons. And definitely no dolls. I went for the champagne.
       
Unfortunately, to make sure she was home to receive my delivery, I was obliged to spill the beans. Well, some of ’em, anyway. I had to admit something was on the way. But I didn’t say what.Elderflower sparkling wine.jpg
       
And that was probably a good thing, because when the delivery arrived, on the right day, the “champagne” turned out to be some sort of sparkling elderflower mint wine.
       
Allegra was thrilled – enough so to post a photo of the flowers and bottle on Facebook, along with a message thanking us both and saying how excited she was.
       
They did not, however, open the elderberry mint wine. She’s saving it, she said. For what, she didn’t say.Flowers and Champagne I sent to Allegra.jpg
       
Three days later, the box that I mailed still had yet to arrive. No matter. Thanks to the modern miracle of FaceTime, we’re managing to light the candles and sing together each night (although with the 13-hour time difference, it’s actually morning for her).
       
Fortunately, there are still a few more nights left to the Festival of Lights. I hope she gets to use the menorah that I sent at least once. Will there be another Hanukkah miracle? Even in Hong Kong? I may lack faith in the postal service. But I do have faith. We’ll see.

11:59 pm 

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That's me. The redhead on the right. But that is NOT my baby.

     No, sir, that's not my baby. How could any mother smile beatifically while her own child wailed? Never mind that neither of my offspring ever cried so plaintively, as far as I recall (not while I was there to nurture them through their every perceptible need... although my son still complains that I often dressed him in garish and girlish color schemes, scarring him FOR LIFE).
     Besides, I'm distinctly beyond prime delivery age ("Kitchen's closed!" as my mother might say), and my kids had departed the diaper stage by the dawn of the Clinton Administration. Now in their 20s, both are currently living on their own, in not-too-distant cities, although each manages to phone me daily. In fact, to be exact, several times a day, then sometimes text me, too. (That may sound excessive, and emotionally regressive, but I subscribe to the Jewish mother's creed when it comes to conversing with kinder: Too much is never enough.)
     Two demanding decades spent raising two kids who are kind, highly productive and multi-talented, who generally wear clean underwear (as far as I can tell), and who by all visible signs don't detest me are my main credentials for daring to dole out advice in the motherhood department.
     Presenting myself as an authority on all matters Jewish may be trickier to justify.
     Yes, I was raised Jewish and am biologically an unadulterated, undisputable, purebred Yiddisheh mama. I'm known for making a melt-in-your-mouth brisket, not to mention the world's airiest matzah balls this side of Brooklyn. My longtime avocation is writing lyrics for Purim shpiels based on popular Broadway productions, from "South Pers-cific" to "The Zion Queen." Then again, I'm no rabbi or Talmudic scholar. I can't even sing "Hatikvah" or recite the Birkat Hamazon. Raised resoundingly Reform, I don't keep kosher, can barely curse in Yiddish, and haven't set foot in Israel since I was a zaftig teen.
     Even so, as a longtime writer and ever-active mother, I think I have something to say about being Jewish and a mom in these manic and maternally challenging times. I hope something I say means something to you. Welcome to my nice Jewish world!   
    
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LEVYS! MEET THE LEVYS! WE'RE A MODERN JEWISH FAMILY...
In coming weeks, I will continue posting more personal observations, rants, and even recipes (Jewish and otherwise). So keep reading, come back often, and please tell all of your friends, Facebook buddies, and everyone else you know that NiceJewishMom.com is THE BOMB!
                                                                                           
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The family that eats together (and maybe even Tweets together): That's my son Aidan, me, my daughter Allegra, and Harlan, my husband for more than 26 years, all out for Sunday brunch on a nice summer weekend in New York.

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