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Friday, January 31, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

Mother scolding boy.jpg        Exiting the local JCC one recent night, I found myself gently chastising a child I didn’t know and had never even seen before. So glued was he to the game he was playing on his phone that he nearly crashed into the door. I guess I subscribe to the in loco parentis creed of Jewish parenting: To paraphrase a song by Crosby, Stills & Nash, if you can’t noodge the one you love, noodge the one you’re with!
But this just reconfirmed my firm belief that having kids who are grown and on their own doesn’t mean I’m not a nice Jewish mother anymore. Au contraire! Jewish motherhood is forever. Now I just have more time to be a nice Jewish mom to the entire world.
Having fewer mouths to feed – and no one left to schlep between after-school activities – also frees me up to look beyond the end of my nose and the needs of my own family and participate in community efforts, like my temple’s recent Day of Service.MitzvahDayimage.jpg
As I noted last year, my shul has long held an annual “Mitzvah Day,” on which congregants are dispersed throughout the area to perform mitzvahs, or good deeds, in the spirit of Tikkun Olam, our ongoing mission to repair our ingloriously imperfect world.
Yet last year, this customary spring event was renamed and rescheduled to fulfill President Obama’s call to action for the establishment of a National Day of Service, to be held each January in conjunction with the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
My experience with this last year proved so rewarding that I vowed to not wait a whole year before returning to the scene of the sublime, a local soup kitchen at which my husband and I helped serve lunch. But life often feels to me like being on a treadmill, and time flies by, especially when you write a weekly blog. So, sadly, it takes both a presidential decree and repeated reminders in my temple’s weekly bulletin to get even a well-meaning nice Jewish mom like me to get off my proverbial (and actual) tuches.
SortingbooksatBethIsrael.jpg        Also s
adly, my husband had to work on Dr. King’s birthday this year, so I was on my own in this noble effort. My initial plan was to undertake a different task this year, like helping out at the Hebrew Home and Hospital or sorting donated books for underprivileged children, if only to have something different to share with you in this space. But when I learned that I’d be flying solo, so to speak, I figured that it might be less challenging to return to a place where I already knew the drill… or at least the drill sergeant, a forthright and rather self-possessed woman affectionately known to all as Miss K.CarmenatStElizabethHouse.jpg
So I called Carmen, the lovely woman from Congregation Beth Israel who’d valiantly led our charge last year, and asked if she might need me to pitch in again.
        The answer was an instant, unqualified, and resounding yes.

        Once again, our group would prepare most of the food we would serve at home and simply reheat it when we arrived. But all of the key elements were spoken for already. All that Carmen needed me to do was bake some cookies or brownies, she said, as well as provide some salad fixings to throw into the lettuce, if I chose.
Unfortunately, we were away in NYC for most of that holiday weekend. And I arrived home at around 10 p.m. the night before our visit to the shelter to discover that all of the packaged baking mixes in our pantry were significantly out of date. Might they be safe to use anyway? Who knew? But I figured it wasn’t worth taking a chance.saladingredients.jpg
At least I already had managed to purchase an assortment of salad ingredients that afternoon, so I spent some time slicing up mushrooms, cucumbers, carrots, radishes, and the like. But then, before going to bed, I reread Carmen’s email and saw that she clearly was counting on me to bring some sort of baked good, too.
Now what? I’m not just a nice Jewish mom; I’m also an unwaveringly dependable one. If I promise to do something, I may very well arrive for it on Jewish time (at least 10 minutes late), but you can absolutely rely on me to do it, unless I’m on my deathbed.Chocolatechips.JPG
So a little past midnight, I unearthed a bag of Nestle’s semi-sweet chocolate chips in the cupboard, then found the flour, sugar, baking soda, butter, and vanilla extract, and baked Toll House cookies from scratch for the first time in many a decade.CookiesforStElizabethHouse.JPG
Then, in hopes that my husband wouldn't notice I was willing to put myself out more for homeless people I'd never met than for him, I set aside a few for him and put the rest in a large tin.
        Needless to say, after finishing at 1:30 am, I arrived the next morning on Jewish time.
We pulled in behind St. Elizabeth House, a low brick building with bars on the bottom-floor windows, a little before 11, and quickly unloaded. Everything inside was just as I remembered it, and I instantly knew I’d made the right choice.St. Elizabeth House arrival 2014.JPG
The good thing about retracing your footsteps sometimes instead of always doing something new and different is that you get to learn from your experience and hopefully not make the same mistakes twice (although you may very well make new ones).
Last year, more than a dozen of us do-gooders had descended all at once, overcrowding the kitchen and unnerving Miss K. This year, there were only six of us – enough to do the work, yet not so many that we made a nuisance of ourselves.
Last year, I also had made the mistake of arriving with copious salad fixings all uncut and begun prowling around the kitchen for a knife. Now I knew that all sharp implements on the premises were kept under lock and key and brought out with reluctance. So rather than bothering busy Miss K, I’d pre-sliced everything at home.Miss K 2014.JPG
        Yet e
ven when you do your best to tiptoe around her, as I proceeded to do, Miss K can be a bit crusty at times (although she’s so giving of herself that I would still argue the “K” might very well stand for “kind”). She once again made it abundantly clear that she is queen of her own kitchen and would prefer that everyone give her a wide birth (as I tend to do myself, particularly when holding long, sharp implements). But Carmen had visited a few days before to discuss all the arrangements, and so she was expecting us and welcomed us warmly.Bagelsbeingtrashed.jpg
To my delight, she also readily accepted a large bag of extra baked goods I’d brought along. In our hotel the morning before, I had noticed a waiter throwing away dozens of leftover bagels and pastries after breakfast and had entreated him to give them to me instead to donate to the shelter. Miss K said she had no doubt she could use them.StElizabethHousemysalad.JPG
ly, though, our group had not conferred extensively about how many people we might be feeding or who was bringing what. While I began to arrange my salad in an industrial-strength plastic tub, another congregant named Kati assembled a second one of similarly mammoth proportions in an enormous metal bowl.St Elizabeth House salad 2.JPG
Miss K soon wandered by and gave us a look of disbelief bordering on incredulity. Just one of these colossal creations would have been more than ample, she explained. But rather than let any of our provisions go to waste, she would put one salad away for dinner. I felt a little crestfallen as I watched my own vibrantly colored offering, complete with croutons and ultra-healthy chickpeas, be whisked away for safekeeping in a fridge.
Then I looked at the abundance of desserts being arranged on platters, and it was my turn to be incredulous. There were countless cookies, brownies, slices of banana bread, and other treats, copious enough to cover three large platters. I’d forced myself to wield cookie dough well into the wee hours in fear that there would otherwise not be enough to go around and we would be forced to strictly ration out the baked goods. Ha!
Instead, I could only hope that St. Elizabeth House had a decent dentist on call, and preferably a weight-loss and fitness guru like Richard Simmons as well.RichardSimmonsinred.jpg
Lunch was to be served at noon. But by 11:30 we were all ready. We’d heated up all the food and arranged everything on long counters in the cafeteria. There was little left for us to do beyond posing for pictures, as self-congratulatory as this might seem.St, Elizabeth House lunch ladies and gent.JPG
No, wait. There was one crucial thing to which we needed to attend. Miss K made us all suit up for sanitary purposes, donning not just rubber gloves, but hairnets as well. Then we posed for even more photos, including a selfie that I dared to send to my kids (although I tremble to actually show it to you).Pattieselfieaslunchlady.JPG
“Lunch lady!” my son Aidan promptly texted back.
He had that one right.
Next, to streamline the meal, we decided to dish out some of the salad in advance. Miss K cautioned us to start with only 10 individual portions in white Styrofoam bowls, but these looked pitiful next to that giant vat, so we decided to dish out a dozen more.StElizabethHousesalads.jpg
Then we were issued our final instructions. People would begin coming in promptly at noon. After helping themselves to salad if they wished, they would line up for their entrees, which we would serve out to them by preparing plates in assembly-line fashion.St Elizabeth House dessert plate 1.JPG
It was particularly crucial that we dole out the desserts, rather than letting anyone help themselves, and these needed to be strictly limited to three baked goods apiece. Otherwise people might take as many as six, warned Miss K, or maybe even more.
Also, only after 12:20 would anyone be permitted seconds on anything, and when they were we had to make sure they used a clean plate to avoid spreading germs.St. Elizabeth House lunch we served.JPG
It sounded simple enough. So our team lined up behind a steam table laden with minestrone soup, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and mixed vegetables. And given the choice, I opted to serve the last of these. (I’m a big proponent of eating your veggies, even if this standard mix of corn, carrots, green beans, and peas was not exactly fresh.)
Finally, the clock struck 12 and we braced ourselves for an immediate onslaught. But no stampede ensued. Rather, residents of the shelter began wandering in gradually and sporadically.St Elizabeth House lunch room.JPG

Some were women and some were men. Some were young and some were old. Most were black, but a few were white. Yet all had one key thing in common. As we had discovered last year, all were extremely appreciative and made it a point to thank us repeatedly.
Although many looked decidedly down on their luck, most were dressed in decent and warm winter clothing, and I surmised that what I had been told last year was true.
        Woman at soup kitchen last year.JPG
These people were residents of the shelter, who paid around $50 a week for room and board. All had jobs of some sort and were in the process of getting back on their feet.
Last year, I’d been sent to serve lunch downstairs instead, to the weary legions who wandered in off the street. These poor souls were actually homeless and unemployed. Some suffered from mental illness, substance abuse, or other such travails. They weren’t able to get their lives back on track. And the fatigue on their faces showed it.
Our current “customers” were in much better condition and spirits, and one young man even joked that he wanted no bread or potatoes because they had “too many carbs.”St. Elizabeth House lunch room 2.JPG
Most others were happy to accept anything and everything, though, especially their three allotted desserts. So, to offset the calorie count, perhaps, or just in view of our overabundance of provisions, I found myself heaping the veggies onto each plate… until Carmen came over and whispered that I should stop being quite so generous because many people were simply dumping their vegetables into the trash.
I didn’t want to disobey orders, but this did little to deter me because, to our great disappointment, only about three dozen people showed up to eat, even when you counted in several members of the staff. And when 12:20 rolled around, few requested seconds on anything, other than those yummy desserts.St. Elizabeth House lunch room 3.JPG
We had anticipated more than twice as many takers. So by the time the meal ended at 12:30, we had an entire gargantuan pan of meatloaf still untouched in the kitchen, and hadn’t dispensed even half of anything else.
Miss K seemed nonplussed, though, promising that the cauldron of leftover minestrone would be reborn as sauce for chicken cacciatore the next day.
As for the rest of the leftovers, she would put them out for dinner that night, which she assured us would be served to many people besides the ones we’d just fed. (Even if you’re down and out, you really shouldn’t have to down the same grub for both lunch and dinner.)St. Elizabeth House leftover desserts.JPG
But I couldn’t help feeling a little demoralized, noticing that the remaining desserts, when rearranged on a single tray, were still more than sufficient to feed a small country.
As for the 22 bowls of salad we’d dished out in advance, 13 remained untouched. Miss K was anything but surprised. “I told you so,” she chided with a colossal grin.
But there was an easy remedy for our having overestimated the residents’ appetite for greens. With no more takers and plenty of food remaining, it was time for us to eat.St. Elizabeth House my plate.JPG

The truth was that rushing out that morning, I hadn’t had time to grab breakfast. And while looking at that food for nearly two hours, I’d worked up quite an appetite. So along with the rest of my cohorts, I helped myself to everything we had prepared… including, I tremble to confess, my three allotted desserts.
All was delicious, and like all the residents before me I felt grateful, even blessed.
We begged Miss K to grab a plate too, but she declined, saying that she was watching her weight. She did hover nearby to chat, however, and I couldn’t help noticing how much more affable she seemed this year, as though we were not just allies for a day in the war against hunger, but actually becoming friends.Miss K cooking.jpg
And a better friend, or all-around person, you would be hard-pressed to find. Under normal circumstances – meaning the other 364 days of the year, when we aren’t there to help -- she manages all of this herself, not only cooking three meals a day, but also serving them and cleaning up almost single-handedly… although she does have a part-time cook who fills in twice a week.
That is not to say she isn’t open to help. She told us about one extraordinarily generous woman who had insisted on footing the bill for a lavish Christmas dinner there, featuring anything Miss K wanted to serve. This had led to a feast including shrimp, baked clams, roasted lamb, and a dazzling array of side dishes and desserts.roast lamb and veggies.jpg
Then, after shelling out the $800 that this ran, the unnamed benefactor had begun prodding Miss K to begin planning something comparable for Easter.
This prompted us to ask if she might prefer that we merely donate the funds for a nice meal or two at the house and then do her a favor by staying out of her way.
But Miss K dismissed this notion decisively. “I want you to keep doing what you already doing,” she replied earnestly and without the slightest reservation.St. Elizabeth House cleanup.JPG
        Then she insisted on cleaning up everything herself, although we begged to help. So we packed up our belongings, hugged the queen of the kitchen goodbye, and headed out.
Of course, it felt wonderful in the end to have gotten off my duff to help others. Although I may write an assortment of checks annually to donate to various causes -- most of them Jewish in some respect -- there’s something infinitely more fulfilling and exhilarating about donating actual time and effort.
On the other hand, I couldn’t help harboring some misgivings about the extent to which we’d misjudged the amount of food needed and had bumbled a bit awkwardly through our efforts.
So on the way home, with the trunk of the car now empty and our bellies full, we began discussing what we might serve there next year and how we might do things differently. Perhaps there’s a better way toSt. Elizabeth House lunch ladies with hairnets.jpg estimate how much food to bring. We also wanted to offer more assistance to Carmen, who has continued to undertake the yeo-woman’s share of both the cooking and the out-of-pocket expenditures, having prepared and paid for almost everything that we provided this year all by herself.
Given my busy life, I probably won’t make it back there before next January. But there’s no question that I’ll join in again when we return for our next Day of Service. For if we keep on doing right – at least one day a year – maybe we lunch ladies (and gent) will eventually get it right, too.

2:56 pm 

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

Girls' Night Out.JPG        Though I enjoy a fine whine as much as the next nice Jewish mom, I guess that I cannot complain for once, for in the past seven days I have been relentlessly wined and dined – not to mention coffee’d and lunched – by countless friends in honor of the day I was born. So (despite having sadly attended a funeral on the actual day) I would have to say that I had not only a very happy birthday this year, but a very happy birth week.
Or so it seemed, anyway… until last Saturday night.
No birthday would be complete without seeing my children, of course, so we went into NYC for the weekend to celebrate with them… and that’s when the trouble began.
Although neither of my kids would dream of punking out on the occasion (even though I always assure them this would be no big deal), my son had one small complication this year. Several of Aidan’s college roommates, who are now scattered throughout the country, were coming into the city for the weekend. So I proposed that, to make thingsAidanatBrowngraduationwithMeJonahandBrandon.jpg easier for him, we get together close to where he lives, in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.
I noted that I was dying to see an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, featuring the far-out fashions of French designer Jean Paul Gaultier. But between you and me, I must admit that I had something of an ulterior motive.
I also was secretly hoping that if we went out there, we might get an invitation to the apartment Aidan shares with his girlfriend Kaitlin, which happens to be a few blocks from the museum. We’d only gotten a quick gander at it once before, when Aidan first moved in last summer. Since then, the closest we’d come to a glimpse of the place was when my husband had prevailed upon Kaitlin to send us a few photos.Aidanshallway1.jpeg
You may not understand why I care that much about seeing the place where my son hangs his hat (and jeans, t-shirts, button-downs, jackets, and just about everything else). I’d like to believe it’s merely normal parental interest. It would help me to better envision his surroundings whenever he phones.
I honestly don’t think it would be fair or accurate to chalk it up to sheer nosiness... or a motherly desire to buy him all sorts of stuff he doesn't want, if only I knew what color to get or what they really needed.
        Whatever the case,
I’ve been fixated on this desire for months now. I wouldn’t dream of inviting myself, though. So I hoped that if we happened to be in the neighborhood, we might be asked up on the spur of the moment.redthrowpillows.jpg
This also would give me the opportunity to deliver a small house gift, a pair of large, bright red throw pillows that I had purchased for them during the January “white” sales. (Hopefully they were the right color and something they really needed.)
To my delight, when I mentioned the museum, Aidan proposed that we eat at a terrific restaurant they had discovered just a few blocks away from it. I readily agreed.
After that, he planned to meet up with his former roommates. Although Kaitlin wanted to give him some time off for male bonding with his old buddies, she and my daughter Allegra also had plans for the rest of the night. So my husband and I did our usual thing and bought tickets for the theater.
I will admit that I had enormous trepidation about getting from Brooklyn to Manhattan after dinner in time to see a play. However, there was a new Broadway show I was dying to see. And Allegra assured me that if we ate early enough, we’d have no problem driving there.
        We had to drive (rather than take the subway) in order to deliver those pillows.
I figured that we'd go to the museum mid-afternoon and have plenty of time to view the exhibit (and perchance be invited up to the apartment) before it was time to eat.
But no.Mewymissingposternonumber.jpg
To Allegra’s infinite distress, one of her roommates’ kittens, Mewy, had gone missing for several days; the girls were all absolutely inconsolable. So we spent considerable time walking around her neighborhood looking for the cat. Then, when we got back to her apartment at around 2, instead of getting ready to go, she began preparing lunch. Yikes!
Aidan said that he preferred not to meet until 4 p.m. anyway, and assured me that there would be no line at the museum. So after lunch, we went out and looked for the missing cat some more.
We arrived at the museum right at 4 to find that the only parking spot nearby was so narrow that fitting my car into it was like squeezing one more sardine into a full can. No matter. I managed to maneuver in with barely an inch to spare on either end. My husband was so impressed that he snapped a photo as proof of my wizardry behind the wheel.PattieparkedinBrooklyn.JPG
hen we entered to discover that there was an interminable line after all, snaking throughout the lobby. We also met up with our good friends Sally and Dial, who had just finished seeing the show and were both kvelling (never mind that neither one of them is Jewish).
It turned out that they were seeing a different Broadway show that night near ours, so we arranged to meet them afterwards for a drink.
Then it took forever to procure our tickets. Aidan and Kaitlin were running late and had already seen the show, so we went in ourselves.Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at Brooklyn Museum.jpg
Gaultier has long cultivated a reputation as the bad boy of French couture, but judging from The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier, “bad” didn’t begin to cover it… because his sexy and daring women’s garments, which feature corsets and ludicrously pointy appendages at the bust, barely cover the bodies on which they’re worn.
It didn’t take the bizarrely animated mannequins, equipped with eyes that blinked and lips that moved, to make the show unsettling. Looking at these fantastical, lingerie-inspired get-ups, “wearable” was about the last word that might come to mind… unless maybe you were Madonna, who vamped around in his leather bras and corsets during her Blonde Ambition tour of 1990.Madonna Blonde Ambition Tour 1990.jpg
        Gaultier hat jacket.jpg
Then again, I could easily imagine myself in one novel, nautically striped piece, so ample that Allegra and I couldn’t decide if it was a hat or a jacket and finally dubbed it a “hacket.”
I also found myself lusting after a salmon-colored satin dress (I guess it was a dress) with a long, cascading train of ribbon tendrils (although G-d knows where I’d wear it -- on my Red Ambition tour?).Gaultier boudoir dress.JPG
But I wasn’t sure what to make of his controversial "Chic Rabbis" collection from 1993, in which all of the mannequins sported long pais (earlocks). Was Gaultier a not-so-secret anti-Semite or, more likely, just a devilishly irreverent equal opportunity offender?PattiewithGaultierChicRabbis.JPG
Whatever the case, Aidan and Kaitlin finally arrived, and my son soon made it eminently clear that he hadn’t enjoyed the show the first time around and wasn't up for a rerun. Only then did it occur to me that this had been a terrible choice for a family activity. Why hadn’t I picked something none of us had seen yet and we were all likely to enjoy?
But Aidan said that he didn’t mind because the location was so convenient. As I well knew! Unfortunately, there was no prospect of getting an invitation to his place now. We were already late for dinner.
On our way out, we ran into a woman we know from our temple and had to say a prolonged hello.
Have you ever noticed how you always seem to run into someone you know whenever you’re late for something? I used to think that it was because we know so many people. But I've come to realize it’s just because we’re always running late for something. And now we were really running late.PattiesbirthdaydinneratBarCorvo.JPG
The restaurant, Bar Corvo, turned out to be very nice indeed, but the service was kind of slow. Under normal circumstances, I’d be perfectly happy to linger indefinitely over dinner with my kids. But these were not normal circumstances, and I began to regret buying those tickets.
We had intended to be driving by 7 p.m., but our entrees didn’t arrive until 6:45. Birthday or not, we clearly had no time for singing "Happy Birthday" over a flaming dessert. But the waiter surprised me with a lovely panna cotta topped with a glowing candle, which we all passed around.Pattie in infinity scarf.JPGBraceletfromAidanandKaitlin.JPG
Then Aidan and Kaitlin pulled out their gifts, consisting of a stunning infinity scarf in an wide array of colors that I love, and a very attractive cuff bracelet. Both amazing!
Allegra had already given me her own gift earlier that day, a funky black and red tunic that I instantly adored (no corsets or cone appendages in sight!).
Of course, just being with my offspring was the best present of all, but it made me feel good that they’d gone to the trouble to get me such nice things that they knew I would like.Pattie in tunic from Allegra.JPG
Sadly, it was time to rush off now. By the time we reached the car, it was already 7:15. I hastily handed over the red throw pillows, which had been stored in the trunk of my car, and we were off.
Actually, we weren’t off quite so fast because my car was still jammed tightly in between those other two, and it was even harder getting out of that space than it had been getting in.
        Only t
hen did I begin driving frantically, following the directions I'd gotten from Mapquest that led to the Manhattan Bridge.
        That is,
I tried to drive frantically. But the traffic proved to be impenetrable. After about 25 minutes, we'd driven for miles and strangely there was still no bridge in sight. So I quickly pulled over while my husband consulted Siri on his iPhone.
That’s when we discovered that we had been going in the wrong direction all along. We weren’t approaching Manhattan. We were way out in Coney Island!Welcome to Brooklyn.jpg
We no longer had a prayer of getting to the play anywhere close to on time. Welcome to Brooklyn -- like no other place in the world... to get lost.
I tried not to freak out completely as I turned the car around. This wasn’t the end of the world, I told myself. It was just the end of nearly $200. That’s how much I’d shelled out for those tickets.
        To put things in perspective, I began to conjure up a litany of other mishaps that would have been genuine heartbreaks, rather than just a stupid waste of dough.
How lucky I was that my kids wanted to celebrate with me, even though they’re in their 20s and have plenty of other things to do on a Saturday night. What if they'd had no interest and blithely begged off?
how much more distraught I would have been if I had managed to lose, tear, or somehow break one of the wonderful gifts they’d given me.
And so I ordered myself to get a grip. This wasn’t a case of life or death. We hadn’t had a car accident on the way to the theater. No one was hurt or ill.Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.jpg
But it was still horrifying to watch the minutes tick away. By the time I had driven through the interminable Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel – "the longest continuous underwater vehicular tunnel in North America," which felt long enough to reach South America – and slowly made our way uptown, it was already 8:45.
        The show had started at 8.
We pulled into a nearby parking garage, but they turned out to be filled to capacity and the attendant waved us off.
The exact same thing happened at the next four garages we tried.
Finally, we found an outdoor garage with space. Then we ran.Moonstruckposter.jpg
y the time we reached the theater, though, it was 5 past 9 and a man named Jim, who appeared to be the house manager, was summoned.
The play we had tickets for was the latest from John Patrick Shanley, who wrote Moonstruck, one of my favorite movies ever, as well as Doubt, which won the Tony and a Pulitzer back in 2005.
This one was a romantic comedy called Outside Mullingar, starring (nice Jewish) actress Debra Messing, best known for TV shows such as Will & Grace and Smash.OutsideMullingar.jpg
Jim told us that it was a fine play, a "beautiful" play, and that we would have loved it, but that there was absolutely no point in our going in now. After all, it was only an hour and 35 minutes long without any intermission, and it was now already two-thirds over.
        Then h
e gave us a slip of paper with instructions on how to call to request replacement tickets for a future performance instead. This stated clearly that we were only eligible to get tickets on the same day of a performance, provided any were still available. But Jim believed that if we phoned soon, we’d be able to book seats in advance.
I had no such confidence, and after driving around for what was now nearly two hours, my nerves were shot. I’d been holding myself together all along. Now I lost it and began to sob hysterically.
When my husband explained our ordeal, Jim urged us to go across the street to a restaurant called The Glass House and tell the manager that he'd sent us.
        “Chris will take care of you,” he said.
I had absolutely no desire to eat or drink anything at this point. But we had nothing better to do, and when I arrived still sobbing, my husband relayed our predicament to Chris.
He seated us at the bar, where my husband ordered himself a margarita and I continued to sniffle and wail soundlessly… until the entire wait staff suddenly descended upon me with a chocolate dessert topped with a burning candle and proceeded to sing “Happy Birthday.”HarlanandPattieatTheGlassHouse.JPG
        Happy? Were they kidding?
As sweet a gesture as this was, it managed to only make me feel worse. But I wiped the rivulets of mascara from my eyes and thanked them profusely, then forced down a few bites.
Then we sat there for nearly an hour, waiting for Sally and Dial to get out of their play.
All I really wanted to do was go back to our hotel and put a pillow over my head. But I didn’t want to disappoint our friends and hoped to still salvage the evening.
As though things couldn’t get any worse, though, we discovered that my husband’s phone was now nearly dead. He barely had enough power left to send them a text message announcing our location before it went off.
My phone had died hours earlier. How would we contact them now?
The only recourse I could think of was to walk around the corner and meet them at their theater.TheGlassMenagerieonBroadway.jpg
They were seeing Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, which Dial had estimated would get out at 10, and Sally had said was on West 46th Street, as far as I recalled. We were on West 47th. How far could it be?
We proceeded to march up and down for several blocks in each direction. But we couldn’t find The Glass Menagerie anywhere. So we reluctantly returned to The Glass House. I was too embarrassed to go back inside again, even though it was around 20 degrees outside. So we waited in front for about 20 minutes.
        But they didn’t turn up.
So at 10:30 we decided to give up, and we drove back to our hotel at last. At least we could plug in our phones there and rejoin the human race.Sally and Dial.JPG
        That's when we learned that
Sally and Dial's play had been on West 45th Street, not 46th, and had turned out to be over at 10:30, not 10. Also, although they’d received our message, after all, they'd been obliged to cancel out on our drink anyway because Sam, their own mid-20s son, had insisted they come hear one of his friends' very loud band perform on the Lower East Side.
We would’ve been welcome to join them, they said, but I was done driving around, and it sounded like they had their own wild misadventure, anyway.
Meanwhile, Allegra wrote to say how sorry she was to hear about our debacle. As it turned out, Aidan had ended up not going to meet his friends, and had joined them instead at a drag show put on by an acquaintance of theirs, where they’d had a total blast.
“You should have come with us!” she said.
Of course, that would have been the most fun of all. If only they had invited us to begin with. Clearly, the average 20-something doesn't want to go to a drag show or hang out in a bar with his or her parents. Or maybe they had just assumed that we wouldn't be interested. If only they realized that even if they’d planned to spend the night sitting in a sewer, we would have preferred being with them.
We phoned Telecharge the next day and wrote them as well to recount our tale of woe. But the Manhattan Theatre Club, which produced the play, ultimately ruled against us (big surprise!). We can only get last-minute replacement tickets on the day of a performance, if available, and only during midweek… never mind that we live two and a half hours away and my husband works.
Who knows? Maybe it will still happen. But I’m not convinced.
What I am convinced of is that we are never going to get that invitation to my son's apartment. But maybe that's just as well. For after our latest fiasco, I'd just as soon never return to Brooklyn again during my lifetime.
But I also still believe I’m very blessed. We may have missed a "beautiful" play, but given the chance, I'd still choose to eat dinner with my kids again any day.Pattieblowingoutcandle.jpg
And my tale of woe still has a happy ending: Allegra and her roommates finally found their kitty! Little Mewy was discovered alive and well after being MIA for eight days out in the bitter cold. My daughter is so happy. So I’m happy too!
        But I think I've had enough birthday for now. I've blown out enough candles for one year and blown more than enough opportunities. Haven't I? So I must confess I’m also happy that my birth week is over at last and won't come around for another year. Now, that is something to celebrate.

12:15 am 

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

    Allegra, Aidan, and me by Joe Mondello.jpg    As every nice Jewish mother and any other knows, no matter how many kids you may have, you’ll never get two of a kind. The important thing is that you love them all equally, no matter who or what they may be… and I can attest that this is unequivocally true in my case, for as far as I can recall from high school math, infinity equals infinity.
So it is with no small amount of regret and embarrassment, bordering on shame, that I confess to you that this has not exactly been the case when it comes to my feelings toward our “water daughter” – little Latke, that is, our Portuguese Water Dog.LatkeandMommy.JPG
        In the nearly two years since we brought her home with us from the breeder, I have been as good and affectionate a mommy to her as I possibly can be. I walk her daily, spoil her with treats, and regularly arrange lively play dates for her with other local pups.
Yet try as I might, I’ve continued to make nonstop comparisons in my head, often spoken aloud to her or my husband, between Latke and her beloved predecessor, Zoe.
Let’s face it, along with being our one and only true family dog – the one that my children grew up with and passionately doted on – Zoe was a pretty tough act to follow.
Blessed with a keen intellect and more human than conventional canine qualities, she disdained ball play in favor of more genteel activities. She cocked her head and grinned appreciatively whenever spoken to, signaling that she understood every word I said.Zoe on our deck.jpg
She always howled along to “Happy Birthday,” and her favorite holiday, bark none, was Chanukah, during which she would chime in with verve as we sang the blessings.Zoe in the car.jpg 
Then there was the feat for which she was perhaps most famous – the time that I inadvertently locked her in the car with the keys on the front seat, and with a bit of coaxing she stepped on the little electronic clicker on the keyring and unlocked the door.
Latke, as cute and cuddly as she may be, has proven to be no Zoe. MyLatkebesideball.JPG husband keeps telling me to give her time, but I have no faith that she comprehends much in the way of English beyond the most basic concepts, like “bone” and “bye-bye.” She loves both of these and will chase a ball until the cows come home, but refuses to sing a note. And as indelicate as it may seem, we need to be fastidious about keeping the lids down on all the white porcelain “drinking fountains” around the house, lest she help herself.
This has led me to speculate on occasion that if our two pets were high school students and subjected to taking the SATs, Zoe would have pulled off something in the high 700s (800 being a perfect score), whereas Latke would struggle to write her name.
My husband is anything but amused.Zoegivingpaw4.jpg
Yet to be fair, although Latke may not be the sharpest tool in the dog shed, she has it paws down over her predecessor in at least one department. Zoe, despite her superior intellect, was no humanitarian (canine-itarian?) when it came to her fellow dog. Purebred as she was, she had quite an attitude when it came to socializing. Upon glimpsing another pooch from 500 yards away, she would decide in an instant that she loved or loathed it, and far more often than not this turned out to be hate at first sight.
Her successor exhibits no such capacity to discriminate. Latke the Friendly Dog likes everyone and everything, and will try to play with anything that moves, including a leaf or piece of litter. (This can prove a little tricky when it comes to wasps and bees.) She wants to greet everyone she sees because she assumes that this feeling is mutual.LatkecuteJanuary2014.JPG
So it would be fair to say, as my son Aidan once observed, that Zoe may have been a much smarter dog, but Latke is a much nicer dog, and also a far happier one.
Given that, you might surmise that I would be happier having her, or at least would love her just as much. As her mom, I owe her that. And that’s where the guilt comes in.
As I confessed when we got her back in March of 2012, I had serious reservations about ever getting another dog and only succumbed under relentless pressure, mostly to appease my husband. For as heartbroken as we both were to lose Zoe when she was 12½, I didn’t believe that any other dog could ever possibly replace her in my heart.Pattie at the Cornelia Street Cafe.JPG
I also had come to the conclusion that – as sorely as I my missed having children at home after ours had both gone off to college and to pursue their own lives – there  was also something undeniably liberating about having no one to take care of anymore. Getting a new puppy, in particular, would tie me down to the house, just when I was finally free to do whatever the heck I wanted to whenever the heck I wanted to do it.
And so, in fact, it has.
It’s also unnerving to have the living room littered relentlessly with playthings, as though we had a toddler again.
But I don’t think I’ve never felt quite as angry, irritated, or downright enraged toward our good-natured new charge as I was early last week.Polarvortex.jpg
I attribute this chilling episode to the deep freeze we all recently experienced, thanks to the Polar Vortex.
As I’m sure you know, this arctic episode set off wind-chill warnings in 26 states and brought bitter cold of a magnitude not seen before during our lifetimes. Yet that it could provoke a Siberia of the soul toward a small, furry creature may seem a little farfetched.
Allow me to explain.
On the morning in question, the thermometer where I live in Connecticut was expected to plummet to an estimated 15 below zero with the wind-chill factor.
But when you have a dog, you find yourself paraphrasing the post-office motto: Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night is any excuse to stay in when your dog needs to go out.Latkesadoutside.JPG
Latke, who will turn 2 on February 4, is still truly a puppy in both body and spirit. So I take her out for a substantial walk each morning, followed by a prolonged session of throwing the ball. Fur coat or not, would she be able to endure these in such frigid cold?
It didn’t help that the TV news was carrying dire warnings about frostbite. Even pets were susceptible in such conditions, which were no more fit for beast than man. One morning magazine show offered tips on how to detect hypothermia in your hound. It explained how to watch for warning signs, such as if the animal’s skin turned gray.
Gray skin? I wouldn’t be able to tell if Latke’s skin were gray or purple polka-dotted. She has such a thick coat of chocolate brown fur that I have no clue what’s underneath.
So this was alarming enough to convince me it was time for us both to bundle up.
Like many a second child, Latke is the beneficiary of a rather extensive wardrobe of hand-me-downs, including a colorful and cozy fleece jacket. And although she may be a little smaller than Zoe, I had no doubt that this would fit her. The only doubts I had were as to whether I would have any success in getting it on her, with or without a fight.
Although Latke may have a much sweeter disposition than most creatures, particularly her predecessor, she also has what you might call an iron will. For as agreeable as she may be, there are a few things she finds utterly objectionable. And when it comes to avoiding these, she always manages to get her way with little effort.
This never ceases to amaze me, considering that there two of us and only one of her and that we far outweigh her 40-pound fur ball of a frame, both single-handedly and together.
So maybe she isn’t quite so dumb after all.Latkebaringteeth.JPG
One of the few things she will simply not tolerate is being brushed. We learned this the first time we tried to run a comb through her thick, fine and interminably knotted hair. Every time she even saw a brush after that, she instantly curled her dog lips to reveal her dagger-like teeth and threatened to take my hand off. I say “my hand” because after my husband saw how she viciously reacted to me, he never dared to even attempt this.
And I am ashamed to confess that during the two years since, neither have I again.
The other thing to which she is decisively averse is wearing clothing of any kind. And as adorable as I may find it when I see tiny dogs strutting around in frou-frou outfits, I realize that she is actually a dog and not a ballerina, so I can’t say that I blame her.Latkeincourtjesterscollar.JPG
Yes, I persisted in wrapping a brightly colored court jester’s collar (another Zoe hand-me-down) when she competed last summer in a talent show at the local Jewish Community Center swim and racquet club, and I think this helped clinch her third place.LatkeasDevilDog2013.jpg
But when we tried to dress her up as a hot dog for Halloween, hoping to match my husband’s own frankly ridiculous get-up, we couldn’t keep the costume on her for even a single second, and finally settled for putting on a pair of red satin devil dog horns, which lasted on her head barely long enough to snap just one rather disgruntled photo.
And when I tried to put some little felt booties on her paws before she ventured out in a recent blizzard, she snapped at me so fiercely that I nearly forfeited a limb.
So I probably should have known better than to approach her with a multicolored fleece jacket that would cover both of her front legs and her entire girth before being fastened by Velcro down her back. But I heard the wind howling mightily and thought about all that hypothermia business. And after cooing to her softly and bribing her with at least a dozen dog treats, by some miracle I managed to get it on.Latkeinfleece.JPG
And perhaps it was just my imagination, but when we marched out into the ice and frosty air, she made no effort to remove her outerwear and actually seemed to like it. As she bounded through the snow, I thought I saw a little light bulb go off in her head. And what the two imaginary bubbles above her head said was “I feel warm!” and “I look hot!”
Thanks to her two coats (both the natural and the manmade), we managedLatkeinfleecefeelinghot.jpg to brave the elements for quite a while, and I managed to snap several adorable shots. She looked so cute, in fact, that even though I texted these photos to my husband, when he got home from the office that evening, I wanted him to see this in person.
Also, by the time the sun began to sink in the sky, the temperature sank even further. We were now talking 20 below zero. I was not going to send my pup out in that.
So before her dinner, I tried to bundle her up again one more time for a quick walk. I figured that she would remember how good it had felt to have that extra layer on, and would at least have realized by now that putting on a jacket didn’t hurt her one bit.
But no. That might be logical to the human brain. But Latke remains pure dog. I didn’t get as far as pulling a single paw through a sleeve before she bared her teeth. Then she growled ferociously, took off across the living room and cowered between the couch and the cocktail table so that I could barely reach her.
Undeterred by this oppositional behavior, nor by the fact that my husband had just gotten a phone call and wandered off rather than coming to my aid, I plopped down on the floor beside her and seized her paw again.
        Again she snarled threateningly.Latkebiting.jpg
I told her to stop. But she didn’t stop. She bared her teeth even more menacingly.
And when this didn’t make me cease and desist, she took more decisive action.
She bit me!
She had threatened to bite me plenty of times before, but had never actually done it. Boy, did it hurt! She hadn’t clamped down on my index finger forcefully enough to break the skin. But I could see it already turning blue below the second knuckle, and it hurt enough to make me run to get ice. And to begin yelling at her like mad.
I must confess that I yelled so loudly that she ran across the room, cowered, then peed all over the carpet with fright.
This made me yell even more.Latkeviciousincrate.JPG
I was so furious that I put her in her crate, the one in which we confine her whenever we leave the house, and I continued to berate her mercilessly. I said that I hated her and wished I could bite her back. I said she wouldn’t be getting her supper. I said that she wouldn’t be getting any more bones, treats, chew toys or long walks either.
I said a whole lot of other things that I probably shouldn’t repeat. And although up until then she’d never shown any sign of understanding English, I think she got my drift.
Then I realized that she still needed to go out, so I toweled her off as best as I could and took her out just long enough for her to relieve herself. Her bottom was still so damp that it froze, though. She could’ve used that coat.
The moment we went back in, she bounded upstairs to where Daddy was working in his home office and hid in terror under his desk.
My husband, who’s a newspaper reporter, soon had to go to a meeting. But when he came down to leave, Latke didn’t follow him as usual. Instead, he said that she’d planted herself at the top of the stairs.
Fine with me, I said.
Then I curled up on the couch, my finger still swaddled in ice, and began to read. At least an hour went by, during which I didn’t hear a peep.
But then – was it my imagination? – I thought I detected the muffled tapping of tiny claws rhythmically descending the stairs. I braced myself for what might happen next.
For a while there was silence again. Then I saw her poised in the doorway of the kitchen, peering around the room apprehensively.
        Where had Mommy gone?
Oh, there I was.
I looked at her. She looked at me.Latkeandmeoncouch1.JPG
And suddenly, as though a bright light had been switched on, she bounded over, leaped onto the couch, straddled my body, and began lapping my face with her tongue.
Within seconds, my cheeks were soaked. Wet from her tongue. Wet from tears.
I crushed her tightly against my chest, burying my own lips in fur.
Never in my life had I received so sincere an apology. Never had I seen anyone, man or beast, more contrite.
        And so, for once, two wrongs did make a right.
        As they say, t
o err is human. To forgive? Canine. Or maybe a bit of both.
After we’d snuggled for awhile, Daddy came home for supper at last and I followed through on my promise. Indeed, she didn’t get her dinner that night. Instead, she got some of ours: sautéed ground chicken mixed into bowl of warm rice.
And after it was gone, she rolled around on the carpet, rubbing her back this way and that, delirious with delight.Latkeandmeinbed1.JPG
When we went to sleep that night, instead of taking her usual place at the foot of the bed, she curled up against me tenderly, resting her muzzle gently on my stomach.
She’s been doing that ever since.
I don’t know how to explain this exactly. Does it take a lover’s quarrel to unleash genuine passion? Must you nearly lose someone to grasp how much they mean to you?
        Do you need to have a little war in order to find peace?
All I know is that ever since that awful night, I have stopped making comparisons. There’s no longer a contest in my mind pitting poor Latke against a creature who in the warm sepia tones of my memory was flawless, incomparable and capable of no wrong.Latkeandmeinbed2.JPG
Love isn’t a competitive event, and neither is parenthood, nor having pets. Pets all love you completely and unconditionally, even when they’re driven to snarl or even bite. And ours, like every furry friend out there, deserve to be cared for, cuddled, and kissed.
With the polar vortex threatening to rear its ugly head again, perhaps we’ll need to consult an animal trainer before the winter is out. I don’t want to be bitten again. But for now, the fleece is still staying safely in the cupboard. And every night Latke is still safe beside me in bed.
1:40 pm 

Friday, January 10, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

PattieonNewYearsEve2013fixed.jpg        Happy Year, everyone! Or should I say happy Jew year?
        OK, f
or the last 5,000 years or so, every year has been Jewish in some respect. But here’s hoping that we are in for a particularly memorable one, marked by peace in the Middle East, or at the very least plenty a fluffy matzah ball and reams of naches for us all.nachos.jpg
        And by naches, I clearly do not mean chips smothered in cheese. I’m talking about the Yiddish word for pleasure, especially the kind that’s shepped from children like mine.
That “shepping” thing is something I look forward to doing when I see my kids soon for my imminent birthday, which I tremble to admit is coming up next week. But when it comes to celebrating, I’d much rather talk about all the fun we had observing my daughter’s, which fell smack in the middle of all the holidays last month.
Well, it was mostly fun, anyway... until the tsuris began.AllegraatSwing46.jpg
To our mild astonishment and enormous delight, Allegra invited us to stay with her in NYC, not just for a night but nearly a whole week, since her two roommates were going home for the holidays. Maybe most young people who are obliged to share their living quarters would relish having a few days to themselves now and then. Not her. She’s so sociable a creature that she seems to loathe being alone. But the most amazing thing of all is that the people she often chooses to be not-alone with include us.
There are limits to this enjoyment, of course. Like any normal young woman in her mid-20s, she preferred to spend her actual birthday night partying with people of her own vintage, and that clearly did not mean us. So we planned to arrive the next day.BirthdaycakeAllegras17th.JPG
The only problem with this was that she divulged to me that she feared there wouldn’t be a birthday cake to serve at the party. She doubted any of her guests would bring one and could think of nothing more pathetic than having to buy or bake her own.Allegrablowingoutcandlesat5.JPG
        Believe me, this was not some sort of a Marie Antoinette, "Let them eat cake!" kind of thing. Rather, it's what comes from
 growing up with a nice Jewish mom who dotes on you and throws elaborate bashes for your birthday every single year. Why else would anyone expect a cake to simply materialize out of thin air... with his or her name printed in curlicue letters in some colorful shade of icing on top? 
        Allegra, of all people, is anything but self-involved or spoiled. She has evolved into a clear nice Jewish mom-in-the-making, one who readily bakes a birthday cake for her roommates, friends, and just about everyone else she knows (including the chocolate one below left she prepared for her friend Leslie just this week).BirthdaycakeforLesliebyAllegra.JPG
But when you grow up and go out into the real world, you learn that you have to get over yourself and make or buy your own cake, because no one else is gonna do it. Unless you wind up married to a really nice Jewish dad. And at only 24, Allegra just isn’t there yet.Allegrasbirthdaycake.JPG
        Hearing this made me sad, though. What could I do about it from 100 miles away? Then I came to my senses, called the bakery department at the Gristede’s supermarket across the street from her building, and ordered a pretty cake – red velvet with cream cheese frosting – complete with a box of candles. My son’s girlfriend Kaitlin, whom I knew would be attending the party, said that she would gladly pick it up along the way.
Judging from the photo they sent from the festivities, having it literally helped light up the night. (With luck, no one caught fire.)Allegras24thbirthdayparty.JPG
But this also left me thinking about what else I could do to make my daughter’s birthday special. Long gone are the days when I could delight her by decorating a cake with her favorite Disney characters or delivering the doll or dress of her dreams. Long gone also, perhaps, are the days when she gets to believe that the world revolves around her, if only for one day a year.
Yet maybe that kind of feeling was something she needed now more than ever. Face it. Being in your 20s is even tougher now than it was back in the '70s and '80s, when I was trying to make some sense of my existence. She works so hard and does so much for other people. What else might I do to brighten her life, or at the very least the occasion of her 24th?KateSpadeiPhonecaseblackdots.jpg
I’d already picked up some nice gifts and ordered a couple more that would be delivered during our visit. But then I remembered that there was one other item she had mentioned in passing.
Last year, we’d gotten her a stylish Kate Spade case printed with black polka dots for her iPhone. Allegra loves almost anything by designer Kate Spade and almost anything with big black dots. But after a year of daily nonstop use, that case had more dents than dots. She had admitted to me that she was dying to replace it with a new one and had noted how pretty she found the latest version, featuring shiny gold spots instead.KateSpadeiPhonecasegolddots.jpg
It was too late to get it delivered in time for the big day. But there are plenty of Kate Spade boutiques throughout NYC. I’d simply pick one up before her birthday dinner.AidanandKaitlinattheFlatironRoom.JPG
That dinner, which would include our son Aidan, and Kaitlin, of course, was scheduled for a Friday night two days after her actual birthday because Allegra was scheduled to work late the night before. But to my great joy, she called shortly after we arrived in the city on Thursday night to say that she was getting out early after all.
Nice Jewish Dad and I already had bought tickets for ourselves for a play that night, but with luck I managed to secure a third seat at the last minute right beside ours.
This production turned out to be not just a play, but a super-Jewish one, and no wonder – it was being staged at the Westside Theater on West 43rd Street, which in the past year also had brought us the deeply moving My Name is Asher Lev, based on the classic Chaim Potok novel, and the inimitable Borscht Belt-style revue Old Jews Telling Jokes.
Called Handle With Care, it easily delivered on its promise to be a “hilariously funny” and “fearlessly adorable” romantic comedy, with a whole lot of Hebrew dialogue and Jewishness thrown in.HandleWithCareimage1.jpg
I must confess to having had some trepidation when I learned that the romance part ensues once a young Israeli woman who speaks minimal English manages to lose her grandmother’s body after they travel together to rural Virginia. But never fear. There is not one maudlin second in this madcap comedy of miscommunication errors as Saftah (the grandma), played with great sechel and spunk by veteran actress Carol Lawrence (the original Maria in West Side Story) manages to play matchmaker posthumously.CarolLawrenceandme1.JPG
It actually added to my pleasure to hear a nice Jewish woman seated behind us translating all of the Hebrew dialect in a hushed stage whisper. (Better than subtitles!) Afterwards, out in the lobby, we got to congratulate Ms. Lawrence, who could not have been nicer as she posed with me, especially after I vowed to give the show a rave.
By then, were three were famished, so I was glad to have reserved an eatery nearby via Savored, a web site that offers discounts of up to 40 percent off your tab.
It’s not easy finding somewhere good to eat in the theater district. So we were thrilled to discover that the homemade pastas at Cara Mia, a cozy eatery on Ninth Avenue between 45th and 46th, were as incredible as any you'll find in Italy itself.CaraMiaexterior.jpg
We especially enjoyed the Strozzapreti, which came in a wild boar, porcini mushroom and chianti sauce, even though this Italian word translates as “priest stranglers.” (Would we dream of eating something called “rabbi stranglers?”) Never mind that wild boar, however delicious, is presumably no more kosher than any other form of swine.Strozzapretti (
Allegra was in great spirits and enjoyed the meal thoroughly. However, we agreed that it could not serve as her true birthday dinner because we wanted to make that a full family affair. So we agreed to postpone it until the next night.
And that’s when the trouble began.
If it turns out that there is reincarnation after all, then please let me come back not as a grasshopper or parsnip, but one of those people who assesses a situation calmly and makes a firm decision. You know. Anything but a nice Jewish mom – someone who tries to please all of the people (or more specifically, all of her children) all of the time.
It sounds easy enough to make a simple dinner reservation. I do it all the time, God knows. Why, I’d done it at the very last minute with great success only the night before.AidanandAllegrabyJoeMondello1.JPG
The problem was that my son works as a crew member in the TV and film industry and never knows when he’s going to get out. And although Allegra moonlights as an up-and-coming  jazz singer, she’s a nanny by day and never knows when she’ll get out either.
To compound the issue, Aidan was working on a TV show on the Upper East Side that day, and Allegra was working on the Upper West Side, and if you know Manhattan then you know that it’s not easy getting from either one of these places to the other.
Given that it was Allegra’s birthday, we figured that it should be made convenient for her. But I had no idea what time to make a reservation for, let alone where to eat.
Allegra had nowhere to suggest and stated only that it might be a real treat to eat French food for a change, especially since we had just had Italian the night before.Pattieinglasses.JPG
While my husband went off to work out and do some errands, I started searching online for French restaurants on both the Upper East Side and Upper West Side. But I couldn’t find anything promising on Savored. Nor on OpenTable.com or anywhere else on the World Wide Web. And when he came back about 90 minutes later, I was still sitting there searching.
And not exactly calmly by this point.La Mirabelle with stairs.jpg
Sensing my distress, which did not take extra sensory perception, he grabbed his own phone and found a place called La Mirabelle on the Upper West Side. When he called, the hostess said that they would be happy to give us a table but could only seat us upstairs.
“What’s wrong with your upstairs?” he asked.
“Nothing, Monsieur,” he was assured. “I just want to make certain that everyone in your party is able to climb stairs.”
No problem, he replied, although this sounded a little strange.
Yet when I texted Allegra about this, she insisted that she preferred to eat on the Upper East Side instead. “I don’t want Aidan to have to travel back and forth,” she said. 
She also wrote that her boss had told her that La Mirabelle was perfectly fine, but that it had few if any patrons under the age of 90. Well, that explained the stairs issue.
So I reserved a table at another French bistro called Orsay, on 75th and Lexington.Orsayrestaurant.jpg
Allegra then told us that she’d agreed to work until 8 p.m. so that her boss could go out to dinner. Aidan would probably be tied up until then anyway, she said.
But no sooner did she report this than Aidan wrote to announce that he was getting off early, at 5. Then, rather than waiting around for three hours in the city, he was going home to Brooklyn. So could we please eat in Union Square, which was closer to him?
Then Allegra texted that she couldn’t get to Union Square from where she was, so couldn’t we meet in the West Village instead?
Just shoot me now.KateSpadeboutique.jpg
By the time we learned this, we were already en route to the subway. So my husband and I decided to take a train to Union Square, go to the nearest Kate Spade store to buy that phone case, then walk downtown and find a nice French restaurant.
It was freezing out, and we ended up walking several blocks in the wrong direction from the subway. So it was more than a little distressing to arrive at Kate Spade and be told that they had just sold their last iPhone case with gold polka dots and had no more.
Please just shoot me now.
That’s not what I told the clerk, of course. I said, “Could you please double-check? I know it’s just a phone case, but I need it for my daughter’s birthday, and I need it now.
He checked all the shelves. He checked under the desk behind the cash register. Then he went down to the basement for a long time and came back looking sheepish.KateSpadegolddotiPhonecase.jpg
“Actually, we just got a whole new shipment of them in,” he said, proffering one. “How would you like to pay for that?”
I wanted to pay for it with a coupon I had found online that entitled me to 15 percent off if I signed up to get daily emails from Kate Spade for the rest of my life.
Maybe this was my lucky day after all, I thought, as I forfeited my credit card. But no. There was a very long line of mostly male patrons waiting to get their gifts wrapped.KateSpaderoundgiftbox.jpg
After about 25 minutes, I was finally next in line. I watched as an attractive young salesgirl expertly wrapped the items purchased by the man in front of me. “She’s going to love this!” she gushed to him as she took particular care wrapping a gold bracelet, which she placed in what looked like a round miniature hat box in pale blue and green, then tied this up with a beautiful ribbon and placed it in a teeny matching shopping bag.
Then she turned her attention at last to my phone case, which she put in a lovely rectangular box of similar hues. She then proceeded to take another gold bracelet, place it in another exquisite little round box, tie it with gorgeous ribbon, then put this into a miniature shopping bag and place it and my phone case into a larger shopping bag.
I watched all this with both confusion and breathless excitement. What the heck?Special offer.jpg
Was it possible that they were running some sort of special holiday promotion in which you got a free bracelet with every purchase? And if so, wouldn’t I have read about it in the daily emails that I already had started to receive?
Whatever. I could only imagine how thrilled my daughter would be when she saw that pretty little box and got to untie the big bow on it. Or was this just some mistake?
The salesgirl stuffed the large shopping bag with even more matching tissue. “Thanks so much for waiting!” she said sweetly as she handed it to me with a flourish.
“No problem,” I replied. “Only… Please explain. What is in that little round box?”
“Excuse me?” she answered. “What do you mean? That’s the gold bracelet.”
“OK,” I said. “But I didn’t buy a bracelet.”
“Wait, wasn’t that her bracelet?” she asked the young woman who had checked me out.
Oh, well.Kate Spade bow bangle bracelet.jpg
Before she whisked that tiny beribboned round box in the tiny shopping bag away, though, I asked if I could just see the bracelet.
“Of course!” she exclaimed. “Actually, it’s my very favorite thing in the entire store.”
Indeed, it was awfully pretty – a hefty bangle of gold-plated brass embellished with a graceful bow. The salesgirl told me it cost $78 and that it came in several other styles.
She proceeded to show me a “bling” one encrusted with rhinestones and a “skinny” version in plain delicate gold. Alas, these cost $78 apiece as well.Kate Spade
I looked at these bracelets. Then I looked again at the pretty round box. And I could not help imagining my daughter’s eyes sparkling as she untied the ribbons and removed the lid.
        But my husband, who had been standing by patiently through all of this, had only visions of credit card bills dancing in his head. “How many presents does she need?” he grumbled. “C'mon! You’ve bought more than enough already.”My husband looked annoyed.JPG
It was true. Then again, everything I had bought her was practical and functional. In addition to the phone case, I’d ordered a pair of sheepskin boots to replace her old ones, which had holes in them. But I’d orderedBearPaw.jpg economical Bear Paws instead of trendy and much pricier UGGs, and had chosen plain black because they went with everything, rather than the funky ones which came in bright colors or were embellished with fur.
I also had found a lovely pin-tucked lavender duvet cover for her comforter to match her room. But I’d ordered it from Target instead of the extravagant one she had admired at Anthropologie that cost over four times as much.Purpleduvetcover.jpg
Wouldn’t it be nice to give her one thing that was totally unexpected and frivolous?
Then again, there were many more things that I knew she could use for 78 bucks.
I didn’t know what to do . But I’ll tell you what I did. I thanked the bright-eyed sales girl, then took the single shopping bag (far too big for just an iPhone case) and dutifully followed my husband out of the store.
Yet as I did, I must confess that I couldn’t help wondering what would have happened if I had said nothing to the girl and simply accepted the bag with both boxes.
I know, I know. I promise you, I am not the sort of person who would ever steal anything deliberately, let alone inadvertently. On the contrary, I’m the sort of person who once did some grocery shopping next door to the place where I get my hair cut, then realized when I got home that they’d forgotten to charge me for a pie. So the next time I went to the salon, six weeks later, I went in and told them and insisted on paying for it.
Even so, I still felt conflicted, regretful, and downright mournful about that bracelet. Well, along with a bunch of nice, sensible gifts, at least I had my integrity to offer. Besides, how in good conscience could I have given her a gift I hadn’t paid for?AidanandKaitlinonNewYearsEve.JPG
Then we proceeded to schlep through the frigid air down to the Village, where we resumed our endless search for a restaurant… only to receive a text from Aidan at 7:30. He was back home in Brooklyn, wasn’t feeling well, and had decided that he had to rest up because he was taking the GRE exams on Monday morning.
        So after all that, he and Kaitlin were not coming.
Oh, well. The truth was that the logistics had been too complicated from the start. And they’d already celebrated with Allegra at her party. So we said that was fine and that we understood.AllegrasbirthdaydinneratMonPetitCafe.JPG
        Then we canceled La Mirabelle, explaining that our daughter was 65 years too young to celebrate her birthday there, and canceled Orsay too. Instead, we met Allegra at a tiny French bistro she likes called Mon Petit Café near Roosevelt Island, where she lives.
Yes, it was just the three of us once again. But this time it was her official birthday dinner. So we splurged on a nice bottle of red wine and some mouth-watering escargots with our salads, along with our entrees, including Coq au Vin and Filet of Sole Almondine.Allegra opening Kate Spade box.jpg
And after she’d blown out the candles on her profiteroles, I whipped out the bag from Kate Spade, and Allegra’s eyes still managed to sparkle and pop out of her head. She loved the iPhone case and said that the last thing she had needed was a gold bracelet, anyway.Allegraat8withmeinLenox.JPG
Maybe someday (or in the next life) I’ll be better at planning and making decisions. Maybe next year I’ll throw practicality to the wind and splurge on overpriced jewelry. But for now, I still have my integrity intact, plus a lifetime of emails from Kate Spade to look forward to... as well as another year of letting my kids know that my world, at least, still totally revolves around them. And it always will.

10:47 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.