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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Word From the Weiss
Dont Hate Me Because 'Im Beautiful.jpg
        “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful,” gushed fashion model Kelly LeBrock and other young lovelies in a late ’80s ad campaign for Pantene shampoo. Well, I may not be beautiful, but please don’t hate me for having spent a recent week somewhere that is.
And never mind beautiful. Even better – balmy. I'm talking about Miami’s sundrenched South Beach.Miami's South Beach.jpg
I’d made it a point to visit Florida each winter ever since my maternal grandparents moved down there when I was 12. Then for the past four years I didn’t go. Life got busy. Old friends down there moved away. And the snowfall wasn’t all that bad.
But if there were ever a winter to revisit my past – along with mild and madcap Miami Beach – surely, this was the one. After too many days of temperatures in the single digits – nah, make that too many weeks – I woke up one morning and told my husband I’d had it. Then I booked flights and a hotel on Expedia. South Beach, here we came!KeylimeChobaniyogurt.jpg
Not without a hitch, however. Never mind being subjected at the airport to my first full-body TSA pat-down ever. Far worse an indignity was having Security confiscate the key lime Chobani yogurt I’d planned to eat on the plane for lunch to help get myself psyched for a trip to the tropics. After taking great pains to make sure I wasn’t carrying more than the 3 allotted ounces of shampoo, sunscreen, or any other liquid, I’d foolishly failed to consider the prospects for using fermented milk to blow up a plane.Allegra and Harlan in Florida 2004.JPG
Virtually all such past trips had been family affairs ever since our kids were born. Yet both are now grown and were too busy with work to travel. Besides, that week happened to coincide with Valentine’s Day, which was also the anniversary of the fateful blind date on which my husband and I had first met. So, like it or not, we were going to be on our own.Harlan and Rick in Miami Beach.jpg
Well, not entirely on our own. Some friends have moved away, but others remain. Our old friend Rick, who'd served as best man at our wedding, still lives there with his wife and daughter.
And although my grandparents are now regrettably long gone, there was someone else from way back when whom I felt deserved a visit.Bunnie and Nada young.JPG
   My late mother’s best friend from childhood, Nada, had written to me recently to report that her second husband had passed away last summer. As dispiriting as this was to hear, there was one bit of good news. This had motivated her to relocate after decades in faraway Sarasota to Boynton Beach, within a manageable drive of Miami.
When I’d phoned her to express my condolences, we’d ended up babbling animatedly for well over an hour. It was the first time I’d spoke to her at great length since I was a child…or possibly ever. It was also the closest thing on earth I can hope for at this point to talking to my mother, whom I miss daily more than words can express.Bunnie with Nada and boys.JPG
I had promised Nada in closing that if I were ever in Florida, I’d come to see her. This trip would be my chance.
        When booking the vacation, I’d discovered that hotel rates had risen astronomically since our last visit. Most decent places were now priced at upwards of $500 a night. Yeah, right. Reluctant to spend even half that much, I took a room at a newly renovated hotel still under construction. They assured us that no drilling would be done till after 11 a.m.
It sounded like a deal.South Beach Hotel under construction.jpg
Even so, we still had some trepidation and asked our friend Rick to check it out for us. He didn’t have time to go in, but drove past and reported back that it looked like a construction zone.
So it was a relief to arrive at the SBH South Beach Hotel and view it for ourselves. Indeed, the entryway in front was a work in progress. Maybe even a mess. Who cared? The rooms had just been refurbished in December and were modern, fresh, and bright.Breakfast at Charles St. Cafe.JPG
For a nominal added “resort fee” of $20 a day, we were entitled to breakfast for two  – including a choice of pancakes, a yogurt parfait, or scrambled eggs and home fries – at the stylish Charles Street Café right around the corner.
        Pool on roof of Boulan Hotel.JPG
That fee also gave us access to the rooftop pool at the Boulan, an adjoining luxury hotel. This proved to be a tranquil, elevated oasis overlooking the pristine towers of SoBe, presided over by a hip, graffiti-embellished mural of an Asian courtesan. The water was warm, the scene cool, the rooftop view of the Miami skyline spectacular.Harlan playing tennis in Miami.jpg
After battling the bitter cold and other elements for the better part of three months, it felt like we hadn’t died, but simply boarded a plane and gone to heaven.
Each morning after breakfast, we drove to nearby Flamingo Park and played tennis. Although I’ve never been inclined to play competitively, we made it our special mission to keep the ball aloft for as many consecutive shots as possible. And by week’s end, we’d managed to reach a new world record (well, for us, anyway), 181.Pattie at La Sandwicherie.JPG
From there, we’d hasten daily to our unequivocal favorite place on earth for lunch, a funky little outdoor stand on 14th Street off Collins Avenue called La Sandwicherie.La Sandwicherie sandwich.jpg
Its menu consists almost entirely of sandwiches, salads, and fresh-fruit smoothies, but all are made with only the freshest of ingredients, from light-as-air French baguettes to ethereal discs of mozzarella cheese and tiny, tangy pickles called cornichons.French vinaigrette from La Sandwicherie.jpg
As with most great food, however, especially that of the French persuasion, the secret is in the sauce – in this case, their very own brand of Dijon mustard vinaigrette.
We’d spend the rest of the day strolling the silky sands of a magnificent beach only a block from our hotel, or lying poolside, reading, swimming, and soaking up the sun.
OK, do you hate me now?Flavio and friends at La Lupa di Roma.jpg
At night, we dined at various old haunts, including an Italian eatery in trendy Lincoln Road Mall called La Lupa di Roma, where we long ago befriended the owner, Flavio.
Then there was the incredible meal we had at my husband’s favorite Cuban place, Puerta Sagua, a bustling family restaurant where we feasted on specialties like arroz con pollo with black beans and sweet fried plantains.
        It doesn’t get any better than that.Pattie and Harlan at Puerta Sagua.jpg
Or does it?
        The temperate atmosphere put me in such good spirits that we began getting along better than we have in many a year. In fact, we had only one notable spat, and a rather trivial one at that.
Perhaps my husband meant it as a compliment when he admired an old bikini he had convinced me to bring along against my better judgment. If only he’d had the sense to simply leer at me in it and then quit while he was ahead.
But no.
He has a peculiar way of voicing admiration that might best be termed  as giving an “underhanded compliment.”Pattie in Boulan hotel pool.jpg
He went on to express how much he liked it… unlike the one-piece suit I’d been wearing the day before, which he didn’t care for on me at all… a thought punctuated by a very different look, more appropriate for reacting to a sack of raw sewage.
Following this unfortunate exchange, I treated him to raw silence for several hours.
But then sunshine got the better of me and I decided it wasn’t worth fighting about. So I broke down and said something I hoped would settle the subject once and for all.Purple bikini.jpg
“Sorry to disappoint you,” I began, “but try to understand. When I put on a swimsuit at this stage in my life, I don’t expect to look sexy. I have no interest anymore in even trying to look sexy. The only way I aim to look can be summed up in three little words:
“Not that fat.”
Did he understand? Not that likely. Maybe not at all. But he laughed and we never spoke about it again.Harlan with Te Amo balloon.JPG
And so on Valentine’s Day, I woke up to find him standing in our room with a peace offering, a heart-shaped helium balloon he'd slipped out bright and early to buy.
Then later that night, we dined al fresco at The Flame Café on a scenic pedestrian thoroughfare called Espanola Way, where we were treated to complimentary cocktails made from Prosecco, vodka, and strawberry puree and garnished with lychee nuts.Valentines Day dinner 2014.JPG
Then we went to see crusty comedian Lewis Black spew diatribes in a show entitled “The Rant is Due” at the Jackie Gleason Theater. Sure, as Black himself openly acknowledged, his curmudgeonly brand of humor was a peculiar choice for Valentine’s Day. Then again, having seen him before, we knew this was something we would both enjoy and that would make us laugh our butts off.
        And what’s more romantic than that?Lewis Black.jpg
OK, maybe it wasn’t all that romantic to hear him vent about his colonoscopy prep. But he did have a particularly hilarious political segment in which he cited statistics indicating that people find Congress less appealing than either lice or the Ebola virus, although most prefer it slightly to both gonorrhea and the Kardashians.
But in many respects the show was also resoundingly Jewish. Typical was when he tackled the issue of gun control, attributing the fiery controversy in which this country is embroiled to the fact that some of us grew up in a gun culture, while others did not.
He, for one, had not. “My parents are Jews,” he explained. “They do not hunt…
        "Except for buffets.”
That’s how we spent our first few days, anyway. Then we finally went to see Nada.Bunnie at 53.jpg
She and my mother, Bunnie, had met at age 10 and remained lifelong friends. So it was no surprise that when my mom had chosen to take a weekly writing course in the last years of her life, Nada managed to figure prominently in a substantial portion of her work.
So, as a small surprise, I’d gone through the stacks of notebooks that my mother had left behind and photocopied a few stories that I thought would be of particular interest to her.Nada young.JPG
One talked about the time when they were first friends that Nada’s father, a dentist, had chosen to surprise my mother on her 10th birthday by cleaning her teeth for free.
This story also vividly depicted the backdrop for their friendship, highlighting the stark contrasts between their two families.
        “Dr. Ragovin was a Sephardic Jew,” it began. “His daughter, my dearest friend Nada, was not affiliated with any temple.” My mother’s own family, by contrast, had “observed Talmudic rules and Jewish holidays” as active members of Shomrei Emunah, the Orthodox synagogue two blocks away from their home in Boro Park, Brooklyn.Dentist cleaning girl's teeth.jpg
But the differences did not stop there. “Dr. Ragovin had opened his dental office in the 1930’s, and although his family was subject to the worries of the Depression, his professional skill safeguarded them and permitted luxuries my family did not enjoy.”
My mother’s father, meanwhile, struggled to eke out a living selling insurance, with such little success that my grandmother had been obliged to work too, first selling ladies hats and later serving as the office manager for the Liberty Syrup Company.Ebinger's blackout cake.jpg
As Nada’s best friend, however, my mother got to tag along with her to the theater and restaurants and to enjoy “other extravagances my family could not provide,” like “the fresh Ebinger’s pastries and home-baked cookies always available” at her house.
"What was Ebinger’s?” asked my husband, when I read this story to him aloud. “Was it like Entenmann’s?”
“Much better than Entenmann’s!” I replied, recalling their famous blackout cake.
I thought Nada also might get a kick out of my mother’s romantic tale describing how when she was 17, she’d decided it was finally time to meet her special someone.
As with most stories she wrote, this was written in the third person, and she called herself by her middle name, Ann. (My father, Stu, had no middle name. She referred to him as Joe.)Stuie young.JPG
“Ann’s grades were the best, but nobody was breaking down her door to take her to the senior prom,” she wrote. So she convinced her friend Nada to accompany her to the dance run by their school’s honor-student society, Arista, where Ann encountered Joe by the punch bowl and heard him begin to croon along to a Frank Sinatra record.Stuie and Bunnie young.JPG
“She watched the dance floor for what seemed like an eternity, nursing her punch cup and feeling a frozen smile overtake her. Then suddenly, Joe walked over to Ann. Was he really coming to her?”
Unfortunately, we all know now how that ill-fated liaison eventually ended, in a prolonged and contentious divorce, although their marriage did last for nearly 30 years. And so eventually followed the tale that my mother wrote about what happened a few decades later when, after my parents split, she set out to re-enter the dating game.Nada and Jim, her second husband.JPG
Coincidentally, perhaps, Nada’s own marriage also had recently unraveled, so she led the way, guiding my mother into singles groups such as Parents Without Partners and Single Professionals, through which Nada had met her own second husband Jim.
Yet I decided against including yet another story set many years later, when my mother’s second husband Sid had already died and Nada called to announce that she and Jim were coming to visit. As welcome as this news was, it threw my mother into a frenzy of cleaning.
        She went on to describe what polar opposites she and Nada had always been. My mother was a disorganized packrat and invariably late for almost everything. I don’t just mean she ran on Jewish time. She was known to often arrive for a visit hours after the appointed time. Nada, by contrast, was a confirmed neatnik and obsessed with punctuality.
Knowing that, we made sure to leave in plenty of time to get to her place by 1, the time at which I had promised to take her out to lunch.Dade Countysign.jpg
The trip would take an estimated hour and a quarter, according to Mapquest. So it was beyond unnerving to drive for nearly an hour, then realize that we’d made an unfathomable error. Nada lived north of South Beach, but we had been driving south. Instead of nearing her apartment at 12:30, we were now an hour and a half away!
Thank G-d for cell phones. We called her quickly to confess the problem, and I could hear in her voice not anger or frustration, but fear that we might cancel the visit.
Not a chance.
Instead, we rerouted and continued at breakneck speed. The drive took nearly two and a half hours, but we arrived shortly before 2, and exiting the car I heard an unmistakable voice calling my name excitedly from a balcony overlooking the parking lot.Nada and me 2014.jpg
Then I saw a familiar face, one I hadn’t laid eyes on since my wedding, 30 years ago. Though 86, she was clearly the woman I remembered, the one my mother had loved. Within seconds we had nearly melted together in a warm and much-overdue embrace.
Now, this was truly what it was like to die and go to heaven.
        Oh, and by the way, needless to say, her apartment was immaculate.
Over lunch in her retirement home’s clubhouse, we talked about her own two sons, who are both around my age and were once like cousins to me. She also told me stories about my grandparents and how my mother had once sworn her to secrecy, mortified that her own mother had taken a job because no one else she knew had a mother who worked. But mostly we reminisced about years gone by, and I got to pose questions that had long been on my mind, like how two people as different as my folks had ever gotten together.
“Your mother set her cap for him from the moment they first met,” she replied. “My own mother used to joke about it." Never mind that my father -- no ordinary "Joe" -- had been incomparably shrewd when it came to business. "My mother would say that he didn’t stand a chance.”
As for my mom’s second husband, it came as a relief to compare notes.Bunnie and Sid, her second husband.jpg
I admitted that as happy as I’d been that she had found someone new later in life, I’d had my reservations about him. But I wasn't the only one. Every time we arrived at their house for a visit, she would commence screaming at him nonstop.
I can still hear her often shrill and rather nasal voice ringing in my ears. “Sid!" she'd holler. "Siiiiiiiid!!!!
After suffering through my father’s relentless criticism for years, she had seemed to have no patience for her second spouse, browbeating him harshly almost without end. Yet once he had died, she inexplicably turned him into a saint. So bereft did she become that she took to driving around with his framed photograph perched on the passenger seat of her car, lamenting that she’d never meet as good a man ever again.
        At this, Nada could contain herself no longer. “I wish we’d had this conversation years ago,” she said, “because I used to tell Jim I thought I must be losing my mind!”Nada and me i nher apartment.jpg
My mother had also called her constantly to complain about Sid, often on the verge of divorcing him. But following his death, Nada too had listened incredulously as my mother sang his praises to the hilt, as though he were the Moshiach (Messiah).
And I realized that as much as we really hadn’t talked for many a year – if ever – Nada and I had been inextricably linked all my life through the indefatigable bond that was my mother.
It wasn’t merely in the stories she'd written. It was all the things she had told us both over time, and the stories that she'd told us about each other.
I could only imagine what it would be like to get a visit, many years hence, from the daughter of one of my own closest friends. Although I don’t get to spend much time with these girls, I hear about everything significant that happens to them. They're all like daughters to me.
After arriving an hour late, we ended up staying much longer than planned, as well. But of course I couldn’t leave before giving Nada those stories and reading one or two aloud.EbingersBakerybox.jpg
When I got to the part about Ebinger’s pastries, my husband, still mystified, asked again what they had been. “Were they like Entenmann’s?” he asked.
“Much better than Entenmann’s!” Nada and I replied instantly in unison.
        She then grinned
broadly to hear about the boundless generosity her family had shared.
But when I finished the tale about the teeth cleaning, her eyes flooded with tears.
My mother had concluded by observing, “I never enjoyed a dentist’s office as much before or after that time.”
“I never knew my father did that – cleaned her teeth for her birthday,” Nada said. “But I’m not surprised. He was a wonderful man, and she was my very best friend.”
The only heartbreaking part about the visit was that after we’d left, I wanted to call my mother at once and tell her every detail. How happy it would have made her to hear!Thank you note.jpg  
        A week after we returned, we got a card in the mail from my mother’s best friend. “Just a note to let you know how much I appreciate your taking the time to come up and visit,” she wrote. “It was really so nice to reconnect again… Keep in touch.”
I fear it may not be easy to stay connected because Nada, despite having her wits totally intact – and then some – is a product of her own generation. That is, she’s a bit of a Luddite. She adamantly refuses to learn how to email, and although she has a cell phone, she doesn’t know how to text and doesn’t want to know.Aidan in April 2013.jpg
So when I got some good news last weekend, I struggled to think of who I could contact to kvell to about it. Just imagine – my son Aidan called to report he’d been accepted into a Ph.D. program at Columbia University, his very first choice of schools. He’d even been awarded a special fellowship, giving him not just free tuition, but a handsome stipend.Nada and me 1.jpg
Who else would be excited to hear about it, now that both of my parents were long gone? Sometimes when you’re a nice Jewish mom, you still need a nice Jewish mom.
        Then I thought of Nada.
I can’t wait to tell her and also to see her again. For no matter how cold next winter may be, we’ve already made reservations to retrace the steps that warmed us up again. And that includes seeing my mother’s dear friend, who is now wonderfully mine as well.

11:44 pm 

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Word From the Weiss
        Pattie in Miami Beach.jpg
        Yes, I'm back. And I had fun. My blog, however, is not quite done.
        It's hard coming back from vacation... in more ways than one.
        And now, though I've barely unpacked, I'm off for the weekend again and more misadventures. (After a whole week away, being a nice Jewish mom, I need to go check in on the kids. In person. A nice Jewish mother's work is truly never done.)
         Sorry! See you soon. Monday maybe.  Tuesday for sure.
        To put it off any longer would not be... nice.
3:06 pm 

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

NiceJewishmomsknowbest.jpg        As I’ve noted in this space more than once, “nice Jewish mother” is the expression. Who’s ever heard of a nice Jewish wife? After all, husbands, if you ask me – particularly mine – totally have it made already. Never mind their not having to shave their legs and armpits… or pop whole live babies out of their nether regions. Just think: I put a tasty, home-cooked meal on the table most nights of the week. The laundry miraculously turns up clean. Whenever it’s someone’s birthday (even one of his relatives), I buy and wrap the presents, and all he has to do is sign a card that I bought too at the very last minute.
Plus, I gave birth to and helped raise our two terrific kids, and I never, ever smell.
        Am I really expected to be nice, too?HarlanandPattieFeb1982.JPG
But I’ve been making more than my usual effort to be civil (bordering on pleasant) lately, in view of the approach of Valentine’s Day, which is not just Hallmark and FTD’s designated day for getting it on, but the anniversary of the day my hubbie and I first met.
That happened way back in 1982, and after 32 years of daily exposure to each other’s foibles, quirks, and habits, we are no longer exactly a mutual admiration society, like Kim and Kanye. (Or Kanye and Kanye.)
        But we are still together.KanyeandKim.jpg
And so, along with performing all of the aforementioned domestic duties, I’ve been trying to be less combative than usual lately… meaning that I don’t mention that I want a divorce – or wish I were still in college, so I could request a new roommate – more than once or twice a week… or at the very least, when I do, I try to mumble these things under my breath.
Plus, last week I really put myself out (which has nothing to do with “putting out”) for my husband’s sake on two notable occasions. The result? Well, according to a recent headline in The New York Times, “In Long-Term Marriages, Good Enough Is Great.” If so, then I would venture to say that one of these instances was great.The other? Not so much.Latkeinthebackyard.JPG 
At first glance, the first of these efforts might not seem to have much, if anything, to do with my husband, and merely relate to my customary persona as Nice Jewish Mom. For all that I did was throw a birthday party for our puppy, Latke, who was about to turn 2.
OK, to be honest, I guess I was into it, too. After all, never in my life have I been more in my element than when I got to throw elaborate birthday parties for my children (unless, of course, you count the arrangements I made for my daughter’s bat mitzvah, for which I personally made the invitations, centerpieces, place cards, and party favors, all reflecting the theme she’d requested for her reception, “Bat Mitzvah on Broadway”).BatMitzvahonBroadwaycenterpiece.JPG
I love little more than assembling treat bags or arranging fancy trays of desserts. So you might surmise that putting on a party for our pooch was for my own gratification, a quest to recapture a touch of my former glory (if you can call loading candy and tchochtkes into cellophane bags glory).
But no.Treatbagfordog.jpg 
You also might imagine that this was done mostly for the guest of honor’s benefit. How much more fun could there be than to be lavished with attention, gifts, and bones? But I will be the first to admit that Latke has yet to grasp the idea that chasing birds and squirrels is a total waste of time because they’ll just fly away or scamper up the nearest tree. She doesn’t have a clue what planet we’re on, let alone that she was born not to a nice Jewish mom but an actual doggie one on February 4th, two years ago. And if we hadn’t done much to celebrate that event, she wouldn’t have needed therapy… or cared less.LatkeandDaddyoncouch.JPG
Yet my husband, to the contrary, is consumed with little Latke, almost to the point of obsession. He reminds me of one of those older men who remarry later in life and dote on their new young children far beyond anything they ever did the first time around.AllegraandDadinWashingtonSquarePark.JPG
In all fairness, he’s been a devoted dad to our human offspring, always there for them when they were growing up.  And he’s always there for them now. However, he wasn’t always there for them (or, to be more accurate, for me) back when a diaper needed changing or it was time for a bath.
        LatkeasbabywithDaddy2.JPGWith Latke, he is. He’s the one who walks and feeds her first thing every morning and who takes her without complaint for that last late walk in the dark and cold every single night. Talk about a mutual admiration society! This love affair began the moment we went to the breeder to check out her new litter, and one little critter raced straight to him… not to me.
Latke loves Mommy too, of course. But there’s no question she’s Daddy’s little girl.
Daddy began hocking me a month or so ago that we had to hold her “bark mitzvah” soon because in dog years she was already 13. So I proposed we have a little party for her last Saturday.Dogbirthdaycard.JPG
My husband didn’t waste one moment before springing into action by inviting Latke’s best friend, Bryn. Then he began dialing the home of her boyfriend, Coco.
“No!” I screamed.
It wasn’t just that two puppies cavorting in our back yard would be more than enough. There was another issue.
The week before, Latke and Coco had played together for the first time in months, and there’d been a little problem. Coco, a miniature poodle, evidently had matured since the last time they’d met. They used to run, jump, and nip at one another with abandon. Now Coco had a new agenda. He spent over an hour trying tirelessly to mount Latke. But she’d been spayed at 6 months.Coco.JPG
“Latke’s not interested in that,” I kept telling him, to no visible avail.
I can’t claim to have seen a whole lot of porn, but I can tell you that this was without question the lewdest display I’ve ever seen on the part of either man or beast. When I brought Coco home, I told his owner that a new issue had cropped up, so to speak, and she confessed that Coco hadn’t been “fixed” yet, but would be soon.Caroline and Rosalie.JPG
Not soon enough for the party, though. The dog we’d already invited, Bryn, has two human sisters, ages 4 and 6, and they were invited too. If I was unnerved by Coco’s X-rated antics, I could only imagine how they’d react… or how we’d explain the proceedings.
As it turned out, snow was predicted for the day in question, so Bryn’s mother Julie and I agreed that we should probably postpone the party until the next day instead. Then I woke up late Saturday to a sunny day and found myself scrambling to get ready.Frosty Paws.jpg
I was so pressed for time, in fact, that I had to send my husband to the store for a birthday cake. Not for the dogs, of course. I already had bought them Frosty Paws, a frozen treat for dogs. But I couldn’t imagine holding a birthday party without a cake, particularly when little girls were involved.
Meanwhile, I managed to put together treat bags for both the dogs and little girls. By the time my husband had returned from the supermarket, I also had managed to bake cookies, whip up some guacamole, and assemble platters of cheese and crackers, sliced fruit, crudités and dip, and some frozen hors d’oeuvres I found in the freezer.birthdaycakewithpinkflowers.jpg
All my husband had been entrusted to do was buy a small birthday cake suitable for little girls. I’d envisioned something with white icing and lots of pink flowers. So, what did he choose? Chocolate macaroon, a dark brown confection trimmed with coconut.Latke's birthday cake.jpg
At least he’d gotten the bakery to scrawl “Latke” on top in ruby red.
But I reminded myself that most men probably wouldn’t go to the supermarket to buy a birthday cake for a dog. And that, once again, I was throwing this shindig mostly for his benefit, not mine, or Latke’s, or even when it came down to it those two little girls.
So I grinned and said, “Great!” And anything else I said was muttered under my breath.Caroline climbing monkey bars.jpgRosalie swinging.JPG
Moments later, the guests arrived, and there was no time for muttering or anything else. The little girls, Rosalie and Caroline, requested hot cocoa, which I went inside to prepare. Then they sprang into action, availing themselves of our swings and slide.
       Latke and Bryn in snout to snout combat.JPG
Meanwhile, the dogs went berserk, running, jumping, and waging vigorous snout to snout combat, coming up for air only long enough to knock things off the table or plant their muddy paws all over me, turning my coat into a collage of paw prints.Latke and Bryn wreaking havoc.jpg
Julie and I did our level best to supervise this bedlam while her husband, Tony, and mine stood around chatting, drinking, and noshing as though they hadn’t a care in the world and total chaos weren’t raging all around them. Men, as I said, have it made.Latke and Bryn going wild.JPG
But with a little bit of cajoling, I persuaded my husband to snap a few pictures before the little girls blew out the candles (another skill poor Latke has yet to master). And even though Rosalie (or was it Caroline?) was a little put off by the mysterious flaky white stuff all over the cake, they both deigned to down a slice of it anyway.Latke's party Caroline blowing out candles.JPG
And the puppies needed no prodding whatsoever to devour the contents of their Dixie cups filled with unidentifiable frozen product before springing back into action.Latke opening her gift.JPG
Then Caroline (or was it Rosalie?) helped Latke unwrap the lovely gift they’d brought her, a green rubber chicken with an iridescent orange beak.RubberchickenforLatke.JPG
Best of all, to me, were the squeals of delight from both Rosalie and Caroline when it was time to leave and I whipped out the treat bags for both girls and beasts.
        OK, so it was no bark mitzvah on Broadway. Yet I'd dare say that a
good time was had by all, especially my husband… and I'm happy to report that no one tried to mount anyone else.Bryn and parents.JPGPattie and Latke at her party.JPG


        It was more successful in every respect than my attempt to please my husband, Round 2.Bert.jpg
This began when he mentioned one day that an old friend from college was passing through our town and would stop by to say hello.
Having been to a reunion myself last year, I knew what it felt like to encounter someone you haven’t seen in ages. That is, even if you have a spouse who mutters about you regularly – and not always under her breath – you’d like your old friend to take one look at you and think two things: “Boy, he hasn’t changed a bit!” and “Looks like he has a great life, or at the very least a great wife.”
So I cleaned the living room, put on some presentable clothes, and even baked cookies.Chocolate chip cookies I baked.JPG
The friend, whose name was Bert, arrived before my husband got home from work. So I welcomed him warmly and ushered him into the living room, where I proffered a plate of those cookies, still warm from the oven, and offered him something to drink.
My husband came home at that moment, and it was fairly evident that they hadn’t seen each other in a very long time. Or so I surmised from their conversation, which quickly got down to the question, “So, what have you been doing for the past 48 years?”Harlan and Bert.JPG
But before my husband could begin his story – and a very long one I knew it would be – I interrupted to repeat my question, asking our guest what I could get him to drink.
I went on to enumerate all the options, including espresso or cappuccino (both regular and decaf), San Pellegrino sparkling water, wine, or about 50 different kinds of tea. (I’m what you might call a tea-aholic, in that I have a wall of tea instead of a wine cellar.)Wall of tea.JPG
But no. Bert looked a bit sheepish as he confessed to me what he really desired. He said that he drinks hot coffee every morning, but prefers to drink it iced in the afternoon, even on a winter day like this one, when it was about 20 degrees outside.
“Would that be too much trouble?” he asked.
“Of course not!” I replied in my guise as the good wife, even as I thought to myself, “How the heck am I going to do that?”
The fact is that you can always add ice to piping hot coffee, but it will come out either kind of weak or kind of lukewarm – the colder the coffee, the less bold the brew.coffee beans from Liz.JPG
I considered pouring two shots of espresso over ice, but figured that would barely fill a tall glass. Then I noticed a bag of coffee beans on top of our regular coffee maker and decided to go back to plan A. My friend Liz had given us this sack of something called Vienna Blend for Chanukah, along with other delicacies from her newly adopted home in Brooklyn. And although I may not know beans about coffee, I figured that anything that came from either Brooklyn or my good friend Liz had to be pretty good.Nespresso Essenza.JPG
The truth was that I hadn’t opened this bag yet, even though Chanukah fell back in November, because ever since I gave my husband a Nespresso machine for the previous Chanukah (being a good wife), we’ve fallen into the habit of drinking espresso instead.
But Liz was visiting over the weekend, and I didn’t want her to see the bag still unopened. So I decided to brew a pot and make it strong so it would hold up over ice.
I hadn’t used the coffeemaker in over a year, ever since we’d gotten the Nespresso machine. So I carefully cleaned out the top compartment into which you pour the beans. Then I added some water and hit “on,” releasing a dull roar as the beans were ground.Tray with iced coffee.JPG
While it brewed, I set about filling a Sterling silver creamer with fat-free half-and-half and loading up a crystal bowl with packets of sweeteners, both real and artificial. Then I placed it all on a nice tray, feeling like not just a good wife, but a Stepford one.Stepford wife.jpg
When the machine stopped, I filled a glass with ice and poured in coffee almost to the brim. Then I dipped in a spoon to taste it… and nearly gagged. It wasn’t just weak. It was dreadful! Perhaps the worst coffee I’ve ever tasted – so bad I wanted to spit it out.
Now what? Was it just my imagination? Were my taste buds off for some reason? Or had my palate been spoiled by drinking only good espresso (or tea) for over a year?Iced coffee.JPG
For a moment, I thought that I had better start over again from scratch… or go back to plan B and make him two shots of espresso. But Bert had already been waiting for quite a while. And he had chosen to visit on Friday afternoon, when I was busy, as always, putting the finishing touches on my blog. How good did this coffee have to be?
And seriously – how good did a good wife really have to be? Baking cookies from scratch already felt a little too Donna Reed-like to me. Was I expected to be a gracious hostess, waiting hand and foot on my husband’s friend, and be a Starbucks barista, too?Donna Reed.jpg
So I put the glass on the tray and poured a mug of the hot stuff for my husband, then served it to the men with a smile. I worried that Bert would have a reaction similar to mine and end up leaving his iced concoction untouched.
But no.
He drained the glass politely and asked if there might be any more. Indeed there was! So I refilled his glass with ice and coffee, and watched him slowly sip this as well.Harlan eating cookie.JPG
My husband helped himself to cookies, but left his mug of hot coffee untouched.
It was only after Bert had departed, seeming duly impressed, that I went to clean out the coffeemaker again and discovered my terrible mistake.
Although I’d been careful to scrub the top compartment of the coffeemaker, I hadn’t opened it. And when I did, I discovered that the inside compartment evidently had been filled with coffee grounds from the last time we had used the device – over a year ago.Coffee grounds.JPG
I could only imagine how moldy and perhaps even rancid those grounds had been. That’s when I really wanted to gag.
Knowing my husband – and his quirks, foibles, and habits – I asked him what he had done with the hot coffee he hadn’t touched. He said that he’d poured it into a to-go mug to take to work with him the next day. The only way to convince him to spill it out was to tell him what I’d served his friend. And then to make a fresh pot, using Liz’s beans.
Of course, it was absolutely delicious.
        I can only hope Bert was OK, but
if we don’t see him again for another 48 years, I think we may know why.Valentines Day chocolates.jpg
In the meanwhile, you won’t be seeing me in this space next week, because it’s both Valentine’s Day and the anniversary of the day that my husband and I first met. And so I am making one more stab -- hopefully a better one – at being a good wife.
I have arranged a much-needed trip for the two of us, a week in Miami Beach.
For seven days, I will not be putting any tasty, home-cooked meals on the table. The laundry will not turn up clean. Nor will I be putting myself out in any other way. But I will put up with my husband's foibles, quirks, and habits 24/7 for seven days. And that's about as much as any wife should have to do, nice, Jewish or otherwise.
8:42 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.