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Friday, February 27, 2015

A Word From the Weiss

Pattie older and wider.jpg        I always thought when you got older, you got wiser.
        Somehow, I'm just getting older and wider.
        As we all know, there are two subjects about which you should never ask a nice Jewish mother, or any other: her weight and her age. Yet I’m about to dare to broach both of these two hot topics myself. Both matters have been weighing on my mind lately, you see, and I have an unnerving suspicion that they are not unrelated.
Like almost everyone else I know, I solemnly vowed only a month or so ago to try to exercise more and eat less. Bigger. Not better.jpgAnd yet, since turning 60 (!@%&*!!!) only a month or so ago, instead of losing weight I somehow have managed to put on three or four pounds.
Very unwelcome pounds, I might add. As needless as that is to say.
Of course, as with almost everyone, my weight fluctuates slightly from day to day. But never all that much. Which is to say, I have never in my life weighed THIS MUCH!
Not even when I was pregnant.
So I am more than a little alarmed and want to know what the heck is going on. But I have my theories about how this evolved and have narrowed them down to three.Livalo.jpg
One is that I finally succumbed to my doctor’s advice and started taking a statin drug called Livalo on January 1 to lower my sky-high cholesterol. (Honestly, I don’t eat that much ice cream or red meat, let alone chopped liver – I believe it’s just genetic).
I’m not a fan of taking drugs in general, even prescribed ones, due to the unwelcome side effects. And apparently, one potential (and very unwelcome) result of this one is weight gain. Granted, only 8 percent of respondents in a study reported this, but I seem to have found myself among the unlucky few.Latke gets a walk every day.jpg
Another is that this has not only been THE worst winter on record, but for some reason it invariably snowed week after week on Mondays, so my usual Monday night Zumba class was canceled for four weeks in a row. And although I still take the dog for a long walk every single day, I’ve been getting less exercise lately, rather than more.
Yet I think I know what’s really going on. It’s probably not the drug. Nor the class (or lack thereof). It’s not even merely a matter of getting older.
Which brings us to the explanation behind door No. 3.
It’s a matter of my celebrating getting older… over and over and over again.I turned 60 in South Beachat.jpg
As I noted a few weeks ago, I’m not much of a party person and decided to escape to Miami Beach for my big milestone in lieu of throwing a big bash. But a week later I returned to learn that – try as you might – you can run from 60, but you cannot hide.
Since I wasn’t home on the actual day to celebrate with friends, everyone wanted to do it when I returned. And not do it all together at one solitary shindig, but individually.
Plus, thanks to repeated cancelations due to global “warming ” (more like cooling) and the fact that I now apparently live in Siberia, those celebrations have dragged on and on.
And on.Four Weddings and a Funeral.jpg
Remember the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral? Well, this has been four birthday parties… and then four more… and then FOUR MORE… as well as a funeral. (Sadly, a friend’s father passed away. And I must admit that I ate plenty there, too.)
I enumerate these many social engagements not to boast about how many friends I have, nor how often I get to eat out, but merely to prove that I am not exaggerating.Who wants to be a Goodyear Blimp.jpg
Besides, who in their right mind would possibly brag about turning into a blimp?
As I documented a few weeks ago, the festivities on the actual day consisted of dinner out with my family at a superb South Beach restaurant called Barton G.
        Barton G's surf and turf.jpgEverything we ordered there was not only indescribably delicious, but also presented in a whacky or delightfully whimsical way, from the popcorn shrimp served in an old-fashioned popcorn machine to the surf and turf accompanied by a giant knife and fork. Barton G's Pot Pie Garden.jpg
And of course it wouldn’t be a proper birthday dinner without something sweet and highly caloric to stick a candle into. At Barton G, this wasn’t just something. It was five somethings, dubbed “Pot Pie Garden” -- five kinds of pie heaped into actual flower pots, served atop a platter of chocolate cake “soil” complete with garden gloves and a trowel.Pattie with key lime pie.jpg
This more than met my expectations for a near-perfect occasion. (The only thing missing was the presence of my daughter, Allegra, who was still singing in Hong Kong.) But our Miami friends Rick and Lynn didn’t want to be left out of the action. So we succumbed to an invitation to celebrate with them again a few nights later, ending once again with birthday pie in lieu of cake. (And not just any pie. Key lime, which holds the key to my heart... though in padding my girth it may have played a hefty part.)With Sally and Dial at Carbone's.jpg
By then, I’d had my fill of birthday for one year. Not to mention birthday desserts. But back home in Connecticut, we were soon out braving the elements by wining and dining again at Carbone’s, a popular ristorante, and blowing out more candles with our dear friends Sally and Dial.Lois and Rafi with us at Max Downtown.jpg
Next came dinner out with our other dear old friends Lois and Rafi. Her birthday is in January like mine, and his is in June like my husband’s, so we always go out together to celebrate the girls in winter and the boys of summer. This one was at Max Downtown.Bricco's Tuscan salad.jpg
Then came lunch at a posh Italian place called Bricco with my good friend Suzy. (At least she didn’t gain any weight from her salad, since she had the discipline to order it with no croutons, no cheese, no olives, and no dressing… in other words, no fun.)
Not me.Joel and Karen on my 60th.jpg
And in my quest to make the occasion a family affair, I couldn’t possibly refuse an invitation from my brother and sister-in-law to join them for a birthday dinner. We met up in my hometown of Armonk, New York, at a trendy place called the Moderne Barn. (When we lived there it was a modern furniture store, but the sofas and chairs have apparently left the building, and yummy grilled chickens and other wildlife have come to roost in their place.)
        Then there was my women’s book group, the Shayna Maidels, comprised of a dozen Jewish women who after well over a decade have begun to feel like family to me. Like family, though, they are not above teasing me mercilessly.ShaynaMaidelsonmy60thbirthday2.JPG
Given that I’m the baby of the group, by far – several other members are turning 70 this year – they seem to value having me as a member. (Whenever we branch out from merely reading books and take a field trip to see a play or visit a museum, I’m one of the remaining two willing to drive long distances.) But when it came to celebrating my 60th, one proposed that, given my relative youth, we go for lunch at Chuck E. Cheese.
I lobbied for my favorite local Italian place, Treva, instead. I was a little sad that, thanks to yet more snow, only half the group could make it… but also amused to notice that all six of us nice Jewish moms opted to order a salad topped with grilled shrimp.
If there’s one thing better than trayf, though, it’s tradition. Not just age-old traditions like lighting candles on cakes, or on Shabbat, but special rituals you create yourself. And among my favorite personal new traditions is my Monday night out at Panera.My 60th birthday party at Panera.JPG
As I mentioned, I am almost religious about going to my Monday night Zumba class, which is held at the local Jewish Community Center. I began taking this class with my two friends Pat and Liz many years ago, after which we would meet our significant others for a light dinner of soup, salad, and/or sandwiches at Panera.
Every time it was someone’s birthday, or anniversary, or some other notable occasion, we would bring a cake and party hats and turn that dinner into an event.
After a few years, both friends dropped out of the class, but the dinners live on to this day, and so, delightfully, do those parties. And even though this was a special birthday for me, I wanted to celebrate it with them there.My Panera birthday cake.JPG
Sadly, like the Zumba class itself, this celebration was snowed out for several weeks in a row. But we finally got to have our cake and eat it too in early February.
And a very lovely cake it was!Wine from Arlene.jpg
Also lovely – and a very lovely gesture – was the custom-made label my friend Arlene put on the bottle of wine that she brought me when she took me out for a coffee. We met way back when our children were young students at Solomon Schechter Day School and have been going out for coffee, birthdays, and birthday coffees ever since.
As we say on Passover, had I only gone out with all of these people, it would have been enough. Dayenu! Make that much more than enough. Dayenuuuuu! But no.Steve and Pattie's birthdays.JPG
There was also a dinner out in NYC with our old friend Steve, who also has a January birthday (but thanks to the snow couldn’t celebrate with us until mid-February).
This was followed by a birthday lunch with Maureen, who served as our children’s nanny for seven years starting when I returned to work shortly after our son was born. (For them, this was like their having an extra nice Jewish mom, only better, because instead of just doting on them, she actually taught them manners). Nearly 30 years later, she remains a dear family friend, so of course I had to mark the occasion with her.Maureen and me at Max-a-Mia.jpg
Then last but certainly not least was the dinner with my good friends Catherine and Stacey. As busy women, we find scheduling dinner out to be like planning a war. So we only manage to have girls’ night out three times a year – once for each of our birthdays.
But never actually on our birthdays.Catherine Stacey and me on my 60th.jpg
One year we were so crazed that we didn’t celebrate my January birthday until July. So it wasn’t all that bad that my 60th was at long last capped off last Thursday when celebrated it on the Chinese New Year over sushi and saki (close enough).Sushi at Ginza.jpg
As happy as I was to be with two of my besties, I was even more excited that all of the revelry was over at last and I could finally move on with my life.
Sure, it had been fun while it lasted – and lasted -- which it had done for over two months. But I was beginning to feel like King Ahasuerus. You know, that fun-loving monarch from the Megillah, known for keeping the party going for 180 days and nights.
Is it any wonder that, after eating… and eating (and, yes, also drinking) my way through my own modern-day megillah, I was packing on a few extra pounds?I need to party with Allegra.JPG
In any case, when I got home that night I called my daughter in Hong Kong to announce with great relief that the epic celebration was done at last. Or was it? I may have been ready to say “The Party’s Over,” but she was singing a very different tune.
“What are you talking about?” she protested. “You still need to celebrate with me!”
She’s says she’s coming home in early April, just in time for Passover. And of course she’s right – my turning 60 won’t be complete until we have toasted it together.Party on, Pattie!.jpg
In the meanwhile, I’ll try to eat less, exercise more, and shave off those extra inches while I keep the birthday candles burning. Or at least the birthday spirit. I may have had my fill of cake and pie, but I’m pining to see my daughter. So in the sage words of those nice Jewish moms Wayne and Garth, “Party on! Excellent!”           
9:04 pm 

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Word From the Weiss

Pattie on Valentine's Day.jpg        My husband and I were on our way to NYC last Saturday afternoon when we received a surprising text from our son.
        “Want to grab some lunch with us?” it asked.
Never mind that we were making the trek down there to celebrate Valentine’s Day. That we had left more than an hour late and were already hopelessly behind schedule. Nor that we wouldn’t arrive until after 2 and were having an extremely early dinner at 5.
        When you’re a nice Jewish mom, nothing trumps getting to spend time with your kids.JP and Allegra in Hong Kong.JPG
No. Minor correction. The one thing that absolutely nothing else can trump is having your grown kids actually want to spend time with you.
Sadly, our daughter was in no position to be with us whether she wanted to or not. Still 13 hours ahead of us in Hong Kong, Allegra had already finished celebrating Valentine’s Day with her boyfriend JP, complete with elaborately decorated homemade cupcakes, chocolate-dipped strawberries, some sort of undoubtedly potent punch… and a dish of what she had admitted was chocolate-covered bacon. (Halfway around the globe, nothing had been lost in translation – including the trayf.)Allegra's Valentine's Day spread in Hong Kong.JPG
But at least we had one child who was ready, willing, and able to share the love.
“Sure!” we promptly texted back. “Be there in an hour.”
Given our parental priorities, you might expect that we rescheduled dinner at that point. But it wasn’t quite that easy.
As I mentioned last week, Valentine’s Day isn’t just a Hallmark-generated holiday for us. It’s the anniversary of the day we met, which happened on a blind date in 1982.
So along with buying the usual card and candy, I wanted to do something special.Gallagher and Chenoweth.jpg
That special thing included seeing a Broadway show that night – a revival of On the Twentieth Century, starring the incomparable Kristen Chenoweth and the eternally matinee-idol-handsome Peter Gallagher, who happens to have grown up two houses down from me.
Although I’d had the foresight to snag discount tickets weeks earlier to this musical production, which had just begun previews, I foolishly had waited until almost the last minute to make dinner reservations. And this being Valentine's Day, when I'd finally gotten around to it, everything in the Theater District had already been booked.
After wasting hours online, I finally had resigned myself to the fact that the best I could do was that 5:00 slot at Cara Mia, one of our favorite places to eat Italian.Cara Mia on Ninth Avenue.jpg
Alta cockers though we may be, we’re still way too young to opt for an early-bird special and would have far preferred to eat at 6, but that just wasn’t an option. Oh, well. We’d planned to stop at our son’s apartment on the way down anyway to drop off some empty boxes because he’s in the process of moving. Why not make it a real visit over lunch? We’d just have to make it snappy.
That, at least, was the plan. But as I have learned too many times, the best-laid plans of mice and moms often go astray.Kaitlin and Aidan.jpg
Since Aidan, who is a grad student at Columbia, lives in Harlem, there wasn’t anywhere that nice to eat within walking distance. So we decided to pick him and his girlfriend Kaitlin up and drive to a Cuban restaurant that they like called Floridita.Fairway food emporium in Harlem.jpg
This was only a short distance away, but locating parking nearby was another matter. The only place we could manage to find was in the lot at Fairway, a popular giant supermarket. Yet signs there indicated in no uncertain terms that it was reserved for customers only. So in order to be ethical – and to avoid being confronted or possibly ticketed for taking advantage – I felt obliged to go inside there first and buy a few items.
Why not? Being a nice Jewish mom, I figured my son could use some fresh fruit anyway.Floridita Cuban restaurant in Harlem.jpg
Afterwards, my husband and I made it a point to eat lightly at lunch, knowing that dinner was less than three hours away. But we were thrilled that we’d chosen to come. Aidan was feeling unusually affable and chatty, and in such good spirits that he opted to pick up the check (something that, as his parents, we normally insist on doing).Aidan and Kaitlin were in good spirits .jpg
The conversation was so lively that we lingered over the meal much longer than planned. Then, after walking back to the car, I realized that I’d left my cell phone sitting in the restaurant. I’m almost never that fedrayt. But what the heck. It happens. And by the time we’d retrieved it and driven the kids home, we were really running hopelessly late.
It was already past 4, and before going to dinner we had to check into our hotel, which was at least half an hour away in a section of Queens called Long Island City.
I know, I know. Why go to NYC for a romantic evening and then stay in… Queens? I’ll tell you why. Hotel prices fluctuate according to vacancy rates, and on Valentine’s Day there are virtually NO vacancies, so there are no affordable hotels. Nothing affordable in Manhattan, anyway. I had checked and seen prices ranging from $350 to over $1,000.Paper Factory room for $89.jpg
Our room in Queens cost $89. I’m not just a nice Jewish mom. I’m a frugal one. Need I say more?
OK, I will say a little more – not that you asked. Most of the places at which we stay in Queens are generic chain hotels, including the Best Western City View and the Country Inn and Suites. These tend to cost under $100 in winter, including breakfast. Plus, you can find free parking on the street and take a quick subway into Manhattan. The Paper Factory Hotel in Long Island City.jpg
  But I wanted something at least a little special for Valentine’s Day, and with a little extra searching I’d found it: a relatively new place called The Paper Factory that looked anything but generic.  A recently renovated actual former paper factory, it boasted funky furnishings, spacious rooms, and a stylish restaurant, all still at bargain-basement rates.The Paper Factory lobby.jpg
We arrived to find it just as trendy and attractive as it had looked online. Unfortunately, by the time we had checked in and my husband had managed to change for dinner – although I’d dressed up that morning and had urged him to do the same – it was already 5. I phoned the restaurant frantically to apologize and say that we’d be 15 minutes late.
To my relief, they agreed to hold our table.36th Street subway station in Queens.jpg
OK, let’s be honest. Fifteen minutes would have been optimistic even if the trains had been running on schedule. But we arrived at the subway stop down the block to find that the trains weren’t running there at all. A guard on duty sent us to another stop a few blocks away, where we learned that there was no service to Manhattan that weekend.
Having stayed in Queens quite often before, we were not exactly surprised.
Our only recourse, short of paying for a costly and slow cab, was to take a train several stops in the wrong direction, then hop another subway back to Times Square.
I was not ready to regret grabbing lunch with my son. Just to regret my frugality.Cupid rhymes with stupid.jpg
Was this the fun, romantic Valentine’s Day night out on the town I had imagined? Not quite. Only a week earlier, I would have been undergoing a complete meltdown by now. We couldn’t risk being late for the theater and probably would find nowhere to eat.Queens Plaza subway station.jpg
To be honest, I was now seething at my husband for insisting on changing his clothes. And he knew it. We already had been late and I blamed him for making us even later. Yet I tried to bear in mind the experience we’d had the previous weekend. Although all had seemed lost after he had made a major blunder, accidently buying tickets to another play for the wrong night, it had ultimately worked out in the end.
Dare I even hope the same would happen this time?Jackie Mason and Harlan at the Westway Diner.JPG
At the very least, I decided to hope for the best and not plotz until our worst fears had come to pass (although I openly sneered at my husband’s suggestion that we eat our romantic dinner at the ordinary diner where we’d run into comedian Jackie Mason the previous Saturday night).Times Square at night.jpg
A trip that should have taken only 15 minutes ate up nearly an hour. By the time we had exited the subway at Times Square and regained cell phone service, it was 5:55. I barely had the chutzpah to phone the restaurant again at this point, but I figured we might as well try.
“How soon do you think you can get here?” the hostess asked sweetly after I had briefly recounted our tale of woe, putting on my most apologetic tone.
“Within five minutes,” I assured her.
OK, with about seven blocks to walk, this too was optimistic. No matter. To my amazement, she said that we should come.
I was so relieved and excited that we practically flew on Cupid's wings.Cara Mia on Valentine's Day.jpg
All that we had really wanted was a table at this lively and cozy eatery for 6 p.m. And thanks to our bad luck, we had lucked out in the end and gotten it.
It turned out that the hostess had come from Queens herself and knew just what we had endured.
It also turned out that the restaurant was not just full, but fully decorated for the occasion with red helium balloons and Valentine’s Day hazzerei. And although we chose to forego the pricey special three-course Valentine’s meal, the pear salad we split and scrumptious homemade pasta we ordered off the usual menu suited us just fine.Our dinner at Cara Mia.jpg
And even after arriving an hour late, we got to linger over our meal in a leisurely, maybe even romantic fashion and then amble back to the theater in plenty of time for the show.On the Twentieth Century poster.jpg
With book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and music by Cy Coleman, this 1978 madcap musical takes place in 1932 aboard the Twentieth Century, a luxury train traveling between Chicago and NYC, as bankrupt theater impresario Oscar Jaffee (played with panache by Gallagher) tries to trick his former flame, Hollywood screen star Lily Garland (played diva-liciously by Chenoweth), into agreeing to play the lead in his next as-yet-written production in order to get his derailed career back on track.Gallagher and Chenoweth in action.jpg
Between the spectacular sets and costumes and spirited choreography – not to mention phenomenal singing, screwball high jinks, and explosive energy – it proved to be a star vehicle that easily earned a hearty standing O. If you’re looking for a rip-roaring musical comedy, this is one train racing in the right direction, and I would advise you to climb aboard.Peter Gallagher and me.jpg
Of course, I couldn’t resist waiting with a small crowd outside the stage door to congratulate my former neighbor and high school classmate. I doubt he would have recognized me after all these years had I not identified myself, but he remains a true mensch (never mind that he’s not a Jew, although he played one on The OC). He readily posed for a quick snapshot, after giving me a warm hug and kiss on the cheek.Bearing witness at the Westway Diner.jpg
        Talk about heart-melting moments.
Then, the night still being young, I proposed to my husband that we go to that déclassé diner for dessert after all and see if Jackie Mason was at his usual corner table.
        Alas, he wasn’t. But in his place was a group of very romantic-looking young people and a pair of furry friends there to bear witness to their love, and that was more suited to the occasion and just as entertaining in its own way.True love on the Jumbotron in Times Square.JPG
On the way back to the subway, we passed through Times Square again and had our pictures captured on the Jumbo-tron, along with the rest of the crowd.
        Can you find us?
Perhaps it was this moment that prompted my husband to blurt out his own Valentine’s declaration, sweeter than any chocolate-covered marshmallow heart.
Never mind that I’d bitched him out a bit on the subway earlier that evening.
        “I guess I still love you in spite of myself,” he confessed.
“Really? My guess is that you still love me in spite of myself,” I corrected.
         He knew that I was right.Rocking out at the Paper Factory.jpg
With luck, the trains were running in the right direction and we got back to our hotel without incident. But upon entering, we heard loud music emanating from below. A waiter in the bar encouraged us to check out the dance party in the club downstairs.Harlan at The Paper Factory disco.JPG
As late as it was, we went down to find a DJ in full swing and joined the small crowd gathered on the dance floor for several tunes. For free, of course.
        Can any hotel in Manhattan top that? 
So in the end, it was indeed the special, romantic evening that I had hoped for… and more. I loved almost every moment in spite of myself. And I got to spend it with two of my true loves – my son, and that other guy... whom I guess I also seem to love in spite of himself too.

6:21 pm 

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Word From the Weiss

Overreacting? You be the judge.JPG        My husband says I was overreacting.
Overreacting? Seriously!?! Me?
        I’ll let you be the judge.strawberry rhubarb pie.jpg
The other night, he wanted a piece of pie. The pie in question was strawberry rhubarb, and I had bought it several days earlier, so it cried out to be warmed in the oven. I was busy writing, though, so I asked him to turn the oven on and let it preheat.
Ten minutes later, I noticed ribbons of smoke Who needs two ovens?.jpgwafting from that area of the kitchen and began to shriek.
        He went over to investigate and protested that the oven wasn’t even hot. The problem was that we have double ovens, one directly above the other, and he had turned on the bottom one – the one in which I store all of my baking pans, because honestly, other than on Thanksgiving or Passover, who the heck needs TWO OVENS?Upper over, lower oven.jpg
Believe me, the dials were clearly marked as UPPER OVEN and LOWER OVEN. He had simply overlooked this fact and opted for the wrong one.
So it would be fair to say I got a little upset. Actually, a lot.
I was upset that when I’d ask him to help for once, he had botched it completely.
I was upset because, if you ask me, he nearly burned the house down.
But mostly I was upset because we have lived in this house for nearly 16 years now, and apparently HE STILL DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO TURN THE OVEN ON!I'm not really a bitch.jpg
With Valentine’s Day so imminent, the last thing I probably should be doing in this rather public space is dishing about my husband (let alone bitching about my husband).
Also, in his defense, a friend aptly pointed out that his wife may do most of the cooking, but she has NO CLUE how to use the snow-blower. (Hmmm… Neither do I.)
Then again, there’s a whole lot more cooking that goes on in our household than snow-blowing. Even in New England. Plus, my husband doesn’t blow the snow either. Our plowing service does.
Besides, it won’t be V-Day for nearly a week. Maybe he’ll do something wonderful between now and then in order to redeem himself. Or maybe I will think of something nice to say about him, the operative word about my identity as a nice Jewish mom being “nice.”
For now, though, I’m just gonna vent. To paraphrase Stephen Sondheim, tragedy tomorrow, kvetching tonight. So here’s a list of other stuff my husband doesn’t know.
        1.  The one thing you never ask your wife is, “Is that something new you’re wearing?”
What, this old thing?.jpg       
Are you kidding me? This is never an idle query made out of harmless curiosity. Rather, it broadcasts an accusatory subtext: “Have you been shopping… again?” If I haven’t, it’s pretty damn insulting that he doesn’t recognize the outfit from the many previous times I’ve worn it. And if I have, I’m not going to admit it. Ever.
Instead, I give the traditional reply. “Oh, this old thing? I’ve worn it a million times. It’s just so old that you don’t remember it.”
2. And if I am wearing something new – OK, it happens – my husband doesn’t know that he should never venture an opinion about how it looks. An honest opinion, I mean. Especially if that opinion is brutally honest. Honest to the point of brutality, that is.Eleanor Roosevelt? Really?.JPG
The other night, I was trying on a dress I happened to have ordered online when my husband walked into our room. I was studying it in the mirror, so the view he got was from behind. He dared to ask me what I was wearing (and yes, whether it was new), then went on to remark that from the back it made me look like Eleanor Roosevelt.Eleanor Roosevelt? Really?.jpg
At that point, he got a full gander of the front of the dress too, because I spun around and gave him a look that could kill. (Not just kill FDR, but someone who was in perfectly good health, which he was unlikely to remain for much longer.)
I don’t know what provoked him to make that particular comparison. After all, this was a fairlyAngelina at the Academy Awards.jpg modern black dress with an extremely generous slit up the side – inspired, no doubt, by one Angelina Jolie had once worn to the Oscars – and until that moment I’d imagined that it made me look svelte (although not necessarily as jolie as Angelina Jolie).
I hastened to inform him that “Eleanor Roosevelt” was not the look to which I aspired, nor to which any woman ever aspired.
“What’s wrong with Eleanor Roosevelt?” he retorted. “She was a great humanitarian.”Madonna and Co. Soho.jpg
Fortunately, the owner of the chic NYC boutique from which I had ordered this little black number – Madonna and Co., in Soho – proved to be a great humanitarian herself. I’d bought that dress and also another at a discount and, to my distress, I discovered on the store’s web site that their firm policy was that all sale merchandise was final sale.Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.jpg
When I called to relate my tale of woe, though – explaining that this was my one proverbial phone call from jail after murdering my husband – she took pity on me and said that of course I could exchange the dress. Both dresses, in fact (since the other one was a little too snug, although it did not make me look like either Eleanor or FDR).
Talk about good customer service!
If only it were that easy to exchange my husband. Now, that would be customer service.Where's the butter?.jpg
        3.  My husband doesn’t know how to find the butter in the refrigerator.
Then again, whose does?
        4. My husband doesn’t cook.
        (Then again, whose does?)
 My husband doesn’t clean up after dinner either.  He only thinks he does. (Dirty pots are invisible to him, although he will sometimes bathe the dog.) Harlan bathing Latke.jpg
6.    My husband has no sense.
He often asks me to bring him something that he left in his pants pocket. And when I pick up the pants, I yell, “Pocket? Which pocket?” Because he has a lot of pockets, and every single one is full of stuff.
He doesn’t just carry his wallet in his pockets. He also carts around his cell phone, his car keys, a tape recorder, a comb or two, countless pens, a small pocket knife, a large pocket knife, his hearing aids, extra batteries for his hearing aids, dental floss, nail clippers, a wad of paper towels with which to blow his nose, a notebook in which to jot down passing thoughts, a copious supply of cough drops, a container of pills, a big rubber coin purse, three maids a milking, seven swans a-swimming, and enough spare change to pay off the national debt.Harlan's pockets are full.JPG
In other words, he carts around the equivalent of what you would find in almost any woman’s purse, minus the makeup (although back when he was TV reporter many years ago, he also carried around makeup). He just carries all this around in his pants.
And every night, before he goes to bed, he carefully removes all of this hazzerei from today’s pants and transfers it into tomorrow’s pants.Harlan in cargo pants.jpg
The problem is that, with all of these items stored in his pants, they weigh at least 30 pounds. Is it any wonder that he has already undergone two hip replacements?
Also, with all this stuff to cart around, he feels compelled to wear cargo pants, even for the most formal occasions -- and not just any cargo pants, but special ones equipped with extra pockets, from a company that supplies the FBI. (Anyone know where he could find a suit that comes with cargo pants? Because along with some common sense, he could sure use one of those.)
7.  My husband has no sense about scents. That is, he doesn’t understand how much to use. I’m not talking about the old adage that less is more. I’m just saying that less is… less annoying.There was a powerful smell.JPG
        Take last Sunday morning. I woke up to a powerful smell. No, that isn’t accurate. I’m saying there was a smell in my bedroom so overpowering that it actually woke me up. I opened my eyes in horror to investigate and sensed in a flash that my husband was presumably feeling amorous because he had applied a healthy dose of cologne. Make that an unhealthy dose. He had splashed it on so liberally that it had the opposite of its intended effect. I was tempted to flee from the room.Latke's nose knows.jpg
        And if you think I was overwhelmed, just imagine how our poor dog Latke felt. According to a website called wiseGEEK.com, dogs have a sense of smell 10,000 to 100,000 times keener than ours. I’m surprised that she even survived.The nose knows Nautica.jpg
        I probably have no right to complain because the offending fragrance had come from a big bottle of Nautica that I had bought my husband for Chanukah. At least he was using my gift… rather than resorting to the cheap bottle of Brut he had picked up at Walgreen’s, the one that I’d bought him the Nautica to replace.
        He obviously appreciated my choice. Unfortunately, just a little too much.
“How much of that did you put on, exactly?” I demanded after I had opened a window, turned on the ceiling fan, and stopped gagging long enough to speak.He showed me how much he used.JPG
        “Not that much,” he protested defensively, pantomiming the offending act, which involved applying two generous spritzes to either side of his neck.
        Seriously? If that’s what four squirts smelled like, then half a squirt would have more than sufficed, thanks.
        I will not go on to specify how this particular incident ended. Suffice it to say that even the most generous application of aftershave eventually wears off.
        And so, eventually, will the memory. More or less.
8.  My husband doesn’t always know that much about what our kids are up to.
        I know what they're up to because I go on Facebook.
        9.  My husband doesn’t always know what our kids are up to because he doesn’t know how to deal with Facebook.
This may just be a generational thing. He’s only 10 years older than I am, but when it comes to technology, those are 10 crucial years. My Facebook page.jpg
        I’m not saying he’s a geezer or square, mind you. Sure, he’s squarely within the realm of being an alta cocker (Yiddish for “old guy”), but he has his own Facebook page and even goes on it now and then.
He doesn’t go on it every day, though (let alone every hour or so), like young people do… and I do too (alta cocker though I may be). So when I mentioned to him last week that our daughter’s new CD had gotten a nice new review, he asked how I knew. And I said I had seen it on Facebook.
“I saw it on her wall and put it on my page,” I explained.Allegra's CD Lonely City.jpg
“Is it on my page?” he asked.
“No, it’s on my page,” I explained.
“How do I put it on my page?” he asked.
“Go to my wall and share it,” I explained.
I tried to teach him how to go on my wall and share the review I had posted. Then he asked why he didn’t see it on his wall. Even though it was on his page.
Face it. Facebook may be the epicenter of social media. But if you ask me, in some ways it’s anti-social. It has served to put a wall between my husband and me. Although you won’t see that on my wall.
        10. My husband struggles with technology in general.Ben Scheuer in
We spent this past weekend in NYC, and while we were driving down on Friday I mentioned that I had received an email offering discount tickets to a play I wanted to see. This play, called The Lion, happened to be at a theater in the West Village only a block away from where we were eating with our son and his girlfriend on Saturday night.
He readily agreed to go. I can’t complain about that. The problem was that he wanted to buy the tickets right away before the play might sell out.
I usually buy all of our tickets. I was the one driving at that point, though, so I said I would purchase them as soon as we arrived. But no. He insisted on buying them right away himself. He just couldn’t figure out how.Seating chart.jpg
Granted, it was complicated to do online using a phone. You had to enter a discount code, choose your seats from a tiny color-coded seating chart, then add them to your shopping cart one at a time. Then the website demanded that you answer a series of personal questions.
We drove for over 30 miles while he struggled and repeatedly cursed at his phone. But at last the deed was done.
It was only late that night, when I opened the emailed confirmation, that I realized he’d purchased tickets for Friday's performance instead of Saturday's, and we had already missed it.
        He phoned immediately, but both the ticket agency and theater were already closed.
Even with the discount, those tickets had cost just over $100, an amount that we had functionally just flushed down the toilet. Now I was the one who was cursing.
I was so miffed that, although it was late and we hadn’t had any dinner yet, I told my husband in the middle of a city street that I was leaving, then stormed away fuming.
Then I thought better of it. I realized that as bad as I felt about it, he had to feel even worse. It’s no fun to lose a lot of money, but it’s less fun to be the fool who lost it.Westway Diner and egg cream.jpg
To compensate, we decided to eat at the least posh place we could find, a diner. And soon after we entered, who should stop in for an egg cream and walk right past our table but Jackie Mason!?!
My husband had chosen this particular restaurant, the Westway Diner on Ninth Avenue, and I was so elated to see the 83-year-old Jewish comedian that I almost forgave him.Jackie Mason and Harlan.JPG
At my husband’s insistence, I reluctantly accompanied him when he went over to the legend’s table to tell him what longtime fans of his we were. My husband noted that his favorite joke was one that Mason tells, about a Jewish couple who consult a doctor because they can’t seem to conceive, with a punchline about having "a fish in the passage.”With Jackie Mason at the Westway Diner.JPG
        Hearing this, Mason insisted that my husband tell the joke – which he did very badly – then said, “That’s not my joke. I don’t tell that joke. You must not know who I am!”
This was so embarrassing that I was fuming mad at my husband all over again.
The next morning, as I expected, the ticket agency said that they couldn’t help. The tickets had been nonrefundable, and we were basically out of luck. Our only possible recourse was to go to the theater in person when it opened late that afternoon and beg.
At best, I hoped, perhaps the box office might allow us to sit way in the back if the performance were not already sold out, even though we had purchased third-row seats.The Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project.jpg
By coincidence, the theater happened to be near the Soho boutique from which I had ordered those two, er, unflattering dresses. While I went there to exchange them, my husband insisted on going to the theater box office himself.Jacket from Madonna and Co.jpg
       Fine by me. 
I was happy to have the time alone to shop without an entourage... or a critic. While he was gone, I tried on quite a few garments and fell in love with a funky jacket.
It was black, ultra-modern, and chic, with stretchy fabric and lots of zippers. Best of all, it did not make me look like any of the Roosevelts. If you ask me.I tried it. He liked it!.jpg
When my husband eventually joined me at the store, he dared once again to venture a forthright opinion about my purchase, but this one was an admiring one. At last!
He said nothing about the tickets, though. So I figured it was a lost cause.
Finally, I could stand it no longer, and dared to ask what had transpired.
“Can you think of anything that might happen to turn this weekend into a positive learning experience instead of just the disaster it has been?” he asked.
What was this, 20 questions?
        “Just tell me,” I said dejectedly.
He had related his tale of woe to an attractive young woman at the box office, concluding with his grave error.
“It happens,” she had said, nodding sympathetically.
Then she had given him two tickets for that night. Not just any tickets, though. Third-row tickets, for the exact same seats we had purchased, only for the correct night.
We met our son Aidan and his girlfriend Kaitlin for a wonderful dinner at a little Italian place called Bianca, then hurried over to the Lynn Redgrave Theater for the show.
“After going through all that, I hope you like it,” I said as we waited for it to begin.
“After going through all that, I’ll like it whether I like it or not,” my husband replied.Ben Scheuer in The Lion.jpg
We needn’t have worried. The play, in which a gifted young musician named Ben Scheuer sings and strums a series of guitars as he conveys a gripping autobiographical coming-of-age tale, was so stirring, moving, and mesmerizing that by the end I could hardly speak.
I was glad not to have missed it, no matter how unnerving the events leading up to it had been.
I was also, I must confess, no longer the least bit annoyed with my husband.
        OK, I’ll admit it. All of my above complaints, however valid, are pretty small potatoes.
Of course, I easily could come up with a much longer list of much bigger gripes. But I fear that I have already shared (or maybe even over-shared) more than enough. Besides, I suppose he did manage to redeem himself in the end.Valentine's Day.jpg
Valentine’s Day is the anniversary of our first date, and we’re going back to NYC. But I have already bought some tickets myself and will insist that he leave the Nautica behind. Cargo pants too. Unless you think I’m overreacting.
        I’ll let you be the judge.

8:42 pm 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Word From the Weiss

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

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

Friday, January 9, 2015

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

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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.

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