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Thursday, June 18, 2015


A Word From the Weiss


It was my husband's birthday.jpg

        I don't even want to tell you how much we spent on our weekend getaway this past week, let alone what we shelled out for dinner. It was, granted, a birthday dinner.

       Make that a double birthday dinner.

       But still.

       The main reason I can’t believe what we spent on that one meal is that it wasn’t supposed to cost nearly that much. There was no indication it would cost that much. And although what happened was not exactly my fault, I ended up feeling guilty.

       Guilty because I chose the restaurant.

       Guilty because I made all of the arrangements.

We're going on a Jewish guilt trip.jpg

       But mostly, guilty because I am a nice Jewish mom. How else do you think I would feel?

       It all started a few months ago when we were out for dinner with our good friends “Nora” and “Ray.”

      Ray mentioned that at our age he had begun to find himself unable to participate in many of the sports he used to love and had begun to delve instead into the joys of yoga. This prompted me to ask if he had ever visited Kripalu.

       I was referring to Kripalu (pronounced “kri-PAH-loo”) Center for Yoga & Health, the popular, tranquil retreat in Lenox, Massachusetts that is the largest, most established, and best-known Mecca for yoga, health, and holistic living in all of North America.

       He confessed that he had not, and somehow a plan was hatched then and there for the four of us to spend a weekend there together celebrating his and my husband’s then-impending birthdays, which fell within a week of each other in June.

Yoga bridge pose.jpg

       Although Ray may be budding yoga devotee, my husband and I remain total novices at best, and even that is a bit of a stretchonce took yoga class back in college, and then a few years ago, when we first became empty nesters, I signed us up for an introductory series.

        We finished all eight sessions of that series. In fact, we took it twice. And my husband still couldn’get into a decent Downward Facing Dog or any of the other most basic yoga positions. 

Downward Facing Dog.jpgSo we decided that our days of saying “Namaste(“peace”) were over.

       Nora confessed to being such a neophyte at this art that she didn’t even own a single pair of yoga pants (something I tend to live in whether I do yoga or not just for the comfy stretchiness)So I recommended that we just test the waters for our first Kripalu outing by purchasing day passes for $120 apiece, which would entitle us to eat three meals there and take all the classes we wished on a single day (including a 90-minute workshop session on Deconstructing Your Downward Dog), rather than totally immersing ourselves for days.

Kripalu's magnificent grounds.jpg

       I had done this routine at Kripalu three times before and enjoyed strolling their magnificent grounds, then taking an amazing daily noon class called Let Your Yoga Dance, which is not exactly yoga and not exactly dance, but is 100 percent full of joy.

       In order to make a full weekend of it, though, I recommended that we stay over at one of the many lovely inns that welcome overnight guests in the bucolic Berkshires.

Kripalu dormitory room.jpg

       Besides, despite its low-key and ascetic atmosphere, Kripalu's accommodations are on the exorbitantly pricey side. With three daily meals included, per person prices, even for standard double room with a shared public bathroom down the hall (think typical college dorm), run $434 per person per night (and there is a two-night minimum).

       It would actually be cheaper to buy a day pass and stay at a posh inn with private bath nearby.

       During the summer season, most inns are also prohibitively pricey and require a minimum stay of three nights. However, I managed to find one place nearby that hadn’t put its high-season rates into effect just yet and only demanded we stay for two.

The Cornell Inn in Lenox.jpg

       Yes, after spending hours surveying every nearby B&B listed online, I came across the Cornell Inn, which boasted not only charming New England decor but also a lavish breakfast that could be enjoyed al fresco beside a small pond and scenic gurgling waterfall.

Cornell Inn room with New England charm.jpg

       That would take care of breakfast both mornings, and we would eat one lunch and dinner in the Kripalu dining hall, known for its mostly vegetarian and uber-healthy kale-oriented fare.

       But since this was a birthday weekend – a double one, at that  – I figured that we should eat at least one special meal out. Make that a very special meal.

       Over the years, while visiting Lenox each summer, my husband and I have eaten at almost every restaurant in town. There is only one that he especially loves, called Nudel, but it doesn’t take reservations.

      Since Nora and Ray wanted us all to attend a show they’d heard about on Friday night, we couldn’t take a chance on not having a dinner reservation somewhere. And I knew just what that somewhere should be.

Gilded Age inn in Lenox.JPG

       There’s a lovely Gilded Age inn in the center of Lenox with an elegant restaurant on its premises. Not only is this place exceedingly charming, even as New England inns go, but the chef evidently used to be the White House chef when Bill Clinton was in office.

Bill Clinton was big on Big Macs.jpg

       And even if the notion of Bill Clinton’s tastes conjures up images of Big Macs with a side of fries, I figured these items would not be on the menu at this elegant inn.

       Just to be sure, I checked the menu, which boasted offerings more like Filet Mignon with mashed potatoes, cipollini onions and dem-glace or Slow-Cooked Half Duck with butternut puree, forbidden rice with currants, and watercress salad. On further inspection, I learned that the inn's eatery only offered a prix fixe three-course meal for dinner.

       On weekends, this dinner cost a rather hefty sum, but their website stated that on weeknights it cost only $39…and said that weeknights included Friday.

Pan-Roasted Salmon at the Inn.jpg

       OK, maybe that wasn’t exactly cheap. But for a special birthday dinner – a double birthday dinner, at that – it was within the realm of reasonable.

      I wrote to our friends, who readily agreed, then I made a reservation for early Friday evening and promptly forgot about it… until the day before we leftwhen I received a text message from the inn asking me to confirm our reservation, which I did.

       That night, after I’d finished packing, I decided to go online to check the inn’s current menu. I knew that they changed their offerings regularly to feature seasonal ingredients and wondered what wonderful delicacies might be in store for us.

Prix fixe menu.jpg

       That’s when I discovered, to my distress, that the prices had gone up since I’d made the reservation six weeks earlier. Gone up substantially. Perhaps the old prices had been for out of season and high season had already officially begun at this inn.

       The weeknight prix fixe now cost $55 per person,rather than the original $39. On weekends, which it still said meant Saturday and Sunday, the meal cost a colossal $67.

       When I had made the reservation, I had been obliged to give my credit card and acknowledge that the restaurant charged $20 per person if you canceled the day you were slated to arrive.

      It was already after 10 p.m. the night before. Was the place even still open?

     I quickly texted Nora to alert her about the problem and ask what she wanted to do. She wrote back promptly. “No problem. Don’t worry,” she said.

      “Really?” I replied. “With wine it will be a bundle!”

       “It’s a special night,” she countered.

       At those prices, it had better be.

We were ushered into the inn's stately dining room.jpg

       We were all feeling quite celebratory when we arrived at the inn just before 5:30 the following night and were ushered to a table in their handsome, stately dining roomUntil, that is, I looked at the menu.

       The food listed was different from the fare I’d seen listed online the previous night.

       But that wasn’t the problem. The problem was the price. It now cost $67 per person.    

       I couldn’t believe my eyes. Now what were we going to do?

       I always thought that “prix fixe” meant that the price was fixed. Apparently not.

       The only thing that was fixed, in this case, was the game. And the game was fixed in favor of the house.

       Ray and Nora urged us not to make a fuss, but I felt taken advantage of. Having chosen the place myself, I also felt responsible… and responsible for setting it right.

       I waved our waitress over to complain about the inexplicable change. She said she would summon the manager, who appeared about 10 minutes later.

We had already been served our cocktails.jpg

       He didn’t seem terribly interested in making any kind of adjustment, but agreed to speak to the chef about it. Then he disappeared for about 20 more minutes, by which time we had already ordered our dinners and been served our drinks.

       After all, there was no time to go elsewhere now. And we’d presumably be docked $80 if we did.

       Moments after I complained to him, a couple seated near us – the only other patrons present at the time – called over to divulge that they had been similarly misled.

       I was very pleased that they said this, because otherwise I would have wondered if there were some chance I had made a mistake. I also would have worried that my friends thought the error had been mine.

       By the time the manager finally returned from his conference with the chef, we already had finished eating the first course.

       “I’m so sorry,” he said with a distinct French accent. “Zee chef, he says zis is zee menu we are serving tonight, and zis is the price for zee menu. Perhaps, though, we can offer you maybe a bottle of Prosecco?”

       We had already each had a cocktail or glass of wine and didn’t really need to drink any more alcohol, if you ask me. But free ProseccoWell, at least it was a small means of compensation. So we nodded to agree… although by the time the bottle of bubbly arrived, we were nearly done with our entrees.

The inn's oven-roasted duck.JPG

      And I must say those entrees had been skillfully prepared and exquisitely presented, whether or not the price was right.  

      My oven-roasted half duck with English pea mash and broccolini was served in such gorgeous splendor that I swooned at the sight.

Harlan and the key lime pot de creme.jpg

     And the key lime pot de creme that followed for dessert for the birthday boy was nothing short of luscious.

     But I was so mortified when the bill came that I couldn’t sleep that night.

     Instead, I tossed and turned until dawn just mulling over the awkward situation.

     Should we have walked out as soon as we’d arrived, protesting the bait and switch?

     Should we have offered to pay the difference in price on our friends’ bill (although they undoubtedly never would have let us)?

     Had the mistake somehow been my fault? And had our friends just pretended to be good sports about it, but were secretly livid at me?

      I got my answer when I went down, bleary-eyed, to join our companions for the Cornell Inn’s sumptuous breakfast served overlooking the pond.

Cornell Inn pond.JPG

      Nora was still kvelling over the roast rack of lamb she had ordered the night before. She had relished every bite. Ray seemed equally rapturous.

     “So you’re not mad about the dinner?” I asked, incredulous.

      On the contrary, he assured me. They weren’t upset at allHe preferred to look at it this way: We had enjoyed a phenomenal meal in an elegant setting with impeccable service. And with great friends. They were perfectly happy with the entire experience. Why undermine it by dwelling on a minor discrepancy in the price?

       I realized at that moment that he was absolutely right.

When worlds collide.jpg

       The fact was that I did feel deceived, because I was a victim of false advertising. Or at the very least an unfortunate error brought on by old world charm colliding with the age of technology.

       But the main reason I had been upset was that I felt somehow responsible for the mishap and had worried that my friends were annoyed about it. Annoyed with me, that is.

       OK, with the tip – a relatively modest one – the bill came to whopping $186 per couple. That’s the priciest meal for two I have eaten in my memory. Maybe eaten ever.

       My husband, who is the consumer reporter at a newspaper in Connecticut, still chose to call the inn after we returned home to complain, hoping they’d do something to rectify the situation beyond the bottle of Prosecco we hadn’really needed. But I wasn’t optimistic.

       Far better, I figured, to count our blessings.

The Mount in Lenox, MA.jpg

       We are blessed that we can afford to splurge now and then on a birthday dinner.

       In fact, we could afford to splurge further that weekend and also take in a tour of The Mount (home to 19th century author Edith Wharton), followed by an incredible show on Sunday at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Center in Becket. (Did I mention that we spent a whole lot?)

       Best of all, though, by far, is that we have incredible and true friends who are very wise and also willing to let it go when things don’t go their way.

      Now, that is really lucky… and ducky.

      But meanwhile, guess what? After my husband complained, the restaurant caved. They invited us to come back for another meal – a FREE one, this time – for four.

       We will have to think of another way to compensate Nora and Ray because we plan to enjoy that meal next weekend, when, as it happens, we will be back in Lenox for our only other visit this summer, this time with our daughter Allegra and her boyfriend JP.

       Wait. Didn’t I tell you? She’s coming home! For good! After a whole year in Hong Kong.

Me at The Mount.JPG

       I guess I should have mentioned that first. Talk about burying the lead.

       I will tell you more about it next week… if I have time with all the excitement.

       For now… count your blessings. And let the non-blessings go.

        Happy summer!

        And Namaste.

8:33 pm 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

 A Word From the Weiss


Jackie and me.jpg

        He’s gone.

       Jackie I mean. I can’t believe that in all this time I’ve barely mentioned him to you. My kids must be tired by now of hearing his name insinuate itself into our every conversation like a pesky Internet pop-up.

       Jackie and his wife Chris moved into the white house with pale green shutters across the street and two doors down five or six years ago. When I first saw him in his driveway, I stopped by to chat briefly and welcome him to the neighborhood. Then, life being busy, and his being young enough to be my son, our paths never crossed again.

Zoey, Jackie's beagle German Shepherd mix.jpg

       Until last year, that is, when he and Chris adopted Zoey – a feisty little beagle-German Shepherd mix. We were already busy being puppy parents ourselves, and suddenly Jackie became our new best friend.

       Or maybe even more than a friend.

Latke loves company.JPG

       Latke, our Portuguese Water Daughter, is as gregarious a critter as you’ll ever find. Since she came into our lives three years ago, we have prowled the neighborhood daily with her in search of canine companionship. To our frustration, many nearby dog owners have invisible fences and think that pet care means little more than letting their dogs roam around on their lawns on their own.

       Others are satisfied to just quickly march their dogs around the block on a leash. They’re too busy with their human offspring to have time or energy to “waste” on doggie play dates.

       Jackie was a distinct exception to this rule.

Jackie was a devoted doggie dad.JPG

       He began to come over several times a week, if not almost daily, to let Zoey and Latke romp and play unfettered in our fenced-in back yard. He was as busy as anyone could be, juggling his job at a motorcycle gear shop with a part-time internship and classes he was taking at a local college to finish his degree. But he still proved to be a deeply devoted doggie daddy to Zoey.

Latke and Zoey's tug of war.jpg

       Like us, he had discovered that without enough exercise or other activity, our pups could transform into mischievous or maniacal little devils. Yet after an hour of toothsome tugs of war and other vigorous anticsthey’d collapse and snooze like docile little angels for the remainder of the day.

       Years ago, I used to walk our previous dog (whose name was also Zoe) almost daily with a fellow doggie mom, and after five minutes we would struggle for things to say. Not Jackie. He is about as chatty and garrulous a guy as you will ever hope to find. Despite our difference in years, there was never a dull moment or lull in the banter.

Latke and Zoey little.jpg

       There was also never a lull in the fun. WheZoey first appearedshe was a mere midget compared to our 42-pound mongrel, yet still anything but timidHigh-spirited and brimming with spunk, she could hold her own and nimbly fend off older and far heftier adversaries.

Zoey, though little, could hold her own.JPG

       And within the year she filled out and shot up so that they were a perfect matchEvery day, the moment Zoey would arrive, she and Latke would spring instantly into action, racing manically around the yard and weaving dangerously, like dare-devil slalom skiers, through the intricate obstacle course offered by our elaborate old wooden playscape.

Latke and Zoey on their obstacle course.JPG

       Then, like arch enemies, they’d battle endlessly, vying over the same twig, tattered toy or other such treasure, snarling menacingly as they waged snout-to-snout combat, deftly managing to just miss each other’s ears or muzzles with bared fangs the way we humans air kiss.

       Yet as fierce as their growls and playful barks might sound, there was no doubt. They each had found their BFF (Best Friend Fur-ever) and bonded for life. Whenever I walked Latke down the block, she would make a beeline for Jackie and Zoey’s house and plant her backside on their doorstepWild horses, let alone a busy but far from muscular mom, couldn’t drag her away.

Latke and Zoey Fur Ever.JPG

       Fortunately, whenever Jackie was there, he was more than willing to step outside with his four-footed charge night and day. Along with being the best neighbor imaginable, the truth was that he needed us as much as we needed him. We soon became a mutual canine collaboration society.

Allegra and her boyfriend JP.jpg


     We took an even more heightened interest in Jackie when our daughter Allegra, who was away singing in Hong Kong, began to date her boyfriend JP. By coincidence, Jackie was not only the exact same age as JP, but just like him had grown up in Hong Kong and left the city at age 8. I began to joke to Jackie that they were secret brothers separated at birth.

Chris and Jackie.jpg

       At the very least, I maintained, they must have crossed paths at some point when they were young. But Jackie would always shake his head and insist otherwise. Hong Kong is a city of over 7 million, he explained. Besides, he grew up having something of a hardscrabble life, first in Hong Kong, then Queens, New York, where he went to live with his father for years after his parents divorced. JP, on the contrary, he would say, had grown up “with a silver spoon in his mouth.”

       It was the kind of blunt thing that Jackie saysBut I kind of like that he’s kind of blunt.

       Besides, along with the candor, he’s beyond considerate and kind. And not just to Zoey.

Our lives have long revolved around our kids.jpg

       People of a certain age – my age, that is – know what it’s like when your children grow up and leave the house. After decades of having life revolve relentlessly around the kids, you suddenly feel like you have lost your sun. There is a void that you will never fill... and a whole lot of silent nights.

       There is also no strapping young man or woman around any more to lift heavy boxes, help carry your suitcase down the stairs… or solve those nasty technological glitches that invariably crop up.

       Jackie did all of that for us, gladly. And more.

Jackie fixing tiles.jpg

       When a small section of tiles on our kitchen floor buckled up over the winter (a calamity we ascribed to melting snow seeping in), a tile company said our only recourse was to retile half the downstairs of our house, which probably would have cost thousands.

       Jackie knows how to fix almost everything and said that was a waste. Instead, he removed the few broken tiles, replaced them with a handful of spare ones we had on hand, and regrouted for little more than the nominal cost of the materials.

Jackie came to the rescue with tech support.JPG

       When my computer crashed a few days later, he managed to get it up and running, just like that.

       And when my husband needed a new car this spring, he joined him at a dealer and advised him what to lease.

       Then there was the time that Allegra, who was visiting from Hong Kong, realized that she had left an invaluable notebook filled with original music at a club where she had sung. We were away in New York City at the time. The club was in Connecticut. There was only one person I dared ask to do us the favor of driving half an hour roundtrip to retrieve it. And he did it.

       Happily, of course.

I brought in boxes from Jackie's doorstep.JPG

       And, of course, we were always happy and eager to reciprocate. While Jackie and Chris were away over the winter, I brought in packages delivered to their doorstep, got our plow service to clear their driveway after a blizzard, and shoveled their walk myself (with only a little help from Latke).

Latke helped me shovel Jackie's walk.JPG

       Then there was the time that some potential buyers were coming over to look at their house unexpectedly. I ran over to fetch Zoey, who was there napping in her crate.

       And when I discovered that she’d had “an accident” in there (yes, with puppies it happens), I cleaned the mess up and opened all the windows in the house to air it out before the buyers arrived.

      The buyers. Yes, I did say "buyers." Which brings me to the sorry truth.

       In December, Chris got a new job that started immediately, requiring her to move to New York at onceJackie stayed behind to finish school and continue working here. They got together on the weekends. But on weekdays he was now more available than ever.

       To my husband, and me, it felt like we had a child at home again. And to our infinite delight, Jackie seemed to reciprocate our feelings. He doesn’t have any relatives nearby, and with his wife living hours away, he seemed to relish having the company. Even ours.

Squid ink fried rice -- a lifechanging experience.JPG

       He not only still came over almost daily, but also began texting me almost round the clock, and not just to coordinate doggie dates. He also would write to tell us what he was eating for dinner (“Squid ink fried rice – life changing experience!”), or often offer to bring something for us when he got takeout himself (“Want a bagel? I’m picking up lunch.”).

       Or he’d simply write to mention things he came across that he thought might interest me (“The BBC Channel is talking about Aushwitz remembered – Channel 1207 on AT&T”).

      But it was eminently clear that our budding liaison had a looming expiration date. We knew it was only a matter of time before Jackie joined Chris to live closer to the city. They soon bought a new home in New York and put their house here on the market.

Latkevand Zoey getting snowy.jpg

       Oblivious to it all, Latke and Zoey continued their daily backyard escapades in the cold and snow. Jackie also continued to join us and listen to me bark at him as though I were his mom.

        “Why aren’t you wearing a hat?" I'd ask. "It’s freezing out. Where are your gloves?”

Jackie playing it cool.jpg

       I couldn't help offering other motherly advice. And noodging him about all sorts of things. Noodging him a lot. Yes, he already had a mother. But he’d never had a nice Jewish mom. And he didn’t seem to mind. 

       With four-foot drifts piled up on their lawn, they didn’t have much luck with buyers. But we still knew it was only a matter of time.

       I began to live in dread of their departure, and was relieved when construction on their new house delayed their move from March to April, then May.

Moving day finally arrived in May.JPG

       But two weeks ago, the moving van finally arrived. I readily volunteered to watch Zoey while the movers loaded up the truck.

       To our delight, Jackie brought Zoey back a few days later when he returned to straighten up. Then, just today, I nearly exploded with euphoria when they popped up again unexpectedly on the block (nothing like an Internet pop-up at all) so that Jackie could pick up a few items he'd left behind and return his cap and gown to school.

      Once again, it didn’t take a bit of arm-twisting for me to offer to supervise the goyls for one final doggie date in our back yard while Jackie tied up some last loose ends.

Latke and Zoey had one last run.jpg

      I watched them zoom around their old obstacle course like race cars speeding mightily on a circular track. Then they played furry hide and seek, darting around the trees until their little legs gave out and they collapsed, pink tongues panting wildly, on cool tufts of grass. At last, seeking refuge from the glare of the afternoon sun, they rested up on the deck, side by side for one last time, seated politely like ladies at tea on their favorite chaise longue. 

      Every time I grow maudlin about Jackie and Chris’s departure, Allegra reminds me that she is about to return to the States. It’s true. After what turned into a full agonizing year abroad, she's moving back to New York later this month, supposedly for good.

Latke and Zoey Best Friends Fur Ever.JPG

       When I think about her extended absence, I begin to wonder if Jackie was heaven sent. Everyone knows I’m such a dedicated nice Jewish mom that it was doubtful I would survive having my daughter halfway around the globe for an entire 12-month stint. To those people, I usually say, “Thank G-d for Facetime!” But I also thank heaven for Jackie.

      Having him around, more than anything, helped to get me through the past year.

       I will miss him, of course. I already doBut we will still continue to talk. And text. For sure.

      But how will we ever explain to poor Latke that Zoey doesn’t live here anymore?       

9:01 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.