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Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Word From the Weiss
        Last weekend, my brother and sister-in-law were gracious enough to host me – along with my husband, kids, and cousin – on glorious Fire Island, for what promises to be the highlight of my summer… and the closest thing we’ll take this year to that much lampooned and potentially fracas-fraught tradition, the family vacation.
Of course, there’s nothing quite like a family vacation to launch a nice Jewish mom like me into nice Jewish mother mode. That entails feeding everyone to full capacity, while going to extraordinary lengths to accommodate all of their comings and goings, tastes and temperaments, and – often most challenging of all – their various dietary needs.
And now that the kids are grown and the nest long flown, there are more family members to include, and more scheduling conflicts and complications to coordinate… particularly, it turned out, in navigating the dark waters of the dietary needs department.Nojunkfood.jpg
To wit: My son’s girlfriend, Kaitlin, is an avid vegetarian. My cousin craves junk food (while I think a day without kale is like a day without self-sacrifice… er, sunshine). And my daughter just began an austere “cleansing” diet that precludes gluten, dairy, sugar, soy, and just about everything else that almost anyone else normally eats.
This would have been fine and good if we’d been vacationing in some city, and everyone could order off a restaurant menu according to their preferences or needs. Our destination, alas, was far from civilization as we know it, and the closest thing to a restaurant within reasonable proximity was the table on my brother’s screened-in porch.FireIslandColumbusDayThebeach2.JPG
There is no fire on Fire Island, for those who’ve never had the pleasure of going. And although there are a few sources of fine dining in select towns there, neither are there any cars nor other modes transportation, beyond boats, bikes, or foot. A slender strip of land spanning 31 miles off the southern shore of Long Island, FI has little to offer beyond magnificent beaches, narrow boardwalks lined with weather-beaten bungalows, and the closest thing to peace and tranquility within a reasonably modest drive of Manhattan.
People go there largely because of the low-key atmosphere and soothing sense of isolation, and my brother’s location, in a community called Lonelyville, may be among the most remote. There’s a small market and perfectly decent restaurant in the neighboring town of Fair Harbor, but these are a 20-minute walk away and on the rather pricey side.OceanBeachsingles.JPG
In the opposite direction lies Ocean Beach, a seaside metropolis notoriously overrun by young singles, which is even further by foot. Although it boasts a plethora of boutiques, bars, eateries, and stores, it's most easily reached via the beach, making it far from conducive to carting home more than a modicum of groceries and other provisions.
We were invited out for a long weekend, stretching from Friday night to Monday. Yet my brother and sister-in-law were leaving the morning after we arrived to attend their friend Mark’s 60th birthday bash. So the only way to feed my crowd of six for our three days alone was to schlep almost everything that we’d consume there from home.Allegrainblackandwhiteswimsuit.JPG
Under normal circumstances, I would’ve streamlined this task by making a simple meal of pasta and salad on one of the nights. The problem was that my daughter couldn't eat pasta, and I hate to serve a meal in which not everyone present can partake.
With that in mind, I went to my local supermarket the night before we left, intent on assembling enough food to suffice six people for breakfast, lunch, and dinner during our sojourn, not to mention an array of beverages and that all-important food group, snacks.Harlanputtingbananasintocart.JPG
My husband insisted upon joining me in order to help, although the closest thing to “help” that he provided was to follow my cart through the aisles chanting what began to sound like a sort of malevolent, disapproving mantra: “Don’t go crazy! Don’t go crazy!”
That, of course, succeeded in driving me instantly crazy, in a homicidal sort of way. And despite his remonstrative refrain, I managed to gather such an abundant supply of food that I couldn’t fit it all into either our massive rolling cooler or the bulging auxiliary food bag that I packed. My husband tucked five ears of corn into his suitcase as we departed the next morning, and I was obliged to leave everything else remaining behind.
With luck, we left just in time to elude the summer weekend rush and the horrors of Long Island’s infamous highways, and we arrived at the ferry in about three hours flat.FireIslandhouse.jpg
My brother’s house is extremely comfortable, attractively furnished, and spacious to the max, but it only sleeps six, so just the adults (that is, we old folks) were invited for Friday night.Susansbirthdaycake.JPG
I brought along a pretty chocolate cake in honor of my cousin, who’d recently celebrated a birthday. But while being lavishly wined and dined by my brother and his wonderful wife, Karen, I was allowed to do little to help beyond whipping up some of my Nice Jewish Mom salad dressing, otherwise known as Aunt Pat’s mustard vinaigrette.
They left early the next afternoon, following an ample breakfast of lox and bagels. And from that moment on, it was my turn at the stove.KaitlinandAidanarrivingatFI.JPG
My son Aidan and his girlfriend Kaitlin arrived via the same ferry on which my brother left, making them almost literally like ships passing in the night. By now, a light rain was falling, prohibiting us from roaming the beach. When it finally tapered off a little past 3, my husband and I decided to walk to Ocean Beach to check out the town.WasabiBobby.JPG
Despite the copious ingredients I’d already transported, I picked up a pair of small pies. We also found it hard to resist ordering a couple of rolls of sushi freshly made before our eyes at a local market by a garrulous fellow who identified himself at Wasabi Bobby.WasabiEdamameHummus.jpg
By the time we’d transported these wares back home, it was nearly 6, which my brother has long designated there as official cocktail hour. So I threw together an assortment of hors d’oeuvres, including  the sushi, some freshly made guacamole and my favorite kind of hummus, Wasabi Edamame, and summoned everyone else to the upstairs deck.WasabiBobbyssushi.JPG
With an ample supply of wine and some packaged frozen margaritas -- not to mention things to discuss like the banner we'd seen flying over the beach that day urging Carlos Danger to "drink Avion tequila and text responsibly" -- general hilarity quickly ensued. But before long I realized that the day’s remaining sunlight was dwindling almost as fast as the refreshments, and it was high time for me to start dinner.
So I reluctantly left my fellow revelers behind and quarantined myself in the kitchen, slicing and dicing, with periodic forays out to flip the chicken sizzling on the grill. All the while, wild bursts of raucous laughter kept erupting upstairs, as constant as the waves crashing upon the shore, and I couldn’t help wondering what I might be missing.CarlosDangerDrinkAvionTequila.jpg
At one point, curiosity finally got the better of me and I decided to take a break. Evidently, Aidan and Kaitlin had been regaling everyone with tales of their recent trip to California, an excursion about which I’d been dying to hear. My cousin was chastising them for making her sit through dozens of photos of the two of them posed on the Pacific coast or in other scenic locales. As my cousin put it, in her inimitable outspoken way, “You were doing nothing! Absolutely nothing!AidanandKaitlinondeck.JPG
“I’d like to see you doing nothing,” I piped up eagerly, reaching for Aidan’s iPhone. But he simply rolled his eyes and tucked it back into his pocket.
        “Show’s over,” he said. Only when he saw my eyes did he reluctantly submit to letting me browse through a handful of shots.
Good thing dinner was almost ready. My plan had been to serve at around 7:30, so that we could finish eating in time to meet the late ferry my daughter intended to take.AllegrasingingatWrentham.JPG
Allegra had been obliged to travel there on her own because she’d long ago been booked to perform an annual jazz gig elsewhere on Saturday afternoon. After singing until 3 in Wrentham, Massachusetts, she had planned to drive straight to the ferry landing on Long Island, hoping to make the 9 p.m. to Fair Harbor.
But just as I finished cooking, she called to say that she had made amazing time, and with luck had managed to board the 7:30 to Ocean Beach, from which she’d been told she could take a water taxi.
“Water taxi!” scoffed my cousin, when I relayed the news. “Are you insane?” Ocean Beach was only about a 25-minute walk away, she insisted. “Why doesn’t she just walk here from there?”
The problem was that she didn’t know her way. So my husband instantly set out to retrieve her.Grilledchicken.JPG
Unfortunately, by now everything was ready to eat. I took the chicken off the grill and covered it with foil. The rice I’d flavored with coconut oil would keep well enough. The salad, perfectly steamed broccoli, and freshly boiled ears of corn? Not so much.
In another household, perhaps everyone remaining would have sat down to eat. But to me, there’s nothing more sacred on a family trip than eating dinner all together. So dinner would have to wait.
By the time Allegra texted to say they were en route back, nearly an hour had gone by. This prompted Aidan and Kaitlin to announce that they were going up to shower.broccoli.JPG
After awhile, I warmed everything up in the microwave, intending to have it all on the table when the stragglers arrived. But by the time they’d made their way back along the now-darkened beach, it was already 9, and Aidan and Kaitlin were still showering.
Having trekked several miles in both directions, my husband now insisted on showering and changing too, to my enormous and barely concealed exasperation. No matter. By the time he had finished and reappeared, my son and his gal pal were still MIA.Portobellamushrooms.JPG
Finally, we managed to get everyone assembled at the table, and I warmed the food up yet again. Kaitlin pronounced her meatless alternative, a veggie burger onto which I’d heaped freshly sautéed Portabella mushrooms, to be absolutely delicious.
But I couldn’t help noticing that Aidan smothered his chicken in barbecue sauce. After sitting for over 90 minutes and being warmed up twice, it had to be a little dry.PieonFI.JPG
By the time we had polished off one of the pies, it was well past 11, and everyone was ready to burst, beyond beat, and eager to go to bed, so I pretty much cleaned up all the remains of the meal single-handedly myself.TheInnocentsbyFrancescaSegal.jpg
During that same day, my husband had somehow managed to read an entire book he’d bought at our local Jewish Book Festival, plus the latest issue of The New Yorker.
And so, as I drifted off to sleep late that night, I began having a serious case of déjà vu as the Ghost of Family Summer Vacations Past began to flash before my eyes.
 KidsinQuonnie3.JPG       Back when the kids were very small, the beach had been our destination of choice. Every summer, we would rent a small cottage on the Rhode Island shore for a week or two. I was a staff writer then at the Sunday magazine of a large newspaper, and we always overlapped there with several fellow reporters who had young children of their own.
It was nice to have their company, and the companionship for our kids.
        Or was it?
        Journalism, I can tell you, is a truly tireless field. As I used to say when I occasionally got to lecture on the subject, there are three R's to being a reporter: You need to be resourceful, reliable, and relentless. Yet after interminable hours of R, R, and R, you really need to get some R & R now and then.
        So I soon discovered that when reporters go on vacation, no one actually hollers "Stop the presses!" but someone evidently presses STOP. Because those reporters cease doing just about everything.KidsinQuonnie2.JPG
The people I was with wanted to do nothing but lie on the beach all day schmoozing and reading… which would’ve been fine, except that no one was minding the kids.
No one except for me, that is. My kids and, by default, almost everyone else’s, too.
I’d bring along a vast arsenal of art supplies, and every morning I’d come up with an arts and crafts project using shells, stones, and other found objects on the beach. In the afternoon, I'd take more than a dozen kids to catch crabs on the rocks.Shellface.JPG
I enjoyed being the only resident nice Jewish mom, but it secretly galled me that my husband and friends got to chitchat and read innumerable books while I just babysat.
This was a place with few restaurants nearby, so I’d also make three meals a day.Driftwoodart.JPG
Everyone else loved it there. But I always came back feeling like I needed a vacation from the vacation. After a few years, I suddenly declared that I was done. And although that place was Paradise, we haven’t done a beach vacation since.

sunnyskyimage.jpg        Sunday’s forecast had promised perfect weather, and we awoke to a blazing sun. This had come none too soon, because we’d arrived two days earlier and I had yet to spend a moment just sitting on the sand, which is the whole point of going to the beach.
Yet I had promised to buy my cousin a belated birthday present over the weekend. So after everyone had finished breakfast, Susan, Allegra, and I set out for Ocean Beach.OceanBeachshops.jpg
Our hope was to snag something nice quickly and return to spend the day basking in idle, sundrenched splendor. And with luck, Allegra and I unexpectedly each found a funky new outfit at Ooh La La, a boutique where the styles were truly oo-la-la.AllegrainOohLaLadress.JPG
My cousin couldn’t find anything genuinely fabulous, however, and we didn’t want to settle for just anything. So before we knew it, hours had flown by, and another day had all but slipped through our fingers, just like fine sand sifting through an hourglass.
When my cousin ultimately chose a pair of earrings and a colorful pashmina, it suddenly occurred to me that all of the women had gotten something new, but Kaitlin hadn’t been there to join us. So I spent even more time trying to find a gift for her.KaitlininFireIslandsweatshirt.JPG
At my cousin’s suggestion, I finally elected to buy her a Fire Island sweatshirt as a small souvenir of the weekend, and an uncannily good choice it turned out to be. For when we returned to find the kids stretched out on the beach, Kaitlin was wearing a bathing suit that perfectly matched the sweatshirt I'd picked, and she eagerly pulled it on at once to block out the burning sun.
The problem was that it was now well past 3, and Aidan and Kaitlin were due to depart on a 6 p.m. ferry. I’d already persuaded everyone to sit down for a traditional Sunday dinner at around 4:30 so we could all eat together once again before they left.Allegrainpinupsuit2.JPG
That, however, would oblige me to go back to the house right away to begin cooking. So, with some hesitation, I prevailed upon Aidan to take a slightly later ferry. Then I actually got to sit down with everyone else and vege out for the first time all day.
The sun was still blazing. The sand was divine. But within 20 minutes, I went inside to use the bathroom, then began slicing and dicing anew, and I never went back out.grilledsalmon.JPG
This time, with luck, I managed to get everyone to sit down soon after the massive filet of Atlantic salmon came off the grill and the rest of the meal was all ready.Roastpotatoes.JPG
The roasted Yukon gold potatoes with fresh herbs from the garden were just the right amount of crispy.
        Kaitlin seemed more than satisfied with the slices of both assorted vegetable pie and layered eggplant pie I had purchased for her, not knowing which she might prefer.Veggiepies.JPG
The entire green salad went, thanks to my Nice Jewish Mom mustard vinaigrette.
Granted, my cousin didn’t seem to relish my beloved fresh green kale, which I’d wilted in the oven, admitting that she had never tried it before and would just as soon never try it again.
Whatever. To me, there was nothing healthier, I said, and I like to watch what I eat.kale.JPG
At this, my husband virtually howled. “Watch what you eat?” he cried incredulously. “You don’t just watch it. You take pictures of it!”
And if you don’t see the humor in that, then you clearly don’t live with a blogger… that is, someone who feels compelled to capture nearly every moment (and mouthful) of her life on film, just in case she elects to show-and-tell the whole world about it later on.CousinSusanonFireIsland2.JPG
After pie No. 2, we all rushed off to escort the departing youngsters to the dock. Then the rest of us strolled on to join the customary evening crowd at the Fair Harbor ferry landing, where we ogled what might have been the most magnificent sunset ever.SunsetatFireIslandbyAllegra.JPG
Inevitably, by the time we got back, everyone was beyond exhausted, and I found myself almost single-handedly cleaning up dinner again, although Allegra insisted on  pitching in a bit, and my husband, after considerable cajoling, scrubbed a couple of pots.
Then I threw a load of beach towels into the washing machine and realized that the one I’d been using was mysteriously missing. So I went out to the beach to find it.
With luck, and a hefty flashlight, I did. At the same time, I got a sudden inspiration. I may have missed my day on the beach, but I hadn’t yet missed the night.Glowinthedarkbracelets.JPG
Since it was past 11, my cousin was already in bed, but Allegra and my husband readily joined me. To help keep track of each other in the darkness, I suggested that we each put on some of the colorful glow-in-the-dark bracelets I’d brought along just for fun.Shootingstar.jpg
August tends to be prime time for meteor showers, here in the Northeast at least, and lying on our backs in the now-cool, silken sand, I saw a total of five shooting stars.
We stayed out there listening to the surf until we couldn’t take the cold any longer. The night sky was our own private movie screen, and it was showing what I can call without hesitation the most heavenly film ever made.
The next morning, alas, it was time to pack. I got everyone to strip their beds, then, while they all went out to the beach, I lingered behind for well over an hour to clean.
Never mind that my brother and sister-in-law had both assured me that this wasn’t necessary. We were beyond grateful to be their guests, and were eager to be asked back, and I wanted to leave the house looking just as immaculate as we had found it.Pattieinocean.JPG
But after washing all the towels and sheets, cleaning out the fridge, tidying the kitchen and the bathrooms, and packing sandwiches for the road, I still managed to finally nip out to the beach for a couple of completely relaxing hours… which culminated in my daring to submerge myself up to my neck in the roiling waves, something I must confess that I hadn’t done in years. And now that I’ve done it, I can’t wait to do it again.
Then we rolled our now nearly-empty cooler back and caught a late-afternoon ferry home.            
That old joke that what Jewish women make for dinner is “reservations” is just that – a joke. What I make for dinner is dinner.
        And I have no reservations about doing that.PattieonFIdeck.JPG
I like to cook, as well as eat (and sometimes even drink), and the somewhat ambitious meals that I planned, as well as my progressively less girlish figure, are incontrovertible testaments to that.
        But best of all was when both kids called afterwards to say that they'd had an amazing time. And when Aidan went so far as to thank me for taking special pains in the care and feeding of his girlfriend, it melted my nice Jewish heart.

        And so that weekend remains the highlight of my summer so far. I got to spend time with my entire family in an undisputed patch of paradise. And if I had thought to wish upon any of those shooting stars, I wouldn’t really have wished for anything else.
Then again, the day after we got home, I was almost too beat to get out of bed. And to be honest, when we’d pulled into the garage the night before, I abruptly unleashed a string of unprintable epithets at my now very well-read husband.HarlanonFireIslanddock.JPG
“Huh? What’s wrong?” he asked, looking thoroughly mystified. “What did I do?”
And all I could do was shake my head in frustration and reply, echoing almost exactly what my cousin had said about Aidan’s West Coast photos.
“Nothing,” I seethed back, with an exasperated sigh. “You did absolutely nothing!”
To be perfectly fair, though, my husband is still a hardworking newspaper reporter, and he really did need a true vacation. Besides, let's get real. He doesn't exactly cook or do much in the way of dishes at home. Do I really expect him to do any of that on vacation?
        So I can’t help wondering what I might have done differently, or what I might do differently the next time around.
Given everyone’s disjointed comings and goings, it really wouldn’t have been logistically possible to eat out on any of the nights we were there. But perhaps I could have made somewhat less elaborate meals, or fed everyone to slightly less excess. (Did I really need to supplement the grilled chicken with rice and corn and broccoli and salad?)frozenfood.jpg
My friend Pat, who just returned from two weeks at her vacation home in Vermont, says that she hosted not just one, but two Shabbat dinners for 12 there. This took no great effort, though, because she'd prepared most of the food back at home and brought it along frozen, so she merely needed to heat it before they could eat it.
I suppose that might be one way to go, although if you ask me nothing tastes as good unless it’s made at the last minute, especially veggies, and chicken and fish are best steaming hot right off the grill.
Maybe next year, if we are asked back, I can put the kids in charge of dinner one night. Or I’ll insist that we synchronize our schedules enough to eat out at least once.
        And if any of you out there have any better ideas, I would be happy to hear them!
        Meanwhile, although I had an incredible time at the beach, I still feel like I need a vacation. And I don’t just mean another dip in the ocean, as nice as that would be.PattiehappyonFireIsland.JPG
With that in mind, I’ve decided to take the next week or so off from this space.
        Don’t worry. I’ll still capture every moment and morsel of my life on camera, just in case. And I will be back soon, for sure, with more misadventures and maybe even some brand new features. But sometimes nice Jewish moms need a break – not just a little change of scene, but an actual, honest-to-God vacation from being a nice Jewish mom.
        I also have places to go, people to see, and a rather special long-term project to finish up. So let me assure you that whatever I do and wherever I may be, I definitely won't be doing absolutely nothing.

12:05 am 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Word From the Weiss

AllegrainherNYapartment.JPG        When my daughter had another bout of roommate reshuffling a few months back, I promptly proposed a deal: She could take over the largest room in her three-bedroom in NYC – substantially raising the rent that we were already substantially subsidizing – provided that her dad and I could stay there overnight one weekend every month.
As intrusive as this might threaten to be for our 23-year-old and the two young ladies with whom she lives (or anyone else in her right mind), I viewed this as an amazingly reasonable offer. But the most amazing part was that she instantly acquiesced.Weddingcake2.jpg
We thought this past weekend would have been an ideal time to exercise our new privilege, considering that both of her roommates were out of town. And so it might have been, except for one little thing. That thing is the wedding industry, which I can tell you is alive and well and thriving in this country… much more than back in my day, anyway.
Assuming that we would have free accommodations for the entire weekend, I made the mistake of getting theater tickets for both Friday and Saturday nights. Perhaps my biggest mistake of all, though, was buying a ticket for Friday night for Allegra as well, since we were seeing a series of one-act plays that I knew she would thoroughly enjoy. If she turned out not to be available, I figured, we would find someone else to join us.
What I wasn’t taking into account was the social habits of the 20-plus set, which generally preclude making any kind of firm commitment until the very last minute.Allegrainstripedtop.jpg
Every time I mentioned those tickets, Allegra would sound enthusiastic, but say, “Can I let you know tomorrow?” And by the time that she let us know (and what she let us know was "no"), we had run out of tomorrows, and all of the people we know, being far beyond 20, had made other plans.
I also failed to take into account the organizational habits of the 20-plus set, which rarely if ever include keeping a date book.
Never mind that they lead lives even busier than those of us in the 50-plus set; they keep almost everything they need to know stored on their smart phones. Or maybe they’re just trying to show off that their own memories are sharp enough to remember names, numbers, and appointments, along with what they just ate for breakfast.Smartphoneinhand.jpg
So it should have come as no surprise when I texted my daughter two nights earlier to remind her of our imminent arrival that she phoned at once, sounding very apologetic.
“You’re welcome to stay with me on Friday,” she said. “But I’m throwing Veronica’s bachelorette party on Saturday, and three of the girls are staying over here afterwards.” She was nice enough to say that we could sleep there too, but of course I knew better. So I hastened to book a room for the second night at the cheapest rate I could find.HarlanheadshotatBrown.JPG
I also decided to say as little as possible to my husband about the change in plans, because every time he hears about another new development in the annals of her dear friend Veronica’s wedding, Nice Jewish Dad mysteriously begins to foam at the mouth.
Make no mistake. We love Veronica, as well as her fiancé Andrew, who has played guitar in Allegra’s jazz band for years. We truly could not be happier about their union.VeronicaandAndrew.jpg
The problem, for my husband, is the endless hoopla surrounding their approaching nuptials, or more accurately the endless expenses that this hoopla seems to entail.
First came the nice engagement party that Allegra threw for the couple last year. Then there was the $200 bridesmaid dress she had to buy, as well as the $100 that each bridesmaid must forfeit for her hair and makeup for the event. Then Allegra had to travel from NYC to Boston for the bridal shower, and to bring assorted gifts for that.
Of course, there also will be a wedding gift, as well as two nights at a hotel near Boston (although she has arranged to economize by splitting the room three ways).Kleinfelds.jpg
To me, these were all fairly standard and customary charges, not unlike the ones I had shelled out when I was a member of a college roommate’s wedding back in 1980. The shocker to me came the day that Allegra accompanied Veronica to Kleinfeld’s, New York’s preeminent wedding boutique, only to gush afterwards about the gorgeous dress for which her friend had shelled out thousands, never mind that she’d wear it only once.Myweddingwithmymomhusbandanddad.jpg
“That’s nothing,” our friend Shelly scoffed when I mentioned this in passing. Her own daughter had also gone to Kleinfeld’s and had paid $12,000 for her wedding gown.
Why, I spent a mere $150 on my own gown back in 1984, I informed my daughter. (Never mind that, as a fashion reporter at the time, I got a deal from a young designer.)
“That was almost 30 years ago,” she snapped back. “Times have changed.”
“Yes, times have changed,” I agreed. “There’s been inflation. But not that much!”Bachelorettestuff.JPG
Yet I was almost ready to take that statement back when we arrived at Allegra’s last Friday afternoon and I saw the elaborate party preparations already in the works.
Given that most of these goods were just cheap tchotchkes from Party City, and that some had even been on sale there, it wasn’t so much the expense as the expanse.
Floating above the table was a bouquet of helium balloons announcing the event. Below was a vast array of party paraphernalia, all reflecting a decidedly girly theme that might be summed up as “in the pink.”Bacheloretteballoons.JPG
There was a pale pink 6-foot feather boa for the bride-to-be, as well as a fake giant engagement ring, sequined Bachelorette sash, and flashing-lights tiara. There were also pink mini tiaras for the bridesmaids, as well as candy necklaces, jars of bubbles, and a big white sleep shirt on which to inscribe “Advice for the Bachelorette” in permanent ink.Bachelorettetiaras.jpg
There were wedding cake-shaped candles, multi-hued Mylar confetti lips, and an astonishing assortment of pink phallic-shaped confections, from cookies to lollipops. (Yikes!)
Of course there were pink and black Bachelorette Party plates, plastic cups, and napkins, as well as pink and black treat bags to fill with chocolates and other small gifts.PintheLipsontheStud.JPG
But there were also a range of party games to play, from something called Scratch & Dare, to “Decision Dice,” to a poster allowing guests to “Pin the Lips on the Stud.”BachelorettePartyDecisionDice.jpg
Plus, there was a pink banner to identify the group in their travels as “Team Bride.”
And last but certainly not least, there was an astonishing assortment of beverages, also of the pink persuasion. And no, I’m not referring to pink lemonade. In addition to the two bottles of effervescent pink Prosecco that I’d kindly agreed to bring from home, there was a bottle of pink sparkling wine called Bitch and one of a liqueur called Kinky.Kinkyliqueur.JPG
Only five guests were expected, and Allegra had indicated that she only was hosting the “pre-game” portion of the festivities, after which they were going out for dinner and clubbing. How much could one bride and four bridesmaids possibly imbibe?
It seemed like a far cry from when I got hitched, and a few friends joined me for a final girls’ night out while our husbands were going wild at my husband’s bachelor party. We went out for a normal, sedate dinner, then, determined to stay out just as late as the guys, we drove around looking for something risqué to do. That’s when we spied a local dive with a rock band blaring out loudly on its roof.Rooftopbar.jpg
        Only after we had parked, eagerly bounded up several flights of stairs, and exuberantly stormed the dance floor did we discover the unexpected thing about which we swore each other to eternal secrecy.
While the men were out making the rounds of local strip joints, we somehow had lucked our way into a lesbian bar. So much for my last night as a single nice Jewish girl.
The problem was that no one had given much if any thought to those festivities because, let’s face it – despite Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and all those other nice Jewish mothers of the feminist movement – women still were essentially second-class citizens.TeamBride.JPG
And so a bachelorette party back then was a novel and relatively insignificant affair compared to its male counterpart. My maids of honor (yes, plural; I had two) both lived far away and were neither present that night nor privy to the arrangements. Or maybe it was just another example of women back then always having to settle for second best, as I’d once made do with a low-key Bat Mitzvah celebrated in the basement of our temple, while my brother had an extravaganza in a hotel as elaborate as any wedding.
Come to think of it, times have changed. And Allegra’s extensive preparations, expensive as they were, might be a step in the right direction for all bachelorette kind.Allegrainpolkadotdress.jpg
This bridesmaid thing also was something of a major milestone for her, one of those key personal rites of passage. Veronica is the first of her girlfriends to tie the knot, so my daughter’s level of anticipation about it is so elevated that you might think she had died and gone to heaven… assuming that they have bachelorette parties there.
She also had gone to such trouble, she said, because several girls had punked out at the last minute, and she wanted to make sure the party was a success nonetheless.
Yet putting herself out, unlike this bachelorette business, is nothing new for her. And this was not the only party she’d attend that weekend, nor the only one for which she would go to great lengths.
The reason she’d canceled out on our theater plans was that she’d been invited somewhat last-minute to another friend’s going-away party. She not only wanted to arrive there on time, but also to bake cookies for the guest of honor, a guy who doesn’t eat gluten. The cookies she already had on hand for the bachelorette party wouldn’t do. All of them were full of gluten... Plus there was that phallic thing. 
Unfortunately, there was no time to bake now. We were already late for dinner.Circointeriorshot.jpg
Given our failure to find someone to take her place at the theater last-minute, Allegra consented to join us for Act I, rather than let her $25 ticket go entirely to waste.
We also had no trouble persuading her to join us for dinner. This being NYC Restaurant Week, we were going to a place at which we’re too frugal to normally eat.PattieatCirco.JPG
That semi-annual promotion, which actually lasts for three weeks (continuing through August 16), offers three-course lunches for $25 and/or dinners for $38 at 292 participating eateries around Manhattan. The one I’d chosen to book was Circo, on West 55th. Between the Technicolor circus-themed posters on the walls and the monkey sculptures and flying trapezes suspended from the ceiling, it’s what you might call stodgy Le Cirque’s much hipper younger sister.AllegraanddadatCirco.JPG
Allegra settled beside her dad on a cushy upholstered banquette, and soon we were all sighing with ecstasy, because everything at Circo was delicious enough to make you go berserk-o. This included everything from my appetizer of tonnato vitello (cold sliced veal in a creamy tuna sauce) to my Pollo alla Pizzaiola con Capperi e Pomodori (Escalope of Chicken with Mozzarella, Capers, and Tomatoes).ChickenatCirco.JPG
The portions were also so ample, despite the bargain price, that even without ordering wine we ate ourselves into a serious food stupor. Allegra felt so lethargic, in fact, that she said she needed to go home at once and take a nap before going to her party.SummerShortsat59E59.jpg
That was unfortunate, because two of the three plays in Series A of the Summer Shorts at 59E59 had been penned by Neil LaBute and Tina Howe, two of our favorite contemporary playwrights. And although they were indeed short – 90 minutes in total, including the intermission -- not one of them came up short in inventiveness or humor.Glutenfreecookiemix.JPG
We then returned to Allegra’s apartment to discover that sometime during her trip home she must've gotten a second wind… and a mighty one, at that. Because after leaving us, she evidently had stopped into the supermarket, then gone home and baked a few batches of gluten-free cookies, and then thoroughly cleaned every inch of her apartment… except for the kitchen sink, which was still brimming with the evidence.AllegrasbedinNYC.JPG
Yet having once been 23 myself, I totally understood. Being a nice Jewish mom, I also totally tidied the kitchen. Because being too cheap to pay for two nights in a hotel in NYC, I totally appreciated her letting us impose. And in the end she opted to stay over with friends after the party, which was in Brooklyn, so we had the place to ourselves.
To my disappointment, she didn’t make it home before we departed the next day, so I never got to help her make the hors d’oeuvres, which would’ve been great fun.
Instead, we made our way over to our hotel, The Verve, in nearby Long Island City.
As I have admitted in past weeks, I’m what you might call a reverse hotel snob. Some people like to boast about staying in the lap of luxury, something we seldom do. I pride myself instead on unearthing the cheapest lodgings that I can find.VerveHotelanditsowner.JPG
Although it’s possible to find bargains within Manhattan online if you wait until the last minute, I’ve come to the conclusion that the best deals by far are in lower-brow LIC. You may not stay like a king in Queens, but you’ll find far more spacious rooms at far lower rates, plus free parking on the street, with midtown just a quick subway ride away.
Two weeks ago, we had a huge room at the Holiday Inn in LIC for only $126 plus tax. This time, I’d managed to stumble across a king room at the Country Inn & Suites for a senior rate of only $108, including breakfast! But after reading some less-than-glowing reviews, I had second thoughts and decided to shell out a bit more for The Verve, the area’s top-rated hotel, at $143 plus tax (with breakfast included as well).
Alas, this felt like less of a bargain when Allegra texted us late that afternoon to say that none of the party guests were staying with her, after all (what did I say about the 20-plus crowd and their ability to make firm commitments?). So we were welcome to come back now. By then we had long since checked in, of course, and the hotel had processed our credit card.
We’d also already made our way back to Manhattan for night No. 2 at the theater.Volleygirls3.jpg
I would spend more time here raving about the play we saw had it not been the very last night of its limited run. It seems almost cruel to whet your appetite for something you can’t go see. Then again, that opportunity might still arise, considering what happened in the end.
Volleygirls, with a book written by our eminently talented family friend Rob Ackerman, was one of 24 contenders in this year’s New York Musical Theatre Festival, which has spawned many a show that went on to achieve wide renown and/or a lengthy run, including Next to Normal and Altar Boyz. And although it was the only entry I saw this year, I know that it deserved to win the coveted Best of Fest award – as it did – because I cannot imagine anything better.Volleygirlsthegirls.jpg
Never mind if you are not a sports fan, let alone an aficionado of girls’ volleyball. Never have I seen such an exhilarating and euphorically uplifting production of any kind. Nor have I ever found myself (along, very audibly, with the rest of the audience) rooting so wholeheartedly for such a varied assortment of thoroughly engaging and perfectly cast characters.
Key in its predominantly female lineup is Kim Brindell, coach of the St. Agnes LadyHawks, a motley crew of high school misfits with winning personalities, but a penchant to lose big on the court. Kim harbors a deep, dark secret of Olympic proportions, one that once shamed her so publicly that she has been living under an alias ever since. Will she manage to atone for it and attain her long-lost confidence by transforming her mousy team of mild-mannered rejects into raging jabalis (Spanish for wild boars)?KiminVolleygirls.jpg
Yet when it comes to overcoming adversity, there are plenty of others carrying the ball (quite literally, as it turns out).
Will Jess, the soft-spoken team captain, ever summon the courage to stand up to her domineering and PTA-dominating mother? Will Xavier, the team’s ardently earnest webcaster, ever prevail in his courtside courting of Jess? Will Marisol, the team’s sassy and sizzling Latino, dare to let the world know that she likes girls?
But wait. There’s more! Will Principal Kavett manage to win Kim’s heart and the respect of his interminably angry daughter? Will Jocelyn, an affable but awkward member of the team, realize that Marisol is far more than just a role model to her? And will “Spike” Mandelbaum, a big-hearted but pocket-sized nice Jewish girl, ever rise up to actually spike the ball?
Never fear, you may actually get to find out for yourselves, because this buoyantly lively feel-good show – with music by Eli Bolin and lyrics by Sam Forman – not only clinched the festival’s top award, but also its prizes for Most Promising New Musical and Outstanding Ensemble Performance, as well as honorable mentions for excellence in writing, direction, and choreography. So I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up back onstage soon.PattieattheVerve.JPG
It certainly helped spike our spirits. Yet after emerging back into the real world, I must confess that it was a bit of a letdown to realize that the night was young, and my daughter was otherwise engaged for the evening and the rest of our stay in New York.
My thoughts also couldn’t help drifting to the drama unfolding in her life that night. Would more bridesmaids end up canceling out on the festivities at the very last minute? Would Veronica enjoy the proceedings and appreciate how far above and beyond my daughter had gone? And after all that effort and expense, would Allegra also manage to have some fun?
But the answers to those questions would have to wait for now. The party was in full swing.Boathousemenu.jpg
After another dinner out, we turned in early, then awoke to enjoy our free breakfast the next morning, although it felt sad not to be joining Allegra for brunch as usual. The girls had to be up bright and early because Andrew’s aunt was throwing Veronica yet another bridal extravaganza (her “New York shower”) at the boathouse in Central Park.
Then, with a light rain beginning to fall, we decided to take in one of the few notable cultural sites in Queens, the Museum of the Moving Image, in Astoria.
We were nearly there when my cell phone rang. The parties were finally over.
“Where are you now?” Allegra asked. She and Veronica were on their way back from the shower, wheeling a big red wagon filled with flowers and gifts, and were hoping for a lift from the Roosevelt Island tram, which was a long walk from their buildings.Iturnedthecararound.JPG
And without a second thought, or a word to my husband, I turned the car around.
Soon after we pulled up, we watched them merrily disembark in the pouring rain, two smiling girls in purple summer dresses, and one very large and overloaded wagon.VeronicaandAllegrawithwagon.JPG
It wasn’t easy cramming them and their cargo into the back seat of my car. In fact, the wagon took up almost the entire seat and, the bride-to-be ended up on the floor.Veronicaonthefloor.JPG
En route, they told us of the endless merriment they’d had during their travels… the four clubs they’d gone to… the “really skeevy” guy who’d asked Allegra to dance… and the nasty question the bride’s sister got men to ask the bride everywhere they went. They’d had too much to eat. They’d had much too much to drink. But it sounded like they’d had the best time ever, because there’s no such thing as having too much fun.Veronicasbridalshower.jpg
The funniest (and most printable) tale my daughter told us was about something that had happened only a few minutes earlier on their way to meet us. They’d been pulling the wagon along the sidewalk when a middle-aged woman tapped Allegra on the shoulder. “I thought you might want to know you’re putting on quite a show,” she said.
Looking down, Allegra realized that her dress had been hiked up by the wagon. Yanking it down, she thanked the woman profusely, then dared to ask just how much of a show she’d inadvertently been putting on.Veronicasbachelorette.jpg
“Well, let’s just say more than enough to get a date,” the woman replied flatly.
I hope she does get a date (although certainly not that way), and that someday soon (although not too soon) her own prince will come, as well as her engagement party, bridal shower, and, yes, bachelorette party. Then her friends can make a huge fuss over her. But even as a bridesmaid this time around, I don’t think she could be any happier.Allegrainbridesmaiddress.JPG
        And so, I suppose, it goes for me. Sure, it’s nice to save some dough on hotels (even cheap ones) by crashing with our daughter now and then. But the nice part isn’t about the money. It’s totally about getting to hang out with her and to look in on her 20-plus life.
I no longer feel like I missed out in some way on having a real bachelorette party. Hearing about this one, and getting to see all of the stuff, was more than enough for me.
I still may never be willing to shell out thousands for my daughter’s wedding dress. But for me, there is no contest. She is the Best of Fest.

7:29 pm 

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That's me. The redhead on the right. But that is NOT my baby.

     No, sir, that's not my baby. How could any mother smile beatifically while her own child wailed? Never mind that neither of my offspring ever cried so plaintively, as far as I recall (not while I was there to nurture them through their every perceptible need... although my son still complains that I often dressed him in garish and girlish color schemes, scarring him FOR LIFE).
     Besides, I'm distinctly beyond prime delivery age ("Kitchen's closed!" as my mother might say), and my kids had departed the diaper stage by the dawn of the Clinton Administration. Now in their 20s, both are currently living on their own, in not-too-distant cities, although each manages to phone me daily. In fact, to be exact, several times a day, then sometimes text me, too. (That may sound excessive, and emotionally regressive, but I subscribe to the Jewish mother's creed when it comes to conversing with kinder: Too much is never enough.)
     Two demanding decades spent raising two kids who are kind, highly productive and multi-talented, who generally wear clean underwear (as far as I can tell), and who by all visible signs don't detest me are my main credentials for daring to dole out advice in the motherhood department.
     Presenting myself as an authority on all matters Jewish may be trickier to justify.
     Yes, I was raised Jewish and am biologically an unadulterated, undisputable, purebred Yiddisheh mama. I'm known for making a melt-in-your-mouth brisket, not to mention the world's airiest matzah balls this side of Brooklyn. My longtime avocation is writing lyrics for Purim shpiels based on popular Broadway productions, from "South Pers-cific" to "The Zion Queen." Then again, I'm no rabbi or Talmudic scholar. I can't even sing "Hatikvah" or recite the Birkat Hamazon. Raised resoundingly Reform, I don't keep kosher, can barely curse in Yiddish, and haven't set foot in Israel since I was a zaftig teen.
     Even so, as a longtime writer and ever-active mother, I think I have something to say about being Jewish and a mom in these manic and maternally challenging times. I hope something I say means something to you. Welcome to my nice Jewish world!   
In coming weeks, I will continue posting more personal observations, rants, and even recipes (Jewish and otherwise). So keep reading, come back often, and please tell all of your friends, Facebook buddies, and everyone else you know that NiceJewishMom.com is THE BOMB!
The family that eats together (and maybe even Tweets together): That's my son Aidan, me, my daughter Allegra, and Harlan, my husband for more than 26 years, all out for Sunday brunch on a nice summer weekend in New York.

Comments? Questions? Just want to kvetch? Please go to GUESTBOOK/COMMENTS.