Thursday, December 24, 2015


Okay, I know I said this new entry would be called HAPPY BIRD DAY TO US, in honor of my goofy mother (see entry JUST FOR FUN), who always came into the dining-room bearing the turkey and singing, "Happy Bird Day To Us" to the tune of the birthday song.(And check an earlier entry, SURPRISE! to see how my mother made a Thanksgiving centerpiece out of our Thanksgiving squash!)

But since Thanksgiving is well past, and Christmas and New Year are nearly upon us (and I'm still unpacking, so my writing time is limited), I thought I'd combine the three holidays and talk about food in general.

Spent this past Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania with all four of my children and their spouses, plus a gaggle of grandchildren. As a labor of love, I spent two hours shelling three pounds of chestnuts for my special stuffing---chestnuts, cornbread and white raisins. Definitely a yum! (Am ending this blog entry with the picture my son---the host of the day with his lovely wife---took of me as I was working. Sweatshirt was a gift from a fairly recent gentleman friend---not sure if he was being funny or if I had pissed him off!)

I've long-since learned that the most important ingredient in cooking IS love. When my marriage was falling apart, some years ago, and we gathered for what turned out to be the last Thanksgiving for the  intact family, the meal was just not very tasty. I guess my heart wasn't in it. The following year, with the separation complete, and my children gathering at one son's house, I was invited to come a week early and do the whole meal. That year, because I was at peace with what had happened, and surrounded by all those I held most dear, every dish in comparison was wonderful, though it was practically the same menu. (And I had two delightful helpers in the young daughters of the woman that son had just married---11 and 12, I think. They had never cooked, but they took to it like naturals, insisting that we make "just one more pie, Grandma!" We wound up with SIX pies that year!)

Final Bird Day story---son who took picture of me is a professional photographer, and sometimes gets carried away! When he went to Thanksgiving at the house of one of his brothers a few years ago, he took pictures of the occasion and sent them to me. I don't know what it says about his appetite, but there were more pictures of the cooked bird than there were of the guests and the family! "Please!" I begged him. "Next time, EDIT!"

On to Christmas meals. One marvelous memory is from very long ago, when I was first married. My husband, drafted into the Army for two years, was stationed in Germany, where I joined him. We had rented a room (shared bathroom and kitchen) in a lovely old town house in Bad Nauheim, which was a beautiful hospital town untouched by the war. We had become great friends with our landlady, her two little children, and her mother, a delightfully lively senior citizen. In the past, the family---mostly doctors---had been quite wealthy, and the town house, still owned by a doctor relative, with one floor rented out to OUR landlady, was a beauty, with polished wood floors, vintage furniture and views overlooking a lush park.

Then, after only 4 or 5 months, my husband was transferred to Darmstadt, a dismal city, still partially in rubble from the war. Our rented rooms were in a cinder-block house built by a stone-cutter, who had spent nine years in a Russian prison camp AFTER the war, and had finally come home to his wife and son to make a sparse life for himself. The only heat we had for two rooms was from a coal stove, also for cooking, which certainly was a challenge for a bride just learning to cook! My lemon meringue pies were regularly speckled with black soot, because I never remembered to put in more coal (to make the stove hotter to brown the meringue) until AFTER I had put in the pie! (One quirky note---the house was on the outskirts of the city, in Darmstadt-Eberstadt. On the hill behind the house, which I could see every day, was Frankenstein's castle!)

Anyway, come Christmas, our Bad Nauheim friends had invited us back for the holiday. The grandmother greeted us at the door in a family heirloom, a magnificent gown (probably dating from the turn of the Twentieth Century), purple silk velvet with a Victorian high collar and bodice of real gold lace. A large key hug at her waist. She took the presents we had brought, unlocked a door to one of the spare rooms, and disappeared inside.

Then we repaired to the parlor, where we spent the evening eating piles of home-baked cookies, drinking good German schnapps and playing silly games like pickup sticks and tiddly-winks. At midnight, the grandmother came in with a candle. Tiptoeing, we followed her to the door of the spare room. With great fanfare, she unlocked it and we went inside.

What a wonder! The windows were wide open to the cold night air, but that was because, they told the children, the Christ Child had to come into the room and decorate the tree. The huge Christmas tree was hung with silver tinsel, live candles, and lit sparklers! It was breathtaking!

Each of us had a separate little table, with our presents piled on it, and more dishes of cookies. After we opened our presents, and ate more cookies, the family went off to church for an hour. When they returned, the traditional supper they served was marvelous after all the sweets we had eaten! Salty herring salad, plain boiled potatoes, and bitter dark bread. I can still taste how delicious it was after all those cookies!

One more Christmas story. For many years, one of my dearest friends gave a Christmas Eve party at her home. Her large extended family came from other states and also from Puerto Rico. Every year she chose a different ethnic theme. So we had an Italian Christmas, a Chinese Christmas, a Greek Christmas, etc. One year, as we sat around waiting for midnight to open the presents, the conversation turned to what  theme we should choose for the following year. Being Jewish (and a pretty good cook), I said, as a joke, "How about a Jewish Christmas?" Much to my surprise, everybody LOVED the idea! So the next year, we had matzo ball soup, chopped liver, potato kugel, and roasted chicken, among other dishes. Very successful.

New Year's Eve. For many years, my husband and I had a New Year's Day open house. As we sent out our Christmas cards, we included to a large group of friends (probably about 75-100) an invitation to drop in on New Year's Day from noon to 8:00. Since we usually went out New Year's Eve (that's a story for another entry!), everything had to be done in advance. Finger food. A large smoked turnkey, conveniently cut into small pieces, with toothpicks. Smoked ham, done the same way. Lots of cheese chunks. Stuffed mushrooms, piled on trays and ready to be popped into the oven as guests arrived. Same for small squares of noodle puddings---one with spinach, one with cottage cheese and sugar. Big bowl of fruit salad. Brownies made in advance. Drinks confined to wine, vodka with orange juice or tomato juice. Easiest parties we ever gave!

Assorted food notes and recollections:

Because we had four children, and I didn't want to become a short-order cook, catering to every individual taste, we had the "One-Taste Rule." Each child was expected to taste everything at every meal, even if they washed it down with water at once. It was a Family Rule. (See blog entry IT'S MY HOUSE AND I'M BIGGER THAN YOU ARE.) The plus factors were that I could cook just one meal for everyone, try new dishes, and the kids developed pretty broad eating habits at an early age. ("Ooh! Beef Bourguignonne!")

Another offbeat memory---had given a very elegant dinner party, with a wonderful galatine of leg of lamb, stuffed with ham and pistachio nuts, followed by a dessert that is one of my culinary specialties---chocolate-dipped pears. At the last minute, one of my dearest friends came down with pneumonia and she and her husband couldn't attend because she was sick in bed. After our guests left and my husband and I had cleaned up and put on our pajamas, we suddenly wondered how she was doing. We called. Was she still awake? Yes, she said. Were they hungry?: Absolutely! Still in our PJs, we packed up a meal for both of them, drove to their house and presented it to her in bed. At 2:00 A.M.! She still talks about that crazy evening! (She still remembers the main course as French cassoulet, another of my specialties, but I remember it as the lamb.)

Chocolate pears or not, I am, according to my children, an alien. Basically, I don't much like chocolate, peanut butter, pizza or ice cream. Small correction---except when I was pregnant. Ice cream was my rabbit test! Usually, when we went to Friendly's or some place like it, and my crew ordered banana splits or assorted ice cream concoctions, I would have an English muffin and coffee. Once in a great while, I might ask for the teeniest scoop of vanilla ice cream with marshmallow or caramel on top. It was usually all I could manage. But if I scraped the bowl and wanted more, I KNEW I was pregnant. And I always was! During my final pregnancy, I spent nine months eating chocolate-chip mint ice cream daily. Came home from the hospital and my older kids dished out a plate for me, as they had done for months. I took one taste and pushed it away. "I don't like ice cream!" I said.

The children's favorite foods were "zerks" (desserts), as in "What's for zerk, Mom?", "peenadelly" (sound it out), and "La Rosa", otherwise known as "Mom's Mac". They also liked chocolate mousse, but teased me unmercifully about the name. If they said, "What's for zerk?" and I answered "Chocolate mousse," I would then have to endure lots of smart-alecky comments about the moose's antlers, whiskers, etc. But I finally fixed them. Made the mousse in an oval mold, turned it out onto a flat plate, added marshmallow eyes with raisin pupils and a cherry nose, and used chocolate wafer cookies for antlers. When the usual snarky comments came at my announcement that zerk was chocolate mousse---"And does it have antlers. Mom?"---I plunked down the platter with a triumphant cry of "Yes!!"

A few kitchen hints---

1. Did you know that there are male and female eggplants? You want to choose the male eggplants if you can---fewer seeds. Go to the stem end of the vegetable. If the "scar" is a circle, it's a male. If it's a line, it's a female.

2. You can freeze lots of herbs. Dill especially takes to freezing. Just wash it, shake off the excess water, wrap it tightly in foil and pop it into a plastic bag. When you need finely diced dill for a recipe (I have a wonderful dill sauce that goes over a salmon mousse), you don't have to defrost it. Just unwrap the foil from the top and finely dice as much as the recipe calls for. I've noticed that the dill flavor is enhanced from the freezing.

3. Pie crusts---it's a messy nuisance to roll out a crust on a board with flour, etc. But because I didn't have a rolling pin or a board as a bride in Germany, I learned to roll out the crust between two sheets of wax paper crisscrossed. The paper is 12" wide, so you get a crust that is 12" in diameter. What could be simpler? It just fits a 9" pie plate! And I used a glass, not a rolling pin, to roll it out. Still do. More manageable than a large rolling pin.

And finally, I'm a good cook. (I actually sat down with a friend to write a cookbook many years ago. After a time, we found it boring and then I discovered romances. And that's how I got started on my writing career!) Complete story to follow at some point! But I do share recipes. E-mail me, if you are interested. My e-mail is

Enjoy the photo!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Am working on a new blog entry---about food, naturally! (Shelled three pounds of chestnuts for my special Thanksgiving stuffing at the house of one of my sons---have no thumbnails left!)

As a teaser----the new entry will be called HAPPY BIRD DAY TO US, in honor of my goofy mother (see entry JUST FOR FUN), who always came into the dining-room bearing the turkey and singing, "Happy Bird Day To Us" at the top of her voice!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


You bet your ass!

I'm usually pretty unflappable, but I will be unexpectedly moving in a week to a different apartment.   My landlord wants to convert my small duplex into studio apartments, and he has offered me a place he also owns just down the street. But because of months of draggy negotiations (No, don't move, Yes, move), I'm suddenly being rushed. Frazzle is because of the last-minute decision by landlord and the need to organize 17 years of accumulated "stuff"! .

I'll probably not be writing a September blog column---will need to catch my breath first! Sorry about that! And October is busy---I'll be promoting my latest book, MY LADY GLORIANA, giving a talk at our local Romance Writers' meeting, and doing a book signing at a local Romance Conference later in the month.

But I'll be collecting lots of juicy "moving" stories---and rants!---for future blog entries.

Wonder of wonders! A ray of sunshine has just appeared to brighten my funk. My publisher has just informed me that, though MLG isn't officially due out until November, it's already available in e-book and paperback format. Do check it out.

Friday, August 7, 2015


It's still summer, and too hot for me to feel like being a scold. So let's talk about clothes.

I believe I've mentioned that I sell wedding dresses at Macy's. But I also studied for a fashion career, and spent many years sewing my own clothes. And, as a writer of historical romances, I like to say that, when my characters undress for the big love scene, the clothes they take off are historically accurate!

Thus, I'm always fascinated with how people dress today.

In my day, it was easy. We didn't have to stand in front of the closet, suffer, and wonder what to wear. There were rules.

For example, hems were standard length, the same for everyone, gradually shortening year by year from the drastically dropped hems of Dior's New Look in 1947. (You could look at a woman's skirt and know that she hadn't had the hem shortened to keep up with the fashion.) And fashions were often seasonal and time-sensitive. (White shoes from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Evening wear after 5:00 P.M.) And pantie girdles with a narrow skirt. Because---and we actually said this---"Nice girls don't jiggle!"

And when we traveled? We wore suits, stockings, heels, hats, gloves. Same for when we went out for the evening, to theatre, dinner, etc. I remember wearing stockings and heels when I went shopping!

We even had what we called the "Rule of Ten". You counted what you were wearing---patterned stockings, jewelry, distinctive eyeglasses included. If they added up to more than 10, you took something off. Less was more.

We didn't have to suffer over the "What shall I wear?" conundrum.

Interesting sidebar: Because we wore tight belts and pantie girdles, training our bodies to pull in at the waist, women's measurements were different from today. The optimum measurements then (in the '50s) were 34/24/34. (I know because I sewed, and had to buy patterns.) Today, after decades of no girdles, hipster pants, etc. the same bust measurement is sized thus: 34/26/38.

But today? No rules. Anything and everything goes. And, so often, people don't know what to wear. So they don't mind looking like slobs---with bulging bare midriffs, scruffy bare toes, sloppy looks. And the Rule of Ten? Ha! Add five more colors, accessories, etc. and see how that works! (Overkill, in my book!) And the need to fit in, by wearing clothes with labels. If you're insecure with how you dress, a label says, "Oh, but I MUST be fashionable! I'm wearing a Calvin (or Polo, or whatever)!"

I sometimes want to stop a woman I see on the street and ask, "Honey, don't you ever LOOK IN  A MIRROR?" I lived in the East Village for 15 years, and often walked behind a very slender young woman in black tights and huge black Army boots. "Young woman," I would often be tempted to ask, "why do you want to look like a spider?"

And tattoos? Lots of luck, honey, when you're 60 and your sagging skin makes that rose look like a drooping waterfall!

When I was a young pre-teen and early teen, we wanted to look like "ladies". I remember (when I was 12 or 13, I think) that I had a white ruffle-sleeved peasant blouse. My mother had 2 red velvet roses, which she allowed me to wear to school. I put one under one ruffle of a sleeve, and the other behind my ear. I must have looked absurd, trying to be mature, but at least I looked ladylike. I find it appalling that too many of the young preteens today think it's great to look like hookers!

Having dealt with many brides who come in with pictures of their dream dresses, I wish more women would take the time to look in a mirror! (I want to say to my brides, when they show me a picture, "That model is a size 2, flat-chested giraffe---and photo-shopped, besides!") And the secret to good dressing is 1) Fooling the eye, and 2) Good underwear! Try to be realistic about your shape, and dress so that you draw attention to your best feature, not your worst.

Example: I once had a bridesmaid who wanted to choose a black satin A-line strapless dress with a decorative white satin V up the center back from the hem. Except that she had the largest kazoo I'd seen in a long time. A shelf---you could set a tea-tray on it! "Honey," I wanted to say, "why would you choose an arrow pointing to your worst feature?" (I didn't, of course. I simply chose a chiffon dress---didn't shine as it draped over her bum, with glitter in the front that drew attention to her quite lovely face.)

I can't stress this enough. If you want to look your best, be cold-blooded. Look in a mirror. Don't see what you WANT to see, but what you actually see. Assess your best features---good shoulders, a nicely defined waistline, etc. And your worst---droopy shoulders, too narrow or too wide hips. And think in terms of drawing the eye away from the worst and toward the best.

Shoulders too broad? Don't wear spaghetti straps that isolate that feature. Wear off-shoulder, halter or strapless sweetheart that calls attention to your great shoulders. Bust line too broad and overpowering? Wear an A-line skirt that balances your hip width to your bust width and an off-the-shoulder top that creates an X and calls attention to your good waist line. It's all about proportion and balance.

But it starts with LOOKING IN A MIRROR!

Oh, dear. I seem to have scolded after all. So I'll end with a funny story from my past, to prove that I'm not afraid to make fun of myself when it comes to dressing!

I was 12. Going off to summer camp, where I had gone for three years. Thus, all my bunk-mates were old summer friends. I was scrawny, thin. As for bust-line? Forget about it! I was two raisins on an ironing board. In the fashion of that time, I wore undershirts---basically white tank tops.

However, every weekend we had a "social" with the boys' camp. Usually wore sweaters. I had a pale blue sweater that year, and I knew the undershirt would show through. I begged my mother to let me have a bra, just to wear for the socials. She agreed, and bought me a white cotton bra (probably in the smallest size!). I couldn't wait to get up to camp and show it off!

Alas! All my camp-mates had blossomed in the preceding year, and every one of them wore ONLY bras! What to do? Exactly what any 12-year-old would do. I buried my undershirts in my cubby and wore the bra for two months straight! I would occasionally wash it in secret, and hang it outside to dry. But as the summer wore on and the nights in the mountains grew cold, the bra wouldn't dry. I wore it anyway---wet and clammy against my skin.

By the time I got home, that poor garment was a miserable shade of gray.

God bless my mother (see JUST FOR FUN in a previous post); she never said a word. The bra was washed, then casually replaced with half-a dozen new bras.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Just a quick update

My home chapter of the Romance Writers of America, RWA/NYC, has just published an excerpt  from my upcoming new book. Check it out!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


I want to talk a bit about Scary Stuff---and perspective.

More and and more I'm struck by the young people of today, especially the college-age students, who seem to feel entitled to a perfect life---or else! We hear terms like "micro-aggressions" and "triggers" and the need for friends and professors and all of society to be aware of how they are damaging the feelings of too many young people.

Part of this attitude, I suspect, comes from the narcissism of our times, the need to feel important, the center of one's own universe---and the rest of the world be damned. Part of it comes from the Grievance Industry, which has encouraged too many people to think they have a right to feel offended, to complain about even the smallest things and expect redress. (Talk about the Tyranny of the Minority!)

And of course the legal profession has encouraged this, bringing lawsuits over trivia and knowing that big companies would rather settle than go to the bother of a trial, which only encourages MORE lawsuits over imagined offenses.

And so young people must be protected from topics that "scare" them, that make them feel like outsiders, that make them demand "safe spaces" on campus. Dear Heaven! I knew that we had descended into an adolescent culture in the last few decades (most of the "big" movies that make money are comic strips! Ye gods!).

But what's happening now, in too many schools (with too many teachers and professors who came of age in the '60s and '70s, and thus never grew up themselves) amounts to babyhood, not adolescence!

Scared of hearing opposing political viewpoints that might upset your preconceived notions, children? Boycott the speaker, of course! Scared of reading about assault in a classic novel because you were once assaulted? Bring charges against the professor, naturally! Scared of hearing negative things about someone in your class/race/sex that is upsetting? Throw a Pity Party, take to the streets and demand redress! Doesn't everyone?

Let me give you a few genuinely scary stories. Some are mine, some are friends or family.

Scary is feeling sorry for yourself because you lost a baby, then speaking to a friend who lost three babies in a row through SIDs. (It's a real wake-up call, and squashes the self-pity in a hurry!)

Scary is having school friends who were coming back from England, and hearing that the plane crashed in Lockerbie, then waiting in terror to find out how many of your dear friends were on the flight. (Two, who were lost, and one who blessedly didn't board at the last minute.)

Scary is hearing about the Boston Marathon bombing, and knowing your son and daughter-in-law were there, then holding your breath for long minutes until you could find out they were safe.

Scary is hearing about the knife attacks at OSU, and knowing your grandson is at that school. Scary is waiting for the email from your son telling you the kid is okay.

Scary is having someone on the downward subway escalator just in front of you, who has a large bag that gets caught on the bottom and can't be pulled off right away. As the escalator keeps moving, people knock you over, step over you, push you down. Scary is thinking you're going to be trampled to death.

Scary is being at a large social gathering, with lots of noise and crowds of people, and suddenly choking on a dry piece of meat, and knowing with certainty that you are going to choke to death. And being saved at the last minute by someone who spots your distress and does the Heimlich.

Scary is carrying a baby for 9 months (before sophisticated procedures that could answer pre-birth questions), knowing that you'd already had a baby who died, and fearing the baby you are carrying will also die.

Scary is seeing the live footage from 9/11 and spotting a friend running away from the Border's store where she worked, and not knowing if she survived.

Scary is being an Army wife in Germany in the 1950s, during the Hungarian crisis, when it was feared that the Russian Army could sweep across the border into Germany. Scary is being called into the Army post and told how to evacuate into France. And forget about your husbands, because they were cannon fodder, only expected to hold back the superior Russian Army for 48 hours. And then they were on their own.

Scary is living through wartime, with the draft, and not knowing if your Daddy would be drafted.

Scary is waiting for the call from the hospital, where your mother was in surgery for nine hours, and dreading the inevitable call that said she was gone.

NOT scary is hearing words that disturb your fragile psyche! If you're that sensitive, you don't need understanding from others---you need a good therapist!

But stop expecting the world to bend to your whining. Roll with the punches, grow up and stop feeling sorry for yourself.

Maybe I should have  titled this entry "Boo-Hoo" for the babies---far too many of them---that are part of the Millennial generation.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


Joan Rivers is purported to have said, "Life is short. Remember to laugh."

I thought of that the other day, when the daughter of one of my dearest friends, long gone, posted a memorial picture of her mother on her Facebook page. It's been seventeen years since we laughed together. But, after I wept a bit, I was reminded of a goofy story. Which reminded me of other goofy stories from the past. Hence this blog entry.

My friend's story first. She and her husband and I and mine hung out together quite often. We'd sit around their dining room table, drinking the popular drink of the day, Cold Duck, and eating apples and cheese. Cold Duck was the poor man's version of sparkling Burgundy, a HIGHLY effervescent red wine, corked like Champagne. We were young couples and it was cheap and delicious. We always had two bottles of it when we got together.

Lidia had come from Mendoza, Argentina, a wine region. One night, her husband, Al, was describing how the vintners walked up and down the streets, shaking the loosely corked bottles to get the sediment to rise to the top. He demonstrated the motion with the unopened bottle of Cold Duck. A short time later, we emptied the first bottle and Al began to open the second bottle, which he had just shaken. "No!" we all cried. "Go outside to the porch! That one is going to explode."

He scoffed at us, but went outside. We heard the pop of the cork. He came back. The bottle was fine. He held it out. "Ha, ha, ha!" he said smugly. And then it exploded! It gushed so high it nearly hit the ceiling. We laughed for years about the weird delayed reaction.

Another long-ago story. Jerry and Kat were our first close friends as a married couple. My husband had been drafted into the army and sent to Germany. I followed (after a honeymoon in Fort Dix, New Jersey, another weird story that I may not tell!). Since he was a private, we didn't live on the post, but rented rooms from German locals. Jerry and Kat were in the same situation, so we visited back and forth, sharing stories and laughing a lot.

Jerry had worked for Colgate as a chemist before he'd been drafted. Night shift. He had us in stitches telling one story. He and his co-workers were testing a new chemical formula for toothpaste. As they discarded the unsatisfactory ones, they'd wash them down the sink. After a couple of hours of this, someone in the lab looked out the window and saw that the foam from the toothpaste ingredients had bubbled up from the sewer and was filling the parking lot. What did they do? Call someone? Hell, no! They spent the rest of their shift washing down everything they could find!

Have many goofy stories about my mother (see JUST FOR FUN entry). One of the weirdest coincidences happened on her birthday. My sister and her husband lived hundreds of miles away from us. But both of us sent Mom the VERY SAME birthday card! Don't remember the picture on the front, but the words said, "No, I won't take you to the zoo for your birthday!" Inside, it said, "If the zoo wants you, they can come and get you!"

I guess both my sister and I realized how appropriate that kind of silly card was for Mom!

How about another strange coincidence? Our family had come from Canada to the United States when I was a little girl, and most of my relatives stayed there. Several of my uncles were drafted into the Canadian army during World War II.

It was December 1944 or January 1945. My Aunt Fay hadn't heard from her husband Jack in weeks. He was somewhere in Europe. To take her mind off her worries, her sister took her to the movies. There were newsreels in those days. And the headline was the Battle of the Bulge, just won by the Allies after many terrible days of fighting. They showed pictures of the soldiers, slogging along the snowy roads, riding in trucks, resting after a firefight. And there, in one of the pictures, was Uncle Jack! Fay couldn't be sure, but after the last show, she approached the theatre manager. He ran the newsreel in slow motion. Sure enough, it WAS Jack. He snipped out a frame of the film for Fay. (Don't know if she ever turned it into a photo.) She didn't know if her husband was still alive (he was---came home from the war without a scratch), but at least she knew why she hadn't heard from him in weeks.

Sometimes, funny things happen because of cultural differences. I wrote about meeting a German couple in New York in CAT GOT YOUR TONGUE?  And I remember my own wartime story from when I was just a little girl. One of my Canadian uncles was stationed in England, and looked up the family's English relatives.  I helped my Mom wrap "care packages" for the English relatives. Instant coffee had just been invented. I remember putting jars into the boxes. But more wondrous, tea bags had just been invented. (Probably made of rayon---and revolutionary. Who would have thought of putting fabric into your teacup?) We packed those as well.

Without the ads and publicity that had surely introduced the teabags to American users, our Brit relatives interpreted their use in an entirely different way. "How clever you Yanks are," they wrote to us, "to pre-measure your tea and wrap it so neatly!"  Having discovered that each teabag held exactly one teaspoon, they thought they were simply an easy measuring device, and tore each bag open to put into the teapot. We were delighted to enlighten them and send them many more packages!

Another cultural difference story. My husband loved to tell this one (though he felt so foolish afterwards!). He had arrived in Germany and was immediately told to go on maneuvers for a month. Since I was due to arrive from the states in five weeks, he begged his commanding officer to give him a day to find rooms for us to live in. He practiced saying in German: "Have you a room for me and my wife?" (Don't ask me to translate---I can say it, but I have NO idea how to spell it!) He found lodgings for us in no time. But he was hungry and there was a restaurant nearby. He didn't have a dictionary with him, but he thought he might recognize words from a menu. He went in, sat down. No menu at his table. "Menu!" he said, clearly and loudly, making a square shape in the air with his fingers. He repeated the word several times, along with the gesture, but the waiter didn't seem to understand.

There was another party of diners across the room, happily eating their lunch. A menu on their table. My husband pointed vigorously toward their table. ""Menu!' he said, again making the square shape with his fingers. "Ach, ja!" said the waiter, and vanished into the kitchen.

There must have been a long conversation in the kitchen about the Crazy Americans, but this was not so long after the war, and whatever the Crazy American wanted the dummkopf would get! So the waiter brought out the same food the other diners were eating---on a square plate! (One of the first sets of dishes we bought when we were settled back in the States had square plates! I still have the set.)

And sometimes cultural differences can be absolutely wonderful. The British sense of humor, so dry, so sly, never ceases to delight me. Once, my husband and I were staying in a beautiful old inn in the large town of  Ludlow, in the west of England. We had found an ancient tavern that dated from the 16th century. Beautiful black and white exterior, mellow wood interior. Comfy bedroom, lovely bathroom, with modern appliances in an ancient room. And next to the tub a sign: "Please put the shower curtain within the tub when you are showering. Our woodwork is rather old." (Talk about understatement!) And I still have a length of toilet paper from a public bathroom in Winchester, which says, primly, "Now wash your hands, please."

I love weird and wacky stories from the past. They make it memorable and delightful to remember.

Monday, February 23, 2015


       I want to talk about raising kids. Yes, I know that, in today's world, unlike in my time, both parents usually work. And yes, I was a stay-at-home-mother to four children. But I think that some of the techniques we used are equally applicable today.

       One of our mantras to our children was: A household is not a Democracy. It's a Benevolent Monarchy. All things flow from the good will of the monarchs! I think too many of today's young parents have forgotten that. YOU are in charge. YOU are the adult. Your job is to give love, not expect or demand it back. (You didn't get it as a child? Go see a therapist. But don't expect your children to fill that empty space.) You're the parent, not the best buddy. And if there are two of you, you are a TEAM! Nothing makes it easier for kids to misbehave than knowing they can pit Mommy against Daddy, and vice versa.

       And you start early, as soon as they begin to understand language. Believe me, if you start early enough, you can snooker kids! You don't have to shout, but your tone of voice should indicate that you are in charge. I remember years ago being in a long line at the post office. Two very young children were running around, screaming, carrying on, disrupting everyone. Their mother, standing with an empty two-seat stroller, kept imploring them to behave, in a helpless, whining voice. They ignored her. I smiled sweetly to them, pointed to the stroller, and said (in a gentle voice that still expected no argument), "Please go and sit down. Now." Guess what? They did. (At my age, according to my children and grandchildren, I have advanced to the point where the sign on my forehead now says, "Don't f*** with me!")

       Another example? We had what we called "Family Rules." They involved politeness, tasting everything at every meal, specific behaviors we wanted to stress and correct. We started them early. That's important. And both my husband and I were on the same page. If a kid announced, "I don't want to do such and such a Family Rule," we would sigh and say, "I don't want to do it either! But it's a Family Rule!" (As though we had no control over it.) It seemed to work. I remember asking several of my kids, when they were grown up, why they never protested. The answer? "The way you and Dad put it, it never occurred to us."

       At the same time, you make the child feel important, though you are actually in control. You don't ask, "What do you want for lunch?" That might send you to the nearest McDonald's, in a panic. You say, "Lucky you! You get to choose lunch! What do you want? Tuna or PBJ sandwiches?"

       Another vital tool is the ability to remove yourself from direct conflict with the child. If you're always going head-to-head on every issue, you set up a constant adversarial relationship, which only gets more intense as the child gets older. He thinks it's all about you against him, and he feels he MUST win or lose his pride. Instead, pit the child against his own better nature. Among other things, we did it with Star Charts. Even before the child could read. We would discuss the behavior we wanted to correct, decide what the "prize" was, discuss how long we could hold the child's attention, based on his age (2 weeks or so, for a toddler). There would usually be four behavioral categories. 1. the errant behavior, of course, 2. something VERY easy, so the child would feel confident as he did it, and 3. something a little more difficult, but still fairly easily accomplished. The fourth item was subjective, and based on the fact that our finances were not always dependable at any given moment.  We needed to speed up the chart if we could afford the prize, and slow it down if we couldn't. So category 4 was always something we could control, like, "Be nice to your brothers." Then, using pictures, we would set up the chart. The children loved competing with themselves, and the errant behavior was corrected along the way.

        I found small charts helpful in other ways. Cleanup time? I would list each child's name, use a picture (or words, if they were older) explaining what needed to be cleaned up (toy box, floor, toy drawer, etc.), with a two-day deadline. I'd post the chart and simply say, "Here's what I want you to do. Just make an X when you've finished each job." And I left them to do battle with themselves, not me!

       Too often, battles with children involve the PARENTS' ego! (You against the kid, and you want to win.) Again, YOU are the grown-up! I remember years ago being in the backyard with my neighbor and her four kids and my three. She had yelled at her 8-year-old to go back into the house and get something. He grumbled, but went, after she had yelled some more. But as he went, he muttered something under his breath, probably something nasty about his mom. "What did you say?" she shrieked. I grabbed her arm. "Let him go," I said. "You've won. He knows you've won. He's going into the house to get what you want. Leave him his pride, at least. If he wants to bad-mouth you under his breath, so what? You've WON!"

       And one of the things I learned from my goofy Mom (see my JUST FOR FUN blog entry) was to make behaving fun. So, when she saw our clothes not hung up, and strewn around the floor, she didn't scold us and tell us to pick them up. She said, "Oh! I see you've found the sky hook!" (Picture hanging something on a "sky hook" and you'll understand!)  It was enough to get us to pick up our clothes without her scolding. And when it rained, and there was laundry on the line outside, she cheerfully shouted at my brother and me, "CBS! CBS!" That stood for Clothes Basket Squadron, and it was enough to send us racing outside to pull the clothes off the line.

      Another way we created distance between our immediate emotional involvement and our children was the Crying Corner. If a kid decided to have a tantrum, we would simply say, "You can carry on all you want, but we really don't want to listen to you. So could you please go into the crying corner until you're done?" And they took their tantrum out on the Crying Corner. (Of course, my husband had to repaint it every few weeks---from all the kicks and scuff marks!)

       That distance was even more important as they came into their teens, during an era when kids were first getting into drugs. We made it very clear how we felt about that, and that, ultimately, it was THEIR life, not ours. "If you screw up," we would say, "in ten years we will be unhappy about how you've messed up, because we love you. But OUR LIVES WILL NOT BE CHANGED a single bit! However, YOURS will!" Tossing the problem back to them.

       Finally, let me just touch on one more point. If you want your children to get along with their parent of the same sex, you must have a sign on your forehead that says, "I love you dearly, but your Mom/Dad is my #1 woman/man." If the child understands that, they don't spend their time trying to compete with the parent of the same sex. I've seen lots of unhappy families where the parent encouraged competition between the spouse and the child.

       Happy parenting, all! It's one of the most joyous and rewarding things you'll ever do in your lifetime!



Thursday, January 15, 2015


     A little bit off-topic, but I really wanted to pass on my exciting news.

     As those of you who have linked to my bio and my Facebook page are aware, I'm a writer of historical romances. Fourteen published books, to be precise. I hadn't written in some time, and then I met an agent who convinced me that it was time to revive my career. And she certainly has!

     A wonderful publisher of e-books, Diversion Books, has just reissued seven of my previous books. Do check them out, if you're interested.

The last book, number fifteen, MY LADY GLORIANA, is new, and has just been published. by Diversion

      Best to all until my next blog post!

      Sylvia Halliday

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