Horsing Around

And They're Off!

And They’re Off!

Summers in my heyday included weekend trips to Lake George, sunbathing in Grafton Park, and the much-anticipated Saratoga Racing Season.

Spending the afternoon at the flat track wasn’t just a day at the races; it was an event. Each year, I’d plan what I’d wear, how much money I’d bring, how much I’d be willing to bet, what I’d spend on food and drink, and, no trip to the track was complete without going dancing afterwards, late into the night.

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Let me break it down for you…

First, let’s go over proper attire. Sure, plenty of people show up in cut-offs, sneakers, baseball caps, etcetera, etcetera. Schlemiels. Well, not this girl. No, sir! For my companions and me, half the fun of going to Saratoga was in the dressing up: sundresses, big hats, heels, Jackie-O sunglasses, leather clutch, pearls…you get the picture.

Now, let’s talk about the after-party:

Before heading out to the track, my friends and I would each pack bags of evening clothes and throw them into the trunk of my car. After the last race of the day, we’d go into town for dinner. Then, at about nine o’clock, we’d get into the backseat of the car, change into our “disco clothes” and head to a club called “The Rafters.”

The Rafters was located in the middle of Kaydeross Park, on Saratoga Lake. Every time I pulled into the parking lot, I was amazed that I found my way there. “Remote” doesn’t begin to describe it.

It was a favorite hangout for all the jockeys and trainers.

At the risk of sounding “braggy,” let me just say I was a most sought-after girl at The Rafters. Why? Well it could have been because I was…

  1. …young and beautiful
  2. … an accomplished and enthusiastic dancer partner, or
  3. … the shortest woman in the room

If you guessed D (all of the above), you would be wrong.

The answer is C. At 4’11” and 92 lbs, I made every jockey feel like a colossus. I won’t name drop, but I danced with all the greats {Did somebody say Angel Cordero?}

I’d hit the dance floor and stay there until the lights came up and it was time to go home. These were some of the happiest times of my college years.

 

So, imagine my excitement when my friend Harris moved to Baltimore and invited a group of us to come down for the Preakness.

My first order of business was to buy the right outfit for such a swanky occasion. After a period of careful discernment, I settled on a pastel linen skirt –the fabric of which looked like a Monet watercolor. The blouse was a gauzy trapeze top, sheer (with the exception of two strategically placed pockets – if you know what I mean). It was sexy, but tasteful and sophisticated at the same time. For footwear, I selected a pair of gray kitten heels. At the track, there’s a lot of walking on grass and gravel, so a low heel is essential. To round out the ensemble, I chose a straw cloche hat al a Mia Farrow al a Daisy Buchanan al a The Great Gatsby.

Feathered Saratoga Hat

Fast forward to racing day. About 12 of us were camped out at Harris’s condo. I emerged from the guest room, looking like I was being presented at Buckingham Palace.

Harris asked, “Where are you going?”

“Pimlico, baby!” I cheered.

“Not like that, you’re not,” he said.

“Why? What’s wrong?”

He shook his head, “You’re gonna ruin that outfit. We’re sitting in the infield.

“Who’s gonna what now?” I asked.

“The infield,” he repeated. “That’s where we’re sitting.”

Let me put this in perspective for you: At Saratoga, we’d sit in the Clubhouse, at linen-covered tables, soaking up air-conditioning and cool Saratoga Sunrise cocktails. The Saratoga infield was a manicured oasis – lush emerald grass accented with vibrant flowers and neatly trimmed shrubbery.

Through his chuckling, Harris advised, “Go put on some shorts and sneakers. Then you can help us pack the cooler.”

“Cooler?” Really?

I retreated back to the guest room and changed into the aforementioned schlemiel costume (sans backward baseball cap), then reported to the kitchen to help make ham sandwiches for our picnic lunch.

Feathered Pimlico Infield Hat

Feathered Pimlico Infield Hat

When we arrived at Pimlico, we were directed to a tunnel that ran under the track. It was relatively short, but no less hot, humid or fragrant as the finest New York City subway station.

 

The mob scene on the other side was something like “Woodstock meets Honey Boo Boo.”

The ground was thick with mud, the kind that sucks your shoes off when you walk through it. Drunken revelers staggered all over the place and the smell of pot wafted from every direction.

To give you an idea of the infield dress code: there was a woman in a string bikini made of four seashells and leather straps. We started referring to her as “Shelley.” Some people had pitched tents and dug out privies, I swear to god! (I wondered how long they’d been there and how long they planned on staying).

I didn’t see much horseracing that day, because I was mesmerized by my surroundings. Afraid I’d get lost and end up in someone hillbilly’s encampment, I never left the infield to place a bet. While sitting on a soggy blanket, I drank lukewarm beer from a can and ate sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper.

And truth be told, I never had that much fun at a horserace before or since.

Dadgumit! Where’d Shelley git to?

 

 

 

Good Grief

Our family vacation was only three weeks away when we got the bad news.  It would change everything.

About a month earlier, we decided that our health routine could probably use some tweaking…a lot of tweaking, actually.  None of us were really feeling our best, so we had full work-ups done at a wellness center in Manhattan.   Dr. Morrison examined us, took blood tests, saliva tests, and thoroughly interviewed each of us.

The tests had come in and we assembled in his office for our results.

He went over mine first: No remarkable food sensitivities or environmental allergies.  I will say (with a bit of bravado) that I look pretty good…on paper anyway.

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 Then he went over my husband’s and my daughter’s reports.  There it was in black and white: they were both highly sensitive to gluten.

Thus began the mourning period or as I called it “The Five Stages of Gluten-Free Grief.”

 

Let's the grieving begin

Let’s the grieving begin

Denial and Isolation

My husband’s grieving process was textbook.  He kind of shrugged and said, “Well, I guess I just won’t have anymore gluten then.”    Like it would be that simple.  He had no idea where gluten was hiding.  It was in his soy sauce, his favorite chips, in pizza, in beer!   He ignored the fact that he was surrounded by gluten and could be ambushed at any moment.  Talk about denial!

Our daughter was somewhat more animated about the situation, to the surprise of no one. (New Flash: teenagers aren’t famous for suppressing their feelings).  “Are you kidding me?! What am I suppose to eat now?  Water and lettuce?  No more bagels?  No more soup dumplings?  Like I’m really never gonna have another PopTart for the rest of my life?!”

I gave Dr. Morrison a look that suggested my daughter was hallucinating, then turned to her and said, “Oh goodness.  You know I don’t let you children eat PopTarts.”  Was I in denial myself? Or was I just flat-out lying?  I’ll never tell.

She grumbled and complained on our way back to the house.  When we got there, she grabbed an entire box of PopTarts, and stormed up to her room, slamming the door.

Isolation?  Check.

In fact my daughter is so efficient, she managed to sweep through Denial and Isolation in under an hour; sailing straight into Stage 2: Anger.  The problem was, she got there quickly, but stayed a bit longer than the rest of us were really loving.  That is, until she decided to stretch her negotiating muscles.   Which brings us to…

Stage 3: Bargaining

Since our family vacation was to take place in London, our daughter was already looking for leverage, “If I don’t eat any gluten between now and London, can I have afternoon tea when we’re there?”

If you’re unfamiliar with a proper English afternoon tea, it is a late day meal between 4 and 6 o’clock, consisting of tea with scones, tartlets, pastries, cookies, gluten, gluten and gluten.

So I did some bargaining of my own, “If I find a place that serves a gluten-free afternoon tea, would you settle for that?”

“OK, but if it’s awful, can I get a real afternoon tea?”

She drove a hard bargain, but it seemed fair.  After all, she might never get back to London, afternoon tea was something she had really been looking forward to, and was it really worth ruining the vacation over one meal?   “It’s a deal!” I said.  We shook on it.

We were staying at the Langham London, known for superior service, which I was about to test.  I called and arranged for gluten-free bread at every meal and a special gluten-free afternoon tea.  Their Executive Pastry Chef, the incredibly talented Cherish Finden, prepared an amazing array of delights that would have made your eyes pop out of their sockets.  It was as glorious to look at as it was to taste.  My daughter loved it.

Gluten-free heaven!

Gluten-free heaven!

If you’re thinking we were lucky enough to skip over Stage 4: Depression, think again.  There was no way we would get off that easily.  But the depression did not come from our daughter.  It came from our son, and who could blame him?  Here he was, a foodie with a cast iron stomach, and he had to listen to countless conversations about gluten on his last vacation before going off to college.

I should probably mention at this point that he and I would be gluten-free in front of daddy and daughter, but we guilt-ridden gluten-tolerators were sneaking pizza and sandwiches when nobody was looking.  There is no Gluten-Free Grief stage for that, but if there were, it would probably be called, “The Closet Eating” stage or the “You Ought To Be Ashamed Of Yourselves” stage.

Anyway, we were dining along the Thames at a place called Founders Arms.  There, on the menu, was a burger called the “Tower 42.” If you are a burger lover, which I am not, you would probably walk through fire to get one.  It’s described on the menu as a “double prime beef burger, cheese, bacon, young’s ale onions, lettuce, mayo, ketchup, gherkins, fries.”

Daughter wanted it.

“Sure,” I said, “You can have it without the bun.”

5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

It's not your friend, girl.

It’s not your friend, girl.

The ensuing argument took place in hushed tones (we were, after all, in a restaurant), but the venom was no less potent.  After about 10 minutes of hissing, begging, pleading and general carrying on, my son had had enough.

With his phone hidden under the table,  he started texting me:  “For the love of god, LET HER HAVE THE BURGER!  I can’t take anymore.  This gluten issue is ruining my vacation and I don’t even believe its a real thing!”

I texted back: “It IS real! It will make her sick and she’ll be miserable all day tomorrow.”

He responded: “I’m miserable now.”

“Get the burger,” I told her.  My husband looked at me as if I’d lost mind. We’d come so far.  Placing my hand on his knee, I slipped him my phone so he could see the texts. “But,” I continued to our daughter, “If you don’t feel good tomorrow, you’re just going to have to deal with it without taking the rest of us down with you.”

“I promise,” she said.

Am I a bad parent?  Well, which child would you have sacrificed?

Stage 5: Acceptance

The next morning, she was like a bear, poked in her den well before spring; grizzly, grumpy and short-tempered. Prior to devouring the impressive Tower 42, she’d been a total delight; laughing, fun, adventurous, sweet…we had been having a wonderful time. Now, the evidence was staring us straight in the eye.  There was no more denying it.  Gluten was not her friend.  I pointed out that, prior to that burger, she’d been a totally adorable lambkins on the trip.  That’s when the lightbulb went on for her, and for my son, and for me.

Acceptance.

That was about three years ago.  Since that time, both she and my husband have mostly been gluten-free superstars.  But on those occasions when they fall off the wagon, my son and I make a run for it…to the nearest pizzeria.

Ladybug

When I worked on Wall Street, the CEO of our company would sometimes ask me for huge, labor-intensive projects, which were tons of extra work and would prevent me from doing the job I was supposed to be doing.

When I would turn these projects in, he’d say things like, “What’s this? Oh, did I ask for this? Gee, I don’t think I need this. Just hang on to it.” And he’d never mention it again.

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It happened frequently enough, that I decided if he asks me twice, then I’ll do it. So, occasionally, he’d ask a second time, “How’s that report coming?” Then I’d rush to get it done; only to be told later, “Oh, I forgot to mention that I don’t need it anymore.”

That’s when I developed the Rule Of Three. Here’s how it works:

  • Ask me once, I’d say, “You bet!” Then I’d make notes and do nothing more.
  • Ask me twice, I’d say, “I’m on it!” I’d then gather the data, and set it with my notes.
  • Ask me a third time and I’d say, “You’ll have it by the end of the day.” At this point, I’d compile my notes and data, then type up the report and hand it in.

I know, this strategy sounds like the fast track to unemployment, but it actually worked beautifully. I stopped putting in hours of unpaid overtime, stayed on top of the job I was actually hired to do, and the CEO was always satisfied with the special projects that he actually wanted.

I haven’t worked on Wall Street in decades, but sometimes I still use the Rule Of Three. For example, when my mother turned 79, she told me what she wanted to do for her 80th birthday. Taking me aside, she whispered, “Here’s what it is…and you can’t tell anybody in the family: I want you to take me to have a ladybug tattooed on my ass.”

Now, if that doesn’t sound like a Rule Of Three request, I don’t know what does. I told her, “You bet!”

That was in February of 2010. When we saw each other that Easter, she didn’t mention it.   Then Memorial Day came and went. No further conversation about it. At our July 4th barbeque, she didn’t bring it up. So I figured either she forgot about it, didn’t really mean it, or changed her mind.

In August, I got a phone call.

It was my mother. “Did you find a pattern?” she asked.

“For what?”

“For my ladybug tattoo!” she said.

She was asking me for the second time. “I’m on it!” I said.

I searched the Internet for ladybug tattoo patterns.

There were hundreds of them. Who knew? So I picked out a few of the tiniest ones I could find and emailed them to her.

She called me back.

“These are too small,” she said. “Can you find something a little bigger?”

At this point, I should probably tell you my opinion of tattoos. Growing up, I had a Great Uncle Frank. He had a glass eye and tattoo of a hula girl on his forearm. Rolling up his sleeve, he’d say, “Kids, look!” Then he’d make her dance by flexing his muscles. He got the hula girl when he was in the Navy. Great Uncle Frank was only person I ever knew to have a tattoo – until I was touring with a  theater company many years later.

One of our appearances was at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY, and the cheapskates who arranged the tour booked us rooms at a place called the Dome Hotel (which I just Googled to make sure it doesn’t still exists – and it doesn’t, thank God). It was the scariest place I’d ever seen, and I was expected to sleep there! But it wasn’t just the ‘Old Chelsea Hotel of yesteryear meets heroin den’ ambiance…it was the elevator operator. A dead ringer for the crypt keeper, he had tattoos on his knuckles that looked like he’d done them himself with a sewing needle and a Bic pen. I was terrified of him, so I made small talk to perhaps win him over. I thought if we had a human connection, maybe he wouldn’t murder me in my sleep.

“Interesting tattoos you got there,” I said, feigning interest.

“I got ‘em on the ‘inside,’” he said.

Initially, I thought that meant there was such a thing as internal tattoos and he had a few somewhere inside his body. I later learned that “on the inside” was a euphemism for prison, which I’m very glad I didn’t know back then.

So these are my associations with tattoos. Only people who served in the Navy, or served time, have them.

It was this connotation that caused me to have underwhelming enthusiasm about helping my own mother to get one.

However, she hadn’t yet asked for the third time – until that November. She called me two weeks before Thanksgiving and asked me if I’d make an appointment to have it done on Black Friday. Now I had to believe she was serious.

“I’ll get it done by the end of the day,” I told her.

So, I called Big Joe & Sons Tattooing in Yonkers. I learned that tattoo parlors aren’t like beauty parlors. You don’t need an appointment.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving Day. I had 33 hungry people packing my house, waiting for grub. My mother kept pulling me aside to say how excited she was. Every time my mother caught my eye she’d wink, or giggle. As promised, I had told no one in the family. I did talk to two of my closest girlfriends who immediately elevated my mother to Rock Star status.

Finally, Black Friday was upon us – or, as I will forever refer to it, Red and Black Friday.   While everyone else was heading to the mall, my mother and I headed off to Big Joe & Sons.

As we entered, I saw an older woman, I’d guess about 75-years-old, paying at the counter. When she left, I asked the employee, “Is it National Nana Gets A Tattoo Day?”

The girl answered in earnest, “We do nipple piercing, too.”

Ooooooookay.

When it was my mother’s turn, she showed the pattern to the tattoo artist who, I must confess, really seemed to be talented. He showed us how he was going to add some shading and highlighting to give the ladybug more dimension.

While that made me feel a little better, I could not get past the idea that I was party to something that would come back to bite me. What if something bad happens? What if my mother gets an infection? What if my father has a fit and divorces her after nearly 60 years of marriage? But we were already in too deep; she was leaning over a chair and her pants were shimmied down, exposing the back of her hip.

The tattoo artist made lively banter with my mother, (they were sort of flirting, actually) and told her about watercolor tattoos and glow-in-the-dark tattoos, and about the most painful part of a man’s body on which to get a tattoo (take your mind out of the gutter! It’s his ribs, potty brain!).

The whole time, I sat in a chair, watching this surreal scene and wondering if I should revise the Rule Of Three to make it the Rule Of Ask Someone Else Why Don’t Ya. But when all was said and done, the tattoo actually looked quite nice. And I did get a little thrill that my mother had trusted me with her secret – which I had to keep until the following February, on her 80th birthday, when she unveiled her ink to the family.

So yes…we’ve all had some wonderful moments and memories with our mom’s. Some of us remember sitting with our moms, sipping cocoa at an outdoor café. Some of us have felt the touch of their comforting love and generosity in times when we needed bolstering and some of us have taken our moms to Big Joe & Sons for her first, and hopefully, her last tattoo.

 

The Lady Of The House

postcard-westchester-county-new-york

We have arrived!

By the time our daughter was born, it was obvious that our little garden apartment could no longer contain us. We’d shoved her crib into her big brother’s room, and wedged her changing table in a corner next the closet (the door of which could no longer enjoyed its full range of motion).  Her dresser was in the kitchen. We were bursting at the seams.

So, after scraping together every nickel and cashing out our paltry investments (like our 75-cents worth of Disney stock), we managed to buy our first house in the suburbs. In Westchester County, no less (the Shangri-La of suburban New York State).

Oh, we had arrived!

There were, however, some weird moments during those early days.

Before we moved in,  we had the whole place painted and the hardwood floors resurfaced. Once, when I showed up to check on the progress, the painter greeted me with, “You must be the lady of the house.” It seems absurd, but I really didn’t understand the question. I stood there, mouth agape. He tried again, “Are you the homeowner?”

“Who me?” Then, as if a hypnotist snapped his fingers in front of my face, I woke up. “Why, yes. Yes! I am the homeowner!”

Homeowner. Such a glorious word! It stirred up such a sense of security, such pride. But it was still so new, it hadn’t fully sunk in.

Finally, it was move-in day and I began unpacking.

Some of our toiletries were too tall to fit in the medicine cabinet, so I set them aside and considered buying a bathroom storage piece of some sort. Two days later (two!), it occurred to me that I was allowed to adjust the medicine cabinet shelves because I owned that medicine cabinet and the wall it was attached to, and every other wall surrounding it.

But the weirdness didn’t stop there. My voice was changing. I caught myself speaking from the back of my throat through clenched teeth, “Kids! We’re going to Bed Bath & Beyond for home décor!” Here in Westchester, we call this affectation “Larchmont Lockjaw,” (think: Lovey and Thurston Howell, III, from Gilligan’s Island)

What the hell was happening to me? “Stop it, stop it, stop it!” said my inner voice. “You haven’t been coronated! All you did was buy a house, ya crazy bee-otch!”

But it was hard to resist. I was feeling so high, so grand! I’d always dreamt of owning; I watched all those “interior design on a dime” shows, I read Martha Stewart Living magazine, and I kept a scrapbook of paint colors and garden layouts… Oh, we hadn’t just bought a house. We bought a dream. And we were the perfect American family: Mommy, Daddy, Son and Daughter. Now all we needed was a dog and a second car. A minivan! But those things would have to wait, since we’d sunk our last sou into our new abode.

At some point, I pulled myself together and came to my senses. It might have been on that third day after moving in when my husband took a bedtime bath.

In the morning, we discovered that the tub leaked. Water poured through a light fixture in the kitchen, collapsing part of the freshly painted ceiling onto the newly refinished floor.

Or maybe it was around Christmas when a chimney sweep called, claiming to have worked for the previous owner. Since this was my first rodeo, I let him come and he scammed me out of $1200.

Or it could have been the time the skylights sprung a leak turning my family room into a tropical rainforest, soaking our brand new furniture.

Ah yes, homeownership is a dream many of us aspire to. But only the strong survive when the shizzle gets real.

All in all, that house was very good to us. We stayed there for six years and, through all of it, I was so happy. Some nights I’d stand out front gazing at it; its forest green shutters and bright white cedar shakes, the house number plaque I’d custom ordered from LL Bean, light streaming through the gauzy curtains of our dining room… On those nights, I wished my arms were long enough to wrap around and hug it, for it wasn’t just our house. It was our home.

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What’d You Call Me?

My name is WHAT?

My name is WHAT?

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In the Old Testament, God sent Adam out to name all the animals. He came up with things like, dog, cat, hippopotamus – which is a lot of syllables for a guy who was just created. Kudos!

Even so, people names can be a bit trickier because, let’s face it, a hippo can’t grow up to tell his therapist how much he’s always hated his name.

Which is why names can be a very sensitive subject.

But names are also highly suggestive.

How many times have you encountered a written name (with no other information, no context) and found yourself conjuring up an image or assumption about the person who carries it? Wait…you don’t think you do that? Really? OK, let’s play a game. I’ll give you a list of names and you see if you don’t paint a mental picture of the bearer (no matter how hard you try not to). Ready? Here we go:

Jessica

Eunice

Armando

Sheldon

I predict you envisioned Jessica as a beautiful young woman, probably with flowing hair. She is tall and lithe, with perky boobs.

Eunice is older, she’s wearing glasses, a tweed skirt, possibly support hose and extremely sensible shoes. She talks through her nose (sorry, Eunice).

Armando is a sexy suave European with his sport coat thrown over his shoulder and a scotch-on-the-rocks in his free hand. His gaze is smoldering.

Sheldon, in his white socks, Hushpuppy Oxfords and chinos is sitting in a messy office balancing his clients’ books.

I apologize to Shel as well, but you see what I mean?

This is why some expectant parents torture themselves over the naming of their children. I’ve known people who will not divulge a name they’re considering because, invariably, someone will urinate all over it:

“Katrina? My best friend was named Katrina! She used to pick her nose and eat it.”…“You’re gonna name your kid Luke? Why?”

 …and so on.

Then there are those who are not expecting but have picked names for possible future offspring (that they may or may not ever have) as a way of calling “dibbsies” on their friends and family. I’ve even heard of siblings and cousins competing to get pregnant first so they can “score” a coveted family name. It’s like a twisted pregnancy lottery.

When we were thinking about names during my first pregnancy, we were advised to give each one the “playground test” which means: don’t use any name unless you can comfortably call it out without incident (so “Fire” would be an obvious bad choice), or embarrassment:

“Caesar? Caesar! Caligula Caesar!!! Leave that kid alone! C’mere, honey. Mommy’s got Sunny D!”

“Who’s gonna mess with a kid named Buzz?”

Hubby and I wanted a name that was a little unique, but nothing outlandish. So that’s the kind of name we bestowed on our baby boy. What we didn’t expect was that he’d go through a phase of hating it. I found this out when I learned he was using an alias at day camp.  He was six.  Really, he should be thanking us, because we were seriously considering the name Crispin until we found out St. Crispin is the patron saint of shoes. Why would shoes need a patron saint? They don’t have souls. Oh, hey, wait a minute…

When people tell me the names they’re planning to use, I try not react. I know a woman who is planning to name her boy Buzz, when he’s born this summer. I can’t lie. My first reaction was, “Buzz? For real?” But then I mulled it over a little. “Buzz. Buzz. Buzz!” The more I said it, the more I liked it. In fact, I think I love it. It’s a good, strong, masculine name! Who’s gonna mess with a guy named “Buzz”? It worked for Buzz Aldren (and didn’t hurt Buzz Lightyear either, for that matter).

So that got me thinking about other names, and I began to feel a little ashamed of myself. When Gwyneth Paltro named her daughter “Apple,” I thought it was a marginal form of child abuse. But now I say, “Why not?!” People, especially girls, are named after objects all the time: Rose, Ivy, Peaches…Peaches! So why not Apple? I guess, maybe you just don’t want your kid to be Bananas.

Matzo Ball Soup

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In the Spring of 1990, Easter and Passover landed on the same weekend. It just so happened, that was also the weekend I chose to bring my boyfriend home to meet my family. Since we are Catholic and he is Jewish, I thought why don’t I surprise him and make matzo ball soup with Easter dinner?!

I had never made it before and, truth be told, I’d never eaten it before either. But, I figured, it’s soup. How hard could it be?

Since I wanted to make a good impression, I called his mother and asked for her recipe.

“Manischewitz,” she said.

“Is that a cookbook?” I asked her

“No, no,” she said. “It’s a brand. It comes in a box. From the supermarket.”

“Oh,” I said. “But I kind of wanted to make your recipe. The one he grew up with.”

“Manischewitz,” she repeated. “Just throw some fresh chopped parsley in there. It makes it look more homemade.”

So, I went to the store to find the mix. The package claimed that one box made nine servings: a cup of broth and one matzo ball each.

This was perfect because 18 people were coming for dinner. I bought two boxes. Following the directions, I prepared the matzo meal, but when I rolled out the balls, they were as small as walnuts – miniscule.

I would be embarrassed to offer such a puny portion to my boyfriend. So, I went back to the store and bought two more boxes, then combined all the matzo meal and doubled the size of the balls. They still looked small to me, but it was actually better that way. I wouldn’t want everyone to fill up on soup, since my mother was cooking a huge ham. As you may have guessed, I hadn’t fully thought things through, menu-wise.

Once the balls were done, I carefully dropped them into the prepared broth. As per the package instructed, I covered it tightly.

While waiting for the soup to cook, I chopped the fresh parsley.

All this was going on at the same time that my family was getting to know my boyfriend. And by “getting to know” I mean “interrogating.”

After the soup was allowed to cook for the prescribed 20 minutes, I removed the lid.

It was like a David Copperfield trick. All of the broth, ever last drop, had disappeared. And each matzo ball had magically transformed into blobs the size of a grapefruit! But it was too late to start over. My mother had called everyone in to dinner and they were already seated. So I had to serve it.

Sinker!

To make matters worse, my mothers fancy china came with dainty little soup bowls. I could barely fit one ball in each.

My sister came into the kitchen to help me serve. She looked at one of the bowls, looked in the pot and asked, “What the hell are these?”

“Knock it off” I snapped. “They’re matzo balls, of course. What do they look like?”

“Grapefruits,” she replied.

“Never mind, just bring them out,” I said, as I hit each bowl with a few sprinkles of parsley. Oh, yeah. That parsley made all the difference. They looked homemade all right. Homemade by a shiksa who can’t follow directions from a box of soup mix.

My boyfriend looked at his bowl and I knew that he knew that I knew I’d screwed up. And then he said, “Sinkers! My favorite! These are just the way my mother made them.”

Now what do you do with a guy who’d tell such a sweet lie. You marry him of course. And that’s just what I did.

Introducing: SNORK, the podcast!

Hello, Snorkers!

At the beginning of this year, I hinted that some changes were coming to SNORK. Well, they have finally arrived!  Aside from our whole new look, we also have a new format.

SNORK, the podcast, a radio show version of the blog you love, is now available on iTunes!  CLICK HERE for your free subscription. You can also access the show in Podbay, Podcast Republic, Podcast Addict, etc.

Available on iTunes

Don’t fret…if you prefer to read SNORK rather than listen to the show, you still can.  All new posts and podcast episodes will continue to appear here.

For the podcast, we’re going to revisit some of your favorite posts from the past (as well as treat you to some brand new ones), we’ll have special guests, contests, and lots more surprises!

For this inaugural episode, we’ve retold one of SNORK’s most popular stories, called Siri-ously?  

So here’s your choice: you can listen to the podcast version by clicking here, or read Siri-ously? by clicking here. If you’re an Android user, you can also access the podcast through one of their apps: Podcast Republic or Podcast Addict.

We’d love your feedback on the podcast – our new baby – so please write to us and share your thoughts!

However you choose to enjoy SNORK, we are just so happy to have you as part of the SNORK family!

 

Give Them Love

For many, the holidays are a time of rejoicing, of abundance, and of feasting. But it can be the most difficult time of the year for many others. This SNORK is a public service announcement, dedicated to shining a light on a group of people who are often mocked, marginalized, and misunderstood. I am, of course, referring to vegans.

Oh, I can just hear you: “Who me? Why, some of my best friends are vegans!”

Please don’t try to defend yourself. I’ve seen it first-hand; the way people roll their eyes when someone announces their veganism. I’ve heard, “Well, I’d invite so-and-so to the dinner party, but have you ever tried cooking for a vegan? It’s a pain in the ass!”

I can tell you what it’s like from both perspectives because I, too, was once one of them.

It all happened very suddenly. I was working out at the gym one day, when my trainer handed me a copy Skinny Bitch. His message, while as subtle as a blood-curdling scream, was not lost on me. By the time I finished reading it, I was so repulsed by the thought of food, any food, that I ate nothing but organic strawberries for the next three days. I won’t go into details here, but if you’ve read it, you know what I mean.

So, just like that, without forethought, I made a drastic and life-changing decision. This was not a bright idea, by the way. It’s probably better to put a little planning into something that dramatic, but no – not me! I jumped right in. Hindsight might suggest that I was actually pushed into it by an over-enthusiastic 19-year-old trainer with less than 4% body fat, but I bear no ill will against him (and may he blow up like a balloon when he hits the age of 40). Anyway…

The first step toward my new lifestyle was to drive to Whole Foods and purchase about a trillion dollars worth of groceries marked “vegan.” Whole Foods makes it all so easy by clearly tagging vegan-friendly products. No pesky label reading for this girl. Thank you Whole Foods.

The next step was to eat the food identified as “vegan.” This was a little trickier than purchasing it. For example, there is a phenomenon known as “vegan cheese.” Now, if you have had a lifelong love affair with all things dairy, this rubbery impostor will make you cry real tears. I searched the web for the most recommended brands, bought them all, tested them in a variety of recipes and decided I’d rather go without than try to fool myself into believing this crap was cheese (or even food, for that matter).

After a few weeks, two things became obvious:

  1. The vegan foods from the supermarket are so highly processed, you may as well eat a Big Mac (no offense Mickey D), and
  2. Whenever mealtime rolled around, I wanted to curl into the fetal position. You see, preparing food was becoming a much bigger chore since my carnivorous days…so much so, in fact, that I hated eating.

Now this should alarm you. Here I was, a healthy American-Italian-Armenian (translation: unabashed food lover) and I did not want to eat. My meals became repetitive and uninspired. Breakfast: oatmeal with berries and almond milk. Lunch: peanut butter on apples or bananas. Dinner: sautéed vegetables with rice and beans, and a salad. Zzzzzzz…

I should mention that during this time, I did not force my family to get on board. Hubby and the kids were still enjoying omnivore cuisine. I would cook for them without ever feeling the least bit resentful as I listened to sunny-side-up eggs popping and squeaking in the frying pan. I did not once growl or grimace as I coated precious, tender lamb chops with my own concoction of mint, garlic, onions and lemon and then smelled their heavenly aroma as they sizzled upon the grill. Oh, no! I was more than happy to do it, while my rice was boiling on the stove.

You had me at ‘mallow.

I should also mention that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t so much fun to be around during my vegan adventure. As a result, my kids went from being normal teenagers to becoming food pushers: “Hey mom, you gotta try this provolone!” Or, “Tonight would be a great night for s’mores! Whaddya say?” They were desperate because I was becoming a real drag, a chronic cranky pants, to be exact. But I remained steadfast (against my own instincts). Oh, and are you surprised that vegans can’t have s’mores? Well, chocolate has milk in it and marshmallows (my kryptonite) are made with gelatin, which comes from pigs. So cross those off the list, along with every other delicious thing you can possibly think of.

Something else that I longed for was dining out. So hubby took me to a local Mexican restaurant and assured me there must be something on the menu that I could eat. Of course, I asked all the pertinent vegan questions to make sure there was not a hint of the verboten in my meal. After I sufficiently interrogated the waiter, I ordered a vegetable burrito (which was not on the menu, so I explained how to make one). When my dinner arrived, it was essentially under-cooked broccoli, with a few carrot slivers, wrapped in a tortilla. I just looked at it, sighed and drank my meat-free water. Misery.

And then, the moment I dreaded the most…we were invited to a Christmas party – a Christmas dinner party. I gave my husband strict instructions not to tell anyone I was a vegan. I did not want to be one of those preachy, demanding people with “dietary issues.” Surely I could navigate the meal by eating side dishes, after nonchalantly asking about their ingredients: “Wow, those Brussels sprouts look super tasty! What’s in them? Oh, bacon? Like real bacon or those soy bacon bits? Oh, real bacon. Ohhh.” Curse you, real bacon! And of course I could always fall back on the salad, and perhaps have some salad and maybe take a little salad. God help me if the hostess got creative by adding cheese to it.

That first party went off without a hitch. No one was the wiser. But the second soiree took a nasty turn. While performing my new skill of undercover food detective, I was able to ascertain which items on the table were OK and which were off-limits. But something must have had a hidden criminal element in it, such as chicken broth or perhaps butter. How do I know? Because when I got home, I was sicker than sick. It was the kind of sick that makes you fear you might die, and then fear that you might not. I had passed up the gorgeous beef Wellington, skipped the creamy mashed potatoes, and ignored the luscious cheesecake only to be taken down by the wild rice or some frigging yams! Unbeknownst to me, when you give up animal product for any length of time and then eat it again, your body holds a clearance sale: Everything Must Go!

Yet I still wasn’t willing to give up. Why? Truth be told, I never felt physically better in my life (with the exception of the aforementioned “incident”). Gone was the arthritis pain in my knee. No more belly bloat. No more general malaise. Psychologically, however, I was feeling pretty damn sorry for myself. But, life is full of trade-offs. Right? Certainly I would get used to this new way of eating. Right? People, I do not have what it takes to make a successful martyr. Sorry. No can do.

But here’s what finally tipped the scales and put me back on the meat wagon…my old pal, Whole Foods.

Each November, Whole Foods publishes a holiday menu full of catering fare. I always have at least 30 people for holiday dinners and, handy though I may be in the kitchen, I am not equipped to run a banquet hall. So I’ve always turned to Whole Foods for an assist. Basically I order the same things every year: one shrimp cocktail platter that serves 12 (if you show up late, you’re out of luck, my friend), an assorted crudité platter that serves 24, one Brie en croute that serves up to 10, and a double order of their turkey dinner for 8 (which consists of two turkeys and various sides). While flipping through the menu in search of additional dishes to round out the meal, I saw it. There it was, on page 10…the saddest thing you can imagine, especially during the holidays. Among the sumptuous offerings of “Rib Roast Dinner for 8” and “Roasted Pork Loin for 4” was “Vegan Dinner…for 1.”

One is the loneliest number.

One is the loneliest number.

In that moment, it all came into focus. I was alone. I was dinner for one. And, bloat be damned, I was hungry for cheese. Glorious, glorious cheese! And marshmallows. Real marshmallows made from Porky Pig! And wild salmon! And beef! I broke down is a puddle of my own wanton desire. It was not pretty, but it was bound to happen.

Therefore, when I say to you, “vegans need love,” I know what I’m talking about. So, the next time you meet one, or have to cook for one, or have to eat with one, keep an open mind. Do not judge. Do not mock. Instead, open your arms and give that skinny bitch a hug.

 

Believing is Believing

“Aha! I knew it!” I could hear my daughter’s squeaky little voice coming through her bedroom door. She was maybe about 7-years-old at the time.

Emerging triumphantly into the hallway, she began waving something in my face. At first, I thought it was a grain of rice, but her maniacal grin revealed a new gap along her bottom gums.

“Look!” Sure enough, she held one of her baby teeth between her fingers. “I lost this last night, but I didn’t tell a grown-up…and this morning, the tooth was still there…and there was no money! I knew the Tooth Fairy wasn’t real!

Now, another parent might have buckled. Another parent might have choked. But you’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning to outfox this fox.

With the cool detachment of a seasoned poker player or sociopath, I said, “Well of course she didn’t come. The Tooth Fairy communicates telepathically with grown-ups. If the grown-ups don’t know you’ve lost a tooth, she won’t know you’ve lost a tooth.”

My daughter eyed me suspiciously. Then declared, “Well, I don’t believe she exists.”

I’m not going to lie (to you). This stung me. She was still so young and I was not ready to see her give up on those charming childhood traditions.

Deciding to push another button, she added, “And I don’t believe in the Easter Bunny either!”

Seeing that I was still squarely on-kilter, she pounded the final nail into my mommy coffin… “Or Santa!”

NOOOO! Not Santa! On the inside, I died a little bit that day. But on the outside, there were no cracks in my façade. I knew that my reaction would either prolong those fairytales for a little while, or make her a cynic well before her time.

Without skipping a beat, I called her bluff, “Gee, that’s too bad.”

“Why?” She looked worried.

“Because when you stop believing, they stop coming.” I had her right where I wanted her. But my girl is pretty cagey, having not fallen too far from the tree.

“Hmm…” she thought for a minute. “What if I fake believe?”

Incredible, I thought. This kid is relentless. But I just shrugged my shoulders and calmly said, “Nope. That’s not how it works.”

“OK, fine,” she grumbled as she left to replace the tooth back under her pillow.

Turning on my heel with my head held high, I went into the bathroom, shut the door, and ran the shower to conceal the sound of my sobbing.

My son is a different animal entirely. He instinctively knew it would be sad for me when he “learned the truth” about Santa. I should probably confess here that when I discovered he’d outgrown Baby Gap and graduated to Gap Kids (as was explained to me by a cold-hearted sales associate with no soul), I literally started crying right there in the middle of the store.

Anyway, it was a few days before Christmas when he said he needed to talk to me. He had that look people get when they know they’re going to tell you something you’re not going to like, but have to tell you anyway.

“I have a confession to make,” he began.

You’re 12, I thought. What could you possibly have to confess? I felt a chill run through me.

He stammered and stalled a little bit. Unlike his little sister, he was trying to let me down easy. “Well…I snooped.”

“Snooped?” I asked.

“I looked under the bed in the guest room…”

I immediately knew. And he knew that I knew. You see, all the presents from Santa are wrapped in distinct “Santa” wrapping paper with special gift tags (written in a curlicue hand that does not resemble mine), and stowed under the guest room bed. He had found his presents from Santa when Christmas hadn’t happened yet. This inconsistency in the holiday timeline could not be wriggled out of. I was trapped.

With wide eyes and a sweet loving heart, he said, “I’m sorry mom. Don’t feel bad. I’ve actually known for a while now.” And he put his arm around me. “But don’t worry. I won’t tell her.” The her he was referring to was, of course, his little sister. He was blissfully unaware that she’d already pulled the plug on me during the Tooth Fairy fiasco.

But now, here’s the funny thing about all this: kids really don’t know everything. If they thought for a moment about all those visits to St. Nick (such as the one that I previously documented here in SNORK) they would know that he does exist.

I have never stopped believing. In fact, every year, hubby and I pay that sweet old elf a visit before we go to see the tree at Rockefeller Center. And every year, he is just as jolly and warm and welcoming as the year before. And every year, as I’m walking through Macy’s Santaland, I am a child again, believing in peace on Earth, goodwill toward man, and the everlasting spirit and joy of the season. It fills me with a kind of love and comfort that can only be described as magical.

One day, my kids will experience this same enchanted feeling again. How can I be so sure?

Because, I believe.

Selfie with elf = Elfie

Selfie with elf = Elfie

She

She has always been one surprise after another…

For legitimate reasons, we believed a second child was not in the cards for us. So imagine our surprise when we were dealt a miracle! I was certain we would have another boy, just like our first, with jet-black hair and rich olive skin.

On delivery day, my husband and I were relaxing in a birthing suite at New York Hospital – very civilized. After an epidural (mine) and a nap (his), we started watching a movie, starring Bette Davis and Charles Boyer. I never saw the ending because, with only minutes left, my doctor decided that I looked “too comfortable.”

Upon examining me, she turned to her nurse and said, “Let’s go!”

Suddenly, off went the television. Poof! Bette and Charles left me alone with a doctor and a nurse scrambling around the room, and an anxious husband standing over my bed.

“Hang on a minute,” I said. “The movie’s almost over.”

My husband informed me that let’s go meant let’s go right now! “You didn’t see the look on her face,” he whispered.

“Like right now, right now?” I asked. “There’s five more minutes left of the movie!”

My doctor looked at me askance (priorities anyone?) and then told me to push.

Now, if you’ve ever expected a baby, I’m sure some thoughtful, kindhearted person has shared horror stories of women pushing for hours and hours… Me? I pushed once and only once, possibly setting a land-speed record in childbirth. I should have known right away that this little one would be a force of nature.

She draws you in

When the doctor handed her to me, she took my breath away– a perfectly round head covered in wisps of wavy hair, the color of pale summer wheat. She had full pouty lips and skin so creamy and translucent that she seemed illuminated from within. Her eyes were the color of emeralds. This little thing I cradled to my chest looked like a peach with the Gerber baby’s face superimposed onto it.

I fell completely and instantly in love.

If she felt the same way, it was not immediately obvious. Her hands were drawn up to the sides of her little fruit face, fists clenched and she was screaming more loudly than seemed possible for a person her size. Since we’d only just met, I didn’t take it personally.

She’s unpredictable…

Now that I’ve gotten to know her better, I can tell you that everything about my girl, and everything to do with her, is not what you’d expect.

There is no lay-up. There’s never a preamble. She glides and pirouettes with the shifting winds of her own creativity and goes wherever her ideas take her. And just when you think you know where she’s headed, she chicanes. A human plot twist on wheels is she, and I defy anyone to pin her down, or anticipate her next move.

She is a typical teenager…

She has a Tumblr account, Skypes with other kids, wears a ton of bracelets, plays the guitar, and loves to dye her hair crazy colors.

She is unlike any other…

She’d rather hang out in a library than go to a shopping mall, prefers writing with a fountain pen, hand-tats Victorian lace using an antique shuttle and is a loose tea connoisseur.

She is fearless…

Take for example the time she saw an open casting call, a paying gig, for a sketch comedy troupe in Manhattan. You know the Manhattan I’m talking about, right? The one filled with tens of thousands of unemployed actors who’d pummel each other just for the chance to wear a sandwich board in Times Square, if it meant having a job? Well, she asked if we’d drive her to the audition (because 15-year-olds don’t drive). As parents, we wanted to protect her and grappled with preparing a soft landing pad: Just so you know, sweetheart, it’s kind of a long shot… We’re so proud of you for trying, but… Instead, we decided to mind our own business and say nothing – which turned out to be the right thing because they hired her on the spot.

That’s the stuff from which she is made. She floats through life like a curious butterfly, winging it from one thing to another, lighting just long enough to gather an experience and then off she goes again, on to the next thing.

Me? I could never be like her. I am a planner. I like things organized. All the labels in my refrigerator face forward and my drinking glasses are arranged in the cabinet by size, shape and color. According to my calendar, I know exactly what I’m doing through to 2015. I don’t have OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), but living with her has turned me into the OCD (Ordered-Chaos Director). And while I can’t be certain, I’m guessing she was put here to teach me about spontaneity.

She is a parenting challenge…

Living with a person like this will keep you on your toes, I promise you.

So I don’t know why it came as any shock when she announced that she wanted to go to boarding school.

Everything was in place for her to attend our local high school, which is within walking distance from our house. I had mapped out the entire academic year in my head and that map did not lead to a school in another state, 150 miles away. But she had heard about this wonderful place and asked my husband to research it. He thought it was a great idea and made an appointment for a tour and an interview.

Did I mention that this all happened over the course of 48 hours? Did I also mention that I was dead-set against it? Now don’t get me wrong. Of course I want the best for both our children, but before her brother left the nest, there were four full years of high school to prepare for his departure. I knew what was coming. With her, I had no warning at all.

On the day of the appointment, I grudgingly went along for the ride (which was very scenic), took the tour of the school (which was quite impressive), agreed to an interview (which was certainly pleasant), and fell in love with the place (which was very sudden and surprising to everyone, especially to me).

With only two months to prepare, I vowed to make the most of our last scraps of time together. We spent the final week of August lazing by the shore. We walked along the boardwalk, shopped, got matching henna tattoos, and sampled fudge and frozen custard (the sweetness of which could not compare to those afternoons with my daughter).

Contrary to everyone else’s opinion, I will be fine. So what if she has occupied one-third of my waking thoughts and commanded so much of my attention for all these years? What does it matter that, since her brother started college, it’s been just the two of us at breakfast, after-school or whenever hubby is at work or traveling?

I am adjusting. She’s doing it, so I can, too. Right? Here’s how I cope: I imagine that she’s there with me when I have my morning coffee. I feel her presence in the passenger’s seat as I run my errands. I pretend she’s holding my hand, like she always did, when I have to do something that scares me. But there’s one thing I haven’t worked out yet: when I need her advice, I won’t be able to ask her, or call her, or text her. You see, she gives great advice, but I don’t want to interrupt her while she’s busy studying, and getting to know her roommate, and making friends.

She is my best friend…

Conventional wisdom and all the experts say that Rule Number One of childrearing is: Do not become your child’s best friend. That’s a boundary that should never be crossed. “Be the parent!” they say.

I always thought this advice was based on the principles of respect and discipline. If your child views you as a friend, she will not take you seriously. She will not listen to your rules. By relying on you for friendship, she will be hesitant to make friends of her peers.

Well, my daughter does respect me, and listen to my rules, and has never hesitated to venture out into the world.

So, here’s the real reason: Parenting Rule Number One exists not to protect the children, but rather to protect the parents. (Notice I said she is my best friend, not that I am hers.) When our offspring leave the nest, they will be on to their next adventure. They will be forging relationships and making friends and learning about themselves outside the context of their family. But you, my dear parent, will be left behind.  You’ll be sad, and you will be worried and you will be lonesome.

Photo by Paola A. Bowley Photography

I know all this to be true, because she moved out 3 weeks ago. The whole house feels different. And even though she’ll be back, she will be changed. Heck, she practically changes on a daily basis. She will be more mature. She will be more self-sufficient. But there is one thing that will be forever constant: I will always break Rule Number One and she will always be my best friend.