Friday, December 20, 2013

My Mom's Fur Coat

My mom’s fur coat had been hanging in my front closet ever since I moved her out to California–six months before she died. When we wanted to get our very seldom used cold-weather coats out, we’d push it to the right, and when we wanted to get our luggage out from the crawl space in the back of the closet, we’d push it to the left. We’d been pushing that coat back and forth for ten years, without even noticing it…without me ever wearing it. When the time came for us to relocate to the East Coast, and for me to start purging, I finally had to take the muscrat by the tail, so to speak, and deal with the fur coat. My husband thought I might take it with me, after all winters in Boston are mighty cold, and “lots of people there wear fur.” “No way,” I said. Even though I had nothing against wearing vintage, that black Persian lamb coat with the wide gray and black beaver cuffs was too big, too old-fashioned, and too REAL FUR! It would be very hypocritical of me to claim I was bent on making an ethical statement since I have no compunction about wearing leather shoes and jackets. And I would never scoff at a gift of the latest Miu Miu tote, but I would never be caught wearing a fur coat in public…well, aside from that time during a winter vacation in NYC. I had borrowed a friend’s beautiful parka, never thinking that the “fur” around the hood was real until a group of PETA members surrounded me on Fifth Avenue and followed me down the street yelling, “Bimbo in fur, bimbo in fur!” (Boy, did my kids and my niece get a kick out of that one. Thank goodness none of them were old enough to have iPhones at the time, as I’m sure the video would have been an overnight sensation on YouTube.) My mom’s coat represented so many things to me, so much of her personality and my childhood were wrapped up in that coat. I can remember the feel of the curly fur as I would sink my face into it. And the fur cuffs made me laugh as I would brush them across my nose when Mom wasn’t looking. The black and white paisley silk lining was chosen specifically for her. She had a matching scarf that she draped around her neck and tucked in, just so. So valuable was the coat, I believed, that her name was hand-embroidered on the lining in a fabulous scrolled font…”Blanch.” It was hers and only hers–and in case some mistaken soul should try to abscond with it from any of the various coat check rooms she hung it in, her personal ID was there for all to see. Back in those days it was de rigueur for my mother’s friends to own a fur…in fact many of them had many such coats. Their furriers were treated as members of the family  (what five-year-old even knows the word “furrier” these days?!?) My mother had her own furrier–he treated her almost as regally as he treated her coat. And when the weather grew warmer Mom’s coat, like all good fur coats, went on a paid vacation to “summer camp,” otherwise known as cold storage. (Didn’t everyone’s?) The coat for Mom was not just something that kept her incredibly warm, it was a symbol of prosperity and stature. A grand statement and a fierce slap in the face of those shadowy, haunting bogeymen and women who tried to vanquish her flame during the Holocaust. She had made it to Hell and back, and now she had the fur coat as proof of that emergence. The ethical aspect of wearing fur did not hold a candle to the ethical dilemma I dealt with when deciding what to do with the darn coat. How could I get rid of something that represented my mother’s battle cry of defiance? I’ve come across quite a few letters that were written by daughters who have wrestled with similar predicaments as my own. One woman had her mother’s coat made into a jacket so she could keep her mom’s embroidered name intact. Another mentioned that she found an animal preserve that uses old fur coats as bedding for rescued weasels and beavers. And yet one theater lover donated her coat to be used on stage during period plays. I like all those ideas (although I can’t say Mom would be too thrilled to know some old beaver was sleeping on Blanch’s pelt.) But I have to admit when push came to shove, the coat went into a storage facility with the rest of our things. And there it hangs, once again, its future in question. Knowing someone on Mad Men was wearing her coat would probably make her happy, but I know my mother would rather I just keep it as a memento.  And I just might…but really, I don’t need the actual coat to remember…the memories I have of her are already embedded in my mind. Does anyone else have a fur coat they inherited?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Relocation Anxiety...It's Not Only For Humans

(This post previously appeared on Betterafter50.com and The Huffington Post.)


One of the hardest things about relocating from West Coast to East Coast, from house to apartment, from suburb to city was not my adjustment... it was dealing with the adjustment of Dashiell, my dog. As crazy as it sounds, that almost had me running for the hills... yes, the hills of Beverly!
I know that owning a pet is supposed to be good for you... in fact, just last week the American Heart Association released a statement claiming that owning a pet, a dog in particular, was "'probably associated' with a reduced risk of heart disease," and I get that. You have to walk a dog, thereby getting some exercise yourself, but the article never mentioned how having a dog might also be harmful to your mental health!

I realize now that it was pretty unrealistic (and somewhat unfair) of me to assume that Dashiell would just adapt to any new situation, regardless of how different it was from his old one. Why wouldn't he?... When we first rescued him, didn't he boundlessly race at us on the heels of a 17-hour drive from Utah to California? Didn't he seem deliriously happy with us, even though he had just met us?
Why would I think a six-hour plane ride in a crate would send him into a tizzy? Why would I think that getting on an elevator, while strange people would continually be coming in and out, would cause him to growl and lunge at said strangers?

Why would I think that being left alone in a unfamiliar apartment with the door closed while I went to the market or the movies would cause him to chew the door and eat an entire leather purse?
Silly of me to just assume that everything would be copasetic. After all, I didn't exactly chow down on some leather and wood, but my adjustment wasn't what you might call a "piece of cake," either.
Historically, dogs have been looked upon to be servant-soldiers, combining the attributes of a best friend with that of a true guardian. I began to realize that in his new situation, Dashiell was not being allowed to perform his old doggy duties -- guarding the back yard, front yard, upstairs and downstairs of our lives, so he was adopting new roles for himself. The problem with those new "soldiering" roles was they were not going to fly in a high-rise in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Relocating with children in tow has its own challenges, but if they are old enough to communicate their fears, and ultimately make new friends, that's half the battle. We had done that once before, and it all worked out perfectly. When it became clear to me that Dashiell was trying to communicate his fears, in his own destructive and scary way, I realized that if he was to remain a part of our family, a trainer would be needed.

That trainer, and time, have considerably improved his situation, and thus mine. Yes, he still lunges at (some) neighbors, but I always have a snack on hand and that usually diverts his attention long enough to calm him down. He's learned to sit and wait at stoplights and he is now used to all the city sounds that used to make him wince. The crowds no longer bother him, and the elevator no longer gives him the heebie-jeebies.

He doesn't mind being left alone at home. (He knows that once I'm gone he can sneak into our spare bedroom and sleep on the bed-I'm onto him, though.) No other purses or leather objects have suffered the same violent death as did the first purse, although tissues and toilet paper have to still be kept out of sight.

Awhile back, the two of us were on the elevator and a neighbor came on and asked how he was doing. "He has some good days, and some bad days," I remarked. And since we are in MIT territory and amongst the most erudite of erudites, her reply was not merely, an "Oh, I see," but,"Your dog is a metaphor of life."

And you know something, she was right. But taking it a step further, I would say, Dashiell is a metaphor of me. I have not totally adjusted to my new situation, but my attitude has definitely improved. Some days are better than others, and when some neighbors (or on a VERY rare occasion, my husband) annoy me, a nice snack does help. I've made some very interesting friends, as has Dashiell, and going to doggie day care every once in a while has really helped him become more sociable.

The relocation road has not been an easy one, for either of us, but with a little training, a rub behind the ears, and lots of love, we both will make it through.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Barbie Would Never Have Survived in My Home


I loved Barbie -- I had a bright red case, lots of clothes, and, like so many of my peers, various other items and accessories that gave my Barbie a life I could only have wished for myself. When I was old enough to stop playing with Barbie, my mom gave her and all her accoutrements away to a neighbor's granddaughter who did not have Barbie's lifestyle -- or one even similar to my own.
At the time, it never occurred to me (or my mom, obviously) to save my treasured doll, et al. for my own daughter... and it was probably just as well, because that beautiful little female made in my own image has never materialized. And, when my son was given a Ken doll for Hanukkah by a very PC-minded friend, he proceeded to rip the head off before the holiday was even over. Barbie would never have survived in my home, and I wanted so much more for her....
You know me: I'm the mom who shopped for sweats and shirts that said things like, "Baseball is Life," and "Warcraft Rules," while the other moms shopped for pretty party dresses and shirts emblazoned with sequins and hearts and flowers.
I'm the mom who drove carpool to soccer and baseball and basketball and was always finding athletic cups in every room of the house -- did you know those suckers can bounce like balls? --while the other moms drove to ballet and gymnastics and went to little girl tea parties.
I'm the mom who picked out the matching tie and cummerbund set and bought the wrist corsage for prom while the other moms were helping their teenage fashionistas pick out just the right dress that would transform them into women for the night.
Yes, I am the mom of boys... the daughterless mom. Do you think I'm bitter? Nah, I'm over it. I love my boys -- wouldn't trade them them for a sack of gold (most days), but I have to admit that there are many days when it would be nice to have someone join me at the nail salon, or in the dressing room to tell me my butt looks big in those pants... uh, maybe not.
We are a sisterhood, we mothers of boys. We eye each other at the supermarket checkout counters and pass each other at the ice cream store (as our boys walk by, ice cream dripping down their cones and onto their hands). We give each other knowing glances, and we can have convos about poop and arm farting with the best of 'em.
While girls are written about using words like sparkles and sugar and spice, boys are written about using words like noise and dirt (and puppy dog tails).
I really didn't have a preference when I was pregnant the first time. I was delighted to have my son. I felt satisfied and fulfilled with my child and had my husband not wanted more children, I think I would have been fine with only one. But as time wore on, and as I thought about my boy being lonely as an only child, the pangs of motherhood began to get stronger and the excitement about having another babe in the house was palpable.
Of course it was going to be girl... NOT!
Once I got my second "bundle of boy," it became clear to me that my mission in life was to shape these guys into loving, respectful men for the women of the world. I wanted them to acquire aspects of my husband's personality, but there were things I could teach them as well.
As is stated in the book, Raising Cain, our culture stereotypes boys and shortchanges them by not developing their emotional attachment. I wanted my boys to be strong, and yet be able to communicate emotionally and be in touch with their feminine side as well. (When I found them trying on bras at Macy's when they were 8 and 4, that wasn't exactly what I had in mind.)
I wanted them to be adventurous -- something I am not -- but not too reckless. ("The orthopedist is my friend" has been my mantra, and the huge files in his office substantiate that.)
I wanted them to be equipped to withstand the wrenches life would throw at them. (And when my my son got his head stuck in the turnstile at CVS, and the announcement over the loudspeaker squawked, "We need the mega wrench at the front entrance," the boys handled the looky-loos very well.)
I believe I've done my job. My husband and I had two amazing boys who have grown into super men. They may not be exact physical images of me, but I see myself in there -- all the time. They are kind and loving and funny and wry. They are intuitive and very often they even "get" me. I am proud to be their mom. And when I look at them-looking at me-I feel a sense of love that I don't believe could have been any greater had they been daughters.
And, though the time for daughters-in-law is not nearly at hand (thank the lord), when that time does come, I expect those lucky girls to get down on their hands and knees and bless the ground I walk on. (Hah, I won't hold my breath!) But they'll have to do that before we do lunch and then go to the nail salon for mani/pedis. I wouldn't want them to smudge their polish.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Living in a Ghost Town


(This article previously appeared on Betterafter50.com)


Have you ever walked through a ghost town?  There is evidence of the vibrancy and life that once had been a part of the town, but now a deafening stillness exists, and perhaps a sense of peace. Yesterday the town of Boston and its environs were modern ghost towns, victims of the circumstances and proximity to the tragic bombings that occurred earlier in the week. With an estimated population of 4.5 million, these areas are usually bustling with people and vehicles and on Friday you would be hard pressed to find either. They were still, but there was no peace.

There were black tanks rolling through the streets--men in SWAT uniforms carrying on house-to-house searches, German Shepherds rooting and hunting--all shattering what is the relative calm of an urban city. 

Where am I? Is this really happening, or is it Jerry Bruckheimer at his best?

The city was at a standstill--just like during a snowstorm...but there was no snow. And as I sat in my Cambridge apartment, under lockdown by order of the powers that be, I found it hard to believe that two men could bring these cities to their knees. Were we overreating? The night before we heard there had been a shooting at MIT. We live in MIT proper--my Kendall Square neighborhood and MIT have a symbiotic relationship--we feed off each other--so it was quite disconcerting to hear the news. All the while we never imagined that the Marathon bombings were connected...

So we went to bed...

At 6am on Friday we learned the horrible news, and the truth. The suspected bombers were not only behind the shooting, but they murdered an MIT police officer and had carjacked a car just down the street. And so began my close relationship with the TV. I tried my best to do some work, read, and exercise (I said I tried--didn’t say I was successful), but the TV kept calling me back. After a long while it became apparent that I was watching a continuous scroll of reruns and listening to assumptions and sound bites. Pundits with specialties in every area of psychology, terrorism, history...you name it--weighed in on the suspects, their family, their life, what was going on inside and out. Friends from childhood  who may have passed them in the halls--once--became authorities. Even their car mechanic gave a discourse.

Adam Gopnik, in The New Yorker, spoke of all these “expert” journalists:We are now a nation of experts, with millions of people who know the meaning of everything that they haven’t actually experienced.” 

One dead, one to go. From windows and balconies, families with little to do resorted to taking photos to document the day during their “imprisonment.” It was a search of Marathon proportion for the Marathon Bomber.

And as the day wore on...and on...and on, and daylight began to give way to night light, the lockdown was lifted. (Perhaps the public could be more useful outside their doors rather than behind them?) My husband and I did not rush out, embracing our freedom. There was still a murderer on the loose--where should we go? 

And then, in a hurl of bullets and a flash of explosions (another Bruckheimer moment), Suspect #2 was discovered. Our wish for him to be taken alive was fulfilled and the surreal events of the day were over.

Did yesterday really happen? The buses and trains, and cabs are all rolling again. People are out, dogs are being walked, restaurants and bakeries are back in business. I think of the countries in which lockdowns are a normal occurrence. Where hiding in bomb shelters is a way of “life,” something that is built into the fabric of everyday normalcy. How do they do it? Does someone come around with a device a la Men in Black and zap away their memories...until the next time it happens?

There was jubilation in the streets last night, but there is no real reason to throw up our hands in a celebratory fist pump. Too many people have died and too many people are suffering. Succesfully handling the cause for yesterday’s siege is a victory, but a pyrrhic victory nonetheless.

Did yesterday really happen?





Monday, February 11, 2013

Live with Kelly (and Me)


This post is part of a Generation Fabulous bloghop. The February theme is celebrity crushes.


I have never been one to advocate hero worship, and thus have had very few celebrity “heroes” throughout my life. Oh yes, there were the people I admired: the civil rights activists, the teachers; the Mother Teresas of the world...and of course members of my family at different times during the years. But there really was never anyone whom I would recommend putting on a pedestal. (I’ve been saving that honor for yours truly...like that will ever happen!)

Kelly Ripa probably falls into none of the categories that I’ve mentioned--I don’t think she’s a philanthropist, and I daresay that she’s not a civil rights’ activist.  So it might come as a huge surprise to anyone who knows me (and actually I am quite surprised about it myself) that I am a Kelly Ripa wannabe!

Call me shallow, call me vapid...I’m going out on a limb here by admitting this, and I think that alone should earn me some sympathy points. All I know is that most mornings at nine a.m. you can find me in front of my TV waiting to see Kelly and her hunky cohost Michael Strahan come through the door with a flourish. 

What will she be wearing? Will it be the black Manolos or the gray suede Nina Riccis?  I especially love the black and white Stella McCartney dress she used to wear last year, and there was a little purple number that was another fave of mine.  I drink my morning coffee and listen as she and Michael banter back and forth about her kids, her husband...her life. It’s my guilty pleasure--to live vicariously through Kelly Ripa. 

Could Kelly and I be friends? She’s a blonde and I'm “brunette,” she is a TV personality, and being a celebrity in my own mind does not make it so.  She earns 20 mill a year, and I...don’t even ask. She’s 42 and I am...not. OK, OK, so there are not very many things we have in common...we’re both little, does that count for anything? (Yes, I know, she’s little-er than I am...so what!) Who’s to say that the person you admire has to be like you? In fact, I bet most people admire folks who are nothing like them for that very reason.

But wait a minute...she and I are not all that different. She’s a mom...a working mom. I’m a working mom! So what that she earns a “few” shekels more than I do. She’s out there in the trenches everyday...getting her hair and makeup done...toiling away and interviewing the likes of Ben Affleck, Catherine Zeta Jones and Brooke Shields. She’s under a lot of pressure having to be cute and witty under all those hot lights.

She’s got three children who test her patience just like mine did way back when. And she’s a hands-on mom: picks those kids up from school in her chauffeured SUV(after her morning show and daily two hours of private training at the gym). She shuttles them to doctors’ appointments and after-school activities (and shares the load with her Adonis-lookalike hubby Mark to whom she’s been married for over 16 years). That’s a tough row to hoe, but I can relate...sort of.

In all honesty, I do admire her. I think she’s adorable and a very savvy businesswoman. The little girl from a working class family in New Jersey has earned her stripes.

And I was wrong about her not being philanthropic: last week she participated in the  Empire State Building Run-Up for charity. (Wonder how many pounds she lost on that one--she’s probably even littler now!) Kelly, in addition to about 700 people from around the world, including some elite athletes, took part in a vertical race, up 86 flights of stairs. They climbed a total of 1,576 steps, starting at the lobby and finishing at the observation deck. And she finished in 18 minutes! (She was a veritable Tinkerbell flying up those steps--I admire her strength, determination...and knees!)

The charity Kelly was running for was Team for Kids, the primary charity fund-raising vehicle for New York Road Runner’s youth services division. Funds raised through Team for Kids provide “free or low-cost school and community-based health and fitness programs to children who would otherwise have no access to regular physical activity.” The programs serve nearly 100,000 children each year in more than 400 schools across New York City and beyond.

Kelly and her crew raised over $80,000 for Team for Kids at the Run-Up, so don’t be a hater on Kelly; or on me for being a Kelly Ripa wannabe. A person could do worse.

Love ya, Kel...I think I can call her that now. Say “hi” to Michael for me.





Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Grounds For Insanity


There’s a plastic container on my kitchen counter filled with what most people think is dirt. It’s not...it’s coffee grounds. I once read somewhere that sprinkling spent coffee grounds in your garden is good for the soil. It seems they are loaded with nitrogen, calcium, and magnesium--nutrients that are beneficial to the plants.That was many years ago when I lived in the suburbs. I would make my coffee and once the used grounds had cooled (and dried--you can’t do much with wet, sticky grounds), I would run into the backyard and toss them in whichever patch of soil was closest. I really believed that those grounds were the reason my Meyer Lemon trees did so well. The fruit was plump and juicy and gave off a heady aroma when the pre-fruit flowers blossomed. I daresay my tenants are tending to the tress in the same manner I did. One can only hope. 

I live in the city now and I have neither garden nor much soil near me. So, the container sits on the counter waiting to be emptied.

It’s not just because I have no garden that I don’t regularly toss the grounds. I live on a floor that is too high up to keep going out each time I make a pot of coffee--that’s excuse number one. The other excuses range from, “I can’t handle the dog and the bag of grounds at the same time, I can’t let anyone see me tossing something into the building’s bushes, I can’t let anyone see me on the elevator with a plastic bag filled with an unidentifiable brown substance.” So, the container sits on the counter and waits.

I prefer throwing the grounds out at night, when no one is around. But my husband usually gets night duty with the dog, and he says that it's my project, so it's my dumping responsibility. Right before it rains is a good time, because the grounds can really soak into the soil then.  But I don’t often plan ahead, and once the rain starts, I usually have an umbrella in my hand--too cumbersome.

The best time to unload the grounds is right before a snowfall. They then get covered up and smashed below the surface. We haven’t had much snow lately, but they do predict a storm is on the way, so perhaps this week is the week. 

The container is getting pretty full, and if that snowfall doesn’t materialize, I’ll have to start throwing the overflow down the disposal. And really, since I don’t have a garden, and I don’t have to worry about the building’s soil, I should just forget the whole thing and chuck the entire lot. 

Problem solved.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Weather Or Not--Closet Conversations


 When living in Southern California, obsession with fashion has all to do with looks; weather very rarely plays a part in the decision-making process. The fluctuations are not that drastic: it's either hot, hotter or hottest. There are periods during the year when the temps dip a bit, but for the most part, those “cold” mornings turn into warm days and sometimes, those warm days turn into “cold” nights. (And by “cold,” I mean 30s and 40s--it’s all relative.)

Michelle in her pumps
Whenever guests from the East Coast would visit us out West, our rule-of-thumb recommendation would be, “Bring a sweater, you never know...and don’t forget to throw in a bathing suit.” You really don’t need to be a rocket scientist (or a meteorologist) to figure out what to wear in LA.

Now that I am living back on the East Coast, form trumps fashion--often, and weather is the first thing I consider before getting dressed to go out--especially in the winter. I never had to think more about boots than I do now. Back in Cali, they were pulled out only occasionally, and the weather outside never had anything to do with it.  I had short boots with kitten heels, and tall boots with spiked heels, and short boots with spiked heels, and tall boots with kitten heels. I probably wore them two months out of the year and after that they were quietly relegated to the inner depths of my closet, giving way to strappy sandals and flip flops.

Michelle in her boots
With the varying degrees of weather we are hit with in Cambridge, my inner conversations usually deal with wondering whether I should wear the UGGs--they’re warm, but not waterproof, or the Hunter rain boots--they’re waterproof, but not warm. And if it’s really cold and icy out, I can wear my Sorels--they go down to minus 25 degrees, and they’re waterproof...but they aren’t exactly stylish, so I can’t wear them with dressy clothes. And the other boots, although dressy and stylish, have heels that are too high for walking on icy streets. No, this is not the conversation of rocket scientists either, but it can spin my head.

That’s why I, like just about everyone else on earth, was curious to see what Michelle Obama would be wearing on Inauguration Day. I watched as she wore her silver pumps on her way to church during the early hours of the day, and I was thrilled when I noticed her footwear had changed by the time she stepped out for the Inauguration ceremony. 

The thought of standing on spiky heels for a few hours, in 20-degree weather, probably seemed like a daunting task to her, so she changed into long, suede and leather boots. Her decision totally validated me! She had those conversations with herself too--FLOTUS!! She must have been going for the not terribly warm, but warm-er, yet stylish look. And in addition to checking the temperature, she must have known that the day would be dry, since she dropped a cool thousand bucks on those beautiful boots (I Googled them), and I daresay they were waterproof!

Me, in my coat
I could now go into the clothing conversations I have in my head, but I won’t bore you. Just know that today I am wearing a coat I like to call my “Fort Knox Coat.”  It’s kind of like a jacket within a coat--you put it on, zip up an inside jacket, then zip up an outer coat, snap some snaps, all the way down, and close two large buttons over the throat to make a puffy scarf. By the time I am all zipped, snapped and buttoned in, I look like a potato, and there’s no chance of wind, or anything getting inside. It’s amazingly warm, but I don’t think the coat is waterproof, so....

Sometimes it’s just easier staying home.