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That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.

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on a Modern-Day Bimah
                                                                                   
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Thursday, January 28, 2016

 A Word From the Weiss

 

So upset I nearly screamed.jpg

     Last week, I was sitting there minding my own business – writing my blog, that is – when I looked down at my left hand and saw something so awful that I nearly screamed.

       Never fear. All five fingers were still there. Ditto my gold wedding band. But there, beside it, on another ring that I wear on my middle finger, was a small, dark, empty hole where a diamond was supposed to be. Kind of like a cavity in a tooth from which the filling had fallen out. 

       How long had that stone been missingA minute? A month? A day?

       I couldn’t say.

       That ring had once belonged to my father’s mother, Sadie. In fact, it most probably was her engagement ring, given that there’s a matching white gold band soldered onto it. Somehow, although she had a daughter and three daughters-in-lawit had eventually gone to my own mother, and then upon my mother's passing, nearly seven years ago, to me.

Ring on right with diamond missing.jpg

       God knows why grey-haired Grandma Sadie – a supreme cook but so oblivious to style and glamour that I can’t recall ever seeing her without an apron on – had such a flashy, flamboyant-looking ring. On the garish and gaudy side, it was not something I’d ever coveted or considered being caught dead wearing myself. In fact, had never noticed it on Grandma Sadie, and I never really liked it on my mom.

       But one day when I was missing my mother more than I could bear, I put it on – just for a moment, I thought -- and it felt so right that I had never taken it off again. Just seeing it there made me feel as if I still had my mother with me, kvetching, watching over me like a hawk, and weighing in on my trials and tribulations, as well as those of my kids. You know. All the good stuff nice Jewish moms are supposed to do and that she did to the hilt while she was here.

With Grandma Bunnie (center) before Allegra's prom.jpg

      But now, along with missing my mother, I was missing a diamond in her ring. Granted, it was a small diamond, a teeny-weeny cog in this wheel-shaped mother of a ring. It was merely a satellite – one of six – to the main stone. But seeing that empty spot amid the sparkle made me go out of my mind.

     When had I lost it? And why hadn't I noticed before? Might it have been weeks since it had gone astray?

      Far more significant, where the heck might it be? Had it fallen out while I’d been traveling in LA last month or wandering the streets of New York City? Or might it be on the floor, at the bottom of my purse, or elsewhere inside my house?

       I suddenly recalled that a week or so earlier I’noticed a small glittering stone on the floor near the chair in which I write. Assuming it to be a rhinestone, and not knowing what it might have come from, I had put it into a little dish somewhere for safe-keeping. But evidently that keeping was not all that safe because now I couldn’t find it anywhere.

Diamond.jpg

       Perhaps my cleaning lady had lifted the dish to dust underneath and the stone had fallen to the floor. 

      Whether or not it had been my diamond, in the coming days I couldn’t stop looking, day and night.

      I searched inside all of my gloves in case the stone had gotten caught inside a finger when I peeled them off. I scoured the carpet, peeked under the couch, and groped around inside the covers of my bed.

       No luck.

       I even looked in the washing machine and dryer. Ditto the dishwasher and fridge.

       Perhaps that sounds crazy, but we were talking about a diamond here, and ya never know.

       I also began to mull over everything I had done lately that might detach a diamond from a ring.

      Only the week before, on a particularly frosty winter Sunday, my husband and I had taken advantage of the Jacuzzi in our bathroom (yes, I do mean together), for the second time in nearly 17 years.

The Big Short.jpg

      We had just seen the film The Big Short the night before, and that had inspired me. In case you haven’t seen it, I’ll tell you that it embodies an odd combination of being excitingly dramatic yet also insufferably boring at times because it focuses on extremely arcane financial matters. To make the financial matters a little less boring and arcane, the film employs a rather cheap strategy. It has the most esoteric details explained bcelebrities, such as singer Selena Gomez and the decidedly sexy (albeit tattooedchef Anthony Bourdain.

Margot Robbie in The Big Short bubble bath scene.jpg

       Then there’Australian bombshell Margot Robbie, who expounds on sub-prime loans and tells how to “short” the market while sipping champagne in a bubble bath.

      The next morning, I had an urge to replicate that last scene, minus the sub-prime jargon, of course. Just be thankful that I resisted my husband’s own urge – to take selfies of ourselves inside that tub. (Margot Robbie I am not, and just for the record, he is no Ryan Gosling.)

        But did not resist the chance to add soothing bath salts to the water, plus plenty of bubble bath. Had the suds and roiling currents in the Jacuzzi eased my diamond out?

       Come to think of it, we had been lolling in another hot tub only two weeks before. This one, far from being in the privacy of our own bathroom, was parked in a yard in LA.

The Carpool de Ville.jpg

      I am talking about the Carpool de Ville, the nifty hot tub our friend Kristin’s clever boyfriend Phil had fashioned right inside a flamingo-pink 1969 Cadillac Coupe de Ville.

       Could my little diamond have become dislodged while I was lodged inside of that?

      The truth was it could be anywhere. And wherever it was, I probably would never see it again. So I should just bite the bullet, go to a jeweler already, and have the stone replaced.

      But I am nothing if not my mother’s daughter. She could never give up. Neither can I.

      I continued to look for the missing stone throughout the houseday and night, night and day.

      When I mentioned it to our cleaning lady, Margaret, when she arrived that week, she came up with an inspired idea. Why not check the bag inside our vacuum cleaner?

      Brilliant! I proceeded to pour its filthy contents into a pan.

vacuum cleaner detritus I sifted through UGH!.JPG

      Then I put on rubber gloves, and for the next hour or so painstakingly sifted through the dirt and detritus that had been collected throughout my house for the past month or so.

      I persisted for that length of time because after about two minutes of this, I saw something tiny and shiny and screamed to Margaret, “You’re a genius!” Then I realized that the tiny, shiny thing I’d found was just a tightly wadded smidgen of aluminum foil.

      She was so dejected after this that I couldn’t bear to give up, if only for her sake. Well, not only for her sake. We were talking about an actual diamond here.

     But finally, after unearthing only a collection of dropped pills, coins, and candy wrappers, and inhaling a whole lot of dirt (which is by definition dirty), I couldn’t bear to go on.

      “Well, it was nice to have been a genius, even for only a minute,” Margaret sighed.

       I resigned myself that at last it was indeed time to bite the bullet and go see a jeweler. My best option, I figured, was a small, rather unpretentious shop in the center of our town where I had gotten repairs done before.

I wrestled with the parking meter.jpg

    I headed over there late the next afternoon. Very late that afternoon. By the time I’d managed to get out of the house, it was well past 5. Then I had trouble wrestling with one of the fancy new parking meters in our town, the kind which allow you to use a credit card but make you enter your license plate number, your social security number, your age and weight and the names and birthdates of all your children. Then crap out and tell you to start all over again.

      By the time I’d reached the shop, it was 5:31, and it apparently had closed at 5:30. The store, which had been open and brightly lit when I had driven past minutes earlier, was now dark and deserted.

      Now what?

      I had managed to get out of the house and finally prevailed over that persnickety parking meter. I might as well take advantage of the hour of parking for which I had paid.

The first jewelers interior.jpg

     So I really bit the bullet and headed for the nearest other jeweler – a far fancier and vaster onewhich purports to have the area’s largest diamond selection.

      There, the pleasant young woman behind the repair counter examined my ring under a loupe, then quickly summoned an older male colleague named Dave.

      “The problem is getting four prongs back on there,” he said, explaining that the missing stone had apparently fallen out because the quartet of teeny prongs holding it in place had withered away to nothing, and there was now nothing left to attach them to.

      He estimated the missing stone to be 6 points in size (.06 carats), and said it would cost $120 to replace. He also explained that my ring was a very old one, with diamonds cut in an old-fashioned style, so they might not be able to find a stone that matched the others well.

But there was a bigger issue.

     The prongs holding the large center stone had also worn down to the point of being "paper-thin." It was probably only a matter of time before it would have fallen out too. And at an estimated quarter of a carat in size, it would have cost a whole lot more to replace.

     “So you’re saying that this was one of those situations where you break your leg, only to discover that there was a tumor inside it, and that ends up saving your life,” I ventured.

      “Exactly,” Dave agreed.

       The five other satellite stones also needed tightening, he told me. To do this and everything else necessary would cost a total of $375 and take about two weeks.

       I have never considered diamonds to be this nice Jewish girl’s best friend. Most pieces I wear consist of funky so-called costume jewelry. really don’t know jewels from Jehoshaphat, and must admit that I hadn’t been expecting the repair to be nearly that much. So I thanked Dave for his time and said I would think about it.

      Then I took my holey ring into our town’s other high-brow jeweler, directly across the street.

Lux Bond.jpg

      In business since 1898, and now run by the fourth generation of its founding family, Lux Bond & Green is virtually synonymous in my area with luxury and class. No doubt they would do a good job on the repair. The question was, at what price?

       The tall, trim fellow at the repair counter, whose name was Shiva, pegged the missing stone to be 7 points, rather than 6, and said that it alone would cost me $175.

       The ring was 14-carat white gold, he said, so I would have to pay for something called rhodium to be reapplied. This was evidently the substance that made white gold look silver in color so that it would “pop,” he said, since all gold was naturally yellow. 

       The prongs that had held the missing stone needed to be replaced, he said, and the other stones needed tightening. Yet he said nothing about the prongs on the big center stone.

       He also said it might be difficult to find a replacement stone that matched the others, although “we can try to get something as close as possible, he said. The work would also take about two weeks, and it would cost $442.

       That price, however, was only an estimate, he stressed. It might be more if they discovered more issues, or if I insisted that they find a matching stone, for which they might have to send to New York.

       At this point, I was beginning to wonder. Maybe it made sense to entrust a valuable piece, a true family heirloom, to a well-known jeweler because you could trust them to do good work. But you could also trust them to charge a bundle, and the better known they were, the more they might feel entitled to charge. So, as well-respected as they were, I thanked Shiva for his time and left.

       That night, I did some soul-searching. Did I really need this gaudy ring, even if it reminded me of Mom? And did I really need it restored to its original pristine state?

       I could simply keep wearing it in its holey state. It would still be precious to me even if it weren’t perfect. But I knew that wouldn't work. It would bother me every time I saw it and eventually wear a hole in my heart. And that would be much harder to repair.

I decided to consult Allegra.jpg

      I could also put it away for safe-keeping. But then I wouldn't get to enjoy it. Besides, that would just be delaying the inevitable, or passing the baton. Because someday the ring would go to my daughter, Allegra, and she’d have to pay to repair it so that it could remind her of both my mother and me.

      I decided to consult her about it, without mentioning this rather grim eventuality. And she had a very good point. Perhaps I should find out how much the ring was worth. If it was valued at thousands of dollars, then paying a few hundred to fix it was clearly well worth it.

Sevan Jewelers.JPG

      So the next day I headed back to town again. But now I left early enough to arrive long before closing at at Sevan Jewelers, the small store for which I’d originally headed the day before.

      This time, the person who waited on me was the only person there, the owner himself. John had repaired my own engagement ring years ago when a small satellite stone had gone missing from it. I knew that he gave a fair price, and also knew that he did good work.

      The first thing he noticed when he looked through a loupe was that one of the tiny stones on the attached band was badly chipped. No one else had mentioned this yet. Neither had anyone offered an opinion about the style of my ring, but he blurted his out.

      “This is the strangest, strangest piece I’ve ever seen, and I grew up in this business,” he said, noting that the stones in it were all mismatched and of varying degrees of quality.

       All of these rocks were also in urgent need of tightening. Plus, he instantly noticed the need to build up the prongs on the center stone.

Sevan Jewelers' owner John.jpg

      Yet to do all of the work necessary to completely restore the ring would run me only $200, he said, and he would have it ready in a week, or maybe even less.

      I laughed. Now it was my turn to blurt out something I had not intended to say. I told him how much the other stores had wanted to charge, noting that to replace the missing stone alone would have cost $120 at the first place and $175 at the second.

       He said that the price of the stone would be less than half these amounts at most from him, and that the far greater expense was the labor required, which he would undertake to do himself. 

       “I’m a jeweler,” he said, explaining that he and his brother did all of their own repair work right on the premises. He also said that he had plenty of loose diamonds on hand from buying estate pieces, and that he could easily find a close match for my missing stone.

      As for the value of the ring, it was probably worth “between $1,600 and $1,800 tops,” he estimated. But that number was almost immaterial.

      “If I had this ring in the store and someone came in looking for an estate piece and wanted to buy it, I would sell it to them for $700 or $800,” he said. Given that, he would only have offered me $300 to $400 if I’d been interested in selling it.

      Given that, maybe it was crazy to invest $200 in fixing it. Then again, maybe not.

      That ring is a true family heirloom. So its value cannot be measured in dollars and cents. It is something that connects me to my mother and grandmother. As they say, it’s priceless.

      Besides, compared to the other two estimates I’d gotten, $200 was a bargain.

       Maybe, just as it had been fortuitous that the little stone had fallen out before the big one could, it had been lucky, even beshert, that I’d struggled with that ornery parking meter and been forced to get more estimates. The night before, I would have hesitated to shell out $200. Now I was absolutely thrilled. 

      “Do it!” I said. And I happily handed my precious ring over to John's care.

      Given its age and fragility, I probably shouldn’t wear that ring every day anymore. But I can’t wait to get it back, and once I do, it’s going right back on my finger again for good.

Bunnie.jpg

      Of course I’m filling the hole in that ring – not because of what the ring is worth, but because the ring helps fill the hole that’s been in my heart ever since I lost my mother.

       No, diamonds have never been my best friend. My best friend was my own mom. And I’m happy to say that my own nice Jewish daughter seems to feel the very same way about me.

      Someday, she’ll get to wear my mother and grandmother’s ring, too, as well as my mother-in-law’engagement ring, which I also wear because it helps remind me of her.

AllegraandmeatGlamourevent.jpg

      But no rush on that. Once the hole in the ring is filled, l hope to have a whole lot more time left to still enjoy it – and enjoy my daughter, as well as my son  so that I can keep kvetchingwatching like a hawk, and weighing in on their trials and tribulations, and those of their own future children someday. You know. All of that good stuff that nice Jewish moms are supposed to do, and that I intend to do to the hilt while I’m still here.

 

Note: I will not be posting my blog next week. Sorry. See you SOON! 

2:29 pm 

Friday, January 22, 2016

 

A Word From the Weiss

        I love birthdays--just not mine.jpgI’m one of those people who feel compelled to make a big deal out of birthdays – everyone’s but my own, that isLast year being a big one for me, marked by an unnerving number ending in 0, I chose to dodge any prospect of a party by getting clear out of town… only to learn when I returned that you can run from getting older, but you cannot hide. So many people wanted to get in on the celebratory action that I spent the remainder of the month flitting between coffee dates, lunches, and dinners out. I think I put on 5 pounds from the birthday cake alone.

        This year, with the dreaded milestone behind me, there was no such problem. Quite the contrary. I had nothing to do on the actual date but stay home with the dog.

I had already celebrated with friends.JPG

      My husband, who ia newspaper reporter, had to attend meeting that eveningthen stay up late writing a story about it. Although we had already gone out with good friends the previous Saturday nightit seemed  pretty sad and anticlimactic to be staying home on the actual occasion with the dog (no offense to the dog).

      That is not to say I had no other options. When my daughter Allegra learned of my plans, or lack thereof, she refused to hear of it. She insisted I come meet her in NYC,and even offered to get tickets to The King and I, a production I’ve been dying to see. One of her roommates was away, she noted, and I could stay overnight in her room.

      Given all that, and my mounting birthday malaise, you might expect that I wouldn’t have thought twice about accepting her invitation. But it wasn’t as simple as that. 

We were slated to have a family brunch.jpg

     For one thing, my husband and I already planned to drive into the city on Friday, then meet our kids and their significant others for a birthday brunch the next day. It seemed wasteful to drive two cars down and have to deal with parking both. 

I didn't want to spend my bday on a bus.jpg

 One solution might be for me to take a bus down on Thursday insteadBut if you suffer from severe motion sickness, as I do, then perhaps you’ll understand why I dreaded the prospect of spending three queasy hours sitting on a Greyhound, on my birthday, no less. Besides, I had no way to get to the bus station while my husband was at work.

       “Oh, c'mon. Just take an Uber!” my daughter advised.   

She said to take an Uber.jpg

 An Uber? Was she joking? That may be totally routine for city folk. But I’ve never actually been in an Uber. Where I live, out in the boonies. I’m not sure they even exist.

    Besides, beyond the transportation issue, there were other things to hold me back. 

      Nineteen things, in fact.

     That was the number of items on my to-do list, many of which were marked "urgent."

Holiday returns season was almost over.jpg

      There were bills I needed to pay, a prescription or two to be refilled, and several unwanted holiday gifts that still needed to be returned to stores before it was too late.

      You might think many of those tasks could wait, but I didn’t want to take a chance. Most stores, I'd heard,would accept holiday returns through the middle of January. This was the middle of January. I didn’t dare put the task off until after we returned.

      Yet chief among the many things I didn’t want to put off was finishing my blog.

     It may sound like it made perfect sense that I needed to finish my work before I could play, even on my birthday. But the sense that it made wasn’t really all that perfect. At least it didn’t make perfect sense to me. 

      For the sad truth is that, as much as I regard writing this blog as genuine work, and take it as seriously as any job I’ve ever held, no one actually pays me a cent to do it.       

Gone fishing in an Uber.jpg

I could have waited until after the weekend to post it. I could simply have put up a note to my readers saying, “Gone fishing,” or whatever the modern-day equivalent is. (Gone off in an Uber?”)

       But the crazy thing about doing something like this is that, even if I don’t get paid for it, I worry that if I don’t put it up regularly, my readers will lose interest and stop reading.

       Also, the story that I had nearly finished writing was about holiday shopping, and like the gifts that needed to return, its relevance was rapidly nearing its expiration date.

      So, as much as I was dying to see my daughter, and maybe even that Broadway show, I didn’t feel I could leave until I’d finished all the things I was supposed to do first.

       My plan was to get through all these obligations as fast as I could. And on any other day, I might have been able to do this with some degree of speed and efficiency. But this particular day happened to be my birthday.

Happy birthday emoji.jpg

       That meant that from the moment I woke up, the phone rang, buzzed, or dinged as countless people called or texted birthday greetings or posted them on Facebook.

       Of course I was thrilled that so many friends and relatives had thought of me and were taking the time to wish me well. But the awful truth was that the more that they called, the less I got done, and the more miserable and frustrated I became. For now I would be obliged to turn down an amazing invitation from my daughter, in addition to being doomed to spend a rather desolate evening home alone with the dog… no offense to the dog.

       Late that afternoon, my husband stopped briefly at home before racing off to his meeting. If I were ready to go, he said, he would drop me at the bus. No Uber necessary.

       At this point, I had managed to contact all of the stores involved and learn that all but one would allow me to wait until Monday to mail the various items I wished to return. However, I was still busy putting up photos on my blog (which, given my limited skills and my lousy Wifi connection, tends to take me almost as long as the writing itself).

       So I reluctantly but resolutely told him thanks, but no thanks, and he abruptly left.

       Now I really felt lonely and miserable. I was MoroseJewishMom.com.

Latke and me.JPG

       If this sounds a little pathetic, let me assure you that I am not nuts or needy. Normally, being home alone is no big deal for me. Hey, Im someone who writes a blog. I’m always home alone (with the dog).

       But this particular day was my birthday. And no matter how many people may post good wishes on Facebook, cyber socializing is a sorry substitute for the real thing.

       My daughter texted me periodically to ask about my progress. Man, I felt like a fool! By this point, I had already put in so much effort that is seemed ridiculous to give up now. Never mind that it was too late to make the show. At least we could go out for dinner.

      Besides, had I lost my perspective? I mean, what was more important in this case? To sit there writing about being a nice Jewish mom, or to go out and actually be one?

My father was all about work.jpg

      What was the value of getting older if I didn’t begin to act wiser? My own father had been one of those nose-to-the-grindstone types who put work before relationships. Sure, he loved me, but I always felt like I played second fiddle to his financial pursuits.

       And where were my priorities? No offense to you, but I don’t actually know almost any of my readers. I don’t even know who they are. Why did I feel a stronger obligation to them than to my own daughter and myself?

       Given all of the above, this birthday was turning out to be about the worst one ever. Not to mention the loneliest.

       Finally, at 6:30 p.m. I was finished with everything. But I was feeling absolutely beat.

       That’s when my daughter called to check in on me one last time.

       “It’s not too late!” she insisted. “Forget about the bus. Just get in the car and come. Come now!”

       I may be a whole lot older, but she was clearly wiser. And I realized she was right.

       So I did it.

       By the time I had loaded up the car, it was nearly 7. The drive is over 100 miles.

Just seeing Allegra's face revived me.JPG

       I pulled up to her door on Roosevelt Island just past 9, utterly exhausted. After writing all day and racing frantically to get there, I realized that I was too tired to go out at this point. Frankly, I couldn’t wait to get into that roommate’s empty bed.

       But seeing Allegra’s face light up when she opened the door was enough to revive me. Kaitlin, my son’s fiancé, was there, too, and they had managed to make big plans. We had reservations at a Japanese restaurant in midtown. So we got into the car again.

Lucky Cat restaurant.jpg

       By the time we were seated at this eatery, Lucky Cat on East 53rd Street, it was after 10. No matter. My son, Aidan, met us there, along with Allegra’s boyfriend JP, and a friend of his who was visiting from

Salmon sushi tacos.jpg

 Luxembourg. We ordered all sorts of interesting foods, from ramen noodles with sea urchin eggs to salmon sushi tacos, to mackerel sashimi that was seared lightly at the table with a blow torch right before our eyes.

     

Toasting with sake at Lucky Cat.jpg

 We also toasted the occasion with countless rounds of sake, both hot and cold.

      Then, at last, the red velvet birthday cake Allegra had brought along was served.

My birthday cake at Lucky Cat.JPG

      I don’t want to tell you what I wished for before I blew out the candles because that means it might not come true. Suffice it to say that my mood had lightened considerably and I was feeling a cheery inner glow even more radiant than the blaze atop that cake. 

       Had my story ended there, it would have been enough – dayenu, as we say at Passover. But I still had a whole birthday weekend ahead of me, and it only got better and better.

       After being up till nearly 2, I woke up late the next morning when Allegra poked her head through my doorway. She was already dressed and headed to a jazz conference.

       “Wait! I’ll go with you!” I cried. Within minutes I was dressed and out the door. No time for a shower, let alone makeup. I wasn’t going to miss another chance to be with my kids.

We ate breakfast at Ess-a-Bagel.jpg

      Although it seemed doubtful I would get into the conference, which cost a bundle to attend, at least I got to ride with her into the city, then grab a quick breakfast with her at an incredible Jewish deli called Ess-a-Bagel.

       But more surprises ensued. In the lobby of the conference venueI ran into my son, Aidan, who, being a jazz journalist, was also attending. Mgood friend Liz was there as well, and she managed to get me in for free!

       We all went to a fascinating lecture, after which Aidan insisted on taking me out to lunch.

Brunch wtih the fam at Cafe du Soleil.JPG

      The celebration continued the next day when my husband and I met the kids and their significant others for brunch at Café du Soleil, a charming French bistro on the Upper West Side.

       You might expect that the young folk had had their fill of us fogies by then, but no. They let us tag along that night for the Winter Jazzfest, a live-music marathon featuring over 100 jazz acts performing in a dozen venues throughout the East and West Village.

Sun Ra.jpg

      This culminated in the wildest and craziest scene I have ever experienced in my life – a concert near Washington Square Park featuring the Sun Ra Arkestra, a big band that carries on the “Afrofuturism” tradition of Sun Ra, the late legendary jazz composer, philosopher, and keyboard and synthesizer player who claimed to be an alien from Saturn. 

      My husband and I planned to stay for only the very start of this event, which was slated to commence at midnight. But by the time the musicians had taken the stage, it was nearly 1 a.m. and we were unable to tear ourselves away from the spectacle underway.

The Sun Ra Arkestra at Winter Jazzfest 2016.JPG

      “Cosmic” and cacophony” were the words that came to mind as a large group of musicians decked out in glittering sequined caftans and caps began playing deafeningly loud, chaotic notes. Soon the lead singer, a woman sporting a giant Afro hairdo and dark green lipstick, began to chant the same spaced-out phrase over and over again.

    “Love and light in-ter-ested me so that I dared to knock at the door of the cosmos!” 

Sun Ra Arkestra shot by JP Sistenich.jpg

     The next number was equally otherworldly, albeit repetitive, as the singer went on to embrace a slightly different refrain. “Space is the place! Space is this place! Space is the place!" she crooned.

     I could be wrong, but I think at that particular moment, this was the only place to be. But wait... what was that funny scent emanating from some of the young patrons nearby?

Pattie at the Sun Ra concert.jpg

    As a child of the mid-50s and 60s, just managed to miss out on the goatee-and-poetry scene of the Beat Generation. A decade later, I was still too young to go to Woodstock. But I’m happy to report that I didn’t miss this. I felt the love. I felt the light! And I think at that moment I felt younger, lighter and lovelier than I ever have in my life.

    Even though by the time we got to our hotel it was 3 a.m, and I was so tired that I was almost ready for a retirement home.

    Which could only make me wonder.

    Was it getting old that was making me so tired? Or was it not giving in to getting old?

Wishing on my cake at Lucky Cat.jpg

    Whatever. I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I only wish I had gone down sooner.

    And now that the celebrations are done and Im back home alone again, I will dare to tell you what I wished upon those birthday candles at Lucky Cat (even at the risk of jinxing my wish).

   I looked at my kids, I looked at that blazing cake that read "Happy birthday, Mom," and before I began to blow, I thought, “If only all of my birthdays could be as happy as this one.

    All is well that ends well. Even if it starts out feeling lonely and miserable. only wish that I could guarantee that birthday wish. Then I might become a fan of everyone's birthdays -- even mine -- after all.

8:16 pm 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

 

A Word From the Weiss    

 

Happy birthday to me.jpg

       I know it may be lame to even mention, but happy winter weather at last to you, and happy birthday to me!

        I also know that I promised you the conclusion of my story about the wedding. But last week I was up to my nice Jewish eyeballs in the lyrics I was writing for my synagogue’s annual Purim spiel. (Yes, I know, Purim is over two months away. But that means that, like spring, it’practically right around the corner. We need to begin rehearsing now!)

       So instead, I’m going to just treat you to a couple of final holiday misadventures.

      My husband and I were shopping for a few last-minute gifts in a store on the Upper West Side late last month when he got hungry and developed a major case of spilkes (Yiddish for, essentially, ants in his pants). So he left in search of fresh air and a much-needed nosh.

Epicerie Boulud.jpg

       About 10 minutes later, he texted that he had come across a fabulous selection of cheese at a fancy gourmet food shop called Epicerie Boulud on 64th and Broadway. (Actually, the spellcheck on his iPhone changed that to “Epicerie Boiled,” but I knew what he meant.)

       Seconds after I read his text and managed to interpret it, though, my phone died. So I figured that I had better check out of the store and go rendezvous with him fast.

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       Well, maybe not quite so fast. On a street corner en route, I came across one of those large open trucks selling fresh fruits and vegetables. This one had a holiday special – blueberries at only a buck for a pint. Now, that was an offer I could not refuse.

       Since I knew I had only two large bills in my wallet, I decided to beef up my order a bit. And after selecting two pints, along with some raspberries and an avocado, I forked over one of those bills. To my distress, the fellow manning the truck handed back a five.

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       “Excuse me, but I gave you a twenty!” I protested.

avocado.jpg

       He quickly remedied the situation by handing over a ten-dollar bill as well. But then he did a quick search of his wad of cash and asked me if I was sure about that twenty. He had plenty of singles, fives, and tens bundled up, but nary a twenty in the bunch.

I was sure I gave him a 20.jpg

       I was. Absolutely sure. We had just returned from LA two nights before, and I had been carrying around two crisp $20 bills for the entire week that we’d been out West. But if I had given it to him only seconds earlier, how could he possibly not have it?

      “Maybe it blew away,” this diminutive man, who looked Central American, ventured.

       In fact, it was an exceptionally blustery night and that corner was a wind tunnel. But if that bill had gone blowin’ in the wind, I was fairly certain that I would have noticed.

I urged him to check his wad of cash.jpg

       I urged him to check his rather large bundle of bills again, as well as his pockets. But after a quick search, he assured me that a ten was the largest denomination there. He said that his manager collected cash from him every hour and he had just stopped by.

       “Is OK,” he said. No big deal. Just ten dollars. Don’t worry!”

       Don’t worry? I’m a nice Jewish mom. “Worry” is my middle name. Besides, the last thing I’d ever want to do is cheat someone, least of all a man selling fruit on the street.

     At my urging, he flipped through his wad of bills once more. But time was passing. Fast. What if my husband left Epicerie Boiled? Boulud, I mean. I had no way to find him. 

       “It’s only ten dollars,” he repeated. “No big deal. Then he added a phrase that, due to his foreign accent, I didn’t understand. I asked him to repeat it, but was still at a loss.

       By now I was getting my own case of spilkes“I’ll be back,” I promised earnestly. Then I rushed up the street.

Epicerie Boulud cheeses.jpg

       There was indeed a lovely selection of cheeses at that Epicerie place, whatever you might call it. All of them, needless to say, cost more than $10 for just a little chunk.So we made do with only one, which the clerk carefully swaddled in pale waxed paper.

       But all the while that  was deliberating over the cheese, I was thinking about the man. I could have sworn I'd had only two $20 bills in my wallet. But could he perhaps have been right?

Had I used the bill to tip the bellhop?.jpg

      Had I changed one of those bills when we had checked out of our hotel in LA in order to have money to tip the bellman and the parking attendant, leaving me with only a ten and a twenty instead? Had I only handed him a $10 bill after all?

Twelve Angry Men.jpg

       Like the adamant jurors in Twelve Angry Men, the more that I mulled over my memory and convictions, the less I was quite so sure.

       So the moment we left the Epicerie, I dragged my husband back to the truck. The little man looked amazed to see me. Trust, clearly, was not his middle name.

fruit and vegetable truck with man.jpg

       Needless to say, in my absence he had not managed to come across my $20 bill. But he still maintained that it didn’t matter. Then he repeated that other thing he’d said.

       I still didn’t catch it, so I got him to repeat it again. “Money doesn’t matter,” he said. “What matters is what you have in your heart.”

       What I had in my heart? What I had in my heart was a growing ache over the fear that I had cheated someone less fortunate than myself out of a measly amount of cash.

       What I had in my heart was misgivings and a burgeoning sense of guilt that had grown from the size of a  blueberry to something bigger than one of his green honeydew melons.

       So I forked over my remaining $20 bill, and without hesitation he gave me $10 back.

       But that didn’t completely settle the score because now we had another problem. Namely, what was in his heart.

       So after returning his stash of bills to his pocket, he proceeded to hand me a quart of strawberries and a mammoth bag of bright yellow bananas.

bananas.jpg

       Never mind that we were going straight to the theater that evening and I didn’t really want to be lugging around more than enough fruit to fill Carmen Miranda’s hat.

       I realized that I had either just been given a whole mess of free fruit, or I had shelled out a little more than necessary to make sure that I ingested enough fiber and had no longer gotten anything close to a bargain on those two pints of blueberries.

      No problem. The only thing that mattered was what I had in my heart. Peace at last.

      

      I would like to tell you that my holiday misadventures ended there. No such luck.

We had our mail held then delivered.jpg

      The following day, we returned home from our trip, which we had extended for a long weekend in NYC after returning from LA. During our 10-day absence, we had asked the U.S. Postal Service to hold all of our mail. The form we had filled out requested delivery on Saturday, December 19, so that we could go through it all on Sunday evening, after we returned. But when we got home, there was nothing on our doorstep.

All of our holiday cards were stolen.jpg

      It turned out that our carrier had in fact delivered it, but it was no longer there. Gone was not only a whole slew of junk mail (good riddance!), but also our bills and nearly all of the holiday cards we normally receive from friends and family. Argh!

       Couldn’t the scoundrels who presumably made off with it all have had the decency to leave those cards behind or drop them back into the mail? What was in their hearts? Coal?

       During our absence, I had slipped a 12-year-old boy who lives across the street 10 bucks to keep an eye on our doorstep and bring in any packages that might arrive. When we returned, he’d handed over three boxes that he had taken in for safe-keeping.

       But that was another $10 possibly down the drain. For evidently the thieves had beaten him to it that day. According to our postal carrier, many scoundrels are skilled enough to drive around behind mail and delivery trucks and snatch items before their rightful owners even have a chance.

      And according to some emails I received, two boxes had been delivered along with our U.S. mail late that afternoon (which may have been what attracted those thieves).

      I can only imagine these dreaded felons’ faces when they opened those parcels.

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      One was from a Website called ModernTribe.com, which sells assorted Judaica.

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      From them, I had ordered two cartons of Matzolah, a kind of granola made out of matzo, otherwise known as “the trail mix of the Exodus. (I wrote all about this yummy, crunchy and eminently healthy stuff when I covered Kosherfest in this space just last month.)

Thanksgivvukah poster.JPG

     In addition, I had ordered a poster commemorating Thanksgivukkah, that double holiday marking the once-in-a-lifetime case in which Thanksgiving and Hanukkah had overlapped. I hadn’t been sure what I would do with that bit of kitsch, modeled after the classic painting American Gothic, considering that this 2013 event will reportedly not reoccur for another 70,000 years. But it had been on clearance for a buck, and I’d figured what the heck.

     In retrospect, I could live without another piece of clutter. Even nice Jewish clutter.

     But what about our little dog, Latke?

     The second box that had gone astray was a Barkbox from Barkshop.com, a monthly subscription service that delivers treats and toys to dogs.

The Dognald dog toy from Barkbox.jpg

      I had first discovered this company when they had advertised a soon-to-be collector's item for dogs called The Dognald. Unfortunately, they had been temporarily sold out of this treasure, but I ended up signing Latke up on a three-month trial basis. I had saved her November box of booty for Hanukkah, when she gets eight nights of gifts along with the rest of the family, but then her December delivery never managed to arrive.

      This was particularly disconcerting because poor Latke suffered a terrible calamity just after we returned from LA. My husband took her to play ball early one evening, but it had been dark and raining and she had run headfirst into a post on a tennis court.

       The result was deep lacerations around one of her eyes and on her head, requiring multiple sutures and obliging her to wear a cone around her neck for over two weeks.

      I will not tell you about the tongue-lashing my husband suffered from me when he brought home my sweetheartlooking like that. But believe me, he was in the doghouse!

Latke had to wear the cone of shame around her neck.JPG

      Perhaps to make amends – and also because he just happens to be the consumer reporter at the Journal Inquirer, a daily newspaper in Connecticut – he decided to follow up by doing a story on any recourse we might have about those two missing packages.

      We both wrote to Barkshop and received a response from someone named Moriah.

     Thanks for barking in about this, and I'm so sorry you and Latke did not receive this BarkBark! … Unpawtunately, this month's BarkBox was pretty pup-pular, so we do not have any replacement boxes to send out to you, my sincerest apawlogies. However, I have added an extra month onto the end of your subscription to make up for this missing BarkBox. I hope this helps! Pawlease give Latke some extra belly rubs from me for being such a patient pup, and if there's anything else I can lend a paw with, pawlease just let me know!

      When I wrote to thank Moriah profusely and happened to mention Latke’s accident, I received yet another missive back from someone else at the company named Erika.

Barkshop offers Pawsonal shopping.jpg

       Oh no! I'm so sorry to hear that Latke suffered an injury! I hope she's doing better and receives all the belly rubs to reach a full and quick recovery! I have sent along a couple items for Latke to make up for the missing box in addition to the extra box that my co-woofer has added to the end of your subscription. The BarkHappy team sends their good thoughts to Latke in hopes that she recovers quickly and is back to chasing balls again, safely. If there's anything I can do to lend a paw, let me know and I'll be happy to help.

Barkbox sent Latke some extra treats.jpg

      The promised extra treats arrived shortly after, including a squeaky penguin toy and a carton of bacon gingerbread cookies. (Are those kosher? Just kidding!Latke had no compunction about trying onethen immediately downed a few more just to be sure they met her approval. The unequivocal and rather vocif-fur-ousverdict? Two paws up!

     As for me, I was cannot thank them enough. To show my gratitude, I plan to extend my Barkbox subscription for a least a little bit after that, meaning that lucky Latke will be getting more gifts this year for everything from TuBishvat to – you guessed it – Purim!

Latke loved her Barkbox.JPG

     I am also happy to report that Latke’s sutures were removed last night and she is no longer a conehead (and that she won’t be chasing any more balls in the dark and rain).

     I’m sorry to report that Modern Tribe was not quite as munificent about my missing Matzolah. That is, theyresponded to my husband’s inquiry with a bit less sym-paw-thy.

     “…I'm sorry to hear that your items were stolen,”manager Caryn Liss wrote to him. “How crazy!”

       “Unfortunately, we have no control over what happens to packages once they leave our warehouse,” she continued. “I would immediately call your local post office and give them the tracking number and file a claim for a stolen package.” (Yeah, right!)

       As for replacing my missing merchandiseshe said, We will be happy to send you new items if you place an order online, assuming we still have these items in stock. In other words, they would make restitution only at our expense. 

       As a token of appreciation for our business, she did offer me a free shipping code. My first inclination was to give up, believing that God doesn’t want me to eat Matzolah

Matzolah mountain at Kosherfest.jpg

     I had already returned to Kosherfest on the second day of this two-day event, when merchants give their goods away, only to be told that it was too late in the day to enter, then watched longingly as countless people helped themselves to a mountain of the stuff right inside the doorway, until a security guard had ordered me to step away.

       I just could not believe in this case that the third time would be the charm.

       Then one day last week, I got another email from Modern Tribe offering clearance prices on holiday merchandise. They were down to their last can of Whole Wheat Maple Matzolah, and for

Totally Kvelling card from Modern Tribe.jpg

 the bargain price of $4.95 I bought it, plus more stuff I didn’t need, like a few feathered Purim masks and some Jewish note cards that say “Totally Kvelling!”

With Matzolah at last!.jpg

        Yet I decided to live without the Thanksgivukkah poster, which was now up to $3Money may not matter, but neither does what is on my walls. Just what’s in my heart. Peace and gratitude, for guess what arrived just in time for my b'day -- my very own trail mix of the Exodus.

4:17 pm 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

 

A Word From the Weiss

 

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       I don’t know where the past week has gone – let alone the past year – but let me be among the very last to wish you a happy new year… although I may be among the first, maybe even the only, to wish you a happy Jew year!

New Year's Eve 2015 with friends.jpg

      Don’t let the photo of me all alone at right fool you. A selfie it was surely not. As usual, I rang out the old with my husband and some dear friends over a hearty four-course meal at one of our favorite restaurants, Treva in West Hartford, CT. Then we moved on to the home of some other close friends, where we somehow managed to consume even more food, including my friend Lois's phenomenal homemade rugelach, along with a glass or two of something fizzy and maybe even authentically French.

New Year's Eve Sally and me still eating!.JPGHarlan and Pattie on New Year's Eve 2015.JPG

      What I am most excited to show you, though, is a photo I received that night of my two wonderful children with their wonderful significant others. Just seeing them look so happy was cause to celebrate. But the nicest part of all was that they had chosen to celebrate together… albeit along with three dozen or so of their closest friends at my daughter’s New Year’s bash.

Kaitlin, Aidan, Allegra, and JP  on New Year's 2015.jpg

      Is my liking things quieter and more sedate a sign of getting old?

      Don’t answer that.

      If I had any other major cause to celebrate, it was that I had managed to put together my annual holiday photo-collage card and mail out nearly 100 of them by that afternoon.

      Given how much else I have managed to do lately, that felt like a minor miracle.

      I made the first of these annual creations back in 1998, then discovered that once you start a tradition like that, it is almost impossible to stop. In fact, since then I have only missed one year – 2002, when my daughter had just celebrated her bat mitzvah.

      Can you blame me? 

      This tradition, like eating matzo at Passover or making potato latkes on Hanukkah, has also proven over time to be almost impossible to alter or improve upon in any way.  

      In all that time, despite any technological advances the world has made, I continue to make my collage the very old-fashioned way – with a pair of scissors and a glue stick.

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       I have never tried resorting to Photoshop (although even that is now passé, I hear). 

      And so, even after I manage to painstakingly narrow down an entire year's worth of photos, it takes hours.

      And hours.

      And hours. 

      Plus I make a royal mess, not to mention it costs a fortune to have all those color copies made on photo paper at Staples.

      And when I'm finally done, along with being ready for the loony bin, I am always amazed at how much time I have managed to spend with my kids during the year and how happy my family looks.

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      I worry as I send the cards out each year that my compilation might be taken as an overt form of bragging – not so much in view of the couplet I compose about each family member, touting some accomplishment or other, but the radiant looks upon every one of our faces, as though we hadn’t spent one second kvetching, or hadn’t a care in the world.

      Just as there is no place like home, there is no family like that. Least of all mine.

      It’s just that when you are in the midst of kvetching, or spending hours slaving over an arduous annual art project, or bickering with your husband, as the case may be (especially the case in my house), no one ever thinks of running for the camera.

New Year's Eve with Sally and Dial at Treva.JPG

       Not to mention that there is probably no waiter nearby to take precious moments out of his busy routine to snap assorted poses of you and your loved ones toasting or mugging or grinning like idiots.

      No matter. No one wants to see crabby, everyday-life faces or hear about our squabbles, anyway.     

With Garrison Keillor and Sally Dec. 2015.JPG

Also, this card, like my weekly blog, is a way for me to keep track of where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and whom I’ve done it withAnd I would just as soon forget about all the kvetching, arguing, and other bitter moments and move on to better days ahead.

       Let’s hope they are better.

       For you.

       For me, even.

       For us all.

       Everyone but ISIS, that is. 

       But whatever happens next, you will hear about it here… and see it, I can almost guarantee... on next year’s holiday card. Happy Jew year!

 

Levy holiday photo card 2015.jpg        

10:26 pm 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

 

A Word From the Weiss

 

At In-N-Out Burger with JP and Allegra.JPG

       After regaling you with my adventures at Kosherfest when last we met, about the last thing I should probably do now is post a photo of myself about to inhale a double cheeseburger (and wash it down with a milkshake, no less). But we spent last week in Los Angeles, and when in LA you must do as the LA-ans do – eat at In-N-Out Burger (a popular fast-food chain like McDonald’s, only better).

Shaking it up at In-N-Out Burger.JPG

      Please forgive me if that offends your own food choices or religious sensibilities. But sue me, sue me, what can you do me? I’ve never claimed to keep kosher.

       It was more than a little disconcerting, I must admit, to be away from home for more than half of Hanukkah (although I did manage to transport a rather sizable menorah in my suitcase, which may or may not have set off a host of metal detectors).

I stashed a menorah in my suitcase.jpg

       Then again, there was also a rather sizable upside to being away in December: In balmy LA, amid the palm trees in place of pine trees, it looks a helluva lot less like Christmas!

It's NOT beginning to look a lot like Christmas in LA.jpg

       Given that I was just gone for over a week and am still grappling with major-league jet-lag, I’m going to try to keep it short this week and just share a few highlights of our trip.

       Here are my LA stories. (Fa la la la la la la LA!)

       We went out to see our Cousin Stephanie get married. We were thrilled that she and her boyfriend Josh were getting hitched, and ecstatic to be a part of the festivities. My daughter, in fact, was slated to play an integral role, as one of the chosen people.

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      A bridesmaid, that is.

     My husband and I were also honored to have been asked to take part by participating in the motzi, the prayer over the bread. Although I suggested that our daughter, Allegra, being a professional jazz vocalist, sing the blessing solo, Stephanie wanted the two of us to also come forward and gather around the challah, along with many other relatives, and then explain its meaning afterwards. Although this would be a traditional Jewish wedding, complete with a rabbi, chupahhora, and the works, the groom and his family were not Jewish. Cousin Stephanie wanted us to provide some insights into our age-old rituals for them.

Challahs.jpg

       The meaning of the motzi, though? In all the years I had been reciting it, or hearing others do it – my whole life, that is – I had never once given any thought to its meaning. It was the prayer that we Jews say over the challah before we eat. Nuff said. Let’s eat!

       But far be it from me to deny any request from a bride, let alone Cousin Stephanie. I assured her that we would do as she’d asked.

       Then I got distracted with Thanksgiving, then Chanukah, then packing for the trip and never prepared any remarks.

      Allegra was distracted herself, given the hectic-ness of this time of year. So she never got around to getting her bridesmaid dress altered to fit. At Thanksgiving, just before she returned to the city after spending the holiday with us in Connecticut, she asked me to take her to see Krystynalocal tailor my husband swears by.

The bridesmaid dress was too long.JPG

       To our dismay, we discovered that Krystyna was taking the holiday weekend off. But a nearby boutique suggested another seamstress down the street.

       The moment I saw the words “European Tailoring” above the door, I knew that this would be no bargain. Yet I was still not prepared for what the officious proprietor, speaking in a thick-as-schlag but indeterminate European accent, would demand.

European tailor shop.jpg

       “To shorten zat dress, 125 dollars,” she said flatly, after keeping us waiting for 20 minutes. “Another 25 to shorten ze straps.”

       Why so much for mere hem? There were three layers of fabric, the woman said, the outermost of which featured accordion pleats. It wasn’t just a hem. It was a Himalaya-sized project.

       Between the price of the dress and rush shipping, Allegra had already shelled out nearly $250 for this garment – a garment, I might add, that she most likely would wear only once. I was reluctant to let her invest another penny, let alone $150 more.

       One solution would be to just wear spiky stilettos, but that was not an option. According to the wedding invitation, the venue had requested that guests eschew heels of any height.

       I may be no seamstress, but I could sew well enough to shorten the straps by hand, I said. As for the length, Allegra decided to buy a pair of wedge-style shoes. They would add height, but not puncture the grounds during the outdoor ceremony and cocktail hour.

       That is not to say her problems with the gown were over. The night before we left, Allegra phoned in a bit of a frenzy. “Are you bringing along a garment bag?” she asked. “This mother of a dress won’t fit into my suitcase.”

I was also going to wear a dress with pleats.jpg

       I realized at that moment that I was also planning to wear a mother of a dress, with voluminous pleats of its own. I instantly agreed to carry an extra bag in which I would transport both dresses, as well as my husband’s suit and that of Allegra’s boyfriend JP.

       When I went to check in for our flight online, however, I learned that the airline, Delta, charged $25 for each passenger’s first bag, but a hefty $35 for each additional bag. That meant wed be shelling out $70 to carry our dresses roundtrip, and $270 for our baggage in all.

     Yikes! 

      Scouting around on Delta’s website, I discovered one potential way around this. Delta offered three different credit cards that allowed you to carry your bags on for free.

       Unfortunately, these benefits did not come free.

       Their Platinum Delta Skymiles Business Card required an annual fee of $195.

       The Delta Reserve for Business Skymiles Card carried an annual fee of $450.

Delta Gold American Express Skymiles card.jpg

      However, the Gold Delta Skymiles card had an annual fee of only $95, and it was free for the first year. It would allow me to check the first bag free for up to eight people in my party in each directionThat would save me a whopping $200. And perhaps I could cancel it before the first year was up and never pay the $95 fee at all.

       To my delight, I was able to apply online and be instantly approved, allowing me to use the Gold card right away to check in our first bags free online.

       We got an additional bang for our buck by managing to attend not just one but two very special simchas while we were traveling out West.

Kristin invited us to her party.jpg

       A few weeks before we’d left, we had been delighted to receive a birthday party invitation from our dear friend Kristin, a lovely young woman and gifted photographer.

Kristin's dad, my husband's college friend.jpg

       Kristin is the daughter of one of my husband’s closest friends from college. We had been shocked to learn that her father, Chris, had suddenly died about four years ago. As tragic as this sad news was, it had prompted us to renew our acquaintance with Kristin, with whom we had continued corresponding ever since. But we hadn’t managed to actually see her in decades, since she was 13, because she lives out in LA.

       Her party turned out to be slated for the day between the rehearsal dinner and the wedding, so we would be able to attend.

       Even so, wondered if we would get to spend more than a few fleeting moments with her. She presumably had countless friends attending and would be busy with them. I also must confess that I wondered if she had expected in a million years that we might actually accept. (Oh, c’mon, don’t tell me I’m the only person on earth who sometimes invites people only because I feel obligated to and am all but certain they won’t accept.)        

      Yet never mind what I figured in this case. Because boy, did I figure this one wrong!

Kristin's birthday party table.JPG

      We really couldn’t wait to see Kristin after all these years, and it was evident from the moment that we arrived that the feeling was completely mutual. She embraced us exuberantly, as though we were long-lost family. And although I turned out to be right about the countless friends, when everyone was asked to find their place cards for the sit-down lunch, we learned that we’d been seated right beside the birthday girl herself!

       She proceeded to make welcoming remarks in which she introduced us to those assembled as the guests of honor, then explained how much our presence meant to her.

My husband was a Jewish John Lennon.JPG

       As she put it, her parents had been married at her grandparents country club in upstate New York – a rather stuffy and proper institution, by her account – and my husband, who had always been something of a hippie-dippie free spirit (once dubbed by friends "the Jewish John Lennon"), had chosen to flout the ultra-preppie dress code there by showing up in neon orange corduroy pants.

He wore orange pants to the wedding.jpg

      Of course Kristin had not been present for this event, which took place in the late 60s. But she had seen pictures of it and had grown up always believing that my husband was “too cool for school,” a form of praise which she still evidently assumed to be true.

       I could only hope that I qualified as similarly “too cool for school” by association.

       But if you really want to talk about cool, let me tell you what we did after lunch.

The Carpool de Ville.jpg

       Kristin’s boyfriend Phil and his friend Duncan, who met in 1997 as engineering students in Canada, had fashioned a 1969 vintage flamingo-pink Cadillac into a fully functioning hot tub. The Carpool de Ville, as this nifty tub is dubbed, was parked right on the premises, and after birthday cake had been served everyone was free to take a dip.

Kristin and Phil with her birthday cake.JPG

       Due to the unseasonably frigid weather that dominated our stay, many other guests had neglected to pack their swimsuits. But we had come fully prepared and didn’t hesitate for a second to jump on this rare and irresistible opportunity by jumping right in.

Livin' la vida Carpool de Ville.jpg

       Whether or not I was too cool for school, or merely lukewarm, the water was so mild and toasty at 105 degrees that I had to hoist myself up on the back of the vehicle periodically to cool off. 

With Kristin at her party.jpg

        Lolling in the tub for the rest of the afternoon, we managed to catch up with Kristin beyond anything we would have dreamed. But we still chose to rejoin her and Phil two nights later for even more fun, and so they could finally meet Allegra and JP.

       This led to what I can only assume was another prototypically LA experience.

JP and Allegra have the same birthday.JPG

       We were eager to make this a particularly special night because we would now be observing two additional birthdays. Allegra and JP happened to have been born on the same day in mid-December, and we wanted to celebrate with them early before they left the next day to spend the occasion with JP’s family in Sydney, Australia.

The legendary Chateau Marmont hotel.jpg

        So on Kristin’s expert recommendation, we visited two more quintessential LA hangoutsthe Chateau Marmont for drinks, followed by dinner at a trendy restaurant called Alma.

       If my husband is too cool for school, then the Chateau Marmont is by comparison the North Pole. This legendary hotel, where actor John Belushi met his tragic end, is Hollywood hot spot frequented by celebrities and others of the rich and famous persuasion. As we slid past the palm trees in its chic cocktail lounge, I felt as though we had wandered onto a post-modern version

Bar Marmont.jpg

 of the movie set for CasablancaWho cared that the cocktails cost $20 apiece? Just getting to be part of that scene was well worth the price of admission.

      The prices for dinner at Alma, though, gave me a little more pause, I must admit. The menu, which we had checked online, appeared to be within the realm of reasonable for a special meal. But when we arrived at this surprisingly spare and low-key eatery inside

Alma in The Standard, Hollywood.jpg

 The Standard, a sleek and artsy hotel, we learned that we had been mistaken.

       As the waitress hurried to explain, all of the items among its eclectic fare, whether listed as first coursesecond course, desserts, or “snacks,” were small dishes meant to be shared. And in order to have enough to eat, we’d each have to eat several of them.

At Alma with JP, Allegra, Kristin and Phil.jpg

      And never mind trying to fill up on bread. Even that came at a price ($7 per order, which turned out to consist of three modest slices with a pat of their “pro-biotic butter).

     One intriguing “snack” we chose to start off with was listed as “english muffins, uniburrata and caviar.” I knew from my love of sushi that uni are sea urchin eggs. What I did not know was that the three “English muffins” on each plate would barely have the diameter of a half-dollar. We savored two orders of these bite-sized hors d’oeuvres for $15 apiece.

A snack at the Alma -- not lox, uni!.jpg

       Next!

      On the waitress’s impassioned recommendation, we also ordered two plates of the roasted carrots and maitake mushrooms with macadamia nut and dandelion salsa ($17 each), as well as a pair each of the little gem salads” with pear, malt and hazelnuts ($9), the marinated leeks with goat cheese, chicory, crispy shallots and persimmon ($11), and the grilled sea bass with exotic spices, satsuma oranges, and celery root ($29).

The sea bass entree at Alma.jpg

     We decided to make do with only one serving of the dry aged New York steak with sunchokes, pickled chanterellesand Béarnaise ($32), as well as only one frozen duck liver with smoked maple, coffee granola, and carrots ($16) because not everyone was willing to try this odd treat, which tasted like pellets of liver-flavored ice cream topped with just a bit of java crunch.

Frozen duck liver at Alma.jpg

      Each item that arrived at the table, however elegantly arranged, was so modest a portion that we could each have only a few meager forkfuls, if that. Sas lively and hilarious a time as we were having, I found myself secretly contemplating two things.

      One, this meal, however special and historic, was going to cost us a small fortune.

      And two, we might continue to order every darn item on the menu, but no matter how many plates we ordered, we would never reach the point of actually feeling full.

    But once again I had figured dead wrong. For suddenly two things happened to render both of the assumptions above obsolete.

Mel's Drive-in in Hollywood.JPG

     One, someone came up with the brilliant idea to give up our hopeless quest for satiety and go to yet a third quintessential LA hotspot, Mel’s Drive-in, for hot fudge sundaes.

      And two, after everyone had readily agreed upon No. 1 and I asked for the check, the waitress informed me that it had already been paid.

       Huh?!?

Mel's Drive-in sundae.JPG

       Apparently, when JP had excused himself moments earlier, it had not been to visit the restroombut to stealthily preempt us from treating everyone by paying the tab himself.

       He had pulled this trick once before, last year, when we had tried to take him and Allegra out to a posh Japanese restaurant in New York. So maybe I should have known.

       Known what a sneak he can be, I mean. As well as an absurdly generous mensch.

       Now I was even more upset about the astronomical price of the meal. But there was nothing I could do.

The birthday boy and girls at Mel's Drive-in.JPG

       Nothing but join everyone for giant sundaes at Mel’s Drive-in. Everyone who was celebrating a birthday got to blow out a candle on a sundae, piece of pie a la mode, or ice cream dessert of his or her choice.

      I don’t know what they wished for, but I am happy to report that I got my wish. That is to say, I am fairly confident that by the time we were done, everyone was finally full.

       Full la la la la la la la LA!

       But this all happened on Monday night, and so I am getting ahead of myself. Because this LA story would not be complete if I didn’t tell you about the wedding. 

       Next week: The wedding.    

7:01 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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