Category Archives: advice

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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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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The Couple That Hangs Together…


You know that saying that goes, “If you really want to get to know someone, travel with them?” I’ve got a new one for you: “If you really want to know the state of your relationship, wallpaper a bathroom together.”

I know, your first question is probably, “Wallpaper? Isn’t that completely out of style?” Well, actually no. Wallpaper is enjoying a moment right now and there are a lot of very cool patterns available.

Our house was built in 1950 and at that time there was such a building boom that tile manufacturers couldn’t keep up with production. Instead, they made “tiles” out of the new wonder substance called plastic (also in horrid colors but that’s another story). When we bought the house the bathroom walls were green plastic tiles halfway up and the rest painted yellow. Obviously that had to go. So, when I was pregnant with our second child, I popped off those awful tiles and scraped off thick layers of mastic as best as I could, which left the walls a bit of a mess. They either had to be wallpapered, drywalled over or have a skim coat of plaster applied. Wallpaper was the cheapest option.

I put up a beautiful striped wallpaper with a border at the top that went with the rest of the house at the time. That was 25 years ago and the wallpaper no longer goes with the rest of the house. Plus, I was sick of it.

So, thinking that I still remembered how to hang wallpaper, I found about five patterns that I liked and C and I agreed on one called solitude.

I didn’t pay any attention to the fact that the pattern on the paper was an offset pattern (meaning that you will waste a good deal of paper making the pattern match). C removed all the cabinets (which I painted) and hardware from the room and I scraped off the old wallpaper and conditioned the walls for the new paper.

We knew that when you hang wallpaper the first piece you hang should be on the wall that is the most seen and completely plumb. This we did perfectly. Then we began hanging the rest of the room and got about halfway around and realized that we probably also needed to restart on the panel next to the first one and proceed the other way so that the end of the project (where there is always a mismatch of pattern) would be over the door and hardly noticed.

If you’ve never hung wallpaper I will tell you NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER attempt to wallpaper a bathroom for your first wallpaper job. It’s just too difficult. Besides the fact that bathrooms are generally small, they also have lots of things to maneuver around. Add to that walls that are completely out of plumb and you get THE TOUGHEST WALLPAPER JOB YOU WILL EVER ENCOUNTER. And that is why all the wallpaperers I called wanted $1,000 or more to do the job.

But I thought that since I had done this once before that I would be fine. And we mostly were, except for places where we weren’t and I’m not going to point them out because when you come to our house you’ll just look for them.

In a rush to finish, I decided to cut the last four panels for the job all at once. I thought I was meticulous at cutting them because they all matched, except I measured the length of them perfectly but didn’t measure the proper length from where the pattern matched so they were all a foot too long at the top and too short at the bottom. We had to shut down work until another roll of wallpaper arrived.

The new roll of wallpaper arrived and C cut it all because he knows how to be patient with cutting and not mess it all up. He drew the plumb line so I could keep the paper straight in spite of an inside corner that was over 1” out of wack and I hung the rest of the panels.

So the wallpapering is all done, but I still have some painting and fine fixing to do, but the bathroom is usable and the house is less of a mess.

Here’s the point: though working in a space so small we were almost on top of each other, making mistakes, having issues with hinges and hardware, shelves, medicine cabinet and the new light, not to mention the mess that extended into three other rooms of the house we did not scream or threaten, insult, scowl or threaten to divorce. In short, we just forged ahead and figured out how to make it work. Together.

To me, it is absolutely a testimony to us as a team. Clearly it would have been a lot easier to hire someone to do this work, but doing it ourselves made for a much better life experience. And now we have another $1,000 for a well-deserved vacation.

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Summer Shaming


Summer’s here! Well, maybe not by the calendar yet, but certainly by the change in the weather and absolutely when it comes to summer’s main event: body shaming. Of course, little of this is pointed at men, unless you count Bruce Jenner after his transformation to Caitlyn.

I don’t know about you, but suddenly I can’t go near a magazine stand or log into online periodicals or blogs without being assaulted by a series of photo montages that focus on a single part of a woman’s body. The first one I saw was, of course, breasts, then came butts, followed by legs. I didn’t see any montages that were pictures of an entire female person. I didn’t see any photo montages that featured men.

Oddly nowhere among these montages were any other identifiable information about these women like education, accomplishments, contributions to community or society, area of expertise, or even a name. Clearly the only thing of importance was how pleasing their singular body part was to a man in one man’s opinion. Actually, I’m not even sure I can target only men here because women seem to be becoming ever more vicious in judging one another’s physical appearance.

I even caught some dumb tv show where the cast attended a fashion show put on by a plastic surgeon and the “models” were women who had all had a procedure done. In fact, they were organized by procedure with introductions like, “here comes the parade of butts!” and a dozen or so women all dressed in white jeans with white T-shirts tucked in, marched down the runway proudly displaying their newly enhanced butts. Family, friends and potential patients vigorously applauded. Then there was the parade of women who proudly announced all the procedures they had done… in great detail.

As if the outward body changes weren’t enough, now there’s a growing narrative that women need to have a labiaplasty to create the perfect labia. Huh? So we still maintain our horror at female genital mutilation, but willingly schedule cosmetic surgery that could carry serious negative results on our genitalia.

I’m never going to dispute that sometimes corrective surgery for any number of issues is a godsend, but when it gets to the point where we don’t know what our bodies are supposed to look like and therefore think we need to subscribe to an artificial standard, then it’s clearly time to hit a reset button.

Listen, I’m not one of those all natural, crunchy women who ignores all manner of conventional enhancement. I dye my gray hair, I shave, I get pedicures and I’ve had laser hair removal. And whatever manner of body celebration or objectification that takes place between my husband and me is just fine because it involves all of me along with the body part. And vice versa.

But I wonder where the line is between tweeking yourself for your own sake and getting a major overhaul to try to fit some false illusion of women’s beauty.

Certainly body image is something you carry inside yourself, but the constant bombardment of rubber stamped images of “beauty” can’t possibly be helping everyone’s self-image. By the same token, our hyper attention to these kinds of superficial topics and vacuous people (Kardashian kabal) rather than humans of worthwhile knowledge, action and accomplishment speaks volumes. Can we all just get a brain?

If you really want to explore images of some individual body parts, check out this Instagram account: mrs_angemi. It might not be for the faint of heart since she posts pictures of actual body parts, but if you want a little truth to your version of body “normal” maybe you need to see what bodies actually look like and her commentaries are spot on. One of her latest posts is a picture of a liver damaged from wearing corsets.

So happy summer to all and celebrate the individual that you are.

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Cyclical Failure

did you hear about the guy that shot up his computer? he had just had enough, took it outside and shot it full of bullet holes. reminds me of that scene from the movie office space where they take the printer out into a field and bust it up. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlk-3hps12q

though we’re not getting out the shotgun anytime soon, c and i are in a cycle of appliance deaths these days.

that’s the cycle where you bought new appliances around the same time the last time you bought them and now they’re all going bad around the same time… the choice is always whether to repair or replace, but it’s a guessing game as to how much the repair will cost and what percentage of a new purchase you’re willing to part with to repair of an old product.

the first one to go in our recent cycle was the clothes dryer. well, it was pretty much a no brainer that we would replace since we’d had the same dryer since 1986. we did have it repaired once in all those years and i remember that it was about 20 years ago and cost about $100. i would say that makes for an excellent track record. the popular meme is that new stuff is just not made like the old stuff. well, maybe not, but the new stuff certainly has a lot of new technology that makes it a whole lot better than a lot of the old stuff. our new dryer is nowhere near as hard on our clothes or our energy bill and it even has a steam feature that you can use to wipe out the wrinkles in the load you forgot and left in there for days. and as an extra bonus, having to make way for a new dryer forced us to have to completely clean up the entire area surrounding the dryer and toss out a lot of old stuff (like a pair of crutches or some calendars from 2000).

then my computer went berserk and you know the rest of that story. in that case the repair seemed like a better choice.

last night it was our range. c and i had been suspicious for a while that the oven was not working properly since there were times when it never came up to the programmed temperature or it seemed to take an unreasonable amount of time to get to temperature. last night it didn’t want to heat to more than 100 degrees and so we began the debate as to whether to repair or replace. you should know that c and i are both good cooks and bakers and people who strain the limits of a kitchen appliance. that said, we have also spent years dreaming of a larger high end range. problem is, that high end range will not fit in the space we currently have. it would be fairly easy to enlarge the space but then we would have to install a larger range hood to vent the range which would involve even more renovation and then… you know where this is all going.

in the end, we bought a new, higher end range with a lot more features than our old one. even in the 12 years since we bought the last range there have been enormous changes and upgrades that make cooking a lot easier.

i’m taking mental inventory and keeping an eye out for what might go next but so far the appliances that are left are either newer or not going to be replaced at all once they self-destruct.

and damn glad i don’t have a pacemaker.

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Longing for BC

sometimes i’d like to go back to a time bc. nope, not a time of dinosaurs or tribal rule or the beginnings of pottery or farming, hunting and gathering. some days i’d like to go back to pre-computer days – especially when my computer takes a dive.

remember when you didn’t have to think about protecting a piece of equipment from malicious intruders? remember when you didn’t have to download updates, recharge batteries, unplug in thunderstorms, backup drives, add memory, delete old files, etc., etc., etc.… on top of all the other life stuff you had to think about?

if you’re as old as me, you do. most of the time i think very little about my home computer, mostly because i use my ipad at home (unfortunately i am the tech person at work so i spend my days dealing with computer issues).

for no particular reason, my laptop decided to brick itself. it turned on and booted up but refused to do anything more than just that. i wasn’t too worried because i don’t use that computer for a whole lot and everything on it is backed up via a cloud based backup service and the files are also backed up on flash drives. still, the taxes were done and sitting on that computer waiting for me to file. i figured i was willing to pay about $200 to fix the issue and if that wouldn’t fix it, i’d just download the tax software again on another computer and pull in the file from the cloud backup then shop for a new laptop.

so, off to the computer repair place around the corner late saturday afternoon. after hearing my description of the issue, the guy assures me that they can clean up the problem and it will be ready by monday. he also gives me a price of $150 – $180. i tell him fine.

monday comes and goes and no phone call from the computer place. most of tuesday comes and goes and no phone call from the computer place. i call them. good news: there was nothing malicious in the system, just an issue with some corruption in the windows 7 operating system. they’ll wipe the drive and reinstall the operating system and i’ll be good to go by wednesday morning. but they’re only open from 9 – 5 so i can’t pick it up until late friday or saturday.

turns out c is leaving work early on thursday so he’ll pick up the computer on the way home. i call the computer place and let them know that he’s coming to pick up the computer and to please allow him to take it (because i think maybe they would be concerned about security and liability and all that). they’re not terrible concerned.

then they tell me the price for the work is $489. um, what?! no, no, no. we talked about $150 – $180. computer guy starts to argue with me and i argue back. he says he’ll call me back. when he calls back he tries to tell me that he talked to c about the price and i tell him that he’s full of shit since the only phone number they had is my cell phone #, which is with me all day.

half hour later, a different computer guy calls me back and he’s got a head of steam on him. he launches into recounting the conversation we had and how i talked about all the extra work i wanted done and how i gave him the go ahead and… i stop the guy and repeat that we never had a conversation because if we had, i would have told him that i would never have paid $489 for repair work and instead gone out and bought a new laptop.

a series of phone calls and conversations later, it turns out that the computer boys were talking to another woman with my same first name, my same laptop with the same windows 7 operating system issue plus plenty more issues. and she needed them to do a whole lot more set-up work than i needed. she was going to pay $489. or, she would have paid $489 but she had taken her laptop to a different computer place altogether on the same street (there are 3). yep. so they did more work on my laptop than authorized or necessary based on someone else’s say so.

they apologized profusely but then danced around telling me how they did all this work on my computer and it was a lot of time and… basically, they kind of wanted me to pay a higher price. you can imagine how that went over.

after some negotiating, we struck a deal that i would pay a little bit more for a small amount of extra work and they would stay open late for c to pick up the laptop.

computer guy said he had never had anything like that happen in the 20 years he’d been in business. i recommended that he institute some kind of receipt of ticket system rather than his current system of only taking down a name and phone number. funny thing to have to recommend to a guy who’s in the information technology business.

still, i’m thinking about sending the bill to microsoft for payment since i’m pretty sure that their operating system update caused the problem to begin with. i’ve even got evidence of another hp laptop with windows 7 that experienced the same problem at the same time. .. if only i could track down that other marge with the hp laptop.

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Thanksgiving State of Mind

there seem to be two kinds of thanksgiving people: traditionalists and adventurers. traditionalists want the exact same food each and every year and in fact, spend most of the year dreaming of their thanksgiving meal. adventurers dream up new meals each year with new recipes and maybe even new concepts. i’ll bet most of us are in-between the two extremes and like some things every year while looking forward to some new ideas.

whatever your food type, thanksgiving is one of a few american holidays that all of us can share regardless of heritage or background. in fact, bringing your heritage or background to the thanksgiving meal is what makes it all that much more interesting and delicious.

people who have lived many places across america already know the concept of a making a holiday wherever you are. i only basically lived in states in my life — california and pennsylvania—but at a few addresses in each state. but no matter where i was on thanksgiving, i’ve always been able to make a holiday celebration out of just about nothing.

my first thanksgiving in pa when i couldn’t get back to california, i invited housemates, acquaintances, neighbors and anyone who wanted/needed a place to go for thanksgiving over and i cooked for them. though they were grateful for my hospitality, it was really me who was the beneficiary because all that cooking and fussing for guests distracted me from feeling lonely and homesick.

i met c in september of the next year, so he invited me to his parents’ house for thanksgiving the next year, which is where we have been going for almost all the years since.

the exception was thanksgiving of 2010 when i was temporarily living in texas with our daughter and her husband while she recovered from a bone marrow transplant at md anderson cancer center. c flew down with our other daughter and son so we could all be together at thanksgiving.

l and i decorated with paper turkeys and crepe paper and tried to set a nice table with whatever this and that was in the church supported apartment. we decided that since we weren’t in pa, we might as well change up the meal and go with some local flair. and, since texas is known for bbq, we bought a smoked turkey from one of the best bbq places in tx and made side dishes to compliment the smoked turkey. we made whatever we could in the tiny, scantily equipped kitchen and bought the rest.

the meal was delicious but the fact of us all being together and that our daughter was doing well in her recovery was what made that thanksgiving wonderful. the smoked turkey? not so much.

so no matter what you fancy on thanksgiving – a traditional feast or an adventurous new twist on classics there is only one wish for the day: a holiday full of thanks and good will, delicious food and most of all a moment of reflection.

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