Thursday, August 22, 2019


In this era, when too often we have become hypersensitive, keeping your cool is more important than ever. There are ways to handle difficult situations without immediately jumping into a confrontation.

I've found that one of the most effective tools is to keep smiling, even though you might say something less that friendly. You win the argument but, because you don't seem to be angry, your "adversary"doesn't know how to handle the situation.

I remember once being in a department store, purchasing something for my then-husband in the men's department. The clerk who had started to help me was called away. He turned to another man at the end of the counter and said, "Joe, can you help this lady?"

Joe was holding a clipboard and riffling through the papers on it. He looked up and said, "May I help you, ma'am?"

I pointed to something in the case in front of me, and said I wanted to see this. Instead of coming over to me, he looked up again from his clipboard and said, in an annoyed voice, "May I help you?"

I realized he expected me to come to him, even though I was the customer, and a woman, and quite a bit older than he was.

I could have made an angry comment. Instead, I smiled sweetly and said (in a voice that carried to the other customers in the department), "Certainly, young man, if you're not nailed to the floor!" He was in front of me in an instant.

And then there was the time I was driving into Brooklyn and missed the exit before the tunnel to Manhattan. I was with a friend. She said I would have to go through the tunnel into the city and then somehow turn around. Instead, keeping my cool, I pulled over to the side and said to the policeman on duty, "How do I get back to the other side? I seem to have missed the exit."

I was deliberately non-confrontational and friendly, not automatically annoyed at myself, him, the roadway, etc. I guess my "cool" pleased him, as he immediately said, "Don't you worry about a thing, little lady." He stepped out into the plaza and held up the traffic in both directions so I could make a U-turn!

Much of keeping cool in my life involved situations with my four kids. I think that's especially important---to keep the children from panicking and to give them needed reassurance at a scary time.

I remember once when my boys had been playing outdoors, and one of them had accidentally swung a rake, which had hit his brother on the chin. Lots of blood. I grabbed a bunch of towels for the kid's chin and called my pediatrician, saying we were on the way.

Keeping my cool? I told my other boys to run cold water into the tub. Before we left for the doctor, I put the bloody white towels in to soak and covered the wound with a brown towel!

And when one of my sons came in from playing and showed me his pinky finger that was dislocated into a Z-shape, I rested his hand on a pillow to comfort him while I called the doctor.

And when my toddler daughter ate a hard candy that got stuck in her throat, and in a panic ran away from my trying to help her, I simply grabbed her by the legs, turned her upside down and shook her until the candy came out. (The Heimlich maneuver hadn't been invented at that time.)

My own experience with the Heimlich was also a "Keep Cool" moment, though I knew I was in trouble.

My husband and I were attending a Police Organization function, where scholarships were being given out to children of the cops. My husband had walked away from our table to greet some friends. I was eating. A very dry piece of turkey stuck completely in my throat. Not a bit of air could pass it. I simply couldn't  breathe. Oddly, I was very calm. "I will simply pass out and die," I thought.

Feeling helpless, I kind of tried to pat myself on the back---all the while I couldn't even breathe! A ridiculous gesture. I looked up. A young man was at the end of the table.. He frowned and said, "Are you okay?" I shook my head. "Do you want me to do the Heimlich?" I nodded my head. He came around, pushed at my diaphragm and the piece of turkey came out.

The word got around after my husband and others returned to the table, and when the young man was called up to receive his scholarship (for a pre-med college program, no less!) he received a standing ovation.

Keeping your cool is especially important when you're raising children. (See my blog entry IT'S MY HOUSE AND I'M BIGGER THAN YOU ARE!) As I've mentioned there, the less you engage in head-to-head angry battles with your kids, the easier it is to deal with them.

I remember, for example, one son who loved to wave around his spoon or fork at meal times, even though there might be food on it. I had asked him numerous times to not do that, since bits of food tended to fly around the table.

One evening, at desert time, I was serving applesauce. Since he was the youngest child, he was served first. He took a spoonful of the apple sauce, then waved his spoon around. I asked him not to do it anymore.

He smiled and waved his spoon again.

Now I could have lost my temper and yelled at him. Instead, I kept my cool. My serving spoon was huge. I scooped up a giant spoonful of the applesauce, smiled back at him and threw the spoonful across the table directly at his face! He couldn't be mad at me, because I was still smiling.

It took me a long time to scrub the applesauce from the wall behind him, but he never did that again!

P.S. I spoke with him about this episode, and I had his permission to relate this story.

Finally, there was the time that one of my sons, early or pre-teen---can't remember which---announced that he was independent of the family, since he was old enough. Again, I didn't quarrel with him.

But when he came home from school and wanted his uniform for a game, he was surprised that I hadn't washed it.

"Sorry," I said. "Thought you were no longer a part of the family. But if you want to wash it, there's the machine. And please leave me a quarter for the cost of the soap." Needless to say, he wore his dirty uniform to his game.

And when he came home for supper, I announced that, since he was no longer part of the family, he would have to cook and pay for his own supper. And wash his dishes. It didn't take long for him to decide he wanted back into the fold! (My point being, I didn't lose my cool---I didn't resort to fighting with him, which would have involved pitting his ego against mine. And children's egos are fragile.)

Having said all that, I must, in all honesty, say there were times when I DIDN'T keep my cool.

For example---though I was cool about handling my children's' injuries, I lost it with my cat!

My husband was away hunting. I had taken the cat to the vet several days before to get her spayed. After several days, with the vet's approval, I had taken her back to get the stitches removed. When I brought  her home,  I noticed she wasn't licking at the incision, but was simply sitting under the dining room table. When she stood up, I saw that the rug beneath her was wet. Then I looked at her belly. The incision had opened up and her guts were hanging out.

I called the vet and he said he was leaving in five minutes. Didn't seem to care. Don't remember how, but I found another vet ASAP. He told me to wrap the cat's body in a tight towel and get to him as soon as I could. Holding the wrapped cat, I went out with one of my. sons, planning to put the cat in his lap as soon as he got into my car.

Just then, my husband's station-wagon came down the driveway, with a dead deer strapped to the roof! Completely unhinged, I screamed at him to get out of the way so I could drive my car to the vet. He looked at me as though I were nuts and said, "Get into the wagon with the cat!" He drove us at once to the vet. The doctor had cleared the waiting room and had even held the door open for us to arrive with the cat.

He saved the cat's life and even laughed for years about us arriving with a sick cat and a dead deer in the same car. (And I was NOT cool the whole time---was in a total panic! Maybe it was easier to be cool with a child you could reason with, than a cat that looked at you with glazed eyes that said, "Let me die, please.")

And further examples of NOT COOL---

I've mentioned before that my husband was drafted into the Army and that I followed him to Germany and lived there for nearly 2 years. But I don't think I mentioned that his transfer orders arrived a week before our wedding. (He was a baseball pitcher and he pitched for an Army team while in basic training. They had a successful season, but their team must have beaten the team of a higher-up officer so, a week before the wedding, it was announce that their team would be disbanded and shipped to Germany.)

Because of that, I spent my honeymoon in Guesthouse #2, Fort Dix, New Jersey! The first couple of days, when my husband came back from his processing, we went to the PX to buy stuff. The next day, while he was gone, I decided to be brave and go to the PX alone. I picked out my purchases and went to the check-out.

"Where's your ID?" the clerk asked me.

"I don't have one," I said, close to tears. "I came in before with my husband, so I didn't know I needed an ID."

"He should have known," the clerk said.

Weeping openly (definitely had lost my cool!), I finally said, "He's only been my husband for three days!"

He let me buy the stuff without an ID.

And finally, a happier "Losing My Cool" story.

When I flew over to join my husband in Germany, I was all of 21. I had never traveled much, and here I was on my way---alone---to a foreign country. I was excited but a bit scared. This was in 1955---Americans were just beginning to travel extensively in Europe.

At that time, jet engines were quite new. They were attached to propeller planes (I suspect that there was a bit of unease that a jet engine alone could cut it). Planes were called prop-jets. Because of the propeller engines, we still had to refuel. Once in Newfoundland, and then in Scotland.

While they refueled in Scotland, we were escorted to the waiting room. As we sat there, a young woman appeared, carrying a large tray filled with mugs of coffee. She turned to me and, in a thick Scottish accent, said, "Black or white?" (At the time, we in the US would have said, "Do you want cream in your coffee?")

That's when I really lost my cool. "Oh my god," I thought. "I'm in EUROPE!"

In spite of that, I still think that keeping your cool as often as you can is the way to manage the difficulties of this world!

Saturday, November 24, 2018


I'd like to start by apologizing for the long delay in publishing my blog since my last entry. I had further surgery earlier this year---not serious, I can assure you. But for some reason, it triggered a long spell of the blues, where I couldn't work up any enthusiasm for much of anything in my life. (Whether emotionally induced or chemically induced because of my medications, I guess I'll never know.) I simply went through the motions from day to day. I've slowly come out of it and, with Thanksgiving just behind us, realized that I had much to be thankful for. *

I also realized that, to keep on living---not just existing---you have to keep opening doors. To think outside the box. To stay open to new things. I had forgotten that that was how we had kept our lives interesting through the years.

New husband drafted into the army and shipped to Germany? Did I stay home with my parents as most young brides did when their husbands were in service abroad? Not on your life! Off I went to join him. Because he was just a private, we lived with German families and I learned to cook on a big black coal stove!

And when the kids came, did we stick to the same old "Parenting" routines? No way! We dreamed up lots of ways to deal with problems and situations. Some straight and some goofy! (See IT'S MY HOUSE AND I'M BIGGER THAN YOU ARE.)

Going from New York to visit my sister in Boston when the boys were young? We gave them a general itinerary on the map, then told them to find lots of interesting things for us to do along the way. They came up with a bunch of fun stuff. The Basketball Hall of Fame. a colonial village recreation, The House of The Seven Gables in Salem, the Old North Church (Paul Revere's church) in Boston, the Boston Science Museum---where, as an unexpected bonus, we got to see, live, the first moon landing on the museum's giant TV screens!

And then there was my problem with opening cans of fruits and vegetables. If the top of the can was slightly dusty, I'd turn it over and open it upside-down. Eventually, the kids asked me why I sometimes opened the cans right-side-up and sometimes in reverse. I explained that I had an Australian twin, who came from the opposite side of the globe and therefore did everything I did, but in reverse. We had the same wardrobe, so sometimes she would take my place while I went shopping or something. The kids took great delight in trying to catch me up. By opening a goofy door, I had created a fun, ongoing game between us.

And because I was not afraid to open an unfamiliar door, that was how I got to be a published writer of historical romances. The children were growing up, and I, who had been super busy for years with a large house and four kids, was feeling slightly bored. But I was a pretty good cook at that point (see YUM! entry), so a friend and I, who also cooked well and was between jobs and also bored, decided to write a cookbook.We met for a few months, shared recipes and cooked together, made lots of notes, etc.---then decided 1. It was basically boring and 2. We really didn't know what the hell we were doing or how to put together a cookbook!

"What shall we do, then?" we both asked each other. But, by mere chance, I had read, that morning, an article in the paper about a Romance writer, who was actually two housewives from New Jersey.
"Want to do that?" I asked.

"No." she said. "It doesn't hit my buttons. But you (meaning me) are one of those 'Ha! Thou lusty wench!' types of  people. So maybe you could do it." (I think she meant that I was a bit of a Drama Queen. Guilty as charged!)

And so---despite the mockery of my kids (and possibly the skepticism of my husband) I opened that door. Wrote the book, then boldly contacted editors and agents till I got someone who was interested in what I had written. Was encouraged to write a sequel, then encouraged again to write an outline of a third book. Ultimately sold the trilogy to Pocket Books to launch their Tapestry line. ("Marielle", "Lysette", and "Delphine". Reprints and e-books available through Diversion Books.)

And all because I wasn't afraid to open a new door.

And now I sell wedding dresses at Macy's. And how did I get there? Another door.

My daughter was getting married. I had separated from my husband and was working part-time, but thinking I was going to have to leave New York because I couldn't afford to stay unless I had a full-time job. Because I couldn't help my daughter out financially, she was paying for her own wedding. She wanted to go to David's Bridal, because her funds were limited.

"You've got a good eye, Mom," she said.. "Come with me." (I sewed my own clothes for 40 years and studied for a fashion career, so it wasn't exactly unfamiliar territory!)  So off we went.

Clerk wasn't much help. I found the dress, veil and shoes for my daughter in no time. Daughter was pleased and admiring herself in the dress. Just then, a woman in the dressing room next to us asked me, "Do you like me in this dress?"

Well, it was none of my business, and I could simply have brushed her off. But I opened the door instead.

"No," I said. "That's all wrong for you. What size are you?"

She told me and I poked around a bit and found a dress for her to try on. She put in on and started to cry, she was so happy with the dress.

At that point, a third bride looked hopefully at me and said, "You're not leaving yet, are you? Can you help me?"

And the manager, who had come up to us, turned to me and said, "Would you like a job?"

And that's how I got into bridal! (Worked at David's for a few months until I found out that Macy's in Herald Square was opening a new Bridal Salon. Applied and got the job.)

Incidentally, I still open doors. When I have a bride or bridesmaid at the Salon and we connect in a friendly way, I sometimes say, "I DO hang out!" Which is why I have half a dozen new young friends, with whom I go to theater, movies, museums, lunches, etc.

Life lesson? Open doors to keep your existence lively and interesting.

Damn your comfort zone---full speed ahead!

* Must mention the final "kick in the head" I got to get me going again. All four of my wonderful kids surprised me two weeks ago by coming from all over the country to spend the weekend with me on my special birthday. (I spent half the time crying happy tears and realizing how lucky I was!) God bless them all.

Friday, August 11, 2017



That line from Shakespeare's Hamlet reflects how I feel about this blog entry.

Coincidences? Instinct? Fate? Sometimes, things in life get a little spooky, and though we---as rational people---try to explain away what's happening, the specter of Fate tiptoes into the room, tickles us behind the neck, laughs in our faces.

And that's where I'm coming from right now.

I should begin by explaining why this entry was somewhat delayed. It's a narrative known only to my family and my closest associates and friends. For a year now I've had a health issue, culminating six weeks ago in my having major lung surgery to remove a malignant tumor in my right lung.

(Let me jump in quickly to say that I'm fine. The tumor is gone, I am cancer-free, with no need for any chemical or radiation followups---only CAT scans from time to time.)

As I look back, I'm sure I didn't believe in Fate, but maybe it was there, in the back of my mind all along. And maybe it explains my odd cold-bloodedness from the very beginning.

I never for a moment worried about dying, even though all indications were that the tumor on my lung was, in all probability, cancer. Though friends and family were in a semi-panic sometimes, I didn't mind. I was aware of the possibility of dying, of chemo, of radiation. I wasn't in denial, but none of it fazed me. Totally neutral. Couldn't figure out why. Because I've lived a rich life and was content, no matter what? I didn't know. Even joked to my daughter the day before surgery that, because of all the outpourings of good wishes I had gotten from so many people, that---if I should die---there would be hundreds of people at my funeral! (Poor dear. She was not amused, and I apologize to her now for my thoughtless levity.)

But maybe it was Fate speaking to me at some gut level?

To begin, I had a mild cold last year. No big deal. A little sneezing, a bit of coughing. But when my slight fever kept coming back, I went to my doctor. Fate? Having come from an era where we pretty much took care of our sicknesses on our own and only saw doctors when it seemed to be important, I don’t know what persuaded me to go to my GP. Still don’t know what pushed me.

Called my local Primary Care physician. He was on vacation. His substitute was a pulmonary specialist. (Coincidence?) That doctor's diagnosis was that I had a mild case of pneumonia, which necessitated a chest x-ray, which then showed something on my lung. Scar tissue from my years of smoking (I don't want to hear it, people. Have been filled with my own regrets---don't want guilt trips from others, if you don't mind).  And on the scar tissue was something that looked like a tumor.

I had preliminary tests in my neighborhood. Follow-up tests in labs and hospitals. Doctors seemed fine, but something held me back. (Inconvenience? Personnel? See UNDER MY SKIN---AARGH EDITION for some of the less pleasant experiences.) Went for repeated tests over months, because things just didn't feel right. Primary doctor and lung specialist were both urging me to go for a biopsy, to schedule lung surgery to remove the tumor, etc. But I resisted. Why? Fate again? Instinct?

It wasn't a sense of denial---that if I ignored it, it would go away. I knew I had to have the biopsy and possibly the surgery. 

I'm aware now that if 1.) I hadn't come down with pneumonia and 2.) if I hadn't somehow felt impelled to visit a doctor, my life five years from now might have been vastly different. 

But maybe it was spooky Fate at work. That whatever was happening was meant to be. That I was making connections and decisions that were fated.

Finally asked my ex-husband for a referral for a second opinion since he had had medical contacts as an attorney through the years. He gave me the name of a pulmonary specialist at NYU-Langone in New York City. Don't ask me how we got on to colleges but, within fifteen minutes, that doctor and I had discovered that his family, like mine, were Brown University graduates. More than that, he had graduated from pre-med at Brown with my physician niece, in the same year. Innocent coincidence? Or Fate?

He sent me for tests, then we scheduled the biopsy. This time, I had no hesitation about agreeing to it. Why? Instinct again? Or Fate?

Biopsy showed it definitely was cancer. Arranged to see the surgeon who would perform the operation. Met first with his Nurse Practitioner for preliminary questions, explanations, etc. She took one look at me and said, "Why do you look familiar to me?"

I suggested that perhaps we had met when I made the rounds of the hospital for all my preliminary tests. "No," she said, indicating that she wouldn't have been in the section where all the tests were done.

Half as a joke (since I do sell wedding dresses at Macy's Bridal Salon), I said, "Have you had any connection with weddings lately?" (I guess I figured she might have come in with a group for bridesmaids' dresses, or something.)

She gasped in surprise. "Macy's!" she cried. "You showed me all those veils last month!" (Another eerie coincidence that's too coincidental? Or Fated?) She didn't buy the veil, but she remembered me. (And she married four weeks ago! I send her my congratulations.)

Then I met the surgeon who would perform the operation. We spoke of the operation, then chatted for a bit. It turns out he's a writer, with a published book to his credit. (Do check it out on Amazon---it's wonderful. Moving, inspiring, creative, funny. Super Performing At Work And At Home by Robert James Cerfolio MD, MBA.) And, basically, it's what I write here on this blog. He basically writes Life Lessons for the Professional, as opposed to the more general, motherly advice I give. But we're clearly on the same page. Another spooky coincidence? He played baseball in college. Well, so did I, and got a college letter for it. He has three sons. Well, so do I. 

I'm not trying to say I'm on his level of competence---he's at the top of his profession. But the coincidences were overwhelming. And so, when I was wheeled into surgery, I never for a minute thought I wouldn't come out of it. Because Fate had brought me to that moment and that place.

Coincidentally (???), while I was recovering at home, I watched a lot of old movies. And in The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) , one of the older characters spoke this line: "As a man grows old, he begins to believe in Fate." And I knew that line was meant for me.

What's the Life Lesson here? Sometimes you have to put aside reason and accept that "There are more things in Heaven and Earth . . ." that are more than just "coincidences". And just roll with them.

Now I know that I'm usually more light-hearted than this. So I thought I'd close with a spooky "coincidence" story that is fun (but no less eerie, anyway!).

This happened some years ago. I had already written seven books that had been published. (Three by my first publisher, four by my second.) But the second publisher had closed down their division and I looked around for another publisher. I found a young editor at a new house who loved my latest book proposal. She signed me to her publisher for a four-book contract. She was a lovely young woman, about the age of my youngest son, Roger, I guessed. (He was 30 at the time.)

We worked together for months as the book was put together, edited, revised, discussed, etc. At some point she wanted me to meet her at the editorial offices on a Friday afternoon to go over something (can't remember what---not important). 

"I can't," I said. "I'm going up to my University that weekend for a seminar on Women and Popular Culture. Will be speaking there."

"Where did you go to college?" she asked.


Her eyes opened wide. "Oh my God!" she cried. "You're Roger's mother!"

Not only had she been in Roger's class, she had also been in Roger's dorm! Moreover, because I had first become a published author while Roger was at Brown, the young editor had been in the common room of the dorm the day Roger had rushed in and announced, "My mother just sold a book to be published!"

Oddly enough, until that moment, she had not put that memory together with my name. We laughed about that spooky coincidence for a long time!

P.S. I realized, thinking about this later, that I never thanked and praised my four children enough for standing by me through the surgery. They showed up from all over the country, to take me to the hospital, visit me there, take me home, visit me after I was home, etc. And thanks to my sister, as well, who came from Boston to visit. I feel truly blessed.

Thursday, May 18, 2017


Let's talk about being embarrassed.

We've all goofed off in the past, or done something stupid or had something humiliating happen to us. But I've learned, through the years, that it's how we react to the embarrassing situation that matters the most.

Do we cringe in humiliation? And suffer for ages over what has happened? Do we put a sign on ourselves that says, "Kick me!" because I'm stupid? Do we allow others to bully us and humiliate us with their knowledge of our lapse? Do we lie and pretend it never happened?

Really, people. No one is perfect. EVER! We all screw up, or get caught in unexpected situations. And I've learned that the best way to deal with embarrassment is to laugh at it, to share it with others as a funny situation, to refuse to be put down by others because of it. To admit our stupidity with a shrug and a laugh and move on. And to accept it as just a silly blip in our daily lives.

I've had my share of embarrassments, and perhaps by sharing with you all, I can help others come to grips with the seemingly "terrible" things that have happened to them.

I'm in college. All of 19 or 20. This is 1953. Full petticoats have just come in to fashion. I had a lovely one---stiff pale yellow crinoline (actually, cheesecloth that had been heavily starched---polyester hadn't been invented yet, or at least not in commercial use yet)---fastened with a button at the waist. Smoky blue rayon dress with a velvet collar to wear over it. Both pieces brand new,

College boyfriend---later husband---taking me to Philharmonic concert. Very posh. We usually took a bus downtown from College Hill, but he announced that, because he had sold some books, we would take a cab. I am already feeling beautiful because of my outfit. But a cab, too? Wow!

Get to Philharmonic Hall. Doorman rushes forward to open cab door. I step out in my most royal manner. He rushes ahead to open Philharmonic door. As I sail through grandly, I hear a pop. Button rolls across the floor. And around my ankles? Several yards of pale yellow crinoline. "Oh, my!" I say. I step out of it, throw it over my arm, and race for the ladies' room, where I cry for about two minutes, then get a pin from someone to fasten the waistband of the petticoat.

Because I had moved fast, boyfriend never realized what had happened. But for the next couple of days, I told all my dorm-mates, with great good humor, what had occurred. No one made fun of me, because I preempted them by making fun of myself, and downplaying the "drama" of the situation.

(Loved the story so much that, many years later, my heroine in Forever Wild by Louisa Rawlings, got drunk on her way to her wedding and then, having eaten too much, saw her petticoat button pop and dump the garment at her feet!)

Fairly recent story. I own an old-style, basic flip-top cell phone that my children insisted I have, for emergencies. Still have trouble figuring it out. (And when people ask me for my cell number, I decline to give it, because I can't always figure out how to retrieve a missed call! I DO take the phone with me for friends and doctors, since all my numbers are in it.)

Anyway, I dropped it in my apartment and the battery fell out. Put the battery back in, but the darn thing wouldn't work. Was meeting a friend that afternoon  Stopped by AT &T before I met her to get it fixed. Techie jiggled something, briefly attached it to a gadget in her hand, and it worked again. I mentioned the incident to my friend when we met later.

"Oh, she said. " If the battery comes out, you have to plug it in and recharge it."

Fast forward a few more weeks. Dropped the phone again. Battery fell out again. Put it back in, then, remembering what I had been told, plugged it into the charger. Except that nothing happened  Phone still wouldn't work, though it even flashed it's green light at me! Really pissed now! Was going off to work but stopped at AT & T on the way home to see what was wrong.

Clerk took the phone, did something, and handed it back to me.

"What did you do?" I asked.

She pointed to a button on the phone. "I turned it on."

Did I cringe in embarrassment? Hell, no! I not only told it to my friend, I shared it with my snarky children, who loved twitting me for days over it!

The larger lesson? It was something I DIDN'T KNOW! So what? What's so terrible about admitting that? I have dealt with supervisors/managers at work who felt they had to know EVERYTHING. If they didn't, they felt they had to cover up or even lie, as if saying  "Sorry, I don't know" makes them less important in their own eyes.

I learned through the years that people who  know MORE are more able to admit things they don't know than people who know LESS, who feel the need to bullshit and pretend they know everything. (I suppose it's a matter of insecurity, but beware of the person who comes across as all-knowing---they are probably just covering their deficiencies).

Too many people today think they have to be perfect, and so they set themselves up to fail, to be mocked, to be bullied.

My advice? Roll with it. Get over it. Laugh about it. DON'T cringe or look vulnerable---in this day of vicious social media, there will be someone who tries to humiliate, "shame" or  embarrass you,.

Only you can fend that off, by ignoring it or laughing about it.

A couple more silly anecdotes.

I am a young mother, after several pregnancies. My "bosom" was slightly deficient at a time when you were supposed to look like Marilyn Monroe, and the close-together pregnancies hadn't helped me! (Two raisins on an ironing board was my self description!)

Need new bras after latest pregnancy. Decided to go to a Corsetorium  (specialty shops that were popular when older women were still wearing full-control garments). Perhaps they could make adjustments in the bras for my woefully sagging breasts.

Mind you, I am still a young, shy woman from Massachusetts and clerk is a tough Brooklyn battleaxe  of unknown age. After showing me half a dozen bras, while I timidly suggested they could take in a  few stitches here and there, she vanished for a very long moment.

Then she reappeared with an armload of padded bras. (The '50s kinds---thick, padded foam-rubber cones.) Mind you, I am standing there stripped to the waist when she appeared again.

"Oh, do you think I really need them?" I asked tentatively.

She gestured in disgust at my sagging breasts.

"What? With those rags?"

So I bought them!

(And laughed and told the story for years!)

I could have been embarrassed over my rather flat chest, but I would have given other people power over me, the power to bully or humiliate me.

My final anecdote is only tangentially attached to the theme of embarrassment, but I love it!

It was many years ago. My daughter was 8, and had begun taking ballet lessons. Baryshnikov had just defected from the Soviet Union and had come to New York to dance.

 My daughter and I saw him in "Giselle", with Gelsey Kirkland.

Very excited, my little daughter wrote to him the next day and said that she was a dancer and that, someday, she would dance with him! (Just to creep you all out---she wound up dancing professionally with the Erick Hawkins Company and, nineteen years later, Baryshnikov DID dance with them for their Gala!)

Anyway, when she didn't get an answer back, she wrote again. I wish that, in those days, we mothers thought to make copies of things like our children's letters, because hers was a doozy---and definitely intended to embarrass Baryshnikov!

Basically, what she said was, "Didn't your mother raise you to be polite? I wrote to you and you never answered!"

I don't know whether the great dancer himself was embarrassed (I suspect he didn't speak enough English in those days to have even seen her letter!) but his entourage was!

She got an autographed photo of him by return mail!

Saturday, February 18, 2017


Since we're a month or so into the new year, with resolutions that may already be fading, let's talk about guilt.

It's one of the most powerful---and sometimes destructive---emotions we can experience. Often it comes from others, but sometimes it's self-inflicted, and can encompass unrealistic demands on oneself as well as regrets.

Guilt and regret are really two sides of the same coin. Guilt is imposed on you by others---social conventions, political correctness, etc. Regret is the guilt you impose on yourself, often serving as your worst, most unrealistic critic. (Oh, those painful  "Would-haves/Should-haves"!).

But it's debilitating, whatever form it takes. And perhaps, if we recognize it in its many manifestations, we can shake off a bit of its negative burden on our lives, both in how we react to it, and in how we unconsciously use it on others.

Mother Guilt, of course, is the ne plus ultra of guilt. It's a way to make kids behave, and it starts early. "Clean your plate, because children are starving in . . . wherever." And the child learns to overeat, so as not to disappoint Mama. And gets obese down the road because he/she has learned to let his/her emotions rule at the supper table, instead of his/her stomach.

My nutty mother (see JUST FOR FUN) had a difference approach. She never put too much food on our plates, telling us we could always take more if we wanted. And her mantra was: "Eat what you can, and what you can't we'll can." She was a remarkably non-guilt-inducing mother, for which I will always be grateful. We obeyed because she made it fun, or because she was firm in her demands, NOT because she made us feel guilty.

Keep that in mind when you're raising your kids, people. If they tend to say "I'm sorry" too often (even when it's scarcely necessary), it may mean that you're burdening them with lifelong guilt.

But of course just being a parent comes with its own brand of built-in guilt. If the child screws up, did we do the wrong thing? Was it somehow our fault? Makes for many sleepless nights, even if we are realistically "not guilty."  And of course, in today's households, where both parents often have outside jobs, the guilt is multiplied. So we coddle our kids, buy them too much stuff, let them get away with all sorts of errant behavior. And then feel even more guilt, seeing the self-involved, thoughtless children we've created!

(Note to first-time new mothers, or mothers-to-be----please DON'T feel guilty in the first few weeks with the baby, when you're not getting enough sleep and the kid won't settle down, etc. Feeling overwhelmed and a bit pissed off is NORMAL! You look at the kid through bleary 4 A.M. eyes and wonder why you ruined your life. Trust me. Around three months, when the kid smiles at you and is suddenly a human being not a noisy blob, you will know exactly WHY you're happy to have the kid!)

But the sense of guilt manifests itself in the larger social world, as well. Because of Political Correctness, a lockstep code of conduct largely unknown in former times, we don't want to appear judgmental. We don't want disapproval FROM others, so we don't want to disapprove OF others. We don't want to get sued. So---social cowards that we have become---we tolerate all kinds of anti-social behavior that our forebears would not have endured.

Political Correctness is really a passive/aggressive guilt trip. With a dual purpose. We not only make others feel guilty for saying/doing/expressing the WRONG thing (as we and society see it, of course), we get to feel so very noble that WE are in the right and they are not! And the hypocrisies abound. Smoking a cigarette is not only unhealthy, it's proponents are somehow EVIL. However, it's fine, and even cool, to smoke pot. Ugh!

And, these days, being "wrong" in society's eyes even extends to guilt by association! So if you express approval of someone on the WRONG side, you are equally guilty. Double Ugh!

I guess the life lesson of this blog is this: Regrets and guilts are wasted energy, and ultimately destructive

Learn to recognize when others are trying to use it on YOU, and refuse to be intimidated.

Make a conscious effort to note when YOU use it on others, and try a more positive approach.

And, most important of all, people, be kind to yourself! Don't take on needless guilt (unless you have a secret desire to be a martyr!). Don't burden yourself with imagined guilt. And if there IS something you're genuinely sorry about, resolve to do better next time.

Just don't use guilt as a crutch or a weapon.

Since I usually have a few silly anecdotes to accompany my blog entries, I thought I'd close with a couple of old memories.

Late '60s. We were wearing polyester. Also, newly invented pantyhose. I am in slacks. Polyester. PLUS full pantyhose underneath (knee-highs hadn't come along yet and we never wore shoes without stockings unless they were sandals or flip-flops). Sitting with the family in IHop. Eldest son, 10  or 11, sitting across from me. Usual large pot of coffee on the table. (Don't know whether IHop still does this, but it was a staple on every table in those days, without being ordered.) Woman with large shoulder bag passes our table and turns. Bag knocks over coffeepot, spilling it onto my lap. I am in extreme pain, because it is hot as hell. Jump up, run to ladies' room, pull down slacks and pantyhose. Really too late, because two layers of scalding hot polyester on my thigh have already kept the coffee on my skin long enough to create second-degree burns. (Large blisters for a week or so.) Off to hospital with husband. Leave kids at IHop to eat meal. (Eldest very responsible---had already allowed him to take care of brothers for a few hours at that point. And small note---husband took me to hospital, dropped me off at home after I was treated, and went to pick up kids. IHop had already presented boys with the bill for the food!!!)

The guilt part came when son, suffering from "should-haves", told me that he immediately thought to toss a glass of cold water on my lap, the minute the coffee hit (which of course would have negated the serious burn!). So why didn't he? Because he felt guilty about throwing something at his mother! (Of course we reassured him, and loved him all the more for his sensitivity.)

Final guilt memory. I was, for many years, strictly a night person. (Probably still am, but I've learned to adjust to my daily schedules.) Also had low metabolism and low blood sugar. Could barely function in the morning until I had my cup of coffee.  Kids knew to sort of keep out of my way until then, because Mom was sort of scary before the coffee!.

One morning, when youngest son was about four, I staggered into the kitchen. Son rushed to the stove and turned on the burner. I saw a mug next to the stove, half filled with instant coffee and the rest with sugar. Almost to the top! He had even managed to fill the kettle with water. Talk about feeling guilty! From that point on, I managed to be a little more human to my kids, even before the coffee!

Guilt can be helpful, but more often destructive, Be aware of it and deal with it.

Saturday, December 31, 2016



I minored in French Lit at Brown University, and one of my favorite professors was a young man (just out of the Navy from WWII, as I recall). He was handsome, accomplished, charming. And wonderfully gracious. He and his wife would often invite batches of his students to dinner. They were the parents of twins (?---again, can't remember for sure).

And the evenings in their house were what we, as young women, dreamed about for our perfect futures. The inevitable and delicious tuna casserole, the daddy going upstairs to read a bedtime story to the kids, the immaculate little house. We drooled with envy. (Please don't get yourselves in a snit, people---this was the '50s. We were the first generation of women to even go to college in large numbers, but our models were our home-bound mothers.)

Because I had taken several courses with him, and was an avid pupil, he and I became a little more than student and teacher. Not equals, given the formal relationship between students to teachers in those days, but certainly a budding friendship. And after I graduated, and my husband and I returned to Brown for a reunion or graduation (which was often, since my husband had also gone there and three of our siblings and two of our sons followed), we would be in touch with him, and sometimes meet for coffee with him and his wife during reunion weekend.

When I wrote my first book ("Marielle"), a historical romance set in the France of Louis XIII, I sent him one of my first printed copies. I had slaved over the research---the historical personages, the battles, the politics of that turbulent time. I smugly challenged him to find anything inaccurate in my book.

His letter in reply said something along the lines of: "I don't think a Frenchman of 1629 would accuse someone of being "as treacherous as a rattlesnake", a New World snake, barely nine years after the Pilgrims had landed in Plymouth! "An adder, maybe," he suggested. One word to carp over, but otherwise he found the history to be spot-on.

I laughed ruefully about that for a long time, but, thanks to him, it led me to check any questionable word I wrote from then on, to be sure it was appropriate for its time. (I have lots of dictionaries, which help me on that score.)

 But that correspondence deepened our friendship immeasurably. After that, I sent him every book of mine as it was published. (I wish I'd saved his letter about my book about French strolling actors---"Dreams So Fleeting" by Louisa Rawlings---who meet the great Moliere on their travels. We had read Moliere in class together, and I swear that his letter in comment of the book had teardrops on it!)

From then on, when my husband and I came for reunion, he and his lovely wife took us out to dinner, sometimes even picking us up on campus to drive back to their apartment. (He had retired at that point to a near-the-campus  retirement complex, where many Brown professors lived.)

It became a joke, every time we came for reunion---and as he and his wife grew older---for him to say, "Don't wait another five years! I'm xxxx (whatever his age was at the time)." And five years later, I'd write or call and say, "I'm still here and so are you! See you at the reunion!"

I missed my 60th reunion last year, because I was in the middle of a move. I had hoped to visit him and his wife---perhaps over the summer. But then his dear wife passed away and I got frazzled and busy with the move.

The whole point of this is to tell you that, as usual, I sent him a Christmas card. I'm crying as I write this, because I just got a card back today, with a long, chatty note in his distinctive handwriting. He is alive and well and just turned 96 (!).

I am so grateful for this. I will write him back. If I could send hugs through the mail I would. I'm determined to visit him next year, even if it isn't during graduation. I can't begin to describe how happy and grateful I feel at this moment.

Thanks for listening, people. Just had to share.

P.S.  Had a sudden memory after I published this: He smoked a pipe. (Very sexy, in those days.) And he always came into class with the pipe in his mouth. He would go to the window, open it, and tap the ashes against the outside wall to empty the pipe. It was such a graceful, masculine gesture that I found it entrancing. And many, MANY years later, I had my hero, in "Autumn Rose" by Louisa Rawlings, do the same thing!

Friday, December 16, 2016


No, this entry isn't really about Christmas or the holidays, though one can hope that this time of year makes us stop and reflect for a bit.

I want to talk about JOY---giving joy to others, receiving joy in return. It so often comes from the unexpected, from someone going above and beyond the norm, reaching out, sometimes only in little ways, to do something kind, when they don't have to.

This thought came to me when I saw an item on the news recently. A young man, who had been in a car accident and was now in an arm sling, nevertheless had returned to work at a fast food establishment. The YouTube picture of him at work, even though he was somewhat disabled, went viral. When asked why he continued to work, he said that he needed the money to pay his bills, but also to purchase food and supplies to the homeless people in his town, which he did regularly. Someone else, moved by his selflessness, set up a GoFundMe page, and he has collected a great deal of money, which he intends to use for the homeless.

Think of all the JOY in that story! His ongoing joy in being able to help people, the joy of the people who heard the story and had the satisfaction of being able to contribute. The joy of the homeless, who know they aren't forgotten.

How often do we stop to think about doing something special for someone else? I think I mentioned in an earlier blog that I like to compliment strangers on the street if they're wearing something that makes them look good. "Oh, you ought to wear that color all the time!" I'll say to a woman in a bright coat, and watch her beam in pleasure. But I also take joy from making her feel more attractive. No big deal for me to do---takes a second or two out of my day.

I had lunch the other day in a local restaurant. The waiter has helped me before, but in a professional way. I ordered a cup of coffee and a sandwich. He walked away, then came back, opening the menu. It seems that the sandwich I had ordered (a fish fillet) could be had on a platter as a lunch special, with coffee included. He told me he could arrange to have it as a sandwich, but he would charge me the lunch-special price, which was cheaper, since the coffee was free. Now it didn't really amount to a big difference, but he was so pleased that he could do this for me. It brought me joy to see the joy on HIS face! As I drank my second cup of coffee, we chatted for a bit---two human beings making a connection where none was necessary or expected.

Think about how little effort it takes to do a good deed, people. So why are we so wrapped up in our own worlds that we forget to reach out to others? And the satisfaction ISN'T a one-way street. Both the giver and the receiver get joy.

Many years ago, we took our three sons on a Massachusetts vacation, visiting all the historical spots. (They were probably 11, 13 and 15 at the time.) In Boston, we visited the old North Church, where Paul Revere's friend had set the lanterns to warn Revere of the British soldiers' plans to attack Lexington and Concord and arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams. When we entered the church, we saw that there was a workman carving something into a marble plaque on the wall. It contained the names of all the churchmen who had served in the church from its very founding in the 18th century. The artisan was carving the name of the most recent appointee, a tall man resplendent in his vestments, who watched the process with a pleased look on his face.

And he was someone I had gone to high school with! (I was raised in Massachusetts.) I immediately recognized him and said hello, congratulating him on his honor. Can you imagine his joy? To be able to share that special moment with someone who knew him? And we were able to share in his joy!

He greeted my husband and our sons, then told them that Paul Revere had been a bell-ringer in that church as a young boy. He explained that the steps to the belfry were old and rickety and in need of repair, so tourists were not allowed on them. But he would make an exception for us. We carefully made our way up to the belfry, Then he handed the bell rope to each boy in turn. "Would you like to ring the bell that Paul Revere rang?" he asked. The joy on our sons' faces still brings tears to my eyes.

Incidentally, that minister, my old friend, had the honor of escorting President Gerald Ford to the belfry to ring the bell in 1975, the Bicentennial anniversary. His picture was on the front page of the New York Times. We were all thrilled to see it.

One of my favorite JOY stories involves a bride at the Bridal Salon, some years ago. A young woman came in, halfheartedly looking for a wedding dress. She was tall, a bit "solid" and heavy-set, though not really very overweight, but clearly unhappy with her self-image, in spite of a lovely face. She told me that she was in the process of losing weight, but just wanted to look at dresses. I think she might have been happy with a dress that made her look okay, and nothing more. I assured her that she was fine the way she was, and that I had a dress for her. (I've spent enough years sewing my own clothes to be cold-blooded about body types, so I can usually scope out a bride and figure out what would look good on her shape,)

I found the perfect dress, laced her into it, put on a veil and a tiara. The expression on her face as she looked in the mirror was well beyond the OMG moment I'm used to, when the bride know that THIS is the dress! Her face expressed wonder, astonishment, disbelief that she could look beautiful. "I want the whole package," she whispered.

I grinned and said she'd have to look at herself a little while longer, while I went to get the paperwork. She said she had to call her mother in Boston. (I believe this was long enough ago so cell phones didn't yet have cameras.)  When I came back, she was sobbing into the phone. Not happy little tears, but huge sobs of relief and wonder, as she explained to her mother that she looked beautiful. She hung up and tried to apologize.

"Nonsense," I said. "This is a special moment, and your mother is far away. Look," I added. "I have four kids and a mess of grand-kids. Do you need a 'Mom' hug?" She fell into my arms and cried a few more grateful tears on my shoulder.

After she had paid for the whole package and left, my manager at the time congratulated me on the sale. "You'll take home a good commission for THAT!" she said.

"No," I said. "That's not the gold I'm taking home tonight."

It's moments like that, filled with shared joy---given and received---that send me happily to work each day.

Try it. Stop to give a bit of joy to someone, and see how your own heart swells with the joy of their happiness.

P.S. As has happened in the past, I'm getting emails from friends who want to post a comment, but can't figure out how. I think I've finally figured it out myself!

1. Go to bottom of blog entry you wish to comment on, where it says "Comments" with a number, or "No Comments"  Click on.
2. Write your comment in the space provided.
3. In "Comment As" spot, scroll down to AIM and click on.
4. It asks for a "User name", which will allow you to put in anything you want.
5. Publish your comment.