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Friday, October 17, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

Hong Kong skyline shot by Harlan Levy.JPG       The temperature was already tiptoeing past 90, with humidity hefty enough to wilt a rock, when we landed in Hong Kong at 5 a.m. after a grueling16-hour flight. I’m not complaining, mind you. The only people who have any right to complain in this scenario are the ones who heard me screaming when I first spied my daughter’s face… and given the decibel level of my audible joy, that may have included all 7 million or so residents of Hong Kong and half the population of mainland China.Mother and child reunion.JPG
Then again, who could blame me? Allegra had been halfway around the globe since early July, ever since she had begun singing at the Hong Kong Four Seasons hotel, a three-month engagement that had since been extended through January. Although we conversed daily on WhatsApp, and even faced off occasionally on Facetime, never had we been apart for close to that long since the day she’d been born over 24 years ago.Allegra and Dad reunited in Hong Kong.JPG
Having never been to Asia, my husband and I had decided to treat ourselves to three whole weeks in the so-called Far East, during which we’d visit Beijing and Bangkok as well. Yet given that our daughter was stationed halfway around the globe, we planned to spend the majority of that time in Hong Kong.
Life is short. Vacations -- even lengthy ones like this -- are shorter. We wanted to see as many parts unknown as possible. But mostly, being a nice Jewish mom and dad, we wanted to see her.
The feeling was apparently mutual, because despite my endless entreaties she had stayed up all night to meet us at the train station holding a homemade welcome sign.Allegra with welcome sign in Hong Kong.JPG
After taking turns embracing our long-lost and much-missed child, we took a cab to her apartment for a much-needed nap. Then, since it was still too early to check into our hotel, we set off to meet Allegra’s new boyfriend over lunch at their favorite dumpling place.Allegra and JP.JPG
       She and JP 
had first met soon after she had arrived. He had gone to college at Oxford, in England, with Tom, the son of my husband’s best friend from prep school. Knowing that JP had recently returned to Hong Kong after living in Europe for many years, Tom had asked JP to please look in on Allegra.
        Looks like he liked what he saw.
We, meanwhile, had been looking at him only in the occasional photos that Allegra posted on Facebook. So it was a delight to discover that he had not just a charming British accent, but a radiant smile that truly lit up the room and a magnetic personality to match.JP and us at our first lunch.JPG
It didn’t hurt that he was fluent in both Cantonese and Mandarin, along with English, German, and other languages, no doubt. Never mind that most menus offered basic English translations. We were happy to let JP and Allegra order food for us, give our address to cab drivers, and take charge of nearly everything else that might get lost in translation for the duration of our time together.Hong Kong tailor first fitting.jpg
That included taking a trip to JP's tailor after lunch because my husband wanted to order a custom-made suit, something that we’d been told was de rigueur in Hong Kong. We figured we should get him measured asap, so that it would be ready by the time we left.
He’d never had anything made to order before, and it was fun picking out both the fabric – a dark pinstriped cashmere-wool blend – and silk lining in a rich claret red. Only then did we learn the price, which was not exactly the bargain that we’d anticipated. No matter. Life is short, as I said, but the sleeves and pants would not be. The finished product was guaranteed to be a perfect fit.Hong Kong shop with roast ducks.JPG
Afterwards, we strolled back to our hotel, which Allegra said would be a 15-minute walk but ended up taking well over an hour because we kept stopping every five feet or so to gape at something we’d never seen before.Spice Girl in Hong Kong.JPG
        The streets were teeming with open storefronts purveying everything from dried fish, aromatic spices, and raw or roasted meats and poultry to ornately carved coffins and T-shirts printed with oddly distorted English phrases.Hong Kong shop with produce.JPG

“Rolling Stom,” read one.
        (Spell-check, anyone?)Galleria shopping mall in Kowloon.JPG
But make no mistake. Regardless of its many touches of quaint, local flavor, Hong Kong is a booming metropolis even more upscale and modern, in many ways, than New York. Shopping malls and designer boutiques offering Western luxury goods abound. The residents, particularly women, are almost aggressively stylish, their impossibly flawless sub-zero-size physiques adorned in high heels and lavishly color-coordinated get-ups.Pattie dressed for Blue Bar.JPG
By late afternoon, we were ready to pass out from the withering heat and humidity, but it was time instead to get all dolled up for the moment that we’d been breathlessly anticipating for months.Allegra at Blue Bar.JPG
As the resident singer at the Four Seasons, Allegra's duties consist entirely of performing every Friday and Saturday night at Blue Bar, a posh club widely considered to be the top jazz venue in Hong Kong. I know – tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it. Somebody in high heels and a glitzy evening gown. And that somebody is my little goyl.
We normally attend most of her performances in NYC, so it had been agonizing to know that she’d been singing in this classy place for months and be unable to go.Allegra and us at Blue Bar first night.JPG
Yet let me tell you what was even more agonizing: to be there at last, in a setting even more glamorous than I had ever imagined, and be unable to keep my eyes open!
After helping ourselves to the bar’s lavish spread of complimentary hors d’oeuvres, we were welcomed warmly by the management and members of the Bob Mocarsky Trio, the top-notch jazz band with which she performs. I was so thrilled to view them in the flesh after seeing them only on Facebook that I could hardly contain myself.Allegra at Blue Bar first night.JPG
It was also a thrill to discover that after performing there regularly for many weeks, Allegra sounded better than ever (if you ask me).
But her gig spanned five full hours, from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m., and between the 16-hour flight and the 12-hour time difference, even Krazy Glue couldn’t have kept my eyelids from drooping.
It made no difference that I eschewed the club’s many fancy martinis in favor of a lotus-flavored mocktail.
Fortunately, we would get to see her perform four more times before we left.Pattie passing out in Hong Kong.JPG
Unfortunately, my eyes would have to stay unglued a little longer, because when we returned to our hotel at 2 a.m., our air-conditioning was kaput and the room was sweltering.
On Allegra’s advice, we had booked a place a block from her apartment called The Traders, operated by a chain called Shangri-La. Whether or not the Four Seasons was within our budget (make that a big NOT), we wanted to stay as close to her as possible.Traders hotel Hong Kong.jpg
Traders (which has since changed its name to The Jen) was ultra-modern and comfortable, but not without a/c. The management sent up a technician, who banged loudly till 3 a.m., to no avail. At that point they offered to move us to another room, but I was too beat to move a muscle, let alone a suitcase. So they vowed to repair it the next day, and to compensate for our inconvenience upgraded us to eat most of our breakfasts in their exclusive top-floor club room overlooking the harbor below.Traders club room breakfast.JPG
It’s hard to say which was more divine – the vast Western and Asian breakfast buffet (including eggs, lox, quiche, assorted croissants, fried noodles, fresh fruit, and the Chinese breakfast food of choice, a thin gruel called congee) or that gorgeous room and view. But it would be safe to say that we got over our disgruntlement real quick.
        We also
 didn't mind letting Allegra and JP take charge of our agenda over the coming days and escort us to many of Hong Kong’s most popular tourist sites.Allegra and me at The Peak.JPGAllegra and friends at The Peak.jpg
        We taxied
along with a small group of their friends to The Peak, at the apex of Mount Victoria (the highest point in this mountainous seaside city), where we took countless photos of the surrounding panoramic view, but mostly snapped each other.We've got a lovely bunch of coconuts.JPG
We boarded a ferry to lush Lamma Island, where we hiked and bathed in the mild yet murky waters, cooling off by sipping fresh coconut juice straight from the shell.
We had fun hondeling (bargaining) for silk scarves, traditional Chinese fans, and other souvenirs in the bustling outdoor Ladies' Market across the harbor in Kowloon.
But most of our activities, I must confess, revolved almost entirely around food.Harlan and Pattie at Din Tai Fung dumpling house.JPG
We dined on the famous soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung, located in aDumplings at Din Tai Fung.JPG Kowloon shopping mall. (Dumplings, especially ones filled with hot broth, are big – really big -- in Hong Kong!)
We devoured nitrogen ice cream made right before our eyes and all manner of Asian cuisines, from spicy Thai delicacies at a casual food court to flavorful banh mi thit and other Vietnamese specialties at Bêp, their favorite luncheon spot.JP and Allegra with nitrogen ice cream.JPG
And on Sunday morning we indulged in a lavish spread of dim sum, which included not only a sumptuous variety of noodles, dumplings, and emerald green Chinese kale, but (to my mild horror) a tiny, glistening, roasted brown pigeon, tiny head, beak, and all.Dim sum (minus pigeon).JPG
Other than that last bit, perhaps, we loved every bit of it, but mostly we relished the company we kept. After all, I'm just a nice Jewish mom. I didn’t really care one whit what we did or where we ate, as long as we did it together.Harlan Allegra and JP.JPG
One night, en route to a stylish Asian fusion eatery in Kowloon called Spice, JP insisted that we take a brief sudden detour. After wandering in the muggy air for hours, my husband’s shirt was notably damp, to put it delicately. JP was worried that he would be uncomfortable in the air-conditioned restaurant and wanted him to buy another shirt.Harlan in new striped polo in Hong Kong.JPG
We looked at the shop’s offerings and promptly purchased a striped blue polo, but mostly we looked at each other incredulously. For days, we had been pestering JP to teach us to say various key phrases in Chinese – “Thank you.” “Where’s the toilet?” “How much does this cost?”
        But now even English failed us, because the only word that would possibly do
was “mensch.”Allegra with noodles.JPG
That is in no way to suggest that we were ready to give up on our terrible "Chinglish" or consider trading in our chopsticks.
o my great surprise, instead of growing weary of eating Chinese food both day and night, I soon found myself craving more of it… and craving nothing else.Hong Kong subway snacks.JPG
In fact, after several days of eating like the locals, we found ourselves taking our new environs happily in stride and no longer gawking at sights like the kiosks inside the subway station, which were stocked with snacks consisting mainly of assorted dried fish… and (I suspect) dried bugs.
And yet we still felt very far from home, particularly on Rosh Hashanah.We missed Aidan and Kaitlin.JPG
As happy as we were to celebrate the Jewish New Year with Allegra, we sorely missed being with her older brother Aidan and his girlfriend Kaitlin. It also felt strange to be unable to attend services at our own temple, as we always do.Allegra and Matt on Rosh Hashanah.JPG
At least Allegra's friend Matt, a nice Jewish boy from Chicago, had invited us over for a holiday dinner. Knowing this, I had carted from home a big braided challah, some extra wide egg noodles to make a kugel, and a pair of white Shabbat candles from my synagogue.
We’d agreed that under the circumstances, the meal alone would suffice as a way to observe the holiday. But when we woke up that morning, Allegra reconsidered.
"I feel weird we're not in temple," she texted to me.
"Me too!" I texted back.Ohel Leah Synagogue.jpg
So we set off across town in search of the Ohel Leah synagogue, a modern orthodox congregation that serves as the epicenter of Hong Kong's Jewish life.
We traipsed up and down steep, narrow streets and alleyways in the brutal heat, but we simply couldn't find it. It was so humid and it seemed so hopeless that we were tempted to give up. Then again, how in good conscience could we? At last, after arriving at what we thought was the right address but seeing no sign of a synagogue, we asked a guard in uniform. He pointed to what looked like a posh apartment building sequestered behind formidable iron gates.
That was a synagogue? Who knew?
A lean and somewhat belligerent Israeli-sounding man interrogated us. Who were we? Why were we there?Allegra in polka dot dress and bow.jpg
        Never mind that we were two very sweaty alta cockers (old fogies) and a nice Jewish girl in a pretty beige polka dot dress with a silk bow in her hair. He demanded to see our passports and made us open our handbags for careful inspection.
Satisfied at last that we were "there for the right reasons," as they say on the TV show The Bachelor, he informed us that holiday services had just concluded, but we were welcome to join them for the kiddush.Hong Kong synagogue.JPG
I assumed this meant a thimble full of ritual wine and bit of challah. But after descending three floors into the safely secluded social hall, we stepped into a vast banquet room to see several hundred well-dressed Jews seated at round tables for ten.
We quickly found seats at a corner table with a young Israeli ex-pat couple -- a diamond merchant and his pregnant wife -- and then the feast began.
I thought it was a simple vegetarian meal with assorted salads, challah, and couscous, but then the wait staff carried in platters groaning under pounds of brisket and roast potatoes, and when we had eaten our fill of this, they planted a plump roasted pullet on every table. Then came honey cake with non-dairy ice cream for dessert.
It was all delicious. But oy! How would we ever eat dinner at Matt’s now?Rabbi and rebbetzen of Ohel Leah Synagogue.jpg
After belting out the Birkat Hamazon (the prayer after eating), the rabbi came over to greet our family personally, and told us that his very first pulpit had been in Norwich, CT, not far from where we live now.
Small world when you are a Jew!
Then the rebbetzen, his wife, with multiple children clinging to her skirted suit, came over to meet us as well and to recruit Allegra for their young professionals social group, noting that they had many single Jewish men who were members, but “not so many single Jewish women.”
After bidding our many new friends goodbye, we spent the afternoon wandering the streets, trying to work up an appetite as we slowly gathered the ingredients for dinner.Allegra and JP cooking on Rosh Hashanah.JPG
Then we joined JP and went to Matt's apartment to help prepare yet another meal.
This one, though, would be a little less traditional.
I had brought that bag of Manischewitz wide egg noodles from home, fully prepared to help Allegra make a lukshen kugel using the recipe listed on my web site. However, it turned out that they expected me to whip up some matzah ball soup as well.Matt cooking in Hong Kong.JPG
Noting this, Matt proffered a round canister of matzah meal.
"Do you have shmaltz?" I asked, referring to the chicken fat traditionally used in the dough. "Seltzer? How about an onion?"
None of the above, he admitted sheepishly. But he did have some dark greenish duck fat rendered from the duck stock he’d made the night before, which would serve as the base for my soup.Pattie making matzah balls.JPG
I didn’t have the recipe I always use, the one that had been handed down from my great grandmother to my grandmother to my mother to me. But that was the least of my challenges. Matt’s kitchen wasn’t even equipped with measuring cups or spoons. Yikes!My matzah balls puffed right up.JPG
Without a recipe, several key ingredients, or much of the necessary equipment, I simply would have to improvise. No matter. We had matzah meal and eggs. And using the duck fat, baking powder to add leavening, and onion powder in place of the onions I usually use to infuse flavor, I did my best to create a mixture with the right basic consistency.
And to my relief, the balls I made puffed right up and floated to the top of the pot.Kugel in Hong Kong.JPG
        Meanwhile, Allegra whipped up a luscious noodle kugel topped with toasted almonds, with JP serving as sous chef.Matt's chopped duck liver.JPG
The chopped duck liver that Matt had prepared and served with matzah may not have been quite kosher.
         Neither was the mammoth brisket that he slow-roasted on a gas grill, nor his tsimmes, created from carrots, purple Chinese sweet potatoes, and plump red dates, exactly what Grandma used to make.Tsimmes Matt made in Hong Kong.JPG

But we consumed it all at a table on the rooftop of Matt's building, by the light of the moon and those white tapers that I’d brought, which we anchored into two empty beer bottles in lieu of candlesticks. And as the five of us sang the blessings over the candles, wine, and bread, I would honestly say that I'd never felt closer to G-d... or home.Rosh Hashanah table we set in Hong Kong2.JPG

Next week: Our Asian adventures continue in Beijing and beyond.Pattie in Hong Kong.jpg

4:13 pm 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

Pattie in orange hat.JPG        For months now, I’ve been alluding to the big trip I will be taking to visit my daughter in Hong Kong. Well, it’s time for the alluding to be over. Let the eluding begin!
That is to say, my husband and I are about to embark on a three-week trip to Asia. In addition to spending time with Allegra, who is singing at the Hong Kong Four Seasons for seven months, we’ll also travel to Beijing and Bangkok and a Thai beach. And as much as I would love to take you along for the ride, the fact is that I’m anxious about schlepping my computer on such an elaborate journey. This also may be the only time I ever get to visit these distant destinations, and I don’t want to sit in a hotel room writing when I could be out climbing the Great Wall or devouring dim sum or pad thai.Bangkok lit up.jpg
This is my way of saying that I have no intention of breaking up with you, but I’m about to take a break for three full weeks. I hope you won’t forget me while I’m gone.
With that in mind, let me assure you that I will be back in mid-October with exciting new adventures. Not only will I be hanging out with my daughter in many exotic locales, but we’ll be observing Rosh Hashanah in Hong Kong and then Yom Kippur in Bangkok. How cool (albeit unorthodox) is that?
And if you actually find that you miss me that much (as if!), feel free to “friend” me on Facebook, where I’m sure I will be posting plenty of pictures as Patricia Weiss Levy.ITALY 2011 meet the Levys.jpg
Yet whether or not you miss me, I promise that I will genuinely miss you. Then again, I cannot tell a lie. It may be a great relief to take this much-needed respite. As of this week, I've been writing in this space for four years and have only taken off two weeks in a row once, when we went on our last real family vacation to Italy three years ago.
What I have never taken (since I was a zaftig teen, anyway) was a three-week trip. Seems impossibly extravagant, doesn't it? It’s just that after taking a 16-hour flight, I feel we should get our money’s worth and see as much of Allegra and another continent as we can.Kugel I made.jpg
Still, I must admit that I’m feeling a little guilty about leaving all of you behind, especially during the High Holy Days. (Shouldn’t I be home posting tips about making kugel and brisket?) But what I’m really feeling guilty about (nice Jewish mom that I am) is leaving behind our dog. You know where I’m going and that we will be back soon. How do I explain that to Latke?
        Never fear, however. She will be having a vacation of her own with her many friends at Wags, her favorite puppy “playcare” center. Also, just before leaving, we treated her to an extra special day on which I can safely say she had the time of her life.Latke and pals in pool 2013.JPG
Our local JCC swim club was once again hosting a Doggie Funday, held after the facilities closed for the summer, but just before they drained the pools.
When Latke attended this illustrious event last year, she not only had a total blast diving in and out of the kiddie pool with reckless abandon, but also entered the talent competition, in which, to our amazement, she managed to clinch third place.Latke leaping up last year.JPG
Although she thoroughly impressed the judges with her ability to leap over a stick, I doubted that reproducing the same trick a year later would produce the same results. So the moment that we decided to attend again, I began wracking my brain for a new stunt.
They say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but at 2½ Latke is far from old. As a Portuguese Water Dog, she’s also pretty sharp as canines go. However, we’d spent much of last summer perfecting her jumping skills. With only a few weeks left, we might not want to stick with the stick, but she’s still a dog. We couldn’t be too ambitious.
My first impulse was to attempt that oldie but goodie, getting Rover to roll over. Detailed instructions that I found online indicated that this could be achieved by holding a fragrant treat by her ear while she was lying down and getting her to follow the scent. When that didn’t work, I tried manually rolling her over. Gravity and growling intervened.
A clerk at the pet supplies store suggested getting her to stand on her hind legs and pirouette by holding a treat above her head. Latke was very interested in the treat. Spinning, though? Not so much. She’d balance for a few seconds on her toes before planting her paws painfully on my stomach. Sharp as she is, a ballerina she’ll never be.Latke three card Monte.JPG
As a last resort, I tried capitalizing on a novel skill that Latke already possessed. For years, we have been playing a sort of three-card Monte game in which I conceal a treat in one of my hands, hold them both closed, palm down, in front of her and get her to choose which one it’s in. She is pretty good at this feat, but let’s face it – it’s not all that impressive. She hits one hand with her paw, and if she doesn’t get it on the first try, then she always does the second time around because there’s only one other choice.Latke three card Monte 2.JPG
What would make the trick more impressive was if she could get it right every time (which seemed possible if I resorted to using VERY SMELLY treats). Better yet, what if I could teach her to know her left from her right? Or at least appear to know her left from her right?
We worked on this for awhile, with me exclaiming “Left!” and looking pointedly toward my left hand, then doing the same thing with the right. Any luck? Yeah, right!        Latke was happy to keep practicing, but it remained a clear case of hit or miss. Maybe it was time to give up and simply stick with the stick.
The day before the big day, with none of her new skills quite ready for prime time, we came up with a final inspiration. We went to the store to buy a Hula Hoop. I figured she could jump through that as easily as she could leap over a stick, but it would look like it was something new.

        We bought a very impressive lemon yellow hoop with bright pink plastic doohickies that lit up on contact. Latke took one look at this and ran the other way.

Latke and Zoey with hula hoop.JPG
Until, that is, her bff Zoey came over. Zoey, at about 6 months, may be only a puppy, and less than half of Latke’s size at that, but she took one look at the treat we were brandishing on the other side of the hoop and stepped bravely through. And not to be outdone in the treat department, so instantly did Latke.Latke and Zoey with hula hoop 2.JPG
They practiced this new prowess until it was perfected and we were out of treats.
The next morning, before leaving for the JCC, I dressed Latke in her costume, a shocking pink feathered boa I had found in my daughter’s closet. This may sound a little over-the-top as dogwear goes. But it was so light that she didn’t notice it, and even smiled for the camera.Latke in pink boa.JPG
Then I took her into the yard to practice jumping through the hoop one last time. She took one look at it and ran again.
We were back to square one.
With only minutes left to prepare, we couldn’t begin to teach her a new trick now. The best we could do, we figured, was demonstrate all of her half-baked skills hoping that one would work.Cirque de Lat-Kay sign.JPG
My husband came up with a clever name for this circus act: Cirque de Lat-Kay. I quickly fashioned a sign on my computer, adding a pretty pink tulle bow. We were off!
Before you cast any aspersions about my trying to get my dog to perform, let me just mention that under most circumstances, I am far from a competitive person. No, it’s beyond that. I am probably just about the least competitive person you know.
Growing up in a family of fiercely competitive people, I quickly learned when I was young that I was never going to win and set about learning instead to lose graciously.
As time went on, I began to realize that other people enjoyed winning so much more than I did that it was in everyone’s best interest that I lose. So the real challenge for me became to lose not just graciously but deliberately without making it too obvious.
So when it came to Latke winning or losing, I didn’t care because she wouldn’t care. The person who would care was my husband, and I wanted to try for his benefit.
Besides, in the end, win or lose, it is always much more fun to participate than just sit and watch.Doggie Funday On your mark.JPG
The moment that we arrived, we discovered that there was once again a whole lot of participating to do.
Dozens of dogs and their owners had gathered for the fun and games in store.
First, everyone lined up for the doggie dash, a nearly 2-mile, on-leash walk-run around the property.
Latke thought this was pretty cool, but after it was iver she was all ready to cool off. One look at the adult swimming pool and she took a sudden leap in, only to think better of it and scramble out with a whole lot of tugging from us.Doggie Funday A tall order.JPG
Then I did my best to dry her off because the talent show was about to begin.Phred catching Frisbee.JPG
A black and white dog named Phred (yes, Fred with a Ph, “just to be different”) impressed everyone by catching a Frisbee (or was it a Phrisbee?).
A dinosaur of a dog named Daisy perched on her hind legs to retrieve a treat (although the most notable part of the act was her sheer height, which exceeded that of her young owner).Doggie Funday talent contest.JPG
Latke watched intently as her next competitor, who looked a lot like her, simply sat and gave his or her paw.
Then it was our turn up at bat. My husband donned a wizard’s hat I had brought while I held up our nifty sign for all present to see.Harlan in wizard hat.JPG
Latke balanced on her hind legs just long enough to snatch a treat without leaning on me, which looked somehow much more impressive performed with that pink boa on.
Then she leapt over her good old stick in both directions before catching a bright pink ball that lit up in her mouth.
Dare we even try for the grand finale? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. We held up the hoop. I proffered a treat. She didn’t leap, but didn’t run either. Dogs are nothing if not natural performers. Egged on by an appreciative audience, Latke stepped through. One small step for a previously skittish dog. One giant leap for canine-kind!
Raucous applause ensued.Doggie Funday Charlie rolled over.JPG
Next up, unfortunately, was Charlie, a little spaniel who had come in first last year.
Last year, all Charlie had done, as far as I can recall, was a whole lot of standard dog stuff like sitting and giving his paw. The secret weapon in his act was his pint-sized owner, who looked too damn adorable to settle for second-best.
This year, that owner had grown a bit. But so had Charlie’s repertoire. He sat. He gave a paw. He went down on all fours. And then, with stunning aplomb, he rolled over.
Upstaged again.
It took the judges only moments to come to a decision.
Charlie, no surprise, nabbed first place. Again.Doggie Funday 2nd place certificate.JPG
But then – big surprise – Latke came in second!
Our prize was merely a certificate bearing her name. Still, victory was sweet.
Maybe losing, however graciously, isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be – in my book, anyway – after all.Send in the clown.JPG
Although I knew we had already garnered our share of recognition for the day, I still entered Latke in the costume contest, requiring us to parade around in a circle with theCharlie the sailor.JPG other pets who had dressed for the occasion. As glam as Latke looked still sporting her flaming pink boa, there were many other worthy contenders, including one of the saddest clowns I’ve ever seen and Charlie, our arch rival, who looked awfully cute all dolled up in his itsy bitsy sailor suit.And the winner was....JPG
First prize, however, went to the dog in the football jersey, with an owner to match. Together, they made a great team. Touchdown!Dog looks like owner.JPG
The next event – dog who looked most like its owner – was one contest for which I was content to sit out and watch. But others were less proud and I must say the winners made quite a spectacle of themselves. Almost literally.Doggie Funday obstacle course.JPG
I let Latke take off her fine feathered regalia for the next competition, a race through an obstacle course, for which she made a good enough showing to come in fourth place.Latke in pool 2014 3.JPG
But soon enough it was time to do what we’d really come for all along – not to win. To jump in! All summer long, I had felt guilty every single time that we had gone to the club for a swim on a hot, sunny day and left poor Latke languishing inside at home. Now was her moment to make up for lost time.Latke in pool 2014 1.JPG
Last year, it had taken a ball tossed into the water to get her to dive in. This time, she needed no props, nor encouragement. There were countless other hounds already having a blast in the water and she eagerly joined the wet and wild throng.
So, however, did several children present, who didn’t quite get the idea that the kiddie pool had been taken over by other bathers for the day. Diving in with dogs may be even more exhilarating than swimming with, say, dolphins, but I hope that these youngsters’ mothers hosed them down afterwards. After seeing many a dog squat in the water (including my own, I must confess) I can assure you that I bathed Latke.Latke in pool 2014.JPG
But first she got to swim her fill and then some, and by the time we left we had one very wet, waterlogged, yet thoroughly satisfied pooch. And the knowledge that we now had a full year to pick, learn and perchance perfect another talent for her bag of tricks.
Assuming that they hold the event again, in which case you know we will be there.Latke and me 1.JPG
Here, for those who may not get it, is the great thing about dogs. Sure, they’ll jump through hoops for you (or at the very least walk reluctantly through them). But far better is how boundlessly they love you, even if you only take them swimming once a year. They erupt in full-blown ecstasy whenever you just return from taking out the garbage. Can you imagine how Latke will react when we return from Asia after three long weeks?Latke will jump through hoops for me.JPG
Right now, it’s a little hard to imagine leaving her behind for so long. But that’s a small price to pay for getting to see my daughter’s face for first time in three months.
And I know somehow that Latke will forgive me for going. I hope you will too. See you after September. After Columbus Day that is. Don’t forget to check back then.
        Until then, happy new year!

5:57 pm 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

Pattie keeping cool.JPG        Sorry that I posted so late (yet again!), but thanks to Labor Day it was a very short week last week, and I’ve been laboring frantically ever since just trying to catch up.
The best thing about Labor Day, if you ask me, is that you don’t – labor, that is. The closest thing I did to work all that weekend – beyond swimming languorous laps in the local JCC pool – was to prepare an epic end-of-summer feast including grilled salmon, chicken, corn on the cob, and some succulent trayf that I’d prefer not to name.corn on the cob.jpg
Yet the fact is that along with a national holiday that celebrates work by avoiding it, the past two weeks have included two other major events that obliged me to plead for time off from that triumvirate of taskmasters for whom I work – me, myself, and I.
        Aidan's 28th birthday cake.jpg
The first was the anniversary of the birth of my firstborn child. You might think that our son Aidan would have better things to do on his 28th birthday than hanging out with his poor old nice Jewish mom and dad. We assumed that too. But the birthday fell midweek, and he preferred to celebrate with his friends at a jazz club the following Saturday night.Aidan and friends on his 28th at Fat Cat.jpg
Besides, he has never been much of a party animal, particularly when it comes to his own birthday. Sure, I threw some pretty elaborate festivities in his honor back when he was a kid, notably including an X-Men-themed party when he turned 8 and a soccer match (for which I  tie-dyed t-shirts for all his friends) the year that he turned 9.Aidan's X-Men birthday cake.jpg
But he now far prefers to keep things low-key. Modest and unassuming to the max, he hates to toot his own horn and hesitates to ever make himself the center of attention. A few years ago, when someone asked him what he’d been up to lately, I heard him reply, “Not much.” That wasn’t true then and could not be further from the truth now.Aidan's soccer 9th birthday party.JPG 
Let me tell you about some of the “not much” that he’s up to these days (since as his supremely proud nice Jewish mom, I am a little less reticent about it). He just began his Ph. D in English at Columbia University last week, even though he’s busy writing a book, a biography of musician Lou Reed, which is due to his publisher in November. He’s also an active jazz journalist on staff at both The Village Voice and JazzTimes magazine, still works occasionally in his “spare time” as a stagehand in TV and film, and continues to play a weekly gig in a Big Band Era swing band at a nightclub in New York.
Yet he somehow still found time to go out to dinner with us on his actual big day.Aidan and Kaitlin.JPG
Given that the occasion fell on a Wednesday, the same night as Aidan’s weekly gig, we decided to stay overnight and go hear him play afterwards. The awful truth is that we hadn’t been there in over a year, which made me feel awfully guilty. It’s just that Wednesday nights are awfully tough because my husband still has a regular job, we live over two hours away from NYC, and the gig runs extremely late, from 8:45 to 11:45 p.m.Becco.jpg
But first we met Aidan and his girlfriend Kaitlin at Becco, a bustling Italian eatery a few doors down from the club on West 46th Street. We love this place largely because it has a nightly special that is among the best deals in town. Called Sinfonia di Paste, it includes a choice of a phenomenal Caesar salad or mixed antipasto appetizer, followed by unlimited servings of three different pastas of the day – that is, all you can eat for a very reasonable $22.95.Becco Sinfonia di Paste.jpg
All three pastas that day were scrumptious, as always, and after we’d eaten all that we could eat, I suggested that we order a dessert with a candle so we could sing to Aidan. He adamantly declined, having truly eaten his fill… until, that is, I readily agreed, proposing that we save the dessert and singing for later at the club instead. That made his cheeks grow ruddier than the marinara sauce on the linguini we had just devoured.Aidan and birthday cake.JPG
“I don’t want anyone at the club to know that it’s my birthday!” he declared. (Big surprise.) So rather than deprive a nice Jewish mom of singing to her son, he succumbed to a slice of chocolate mousse cake served with a loud and hearty serenade from half the Becco wait staff.Allegra called from Hong Kong.jpg (Not exactly low-key.)
        As stirring as that may have been, I must confess to one maudlin moment. My daughter Allegra called from Hong Kong via FaceTime to wish her brother a happy birthday, which let us see her and her see us. I had already been beyond sad to have her miss a big family occasion, but imagining how she must have felt to glimpse her whole family sitting around the table celebrating without her was unbearable. So I'm sorry to confess that I completely lost it and (despite Aidan's attempt to head me off at the pass by entreating "Don't cry Mom!") my eyes unleashed a flash flood.Aidan's birthday dinner at Becco.JPG
        But t
hen, for his sake, I managed to pull myself together. Besides, it was time for presents.
        The truth was that we already had made him go buy his own gift earlier in the week. He’d desperately needed a new computer to start his six-year program at school, and it seemed more prudent to let him go pick one out himself than for us to presume to choose it for him.MacBook Pro.jpg
To me, though, buying him something so utilitarian -- albeit from Apple, and no matter how pricey -- smacked of the days when my parents would give my brother and me new socks, mittens, and PJ’s for Chanukah. How much fun is that?
So I surprised him with a few unexpected tchotchkes, including a nifty new speaker to amplify the music that he’ll listen to on his new MacBook Pro. Useful? Yes. But also fun.
Then it was time to rush over to the club in time for the performance to begin.Swing 46.jpg
Swing 46, on West 46th Street between 8th and 9th avenues, is a jazz and supper club in the center of the theater district with live music seven nights a week. Aidan plays the bari saxophone there as part of the Stan Rubin Orchestra, a.k.a. SRO, a 16-piece combo that performs jazz standards in the style of Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey. If you are looking for an authentic swinging throwback to better days gone by, Stan is your man. He and his troupe have been on the music scene long enough to have played at Grace Kelly’s wedding in 1956.Swing 46 Aidan's friends.JPG
Aidan's desire to keep things low-key, Kaitlin had invited several of their friends to join us, including two of Aidan’s former college roommates. It seemed a little sad and unfair that we got to socialize with the birthday boy’s friends for hours while he labored onstage. But the fact is that, as much as Aidan hates to toot his own horn, he loves to play it – hisAidan with his bari sax.JPG saxophone, that is. And at least he was able to join us for two long breaks.
What he was not able to do was join us on the dance floor, on which we managed to thoroughly embarrass ourselves, despite any skills we managed to glean during the club’s nightly swing-dancing lesson. So my husband decided to horn in on Aidan’s act by dragging Kaitlin out on the dance floor once or twice. Talk about embarrassing!Harlan and Kaitlin dancing at Swing 46.JPG
        Then suddenly, to
my surprise and delight, the band launched into a jazzy rendition of "Happy Birthday." But it turned out that they were just singing to a patron who was there celebrating her own special day. Aidan, as planned, told no one about his own simcha.Swing 46 Lynn singing.JPG
So the most memorable moment of the evening occurred when the band’s longtime singer, Lynn McCune, took the stage to croon several jazzy numbers. She always performs with such passion and verve, swiveling her hips sassily as she sings, that as she passed me after taking a bow, I congratulated her by declaring awkwardly, “You’ve still got it!”
I realized as I said this that it was a pretty lame and corny thing to say. But it was not nearly as corny or lame as what my husband thought I’d said. Hearing loss runs in his family, and at 70 he has more than his share of it. (Once, when I called upstairs to ask him if he had any laundry, explaining that I was washing reds, he replied, “Fred? Who’s Fred?)Swing 46 Stan Rubin Orchestra.JPG
But his hearing issues are particularly challenging in a loud room, and between the music and the din of the crowd, this place was really LOUD. So after Lynn passed, he asked me to repeat what I had said to her, explaining that what he thought I’d said was, “You go, goddess!”Swing 46 dance lesson.JPG
Ever since then, he has continued to cheer me on with that bizarre exclamation whenever it remotely applies.
Which brings me to the other major event that made me abandon my usual labors.
I have written about it in this space before, and I’ve been there far more often than I’ve written about it. But the antiques and collectibles show in Brimfield, Massachusetts, was on last week, and two unusual things happened there that made this Brimfield like no other Brimfields.Brimfield tchotchkes.JPG
This lively event, which bills itself as the largest outdoor antiques show in the country, is held three times a year, for six days at a pop, in May, July, and September. My cousin and I go there at least once each summer, but this year she convinced me to go all three times, which I must confess didn’t require a whole lot of arm twisting.Susan and me at Brimfield.JPG
Of course, there is never anything that we really need. Until we see it, that is. With over 5,000 dealers from throughout the U.S., we’re guaranteed to spy countless things so compelling that once we see them we can no longer live without them.Brimfield Lusterware plate.JPG
Adding to that sense of must-have-or-I’ll-die is that most of the prices are far from high, and nearly all are extremely negotiable. If you pay full price, then you are a fool. For those who like to hondel (Yiddish for “haggle”), this is a bargain-hunter’s heaven.Brimfield Noritake bowl.JPG
This time around, I seemed to come across more gotta-haves than I ever have. These included a lovely antique Lusterware plate (marked $8 but for which I only paid $6), and a Noritake bowl featuring swans on a lake, marked $12 but surrendered for only $9.Brimfield teapot.JPG
Then there was the orange polka dot teapot (also marked $8 but relinquished for $6) and a glass condiment bowl with a glass-bead border that was priced at $10 but I got for only $7 because I “bundled it” with theBrimfield condiment dish.JPG matching glass goblet and serving platter. (The more you buy at any booth, the more willing the merchant is to give you a break.)Brimfield statement necklace.JPG
Our greatest score, no doubt, was at a booth stocking vintage clothing and jewelry, from which I walked away with three pairs of earrings, two pins, and two necklaces – including this black and white “statement necklace” – for a measly 30 bucks all told.
But my sense of buyer’s euphoria over all this booty would soon enough go bust.
I was killing time in another tent while my cousin haggled over a lamp when I happened to glance down at a table and see some items that made me recoil in horror.
There, arranged neatly in a shallow glass case, was a collection of German World War II medals, Hitler figurines, and other such memorabilia embellished with swastikas.
Although I’ve seen them in books and newsreels, I’d never seen one up close.
“Let’s go!” I barked sharply to my cousin, interrupting her chat with the merchant.Nazi memorabilia.jpg
“O…K.,” she agreed reluctantly, clearly mystified.
“Now!” I added, punctuating my initial overture with a clearly urgent command.
“Did I do something?” the merchant asked, bewildered to see us beat so hasty a retreat.
I merely glared back, so shocked by the gruesome sight that I could barely speak. “Yes, you did,” I finally managed to mutter back almost under my breath.
“Am I allowed to know what it is?” he persisted.
We were 10 yards away by the time I turned back in his direction to answer. “You’re selling Nazi memorabilia?” I cried. “Seriously? That’s… that’s disgusting!”old man at Brimfield.jpg
The vendor, a disheveled older man with wispy white hair and matching stubble on his cheeks, simply shrugged. “Hey, just ’cuz I sell it doesn’t mean that I agree with it,” he replied defensively. “But there’s a market for the stuff. Why not keep an open mind?”
“An open mind?” I shouted back over my shoulder. “Really? Are you kidding me? Have you ever heard of the Holocaust?”
How dare he tell me to keep an open mind? Was he out of his mind?!? Six million Jews and many people of other faiths were brutally murdered during the Holocaust. This is not the sort of thing that should be commemorated with knickknacks. And even if there are sick people out there who collect such items, that doesn't make it perfectly fine to display them in places where nice, well-meaning people will casually encounter them.
Perhaps I should have stayed and tried to explain how deeply offensive this was. But what was the point? He wasn’t going to change his business to accommodate me.
        At the same time,
I began to think, how entitled was I to my righteous indignation? Yes, it was despicable for anyone to try to make a profit by trading in Nazi collectibles.Amputations sign.jpg
On the other hand, there were many more booths there offering Civil War mementos. This included a large wooden sign emblazoned “AMPUTATIONS.” (Who in G-d’s name would actually buy that?) But there was also no shortage of Aunt Jemima figurines. I saw many of them that day, along with a copy of the children’s book Little Black Sambo.Aunt Jemima figurine.jpg
Aren’t these things similarly offensive, commemorating slavery as though it were an institution to be remembered fondly and even used to decorate one’s house?Little Black Sambo.jpg
Clearly, there’s a market for these, too. Of course, I would never consider buying one. And yet when I saw them, as uncomfortable as I felt, I said nothing. I simply cringed silently inside and walked away.
But who cares if there’s a market for all of these items? There’s a market for drugs. Does that make it OK to sell them?
Selling Nazi and slavery memorabilia may not be against the law. But what sorts of people have such low morals that they’re willing to profit from trading in atrocities?
It was so upsetting that it sucked the joy out of the entire experience for me. But it would be eight more months before Brimfield resumed again. And we'd driven over an hour to get there. So we didn’t leave.
Instead, we proceeded to remain on the prowl for more (and more innocuous) treasures. And minutes later, I happened upon one that made up for my earlier distress.
My husband always enjoys seeing my finds when I return from these excursions, but none of the tchotchkes I’d bought so far were truly for him. I wanted to return with some small gift. So I stopped into a tent that I often frequent which stocks men’s shirts.Brimfield Hawaiian shirt.JPG
Well, not just any men’s shirts. Hawaiian shirts. Loud, colorful Hawaiian shirts. My husband actually likes these things, and so do I. The louder the better, if you ask us.Harlan in Hawaiian shirt.JPG
The last time I’d been to Brimfield, I’d bought one for him and another for Aidan. They both seemed to be enjoying these items so much that I wanted to buy some more.
Typical of transactions at Brimfield, the vendor – an affable fellow with a white ponytail named Gary – said that the three shirts I selected cost $15 each, but if I took all three I could have them for $30. I didn’t really need three, but it was an offer too good to refuse.Brimfield shirt guy.JPG
This particular vendor also sells t-shirts, records, and other music memorabilia. After paying, I saw some other customers leafing through a large album of rock posters. And to my amazement, there on one of the pages was a vintage 1986 poster featuring Lou Reed.
“Wait! I need that!” I exclaimed, not even waiting to ask the price, which turned out to be a mere $15 (evidently the magic number at that booth).Lou Reed poster.JPG
As the vendor wrapped it, I explained that my son was writing a book about Reed.
He replied that not only was he a longtime fan of the late musician, but one of his best friends had been the manager of The Boston Tea Party, a historic club in Boston at which Reed’s original band, The Velvet Underground, had often played back in the ’60s.
Aidan had been telling me that he needed more information about “The Velvets,” but had been unable to contact anyone intimately involved with the group.
I asked the man if his friend might be willing to be interviewed for the book. He was confident that he would, adding that he and his friend knew everything about the band. Or as he put it, rather graphically, “We can tell you about every time that a Velvet peed and where he did it.”Aidan in Hawaiian shirt.JPG
I instantly phoned Aidan to pass on the news and the man’s contact information. And I’m happy to report that they connected, Aidan got to speak to the friend, and it was a great interview.
Talk about must-have experiences! I would say without reservation that in all my years at Brimfield, this may turn out to be my greatest find ever, and it didn’t cost me a cent (beyond the 30 bucks that I shelled out for three very loud and very colorful shirts).
I also would wager that this may prove to be my best gift to Aidan of all… not that I can claim to have been clever to find it. For in the end, it was really a matter of beshert (meant to be).
Meanwhile, still stewing about my earlier experience, I finally wrote to the man in charge of Brimfield telling him about my close encounters with relics of the Third Reich.
“As a Jew, I was genuinely sickened by the sight,” I told him. “But I don't think you need to be Jewish to object to the Nazi Party being treated as a subject for nostalgia.  There are plenty of events in history that belong on our shelves because they remind us of better days gone by. Genocide should not be among them.”Pattie shopping at Brimfield.jpg
I urged him to establish rules restricting what vendors may exhibit there, assuming that such guidelines don’t exist already. After all, there were limits to what should be acceptable, I argued, especially at such a wonderful and welcoming place as Brimfield.
“I don't recall ever seeing sexually explicit merchandise there,” I observed. “I find Nazi memorabilia to be far more obscene. I don't care if someone will buy it. It doesn't belong there, and that doesn't make selling it right.”
I don’t know if he will respond, or if my remarks will have any influence. But I feel better to have tried. At the very least, it is always worth the effort to stand up for your beliefs. Or as my husband would say, “You go, goddess!”
5:02 pm 

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

Pattie on the beach in Quogue.JPG        Common wisdom tells us that we should live every day as though it were our last. For the past week or so, I’ve been trying to live every day as though it were the last day of summer. That means fitting in final swims, backyard barbecues, dining al fresco, and everything else that I coulda-woulda-shoulda done since Memorial Day.school bus.jpg
But let’s face it. Instead of luxuriating in the last gasp of summer’s warmth, I’ve found myself weighed down by the annual back-to-school blues. The crazy part is that I’m not even going back to school. It’s just that almost everyone else I know is, from good friends who teach to my son Aidan, who began his Ph.D. at Columbia this week, leaving them less available to hang out with me… until school lets out again nine months from now.
        Then again, there was one recent day that I actually returned to the halls of academia, however briefly, myself.Roxanna and Scarlett.jpg
It all began with an email from my friend Roxanna, who is involved with the Women’s Leadership Council at the United Way. In it, she asked if I was available to help her and her daughter Scarlett create literacy kits for young children at a local magnet school the following Monday morning.
That is, was I willing to help kids get hooked on books? How in good conscience could I refuse? So I promptly clicked the link that read “Register here.”
And then, life being as busy as it is, even in summer, I promptly forgot all about it.
Until the following Monday morning, that is. Having been away for a hectic weekend, I lingered lazily in bed leafing through my interminable stream of junk email on my phone. Then, still too groggy to start the day, I turned my attention to Facebook.
That’s when I saw that Roxanna, an avid poster on FB, was already at the school.
The event had begun at 8:30 a.m. It was already past that. But I didn’t dare punk out. Instead, I sprang into action, throwing on clothes and shrieking at my husband that I had no time to walk the dog. No time for breakfast or coffee either. By 9, I was in the car.
Too rushed to have looked up the address of the school, I simply consulted Siri. “Directions to the Dwight-Bellizzi School!” I bellowed.Belize.jpg
“Sorry, I cannot provide maps and directions in Belize!” she chirped back.
I decided to try, try again. “Directions to Dwight-Bellizzi School!” I repeated, enunciating every single syllable.
“I could not find any places matching Dwight Believes Me School!” she replied.
         "Dwight-Bellizzi School!" I corrected.Siri Tweit bellies E school.jpg
        It was no use. "I could not find any places matching "Tweit bellies E school."
So I went to Maps on my iPhone, typed in the name of the school, and hit “Start.”
The step-by-step directions that ensued sent me through an area glutted with both rush-hour traffic and heavy construction delays. The trip had been estimated to take 21 minutes, but 21 minutes later I was only halfway through town.
Eventually, I reached the highway, and the cheery voice on my phone directed me to get off after several exits, then take a long series of twists and turns before it deposited me halfway down a road called School Street, whereupon it informed me that I had arrived at my destination.
        My destination
? I was in a manufacturing company's parking lot in the wrong town.
At this point, I frantically Googled the actual address of the school and learned that I was still 21 minutes away. It was now past 9:30. The event had begun an hour earlier. All I really wanted was a cup of coffee. And a bagel. Was there any point in proceeding?
“Who is the idiot here?” I began to wonder. (Don’t answer that.) I also wondered if I had the chutzpah to show up so egregiously late. One thing I am not is a quitter, however. I’m just a nice Jewish mom. And to not show up after agreeing to help would not be nice.Bellizzi School.JPG
So I rerouted myself again and, as they say, the third time was the charm. I arrived at the Dwight-Belizzi Asian Studies Academy at 10, only to realize that it was indeed only 20 minutes from my house, never mind that I’d already spent an hour in the car.
Never mind also that I was now 90 minutes late for a three-hour event. The principal of the school greeted me warmly out front and personally escorted me to the cafeteria.Roxanna's literacy event photo.jpg
Inside, dozens of women, most of them dressed in white t-shirts emblazoned “LIVE UNITED,” were seated at long tables busy at work. I quickly spied Roxanna and wondered if I should dare go greet her. Wouldn’t this just point out how late I was?
Better late than never, as they say. But before I could approach her or even consider grabbing a cup of coffee and a bagel (both of which were in abundance, to my delight), a nice woman named Laura rushed over to find me a seat and explain what the task entailed.Children's literacy volunteers.JPG
Rather than assembling actual literacy “kits,” we were there to embellish books. Each volunteer was given two children’s picture books and asked to make 3-D decorations to insert throughout to enhance the illustrations. This would help bring the book to life by literally letting the story pop off the page and make reading more fun.
“Are you a creative person?” Laura asked.
Hmmm. How should I answer that?Bat Mitzvah on Broadway centerpiece.JPG
After my daughter chose “Bat Mitzvah on Broadway” as her party theme when she turned 13, I made all the elaborate centerpieces for the tables myself using posters from assorted Broadway musicals. I also wrote a song for her to perform at the party, fashioned place cards in the form of theater tickets, handmade the sign-in board and party favors, and printed all the invitations at home, tying each with a gold satin bow.Kathy's birthday card.JPG
More recently, I made all the party favors, invitations, etc. for my husbands 70th birthday. I’ve also given up on finding greeting cards that suit my needs and begun creating them myself using a computer program from American Greetings.
A professional artist I am definitely not. But there’s nothing I enjoy more than turning almost everything, short of doing the laundry, into an imaginative art project.
“Creative enough,” I said.Children's literacy materials.JPG
So she handed me a pair of books, then indicated the collection of colorful paper, pompoms, and other materials scattered on a nearby table and told me to help myself.
I turned my attention to the first book, The Snowy Day, written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats. I’d never seen it before, but later learned that it was a 1962 children’s classic, with illustrations that had earned him the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 1963.TheSnowyDay.JPG 
Keats, I also later learned, had actually been born Jacob Ezra Katz and raised in Brooklyn, the third child of Benjamin and Gussie Katz, a pair of poor Polish Jews.Benjamin and Augusta Katz.jpg
His book focused on a boy named Peter exploring his neighborhood after the first snowfall of the winter. The inspiration for it, according to Wikipedia, had come “from a Life magazine photo article from 1940, and Keats' desire to have minority children of New York as central characters in his stories,” something that previously had been rare. In fact, during the Civil Rights Movement, the book apparently had been banned in many schools.Ezra Jack Keats.jpg
Peter appears in six more of Keats’ 22 books, but this was the first one that he had both written and illustrated himself, unleashing his full creative potential. The result? The book remains so popular that in 2012, 50 years after its debut, it came in fifth on a list of the top 100 picture books of all time in a poll conducted by School Library Journal.
“One winter morning, Peter woke up and looked out the window,” it begins. “Snow had fallen down the night before. It covered everything as far as he could see.”Snowflake I made.JPG
        It felt a little anachronistic to be looking at snow before Labor Day. Then again,
I figured it would be a snap to embellish simply by adding a variety of paper snowflakes to almost every page. So I helped myself to glue and white paper in a variety of weights, seized a pair of scissors, and began snipping away.The Snowy Day with my snowflake.JPG
It had been quite some time since I had made a paper snowflake, however. Decades, no doubt. And sadly, this turned out not to be one of those riding-a-bicycle things. You know, the kind of skill that just comes back to you like magic.
To my best recollection, in order to get a flake to have six matching sides you needed to fold a piece of paper three times and then snip some of it away. Well, the best I can say for my feeble attempts is that no two examples of my artistry looked exactly alike. But this was all kind of impromptu. (If my daughter had chosen a snowy bat mitzvah theme, say, "Bat Mitzvah on Mt. Everest," I would've figured it out.Snowman I made.JPG)
I fared far better as the story developed. At one point, Peter, the pint-sized protagonist, realizes that he is too young to engage in a snowball fight with the bigger boys, so he contents himself making a smiling snowman. And so did I. (Mine had a carrot nose, stick-figure arms held akimbo, and a jaunty black hat.)Snowy Day with pocket I made.JPG
Later, “he picked up a handful of snow, and another, and still another, packed it round and firm, and put the snowball in his pocket for tomorrow, then went into his warm house.” I had little trouble fashioning an actual tiny pocket out of bright red felt -- a pocket that poor Peter would later be dismayed to find empty -- simulating stiches with a black magic marker.
Best of all, perhaps, was the scene in which Peter soaks in the tub while thinking about his many adventures. The rubber ducky I glued on was thinking about snow, too.The Snowy Day with rubber ducky.jpg
And while Peter and the rubber ducky thought about snow, I began to think about something else.
I suddenly remembered a children’s book that I had written nearly 20 years ago, back when my daughter Allegra, who is now 24, was still in kindergarten.
It wasn’t exactly a storybook like this one. Neither was it destined to be a children’s classic because I never even made any attempt to get it published. But thinking about that now filled me with regret. For I originally had written it just to entertain Allegra, but then, like Keats, or Katz, had decided to use the project in part as a way to include children whose ethnicities were too rarely encountered in your typical children’s book.
At the time, Allegra was attending a public school with an extremely diverse student body. And when I went to read it to her class, I inserted the names of each of her 25 classmates.
A takeoff on the classic children’s rhyme, “Mary had a little lamb,” my book had 26 variations on that theme, some of which I endeavored to illustrate myself as well. As you can see, none of these were close to Caldecott Award material. Oh, well. I tried.
We all know that singsong verse from the time that we can talk:Mary's lamb.jpg
        Mary had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white as snow
And everywhere that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go.
        But there are plenty of other things beyond snow that are white. Just think about it… The lamb took a shower.JPG
        Allegra had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white as flour
And everywhere Allegra went
The lamb took a shower.The lamb jumped rope.JPG

        Daniel had a little lamb
        Whose fleece was white as a cloud
        And everywhere that Daniel went
        The lamb got lost in the crowd.
        Luis had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white as soap
And everywhere that Luis went
The lamb jumped rope.
        Mariah had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white as a ghost
And everywhere Mariah went
The lamb would order toast.The lamb wound up in jail.JPG
        Caleb had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white as a sail
And everywhere that Caleb went
The lamb wound up in jail.The lamb would hide and seek her.JPG

        Mei had a little lamb
        Whose fleece was white as rice
        And everywhere that Mei went
        The lamb would skate on ice.
         Quiana had a little lamb whose
leece was white as a sneaker
And everywhere Quiana went
The lamb would hide and seek her.
        There were almost endless possibilities. Well, if not endless, then enough white stuff for every letter of the alphabet, from milk and eggs to teeth, a bone, and a bride.
My favorite, however, was the final rhyme.The lamb fell in love.JPG
        Zachary had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white as a dove
And everywhere that Zachary went
The lamb fell in love.
        As I recall, the children to whom I read it seemed thoroughly entertained, in part because they were hearing their friends’ names included in a book. But mostly because in one case I was only able to come up with a single potential rhyme.
        Ryan had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white as sugar
And everywhere that Ryan went...
                                                The lamb had a booger.
        Sorry! I left out salt because all I could think of to rhyme with that was “Oy, gevalt!” But honestly, how could I possibly leave out sugar? (And if you can think of anything else to rhyme with that, then email me now or forever hold your peace.)
Anyway, whether the lamb’s fleece was as white as a tooth or cream or snow, it was time for me to go turn my attention back to The Snowy Day. For as a Johnny come lately (or nice Jewish mom running on Jewish time and then some), I was way behind the rest of the pack. By 11, everyone else had finished adorning both of their allotted volumes and I was only halfway through my first.Roxanna, Pattie, Scarlett and Ebony.jpg
Plus, Roxanna had noticed me at last and come over for a photo op with Scarlett and a woman named Ebony... a photo that she would soon post – where else? – on Facebook.
So I made a few more rather sad-looking snowflakes and decided to call it a day.
At least it was a day on which I had done my best to show up, however late, and to do my bit to promote children’s literacy. (G-d knows what my blog promotes. Being Jewish? Being a mom?)
        But after I’d gotten home (which took only 20 minutes), I decided that gluing some decorations into a single volume hadn’t been nearly enough.
So I wrote to Roxanna and Laura, who seemed to be in charge of the event, asking if the book I had written so many years ago might be of any possible use.Pattie at children's literacy event.JPG
Perhaps I could go back to that school (now that I know where it is) and read it to some classes, inserting the students’ names. Or perhaps I need to figure out a way to get it published, so that I could donate some copies (and then maybe next time people can come in and – dare I suggest it? – glue pictures of soap and rope and ghosts and toast into them).
Who knows? I’ve never published a children’s book and, as creative as I may or may not be, I’m not convinced that I know how.
In any case, summer’s over. Maybe it’s time for me to go back to school. Perhaps Tweit bellies E school... if Siri and I can find it.

11:58 pm 

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

Grandma Mary and me.JPG        Here’s a morsel of nice Jewish motherly advice.
        Whenever I find myself going through a grueling ordeal or rough patch (and honestly, who doesn’t?), one of my favorite coping strategies is to remind myself that “This too shall pass,” as my Grandma Mary would always say, then try to shift my thoughts to some far more pleasant event to which I’m looking forward.Allegra is singing in Hong Kong.jpg
So after my daughter left in late June to sing in Hong Kong for three months – a period that has since been extended to an almost unimaginable seven months – every time that I missed her so much that my face hurt, I made myself focus on an exciting summer party that was coming up in late August.

Paul and Kathy with us in May.JPG
Paul and Kathy, some close old friends who live in London, had phoned a few weeks earlier to report that their son had fallen hook, line, sinker and then some for the American girl of his dreams. Tom had recently proposed, Hannah had readily accepted, and Hannah’s aunt and uncle had graciously offered to throw them a posh engagement party in Quogue, a hoity-toity place near the Hamptons. Were we free to come?
Free, that is, to attend what was certain to be the highlight of our summer?
“Hannah said yes!” read the printed invitation that soon followed. And, not surprisingly, so did we.Hannah said yes, the invitation read.jpg
The celebration would not just include a fancy Saturday night gala at the aunt and uncle’s country club, but also a get-together on Friday night at their summer home, plus a chance to hang out with some great friends of whom we never get to see enough. Plus, as an added bonus, the hotel at which we all would stay was right on the beach. Can you understand why it was a welcome antidote to seven months without Allegra?lighthouse in a stormy sea.jpg
I anticipated it, dreamed about it, and trained my sights on it as if it were a radiant lighthouse beaming rays of hope through the sturm und drang of a dark and stormy sea. It never failed to buoy my spirits. Then, finally, earlier this month, the day of departure finally arrived.
Given my tip-top level of anticipation, I was determined to leave on time for the 4-hour trip to the tip of Long Island. In order to make the 4 p.m. ferry to Orient Point that I’d reserved, we needed to leave the house no later than 2:15. So I was more than a little distressed when my husband phoned to say that he had just left his office and wouldn’t be home until almost 2:30.
To ensure that we made a fast getaway, I informed him that he should not even consider coming into the house when he arrived. So he gave me a list of all the items that he needed to take along with us, and while waiting I loaded them all into the car.We just made the ferry to Orient Point.jpg
With luck, despite rush-hour traffic, we managed to secure one of the last three spots for our car on the sold-out ferry. And that is where our good luck ended.
For moments after the boat’s booming foghorn sounded off as we left the dock, as though warning of danger looming ahead, my husband suddenly realized that he’d left all of his dress-up clothes hanging on his closet door.
The invitation had specified “festive attire,” which our friends had clarified meant cocktail dresses for the women and sport jackets with dress shirts but no ties for the men. It should come as little surprise that, given my level of anticipation, I had bought a lovely new dress for the occasion (despite my husband’s mysterious query, “Did you really need a new dress?”).His jacket was still hanging in his closet.JPG
My husband, meanwhile, had simply tried on the old sport coats and khakis in his closet until he found one of each that looked presentable and still kind of fit. He had neglected to ask me to take this outfit, though, and the fanciest thing that he had along in its stead was a pair of cargo pants and the egregiously wrinkled shirt he’d worn to work that day.
He blamed me for rushing him out of the house. I blamed him for leaving his office so late and being so fardreyt (Yiddish for disorganized). Unfortunately, most misfortunes in life eventually will pass, as my grandmother always said, but being fardreyt or farblondjet (Yiddish for hopelessly mixed up) does not happen to be one of them.The house was magnificent.JPG
My anxiety about his error was only exacerbated when we arrived at the Friday night party and discovered how magnificent and palatial the aunt and uncle’s summer house was. Adding to that concern, to be frank, was my discovery that we were nearly the only Jews among the many guests invited to participate in the weekend’s festivities.Hannah and Tom, a perfect match.jpg
Our hosts could not have been nicer, and the bride, whom we got to meet there for the first time, turned out to be not just beautiful, but also affable, lively, witty, warm, and delightfully unpretentious – a truly perfect match for Tom and down to earth to the max.
We had a wonderful time wining, dining, and avidly catching up with our dear friends, who are award-winning (and need I note, extremely fun-loving) journalists.We had fun with our friends on Friday night.JPG
But I was somewhat self-conscious about the fact that we were making a rare foray into a rather rarified world – the world of WASPs – and we did not want to stick out.
So, as much as our friend Kathy tried to assure us that my husband would be admitted to the country club the next night without the requisite jacket, we didn’t dare risk having him look inappropriate by being a schlub or noticeably underdressed.
With luck, we learned that the Tanger shopping outlets in Riverhead were only about 20 minutes away. So never mind that we’d been looking forward to spending the next afternoon at the beach for what might be our only visit to the shore this summer. We knew what we had to do.
As we walked out of our hotel room late the next morning after breakfast, my husband insisted that he’d be able to find something in less than an hour.Tanger Outlets in Riverhead.jpg
Famous last words, as they say. I had been to other shopping outlets and knew it can take that long just to park. I also had been shopping with my husband before and knew that it takes forever to convince him to choose anything, and I do mean “forever,” because when it comes to clothing for himself, the man is reluctant to part with a dime.
We arrived at the Tanger (rhymes with “hanger”) outlets to discover what was more like an entire shopping city, comprised of more than 165 brand-name stores representing almost every label imaginable, from Calvin Klein and Coach to Michael Kors and Juicy Couture.Barney's New York outlet.JPG
Given our desire to get in and out asap, I dropped my husband off at the place that he thought would have the biggest, best, and most stylish selection, Barney’s New York.Harlan in Barney's blazer.JPG
Unfortunately, you could add “most expensive” to that list of superlatives. After parking, I entered the store to see him looking unusually dapper in a navy blazer so classy that you could practically feel the astronomical thread count from across the room. Could our journey be over so quickly? Not quite. This exquisite specimen, which was imported from Italy (where else?), was priced at $550, marked down from $695.
If my husband won’t part with a dime, he surely wouldn’t relinquish 5,500 of them. So we moved on.Harlan in Johnston & Murphy blazer.JPG
The Johnston & Murphy factory outlet next door specialized in men’s shoes, but it had some clothing as well, including one blue blazer. Alas, after donning the Barney’s model, this plebeian version looked sadly commonplace. It also pulled a bit at the waist. So we decided not to waste any more time there.Harlan in Zegna blazer at Saks Off 5th.JPG
Saks Off 5th, the outlet for upscale Saks Fifth Avenue, was sure to have more choices. What it did not prove to stock was cheaper ones. A sign we saw as we entered touted a sale that sounded promising, in that all blazers were an extra 40 percent off. Even at a 40 percent discount, though, a $1,295 sport coat from Italian maker Zegna still cost a lofty $795. My husband tried it on to humor me, but neither of us was truly amused.Harlan with Ninja Turtles t-shirt.JPG
What did manage to crack us up was a t-shirt marked down to 20 bucks. It looked perfect for a party, but not necessarily one held at an exclusive country club in Quogue.
En route to Brooks Brothers, which was bound to yield more appropriate offerings, I noticed a sign offering an extra 20 percent off at many participating stores. With luck, Brooks Brothers was among the outlets participating in this promotion, and despite our expectation that it would have prices hovering in the stratosphere, it had two very promising options.Harlan in Brooks Brothers blazer 1.JPG
One was a very traditional, all-weather blue blazer with shiny brass buttons which fit almost perfectly and cost a surprisingly reasonable $184 after the 20 percent discount.Harlan in Brooks Brothers blazer 2.JPG
The other was a summer-weight version which also fit well and cost a mere $104 after the discount.
My husband seemed tempted to consider the more economical of the two. But after careful consideration, I urged him to opt for the pricier one, on the grounds that the summer was drawing to a close and he’d get much more use out of the heavier one.
But like the typical “player” – you know, a man unwilling to settle for the first pretty girl who comes along, or even the fiftieth – he asked the saleswoman to put both choices aside while we continued our search.
By now I was getting frustrated, but instead of pulling the plug on this never-ending journey, I pulled him into Nautica.Harlan in Nautica blazer.JPG
This 31-year-old clothing line may be best known for its polo shirts, outerwear, and other casual attire of the nautical persuasion. Yet the store manager assured us that they had men’s blazers. Actually, only one style of men’s blazer. But that style was exactly what we were looking for -- it was tastefully tailored in an all-weather weight, and the price was right.
It was marked down to $152 from the original price of $325, but with the 20 percent discount it was only $120 plus tax. After our foray into all of those much pricier stores, this seemed so reasonable that we decided to go all out and complete the look.My husband went for a full prep.jpg
So my husband went in for a full prep, also buying two colorful, wrinkle-free cotton dress shirts (only $27 apiece, a mere half of the original $54) and a pair of khaki slacks for only $20, marked down from $50.
No surprise, this little excursion not only set us back just south of 200 bucks plus tax, but took nearly 3½ hours including travel time, more than three times the original estimate. By the time we’d returned to our hotel and changed into swimsuits, we had fewer than 30 minutes left to luxuriate in the surf and sand before it was time to dress for dinner.The beach at Cove Place Inn.JPG
Somehow, the beach feels a little less tranquil and rejuvenating when you spend less time looking at the horizon than at your watch. Still, we did get to gambol in the waves and cool our limbs in the calm waters of the bay. A slender slice of heaven.The toasts were uproarious.JPG
The party at the country club turned out to be all that we had expected and more. The hors d’oeuvres and drinks were plentiful, the toasts both uproarious and heartfelt, and the lavish buffet dinner, complete with rowdy dancing to the strains of a DJ, divine.Pattie at Quogue Field Club.jpg
I would like to think that my new cocktail dress fit right in with the rest of the crowd. As for my husband, thanks to our outlet foray, he looked neither farblondjet nor fardreyt.Harlan at the engagement party -- not fardreyt.JPG
Of course, the moment we entered the darkened dining room following the cocktail hour out on the veranda, nearly every man present shed his sport coat, and my husband eagerly followed suit. So in the end, we spent about $200 and half of the day shopping just so that we could avoid embarrassing ourselves for all of about 60 minutes.Pattie and Kathy at the party.JPG
But I found myself far less focused on that than on our dear friends’ unbridled joy. Judging from the father of the groom’s delirious display of dance moves, rivaled only by those of the father of the bride, this was one of those proverbial matches made in heaven, a union, dare I say it, as perfect as lox and bagels (or whatever the WASP equivalent of that classic combo may be).Pattie dancing with Paul.JPG
So you might think I began then and there to breathlessly anticipate the wedding.
Actually, not so fast.
Just before we’d left for the weekend, we had received a phone call announcing a bit of a fly in the ointment, although that fly had been greeted as, well, more of a butterfly.
        It t
urned out that our friends had even more exciting news to announce. The bride-to-be was a mother-to-be. They weren’t just gaining a daughter, but also a granddaughter. Or perhaps a grandson. Whichever the case, they could not contain their boundless delight.Hannah and Tom just married.jpg
    So the happy couple had decided not to delay and instead hatched a secret plan. The morning after the party, they would tie the knot privately in the presence of only their parents and a justice of the peace. Although many others would be joining them for the weekend, too many friends and relatives had been unable to attend due to previously made vacation plans. And rather than making these people feel left out, they had chosen to restrict it to the key players.The wedding cake.JPG
At least I got to glimpse the cake the next morning. The bride had requested the kind of simple supermarket sheet cake she'd grown up with, and when my husband asked me what that was, I explained that a sheet cake is to a cake as a ranch house is to a house; all on one level, that is. This one, though, was not only on the level, but particularly lovely and absolutely perfect. For apparently not only did Hannah say yes, but both she, Tom, and the cake followed it up with “I do!”
        I must admit it was refreshing to see someone manage to go through nuptials without the typical attendant hoopla featuring bridesmaids, ushers, endless brouhaha over the bridal gown and other bank-account-draining folderol. 
now, whenever I find myself feeling blue, I can’t set my sights on that wedding.Allegra and friend in Hong Kong.jpg
        No matter. T
here’s a bright new lighthouse looming on the horizon. Allegra may be in Hong Kong for another five months, but soon enough we’ll be there with her. If Muhammed won’t go to the mountain, as they say, then the mountain will have to fly over and visit Mohammed.
        Or something like that.
So we’ve booked a trip. We’re going! Soon.
        Now, that is something to look forward to.

7:04 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!   
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!
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.

Comments? Questions? Just want to kvetch? Please go to GUESTBOOK/COMMENTS.