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Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Word From the Weiss

Straycationimage.jpg        In less-than-flush times like these, we’re all too familiar with the concept of the “staycation.” You know. You find diversions relatively close to home, but still return to sleep in your own bed each night. Yet when you’re a nice Jewish blogger who rarely leaves the house – other than to walk the dog, visit the kids, or go to shul now and then – you really need a true change of scene. So two weeks ago, my husband and I embarked on what you might call a stray-cation.
We took off for parts unknown, yet close enough so that no passports, airfare, or even road map were required.FoliageinBerkshires.JPG
Fall, fortunately, is the perfect time for that here in the foliage-festooned Northeast. With all that natural splendor rimming the horizon, just gazing out the car window can feel like a vacation.
Sadly, we soon learned, the best-laid stray-cations of mice, men, and nice Jewish moms can swiftly go awry.
We knew just where to go for a short but sweet trip because the answer practically landed in our laps. Our kids had happened to take a trip of their own just the weekend before, and they enjoyed it so much that they insisted we go see this veritable slice of paradise for ourselves.AllegraatStormKingArtCenter.jpg
They were talking about Storm King Art Center, a 500-acre sculpture park about an hour’s drive north of NYC, although judging from the pictures my daughter posted on Facebook, it was more like the Garden of Eden… if it had been overrun with modern art instead of malevolent serpents and apples.
Somehow we had never been there before, although by sheer coincidence I’d been thinking about visiting it only the week before.Kykuitexterior.JPG
The Shayna Maidels, the women’s book group to which I have long belonged, had taken a totally non-book-related field trip to Kykuit, overlooking the Palisades in Sleepy Hollow, NY, the elegant, rambling estate that once served as home to four generations of Rockefellers.PicassotapestryatKykuit.JPG
After viewing the exquisite grounds and priceless art both inside the mansion and out (ranging from dozens of Picassos rendered as tapestries to an Andy Warhol pop-art portrait of Nelson D. Rockefeller), we also had gone to see the series of Biblically-inspired stained glass windows created by Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse that grace the nearby Union Church of Pocantico Hills.MarcChagallwindowatUnionChurch.jpg
Then, on the way home, I had taken a wrong turn, gotten instantly lost, and accidentally driven across the Tappan Zee Bridge, headed toward New Jersey. The map on my iPhone showed that Storm King was only about an hour due north. But by then even we culture-vulture Maidels had more or less OD'd on art, so it had be saved for another day.
Between that and my kids’ noodging, I grew convinced that this trip wasn't just a passing whim. It was beshert.
Meant to be.
So imagine our surprise when my husband and I reserved a cheap hotel nearby, packed our bags, drove two hours west on I-84, and arrived at Storm King the following Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. to see a chain stretching ominously across the main entrance.
The art center is apparently closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Who knew?StormKingclosed.JPG
“Now what?” my husband asked after consulting the visiting hours on the center’s web site via his phone, something that I now knew I should have done in the first place.
Googling “Things to do near Newburgh, New York” yielded little more than the Motorcyclepedia Museum, the Hamilton Fish Bridge, and George Washington’s former headquarters, featuring a small historic collection of uniforms, weapons, and tools.
Then I remembered that when I had mentioned our travel plans to our friend Michael, he had noted randomly that where we were headed wasn’t far from the CIA.
The Culinary Institute of America, that is.
I quickly phoned this noted chef school in Hyde Park, NY, which bills itself as “the world’s premier culinary college,” and asked if there were any chance of getting into one of its restaurants that evening.
Its acclaimed American Bounty restaurant was fully booked.
So was its Italian eatery, the Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici.BocuseRestaurantinterior.jpg
There was, however, a table free at 7:30 for contemporary French food at its relatively new Bocuse Restaurant, named for the most famous chef in France.
I took it, although I could see that my husband seemed perceptibly less than thrilled.
For one thing, the CIA was a 40-minute drive away. For another, it was now only 3 in the afternoon. What the heck were we going to do for the next four and a half hours?
Besides, we had come all this way to see art, hadn't we? So he proposed that, as long as we were driving north, we stop at Vassar College, which was along the way, and visit its art museum.
En route, we chose to check into our hotel. At least we began to check in. Discovering it to look a bit rundown, I proposed a minor change of plans. Rather than having to later drive the 40 minutes back after eating a hefty meal complete with wine, why not stay near the CIA instead?Harlanspillingwineincar.JPG
With luck, we found a Hampton Inn in Poughkeepsie with an indoor pool for only $127, including breakfast.
By the time we had driven there, checked in, and changed for dinner, it was already late in the afternoon. So as my husband left our hotel room, he poured himself a paper cup full of red wine from a bottle he had brought along.
As I pulled back onto the highway and veered north, he spilled this all over himself.
After I had driven back to the hotel so that he could change into dry pants, I waited in the car and decided out of curiosity to Google the art museum at Vassar College.
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center had an impressive permanent collection from medieval to modern times. And an exhibit of Japanese woodblock prints.VassarCollegeartshow.jpg
And it was closed on Tuesdays.
We decided to drive to the school, anyway, where we parked and asked a passing student if there were anything of note on campus that she could recommend we see. She heartily endorsed a pond and what she referred to as the “Shakespeare garden.”Vassarpond.JPG
The pond, I must say, was tranquil, flanked by multicolored trees, and bucolic to the max, although it was not necessarily worth driving two and a half hours to see.
That left the Shakespeare garden. To see or not to see? That was the question.
        The answer? It took quite a bit of time and meandering around to find, but we finally did. It contained a small assortment of herbs, a few perennials, and three quaint statuettes.ShakespearegardenHarlan.JPG
           One of these, presumably, was the Bard himself.
         It, too, was
lovely and scenic, but not exactly worth traveling any great distance to view.
        So we gave up and departed for the CIA, which is situated right beside the Hudson River and we had heard was scenic itself. Although it was still too early for dinner, we figured that we could pass some time visiting the campus gift shop.
Of course we arrived just past 6 p.m., five minutes after the shop had closed.
We stood there gawking longingly through its window at the cookbooks, souvenirs, and gleaming cooking gadgets and utensils.
The maitre d’ at Bocuse said they would be happy to seat us early, however.
Were we in for a surprise.UsinfrontofCIA.JPG
The eatery, which features a sleek, modern décor, offers a prix fixe dinner for $45 on Tuesday through Thursday. This may not sound exactly cheap, but the truth is that you can easily spend that much for three courses at many a totally ordinary restaurant. And this was no ordinary restaurant.
We could have settled for splitting an appetizer and dessert by ordering á al carte. But everything sounded so scrumptious and enticing that we wanted to try as many things as possible, so we both went (excuse the trayf expression) for the whole hog.CIAsalad.JPG
It was hard to resist the black truffle soup topped with puff pastry, or the seared foie gras with pear-Sauternes-vanilla gel (which sounded like chopped liver WASP-style and on steroids). But my husband finally chose to start with a kale and beet salad dressed with an ethereal dollop of blue cheese foam.PoachedlobsteratCIA.JPG
And as long as we were splurging, I decided to go for the Hômard Poché et Flan de Chou Fleur, that is, Warm Butter Poached Lobster with Romanescu Cauliflower Purée, Nicoise Olives and Coral Dust. (Sorry if that offends anyone. But I never have claimed to keep kosher.)
For the main course, my husband openly salivated over his seared yellowfin tuna with fennel confit in sea urchin foam. Meanwhile, I shudder to confess that (despite my recently adopted vegetarian leanings)  I opted for the sliced duck breast with roasted vegetables afloat in some sort of deliciously tangy red wine reduction.DuckatCIA.JPG
Everything tasted just as luscious as it sounds, if not even more so. But perhaps the most appealing aspect of it all was the attention to detail and elegant presentation. Our entrees were delivered with a flourish under silver domes that were lifted in unison to reveal food arranged as exquisitely as the paint on any canvas.
Talk about attention to detail! We had come to see art and could hardly complain. Each plate was museum quality.CIAfoodpresentation.JPG
Just as key in elevating the meal to a truly transcendent experience was the level of service. Granted, as a teaching venue, the restaurant is staffed by students, some of whom are still diamonds in the rough, rather than polished professionals.
But they are all so eager to please and to succeed that I came away sensing that this was the closest I have ever come in my entire lifetime to feeling that I was treated like royalty.DesserttrayatCIA.JPG
This was epitomized when the dessert (actually six small desserts, including a pistachio macaron, a profiterole doused in smoked chocolate sauce, a ramekin of rice pudding, and a moist date cake in a toasted walnut brown sugar sauce) included having a white coffee ice cream made for us tableside by a handsome young chef using liquid nitrogen!IcecreamprepatCIA.JPG
And although most of the other portions were admittedly on the modest side, we were so full at this point that when our waiter presented us with a selection of complimentary chocolates at the end, we groaned and, like most patrons, were obliged to have them boxed to take home.CIAwaiterwithchocolates.JPG 
As a nice Jewish mom, being pampered has truly never been my thing. I have been culturally conditioned to endlessly bend over backwards to please others -- primarily my children, but also my husband, other relatives, and of course the family dog -- always choosing the smooshed piece of pie for myself and never daring to give much if any thought to my own welfare or personal needs.HarlanandPattieinCIA.JPG
I’m not saying that I could get used to that kind of service, or feel like I actually deserved it.
        ChocolatestogoatCIA.JPGAlthough I would gladly have returned to eat at the CIA again the very next night, I'm not sure that I expect to have such royal treatment ever again.
        But when you set out to settle for a stray-cation, instead of an actual, full-fledged vacation, well, it’s pretty nice to completely diverge not only from your usual mundane milieu, but also your modest, humdrum hausfrau of a life.AlexanderLibermanatStormKing.JPG
The next day, we got up fully rested and arrived at Storm King Art Center by late morning to find it open for business and already teeming with patrons young and old. (Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors 65 and older, and $8 for college students and those in grades K–12.)
And I came to realize that our failing to get in the day before actually had been fortuitous.
Not only did it lead us to indulge in one of the best meals of our lives. It also allowed us to have a full day there and to start fresh with the full tank of physical and psychic energy required. For with 500 acres of glorious open fields and dense woodland to wander, and more than 100 sculptures by many of the most respected artists of our era to admire, we had our work (or should I say fun?) cut out for us.CalderatStormKing.JPG
Although there are free open trams touring the grounds during visiting hours, as well as bikes available for rental ($8 per hour or $32 for the whole day on weekdays, and $10 per hour or $40 for the day on weekends), we chose to explore the facilities at our own pace strictly on foot.
We strolled right up to the whimsical works of Alexander Calder, including Five Swords, its crimson blades rendered all the more vibrant against the sweeping vista of perfect green lawns and distant verdant trees.LichtensteinsMermaidwithPattie.JPG
We ogled the capriciously cartoonish vitality of Roy Lichtenstein’s Mermaid, poised on the edge of a weeping willow-flanked pond as though about to swan dive into its depths.
We also took turns snapping each other perched atop the undulating mounds of Wavefield, a mammoth work sculpted right into the landscape by Maya Lin, best known for her iconic Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.
        And whether or not we had taken a plane to get there, I suddenly felt lighter, as though I could spread my wings and take flight.WaveFieldbyMayaLin.JPG
The innumerable other artists on permanent view there include Alexander Liberman, Louise Nevelson, Isamu Noguchi, Mark di Suvero, and David Smith. Yet we ultimately were most entranced by Sea Change, a mesmerizing work by an innovative British sculptor named George Cutts.SeaChangebyGeorgeCutts.jpg
OK, it may not look like all that much when captured in a still photo. Yet this kinetic work consists of two tall, slender metal tubes somehow motorized to remain in perpetual motion, rotating relentlessly to create the impression of two giant tendrils of hair or tender blades of grass swaying gracefully in the breeze.Wavefieldcloseup.jpg
        In the end,
I can promise you that the entire experience was absolutely a matter of do not miss. And now that I have been there, I cannot wait to go back (although never again on a Tuesday).
But don’t take my word for it. You need to go see this genuinely magical place for yourself.
Why stay when you can stray?
        It’s meant to see.
It’s meant to be.
Believe me. It’s beshert.
2:48 pm 

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Word From the Weiss

shofarandJewishstar.jpg        A friend recently divulged with considerable distress that her sister-in-law had declined to celebrate the High Holy Days this year on the grounds that – and I quote – “What has being Jewish ever done for me?”TheBeatles.jpg
Maybe the Beatles said it best: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” As we all know, what you get out of most things in life tends to be fairly proportional to what you put in. And whatever love – or noodle kugels – I have made during my lifetime, I can heartily attest that being Jewish has given me, among many other things, a sense of community, a strong moral compass, and an age-old context of traditions, fabulous food, and, yes, insurmountable inner angst in which to raise my kids.
But then there is also the occasional unexpected windfall… and I do mean unexpected. For only last month, the Jewish religion turned me into a fashion model.
I kid you (and Yid you) not.Kimberlyatfashionshow.jpg
It all started when I got a call in late August from Kimberly Mattson Moster, the driving force behind Kimberly Boutique, the most fashionable women’s store in my town.
Kimberly is not Jewish, to my knowledge, but many of her clients are. As usual, she had scheduled her annual fall fashion show for the first Thursday in September. Who knew that Rosh Hashanah would fall so early this year and manage to conflict?
These annual fashion presentations are not only attended by her upscale clientele. She also prevails upon many of her best customers to participate in them by modeling her latest wares. When she’d been obliged to reschedule the event due to the holiday, many of the models she’d engaged had been forced to drop out. Was I willing to fill in?DiaryofaMadFashionWriter.JPG
During my nascent years in journalism as a fashion writer, I had attended and written about many a New York fashion show staged by the nation’s top designers, from Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein to Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, and Carolina Herrera. But never in my life or my wildest dreams had I been asked to walk the runway.
I readily admitted this, and hastened to remind her that I was far from model size. But considering how often I shop in her store – a little too often, if you ask my husband – Kimberly was well aware of my size. She not only wanted me. She truly needed me. How could I refuse?
And let’s be honest. Why would I? Maybe I would look ridiculous, strutting the catwalk at my age. But what woman in her wildest dreams doesn’t dream of that?AllegraandmeatAndrewswedding.JPG
To my delight, Kimberly also asked if my daughter might be free to model as well, but I knew that Allegra would be working in NYC and couldn’t possibly come.
The only other proviso I mentioned was that I still was suffering from a broken toe. Would it be a problem if I wore open-toed shoes? She assured me that this was not only fine, but that I was expected to wear my own shoes anyway. Then she scheduled a time for me to come in the next week for a fitting at which she’d choose the outfits I would wear.
I tried not to feel too giddy as I hung up and penciled it into my appointment book. But it was hard not to giggle a little that night when I relayed this news to my husband.KimberlyBoutiqueexterior2.JPG
It was also hard to keep my good fortune to myself when, en route to my fitting, I ran into a friend and her daughter eating lunch at an outdoor café. I didn’t want to sound full of myself, though, so I merely said a quick hello, explaining only that I was late for an appointment. But as I ran off, shopping bags brimming with shoes in hand, I thought, “Appointment, my butt. I am a fashion model!”
As I know from my old fashion days, though, being a model is far from all glamour. I was in for a rude awakening.
Kimberly and members of her chic young staff welcomed me warmly, then ushered me into a fitting room, where they had hung the first outfit they wanted me to try. I instantly loved the bottom, a pair of printed jeans in a black and gray floral pattern. But they had paired it with a loose sweater and faux fur vest guaranteed to make me look like a woolly mammoth.PrintedjeansatKimberly.JPG
Kimberly had assured me on the phone that I wouldn’t have to wear anything I didn’t feel fabulous in. (That’s one key difference between hiring models and asking valued clients to do it for free instead… the other key difference being that hired models look fabulous in EVERYTHING, while clients of my age, well, not necessarily so much.)
“That’s going to make me look like I weigh 400 pounds!” I protested with a grimace.
The staff member helping me laughed politely and urged me to try it on anyway.
My response was to put on those wonderful printed pants, keeping on the black peplum top I’d worn from home, and then come out to see how they looked in the mirror. It was love at first sight for me… but for Kimberly clearly not.
“Take those off. They’re much too big!” she called from across the room.
I insisted otherwise. They felt comfortable and fit just the way I wanted a pair of pants to fit…. offering plenty of room to sit in, even after eating dinner. But when they didn’t have the next size down, she told me to take them off and try something else.
At least that meant the woolly mammoth vest had instantly fallen by the wayside.blackandwhitepants.JPG
In its place, she brought me another pair of pants. These were also denim, but very hip, in a novel, black and white color-blocked pattern.
If what I had felt for their grey predecessors was true love, then this was pure lust. They were much more expensive and much cooler than the first pair. They also went on like a second skin, allowing me to stand, not sit, and continue breathing only with effort. For the purposes at hand, that meant they fit perfectly.
Unfortunately, the baggy black sweater they brought me to pair with them made me look like a sack of potatoes. I proceeded to try on seven or eight other tops, each no more flattering than the last. And at last I was ordered (once again very reluctantly) to relinquish the second pants as well.tightdressatKimberly.jpg   
Things were getting awkward, and Kimberly began to focus her full attention on me. Her next offering was a gorgeous printed dress. I worried that it would be too tight. Yet “too tight” didn’t begin to cover it… and its narrow girth didn’t begin to cover me.
“What size is this?” I demanded sheepishly. Informed that it was only a 10, I quickly reminded Kimberly what I’d told her on the phone to begin with – that I was a size 12.
“You’re not a 12!” she retorted, tossing her blonde curls breezily.
“You’re right,” I conceded as she whisked the teensy-weensy printed dress away. Many a dress was cut way too skimpily for me on top. “Sometimes I’m actually a 14!”PrintdressatKimberly.jpg
The next dresses that she brought me were neither 12’s nor 14's, and their zippers didn’t come close to closing. Neither did the two slinky black skirts that succeeded them.
By now I had been in the shop for well over an hour. Two other “model” citizens had already come and gone, and I was still at square one, trying to find a single outfit.
Talk about embarrassing. I mean, it’s one thing when you can’t find anything in a store that you like enough to actually buy, and quite another when you’re supposed to wear something for free, and they still can’t find anything that looks presentable on you.
I began to feel thankful that I hadn’t mentioned my mission to that friend I’d met. Perhaps I should just thank Kimberly for thinking of me and then graciously bow out.
But finally they brought me something within the realm – the realm of fabulous, I mean. A Nicole Miller dress.Pattieatfittinginskullsweater.JPG
If there’s one thing that looks reasonably flattering on me, it’s a Nicole Miller dress. Make that four Nicole Miller dresses. That’s how many I had inside my closet already.
This one, like all of the rest I own, was short-sleeved, very stretchy, and heavily ruched from bust to hem, and even though it was fairly muted, in basic black with grey and white stripes, everyone present in the store let out a chorus of ooohs and ahhhs.
Kimberly quickly added a pair of glittery silver earrings to glitz it up, along with a black cardigan sweater with a silvery sequined skull on the back to make it look funky.
“That’ll be your day outfit,” she asserted with what sounded like total satisfaction.
I was expected to wear a night outfit as well, and I still needed to find one of those.
By now I had been there for nearly two hours. “Let me just try something,” I ventured.
I asked them to bring back the black and white pants after which I was still lusting. To this, I added a chiffon crisscross top in a shocking pink shade that they’d given me to try with a skirt. It was an over-the-top combination I might never dare to wear in real life. But for fashion show purposes, I thought it looked kind of edgy, and they readily agreed.
Kimberly added more glittery earrings, a pair of resin bangles, and an evening bag. Now I was set for night as well.
Before I left, they specified a time for me to arrive, two and a half hours before the show began, in order to give me the full model treatment, including hair and makeup.
Maybe this hadn’t been such a bad idea, after all.Patandme.JPG
Now I finally dared to tell just a few friends about my impending appearance. But it turned out that most of them would be busy or away. Only my friend Pat could come.
Even my husband, being a newspaper reporter, had to cover a meeting that night. This was going to be my first and probably last appearance on a fashion runway during my lifetime, and no one in my family would even be there to witness it.
But that didn’t manage to undermine the burgeoning sense of excitement that I felt. For ever since I had gotten that call from Kimberly, my self-image had begun to change.
I was no longer just an aging housewife, an unemployed former journalist who now writes a blog for free, or a nice Jewish mother with no more children at home to mother.GiseleBundchen.jpg
I was Gisele Bundchen and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday rolled into one. Well, maybe not quite. But at least I was no longer quite over the hill.
I was a fashion model!RosalindRussellHisGirlFriday.jpg
The afternoon of the big day, I kept confiding my newfound identity to my dog. “No, Latke, Mommy can’t walk you now. She needs to do her nails. Mommy’s a fashion model!”
I also kept reveling in the recognition of my newfound true identity inside myself. Shop for groceries? Wash dishes? Write a blog? I thought not. I was a fashion model!
My husband was still otherwise engaged, but still found time to text me good luck.
“Everyone here is jealous that I’m having an affair with a model!” he wrote.Ana.jpg
Meanwhile, my friend Pat not only assured me that she would be there, but had managed to convince our mutual friend Ana to come witness my one moment of fame.
Unfortunately, I’d awoken that morning to predictions of rain so heavy that there were flood warnings throughout the area. Would anyone else show up for this event?Kimberlysemptybeforeshow.JPG
I arrived at Kimberly’s to find many of the clothing racks removed, replaced by a series of circular rugs on the floor and rows of folding chairs lining the shop’s perimeter.DJatKimberlys.JPG
A disc jockey was busy setting up in the front window.
I was quickly ushered into the basement, where many of my fellow recruits were already getting their hair and makeup done by a team of stylists and makeup artists.
“Champagne?” someone asked, indicating a big bucket of bottles cooling on ice.
Of course! What else would a fashion model drink?ChampagneatKimberlys.JPG
Aside from my occasional foray over to the cosmetics counters at department stores, the first, last, and only time I’d ever had my makeup done was for my wedding. That had resulted in such heavy camouflage, presumably for photographic purposes, that I had barely recognized myself and refused to emerge from my dressing room.MakeupartistatKimberly.JPG
Natasha, the makeup artist assigned to me, consented to keep it light, recognizing that having come of age in the ’60s, I favored what we used to call “the natural look.” Yet I must admit I had some reservations about the lips, which according to Kimberly’s specifications had been painted in a deep red that made me feel a little like a vampire.Mymouthwithredlipstick.JPG
        As for hair, I was alarmed to learn that Kimberly had decreed that everyone have their locks ironed to look limp and stick-straight. If there’s one thing I have going for me – and yes, there probably is only one thing – it’s that I have red hair and a whole lot of it.Pattiesbeforeshot.JPG
Given the shape of my face, I’m also convinced that bigger is always the better way to go. I generally prefer my hair to be poufy enough to need its own Zip code. My stylist promised a reasonable compromise – sleek, yet with plenty of volume.
I had grave doubts, I must admit. But finally, they held up a mirror to let me see the results.Pattiesaftershot.JPG
       Talk about a total makeover!
        At left is the “before” picture.
        To your right is the “after.”
        OK, so I’m still nowhere close to fashion model material. But I must admit I felt pretty glam.
By now, most of the other women were ready as well, and Kimberly came down to give us a pep talk and basic overview of the proceedings, and yes, pour more champagne.
She talked about how crucial it was for us to walk slowly in order to give the women before us time to switch into their next outfits, and for us to change as quickly as possible, making sure to exchange accessories as well. That’s when a big “oops” dawned on me.Kimberlywithchampagne.JPG
Somehow, I’d forgotten to bring along the black tights I was supposed to wear with both of my outfits. We needed to begin dressing soon. What the heck was I going to do?
I asked one of the staff members, and she tried to find some tights for me. No luck. All I could think of was to race down the block to a nearby CVS and buy some. So I did.
        I also took this opportunity to load up on Extra Strength Tylenol. The only shoes of mine Kimberly had liked were high-heeled, closed-toed, black suede booties. She probably would prefer to not have a model who limped down the runway.
Unfortunately, while I was still there, the clouds in the sky opened up at last. Suddenly, it was pouring torrentially outside, so hard that I doubted my hair would hold. Hoping for the best, I went back into the store and also purchased an umbrella.KimberlyBoutiquewithredcarpet.jpg
Back at the boutique, which had a red carpet out front, I ran right into Kimberly, who was aghast to discover that I’d gone out to perform this errand myself. “We would have gotten them for you!” she declared.
What could I have been thinking, doing my own grunt work? I was a fashion model!
There was good news, though:  They had decided to delay the show for half an hour to allow people to arrive and park in such bad weather.
Then came a major news flash from my husband. He had arrived for his meeting to find all of the doors locked. Perhaps it had been canceled due to the terrible weather. Or maybe it was by act of G-d. I mean, serious. How could he have missed my modeling debut?
Whatever the case, he wouldn’t have to miss it now. He was on his way!ClotheshungatKimberlys.JPG
I made my way quickly to the makeshift group dressing room, where my outfits had been hung on “my” hook and my accessories artfully arranged on a shelf beside them.MyaccessoriesatKimberlys.JPG
Beside it was my gift for participating, a black Fashion Night Out T-shirt, along with an envelope containing several coupons for 20 percent off any items I chose to buy.
I had discovered when I arrived that my old friend and fellow journalist Abby was among the models, and after throwing on our first outfits, we had our photo snapped.
Then everyone lined up in the order designated on a sheet of paper on the wall. That’s when total terror set in.
Never mind that we were all sweltering in sweaters and other fall clothes, and it was unbearably warm and humid. What fashion model doesn’t have to endure that?PattieandAbby.JPG
The problem was that I suddenly realized I had no idea what I was doing. Unlike for a theatrical performance, or a wedding procession, we hadn’t had a single rehearsal. What was I supposed to do when I emerged from the curtains cloaking the dressing room, which was now resounding with the nearly deafening din of the awaiting massive crowd?
What if I took a spill on the runway, as Sarah Jessica Parker’s “Carrie Bradshaw” so memorably and mortifyingly had done in her modeling debut on Sex and the City?CarrieBradshawfallingonrunway.jpg
What if I went the wrong way or looked like a total fool, or my pink chiffon shirt opened up at the neck, revealing a little too much cleavage or a glimpse of my bra?
Come to think of it, I’d also completely forgotten to practice walking like a model at home.
But never mind walking. I didn’t even know what I was supposed to do with my face!DonnaKaranmodel.jpg
Whenever you look at fashion photos, you typically see a total lack of expression. Regardless of the liberal application of often-ghoulish or otherwise outlandish makeup, most models manage to make their faces the closest thing possible to a blank slate.
That looks great when you’re in your 20s and are rail-thin and drop-dead gorgeous. When you are none of the above, well… not so much.Kimberlyfashionshowdressingroom.JPG
I asked a nearby staff member what Kimberly expected us to do in that regard.
        She answered without hesitation. In the inimitable words of the old Charlie Chaplin song…
Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
            If you smile through your fear and sorrow
            Smile and maybe tomorrow
            You’ll see the sun come shining through for you…

Smile? OK. Good plan, even if that was just about the last thing I felt like doing.
But as it turned out, that word of advice was totally unnecessary.
My pulse raced as I watched the women in front of me, one by one, disappear through the set of white curtains.
        There was Marcia, the tall, statuesque woman with a massive bun of braids atop her head, wearing a multicolored dress with chevron stripes.KimberlyBoutiqueyoungmodel.jpg
Then came Sarah, the sweet yet sassy, ballerina-trim high school senior. (Now, there was your actual model material.)
Abby, who evidently had lived through this experience before, also did her thing.
Then I caught my breath as a staffer reached through the curtain to signal that I was up, and I burst through to the other side, as if emerging from the womb all over again.
The room was packed. The lights were blinding. The DJ’s music pulsed manically as everyone gawked. Gawked at me, that is, as I stopped, swiveled, and began to sway my hips.
It was one of the best moments of my life.PattiemodelingNicoleMillerdress1.jpg
I didn’t need to make myself smile. My face could barely contain the contours of my blood-red lips as I began to sashay to my left, then take a sharp turn and strut straight to the window, taking a moment to strike a pose each time I turned a corner.
Then I made sure to turn my back to show off the funky silver skull on my sweater.
I held that pose for the two leather-clad professional photographers clicking away, and also for the crazed man beside them snapping away frantically with his iPhone.
My husband.
He’d made it just in time!PattieinskullsweateratKimberlys.jpg
Pat, seated beside Ana, beamed up at me and whooped heartily as I passed. So did many of the other patrons, mostly women, seated or standing throughout the store.
I did my best to move to the strains of the rock music, yet still not proceed too fast. But before I knew it, I’d come full circle and had disappeared back behind the curtains.
Then, like the other women around me, I stripped down to my underwear in haste and pulled on my next getup, the pink chiffon shirt with the black and white denim pants.
        Earrings, bangles, little black evening bag embellished with gold spikes…
Then I got back in line again.Pattiemodelingpinkoutfitfinal.jpg
I had asked Kimberly if I could belt that outfit because I thought it might photograph kind of fat.
        “Absolutely not,” she had said.
But as I eased my way down the runway again, striking my periodic poses, tossing my sleek yet voluminous red hair and swiveling my hips, I wasn’t thinking, “I feel fat.”
I must admit, I felt fabulous.
A few of the models, mostly veterans of former Kimberly shows like Abby, had been given three outfits to wear. Given how hard I’d proven to fit, I only got to wear two. But I still had to take my place back in line again for the grand finale, in which all 11 of us took one more slinky tour of duty en masse decked out in our final outfits.
Then, before I changed back into my own clothes, my husband snapped me with my friends, who seemed in particularly high spirits, and not just because while we had been waiting anxiously backstage, a bartender had treated the entire audience to free fruity cocktails.Kimberlyshowfinale1.JPG
After that, I joined my friends for a celebratory dinner out at Treva, our favorite restaurant downtown, where Pat kept doing imitations of my walk down the runway… but not before I treated myself to those black and white pants. Even at 20 percent off, they were a splurge. But they were also a memento of my one night as a fashion model. How could I resist?
Pat called me the next day, still kvelling, to congratulate me on my performance. She said it was not only the best thing she had ever seen me do, but that she thought this was what I had been meant to do in life, and that at long last she believed she had glimpsed “the real me.”AnaPattieandPatafterKimberlyshow.JPG
On the contrary, I said, what she had glimpsed had been me being the real her. She is an actress and enjoys the limelight. I’m just a nice Jewish mom and occasional lyricist who prefers seeing her own children perform, or hearing others sing her words.
I also asserted that I certainly hoped this wasn’t what I’d been meant to do in life, considering that it was not only frivolous, but unlikely that I would ever get to do it again.
The more that I thought about it over the ensuing days, though, I realized that, frivolous or not, it had hardly been a waste of time. For even after the event was over, the unprecedented feelings of self-worth it had evoked inside me managed to persist.
It may be pathetic that having someone ask me to help peddle her wares for one night might alter my whole self-image. But think of all the other things we do in that pursuit.
I’m not just talking about all the money women spend on hair, makeup, nails, and assorted spa services… or the small fortune that I shelled out for those pants.tashlichimage.jpg
        Just last month, I did Tashlich, the annual ritual we Jews perform between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, in which we symbolically cast away our sins and other failings while throwing crumbs of bread into a body of water.
        Along with apologizing for my many shortcomings – chief among them, as always, my impatience with my husband – I tried to purge myself of all the negative feelings inside me that weigh on my heart and continue to hold me back in innumerable ways.
        “Too old!” I called out as I launched a chunk of stale challah into the East River.seagullwithbread.jpg
        “Too fat!” I continued, lofting another morsel, which was snatched up by a passing seagull. “Need to lose 10 pounds!”
        These are things I would never say to anyone else.
        Why do I say them to myself?PattieheadshotafterKimberlyshow.jpg
        Maybe it’s time to adopt a brand new mantra.
        Or to keep the new one I have just found.
Forget about “old.”
Forget about “fat.”
I am a fashion model!

7:05 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.