The Jury is Out

I received my Jury Summons a few weeks ago – it’s always a shock to see that blue envelope – it’s like getting a parking ticket or one of those speeding tickets caught by a mounted camera. You didn’t intentionally do anything wrong and yet you are being summoned to court.

Starting Sunday, I called in for three nights in a row and my luck held out – a recording told me YOU ARE NOT REQUIRED TO REPORT TO COURT TOMORROW PLEASE CALL AFTER 5 PM TOMORROW. I breathed a sigh of relief and went about my days. I called Wednesday night expecting to hear the same but there it was… REPORT AT 8:30 AM TOMORROW MORNING with directions on where to go and what to bring (a pen with black ink) and what not to bring (phones, laptops, electronics).
I showed up at 8:30 am at 500 Pearl Street – WITH my cellphone and WITHOUT a pen. After going through security and having my phone charger picked up on the Xray I idiotically answered YES when asked if I had a cell phone.Trick question. The man unceremoniously handed me a numbered ticket in exchange for said cell phone. I thought it best not to put up a struggle.
I entered the large waiting area and took a seat trying to imagine the next seven hours without my cell phone or a book or anyone I knew within a mile. My anxiety was palpable – drawing the attention of an equally stressed out guy behind me. We commiserated as we filled out papers as instructed (with a borrowed pen) and tried to figure out our chances of getting picked.

The assistant DA came into the room. After a few announcements the lights started to dim, shades descended from the top of the large windows and he announced that we would be watching a “short” 30 minute film! This film depicted people being asked to be on a Grand Jury – showing how it worked, how important it was to fill this civic duty, and how much people got out of doing this duty. All I could think of was how do I GET OUT of doing this duty. Part of me thought it might be interesting – after all I watch Dateline NBC and love to figure out interesting crime cases…but they repeatedly mentioned the vow of secrecy surrounding the proceedings in a Grand Jury and I was pretty sure that would be a problem for me.

The lights came on, and the shades stayed down – adding more drama to the DA’s next announcement – they would be picking 23 people to serve on the Grand Jury – who would serve 5 days a week for a period of no less than 30 days — Hey wait – didn’t my envelope say two weeks!!? Civic duty is one thing but 30 days started to seem like a sentence. It got worse. They would be picking 2 alternate jurors who would serve for 2 days a week for 14 months – that seemed like a LIFE sentence. I don’t even think criminals serve 14 months. And they probably get to look out a window. Now I was worried. The guy behind me was worried.

We listened carefully for an escape route as they listed the six excuses that the judge would consider. The first one wouldn’t work–I’m not over the age of 70 even though my feet feel like they are. Next one – having small kids at home. Does a 25 year old son living at home count? He still needs me to pick up his socks off the floor and put toilet paper in his bathroom. Another – am I the sole caretaker of an elderly parent? My parents are in Florida and though they probably shouldn’t be driving – they do and while they would like me to be there, I’m not. The other excuses were lack of knowledge of English, or having been a convicted felon, or serving in the military or being a police officer or firefighter. No excuses here. I started to panic. I started to get creative. I started twitching in my seat and stretching my back – prepared to use back pain as an excuse. My “friend” behind me started “remembering” the two business trips he needed to take in March. I started thinking about how I volunteer at a hospital on Thursdays and how they depend on me (that is actually true) and how I suffer from migraine headaches (somewhat true) and how I had once robbed a liquor store in college (definitely not true).
I felt like Katniss Everdeen during the reaping as they started picking the juror’s names one by one out of a wooden box. My odds of winning the recent record breaking PowerBall were about one in a billion and I was confident. Here I had a MUCH greater probability of getting picked and I prayed I wouldn’t be.

The first order of business was picking the Grand Jury. As he said each name, and I heard a different consonant that wasn’t an “S” exiting his lips, I breathed a little sigh of relief. After the first 23 names were read those who were now moved to the left side of the room got their turn to speak to the judge one at a time about an excuse. Apparently there were more than six. Little by little there were only about 10 left. They repeated this process. More names were read, and more people had excuses. Every person around me was called. My buddy was called. He was excused. I was praying his empty chair wasn’t soon to be filled with my body. My fingers were tapping. My feet were twitching about. My heart rate was increasing. Steven Avery looked more relaxed than me during his murder trial, documented on the Netflix series Making a Murderer. This process went on until the Grand Jury was picked. Great – except now they were going to pick the last two alternates. The 14 month commitment. Twice a week. One hundred and twenty days. In a courtroom. For $40 a day. Few seemed to want to do this. I wanted to text a friend to share my panic only to remember I had no phone.

There were 23 people in the Grand Jury seats. There were about 90 people in the excused people area. There were about 25 people remaining on my side. There were very good odds they would call my name. I ran through my list of excuses and wondered which one to use or if I should spit out all of them and hope one stuck. I imaged me telling my husband (a law school graduate ) how I had allowed myself to get a 14 month jury position.

The last two names were called. They were excused. Then two more names. They weren’t mine. They weren’t excused. I breathed a sigh of relief. I asked a man sitting next to me if he thought we were safe. “Yes,” he said, “ as long as they don’t ask us to come back and do this again tomorrow.” My face twisted in fear. Ten minutes later those who weren’t selected for the Grand Jury were asked to go into the hallway. The announcement that our Jury Duty was complete was met with cheers and applause. So much for civic duty. I felt that I had been acquitted. I used my Get Out of Jail Free card… for four more years

Honey, can you hear me?

My husband and I have been married for 26 years. Both of us are in our 50’s but we feel healthy and look pretty youthful. Ok, so we get up from a chair groaning with knees creaking like the Tin Man. And perhaps we can’t read a menu or price tag or anything at all without glasses or a flashlight app. But other than that we have all our faculties. Well, most of them anyway.

Recently I noticed that my hearing is on the decline. I’ve always been like a CSI with razor sharp instincts and a keen sense of hearing. I always knew whose footsteps I heard coming in late at night and who was chugging milk out of the container from a room away, but recently I noticed I need to turn up the tv volume and I can’t understand anything either of my sons say.

I have begun using my cellphone on speaker even though I have often complained to my own aging parents how annoying it is to have them call me on speakerphone, echoing like they are calling from a cave in Afghanistan instead of from their sunny kitchen in Delray Beach. On the rare occasions when when my own children call I pretend to hear them so they don’t call me deaf, although I suspect it’s because they are slumped in their beds, barely wasting enough energy to move their lips when they speak.

But what concerns me most is not that I can’t hear people – it’s that people occasionally can’t hear me. And by people, I mean my husband. My slight hearing problem was diagnosed by an ENT doctor as age-related hearing loss. My husband’s hearing loss was diagnosed by me, a KLAD (Kinda like a Doctor) as marriage-related hearing loss. It is called being Wife Deaf.

Most men with WD don’t even know they have it. Or if they do they don’t admit it. Unlike real hearing loss which mostly affects the afflicted – Wife Deafness is most annoying for the observer. In this case that would be ME. While my husband is oblivious to his problem, I find it extremely frustrating. For example, I often tell my otherwise attentive and loving husband about plans I’ve made for us. Hours or maybe days later he will deny I’ve told him about those plans. Other times I might share a story I heard or something I read and believing I have his attention, I finish the conversation. I may even get a nod or look of acknowledgment. Then not ten minutes later he will tell me the same story as if it is his own thought.

“Are you kidding me?! Didn’t you JUST hear me say that?” I will yell as I roll my eyes. In an instant he is backpedalling, saying that he did hear me, even throwing in a couple of key words that actually infiltrated his subconscious. Most of the time he swears I never told him, making me doubt my own sanity. What was he doing while talking? Working out a business problem? Thinking about who is starting for the Jets? Did I sound like Charlie Brown’s mother? WHA, WHA, WHA…

I notice this problem is very common among middle aged husbands. I venture to say most married men suffer from it. My own father has one of the worse cases of wife deafness and is actually proud of it. He prefers to call it selective hearing. For most of the 50+ years they’ve been married he has been burying his head in a book or puttering in the kitchen only occasionally looking up to ask my mother to repeat a long story or conversation he has just caught the tail end of. But I have also seen it among my own age group.

My friend Debi was trying to get her husband’s attention as we sat in a group of couples last winter. “David, David, David,” she repeated without so much as a turn of his head. “Watch this, “ I said and at the same decibel level I said his name again. Immediately he heard his name, looked at me and said “Yeah, what?” as she looked on in shock and disbelief. Diagnosis made – WD.

I shared my frustration with my friend Donna on a recent friday night. We had invited her and her husband George to meet us for a movie premiere. She told me what had just happened that very night. George is not known for his subtlety, so she asked him not to tell their teenage daughter that we were seeing the movie she had wanted to see. As he walked out the door 20 minutes later he called out to his daughter that they would be back late after the premier of the new Jennifer Aniston movie. Donna was flabbergasted.

Do they not hear? Do they not care? Do they not remember? Is there a cure? I don’t know the answers. I could take him for an actual hearing test – but unless those hearing tests that normally emit beeps and tones of various pitch match the actual sound and frequency of my own voice I don’t think we can get an accurate reading. Perhaps there’s a hearing aid for this disorder. But there’s not a man alive who’d use it. So I’ve come up with my own hearing aids. I’ve considered a megaphone but it doesn’t fit in my overstuffed handbag, so I make it a point to speak louder and check for rapid eye movements that might indicate voice recognition. Then my husband can’t complain that the window was open, or I speak softly, or that I never said what I know I said.

I also cover all bases by emailing a summary or confirmation of important conversations so I have a record in my computer, and in a court of law, that he was informed of dates and times and plans. Not that it helps when he double books us and we have a standoff to see whose plan prevails.

There is a cartoon I love that captures this universal issue – it pictures an elderly couple sitting in a living room with the husband looking up from a newspaper and the caption “Can you please repeat everything you’ve said since we’ve been married?” That is the line he says to me when I catch him being wife deaf. It always makes us laugh. I know he may not always hear me. But I know he gets me. And a sense of humor is definitely the best medicine.

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SECRET SLOB SOCIETY

I’ve always taken pride in my reputation as being extremely neat and orderly. My house looks like no one lives there – if something is moved an inch I know it. I talk on the phone with a paper towel and a spray bottle of Fantastic in my hand. My hangars match. I never go out with chipped nail polish. I iron my sheets.

It’s hard to live up to this standard of perfection.So recently I noticed that I am relaxing my ideals. Perhaps I am swaying a bit too far in the other direction. No one would ever know what goes on behind closed doors, but I have to confess — after every fashion crisis, which is basically 90 percent of the time I get dressed to go out, I leave a wake of discarded tops and pants on my bedroom floor. It looks like the dressing room of a Broadway diva after a performance with numerous costume changes. I have even caught myself kicking the rejects into a pile in my closet so my husband doesn’t see it when we come back late at night. I also have begun using my kitchen counter as my office and catch-all for newspapers, mail, handbag, keys and post-it notes with lists and reminders. My husband has been well trained to keep most of his personal belongings out of sight and recently I realized the tides were turning. As I criticized him for leaving some dresser drawers open (a pet peeve), he glanced from me to the kitchen counter strewn with shopping bags and groceries and magazines, and back to me without saying a word. The student had become the sensai.

In fairness he has a real office in midtown Manhattan with file cabinets and shelves and they are piled high with files and documents and notepads on the desk and under the desk. Our home is my office and if I don‘t see things in front of me I don‘t get anything done. It got me wondering – what are my friends doing behind closed doors? So I asked them.

One was very forthcoming. In order to spare her identity and embarrassment and to save our trusting friendship I will call her “R”. She told me she doesn’t wash her bras very often. She justifies it because she puts them on a clean body every morning but really she’s too lazy to wash them out as often as she should. She said she felt like she was Stradlater from Catcher in the Rye – the friend that Holden Caulfield realized was a Secret Slob. So I decided to form a Secret Slob Society where my friends could reveal their private slovenliness.

They say “never go to bed angry” but in my book it’s never go to bed with a sink of dishes. Yet “D” confessed that she leaves her kitchen a complete mess when she goes to bed at night with food on the counter, dirty dishes in the sink, and pots filled with water and she gets up at the crack of dawn to deal with it before going to the gym. She’s a morning person.

At first “L” wouldn’t admit to any secrets other than watching Real Housewives and soap operas. She said she is very tidy and has never left her house without making her bed because she thinks it’s bad luck. I pushed her to come clean. Join the club. Finally after reflecting a bit she offered that her bathroom cabinets were stuffed with bags and bags of old makeup samples and her basement of old furniture and baby toys looked like she was a candidate for the show Hoarders.

I too never leave the house without making the bed and never go on vacation without leaving a perfectly clean house in case something happens to me and I never return. Not everyone feels this way. I know that because a neighbor of mine once called me from vacation with her four small children and asked me to check inside the house and see if they had left on an appliance before they dashed out. Their beautiful house is always decorated with hanging baskets on the front porch and lovely lights around the holidays. Inside it looked like they had left the country in a hurry to flee a war… the remnants of breakfast were still on the table, stray socks were balled up on the kitchen floor, the dog bowl still had kibble in it.

“H” admitted that when she travels she wears the same underwear the next day as she did the night before so she doesn’t have to wash it.

Aunt “L” lets her pet cockatiel sit on her shoulder and poop on her blouse. She also copped to turning the guest towels to the untouched clean side instead of washing them.

I know a college student who is smart and beautiful and who didn’t change her sheets more than 3 times a semester. That is probably two times more than many students. And my own sons.

I live with someone whose toothbrush develops stalagmites of gooey toothpaste as it charges on its stand.

My dear friend “G” has a spotless house and a manicured lawn – however to climb in her car means sweeping the seat and floor of petrified French fries, coffee cups, sweaty gym clothes, and errant shoes.

Everyone has their secrets — not changing their toothbrush or razor head, leaving clumps of hair in a brush or drain, sniffing their clothing or underwear to see if it’s clean, not washing their jeans until they stand alone, wearing a pair of socks twice. I’m guilty of a few. Growing up I was told cleanliness was next to godliness. I no longer think that’s true. Cleanliness is overrated. I recently saw a poster that said , “A Clean House is a Sign of a Wasted Life”. I will repeat that mantra to remind myself that my newfound messiness means I am having too much fun to stay in and clean. I will proudly wear my badge as a member of the Secret Slob Society. If only I could find it in the mess I call my closet.

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#secretslob, #cleanfreak

YOGI BARE

It’s 11 pm. I have been wearing yoga pants for 15 hours. If you had told me 20 years ago that I would spend an entire day wearing yoga pants I would have laughed and sworn it would never happen.

Twenty years ago I moved to the suburbs from NYC and went to the bus stop the first day of school wearing soft buttercup yellow DKNY jeans. The other mothers wore Mom jeans and looks of amusement as they checked out the new city expatriate. I didn’t care if I looked overdressed. I’ve always found it preferable to being underdressed. As the school year wore on they would roll up the street in their SUVs at 7:30 am in bathrobes and pajamas, with sunglasses covering their swollen morning eyes. I had my hair washed and makeup on. I knew I’d never become one of them.

My new friend Gail, who lived down the street, commented that I would soon be wearing “normal” jeans and sweat pants and showing up at the bus stop looking ragged and rushed like the others. We have now been friends for 19 years. Our boys are grown. It never happened.

But now it HAS happened. I returned to the city from the suburbs where you would think I would spend the day wearing chic city clothes, but I am looking at myself and I’ve spent the day in yoga pants. How did I become that person? It started when I signed up for Pilates in a real studio instead of the safety and privacy of my basement gym and I bought some rather cute yoga pants. Yoga pants are really comfortable. There’s a reason I’ve fallen asleep on the floor at the end of any yoga classes I’ve taken. It’s the pants.

I usually feel energized when I put them on in the morning and they get me motivated to exercise. But to be honest I didn’t do any exercise today. I put on the pants this morning planning on the 9 am Pilates class. I answered some phone calls and missed the class. I spent an hour thinking about going to the gym instead while I threw in some laundry. I never got there. I kept them on while I sat at my computer barefoot and comfortable in my stretchy soft pants and I wore them for the next few hours while I clicked on Huffington Post links, read emails and cleaned the kitchen.
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Yoga pants have become the house dresses of our generation. My very stylish grandmother had an assortment of snap front pastel house coats she wore to dust and vacuum and cook inside her Jackson Heights apartment. But you would never catch her wearing one to her nearby Waldbaum’s.

I broke that wall. At 5 pm I needed some groceries. I thought about changing but I threw on some boots over my yoga pants. It almost looked like I was wearing real pants. I went outside to walk to Whole Foods. And do you know what I noticed while I was outside? I was not alone. There were LOTS of other people wearing yoga pants. Some of them looked healthy and fit. Many of them were dressed for exercise but looked like they hadn’t broken a sweat quite a while. Because that’s the thing about yoga pants. They usually feel better than they look. They feel tight and uplifting like a girdle or Spanx. But those are worn under clothes. Yoga pants are not. Once you see your behind with your legs thrown over your head as you do a crunch in the exercise studio mirror you realize they aren’t as shapely as you thought. Unless you are actually a yoga instructor or trainer you should not be wearing yoga pants all day. Its risky. They are a “gateway” pant — you could wake up one day and realize you have been wearing them for weeks at a time. And wearing no makeup. And not exercising at all. Pretty soon you are overeating in those stretchy pants with the expanding waistband and yoga pants will be the only pants that fit. Look around the streets of any suburb or city and you will agree. It’s a cautionary tale.

I believe there’s a solution here. I’ve spent most of my adult life in tight clothes and painful shoes and I think I’m just tired of suffering. Yoga pants made me realize how much happier I could feel if I spent the day in more comfortable attire. I think it’s time to lose some of my more restricting clothes and high heels and go out and buy some pants that are as comfortable as yoga pants but appropriate for the real world. I wonder if DKNY still makes buttercup yellow jeans. Or if all else fails – Maybe I’ll just have to become a yoga instructor!

COCOA NUTS

I consider myself kind and giving and generous. Especially when it comes to my children. I would do almost anything to make them happy.

By my generosity has been put to the test. My 23-year-old son Justin has moved back home after graduating college. As he begins his career working for my husband Marty he is living with us and saving money until he can afford to move out on his own.

Suddenly I have to share things that were previously my own. I share my couch which now has a dent where he sits in the sweet spot. I share my office where he sits across from me after work talking, laughing, and playing computer games. I share the remote which now tunes right to Comedy Central if I actually get a chance to watch the big tv. I share space in my high-end German freezer drawers which are filled with his low end vodka and whiskey. And most of all I share my husband’s attention, which I previously had to myself except for his iPhone and Blackberry. Now my husband and son talk sports, politics, and work and I feel like raising my hand when I want to speak.

I was starting to get used to all the togetherness. But I may have made it too comfortable. Recently there was a show down. It was the last straw. I snapped. All I wanted was a bite of dark chocolate one night after dinner. I went into the pantry and reached into my little clear plastic bin. Expecting to find my stash of carefully curated gourmet dark chocolate bars, there were only shreds of paper wrapper and tiny shards of foil. Someone ate Mama’s chocolate stash. The cupboard was bare.

I nearly went into a rage. “Who ate my chocolate!?” I shrieked, knowing immediately it was Justin. A lot of pent up emotion rushed out of my head like an exploding water main as I ranted about my missing chocolate bars. “Those were mine! I was saving them! They were special!” I shouted. Apparently I’m not a good sharer. My husband looked at me like I was out of my mind. “It’s just chocolate”, he said. “What’s the big deal?”

Just chocolate!? He obviously is not a connoisseur of fine chocolate. I was building a cultivated collection of high cocoa percentage dark chocolate. A week earlier I had warned Justin to keep his mitts off my chocolate when I noticed that the Max Brenner chocolate and almond bar was all but gone. He left two squares of that delectable bar which he had given to me for my birthday! As I ate the remains I gave him a warning that my special stash was not for public consumption. I bought him some cheap milk chocolate and put those in the bin. Then two days later, my favorite bar was gone — an eight dollar Knipchildt dark chocolate bar with squares oozing burnt caramel and Hawaiian sea salt. I didn’t even think he liked dark chocolate. I heeded a second warning not to touch my stash. I know I appeared selfish and immature – but I went through his terrible twos and now it was MY turn to be that way. So I did what my own mother used to do – I hid them. Like most men he usually only sees what is right in front of him. I carefully concealed the beautifully wrapped Weiss dark chocolate bars, purchased in the Paris airport on a recent trip. I tucked away the slim Mast Brothers dark chocolate bar with slivers of almonds and the crunch of cocoa nibs that I bought in their sweet smelling hipster shop in Williamsburg.

So when I walked into the pantry that day and found all my chocolate gone I felt very angry. And frustrated. And ridiculous. My reaction was certainly out of proportion to the infraction. He never acted that way when he caught me eating his depleting cache of Halloween candy from his plastic pumpkin years ago. After I calmed down I called a few friends to tell them what happened and see if they understood my intense reaction.

I phoned Lori – she’s rational. She is patient. She has kids the same age. I thought she’d tell me I had overreacted. But she didn’t. She got it! She said she has the same feeling when her family leaves her with no milk for her morning coffee. She spews venom. This is a woman who is happy to cook and serve and feed large groups of friends and family on a moment’s notice. But that’s her breaking point. If you are a guest in her house – hands off the last drop of milk!

Bolstered by the support I emailed my friend Hilary – she also has two sons and loves chocolate. She understood completely. She answered that she goes crazy when she wants some ice cream, takes out the container and finds just a spoonful. Or worse – that it’s empty. Her voice gets shrill, the fridge door slams and she goes hunting for the perpetrator.

We are mothers – we love to nurture, feed, comfort our children. But sometimes we want a place of our own, time to ourselves, or just a nice bar of chocolate saved for the perfect moment to enjoy it.

So I know just what I’m getting Justin for HIS next birthday — a nice collection of special chocolate bars all his own. And I can’t wait to eat them, one delicious bite at a time.

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OLYMPIC DREAMING

I am not very interested in sports. I don’t enjoy watching or playing sports nor do I like watching them on TV or in an arena. I will never live down the time I brought a Vogue magazine to Yankee Stadium and I have been at Super Bowl parties and not known who is playing. But I have to admit, I love the Winter Olympics. We own a ski house so I am more familiar with winter sports and every once in a while I even participate in them. I can ski a black diamond slope and occasionally do so without crying, and I can manage to stay upright on ice skates without taking down small children.

So for the next two weeks, from the Opening Ceremonies at Sochi until the torch has been extinguished, I will be marathon-watching fresh faced and patriotic athletic people performing amazing feats. I will marvel at the dizzying salchows, daredevil ski jumping and death defying luge and bob sledding. I will watch the background stories of determination and training and I will imagine what it would feel like to be on the medal platform. And as I do every four years, I will entertain my fantasy of becoming part of a team. Any team. The Jamaican Bobsled team had a dream and look where it led them! I have entertained a fantasy of commandeering a bobsled with the same agility with which I rode my Red Rover sled down Kamikase Hill in the 60’s. Okay, so a bobsled weighs almost 500 pounds. I am certain that I could compete in curling as I watch the teams chase their stones on the ice. I could be the sweeper — I am certainly well practiced with a broom. I’m sure I could find strength and agility in my own body’s ability. Did I mention that this body is 55?

There don’t seem to be many winter athletes over 25. Still, I like to dream. After all, this year there is a 55-year-old Mexican skier who is also a prince and a pop star, and a 47 and 48-year old husband and wife team who are first time Olympians competing in cross country for the island of Dominica. And he’s from Staten Island! Could I possibly still have it in me?

Then it hit me! I woke up this morning and I realized I do have some coordination and skills. They are on display at night in my bedroom. No, it’s not what you are thinking. I am becoming skilled in a nighttime Olympic sport specifically for middle aged women. I will call it the Menopause Marathon.

Last night I had gotten ready for bed around midnight. I put on my gear, selecting an outfit with minimal fabric for perfect body temperature and ease of movement – as stretchy and light as a figure skater’s costume without the sequins and glitter.

I fell asleep and the first “heat” in the hot flash dash began within the hour. I woke with a start with my heart beating fast and my cheeks flushed. I began my first trick — I shot my arms above my head, blankets twisting and pillows flying. Shaun White may have invented the Double McTwist 1260 but it’s nothing compared to my signature move – the McSteamy Twist 1958 – in honor of the year I was born. My feet did a rapid double toe loop as they kicked out from under the heavy down blanket searching for cooler air. Then it was time for the Bi-athalon, or as I will rename it – the Bath-alon. My feet hit the floor while one eye remained closed. My arms reached ahead of me feeling for open closet doors and other obstacles as I stumbled to the bathroom for a 2-yard dash. I reached the toilet, turned and stuck the landing. The toilet seat lid was in the correct position – extra points for that. Aim, shoot, flush – I hit all 3 marks. Heady with victory I made my way back to the bed in the dark.

That’s when tragedy struck. Hopes were dashed. I stepped on a glossy magazine, and speed skating I did a spontaneous triple lutz, taking a slide along the carpet, going airborne, and doing a face plant in the snowy white carpet.

I got up and made it back to the bed. There were no cheering crowds, no medal ceremony, and fortunately no embarrassment as the only judge (my husband) slept through it all. But I can try again tomorrow…And many nights after that. Because according to my team doctor who knows about these things — these games will continue long after the closing ceremonies at Sochi.

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Family threads

In a corner of my bedroom closet, stashed on shelves adjacent to the stacks of designer shoe boxes and cashmere sweaters organized by color, I keep treasured mementos of my childhood. There’s a 50-year old shoeless Shirley temple doll, dusty Morristown high school yearbooks , a raggedy Saks hat box filled with notes and cards, and a dented Russell Stover candy tin.

The oblong hinged tin with embossed watercolor tulips was rescued from my Grandmother Alice’s apt in NYC when she moved down to Florida five years ago. She was convinced to stay down south following a small stroke while visiting her children, and my aunts and I were packing personal things collected during her long lifetime. She wanted us to save everything and send it to her — books, scarves and bags and cooking utensils and pictures and tchotckes and all the things a person can amass in 93 years. As we were sorting her belongings and the hours wore on more things were being tossed than saved as we reminded each other of the small size of her room in the assisted living facility near the beach. Household items and accessories and photos were divided and distributed to the person who seemed to want it the most and we hoped she wouldn’t notice when they didn’t arrive. The tin box nearly made it into the trash pile. When I opened it I discovered a rainbow of wooden spools spun with fading colors of silk thread in crimson, powder blue, pale lavender, blush pink, saffron, and emerald. Aunt Linda, the youngest of five siblings and family historian, thought it belonged to my great grandmother Rivka. I like to sew and I could almost sense her hands on those threads and I claimed the beat up little box.

Later that day I was given the task of emptying some kitchen drawers of dish towels and aprons and many pieces of embroidered cloth. No one was sure where they came from, if one of my great-grandmothers had made them, or if they were purchased by my grandmother Alice. No one had ever seen my great-grandmother embroider. I didn’t make any connection to the box because the threads were much thicker. When the job was done and the apartment was emptied and abandoned, I left with some leather gloves, scarves, a handmade waist tied apron, a slightly worn cross stitched challah cover and a wine-stained muslin matzoh sleeve embroidered with seder plate foods. Grandma Alice’s things were set up in her small new room in Florida where she stayed until she died two years ago at 98. The box survives on my shelf even after seasonal closet purgings. I have tried using the thread for mending but it’s too old and thin and it breaks easily. The colors are darker underneath the bleached top layers. But I keep putting it back on the shelf.

On the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana this fall I proudly displayed the challah cover atop my seed-flecked golden homemade challah and I posted a picture of it on Facebook. Aunt Linda, a Facebook connection, called me and told me a story. She remembered a story my great-grandmother had told her and spoke of it with my grandma Alice after visiting her in Florida. She learned the background of the embroidered cloth. When my great-grandmother Rivka was a young girl in Poland, her mother,( my great-great grandmother Bubbe, ) thought that she should learn a skill in the event that she didn’t marry. At 13, Rivka was sent to live with a family to learn embroidery from the mother and to help care for the children. She was treated poorly, and was always hungry and treated “like a slave” until she finally came home after one year. At 18, still in Poland, she did get married. She met my great-grandfather Haskell, a tailor, when he came to her father Chaim’s shoe repair shop . I don’t know if she made my beautiful pieces during her difficult year. Or if she sewed them after having the first of seven babies at 19 (three died in childhood) and emigrating to America where she raised her family. No one recalls ever seeing her embroider again. But I can picture her hands threading a needle and embroidering in a stranger’s house in Poland, and later mending the clothes of her children, my grandmother, and great aunts and uncles. I can imagine my great-grandfather tailoring clothes in a new country to support his growing family.

I open that box and the faded colors of thread evoke sepia memories of great-grandma’s house. I’m five years old with a round cherry lollipop. My sister Lisa and I in matching striped dresses and pinafores. Tiny Bubbe , blind, with a hair net and boxy black side laced shoes, feeling our heads to “see” us. Grandma Rivka, already bent with age and only slightly taller than her mother, preparing in the kitchen . My grandmother and mother laughing and telling stories. My last memory of Rivka at 98, sitting in her favorite worn chair in her apartment holding my son, her first great great-grandson.

The chocolates in that box are long gone but it holds the sweet memories of our rich family history, stitched together by tailors and shoemakers and embroiderers — a cattle ship to America, silver candlesticks and kitchens smelling of homemade cookies and chicken soup and sounds of Yiddish and the warmth of grandmothers’ love and hugs and the generations of strong and beautiful long-lived women — that box reminds me of tradition and the unbroken thread that connects us to each other.

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Thanksgiving Fantasy

It’s Thanksgiving. A holiday I love. I spent last weekend pureeing and freezing butternut squash soup, baking pumpkin bread and frying latkes – an unexpected edition to the feast — since it’s the first and last time in many years that Thanksgiving coincides with Hanukkah. I spent two days shopping for vegetables and multiple ingredients and packed them into the car and onto the kitchen counter. The 19 pound turkey was brined and I ungracefully lugged the pale pink bird in it’s embryonic-like brining bag into the downstairs fridge. Homemade raw cranberry sauce was pulsed and blended and left to marinate with oranges and lemon in the upstairs fridge.

I woke at 7 Thursday morning and turned on the Macy’s parade– the sound of marching bands and show tunes provided nostalgia and atmosphere while I chopped root vegetables, washed the turkey, and made two stuffings – one for in the bird and a new recipe with homemade bread cubes, turkey bacon and sage.

My husband spent the morning laying on the couch. To be fair, he was sick. He was coughing and pale and I didn’t want him anywhere near the food. But to be honest if he wasn’t sick he wouldn’t provide much help. He’s never cooked in the 25 years we’ve been married. He’s never even boiled water for pasta. No pancakes for the kids. No breakfast in bed. When guests come he warmly greets them but forgets to offer them a drink. He doesn’t think to hang their coats. He’s a guest in his own home. Since I do like to cook and entertain and I like to do it my way and only my way, it’s probably for the best.

As I continued the 5 hours of Thanksgiving preparation. I was making an artichoke dip and a balsamic dressing for the roasted root vegetables that his family looks forward to each year, when a commercial came on tv asking viewers to think about what they would do if they could do anything they wanted and money wasn’t an issue. He asked me what I would do. He made a comment about me opening a nail salon and I thought — he really doesn’t know me. I hesitated for a second and said I always wanted to be on Saturday Night Live. Or be a sketch comedy writer. Then I changed my mind and said I’d be a painter. I am at my happiest when I am creating something or painting and that I would love to be a respected artist. He made the point that if that’s what I wanted to do why don’t I do it? I made a mental note to myself to sign up for a painting class again. Then I asked him what he would do. I thought he might say he’d open a gym since he’s obsessed with P90x and would get to ogle fit and toned men and women all day long. Imagine my surprise when he said the following ” I would open a restaurant or bar. ” I was shocked. I was flabbergasted. I thought, he doesn’t know ME at all, but apparently he doesn’t know HIMSELF and I obviously don’t know HIM! I laughed. I might have snorted. “What are you talking about?” I said with confusion and a little disdain. “You hate to cook, clean, serve, or do anything having to do with meal preparation!”

“You don’t have to cook to have a restaurant,” he responded defensively. “The owner doesn’t play on the team.”

I suggested he practice his restaurant management skills by pouring drinks and serving food when the 10 guests (all his blood relatives) arrived in an hour. He declined. He continued his argument that he would be the maitre’d … the owner, the Bon vivant who socializes with guests and makes them feel important. He didn’t need to practice.
I realized this argument wasn’t worth winning. I had more cooking to do. The Honeymooners were on tv for him. The couch was comfy. And he’s not retiring anytime soon.

So in ten years, if you happen to pass a restaurant named Marty’s Place, go on in. A tall friendly man will be there to greet you. There will be a few original paintings on the wall by his supporting wife. But bring your own food, maybe even a beer — this is Marty’s Place, and after this holiday owning a restaurant isn’t MY fantasy.

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Pilates Pro? NO!

I don’t like the gym. Ok- I hate the gym. There… I admit it. I don’t like sweating. It scares me to feel my heart beating rapidly. And my medium length curly hair doesn’t form the obligatory high pony tail that is de reguir for any upscale gym in NYC.

I know there are people who love working out – setting alarms to be on the phone to get that coveted spot in a spin class, waking up for 8 am core classes or snagging the coveted time for bi-weekly sessions with their personal trainer. I know that people like it from the large number of them I see all hours of the day in their form fitting exercise gear and neon bright sneakers. I’m just not one of them.

Unfortunately I’m married to someone who is. I knew that when I met him and I recall saying I’d go to the gym with him in our wedding vows. That was 25 years ago. And I lied. Every morning my husband Marty pops out of bed at 6:30 am while I roll over to put on a silk sleep mask and cover my ears with a feather pillow to drown out the pulsating sound of the Nespresso machine brewing his morning espresso.

But I am vain and I am middle aged — if I live to be 110. Although I’ve stayed thin and healthy my luck and good genes are bound to give out. And then there are those broken vows and I don’t want him getting any ideas in the broken vow area. So I occasionally drag myself to the gym or ride a bike or carry groceries and shopping bags and tell myself that it’s heavy lifting. But when I really want to punish myself I go to Pilates.

Pilates Pro Works is on 14th Street up two flights of stairs. The first challenge is getting on the toe socks that help me to maintain grip and balance and remind me of slumber parties in the 70’s. Between the sports bra mashing my breasts into a loaf, and the socks slicing into my webbed toes I am already pushing my comfort limit. Then it’s time to enter the class and choose a spot — surrounded by 9 other people on individual machines modeled on torture devices, outfitted with straps and springs and loops. All that is missing is the guillotine. An energetic and slim- thighed instructor half my age sticks on an earpiece and a mic and starts to blast heart-pumping top hits to get us moving – I think it’s just to drown out the sound of my gasping for breath as we warm up by jumping off and on the platform.

I’m warm in about ten seconds. I think it should be a requirement to have “Hi my age is ___” stickers on our spandex tops. I am guessing that everyone around me are in their 20’s. I want to take a break and yell “I am 55 and have osteopenia!” but there’s no time for a break. I am stretching and pulling and trying to stay on the machine. It’s not easy. One misstep and those straps will have me tied up like Houdini.

The ponytailed girls on my left and right have on no makeup. The ponytailed guy in front of me doesn’t either. I have on lipstick and mascara so they don’t call the morgue. They are glowing with the flush of exertion. I am pouring sweat in a full on hot flash.

The music continues. Our peppy leader is shouting over the beat – “get off the machine, put one leg on the platform, the other leg on the table, add a spring, take off a spring, let go of the strap, Use your legs to pull the table together!” Let go of the strap!? If I drop that strap I’ll split in two. As she sees the look of terror on my face she smiles as if to say “you older people just do your best”.

Our next move is crossing the straps and pulling the handles over our heads. As I raise my arm I surreptitiously sneak a look at my watch. Class is half over. I can do this. Maybe. Ten more reps and it’s time for the next move. Keeping my hands in the handles I step off and on the platform while doing curls. That must have killed ten minutes. I sneak another look at my watch as my arm comes up close to my face. The second hand has barely moved. My watch must be broken. Time is moving as slowly as an hour at DMV. But at least there you can sit and read a magazine.

I’m 55, I’m 55, I’m 55 — I am saying it in my head like a mantra. I picture myself looking good on the beach at that Cancun destination wedding in December. I think of my son poking my Pop-n-fresh belly the night before when my jeans slipped down. I think of the young salesclerk who offered me the senior discount at the Garden of Eden market. I think of my grandmother Alice and imagine her trying this at 55 and I smile to myself. She and her mother and her grandmother lived till their late 90s without ever setting foot in a Pilates studio.

Ashley or Jackie or whichever Dominatrix is teaching the class sees me smile. Oh no – not good . I don’t want her to think this is easy. Maybe I should try and look tired and pained so she eases up. But I don’t want to wimp out in front of my younger, perfectly shaped, Lululemon-ed classmates. So I go on.

I try to finish strong but I am beginning to look like a limp piece of spaghetti . I dare to check my watch again and thankfully, there’s just 5 minutes let. I can make it to cool down. At last class is over. Even the ponytailed girls look a bit relieved. They wear their sweat like a trophy and they swing their damp hair as they pat their faces with a towel. My hair is now rivaling Diana Ross in the 70s and my shaky legs make it difficult to get down the steep stairs – but taking the elevator is too shameful. I hold the railing and jerkily make it outside.

The next day all pain is forgotten – at least until I try to sit on a toilet and I wear slip on shoes so I don’t have to bend. But I am proud of myself for making it through. And if I am going to live till 98 like my predecessors I want to look good as long as I can. I just might have to do this a few more years. I go online and buy another package of classes. Maybe I should suggest they offer me the senior discount.

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