Thursday, December 25, 2014


Because I've been a scold for the last few posts, I thought I'd make you all laugh for the New Year.

As I mentioned in my comments to the last entry, SURPRISE!, my mother was a total flake. My kids sometimes didn't call her Grandma, they called her Graham, for the cracker, because, they said, she was cracked! And they loved it! And so did she.

She loved words---and bad puns. In our early teens, I and my brother---a genuine genius---would have "intellectual" conversations, often above her limited schooling. We took ourselves very seriously! And she would stalk us, hovering around as we conversed. It drove us nuts, because we knew exactly what she was doing! She was listening for the odd word in our conversation that she could use for a bad pun! "Haydn?" she would interrupt, knowing nothing about the composer. "Have you heard his Zeek?" "What are you talking about?" we'd say. "Oh, my," she'd answer. "You've never heard of Haydn's Zeek?" (Sound it out!)

And after we'd groan over the bad pun and tell her it was terrible, she'd smile sweetly and say, "Terrible? So's tissue paper."

And she insisted that, if you could say "fourth" or "fifth" or "sixth", you could say "oneth" or "twoth" or "threeth". And so she did. My mind still works in that direction. Last week, when someone asked me for the date, I said automatically, "It's the twenty-tooth".  (Made sense to ME!)

And how about doing something "for the halibut", one of her throwaway lines? We were expected to respond to that comment of hers by saying it sounded fishy to us.

One of my favorite goofy stories about my mother involved LIFE magazine and the scrapbook my brother and I had. Mom was always slow in reading back issues, and we weren't allowed to cut up magazines she hadn't yet read. To let us know she was "finished with" an issue (which usually had a picture of a person on the cover), she would put a large X on the person's nose. It became one of her signature habits. But she decided to extend it to our behavior. If we were really bugging her, she would say nothing. Instead, she would pick up a pencil and put a large X  on our noses, to let us know she was "finished with" US! It was enough to get us to back away from a confrontation!

I mentioned in my SURPRISE! blog entry how she made fun centerpieces for special occasions, but she would often let the supper dishes wait so she could make tiny "furniture" out of watermelon rinds or "flowers" our of apple peelings. ("Watermelon", incidentally, became a bad pun, as in "Watermelon head you are!")

Perhaps the most endearing thing about her was her willingness to be silly, to indulge a child's goofy impulses, even if it made more work for her. (Too many parents cut corners because it's easier and faster.) But the magic of those moments lasts for a lifetime, an extra-special memory. I remember when my younger sister was about 3 or 4---she suddenly only wanted green food. She was very firm about it and refused to eat. Most mothers would have gone head-to-head with a stubborn child like that, insisting that she eat her food! Not OUR mother! She bought food coloring. And for the week or so while my sister's "phobia" lasted, there was green milk, and green soft-boiled eggs and green oatmeal and green potatoes!

More special, during winter in our very snowy New England town, the piled-up snow would eventually turn to a thick layer of ice on the top. My brother and I would spend hours carefully cutting a heart from the top layer. It took forever, the icy heart often cracking at the last minute as we smoothed away the soft snow from beneath it. But eventually, we had a perfect heart, which we presented lovingly to Mom. She didn't say, "Get that messy thing out of here. It's dripping all over my floor!" She took the ice heart and laid it gently in the middle of the kitchen floor. And admired it till it melted away.

She was a special lady, with a rare spark. Even today, when one of my kids sends a generalized email to the family with a bad joke or pun, someone else will respond, "Grandma would have loved that!"

Thursday, November 13, 2014


     Bored with godawful daily life? How ofter I hear that from people. Poor things! I have the solution. Spice it up! Learn to live with spontaneity---to do the unexpected, to be receptive to the wonderfully oddball things that are constantly going on around you.
     Life is an adventure. Be open to it, and be prepared to do a goofy thing or two! Half of the fun in life is what happens "outside the box." Be awake to the possibilities, the joy of the unexpected, whether it's something that you do, or something that happens to you.

     When my daughter was a young teenager, I was constantly bombarded with the line, "Oh, Mom, you're embarrassing me!" ( I might merely make a face when we were walking down the street, or speak to a stranger as we passed.) But by the time she was graduating high school, she had learned from the rest of the family that goofiness was "cool". She was a dancer (went on to be a professional, as a matter of fact). As she received her diploma on the lawn of the boarding school she attended, she leaped into the air in a grand jete, surprising and delighting all of us. (Our only complaint was that she hadn't told us in advance what she was going to do, so all our cameras just caught her coming DOWN, not going UP!) She made the day extra-special for everyone.

      My mother was a master of delightful surprises. Crook-necked Thanksgiving squash would suddenly be turned into an elaborate centerpiece of swans on a pond---complete with cabbage-leaf wings and spiky pineapple-top tails, all nestling on a mirror dotted with lemon-slice "water lilies". (Only my more serious Dad missed eating the squash that year!) And several times, while I was away at college, I received boxes of assorted cookies in the mail, carefully wrapped, and accompanied by a BALLOT, for heaven's sake, asking me to vote for my favorites! And occasionally, if we bugged her while she was spreading butter or peanut butter, she would say nothing, but calmly grasp our arm and spread the goo there! Our surprise would stop us in mid-rant, and we'd all laugh and move on.

    When my brother and I were young (probably about 9 and 7), we read an article about how color could influence a person's appetite. To check it out, we baked sugar cookies. Divided the batch into 4 and colored each batch. Sure enough, the yellow and pink cookies were delicious, the green slightly less so, and the blue simply not palatable unless we closed our eyes. Years later, as a young bride, I told my husband about this. He didn't believe it. So I surprised him! Put blue food coloring in the bottom of the Russian dressing cup, the mashed potato bowl, the gravy boat. Dished out my own serving from the top of each bowl, then stirred and dished out his portions! We laughed together as he forced himself to eat without looking at his food!

     One of my sons had a long-standing game that he played with his much-younger sister and her cousin. Whenever the families were together, he would try to "kill" their favorite stuffed animals. They would wake in the morning to find the animals hanging from a chandelier, or hidden in the blender. And once, when they couldn't find their animals, they found a note, which he had carefully smeared with dirt, claiming that they would NEVER find the toys. (Of course they found them outside, near a pile of dirt.) The girls loved the constant surprise, and looked forward to it.

     I remember once visiting my sister and her husband. A hot summer night and no air conditioning. Kids had all been asleep for hours. It started to rain around midnight. My husband and I immediately put on our bathing suits and ran out into the night. Sister and husband reluctantly followed, then expressed delight at our goofiness. (Though they never quite achieved the spontaneity of our family---years later, when both families vacationed together, they couldn't get over the fact that our 4 kids had kept their 2 kids up most of the night, analyzing the different ways people tied bows with their shoelaces!)

    But spontaneity adds so much joy and fun to life. When my husband and I traveled in England, we would occasionally come across a road that wasn't on our map. "It's a small country," he'd say. "How lost can we get?" And off we'd go. Found a small town, once, that had an amateur theatre group. Don't remember what the play was, but it was an unexpected treat. And a lovely Bed and Breakfast that had a live peacock strolling on the lawn. (I still have a discarded feather among my travel souvenirs.)

     And sometimes the spontaneity can enliven someone else's life. I was a young mother. 3 sons. It was a hassle to get them all set to go grocery shopping. And when my youngest---around 4 at the time---wailed that he couldn't find his shoes, I didn't know what to do. No shoes, no matter where we looked. And I HAD to pick up the week's groceries. But I spotted a pair of Dutch wooden shoes, which had come as a gift, filled with chocolates. They fit him! So that's what he wore. And for years after that, friends and store personnel laughed and remembered hearing the clop-clop coming down the aisles!

     One of the goofiest things we ever did---I had seen a tiny ad on the bottom of page 1 of the New York Times. (Do they still have them?) Guy wanted a family dinner. Was willing to pay $10. Friends thought we were nuts. We called him anyway, arranged for his visit. The boys were young---7, 9, 11. They asked all the nosy questions we wouldn't have asked. He was ordinary, fairly uninteresting, and completely emotionless. Same reactions to what he liked and what he disliked. When he left, after the only extraordinary thing he did---paid in all crisp new bills, as though he were ashamed or something---we wondered if he was newly come from therapy. Odd evening, but an adventure that we wouldn't have missed! (We declined his query about a second evening, simply because he wasn't interesting enough to bother.)

      Funny P.S.---a good friend called just before he was due to arrive and insisted we keep the phone off the hook so she could listen in case we screamed or something!

      And did you ever play dress-up on a whim? We did! One year, while I was still in college---and the night before we were going home---my buddies and I decided to have a dress-up contest. The rest of the dorm dreamed up the categories---old, mad, young, etc. We tore everything out of our packed suitcases and trunks---had to spend half the night repacking them. But it was a send-off for the year that delighted us all.

      And as for being alert to others' surprising actions---had a lovely moment last week on my day off. Was having my coffee and morning bun at my favorite little shop. Rainy day. Seated next to the window. Suddenly heard a knocking sound on the glass. Looked up. Young girl (12? 13?) was frantically waving her fingers at me and saying something. No umbrella. No visible adult with her. I couldn't hear what she was saying through the glass. She just kept waving her fingers at me. I leaned my head against the glass. She came close and shouted. What did she say? "I LOVE your nail polish color!" I grinned for the rest of the day.

     Recently, I saw on TCM an interview with the late Lauren Bacall. She quoted John Wayne. When  someone said to him that it was a beautiful day, he replied, "Every day I wake up is a beautiful day."

     Make it more beautiful for yourself and others by daring to do something unexpected. You'll never be bored.


Thursday, October 16, 2014


     When I was a teenager, I rode my bicycle without a helmet or knee-pads. I fell occasionally, and skinned my knee or thigh, but I SURVIVED!

     As I child, I grew up in a valley in central Massachusetts. Snowstorms were fierce there. After the plows came through, there were drifts maybe five feet high. We regularly tunneled through them and hid in the tunnels. And WE SURVIVED!

    When I was a very young child, we lived in an apartment house. The long sidewalk outside was on a large stretch of dirt---no grass or trees to anchor it. Due to erosion, the dirt from under the starting edge of the sidewalk had been washed away. Someone had jumped on the edge until the cement had cracked---there was a large, jagged diagonal edge that stuck out. Being a somewhat "spacey" kid, I regularly ran into the crack and split open my shin. And I SURVIVED! Moreover, my parents didn't immediately rush to a lawyer to sue the landlord. They simply kept reminding me to be more careful. My mother's common-sense and non-babying response when I fell down? "Did you fall down? Pick yourself up." No blaming the floor for tripping me, or giving me a fattening treat so I'd feel better, or pouring pity all over her poor little girl. Just a gentle admonition to remind me to be more careful next time. And I SURVIVED and I learned to be responsible.

     As a young mother driving my kids around (no mandated seat-belts then), I simply depended on my "mother hand" to reach out and support my front-seat babies if I braked suddenly. And THEY SURVIVED!

     Today we hear more and more about Helicopter Parents, who hover over their children and supervise everything they do. And I'm hearing now about Lawn-Mower Parents, who have to clear a path for their kids, so nothing disturbs or upsets their lives.

     What the hell is going on here, people? When did it become mandatory for life to be perfect, and permissible for government to pass more and more intrusive laws to ensure that perfection? And whatever happened to the concept of failure, to teach children how to deal with disappointments? One of our sons was blessed with many skills, both intellectual and physical (not that our other three children aren't pretty damn terrific also!). But he alone, in his early years, met every single challenge that was thrown at him. And sometimes, late at night, my husband and I would worry---hoping that he would fail a time or two, so he could grow up not fearing an occasional failure. Can you imagine today's parents thinking that way about their pampered darlings?

     If everything must be perfect, how can they adjust to adult life without being destroyed by unexpected calamities or freak accidents? And now, with dodge ball being forbidden at many schools (destroys a kid's fragile self-esteem if he's a target? Give me a break!), there has begun an outcry against swings at school. (When tort lawyers complain, school authorities get nervous, don't you know?) Ye gods!

      When I was seven, my mother bought me a beautiful navy wool cape with a red satin lining. I couldn't wait to wear it at recess. But no one seemed to notice. So I up-ended it over my head to show off the lining. I remember seeing the bars of the swing set just beyond my vision at the bottom of the cape, and considered myself safe. Then, BANG! My nose was so thoroughly flattened that my mother wouldn't let me look in a mirror when I got home. (The teacher put a wet compress on my nose and sent me home---alone.) And guess what? My parents didn't sue the teacher or the school. And---after I got out of the hospital---I learned not to do stupid things!

     Incidentally, I have to laugh when I look back at my mother's reaction. As a mother myself, I learned that kids are positively bloodthirsty! (See my daughter's youthful reaction to death in my PLAY THE GAME OF LIFE blog.) And I still remember when my husband, an avid hunter, had come back with a brace of birds he'd shot. I'd gone out to shop while he and the boys were dressing the birds for the freezer. I came home to a kitchen swirling with feathers, just in time to hear one of my sons say, with great enthusiasm, "Chop the other head off, Dad!" Thinking back, I probably would have been fascinated by the sight of my mashed  nose!

     But today is different. My daughter recently told me about all the No-No's at her son's school. (The Food Police strike again!) No nuts at school, which means no PBJ sandwiches. But my grandson is soy-allergic, and, even at seven, he knows what he cannot eat. Can't nut-allergic kids learn from their parents what is forbidden? No cookies in lunches.  Over weight kids? What happened to parental responsibility? Milk is bad, juice is bad. No child at school without sunscreen. And if even one person complains, gotta have a new regulation! (We used to fear the Tyranny of the Majority. Now the Tyranny of the Minority---no matter how small---is intruding on all our lives.) Mandatory car booster seats till the age of 8, but recommended till age 10! And don't get me started on the "trigger" crap that has invaded our colleges---must protect near-adults from things they might read or hear that might disturb them!

      I said "near-adults" above, but actually they aren't. We are seeing more and more adolescents well into their 20s and beyond. (I want to scream when I see a woman in her fifties with a Betty Boop or Hello Kitty purse. "Oh, grow up!" I want to shout. I feel the same about water bottles being chug-a-lugged on the street.   One step removed from the comfort of nursing baby bottles, as far as I'm concerned. Are people REALLY that more thirsty in this generation than in past generations, that they can't wait a bit to drink?)

      And their lack of real knowledge is frightening. I cringe whenever I see a Man-on-the Street interview with college-age kids. They don't know diddly-squat about much that is going on in the world---can seldom even recognize pictures of our vice president or our mayor---but they can tell you all about Lady Gaga or what the inane Kardashians are up to! They don't read the news, and are often proud of that fact. It's like a child believing in magic---if I don't know something, it won't touch me. They can't deal with reality, in many cases, because they've been so coddled and protected for most of their lives.

     From an early age, we knew what was going on. Everything around us reminded us. During WWII, we regularly bought savings stamps to support the troops. Every movie theatre showed newsreels, so we knew exactly how the war was going. We kept buckets of sand in the attic, against the threat of incendiary bombs, and we had regular blackouts. We learned to deal with the reality of the world, which made us stronger. Even our movies dealt with the war, helping to explain what was happening. Today's movies, geared to our adolescent culture, are glorified comic strips---heaven forbid reality should intrude on our lives!

     And of course creativity has been pushed aside so we can all march to the same childish drumming. X-boxes and iPads, so parents can ignore their children to pursue their OWN childish fantasies. Far too many electronic toys and games---too often so programmed that they don't require any thinking or creativity. And sports regulated so no one is ever a winner or loser---mustn't make them think that LIFE is unfair. Let them find out when they grow up.

     My kids didn't have a lot of toys---we couldn't afford them. But oh, the games they dreamed up! Ice hockey in their bedroom---skimming across the bare floor in their smooth slippers, with small pucks and a  whiffle ball. They recreated the Olympic skaters with the same slippers. They draped blankets over the bunk bed and played camping in a tent. (Sometimes they could be exasperating. They decided that the "throw" pillows in the living room meant just that---and so they did! My usual complaint? "This is not a gymnasium!" It became my mantra, and I've asked my kids to put it on my tombstone----would love to shock future visitors to my resting place! Their favorite game in the summer regularly produced black comma marks on the ceiling---with grubby hands and rubber bands, they would shoot at flies or mosquitoes.) And when I see toddlers on the train, playing with an electronic toy while their parents check their own gizmos, I recall my daughter at that age. She had learned to cut with scissors and use Scotch tape. I watched with fascination as she made a large loop, then made another loop, somewhat smaller and taped it over the first one. A third, smaller loop followed, to be attached to the other two. She taped them to a large piece of paper, and put it on her head. "My hat," she said. But it wouldn't stay on. So she cut a strip of paper and attached it under the large sheet for a chin strap. Alas. Too small to fit under her chin. She cut it in half and attached a thin strip with a loop at the end to each side of the chin strap. "Handles," she said. And marched proudly around the room, holding her "hat" to her head.

      What am I trying to say? Back off a bit, people. Let kids explore, venture, fall, create. And mostly grow up being able to cope with life. Maybe then they wouldn't be so stressed or offended when everything doesn't go their way.


Thursday, September 18, 2014


     Guess what, people. It's not all about you!
     When I was a little girl, growing up in the countryside, I would look at the innumerable stars in the sky and feel small---and humble. When I married a man from New York and moved there, I would stand on a street corner in Manhattan, gazing at the hundreds of people who passed by, and experience the same sense of my proper place in this world. It didn't diminish me in my own eyes, but it gave me a realistic perspective.

     Too many people today seem only to look in a mirror and see themselves---larger than life, beautiful . . . and ENTITLED. The Me Generation has infected too much of our culture, more's the pity. This narcissism causes us to be rude, thoughtless, self-absorbed, self-pitying, close-minded and self-righteous, yet confident we are always perfect and correct and super-smart.

     Let's start with RUDE and THOUGHTLESS: How many people open a door for others, how many say Thank You for the gesture? Damn few! I ride the subway to work five days a week. I don't look my age, but I AM old (have been told I look around 60 or so). I don't mind standing (I'm on my feet for eight hours at work and it doesn't faze me), but I'm struck by how many young people are too busy with their stupid i-Phones (see my blog #1!) to notice and perhaps give me or other older folks their seat. Even worse, most men are (or pretend to be!) sleeping. Easier on your conscience, guys? Had a dismaying experience the other day. Crowded train. Most people seated were young, many male. A WOMAN stood up to give me her seat. She was at least 7-8 months pregnant. "Sit down, dear," I said. "I'm used to carrying my load---you're not." And everyone who had noticed or heard the exchange quickly looked away or pretended to sleep. I suppose, when you're entitled, you have no shame!

     There were two instances the other day, on my way home from work, that blew me away. Subway. Weekend. Express trains not running---much longer ride. Three young people stood near the door. Singing. No, they were not entertainers, just friends singing songs. Interminably! Loud enough for most of the car to hear. Never once glanced at the other passengers, who occasionally smiled weakly at one another, clearly as exasperated as I was, but afraid to say anything. Finally, during one of the many traffic-delayed stops of the train, I stood up and walked to them. Smiled sweetly. (Hint: ALWAYS smile when you're about to throw a knife---gives people nothing to fight back against!) Said, "How would you like to spend a half hour next to someone who is playing a loud radio that they won't turn off?" They actually managed to look embarrassed, and mumbled about singing more softly, and getting off at the next stop anyway. "No," I said, still smiling, "please stop now." They did. But their selfish lack of awareness of any other passengers stunned me.

     Then, coming up the subway stairs at my stop, I tried to reach for the banister (you learn to automatically hold on, as you get older). Young man sat on the bottom step, talking on his phone and blocking my access to the handrail. "Do you mind?" I said. He moved away with ill grace. (Entitled little shit!)

     I was not surprised, when I reached the street, to find a full moon shining in the sky. Only lunatics (look up the literal meaning of the word) could be so blind!

     And what about SELF-ABSORBED? Putting oneself first at all times? People do dreadful emotional damage to one another, or blindly inconvenience others in the name of their own self-interest. Men who casually father children, then abandon them. People who bring crying infants to restaurants or movie theatres, because they "couldn't get a sitter and just HAD to see the movie." Husbands and wives who casually have affairs and then make excuses for them. So long as they can excuse their behavior with high-flown words and phrases like "self-fulfillment", "expressing my inner self", or "seeking my true path", society tends to condone such rationales.Words and phrases, such as "responsibility", "duty to others", "delayed gratification",  "consideration" and "self-sacrifice" are seemingly banished from today's lexicon. In today's successor to the Do Your Own Thing movement, it's only important to follow your own dictates, never mind the landscape littered with innocents that you hurt or annoy along the way.

     I remember the first time I noticed this subtle change in people's behavior. Many years ago. I was telling a friend, some 15 years younger than I, a story of my days of early motherhood. (She had a toddler herself.) Labor Day was approaching. My husband was a struggling young lawyer and, with 3 children, we had very little money. We were going to spend the holiday weekend with my parents, and there was to be a formal dance at their country club. My father was quite successful, and I had had a very comfortable upbringing. I looked forward to the dance, knowing I could pretend for awhile that I still lived as comfortably. Since I sewed my own clothes (one of the marvelous bonuses of Hom Ec in school in those days!), I bought a length of printed fabric---gold and red roses---and made a lovely long gown---full skirt, sleeveless and scoop-necked. (Think of the stuff on Mad Men.) Then I spent two weeks with gold and red sequins and beads, overlaying the flowers on the front of the bodice. (Funny side note: Eyestrain can make one nauseous---until I learned otherwise, I was in a panic that I was pregnant again!)

     The day before we were to travel to my parents, my oldest son (8 or 9 at the time), came home excitedly and told us that his Little League team had reached the finals and the playoff game was that weekend. It was at this point in my story that my friend gasped, wide-eyed with dismay. "Oh!" she cried. "What a dilemma! But what did you DO?" "That's the difference between your generation and mine," I said gently. "It wasn't a dilemma for us. We stayed home, of course."

     And oh! How people wallow in SELF-PITY! Every small glitch becomes a personal insult. I work in a Bridal Salon. I can't tell you how many bridesmaids take personal offense over the fact that our seamstress doesn't work nights or weekends. (The brides are happy to take a few hours off to get their gowns altered, but those "entitled" bridesmaids? "What do you mean, she can't work on weekends? I'm a very busy woman!") My usual response? "Honey, altering that simple dress isn't rocket science. Go to your local tailor at your own convenience."

     And a small pet peeve of mine---the Wind Chill Factor. In my day we said, "Boy, it's cold out today!" And dressed warmly. Now, with the WCF, people say "It feels like 20 degrees below!" and spend far too much time feeling sorry for themselves!

     The late Robin Williams is reported to have said, "Cocaine is God's way of telling you that you have too much money." In my estimation, grievance-mongering is God's way of telling us that life is too easy!

     When we spend so much time focused on ourselves and our wants and needs, we lose sight of what's important. So share those toys, children, and look up from your navel-gazing once in awhile---you'd be surprised how much more gratifying life can be when it's not all about YOU!  




Thursday, August 28, 2014


       "Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans."

     This has often been attributed to John Lennon, but it seems first to have been stated in Reader's Digest in 1957.  And it's a healthy motto to live by. Too often, I hear people say "When (this) happens, then I'll do (this)." And what if it doesn't happen? In the interim, while you're waiting, you may have been blind to other opportunities, other adventures. And in the meantime, you whine and wallow in self-pity, because things aren't working out the way you "planned."

     I was married to a politician. Let me tell you, political social functions can be a real drag! (The "Rubber Chicken Circuit", we called it, because the meals were uniformly dull.) Most political wives tended to stay home. I could have, also, especially because I was the "artistic, creative" type, and had little in common with those people. But I viewed it as a challenge. "Where are we going tonight?" I'd ask my husband. "The VFW." And I'd bring out all my stories of when he was in the Army and have fun conversations all evening with the other guests. And because most of those functions had a band, my husband and I took dancing lessons. If the other guests (and the speeches, ye gods!) became tiresome, we could always enliven our evening with a few turns around the dance floor.

     At the moment, I work in a Bridal Salon, selling wedding dresses. (Great fun---I can play with live Barbie Dolls all day!) Too often, I encounter stressful brides, worried about some snag in their "plans". "Don't worry so much," I tell them. "I can assure you that no one remembers a perfect wedding, not even you. It's all a happy blur. But if, in twenty years, you can remember that you nearly killed the florist, or that Uncle Charlie brought his tramp girlfriend to the affair, you'll laugh about it and the memories will come alive."

     I can attest to that myself. I've been to many family weddings, but the ONLY ONE I remember vividly was when I was sixteen. My cousin was getting married. The flower girl (all of 3) cried all the way down the aisle, and never scattered her petals. But she calmed as the ceremony began. She stood behind the bride, facing her brother, the ring-bearer (a very mature 4-year-old!), and kept offering him her petals. He (being VERY mature, as I've said) sternly waved her off. And then, during a solemn exchange of vows, her sweet voice piped up, "Do you want a PINK one then?" 

     And I once got a call at the Salon from a mother, who was terribly upset. It seems that her daughter, the bride, had been in an accident and would have to come down the aisle with a cane. "Why should you be upset?" I said. "There won't be a dry eye in the house, and in twenty years, when other weddings have been forgotten, people will still be talking about the 'brave bride.'" 

     "The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray." Roll with them, accept them, make the most of what you're dealt. 

      Don't over-plan your life so it blinds you to the possibilites of the present. I learned that lesson from my sister. My then-husband and I were going through a rough patch in our lives, where our finances (and even his career) were in danger of imploding, and the situation wouldn't be resolved for quite a few months. It was hard to be cheerful, so I called my sister and poured out my heart over the phone. "Wait a minute," she said. "What's the worst that can happen?" I told her. "Can you live with it?" she asked. I thought about it, and realized we could, that----even if our "plans" for a comfortable future were destroyed---we could concentrate on the here and now and make the most of it.

          I sat down with my husband, and we discussed what we would do for the next few months, until the problems were resolved. It was the beginning of summer. No extra money for vacations, fancy trips, summer camp for the children. No beach club, though we lived near the ocean. But we had a great backyard for cookouts and parties with friends, and I found out about a free summer program for kids, which the local school was sponsoring. We even discovered a nearby park that had free opera performances every Saturday night, complete with costumes and staging. We prepped the kids on what the operas would be about, and introduced them to some of the music before every weekend. We’d go early to the park with a huge picnic basket, and set up our chairs and blankets---usually the first ones there, so we had a front row! The kids loved it.(A delicious memory from one Saturday: The opera was La Traviata, the story of a tragic consumptive heroine. It had rained earlier in the day, so the performance was delayed by nearly an hour. As the time grew late, I turned to my sleepy young daughter, who must have been 6 or 7 at the time, and suggested she lie down and sleep. “No!” she said emphatically. “I can’t go to sleep until she DIES!”)

      When the summer was over, and the situation was thankfully resolved happily, the children threw us a small party. The note that accompanied the gift they gave us was worth every sleepless night of worry we’d had: “Thank you for making your worst summer our very best summer.”

      “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”

      Recently, I was in California visiting my daughter. I was getting my nails done. I don’t know how the manicurist and I got on the general topic of making the most of your life, but she told me a touching story. It seems that, when she was only 8, her father had died. Her mother had had to go to work in a sock factory. (“Can you imagine? A SOCK factory!” she’d said in disbelief.) But every day, when her mother came home, she’d tell a funny story about what had happened at work And the little girl would think it was so wonderful, she couldn’t wait to go to work herself!

      My whole point here is to say that, if you plan too much, you lose the ability to be resilient, to weather the storms, to fall down and bounce back. To deal with people and circumstances as they ARE, not how you WISH they were. (Remember, you can’t change people or many unexpected circumstances. You can only change how you react to them.) Don’t spend your life “on hold” until your plans and wishes come true. Remember the old saying: “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”

       Right about now, I can hear my friends and family snickering. Because, you see, I’m a compulsive list-maker. “If that isn’t planning, what is?” I can hear them saying. I started my lists in college, when I was busy trying to remember the Egyptian dynasties, and didn’t want to bother with remembering when to pick up my shirts from the laundry. Took a lot of grief for it. (Dear friends once made an anniversary booklet of satirical playlets, involving our lives. One of them concerned me waking up with labor pains, then consulting my list and telling my husband that I couldn’t go to the hospital for another two weeks, because that’s when I’d penciled in the birth!) And my children fought over who would give me the T-shirt that says: “Is anal-retentive hyphenated?" (It is, as you can see. OF COURSE I looked it up!) I didn’t stop being mocked until the “self-help”, “get-control-of-your-life” movement came along. And every book started with the admonition: “MAKE A LIST!” Ha to my critics!

      But my lists are flexible, and usually just deal with one week ahead. The page after the last day of my week says Next Week. If something hits me, and I don’t want to be bothered with it that week, it goes in Next Week, to be dealt with then (including grocery items I’m running low on). And if someone calls with unexpected plans, I simply consult my list and find another day to do the things I’d originally planned.

      And I plan ahead for the little things that make my day go more smoothly. Taking the subway? As I’m walking to the station, I think about where I’m going, and whether it would be easier to be in the front or the back of the train when I exit. I plan my meals for the week, and make a grocery list, so shopping is faster. Before I sleep at night, I think about what I will wear to work the next day, so I don’t have to waste time in the morning staring into my closet. But I consider that "planning" with a small "p", not "Planning!"

      Make your long-term plans, certainly, but don't pin your whole existence on them. Instead, take each day as it comes. Be prepared for the unexpected, but don’t waste your energy ---and your ability to enjoy the day IN THE MOMENT---by wishing and hoping for something that may never come to pass. Okay?

(Oh, dear, this has been terribly serious. I promise more levity in my next entry!)

Thursday, July 31, 2014


I feel sorry for the young women of today. In the name of Liberation, they threw away the strongest advantage women have ever held over men.

In my day, women said, essentially, "If you want my body, I want a ring."  And that was that. No arguments, no counter-arguments. And men were forced to grow up, to take on responsibilites---the job, the car, the house, the children. Because they had aching balls. There were lots of cold showers and push-ups, and an occasional foray under the boardwalk with "Charlotte the Harlot" (whom they never married), but their needs carried them to the altar and maturity.

History reinforces this pattern. Women have always used sex to civilize men, and to the betterment of the human condition, I suspect. Do you think those oafs who came galloping home from the Crusades, stinking in their armor, really wanted to take baths and write poetry? But they had to. (Even the Greeks understood this---read the play "Lysistrata.")

"Oh, but . . ." I hear you protesting, " . . . it was a terrible patriarchy in your day!" Really? Do you think we couldn't get our way when we had to? (Forget "Mad Men". It's today's take on those years. We didn't at all feel "oppressed"!) Yes, if there were two pieces of cake on the plate and one of them was burnt, I gave him the other one. Big deal! But he called for a date and picked me up. And when he parked the car he ran around to open the door for me, then ran ahead to open the movie or restaurant door. He was constantly "courting", hoping to gain one more kiss, one more chance to "cop a feel" (in the parlance of the day). His needs made him respectful, courteous, gentlemanly. If he wanted to keep dating me, he had to make me feel valued as a PERSON, not a "body".

And how easy it was for us to say "No." A young man with raging hormones will say anything to get what he wants. (At that stage of his life, he's usually thinking with his head, and it's not the one between his shoulder blades!) "You say you love me!" or "I thought you said you were mature!" or even "Maybe you don't want to date me anymore." And how is a young woman to counter those arguments when she doesn't want to lose the guy? She's out there all alone trying to find an answer that will satisfy him, especially if she's not ready to hop into the sack.

 All WE had to say was, "I'm not that kind of girl." And we had all of society behind us, backing us up. And  that same social code kept men in line as well. They were EXPECTED to control their sexual urges. I remember a story my ex-husband once told me. He was in college at the time. Working for the summer at a curtain factory, driving their truck. He was dating a young woman who worked at the factory. She had a strict curfew. Midnight. After one heavy-petting evening together, he brought her home after the witching hour. Her father was on the porch, shotgun in hand! He stopped dating her, but he never ignored a curfew again!

See the difference in today's standards? Women today, especially on college campuses, are constantly admonished to say No, but they complain that men aren't being told to stop asking! Well, why the hell should they? There are no consequences! No shotgun-toting fathers, no forced marriages if they get the girl pregnant. Not even the stigma of guilt.

Then came The Pill, which ushered in the sexual revolution and Feminism. And while the militants were marching for equality in the workplace (a good thing), they somehow began to think that men and women were the same in EVERY way. Well, they're not.

I remember, as a young mother, when I gave birth to my daughter---after three boys---how astonished my husband and I were by the differences. Where my baby sons would try to pull off the hats we'd just placed on their heads, our daughter would turn her head and preen as though she were wearing a crown. My husband would often say, "How does she KNOW she's a girl?"

The early Feminists were convinced that women, like men, could leave their heads on the night-table every time they climbed into bed with the opposite sex. That sex was merely about physical release. They learned (and ignored for a long time) that, sooner or later, the big C, commitment, reared its head (no pun intended!). While their men continued to enjoy the mere physical coupling, women began to feel uneasy about the arrangement. Poor dears. They would have been better off continuing to say "No" and buying a vibrator!

Among other things, I write Historical Romances. In my books, the first sex scene always comes after the couple have begun to form an emotional attachment, even if they haven't yet acknowledged their love for one another. When I finally write the sex scene, I can show, in a hundred subtle ways, that the act has far more meaning for them than mere physical release.

Small correction: In only one book, "Stranger In My Arms" by Louisa Rawlings (my other pen name) the heroine and hero had passionate sex on their first meeting. But the book takes place as the hero, an officer in Napoleon's army, is about to go off to the Russian Campaign. And the anxiety, the sense of time flying by too fast ("Hurry, hurry. This is the last!", to quote Stephen Vincent Benet from his magnificent poem "John Brown's Body") lends urgency to their coupling.

I wrote that book ages ago. Now I find that many of the current books, edited by young women nurtured on Feminism, are content with the hero jumping the woman's bones ASAP. And the women are thrilled, even if it takes the guy half the book to remember to satisfy her! That merely being a sex object should be a woman's goal. I don't buy it. When I was a teen, dancing with a guy, and I felt what we called "a pencil in his pocket", I felt insulted, diminished as a person.

I also remember when I was engaged to my future husband for a year before our marriage. I would visit him on weekends (we lived in separate states). Because we had advanced to very heavy petting, he would chafe all evening during supper with his folks, only waiting for them to go to bed so we could have some action. He would be distant, non-communicative, impatient. I often felt a vague uneasiness on those nights---that our relationship had become one of being less about ME, and more about my body. Not that I didn't enjoy our "sessions". I certainly did! But not so much that I was willing, as he seemed to be, to blot out the rest of our relationship.

And yet women today seem content with that. One of the saddest stories I can tell was about the 13-year-old friend of one of my granddaughters. She was so convinced that sex equaled love that she gave head to any boy who asked her. I tried to take her under my wing, inquiring why she did it. "Because he says he loves me," she replied. "Does he take you a movie? Ask you out for a Coke? Or does he only call you when he wants sex?" I tried to persuade her to value herself more, but, because he used the word "love", she wasn't convinced.

And don't get me started on the "hook-up" culture. What the hell do women get out of it? The illusion of love? (Someone once said, "Women give sex to get love; men give love to get sex." That's mighty thin gruel for a relationship!) I'm struck by the fact that so many young women have to get blotto on too much liquor to hop into bed with a stranger. Why? Don't they insist that they crave the physical pleasure of sex? Yet they numb their brains to blot out the experience. A secret moral guilt?  A fear, deep within their psyches, that they are being used by men? A nagging thought that hookers get paid for sex, hook-ups don't? In the overall scheme of things, women get the short end of the stick, and I suspect they know it, deep down.

In this era of the Empowered (I hate that word!) Woman,what do females have now? A good deal less than we had, it seems to me. Harassment suits to put a man in his place, where before we learned to reject, ignore and turn aside all but the most rapacious men (who have ALWAYS been a danger!), and the disapproval of society reinforced our rejections. Sex without conditions, leading often only to more sex, rather than a deep, satisfying relationship. Living together instead of marriage---there IS a difference. In a relationship, both of the partners think in terms of ME, whether it's where to live, what job to take, what friends to have. In a marriage, you think of WE---what impact your decisions will have on you as a couple. There's more compromise, but more unity as well.

If we've gained anything by these new sexual standards, why do young women cry plaintively, "Where are the MEN?" Where indeed? Why should they grow up? It's so easy for them to be irresponsible, to take what women willingly give, and to shrug off responsibilities. THEY are the truly "empowered" ones, entitled, through women's aquiescence to what they want, when they want it!

If women no longer hold men to higher moral standards---honor, fidelity, committment, sexual restraint---and too often see them either as little boys or horny bastards, why are we surprised that "decent" men have become few and far between?

P.S. Have been reminded by my daughter that SHE came up with the title for this latest blog. Sorry I neglected to mention that, Julia. But thanks!

UPDATE: There seems to be a new study (from the National Marriage Project) that indicates that people who marry before a large crowd have more successful marriages that those who stand up before a small group of guests. Not sure if I accept that premise, but it reminded me of an argument I often gave when people told me living together was just as good as marriage. Not so, I would say. It goes back to the ME/WE argument I gave above. When you live together, you stay only until you decide NOT to live together. When you marry, you stand up before all those people and PLEDGE to "love, honor and obey", theoretically for life. Like telling your New Year's resolution to lots of friends, you feel the obligation to try harder.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


It seems to me that too many people today are so busy over-exercising their thumbs and using their gadgets  that they've forgotten how to converse.

No "Please", no "Thank you", no "Excuse me". It's more like, "I'm too busy in my own world of I-pod, or earphones, or hand-held games to notice there are other people around me. Or to notice that I've bumped into someone, or that my music is so loud that it disturbs others." Very selfish, people.

And, ultimately, very sad. We seem to have lost the ability to CONNECT with others, unless it's by long-distance and impersonal texting. How can someone really know what you are thinking and feeling through an e-mail or text? And yes, I suppose you can use those stupid emoticons, a lazy shortcut. But at what cost?

I've always felt that one of the reasons we are put on this earth is to make a difference in others' lives, to share, to experience life together. But how can that happen when we are constantly hunched over some device? Lost in our own private worlds?

In many ways, life is a lonely journey, all too brief. Do you really want to reach the end of a day and say, "Well, I've got x-number of Facebook 'likes' and x-number of e-mails to answer and x-number of texts?" Big deal! Does it add to the enrichment of your day? Make you feel happy to be alive, the way real human contact can do?

I prefer to end my day by saying to myself, "I made someone laugh (maybe a stranger on the subway, whom I talked to)" or "I made a new friend today (sometimes a customer in the Bridal Salon where I work, who wants to stay in touch)" or "I brightened a stranger's day by stopping to compliment them on something they were wearing."

I remember when I first began to notice this dearth of conversation. It was when music became electronic---electric guitars, lots of microphones, etc. We'd go to a wedding or social function and the music would be blasting away. Even worse, the musicians behaved as though it was a concert, and we were there to hear THEM.

I remember being at a wedding where the music was so loud that people were going out to the lobby to escape the noise. Our host had repeatedly asked the musicians to tone it down, but to no avail. Finally, he stormed to the front of the room, announced "I'M paying you!" and pulled the plug. Good for him!

And it began to occur to me then than the younger people, who smiled apologetically across the table as if to say, "We'd love to talk to you, but, with this loud music . . ." were secretly glad not to be able to talk, because, when they did, they didn't know what to say! They were losing the art of conversation.

 When we gave an affair some time later, we remembered those episodes. We hired a pianist and a singer (father and son, and very talented!), and no one else. After the event, many of our friends came up to us and thanked us profusely. Not for the low-key music, but because the relative quiet had given them the opportunity to meet and CONVERSE WITH many different people from our various social circles. Perhaps they made new friends that day, as well.

Let me close with a delightful episode that I experienced recently. I was standing outside the store where I work and saw a couple with a map, poring over it worriedly and speaking in German. I think I've mentioned that I lived in Germany for nearly two years while my husband was in the army. I approached them. The man's English was as limited as my German, but we managed to communicate and I gave him directions. Then, because I wanted to show him I had absorbed a bit of his culture while I was in his country, I held out my hand, said "Auf Wiedersehen!" and gave his hand the very vigorous shake that Germans prefer.

In response, he (clearly pleased to show that he had absorbed some of OUR culture) held out his palm to slap my palm, and announced, "Keep five!" I returned the salute and his greeting, and went on my way. I was so touched by his enthusiasm that I grinned for the rest of the day.

LIFE LESSON: Human contact beats machines any day of the week!

Thursday, June 19, 2014


I was born during the Depression and spent my early years during World War II.

We didn't call those difficult years an occasion for "stress." We called them LIVING. (Stress was something that happened in aeronautics with fighter planes.)

We were poor, but so was everyone else, so it didn't affect us seriously. We simply made do with what we had. I remember my mother giving the greengrocer a few pennies for days-old vegetables for soup. And when my brother and I had a single penny to buy a chocolate-covered marshamallow "broom" on a stick, we thought we were the luckiest kids in the world.

One of my fondest memories was of Halloween. My parents had scraped together enough money to buy two costumes for a party they were attending. ($1.00 each!) Dad was a skeleton and Mom was a witch, complete with long black wig. The following year, Mom cut down the costumes for my brother and me. We felt so special in "store-bought" outfits!

But the next year was even better. Mom had decided I should be The Blue Fairy from Pinnocchio. (Must have been 1939.) She took an old cotton slip and dyed it blue, then attached blue-dyed cheesecloth wings to the back. Dress and wings (with wrist-loops) were trimmed with last-year's Christmas tinsel that she'd found for sale in a shop. My wand was an old stick from a curtain shade, with a silver star made from the padded cover of an old chocolate box and edged with tinsel. And on my head with a tinsel tiara? The witch's black wig! I felt like a princess.

During the war, my father became quite successful in his business. He was a silk-screen maker and, seeing the war coming, had had the foresight to stockpile surplus parachute silk. (Once Japan entered the war, silk of course was unavailable.) We got our first car, traded in our icebox for a refrigerator (though we still called it an icebox for years!), and moved out of our small apartment to a rental house. But we still had very little. Everything went to the war effort---sugar, coffee, gasoline, butter, meat. Many of those items were rationed, and if you ran out of something before the month was out you simply did without.

As I said before, we made do with what we had and were content.

I came of age during the '50s. Years later, I had to laugh when our generation was referred to as the Passive Generation.

Hell, we weren't passive. We were GRATEFUL! For the first time in our lives, things were good. The young people who sneer at the happy-family '50s TV shows should understand that that's how we viewed life. Things had never been better. It wasn't until the coddled '60s kids came along that they felt the need to tear up the pea patch, having known nothing but good times all their lives.

My point being that, because we lived through such grim times, we expected nothing. So any small good thing that happens, even today, is cause for pleasure and rejoicing. Young people, who expect EVERYTHING, are constantly disappointed and stressed when things don't go their way. Poor dears.

Every day is to be lived and enjoyed, for good or bad, simply because it's different from the day before. When someone chirps at me, "Have a nice day!", I always respond, "I always do. It's how you look at the world, not how it treats you, that matters."

Outlook not imput can ease the stress.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


Life is to be enjoyed in the moment, not photographed. I'm always struck by pictures of some amazing occurence or tragic disaster---what I see in the pictures are dozens of hands held up, grasping I-phones. Few people are actually watching what is happening.

For heaven's sake, people, you are THERE at an important moment. Watch it, absorb it. Or is it more important to you to take pictures, post them, and then brag that you were there? Are you all so insecure that you need affirmation from others---even strangers---to validate yourself?

Many years ago, when my then-husband was a soldier in Germany, I joined him there and we travelled extensively. When we returned after two years and showed our photo album, some people said, "Are those all the pictures you took?" Our reply? "We were too busy LOOKING to take many pictures."

I sometimes think that this need for public affirmation is tied to the so-called "self-esteem" movement (trophies for everyone, and all that crap). In my day, self-esteem was earned! Someone said, "This is what I want you to do. This is how you do it. I know you can do it." And we did it. And felt genuine self-esteem.

I wonder if today's young people, constantly told they are wonderful even when they've done nothing, secretly suspect, in a clandestine corner of their minds, that they really haven't accomplished anything and thus aren't really that special. Maybe that's part of what fuels their almost desperate need for public self-affirmation. Feedback from others substituting for a grounded sense of self.

But back to the I-phones. It's not just the photos, it's the constant texting and e-mails, while life is going on around you. Open your eyes! There's so much to see, so much to absorb. Instead, you isolate yourself in a private world. Sometimes, on the subway on my way to work, I want to smack a mother with kids. While they are restless, bored, unhappy, she's busy texting or reading on her gadget. I want to tell her, "Talk to your kids! Amuse them. Enjoy them, before they grow up to be strangers."  I've even seen them so busy on their I-phones that they let their kids---as little as 3---go on the escalator or through a revolving store door without watching them. (I've rescued more than one kid who nearly got mashed by a revolving door.)

I-phones are good in their place. But when they take over your life and crowd out every other human experience, they are a menace!