Thought for the Holidays

Well, we are certainly in the swing of the holidays now. So I thought I’d share this gem that was sent to my by my daughter, L. I could not have said this better than Leisl Shillinger in her article in the New York Times did.

The winter celebrations are upon us, bringing with their glee the return of insecurities like: Is your centerpiece of the right niveau? Should you drape the banisters with balsam fir, or is boxwood more current? Which breed of artificial bird is trending to clamp among the boughs? And will you be able to hold your head up if you have not personally raised from poulthood the turkey that graces the holiday table (as Martha Stewart suggests) or hand-pressed the apple cider with which you braised the brisket?

Never before have so many worthy options for decorating and entertaining presented themselves to conscientious householders. Long ago, our grandmothers unhurriedly flipped through Ladies’ Home Journal and McCall’s to update their eggnogs and hunt patterns for tree skirts. Ebenezer Scrooge contended with the Ghost of Christmas Present, who forced him to witness only a handful of other people’s fetes. But modern-day hosts are subjected to thousands of images of strangers’ holiday rituals, through television and magazines but especially on social media, where every fireside post competes to be merrier than the last. All of which serves as a constant reproof that, perhaps, we’re not nearly as festive as we mean to be.
Today’s revelers can find themselves treating the season like the year’s ultimate performative act: evidence of our prowess at directing the theater of home, proof to ourselves and others that ours is indeed a wonderful life. But in the quest to make the occasion camera-ready, we can lose sight of the fact that the personal is more important than the perfect this time of year, and that established traditions are more memorable than ever-escalating fabulousness. You can scour Kinfolk to come up with a thrillingly austere ‘‘vegetal garland wall,’’ or check out YouTube for how to create a gingerbread house as intricate as an Uffizi fresco, but in the end, these punctuations won’t create memories for your kids. What they’ll remember instead is the festal continuum — the idiosyncrasies and permanent patterns of each household’s tradition that give the holiday both meaning and resonance.
In other words: Not only do holiday preparations not have to be back-breaking, it can be better when they’re not. One of the most warmly remembered American Christmases on record took place in a modest cabin in the Midwest in 1870, without dove-studded white pine garlands or candled wreaths. Laura and her sister Mary woke that holiday morning to empty stockings at the fireplace — until a family friend knocked on the door. He had intercepted Santa, he told them, and forded the raging waters of the Verdigris River to bring the girls their gifts: two tin cups, two candy canes, two little cakes and a ‘‘shining bright, new penny’’ each. ‘‘There never had been such a Christmas,’’ Laura Ingalls Wilder exulted. An equally memorable American Hanukkah took place a century ago amid similar simplicity, in an apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side — described in Sydney Taylor’s ‘‘All-of-a-Kind Family’’ series. Five sisters grated potatoes and onions for latkes, and polished the brass menorah to await the lighting of the candles. Each of them got two pennies — an absolute fortune, in their eyes. ‘‘It was the time for gladsomeness,’’ the author explained.
So, as you muster your décor, mixing in, if you wish, some — but not too much — innovation, keep your focus on the gladsomeness. The memories you make have more to do with spirit than substance. That which is recorded on the heart is, alas, not Instagrammable.

Be thankful, be thoughtful, be merry, be happy, be calm.

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Not Only Once in a Lifetime (Hopefully!)

this halloween is shaping up to be a big one and not because of a costume party or trick-or-treating or anything relating to halloween per se, but because of temple owls college football. ok, i heard you groan right then, but stick with me.

c graduated from temple university school of pharmacy and two of our three kids also graduated from temple, but from boyer college of music. our oldest was in the band while she was at temple as well as drum major for two years, which served as a reason to buy season tickets to temple football. truth to tell, ten years ago, the band was the only reason to go to a football game. our youngest was also in the band while he was in school so we held onto the tickets, and also because they are prime club level tickets on the fifty yard line at the philadelphia eagle’s stadium. truthfully, we didn’t go to a lot of games and when we did, we only stayed until after the band had performed, because temple was usually losing or embarrassingly losing.

now i’ll admit that i have not always been a football fan. my dad played football in college, so football was often on in the house during the season, and mom would occasionally watch college ball after dad died. but for a big chunk of my life i ignored football. after i met c, i started to learn more about the game just by watching with him, since he had played in high school and briefly in college. now i think i’m pretty knowledgeable about the game, although i’m also smart enough to keep my mouth shut most of the time when it comes to commenting on the game. (there’s little worse than sitting next to a person who complains constantly during the game but doesn’t even know what is really going on down on the field).

the plan was to stop buying season tickets after our youngest graduated. and then something kind of wonderful happened: the temple football team started to win. over the years they have had a few marquis players who made it into the nfl, but you could count them on one hand. a couple of years ago there were more than just a couple of talented kids and last year there were even more talented kids on the team, and most of them were freshman. this year the majority of the talented kids are sophomores and juniors and temple is at 7 and 0 for the season so far. more importantly, they beat perpetual powerhouse penn state for the first time in 74 years!

so this year, temple plays notre dame at home on halloween night. and the game is the college game of the week on abc network. and the show “college game day” will be broadcasting from independence hall on saturday morning. whew! i’ll tell you that philadelphians are not used to such positive attention and temple football fans especially are not used to positive attention. ok, so maybe notre dame has something to do with it… but hey, we’ll take it.

now those of you who are used to be affiliated with schools who have big winning teams are yawning at our excitement and you’re certainly entitled to your cynicism, but you know yourself how fun it is to have a winning team. we just keep pinching ourselves to remember to savor the moment, because, well… this could be the one time or this could be the beginning of something.

let’s hope this halloween is filled with nothing but treats for the city of philadelphia and their temple owls!!

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Psst! Did You Hear the One About the Pope?

i’m guessing that for the part of the country that is outside of the ny, pa, dc area the fact that the pope was in the u.s. was just a headline somewhere. but in the middle of the tri-cities of his visit, there was a popenato of epic proportions.

here in philadelphia there was the typical mixture of excitement and grousing and at times the grousing out-shouted the excitement 4 to 1. now, that may have been a result of the stupid things city officials said in the run up, like “treat this as a severe storm event (which translated means to stay the hell home)” or that the secret service coordinated a lockdown situation that paralyzed a good portion of the city, or that at times there seemed to be no logical coordination between the secret service, public transportation and city officials.

whether the event lived up to expectations or broke records, it seems that the only measure worth talking about is whether pope francis can successful lead his church in a direction that brings people back. it’s no secret that participation in the roman catholic church has been dropping off – due mostly to (finally) the public airing of the horrors perpetrated by the church and their continued failure to not only acknowledge them but right them.

i was raised in the catholic church – 12 years of catholic schooling, followed by 30 years of a tenuous relationship where c and i participated in the church only to raise our children with some kind of tradition. but as the same sunday sermons from decades ago continued on as an opportunity for priests to berate the crowd for disobedience with the edits of the church—oddly enough only centered around issues of sexuality and not morality, most of which have to do with controlling women — i transitioned from not listening to drifted away. then, like most people i know, when the horrors of the sex-abuse scandal and systematic cover up hit the headlines i decided i was completely done with the roman catholic church.

in order to even stay with the church for as many decades as i had, required me to recite the mantra: “render unto ceasar what is ceasar’s and under god what is god’s”. meaning: ignore church bullshit and concentrate only on the lessons of christian tradition that matter: love one another and take care of one another.

then along comes pope francis. there has been much written about his life and how he has lived the teachings of christianity and it seems that he is carrying that into his leadership of the church. and to a large extend that’s true, certainly his words are a much more thoughtful message that has to do with love and forgiveness, mercy and inclusiveness not to mention just taking care of one another.
and then… well, then it’s just more business as usual. his inspiring words were followed by a visual of a cathedral filled with white men and the visual of seminarians and local priests, deacons and bishops – all men. men who ignore or distain women while dressed in dresses and funny hats. it all just looked so irrelevant.

sure, the pope was careful to include women in his words, but i think that’s because without them (the slave class) the church cannot function so it seemed like that was more about protecting an investment than sending a message of inclusion. and here in philadelphia there was the additional message from a hard-liner, perpetually ornery archbishop chaput who chose to use this stage to issue a ridiculous remark about the only real function of sex is to procreate, ignoring all the other more relevant messages that could and should have emanated from his moment in the spotlight.

and for all of its moralistic preaching about sexuality what is the true origin of priestly celibacy? don’t answer jesus ‘cuz that’s not it. property. and money. no married priests then no families to support and no nasty legal battles about rights of inheritance. the true reasoning is not high and mighty.

in his defense, pope francis has accomplished a lot of revolutionary things within the church, not the least of which is cleaning up the vatican bank (you want to know something about real scandal? read god’s bankers by gerald posner).

listen, i’m all for carrying on ancient traditions and rituals, in fact very much so when those traditions involve rituals where a family and a church family are able to share meaningful moments together. but when the trappings of a religion far outweigh its reason for being, i’m out.

francis may be delivering the right message, but he’s stuck delivering it in the wrong container.

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Filed under catholic, lies, Love, politics, religion, scandal

Five Years Later than 100 Days

Hard to believe but today marks five years since L’s bone marrow transplant. It seems like a world away, but it’s a world in which we still live in various ways and a world that will always be a part of L and all who love her.

The best news is that L has had a series of good health news lately, very good health news and that certainly helps to wipe away much of the tough road she has had getting here.

Besides her very good health news, L and her husband and the rest of their family and close friends have much to be proud of. She and P made their marriage endure through and beyond the toughest of times any couple could imagine and no couple ever wants to have to live through. Yet, they moved through it and continue to move forward in building their lives together.

I’m proud to say that we are still close as a family, closer maybe, because tough times amplify underlying family issues, which can be used to build or destroy. We — all of us — nuclear family and extended family, chose to build.

L, like all of us, has been able to see who her true friends are and move closer to them. We have been able to reconnect with friends who added to our lives in ways that we had forgotten. And we are the better for it.

It’s seems all so easy to say now, a result of time and distance, but we know that L had years of rough times. It’s still a moving moment to look back on but it is oh so satisfying to look around now with a proud smile and look ahead to a bright future.

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my childhood girlfriend lost her mother this past week. though we correspond periodically and share pictures of facebook, i haven’t seen m since my mother’s funeral, because we live on opposite sides of the country. but the people you reach out to when a nuclear family member dies are those who knew that nuclear family back in the day because there’s a special kind of bond that was forged.

eight years ago at my mother’s funeral, m’s mother was in the beginning stages of alzheimer’s and though she looked the same, it was clear that she was struggling with the disease. i know the disease progressed mightily over the years, and necessitated m’s family placing their mother in a facility where she would be safe and properly cared for. and the facebook pictures of her with her mother and the new grandchild hid the sadness and struggle with an unforgiving disease.

but i only saw a tiny glimpse of her mother’s change as she wondered away from m at the reception after my mother’s funeral and so i’m free to remember her mother as she was a half century ago.

m’s family emigrated here from portugal and lived just a block away from us. she is two years older than me, as were most of my close friends when i was growing up. i can’t remember exactly when we first met, but i know that we were friends when my father died and still friends when her father died just a couple of years later. we navigated our middle and high school years together with our fractured families and each walked down the aisle to get married without a father’s escort.

m’s mom was warm and inviting and i can still hear her hearty laugh. m’s grandmother also lived with them and i remember her mother and grandmother sitting at the dining room table and conversing in portuguese while m and i played with barbies in the living room. the lilting softness of the language drifted in from the next room, punctuated by laughter and just felt so comfortable.

my mother didn’t work and m’s did, so i thought she was just so interesting because she had a job. she was a seamstress in a factory in downtown los angeles, sportswear i think, and i will never forget the day m’s mom took us both to her workplace. i saw the rows of machines and racks of finished clothes, which all seemed like magic to me, but i will never forget the band saw like contraption that was used to cut three foot-thick stacks of fabric. my mom was a home seamstress and all of us girls in the family learned to sew, but to see garments being made on a huge scale was utterly fascinating. i had a flashback to that moment when our daughter took us on a tour of the sewing factory where she now works in production and design.

m’s mom also owned a corvair and we got to ride in it. to me, that car was just about as cool as a mustang, both cars being the pinnacle of auto ownership at the time, except for maybe the corvette. i loved seeing that corvair parked in the driveway as i came up to the front door of their house.

years later, after i had moved away from california and m settled in a town further north of where we grew up, i tried to stop in and say hello to her mother when i was in town (which was unfortunately far less frequently than i would have liked). when i was pregnant with our first child, m’s mom asked my mom to make sure that i stopped by and she surprised me with a beautiful eyelet lace and ribbon comforter and pillow she had made for the baby. i still have them.

i looked for m’s mother’s obituary on line and was a bit taken aback when what popped up was douglass and zook funeral home, the same funeral home in our home town of monrovia that handled my father’s funeral and maybe even her father’s funeral. it’s funny how a moment like that can trigger a long buried memory, but can also serve as some kind of continuum.

though the life arc of our families was different, there is still a bond between us and even moreso now that we both have felt the sadness of losing our mother, but the parts of our lives that we shared will always be fondly remembered.

rest in peace dear mrs. b.

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Every Moment

often in this life we need to slow down and remind ourselves that the moment we are currently in needs to be consciously attended to, savored, absorbed. easier said than done certainly, but if you make up your mind, you can find yourself in the middle of a moment that will bring you lasting joy every time you replay it in your mind.

i was able to have a second one of those moments a couple of weeks ago with one of our daughters. okay, granted it was kind of an easy moment for the taking – being with her as she chose her wedding dress – still, i think we’ve all seen and heard this experience turning disastrous.

when our oldest daughter shopped for her wedding dress, she asked her future mother-in-law and me to accompany her. she preferred to choose a dress herself and without the pressure of an attendant or an entourage and ended up buying the first dress she tried on. not to say she grabbed something and ran, but to say that she knew herself well enough to know what her choice would be. i worried about her buying the first dress she tried on and encouraged her to try on other dresses, but when she put the first one back on, it was clear that was the dress. it’s so odd to say, but if you keep your mind open as an observer, you really can know exactly when your daughter has chosen the perfect image of herself.

i was afraid at the time that my lasting memory of her choosing a dress would be overshadowed by the worry that was hanging over every bit of my thinking, which was that she was planning a wedding mere months after her diagnosis of cm leukemia. it was so tough to push away the thought that were her future outcome to be not good, this dress might become a symbol of stabbing sadness instead of overwhelming joy. it took every bit of my years of acting training to hide what i was thinking at the time.

fast forward to now. our second daughter is planning her wedding and scheduled a wedding dress shopping day. like her sister, she had a vision of a dress she wanted and a vision of how she wanted her day to go. she asked for a champagne breakfast with a couple of friends, her sister and me (daddy was nice enough to come along as designated driver in exchange for breakfast since he was verboten from seeing the dress).

at the salon, she tried on the very dress she came to that salon to see. it looked spectacular on her! i thought how funny it was that again, one of our daughters picked the first dress she tried on. but since there were still 45 minutes left on the appointment time, the attendant brought her other dresses to try. every one of them looked beautiful on her, but none rivaled the first one. then the attendant suggested something completely out of the box, which was a skirt and bodice combo that is modern but still somewhat traditional, interesting and edgy. her sister was the first to notice how e’s demeanor changed and saw right away that this would be the choice. i was unconvinced about the dress but tried to project neutrality since i firmly believe that my role was as an observer, not an influencer. the attendant encouraged e to go out into the bigger room and look at herself in the huge mirror. i was the last one into the large room and saw her just as she turned around and saw herself in the floor to ceiling mirror and was struck by the sight. trust me, out of nowhere and without a thought of becoming emotional at all, i teared up.

in that moment i didn’t see a dress, or a bride even – what i saw was our grown daughter looking like her happiest self as a young woman dressed to greet the partner she has chosen to share her life with.

i also realized that this was the last time i would ever have that moment in my life and made a mental note to just savor it.
making it all even better was the fact that i was standing next to our oldest daughter who is still happily married, cancer free and about to celebrate the five year anniversary of her bone marrow transplant.
moments that are worth savoring.

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Filed under advice, family, image, Love, marriage, Parent, tradition, wedding, women

Forget Kim Kardashian, Alice Bowman is a Name that Should be Famous

When I was a kid, I never learned very few names of women who contributed mightily to our nation and the world. Now, as an adult I am learning for the first time the names of women who were major factors in the world of science and technology and literature, art, engineering, architecture, medicine, research and every other field area. Unfortunately, our own children also learned little of the contributions of women to our world. Hopefully that will change for our grandchildren.

So, while many of us can probably rattle off the names of the astronauts and ever some of the men in mission control for the Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle missions, we probably think that there aren’t any women in these field areas (unless they’re fetching coffee or designing cute flight suits).

Well, here’s a name to know: Alice Bowman. If your kids and grandkids aren’t learning her name in school, you need to speak to someone in your school district. And if you don’t know her name, let me share with you. Alice Bowman is the first woman Mission Operations Manager and she led the mission that has glimpsed the edge of our solar system. And she’s not done yet.

Rather than write about her, I thought I’d post this interview with her. Hopefully you’ll read it yourself and to your kids and to your grandkids. And hopefully one day, they’ll be so many women in science and technology that they will be known for their achievements and not for their gender.


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