Saturday, December 12, 2009

Light the First Light of Chanukah - In Two Parts

I have two stories to tell about this first night Chanukah 2009.

Story #1 is a story of reaching back in order to move forward. Being able to do both at the same time through the simplicity of ritual.

Story #2 is about taking the light of Chanukah and sharing it with someone who really needs it.

Both stories are about what my father taught me about living in this world. About caring for my family and taking that care back out into the world.

Story #1: Held Together and Almost Smooth
Chanukah is a holiday I have always cherished. As a child, I never felt any yearning for Christmas, or to have a Chanukah bush, like many of my other Jewish friends. I loved all the Jewish holidays, but Chanukahwas a different kind of special because it was my dad's territory. And territory that he lovingly shared with me as his special Chanukah assistant. I don't know why Chanukah was his realm. I also don't know why my brothers weren't involved in the preparations, other than they were probably spending their time looking for where the presents were hidden. I didn't care. Chanukah was about my family, but it was really what went on between my father and I and that made it extraordinary.

The night before the first night he'd go into the attic and get the box that contained all our decorations. They were wrapped in tissue paper, most likely saved from the last year's gift wrapping. Blue and gold wall hangings with menorahs, Judas Maccabee, Stars of David and dreidels. One roll of blue crepe paper, one roll of white. Both rolled up as if they were brand new.

Dad had a specific place for each decoration which we returned to every year. And an order. First the menorahs were taken out and cleaned. Then the wall hangings were put up. Then finally my favorite part. The blue and white rolls of crepe paper. He'd get out the step ladder and some tape and have me stand at one end of the den, holding the blue paper as he slowly unrolled it until it reached diagonally across the room. He'd climb up the ladder and tape it to a pine beam. He take the other end I'd been holding and fold it, then tape it up into the next corner and the next. We'd repeat the same process with the white paper. After he'd taped the last corner, he and I would stand in the middle of the den and look up. A perfectly symmetrical Star of David stretched across the den ceiling. The decorations were simple, not ostentatious - no lights except for the ones we light on our menorahs or eight nights in a row.

And then there were his latkes. In the days before food processors, he'd first peel the potatoes, getting every scrap of peel off, then grating them finely by hand. He chopped the onions, cracked the eggs, added salt, pepper and matzoh meal. I'd stir the mixture for him until it was the consistency he liked - held together and almost smooth. The oil went into the pan and we'd wait until we heard the sizzle. He spooned them gently into the hot oil, four or five at a time and then we'd wait, always the hardest part for me then and now. Before we knew it two, three pans would be full and he'd put them in the oven to stay warm until our extended family would arrive. But not before he'd take the two most perfect ones and dollop some sour cream and applesauce on them and we'd eat them before anyone else had a chance. Just him and me.

I woke up this morning and cried as I drank my coffee. It was my first Chanukah at home without my dad. Last year we spent Chanukah in Costa Rica, lighting the menorah in the tropical breeze. It was Chanukah out of context with the Chanukah of my life and I don't remember if I felt sad. I was happy to be somewhere warm and beautiful with my family and to have left my grief back in Colorado. But this year was different and I could feel it coming even before I took my first sip.

The sadness started earlier in the week when my daughters and I went to our regular market, King Soopers, a normally decent place to get Jewish holiday supplies. But when I walked up and down the promotional aisles stuffed to the gills with Christmas candy, decorations, toys, lights and more, I couldn't find the usual small section dedicated to Chanukah. I strolled over to the "ethnic" food aisle to see what was in the Kosher section. A few boxes of candles and overpriced grape juice, but nothing else. I found a manager and asked him where the Chanukah section was. He looked uncomfortable and responded that he didn't think they had one this year. "Not even chocolate gelt - coins?," one of my girls asked. He looked down at the floor and said, "Let's take a look." We followed him back to the promotional aisle and he did in fact find a few mesh bags of Chanukah gelt. He apologized for not having more and we thanked him. I left the gelt there, feeling miffed at being disregarded by a store in our community.

The next day I went to the Super Target in Longmont, also a place I've relied on in the past for a small but well-stocked supply of Chanukah goods and a place I was sure I'd find what I needed. This time I was with just one of my daughters who was home sick from school. She sat in the cart as we headed to the holiday section. Up one aisle and down the next. Nothing. We repeated this seven, eight times. No Chanukah in sight. I could feel my anger boiling up, but I kept a lid on it so not to set a bad example for my daughter. "Let's see if we can find someone to help us," I told her as we headed up to someone in a red employee shirt. "Can you tell me where the Chanukah supplies are?" She asked if we'd looked in the holiday section. I told her yes and that there was nothing. She found a manager and asked her if she knew where the Chanukah section was. The manager got the same uncomfortable look as the one at King Soopers. "We only have one end cap (what the shelf space at the end of an aisle is called) for Hanukkah this year and it's in the food section." I expressed my disappointment and she nicely told me that she'd already spoken with the corporate office to request three sections like they had in Boulder and that I'd not been the first to complain. My daughter looked back at me and asked, "Mama, why don't they like Chanukah?" The woman looked at my daughter, then at me and apologized. She walked me over to the Chanukah end cap and I saw the same pathetic samples as King Soopers. They did have Chanukah candles on sale, so I grabbed the last two packages and headed to the check out line.

I felt so angry, but below that anger was so much sadness. I thought of my dad, a Holocaust survivor, and his quiet pride and happiness at being able to stretch a blue and white Star of David across his own den ceiling, of being able to openly celebrate Chanukah with his family.

I looked at the faces of my three girls and felt so sad that they should still have to carry the pain and the burden of living in a society that insists on one way above all the rest. But I also realized that they had learned a hugely important lesson in being who they are with the same quiet pride and happiness that my father reflected back to me.

So when I woke up this morning of the first night of Chanukah, I woke with the heaviness of the burden and I missed my dad. I looked toward the day with hesitation and not so successfully fought of wave after wave of tears. The biggest hesitation I had was following through on my offer to make apple latkes for the first night gathering at my sister-in-laws. I didn't want to do it. I was afraid to do it. I felt the weight of my entire people, or at least the weight of the Longmont Jewish community, on my shoulders to do it.

When I got home from work, Jack had performed the blessing of peeling and coring the apples and also surprised me with doing the same with some potatoes. I didn't remember saying I was planning on making regular latkes, but when you're faced with a colander of peeled potatoes...

I made the apple latkes first.

But the potatoes were waiting.

I looked for some wine to drink, but could only find a tiny bottle of vodka. I took a couple of swigs and then mixed a small drink of ginger ale and vodka.

I opened the Jewish Cooking Cookbook by Arthur Schwartz and turned to the potato latkes. I put the potatoes in the food process and sliced them thin. Added two eggs, dash of salt, pepper, one diced onion and because I was making these for me, they had to be gluten free. I substituted the matzoh meal for potato starch and mixed. Put it back into the food processor and pulsed until the mixture was the right consistency - held together and almost smooth. I added oil to electric griddle and waited for the sizzle. I ladled small ovals of the mixture onto the griddle. And waited. Every time I was tempted to prematurely turn over a latke, I took a sip from my drink. My dad probably would have been sipping a screwdriver, which was my first choice, but we were out of OJ. The waiting paid off. Latke after latke turned out perfect. Brown, but not charred. Light and like a pancake. At almost 51 years old, I'd finally accomplished recreating my dad's latkes. And even more importantly, I was happy and felt deeply connected to my tradition. The simple ritual of cooking latkes had taken me back in order to move forward.

The front door flew open and the kids ran in. "Can we have a latke?" I put four on a plate and we ate them. I looked at the photo of my dad from a few years ago, taken on a summer Shabbat in Los Angeles and smiled.

But the story doesn't end there. They never do.

Story #2: Lighting the Light for a Stranger 

It's still the first night of Chanukah. We'd stopped at the liquor store to buy a bottle of wine as a present for my sister and brother-in-law. I waited in the car with the girls, staying warm and giggling at how delicious the latkes smelled. And then I saw her. She looked to be about 75 years old and she stood on the corner in a light blue parka holding a neatly written sign: Disabled. Homeless. Gas. Food. Money. I looked next to her and saw a walker and an oxygen tank. I signed deeply, deeply enough to get the girls' attention. "What, Mama?" Then they all looked out the window and saw the lady. "What does her sign say?" One of them read it and we sat there. I unlocked the door and got out. "Mama, what are you doing?" "I'm giving the lady some latkes." I wrapped up two potato and two apple latkes in some foil. And then I remembered I had a little bit of money in my wallet. I reached back into the car and took out a $5 bill.

"Hi," I said as I tried to approach with respect. She looked up at me as I offered her the foil wrapped package. "It's just some potato pancakes, and here's five dollars."

She smiled. "Thanks, I love potato pancakes."

"Please tell me you have somewhere warm to sleep tonight," I asked her. The temperatures in Colorado have been below zero for the past two weeks. She assured me she'd called her sister. We had no room in the car and family was waiting. She thanked me and I wished her well.

As we drove away, I broke down. All the tears I'd been holding back just came forward. I told Jack we had to do something, that I couldn't bare the idea of that lady being on the street in the cold. I got on my phone and called the local shelter, but their warming center wouldn't be open for another hour. I called the Boulder Homeless Shelter and cried on the phone as a sweet woman tried to figure out how to get this woman to some warm shelter. She finally suggested I call the police and they'd come and get her without making her feel like a criminal. I called the police and told them about this lady. The dispatcher told me it could be someone who makes her living doing this, but when I told her the woman's location and that she had a walker and an oxygen tank, she promised to send a car and see if they could help.

We got to our family gathering and had a beautiful, embracing evening. Presents, lighting the candles, five varieties of latkes, soup and homemade sufganiyot. Playing dreidel and lots of laughter. Everything I remember my first night's of Chanukah always being. And everything I want my children's first nights of Chanukah to be.

As we were driving back home and approached Longmont, we came to a red light. I turned to Jack and asked, "Can we see if she's still there?" Without blinking an eye, he moved into the left lane and started driving in that direction. The girls woke from their car-drive-home sleeping and asked, "Are we going to see if the lady is still there?"

We crossed Main Street, then Hover, turning right. Turned left into the King Soopers parking center and toward the liquor store. None of us said a word.

She was gone.

I took Jack's hand and he turned the car toward home.

"The lady is somewhere warm?"

Yes, my darlings. The lady is somewhere warm.

Chag Sameach, Dad. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Friend That Comes Along Once in Lifetime, Part One: Our Own Private Malibu

Ten years ago on Thanksgiving morning a special light went out in the world. That light's name was - is - will always be Donne Pinsky, born January 7, 1958. As best I can, and understanding that I won't be able to come near being able to put into words what Donne meant to me, continues to mean to me more than 40 years later. I've been lucky in my life to have friends from my childhood, women who have known me since I was nine or ten. Donne was one of those. This is an attempt to honor the friendship I miss so much. To honor the friendship that defined what a friendship could be.

It will come in parts because 40 years is too much to put into one post.

Part One - Our Own Private Malibu:

I met Donne in 1969 or 1970 at Camp Hess Kramer, a reform Jewish summer camp nestled in the Malibu Hills. We were both 9 or 10 years old. I came from Downey. Donne lived in San Marino. We were in the cabins next door to one another, named after Jewish women of the Old Testament. Leah. Rachel. Sarah.

Donne had long brown hair parted down the middle. She was short and wore overalls. I had short hair that had me often, and painfully, mistaken for a boy. We instantly liked each other and discovered a common love for the Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin and Simon and Garfunkel. One of Donne's favorite things to do every morning was to run into our cabin and in her best Peppermint Patty voice, wish us all a good morning.

What also drew us together was our intense love for the camp we came to think of as our soul-home. It's hard to explain to those that didn't either go to camp, or who didn't like the camp they went to, but for 8 years of my life, summers at Camp Hess Kramer, and subsequently, Gilding Hilltop, were the most important summers of my life. Within the context of Judaism, I discovered myself, a self that was independent of the identity through my older brothers, my parents, our family.

For Donne, camp was the place she could escape the overly white and not-very-Jewish place she was growing up in. From the very beginning of our friendship, Donne showed a desire to be a part of the larger world that would eventually have living in many parts of the world. She had an early worldliness that was remarkably grounded.

After that first summer of our friendship, we wrote to each other and called and became part of a girl pack of five where we had slumber parties for each birthday, complete with Mad Libs, dirty jokes, dares and all the rest. One summer Donne and I decided to talk our parents into a second session. Both set of parents told us that if we wanted to go we had to earn our way. Donne and I went into the babysitting, car washing, house cleaning, dog feeding and whatever else we could get our hands on to earn a total of $185 each for two extra weeks in our own private Malibu. It took us all fall, winter and spring, but by the time the deposits were needed to reserve our space, we had the money.

One of the other things that bound Donne and I so closely together was that we both understood what it felt like to be outsiders at camp, as many of the others went to school together in the more fashionable areas of Pacific Palisades, Beverly Hills.

I loved being at Donne's house. Her mother was a ceramic artist, her father a psychiatrist. I don't even know that at ten or eleven I even knew what a psychiatrist was, but I knew it had something to do with very modern furniture and listening to George Carlin's "7 Words You Can't Say on TV." I was introduced to Woody Allen at the Pinsky's house, as well as silent movies and I'll forever be grateful to them for taking me to El Chollo's Mexican restaurant. Her mother was gentle and funny.

Donne loved my family. Loved my dad's down to earth, quiet nature. Loved my brother's teasing and the strong ties that ran through us all.

We were each other's confidantes during the impossible adolescent years, whispering on the phone about how to use tampons, what size bra we wore, what the heck the difference was between second and third base. But we never referred to each other as best friends. Somehow we knew that the term was too immature for a friendship that was destined to last a lifetime. We understood, without every saying so.

When my family moved from Downey to Culver City, (on the West Side of LA!), instead of it causing a rift between us, it brought us closer because Donne's mother was part of a ceramic artist's cooperative and it meant we could spend more time together. Together we discovered the fine art of second hand and resale stores that populated the then extremely uncool Culver City.

Donne was a year a head of me in school and during her junior year in high school she made the decision to graduate and get the hell out of San Marino. She was fluent in French and lived with a family in Grenoble for her senior year. Her itch to travel was just beginning to be scratched, while my discovery of theater was just getting started. We supported each other in our dreams, although she was always more pragmatic and practical about making hers more of a reality. After Grenoble, she went to UC Berkeley, living in a co-op where pot plants grew in the window boxes. I went off to Northwestern and after we both graduate, we both ended up back in Los Angeles.

We didn't need to pick up where we'd left off, because we'd never left off. We just got to see more of each other and eased into our early 20's together, going to movies, eating great food and laughing. There was always laughing. Side-splitting, stomach aching laughter.

We also hung out in Laguna Beach, at a place her parents had picked up for weekend retreats. It was there I first heard Miles Davis or Mel Torme, drank red wine and fell asleep to the sound of waves. It was also there that Donne let me know that without a plan, the idea of being an actress would only be that - an idea. She was pragmatic and urged me to follow through on the daily actions of my dreams. It was advice I'd never gotten and is one that I still rely on when my dreams get ahead of my lagging practicality.

It was around 1986 or 1987 that Donne announced to me that she was going to graduate school at Johns Hopkins in the international politics program. Washington DC. Her life would completely change there. Mine would change soon after and both for the same reasons. Love...

to be continued...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Ugliest Bathroom in Boulder MINE

About two months ago, I read an article in the Boulder Daily Camera about "Invironments," an eco-friendly furniture and remodeling store in Boulder who was celebrating their 3rd anniversary, as well as acknowledging the difficult economic year, with a "Bathroom Confessions" contest. The winner, who would tell why she or he deserved a redone bathroom through a compelling and inspiring tale of turning lemons into margaritas, would get an environmentally friendly and beautifully upgraded bathroom worth $15,000.

Here's the thing. I'm a sucker for sweepstakes. Five years ago, I talked a dear friend into nominating me for TBS's "Dinner and a Movie" makeover contest and I won it. It was a silly thing, but at that point, with three children under the age of five and during a time when I rarely wore anything but my sweats and fleece, I needed some pampering. My friend met me at the Trident Booksellers and Cafe on Pearl Street and in the midst of our second cup of coffee, a stretch limo pulled up and out popped two well coiffed folks who were obviously not from Boulder, each bookended with someone holding a large microphone and video camera. They thrust the camera and microphone into my face and told me I had won a whirlwind day of pampering and new clothes.

I howled and hopped into the limo, where a chilled glass of champagne was waiting for me, camera rolling. The producer ran into the bookstore with my friend, who later told me that when they asked the guy behind the counter to sign a release, he asked what was going on. When they told him I had won a makeover, he paused and asked, "A spiritual makeover?" One of the many reasons why I love where I live.

I spent the rest of the day in a movie star trailer having my hair colored and highlighted, blown dry (and straight), beautified with makeup and then gussied up with fantastic clothes. I felt like a million bucks. I didn't even mind that the entire thing was just an extended commercial for Cover Girl and Nice and Easy, I was feeling great and taking home lots of booty to boot.

The kicker was that at the end of the makeover, I was to emerge from the trailer, and for the new me to be revealed to my husband and kids. The reason why this is a kicker is that my
husband hates makeup and my kids, well, they're kids. When I came out of the trailer, my husband was standing there with my kids dressed in the oddest outfits, hair unkempt and I sweat, grape jelly on their faces. On national TV. I don't even remember what my husband was wearing, except it wasn't much better. The kids took one look at me and started crying. I sashayed over to my husband, my eyes pleading with him to just play along. As the cameras closed in on our romantic embrace, when my husband's lust for the new, improved me was supposed to be shown for all the TV-world to see, he leaned in and said, "You know I hate lipstick." I smiled my best theater school smile and whispered back, "Get over it or I'll never have sex with you again." We smiled for the camera.

After three days of straight hair, I let my hair go back to it's natural post-twins, peri-menopausal sort of waves. I'm happy to say I've donated the clothes to a woman back to work organization since my now Bikram yoga body has rendered them too big.

Fast forward to tonight. I entered Invironments with a certain degree of trepidation, but determined to go by myself, not wanting to get my kids' hopes up of our bathroom finally getting redone and quite frankly, the memory of the very public reveal of my last sweepstakes win stays pretty fresh. I wanted to suffer the potential humiliation all on my own, although I did try to recruit the same friend from the last one to meet me there for a good laugh, but she wisely passed.

But as soon as I showed up, I relaxed. It was great to roam around the store, imagining how the gorgeously toned furniture, counters, cabinets, lighting and fixtures would look in our home. I sipped wine and tweeted about how pleased I was didn't know anyone there. The crowd was classic Boulder, hip, fit and self-conscious.

Jodi Feinhor-Dennis, Invironments' lovely owner and the evening's emcee, gathered the crowd together and explained how difficult a process it had been to decide on who would win the contest and how moved she was by the 55 contestants' stories. Her assistant, Katy, brought up a PowerPoint presentation and they showed a few samples of the competing bathrooms. And that they had made the decision to offer up some consolation prizes such as a convenient lay-away program, as well as a DIY coaching program with KBC's Mark.

The PPT presentation displayed a slide which read: 1st runner up and winner of "ugliest bathroom." The mouse clicked and then there it was, for the entire room to see - MY BATHROOM, I squealed and proudly took my white as freshly fallen snow organic cotton shower curtain and bar of rosemary and lavender soap as if I'd just won an Oscar.

President Obama can proudly claim having won the Nobel Prize for Peace for the potential of what his administration and presence represent, but he has the burden of now having to prove that it was the right choice. I have nothing to prove because I've won the distinction of the Ugliest Bathroom in Boulder County for something I've known I've had for almost ten years. An already established and now vindicated fact, nothing I need to prove. I can rest easy I have already accomplished this.

What's next after winning this kind of distinction? I'm still basking in the glow of the evening, but my first thoughts go to the following:
  • Holding an Ebay auction of the "Ugliest Bathroom in Boulder County"and let the highest bidder have at it
  • Running my own contest to transform this ugly duckling into the swan I know it can be.
  • Pitching my story to HGTV
  • Taking the "Ugliest Bathroom in Boulder County" on tour
  • Letting the "Ugliest Bathroom in Boulder County" have a crack at national and international exposure - why should I limit it's ugliness to just the county level?
In the meantime, I can go to bed with a clear mind and happy heart. Thank you, Invironments Design, for validating what I've always known and harangued my family and friends about. The sweet victory of owning the "Ugliest Bathroom in Boulder County" is mine. All mine.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Charts from Hell and Crossing Guard Therapy

G-d must have a really great day when she/he created crossing guards. At least when Millie, our crossing guard, was brought into this world. If not for her, I would never have survived Tuesday morning. If life had a rewind button, by 8:05 a.m., I would have worn it out.

Tuesday morning was a disaster. To say that getting three girls out the door, not to mention one mama to work, is not an easy task would be the understatement of the century. Getting three girls and one mama out the door when there's only one functioning bathroom takes some planning. We have shower charts, chore charts, music practice charts, pretty much charts for about everything. But still the mornings are chaotic and stressful. So, after a particularly difficult Friday morning, I came up with what I thought was the chart of all charts, the chart to top the charts. In other words, I had created the holy grail of charts.
The concept was simple and based on something near and dear to our family's heart - baseball. We watch a lot of baseball and almost exclusively, the Colorado Rockies. What makes the Rockies such a pleasure to watch is the remarkable lack of ego display and overall inspiring team effort. I want our family to be like the Rockies. And I want to be as calm and collected as Rockies Manager, Jim Tracy. And with these two goals in mind, I created the Home Run Morning Chart with four easy steps to encourage self-responsibility and to reduce the over-dependence on Mama as our household morning Sisyphus, pushing my family up the hill to their day and having no energy for my own day.

I picked up the color laminated charts and explained the concept to the girls. Every morning you can hit a home run by just doing four things without any prompting, nagging or more likely, yelling from Mama. Choose to not do one of the tasks and and you lose the chance to hit a home run. Hit a home run every school day and the team will win a prize.

Monday went smoothly. So smoothly that we even did the Rockies high five line before we left for school and work. And then Tuesday happened. Or didn't. And I was not a happy camper. To keep the sports analogy, I was more like Billy Martin or Bobby Knight. Not a great start to the day.

I won't go into the details - they're too ugly and too exhausting to recount. All I can say is that by the time I dropped the girls off at school, their heads were hanging low and all of us had red noses and eyes from crying. No one, including me, was going to hit a home run that morning.
I parked the car near school and we waited at the corner for our crossing guard to signal that it was safe to cross. The four of us walked across the street, said our teary good-byes and I sent the three on their way, feeling pretty crummy that all of our days had started out in such a bad way.

As I crossed back across the street, Millie, our much beloved crossing guard, asked me if I was all right. Millie is from the Bronx, is a mother and grandmother and has lived in the neighborhood for over 20 years. She sees everything and doesn't miss a trick. She gives the kids candy on Halloween and Valentine's Day and comforted me on the first day back at school after my dad died. If all that was not enough, Millie is the only person I've ever known who can get my ex-New Yorker husband to wait at the corner and stop a lifetime habit of jaywalking. She's a classic, real New Yorker, gruff and soft, warm and funny. So when she asked me if I was all right, I knew I could give her the real answer.

She slowly nodded her head and told me it was going to be all right. She'd been through the same with her kids, and even though it was perfectly normal, it was important to set the bar high and hold them accountable. She put her hand on my shoulder and said, tomorrow will be better. And I believed her. In less than two minutes, Millie had restored my belief that hard mornings get easier and to not take it all so seriously, but to commit seriously to the work of being a good parent.

I've been in lots of therapy. Talk, somatic, rebirthing, couples and lots in between. I believe in therapy as a a kind of personal oil change that I seem to need once every decade. But I'd never had Crossing Guard Therapy and I've got to say, it worked like a charm.

By the time I picked up the girls from school that afternoon, we were back to our usual selves. We talked about what had gone wrong that morning. I told the girls that while Monday was a high five effort, we had to remember that one game doesn't make a season. What makes a season is showing up for each of the 162 days with the same attitude as the first day of the season. And I realized that besides the immediate need of more order, less chaos and an easier time for me in the morning, the larger lesson I'm trying to impart is how important it is to show up for yourself. In Judaism, the first prayer of the day is one of thanks for the opportunity to have another day to live, make mistakes, love and all the rest: Modah Ani Lefanecha, Ruach Chai, Vekayom. Another chance to show up and try to get it right for yourself, your loved ones and the world.

By Wednesday morning, we were back on track, just like Rockies' gut-wrenching win after two horrendous losses. No high five line, but when Millie asked me how the morning had gone, the smiles on all our faces was all the answer she needed.

Thank you, Millie - for delivering my kids and all the other kids who've been lucky enough to cross your street to school with safety, love and that watchful, knowing nod, that I realize now is intended more for the parents than the kids. And thank you for your Crossing Guard Therapy, which delivered this all too often over the top Mama back to my day with wisdom and humor.

Modah Ani Lefanecha, Ruach Chai, Vekayom.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Saying Yes to Saying NO!

Most women have a hard time saying no. At least most of the women I know. I know this because I'm one of them, or am trying not to being one of them. I'm 50 years old and am just beginning to learn how to understand and respect my limits. I'm concerned about my three daughters and how quickly they are learning what they will have to work hard all their life to unlearn. But this week, my beloved mother taught me a great lesson in listening to and saying yes to that voice inside of us that usually is screaming, NO!

This has been a rough year for my mother. Her husband of 55 years, my father, died last October. She thought she had already grieved, but soon realized the grief she experienced before his death wasn't about his death. It was the grieving of who he was - the vibrant, energetic, incredibly capable man. It was the grief of acceptance that her best friend was going away and there wasn't anything she could do about it.

After my dad's death, grief took the form of a compromised immune system that left her ripe for stubborn and recurrent staph infection in her finger. She's withstood three surgical procedures and almost a solid year of heavy duty antiobiotics to knock this infection out of her body. Finally, the infection seems to be gone and she is ready to begin her life again. Her courage in re-imagining her life without my father, without her lover and best friend, is inspiring and keeps me going on those dark days when my dad's absence becomes too much.

Last Sunday, my mom adopted a dog. We grew up with dogs and she's always had a very special bond with them. Dogs love my mother. In a room full of people, most dogs will immediately be drawn to her. When she called and told me about the two-year old black and white poodle mix she had chosen, my brothers and I sighed a sigh of relief. She's back! She's ready to step back into life! A dog would give her someone to care for, someone to look after.

But around Tuesday, I could hear the tension and exhaustion in my mother's voice. Her arthritic knees hurt from the multiple walks this energetic little guy needed. Her scoliosis-ridden hip hurt from walking up and down three flights of stairs. Her wrist hurt from his aggressive barking and pulling toward other dogs.

She also talked about how much she realized my dad had done in taking care of the dogs. He was the one who did the night time walks, the first pee of the day walks. And when both my dad's health and their second dog Zelda's health was waning, it was a comfort to my mom that they could look after each other when she went out.

By Friday, she was in tears. It was like another wave of grief had been unleashed with the presence of this dog, who by this time had chewed up a hearing aid and whose initial stellar housetraining skills were slipping away.

We talked about training and how much improvement dogs can make. She said she'd call the dog trainer and see if they could get started the next week. She told me of outrageous prices (it is LA after all) and of an oddball conversation with a trainer who told her dogs needed to be treated the same as teenagers with a drug addiction. Tough love. Ignore them. Gates and crates and weeks and weeks of training.

You have to understand. This may be self-stereotyping, but Jewish families are not really known for their dog training acumen. Dogs were walked, fed and allowed on the furniture. My father used to remind me to save a portion of my meal for the dog, despite knowing it was not good for their health to have human food. I can't even count the number of times my parents called me by the dog's name before remembering I was the daughter with two, not four legs.

Saturday night, she called me, again in tears, to tell me she just couldn't handle it, that it was too soon and too much. And you know? She was right. And I told her so.

This afternoon she called me and told me she brought the dog back. She wrote a letter to the foster dog center explaining he needed training and that she had underestimated just how much work a dog would be for her. She chuckled as she said the dog was so engaged in barking at the other dogs that he didn't even notice when she left.

And then she said the most wonderful thing to me. "Lisa, I've come to the realization that I have to stop trying to please everyone else. I have to know my limits and this is the time for me to figure out what I want in my life." After raising three children, running an incredibly efficient and clean home, dedicating herself to her marriage and to keeping my dad on this planet for almost 97 years, she's ready to accept the limitation of just being herself. She's ready to accept and embrace that the only being she needs to take care of, look after, is herself. At 78 years old, she has come up against an incredible challenge. After a lifetime of taking care of everyone else, she's facing up to the difficulty of learning what she wants, not what others who love her with all our being and with good intentions, want for her.

The dog will find the perfect family to take on his training and love him. The dog will be fine.

And so will my mom. Here's to reaching our limits and learning from them, whether we're 9, or 50 or 78 years old.

Thanks, Mom, for showing me that the best way to yourself is to walk right into the wall. The next time, and I know there will always be a next time, my nose is about to bonk into that all too familiar wall, I will think of your bravery in saying yes to saying no.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Yard Sailing Away...

The last time I did a yard sale was six years ago. The twins were about 1.5 years old, DD about 4 and I was much younger. This was also about the time when I used to breastfeed while cooking lasagna for dinner parties of twelve.

My father-in-law and my DH had been tasked with watching the kids, at least that was the idea. Things were going well until a well-meaning person pointed to my porch. I shook my head and said, no, the table on the porch wasn't for sale. She shook her head back at me and pointed again.

I turned around to see one of my twins standing on the porch, with her pull up, full with a few hours of pee, down by her ankles. I completed the transaction (a sale's a sale, after all) and ushered her into the house with rather loud instructions to the two men to get with the program or take over the sale. Running a yard sale with three kids under three was hard enough. With a distracted husband and father-in-law to boot? I swore I'd never do one again.

But why, six summers later, have I gone back on that vow? It's about a garage I'm coveting. A red brick two car garage that has been filled with the overflow of our lives for the last ten years, ever since we moved into our little dream ranch house in Longmont. When we moved in our oldest was just under a year old and we literally opened the door and threw our belongings into wherever they would land. And I'm still looking for the things I misplaced.

But this summer, after deciding that my consulting business, One Purpose PR & Communications (yes, shameless promotion), was worthy of being expanded into what I'm doing for the rest of my life, I also decided that the red brick garage would be the perfect office, studio and private mamazblogging space. Problem was that every time I entered into the garage, I had an anxiety attack. The stuff. So much stuff.

But just as I was undaunted six years ago by yard sales with young children and breastfeeding twins while cooking, I rolled up my short sleeves and started going through all that stuff. I organized it, sorted it and catalogued it into storage boxes and decided, that after a six year yard sale hiatus, it was time for another one.

That was in June. Today's date is August 22.

In between, the girls have negotiated hard for the return of their unused by still loved Beanie Baby shelf, but only if they agreed to sell the pink Barbie car. Items were played with one more time and then reluctantly put back into the yard sale toy bin, but only with the promise of BIG BUCKS.

I woke up this morning at 6am, made strong coffee and began dragging out the boxes. DH woke up a little bit later, then the girls and before I knew it the whole family was pulling together to get the yard sale open and ready for business. The twins helped hang the posters that they and their sister had made the night before. We fought over whether to put directional arrows on the signs, with our oldest storming off claiming creative integrity. I tried to talk our oldest into letting me use her allowance money for our starting bank, but she stood firm and they held down the fort while I went and got cash. By 8:28 a.m., we had come together as a family with minimal insanity and the yard sale was ready.

And then we waited. And waited.

Having a yard sale is a lot like throwing a party. The anxiety of getting ready, of waiting for the guests, or in our case, the customers, to arrive. Worrying if they don't, or what to do with them if they do.

And they did. First customer was a mother who literally squealed with glee when I told her the priced to move deals on girls' clothing. Our first sale.

With a bittersweet feeling, I watched a young mother put our oldest's first bike in her car for her three year old. A pregnant woman bought a much loved and worn, but still very chic shirt I wore during, between and after both pregnancies.

I'm not a great negotiator. Never have been and probably will never be. As far as sales transactions go, I'm motivated by movement and I wanted to move the stuff off of my yard. I balked at a Russian woman who responded $2.00 to my $2.50 counter offer so forcefully, that I caved in and then went ahead and just asked folks to pay what they felt was fair. And they did.

And so the stuff went. Not all of it. Not for the amount we had dreamed of cashing in on. But what I found out today is this - that what we make in a yard sale is not the point. What we make are connections with strangers who no longer were strangers by the time they drove off, whether they bought something or not. Some of the connection were through broken English and my not-even qualified as broken Spanish. Some of the connections were made by those who just wanted to stop by as an excuse to have some conversation. Like the older gentleman who took out his wallet not to pay for anything, but to show me a lovingly worn photograph of his oldest grandson and grandaughter in-law, both of who are being deployed to Iraq next month.

Yes, I'm exhausted. More exhausted than I am after a rigorous 90 minute Bikram class.

But at the end of the day, my red brick dream office is about half-way closer to being ready to move into. Our take for the day? A grand total of $75.

Would I do it again? Yep.

Tomorrow seems like a perfect day for meeting some more folks and yard sailing it forward.

Yard sailing away. Yard sailing away...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Smile. Breathe. Learn.

The first day of school is less than eight hours away. The mystery is over. After two and a half months, we know who is in what class, which friends from last year, which new faces to get to know. It's a new school year and as always, I've been on the verge of tears for days. I might joke that the Staples back to school ad is based on my own gleeful skipping down school supply aisles (which I begin right after 4th of July). I might exchange eye-rolling glances with my DH as the energy level in the car borders on bursting out the windows, and not from the music being too loud. I might complain about the endless "I'm bored" and "what are we going to do today?" that have grown louder and more frequent as June became July and July is now August. But in reality, I'd like the summer break to last longer. Why, other wide-eyed climbing-the-wall parents ask me? And until today, I didn't really know, other than living vicariously through my kids' open-ended days.

But today, as we entered the school door and read the class lists, visited the new classrooms and saw how much everyone had grown over the summer, I realized why summer breaks exist and why we all need them, even if we only get to experience them through our children.

Summer is a letting down of the taut schedule that takes over our lives: school, homework, PTO, activities, religious school, rehearsals, performances and all the rest that make up the craziness that is the school year. I don't remember it that way, but then again, I went to elementary school at a time when extra-curricular activities involved hanging out playing tetherball and then going home to watch The Three Stooges and Speed Racer with my brother on Channel 52. Homework was something you did in junior high.

The letting down happens along with the lengthening of the days. If we let it.

Relaxation. Warmth. Sunshine. Farmers' Market. Ice cream. Swimming. Going to bed late. Sleeping in. Reading whatever you want for however long you want. Watching baseball. Planting a garden and eating the first tomatoes and romaine lettuce.

But that can't last forever, can it? Boredom sets in. Restlessness of how we're wired for progress, learning, whatever drives us forward to not sit still.

And is it my imagination, or do kids just grow that much more during the summer? Maybe it's the very act of relaxing that allows for the sudden growth, as if their bodies are just following the season's lead. That once all the holding it together from the school year is let go of, their bodies just open up like sunflowers.

Last week I felt the sun receding. I woke up at my normal early bird time of 5:15am and the sun had not beat me to the punch. I made my coffee in the dim dark and started to cry. Because I
knew the letting down was coming to an end.

You see, even if I couldn't step away from my job during the summer, at least my kids could step away from theirs (which is often what school feels like, right?) and at least a third of the household could relax. And I soaked it up, from the time I walked in the door until they careened into bed at past 10pm.

Don't get me wrong. I know that the ending of the endless summer is a good thing. Some of it is practical, some of it physical. All the growing has to be put to some use and it might as well be to get smarter. We wouldn't relish the long, warm nights if they were here 365 days a year.

But what can I take from this summer? To turn off and turn away from my computer. To make sure that enough ice cream is consumed in a given day. To delight in day-cations 20 minutes from home. To devote time to doing nothing. And to enjoy how much fun it is to be around my

Tonight, as I cuddled with my girls, I talked to each of them about their goals for the year. And I shared with them my wishes for their new school year. The wishes are deeply inspired by a prayer by Thich Naht Hahn, which my wise and loving mother-in-law, Lila Greene, shared with me:

Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know it is a wonderful moment.

This prayer is how I can keep the summer inside me all year long. And how I can teach my girls to do the same. Here is to a peaceful school year, one with the shared blessings our teachers bestow on us, the ones we take in willingly and the ones the seep in despite our resistance.

Smile. Breathe. Learn.

How many first days of school do you remember?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Filling in the Gaps

My dad taught me a lot of things, but one of the most important things he taught me was that you are never too old to learn new things. And considering he lived to be just about 97 years old, I think he probably knew what he was talking about. Another important thing my dad taught me, more by example and the way he lived, was it felt good to be your own boss. From the mid-1930s until about 2002, my dad never worked for anyone but himself. He was co-owner of Tranks Furniture and Jewelry on Florence Avenue, in South Central Los Angeles, first with his older brother Irving, and then joined by his younger brother Uncle Sam after WWII and Uncle Zvi/Harry after the Seven Day War. The store was a testament to family and neighborhood. And to sticking with things no matter how difficult they got. When the store was burned down during the Watts Riots, my dad and his brothers were there, along with their employees and most of the neighborhood, to sweep away the broken glass and rebuild. On a Labor Day weekend in 1974, when a pair of robbers were done stealing TVs, radios and whatever else they could get their hands on through the hole they made in the roof, they decided to torch the store. By this point is was just my dad, his employees and the neighbors. Irving had died and Sam and Harry had gone into business for themselves. My dad never wanted to give up on Florence Avenue, through many changes and challenges. When the gangs arrived, he stopped them from putting graffiti on his walls by hiring them to paint a full size mural of the Virgin Mary. Not bad for a secular Jewish kid from Eastern Europe. But when crack arrived, we knew it was time for him to get out and then it was only after he ran after a robber, already in his 70s, and luckily for all of us the robber's gun turned out to be a toy. He sold the business and retired. For about two months.

After that, he returned to his original career roots as a watchmaker and opened up a little shop specializing in antique watch repair in the LA Fairfax area. He quickly became one of the most sought after in the city with a celebrity filled clientele. It tickled him, as he used to tell me, that he had been working on the same watches for 50, 60 years. And I knew, even though he never told me, that most of all, he liked working for himself.

I'm about to take a leap of faith and as I stand poised on the brink of fully stepping into my own business, my dad's presence is with me constantly. He's my chairman of the board. And as my chair, he's advising me to be patient, slow down and most of all, to learn what it takes to run a business. And in finally listening to him, I realize that while I'm outstanding at what I do, can spin a press release faster than you can say Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson in one breath, and can foster lasting relationships with key press folks, my how-to-run a business skills lag behind. Not an easy thing to admit, at least not for someone like me who thinks she has to know everything even when she's never been shown how to do it!

Happily, here in Colorado, options abound for those of us taking this leap of faith and I've found what looks to be a gold mine of a resource - the Colorado Small Business Development Centers, who run ongoing classes for people in all stages of their business development. So I've signed myself up (and my DH, as the low tuition covers two!) for "Jump Start Your Business," starting on August 6th at the Front Range Community College Westminster Campus.

Thanks, Dad, for being such an awesome example of humility, persistence and quiet fortitude. For teaching me that it is all right to not know everything and that life is about learning, always learning. And mostly, thanks for being my silent partner. I guess it's time to learn what I don't know. I came across a wonderful quote today that is good to keep in mind as I take this leap of faith:
"A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way" - Mark Twain

Monday, July 13, 2009

When Did I Forget to be Brave?

We had dinner last night with old friends, the kind of friends where the light lingers until it becomes night, when the wine bottles are emptied long before the conversations are done, when the talking continues past even after the mosquitoes have given up and gone to sleep. A perfect summer evening. So why did I end up crying as I said my good-byes? Was it just because I miss my friends and was sad to leave? Or was it because somewhere between the home grown tomatoes, mozzarella and basil and the seemingly endless bowl of cherries, I realized I was soaking up more than good food, drink and friends. What brought tears to my eyes, was this - I realized I had reconnected with the oldest friend I had. Someone I really enjoy and admire and who I used to look up to for her bravery. Who did I find? Myself.

As a mother of three young children, I've lost my artistic bravery. The process started slowly. People who I used to have passionate discussions about art stopped talking to me about anything other than being a mother. It was different for my husband, who continued to be seen and treated as a writer.

Over the last almost ten years, my artistic bravery has gotten misplaced between the unfolded laundry, the carpooling to music lessons and camp. It has fallen between the cracks of doing what I have to do to put food on the table and what really feeds my purpose. Some people look for their mojo when they hit my age. Me, I just want to learn what it is to be brave again. And to never trade in that bravery again.

What a luxury it was to sit on a flagstone patio surrounded by such warm, creative and generous people and understand that this is where I belong, this is where I left myself about 5 years ago. The kids were happily playing with one another, rediscovering each other. The conversation among the adults around the table swung from the personal - my father's death, my friend's nephew's illness, school choices and how big our children had grown - to the transcendence of art - Simone Forti, Allen Ginsberg, Merce Cunningham, Picasso's older works and so much more - people came and went, new people arrived and glasses were cleaned, plates filled and the talk of art continued.

We laughed about good-byes, about the difficulty in saying good-bye to family, to parties, to friends. We watched a video Allen Ginsberg made in the 1980's, titled "Household Affairs." The film was like a meditation to good-bye, the camera rarely moving, but allowing the visitors to enter into the space, the tender way Ginsberg preserved and archived the everyday movements of drinking coffee and cooking hamburgers, snow on Lower East Side fire escape landings and headlines from the New York Times.

I used to be brave. I used to take risks with my artistic self. I was an actress. I left the safety of my parents and moved first to Chicago and then to NYC. I switched to writing and to studying a remote body-awareness practice while my theater friends were all doing TV. I left NYC to pursue a graduate degree at Naropa University.

I kept up my writing for about three years into my early mothering, writing at night at my computer with first my oldest and then the twins nursing at my breasts. I co-wrote two screenplays and authored a collection of essays and produced quite a bit of work. But somewhere when the twins turned two, the balance between making a viable living and being an artist couldn't be sustained. My writing partner, also the mother of three children and including one the same age as my twins, had to go back to work full-time just when we had finished our second screenplay.

Don't get me wrong. I'm proud of the fact that I've been able to take my creative skills and translate them into a career, into working with good and creative people dedicated to impacting the world in a positive way. I want to teach my children that it is a good thing to know how to function in the world. I'm glad I've provided a strong example of woman firmly in the world. But in the slippery midsts of fulfilling family responsibilities, and promoting other people's dreams, I traded in my bravery for something else that leaves my mouth dry.

But last night, in that garden with dear, dear friends who first and only knew me as a writer, singer and performer, that old friend emerged with a surprising ease and I suppose I just didn't realize how much I missed those parts I had neatly categorized into my life before motherhood.

The only time I've felt brave in the past 5 years was when I went ziplining in Costa Rica this past December. Swooshing across the top of a rain forest, I discovered I love the feeling of standing on the brink. Today, I'm at a different kind of brink in my life where bravery seems to be the road best taken. And I wonder, as I stand on this brink, what bravery will look and feel like. What does it mean to be brave? I have no idea who I will be, but if I'm anything like the woman in the garden from last night, I think I will be very pleased.

Who are you when you are your most brave? To the brink and beyond!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Today, Grief is a very sore hip

Grief is not a one size fit all emotion. It is a sea shift, a personal tsunami. For my mother, grief is a recurring staph infection three surgeries and six months of antibiotics haven't been able to remove. For another, it is a constant restlessness, an inability to give permission to settle into life without that person. For me, grief is in my left hip. Two days after taking the last of my dad's belongings down to the garage in black plastic bags, my lower back started to talk to me. Scream at me, to be more exact. Sitting, standing, walking, breathing hurt. Only after sleep, a wonderfully caring massage and many tears did the pain subside, but a few days later grief emerged again. This time deep in my left hip. A dull ache. A throb. Any touch on its surface and I cried. Deeply.

The pain brought me back to loss. Feeling lost as my body struggles to find it's center, it's foundation. As I lay on my stomach for another massage, my tears fell through the face pillow and all I could think was - I'm lost, I'm lost.

I've had this kind of pain before - 15 years ago when I was training to be teacher in the Alexander Technique. Years of physical and emotional holding were coming undone and it hurt like hell. A simple walk down the street became an act of courage. It took about six months for the pain to resolve itself, which it did and I was a different person, inside and out, after it was done.

As I drove the other day, I was moved by Lloyd Schwartz's piece on "Rivals in Renaissance Venice," the new exhibition at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. He spoke of Titian being the first to use canvass instead of wood and stone, of the sensuality canvas not previously allowed by flatter, more non-absorbing materials.

Mr. Schwartz's words about the weave of fabric, the small square pores serving as an appropriate surface to absorb paint as flesh, as form, brought me some comfort. I thought about my grief as a kind of paint brush, rough bristled and dry, taking many coats to cover the canvas.

If I were to paint my grief right now, it would be a Seurat - little dabs of color all joining into some form, which I have to stand far from to understand it's form. But I'm so busy painting that I can't stand back. Dab here, fill in the weave there. Red, black, brown, green. I look forward to when I can stand back a little and see what I've created. But for now I keep dabbing.

Pain is a mixed blessing, but it is a blessing. It reduces me to tears, breaks down my normal barriers of fortitude and pushing through. And because I trust that it is temporary, I can stand it, let it in, breathe through it.

Grief is another thing entirely. Because I see no end in sight, only some days where the ache is duller than on other days, I've worked really hard to keep it out. I've committed to the rigors of Bikram Yoga, built up my business, gone back into therapy, but I haven't let grief take hold. Until now. The thing about grief is that it finds its own way in. First in my sacrum and now in my left hip.

As I wait for my mother to come out of the fourth surgery to get the staph infection out of her body forever, the pain in my hip has subsided. It's almost becoming a memory as I sit here and wait.

But despite the discomfort, the pain, the tears, the immobility of the past two weeks, so much of me wants to hold on to it, having finally let it in. I already feel my dad slipping into the realm of memory, his clothes now gone from not only the closet, but from the house, except for the few pieces I captured and brought home.
I resist the memory of him, of my father receding into that slippery place. I want the shape of his life, of his life in my life. But for now, I'll take the pain in my left hip, or wherever grief travels next in my body.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

What We Wear in this Life

What We Wear in this Life
I arrived in LA for my mom's 78th birthday a few days ago. It was going to be her first birthday in 55 years without my dad. The first 30 minutes in the house are so odd and very difficult - looking for my dad asleep on the couch, his simple hospital bed in the corner of the dining room, his soft blue eyes opening and saying, "hi sweetheart," as if I hadn't lived outside of LA 25 years ago.

My mom had bought herself fuschia and purple dahlias and put them around the house. She told me she let herself open presents that had arrived early on the day they arrived, instead of waiting until her birthday. "Why not enjoy the presents for as long as possible?"

We take ourselves out to a new French bistro and pretend we’re on the Left Bank, surrounded by handsome waiters joking with each other in French. I tell the waiter it’s my mom’s birthday and she is serenaded in a combination by French and Portuguese.

I wake up the next morning and head to a yoga class with the slight buzz of the wine, the food and the chocolate mousse from the night before. Somewhere in my third downward dog, I remember the real reason for my coming to LA, or the second real reason, since there is usually not just one reason for being in a particular place.

After breakfast and a drop in from my mother's next door neighbor, my mom and I head upstairs to the guest room. It's small room that was briefly my brother Mark's and then my dad's caretaker's, but which, since my dad's death, had been turned into a guest room.

One wall is covered in sliding doors.

My mom sits down on the daybed with a yellow legal pad. I slide open the far right door. His clothes hung waiting, but not for him. I stand in front of the clothes and sigh. My mom says she doesn’t really feel anything since he'd stopped wearing most of them long ago.

We sort through his sweaters first. I choose two for myself, a red wool V-neck and a brown cashmere pullover. I count them out and my mom writes it down, wanting to record what we are giving away. Next are his shirts, and I remember something I always loved about my dad - the way he kept his shirts clean and pressed despite a full and hard day of work. The subtle stripes and tight plaids, the creases that held despite his not wearing them for a number of years. I put aside a small paisley print one in red, brown and green, my mom's favorite. I'm glad I'm the only one his shirts will fit, my brothers too tall, my husband too broad, my nephews too cool. We move onto his short sleeves shirts, the ones he wore most of the time first at the store and then at his watchmaker's station. He liked the open feeling of the short sleeve and also didn't wear a tie or jacket) at work; one of the perks of working for himself.

A rhythm begins - clothes off the hangers and onto the bed. Counted and then moved to another part of the room.We get to his pants. Khakis, wool gabardines, various slacks. Even a pair of cruise ship whites which make my mom and I giggle. All in a perfect folds over steel and plastic hangers, but obviously not worn in a very long time, which I can tell from the line of dust that rested along each crease.

But in the middle of the neat order, a pair of jeans bulk. I push the pants on either side away. His jeans, a pair of Levis, with the belt still in the loops. Somehow the pants seem warm, and the denim very soft, but not worn out. The belt left in the loops was out of place, nothing my father would have done. He would have pulled the belt out and hung it up with the others on the hanger designed for that purpose. The weight of the belt, a black Pierre Cardin one, offers a form that is no longer here, no longer form-able. I run my hands down the jeans and cry.When my father arrived alone in Toronto, after a train, a boat and then another train took him away from the Nazis, he owned one pair of clothing, summer clothing.

In the end, this is the list, a list of my dad's clothing:

  • 5 sweaters, 2 sweater vests
  • 8 pair of shoes, one pair of slippers
  • 3 pairs of pajamas
  • 12 short sleeved shirts
  • 10 long sleeved shorts
  • 22 pair of pants, one pair of Levi jeans
  • 15 ties and 8 belts, two pairs of suspenders
  • 3 sweatshirts and 3 zip up jackets
  • 10 sports jackets and 5 suits, including the suit he wore to my wedding

I chose a tie for my husband, with my dad's knot still in it.

The clothes are all out. I proceed to pull down an old slide projector. Endless travel bags. Shoe polish kits. Old perfume and faded yarmulkes. Empty watch repair envelopes, the ones I used to carefully log into my dad's record book when I was old enough to be trusted with the task.Two hours later, the closet is empty. I tell my mom I’ll take care of the rest, not wanting her to have to watch the clothes get placed into black garbage bags.

I fold the clothes and put them inside the bags, six in all. Before I close up the bags, I put my head close to the opening and take in one last deep breath. I carry the bags down and place them neatly in a corner of the garage, which will be picked up some time next week.

We wear clothes for many reasons: to keep us warm or cool, to communicate to the world a story of who we are. I'm happy that as I slip my arms into the few pieces traveling home with me, I will feel the memory of his arms having entered in and out of these same clothes many times. I will wear my dad's story in the form of a red v-neck sweater, a brown cashmere pull over and a paisley raw silk shirt, as another way of keeping his story going.

But I have to wonder, wow long will it take for the form of his life that is in every piece of clothing, to take the shape of another? If I was walking down the street in Los Angeles, or in Longmont, would I recognize a shirt, a sweater, his softly worn Levis on someone else's body? Will I look for them? For him in them? How far will his clothes travel? And what will I feel toward that person lucky enough to wear my dad’s clothes - kinship?

I hope I will and to that I add: Amen.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

This is the first Father's Day I don't have my dad to call up and wish a happy day to. I wrote it when baseball season started, but it didn't seem the right time to send it out. So I send this out to the summer solstice ether, amid the chirping of the june bugs, and hope you heard the crack of the ball on Todd Helton's bat tonight, Dad. I love you eternally.

Keep Your Eye on the Ball
Dedicated to Leonard Trank
October 22, 1911 – October 19, 2008

April 3, 2009

I just realized baseball season starts this week. This is usually a time of excitement for me. I love the game, have loved it since I was a little kid. But this year will be different. And so different, that I don't know if I'll be able to partake in my favorite sport. What makes it different this year? Not A-Rod, Manny, the overblown egos and new Yankee Stadium. What makes it different this year is my dad. For the first time since the 1930s, when he first came to this country, he won't be watching baseball. My father died on October 19, 2008, three days short of 97 years old, and it has taken me these many months to muster the strength to write these words.

I grew up with baseball. The Los Angeles Dodgers were our team, during the great years of the 1960s with Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and all the rest. Yes, as a Jewish family living in a very non-Jewish Southern California town, we were forever bolstered when Sandy refused to play on Yom Kippur, despite the not so hidden transistor radios peeking out my brothers' and other boys shirt collars during High Holy day services.

My dad taught me how to throw a ball and helped me develop an arm that made me a great centerfielder, even for a girl. He taught me how to hold a bat and swing at the bat evenly - "keep your eye on the ball" was his constant mantra and when I put his simple words into action, I hit it long and hard. I played softball on two winning teams, the Blue Powder Puffs and the Red Devils. I met my dearest and oldest friend playing against her in the Pony League.

Our family listened to games in the car, went to games with our season tickets, gobbled down Dodger Dogs, and covered the ground under our feet with peanut shells, but mostly, I remember sitting on the couch and watching the game with him. My dad was always a quiet watcher, but I was just the opposite. It became a sort of joke between us and he used to line up pillows between our seats to protect his legs from my arms that would need to hit something either in celebration or misery.

No matter what was going on in our lives -- boyfriends, school plays or whatever, my dad and I always had baseball. He shared this love of the game with my brothers who have remained avid fans of the game as well, but it was different for me, as the only daughter. He opened up a world to me with every game we watched. He didn’t go on about statistics or how to keep a score card. Instead he taught me what he loved about the game - the focus, the patience, the discipline of keeping your eye on the ball no matter what position you play. But most of all, I loved to see his face react to that essential sound, the sound of the bat hitting the ball, followed by our close and shared waiting.

I left California in 1977 and went to college in the Midwest. Homesick, I watched the 1977 World Series by myself in the dorm entertainment room and cringed at the Dodgers humiliation by the Yankees. The only person I could call who understood was my dad. He just said, “There’s always next year.” That spring, I played on the co-ed IM team and one particularly muddy Saturday, I went running to catch a hard hit center field ball. My shoe stuck in the mud and my foot kept going. When I got back to the dorm room after a trip to the ER with my foot in a soft cast and a badly sprained ankle, I called my dad. After making sure I was all right, he asked one other question. “Did I catch the ball?” I could hear him smile when I told him, yes.

When I moved to NYC in 1987 and was living alone in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, I screamed out the window when the Dodgers beat the Oakland A's with the famous Kirk Gibson cobbled-kneed home run. As soon as the ball went out of the yard, my phone rang. It was my dad. "You pee in your pants?" I didn't need to answer. He heard my yawp all the way across the country and let me know he was there with me.

I've switched teams since then and am now a Colorado Rockies fan. We live in Colorado, I love Coors Field and the scrappiness and heart the team plays with. In 2007, the miracle year, I watched every game with my kids and was thrilled they knew all the players names, and now love the game as much as I do.

For the past few years, as my dad's health declined, one of the harbingers of spring has been knowing he was here to watch another season and I prayed he would make it until another World Series. For a long time, he’d taken to watching the Los Angeles, nee Anaheim, Angels, a team he always liked for reasons still mysterious to my brothers and me.

This past October, my second oldest brother and I sat in the hospital room and watch the Series while my dad lay sleeping. His respirator had been removed earlier that day. My oldest brother, my sister-in-law and my mom had gone out to eat, but my brother Mark and I stayed with Dad. The game was on and we knew there would be no more World Series to share with him. The Red Sox and the Florida Marlins played, the sound turned down low. I don't remember much about the game other than the movement of the players, the ball's arc and the sound turned down low. I don't even remember who won.

I love baseball because of the hopeful and eternal optimism of the game. The contained embrace of a baseball diamond and the sound, the sound of the bat hitting the ball and then the shared waiting. I love the game because my dad taught me how to love it, what to love about it and why it was worth loving.

I can't say I'll be able to watch baseball this year without a lot of tears. I've already started crying and it's a long season. But as I watch each game, I'll feel that hopeful suspension of that seamed ball moving through air and how it makes me feel. Alive with hope and possibility. Alive with the love of what can happen, if you just keep your eye on the ball.

Happy Father's Day.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

First an Auntie, then a Boobie

I'm under the spell of Twitter - love my TweetDeck, DMs, the whole kit and caboodle. I'm following and getting followed by some fantastic folks and want to send a shout out to Melanie Notkin, Auntrepreneur and founder of, the "first community for cool aunts, great aunts, godmothers and all women who love kids." How's that for a worthwhile cause?

Melanie's Webby-award winning website provides all sorts of resources for being the coolest auntie and as a former really cool auntie, I would have loved to have this site when my older nephews and nieces were younger, but that was B4TI (Before the Internet).

Here's to all the wonderful aunties, great aunties, godmothers and women who love kids in the world! And check out SA's cool Sephora contest - I know this former Savvy Auntie could use some new makeup, since my three DDs have used my current stash on their American Girl dolls.

I'll be reminiscing about my own about my pre-Boobies Savvy Auntie days, but have to ask my oldest nephew and niece, who have surpassed all of us with their coolness, for permission to relate some fine examples of my auntie-hood. All I can say that the reason I became a mom is because I loved being an auntie so damn much.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Yoga Mama 30 Day Challenge

I turned 50 in December. As my nine year old daughter informed me, that officially made me the oldest mother at her school. I've gotten used to little kids assuming I was my kids' grandma, but to hear my own talk about how old I am in comparison to her friends' mothers, got me thinking I needed to start a serious stay young and on the planet program. So when my DH's siblings began asking me what I wanted for the big occassion, I passed on the maid (too much pressure), the massage and the other suggestions. I had heard about a new Bikram Yoga studio that had opened in Longmont that offered a $59 introductory unlimited month and a little voice inside my head said, "DO IT."

I didn't think I'd like the hot form of yoga and quite honestly, my only recent exposure to yoga had been while pregnant with my oldest and that was nine years ago. I'd always steered clear of hot yoga because it drummed up unpleasant olfactory memories of waiting for subways in 120 degree stations in NYC and that wasn't my idea of relaxation.

But you only turn 50 once, so I figured what did I have to lose? As it turns out, nothing and more than I imagined to gain. It's been two months and while I know it's pat to say this and I can see the eyes rolling as I write it, but yoga is changing my life. Besides my body returning to some sense of flexibility and strength that it hasn't known in more than a decade, the more I sweat, the more I learn about myself.

March 1st, I signed up for a 30 day challenge, not for any other reason than to see if I could do it. I can buy goodies at the studio at a discount if I complete the challenge, but I'm doing it for different reasons. I'm now 7 days into the challenge, 23 to go (and yes I'm counting) and I'll be posting my insights, frustrations and otherwise as a way to share this challenge.

Day 1: Took a deep breath and said, yes, I can.
Day 2: Took another deep breath and said yes I can again.
Day 3: Mistakenly decided I had passed into another realm, where the classes were getting 'easy.' Why did I decide this? Because somewhere between Day 2 and Day 3, my breathing went from out and out gasping to calm and I got really full of myself. I boasted to my family that I was entering a new place where the work would be internal, that the physical had been figured out.
Day 4: Kicked the shit out of me. All of it. Wibble wobbled and I then fell down.
Day 5: Kicked whatever shit day 4 didn't kick out of me out of me. Realized I don't have enough yoga clothes to make it through the week, let alone a 30 day challenge.
Day 6: Learned to laugh in Eagle pose when Zach said our next posture would be 'kickyourasana.'
Day 7: Battled with the entire cobra series and wondered if my lack of flexibility on the back side of my body had a deeper meaning.

Today is day eight and I'm six hours away from my class. Not sure what will be in store for me, except I know I'll feel better having done it. A great birthday gift.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Happy Woof Year!

As the song goes, "you can't always get what you waaannt, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need..." As I was wandering on Facebook, my virtual favorite place to be these days, a dear friend and colleague, Carmen Cool (how cool is that name), who runs the Boulder Youth Body Alliance, an organization dedicated to creating generations of young women and leaders who feel good about themselves and their bodies, posted her Chinese New Year horoscope. I was excited to find out that mine would be just as cool as Carmen's, but when I got to mine, this is what I read:

"2009 will present the Dog with a number of challenges. Your patience will certainly be tested in more than one instance. You may not necessarily gain the notoriety you desire in your career, but certain advancement opportunities will surface throughout the year. You will find comfort with your family and solidify bonds that are necessary for your well being. You may have issues juggling your family life with your work schedule, but you will make great strides in both areas by the end of the year."

It's Monday and snowing, snowing hard and densely enough to make me turn around and work from home. This seems a perfect horoscope for me in 2009 because it is about staying power and that staying power being centered in myself. I especially love that I will find comfort with my family and will solidify bonds necessary to my well being. I've become a new dedicant to Bikram Yoga, 26 poses geared to solidifying (and melting) that well-being for 90 minutes in 90+ degrees.

I'm in this for the long run, as I just crossed the threshhold of my 50th year. Patience is good. Afterall, Mick Jagger is in his 60s and just hitting his stride.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Worry of Now

Have I always been a worrier? I guess so, considering the state of my gut during junior high (that's what we called it way back when) and through most of my life. Have I ever been free of worry? I wish I could say that after 2.5 years studying at a contemplative graduate school, I'd been able to cast aside my worrisome side, but instead I became a writer. I've read some of Ekhart Tolle's theory on the Power of Now and while I agree, in theory, that to worry can be monumental waste of time, I find that worry can also be a great teacher. So I'd like to call my theory, the Worry of Now. And my theory has served as a slap of cold water in my face and gotten me very focused.

And right now, I'm very focused on making a different kind of life for myself and my family. After losing my second job in a year, I want to be free of the constant anxiety of keeping a roof over my family's head, the modest, but new car I worked so hard to make affordable payments on parked safely in front of my house, to be able to roam the grocery aisles without keeping a running tab in my head. I want to be able to spend a relaxed night with my spouse, without the ongoing subtitle of money running along side us. We're doing a great job holding it together during this time, but it's hard to relax and be in the Now when the Now is so filled with uncertainty. I don't know how this will all work out, but I do know I am ready to make some changes that put me much more in charge of my financial destiny.

What worry woke me up from an almost certain sleep? I woke up to check that the car payment had been received. It has. The money is in the bank and the check will most likely be cashed tomorrow. Blessings on the US postal service and Blessings on my new job that allowed me to make that payment on time.

As I sit in this space of Worry, in the very nowness of my worry, I wonder, how many other people out there are doing the same thing? How many other mothers are scouring 'consignment shops' for their growing children's clothing needs, reheating yesterday's coffee? Staring into space, talking to the unknown, asking the same question - how did I get here? How did we all get here?

Blessings on us all as we enter into this new phase of hope, even if it is circled with worry. Hoe is as constant as worry and for me, they often go hand in hand. I'm only human, right? I worry, therefore I am. Are you too?

I feel better. Thanks for listening.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Homecoming Queen Mother

Being a mom is really like being homecoming queen every day of the year. And I wonder, since I was never anything close to a homecoming queen, what it would be like to be the most beautiful, the most popular girl in school every day of the year. Sort of would make you sick to your stomach, or other people sick to their stomachs. Sort of would make you want to vomit. And maybe want to vomit right on that homecoming queen's tafetta gown.

This is my way of saying that stomach flu season has hit our house. Or to be more correct, hit me. Friendly fire would be the best way to describe my role in this latest round. The origin of the title of this blog comes from the last time we, or I should say, I was visited upon by the ghost of vomit past with such a vengeance.

It started the day before school was to begin. I'd just served up three cups of hot chocolate and tiny marshmallows, the post-Sunday school bribe cashed in by all three girls. Twenty minutes later, one of the twins complained of a stomach ache and went in to take a nap. Five minutes later, tears and vomit. Thankfully, she made it to the waste basket. An hour later, not so lucky. The first case of being vomited on and 2009 was only three days old.

Two days later, oldest daughter sat next to me on the couch and complained of a stomach ache. Two times a lady.

The other twin has not displayed any signs of the stomach flu. But I've already sat her down and talked with her:

"Honey, if you feel like you have to throw up, it's okay. Your body is just trying to get rid of the yucky stuff."

She nodded at me while eating her third bowl of cereal.

"But do me a favor. If you feel like you have to throw up, find your father and throw up on him. I've already been thrown up on by both your sisters."

What followed only confirmed my position as the eternal homecoming queen of our family. Her eyes filled up with tears and she wailed:

"That's not fair. My sisters got to throw up on you! I want to throw up on you too!"

I guess it's never to late to claim my homecoming title. Time to shine my tiara.