Tuesday, January 31, 2012

No Singing in the Kitchen…and Other Teenage Rules

I have a message for the military, for the House of Representatives, for the Senate, for the Supreme Court, and yes, even for The President of the United States.  If you want to get valuable information out of possible terror suspects, there’s no need to put them through sleep deprivation, starvation, water boarding, or hard labor.

All you need to do is lock them in a car with a two year old in the back seat, stuff said car between thousands of other cars on the Long Island Expressway and play Barney’s Greatest Hits over and over and over and over so that said toddler does not throw a temper tantrum while mommy and daddy are desperately cursing their decision not to take the Northern State.  Trust me, after the 3,000th verse of “I Love You, You Love Me, We’re a Happy Family” said terror suspect will not only talk….he’ll dive to the bottom of the ocean and dig up Bin Laden’s body just so the US can kill him again, anything to get out of that car!!

Yes, the above scenario is not a scene straight out of the next Hollywood Blockbuster.  Horribly, it is a true story.   Said toddler happens to be my now 14-year old Melissa.  And let me reassure all of the parents of the current Barney generation….they do grow out of it!  

Melissa’s musical taste has certainly improved since her toddler years.  When Barney became old hat, my daughter entered into a long-term relationship with Disney.  We sang along with The Little Mermaid as she traded her fins for feet, danced along with Belle and the Beast, and marveled in wonder on a magic carpet ride with Jasmine and Aladdin. 

Eventually, the Disney Princess phase gave way to the Hilary Duff phase, then the Hannah Montana phase, then the High School Musical phase.  Fortunately, my husband Bob and I intervened and exposed her to classic music!  No, I’m not talking about Beethoven or Bach, I’m talking The Beatles.   Today she has a full appreciation of the world’s greatest band, and even joined us last summer when Sir Paul played the Wells Fargo Center in Philly. 

However, despite her parent’s influence, peer pressure is stronger.  Yes, the Beatles still rock, but she has added a number of new groups to her repertoire of favorites, including The Script, The Fray, Bruno Mars, and Maroon Five.  (Please don’t ask me how we escaped a Bieber obsession – with Melissa it never took hold.)  She likes being in the passenger seat while I am driving, since I give her full reign over the radio.  Each time a song comes on that she likes, she quizzes me, “Mom, who does this song?”  Much to her frustration, I always get the answer wrong.

I tell her all of her songs sound the same, and she counters with the same argument.  (Although I have to admit she has a point, after all, Billy Joel and Elton John do have a similar style.)  However, sometimes we’ll stumble on a song, either her favorite or mine, that we both like, and we’ll sing together in the car for a brief three minutes of blissful harmony.  Little did I know the car would be the only place I would have permission to dare sing what we have dubbed, “Melissa songs”.

A few weeks ago I dutifully rolled up my shirt sleeves, walked over to the kitchen sink and began the nightly routine of washing dishes.  I had recently heard a catchy tune by The Script, and the song, still stuck in my head, escaped through my lips and I (egads!) started to sing as I scrubbed, making the daily task more tolerable.

“Mom, stop singing that song!” Melissa demanded.

“Why can’t I sing, we’re in the house, there’s no one around, there’s no need for you to be embarrassed,” I asked in bewilderment.

“Because it’s one of my songs,” she explained.

So, based on her teenage logic, I have permission to sing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” while doing the dishes, but “Moves Like Jagger” would definitely be off the table.  Sigh.

Here I imagined the kitchen to be a world without the restrictive commandments placed on my head when I dare venture into the outdoor world with my offspring.   These include:

1. There shall be no singing in public. 
2. There shall be no dancing in public. 
3. There shall be no hugging or kissing said offspring in public. 
4. There shall be no laughing in public. 
5. There shall be no smiling in public. 
6. There shall be no wearing of ugly red sweat pants in public
7. There shall especially be no accompanying said offspring at the bus stop, because, yes, you guessed it, that’s “public”.

What Melissa does not realize is that her goody two shoes mother who never broke the rules as a kid, has now become a rebel.  The more commandments that are established, the more I want to break them.  Why?  Because it is so much fun to embarrass her. 

But I’d better break the rules with caution, because I’ve heard that punishment involves being locked in the car with a toddler listening to “I Love You…You Love Me….. We're a Happy...............NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!


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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Where Do We Put all the Flowers?
The All South Jersey Chorus Concert

We rode home in the car on Sunday evening in exhausted silence, my husband Bob, daughter Melissa and me.  The weekend had been a whirlwind.  A date we had circled on our calendar weeks ago, when Melissa had discovered, to her delight, that of the more than 1,000 students who auditioned, she had been accepted into the prestigious All South Jersey Junior High School Chorus.

Music is Melissa’s passion, and she has embraced it nearly every day of her middle school tenure.  Last year, as a 7th grader, she excitedly asked me to sign a form giving her permission to audition for the All South Jersey Chorus.  I eagerly put pen to paper and offered up my John Hancock, allowing her to stay after school several days a week to practice, and promising to transport her early one November Saturday to a location an hour away so she could show the judges everything she had.

When the audition list came out, we scanned each and every name with care, finally having to admit Melissa’s name could not be found.  However, she soon learned her best friend had been accepted.  Putting her own disappointment aside, she called and congratulated her, and with all of the sincerity a 13 year old girl can muster, wished her well.

I even took Melissa to attend the concert so she could be there in person for her best friend, even though she so wanted to be up on that stage too.

In 8th grade, the tables turned.  Both Melissa and her best friend auditioned again along with the best, and most incredibly talented junior high students representing dozens of schools in southern New Jersey.  This time, we jumped for joy when Melissa’s name showed up on the list.  However, her spirits were somewhat dampened when her best friend’s name did not.   She so hoped they could travel this journey together.  Alas, it was not meant to be.

The first rehearsal brought together nearly 400 junior and senior high students, filled with extraordinary talent and a burning desire to prove themselves.  Within a few weeks time, these teenagers, who had never sang together before, evolved into a chorus that sounded as perfect, eloquent and beautiful as any professional group that had been singing together for years.

The All South Jersey Chorus charmed audiences for two shows, one on a Saturday evening, the other on a Sunday afternoon.  We cheered as Melissa took to the stage for the first half of the show, which featured the junior high chorus.  After a brief intermission, the junior high returned back stage and the senior high chorus took its place. 

I carefully studied my daughter’s expression, along with the faces of the boys and girls who shared the spotlight with her.  Their voices created the melodies, yet the music came from their hearts.  They embraced their performance with joy and honor, fully appreciating this precious moment in time when thoughts of upcoming tests, unfinished home work, clothes, hair, and all of the typical teen worries were kept temporarily at bay.   

On Monday, life would return to normal, and perhaps that is what filled our minds during the silent drive home.  Melissa’s sister Jessica, with pink roses in hand, had traveled from Washington DC to see the performance on Saturday, while grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends all engulfed her with flower bouquets after the show on Sunday.  Her best friend, despite her disappointment at not being accepted this year, had promised to come to the show, only to be sidetracked at the last minute with other plans.

The car pulled into the driveway, and we gathered our belongings, stepped into the cold and walked the short path to the front door.  There, sitting gracefully on the porch, sat yet another bouquet of flowers.  Although Melissa’s best friend had been unable to attend the show, her thoughts had been with her all day, enough to encourage her mother to go to the store, purchase the bouquet, drive to our house, and carefully ensure they would greet Melissa with the heartfelt message that told her how much she cared.

Perhaps of everything that I witnessed during this extraordinary weekend, the beautiful bouquets of flowers touched me the most.  For each petal represented the love of family and friends, who, whether there in person or not, expressed their love and support for my daughter, a proud member of the 2012 All South Jersey Junior High School Chorus.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My Clothes Aren’t Tight; They Just Shrunk in the Wash

Each night before bed, I go through the dreary, boring routine of trying to figure out how I can make believe I have 2,000 articles of designer wear so I don’t have to put on the same work clothes again, and again, and again.

Let’s see, I wore that dress last week, too soon to wear again.  That skirt was the clothing of choice the last time we had a staff meeting, people will remember (they won’t, but I believe they will, so it plays into my decision).  How about the white pants?  Yes, it’s been several months since I’ve worn the white pants.  And look, they match perfectly with the red jacket.  Better yet, they are still in the dry cleaner wrapping, I won’t even have to pull out the ole ironing board!

So, I gently place one leg into the white pants, and then the other.  I stand up.  So far so good.  I pull up the zipper.  No effort there.  Cue the huge sigh of relief.  But wait, there’s one more step.  The button!  Will I be able to close the button?!   I reach across and pull, and stretch, and grunt, and groan.  Finally, success!    But the down side…. I can barely move.  Well, that settles it; these pants must have shrunk in the wash.  (It doesn’t matter that the pants had just come from the dry cleaner….logic is not high on the list of words I’d use to describe my current state at this time.)

Alright, so I am delusional.  I know deep down that the laundry genie did not cast an evil spell on my clothing.   Pants that used to fit quite nicely are now just a teensy, weensy bit tight.  I admit it, it’s time to do something drastic, time to call out the big guns, time to finally make that life change I’ve been threatening to make for two years now.  That’s right….liposuction!!  (Just kidding)

No seriously, time to go on a (I can’t even bring myself to say it) on a …. (come on Lisa, you can do it) on a ………………………. on a diet!  There!  I said it!  Do you lose weight for just admitting you need to lose weight?

Of course my loving husband bob, my mom, daughter, co-workers and friends all tell me I look great, that there’s no need to do something that drastic.  But I know otherwise.  It’s more about how I feel about myself.  You see, I’ve hit that age in life (the dreaded middle age years) where things that have never changed before suddenly start to sag, droop, slump, hang…you get the picture.

This is not the first time I have attempted the “D” word.  After I gave birth to my now 14-year old Melissa, I mistakenly believed I could continue to eat like I still had another life growing inside of me.  Did I really need a pack of Oreo cookies a day?  Yes, the baby needed the energy!!

Two years after giving birth, something life-altering happened.  Bob received the somewhat scary diagnosis of diabetes.  Fortunately, he did not need insulin, and the doctor felt it could be controlled with medication and diet.  We enlisted the support of a nutritionist and before you know it, the simple act of severely limiting carbs had a dramatic effect.  In one year’s time, he lost 80 pounds, and I shed 30!

How did you do it, you ask?  How did a normal human being give up delicacies like pizza and pasta for an entire year?  Well, I’ll tell you, I don’t know.  All I can say is the motivation of dropping two clothes sizes kept the carbs at bay.  Oh, those were the good old days.

In the intervening years, carbs have forced their way back into my life.  What can I say, they missed me!  We enjoyed a fairly uneventful relationship for quite a while.  Sure, I put on a couple of pounds now and then, but I could always shut the door on carbs for a couple of weeks and those pesky pounds would disappear.

Then, something strange happened….MIDDLE AGE!  Suddenly, dieting for a month no longer worked.  I’d make  a drastic change in my eating habits, would lose nothing, get frustrated, and invite the carbs back in.

So now, Bob and I are both determined!  The fridge is full of fruits, vegetables, and lean meat.  Light bread in the morning will take the place of an egg bagel (sob) and salads will be the standard for lunch.  Melissa, who is so proud of her parents, has offered to cook healthy dinners, and, surprisingly, they’ve been pretty good.

I also made the investment in an exercise bike, which Bob and I both use for 20 minutes a day.  You see, my motivation is no longer only to look good.  (don’t get me wrong, that’s a big part of my motivation)  Now that we are getting older, the shocking realization of our mortality has hit, and Bob and I want to be around for a long, long time.

So we’ll substitute broccoli instead of fries, apples instead of cookies, lean meat instead of pizza, and hopefully, in a couple of months, we’ll celebrate our weight loss success…with a huge bowl of ice cream!!  Just kidding!

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Catching Snowflakes on Your Tongue: One of Life’s Simple Pleasures

After four weeks of festive frivolity, December eventually fades away, leaving January in its wake.  There’s a deep reluctance to spend, a strong desire to diet, and the cruel realization that the days are too short, the sun is scarce, and the bitter cold air bites like a knife.

Then, when all hope seems lost, we wake up one morning to see the landscape transformed by flakes of white powder that now cover nearly every outdoor surface.   This fleeting moment of beauty is made all the more wonderful by one simple fact…it is Saturday.  No need to drag myself out of bed early to shovel the walk and brush off the car so that I can navigate the treacherous roads to work.  I can lie in bed, relax, and enjoy.

Sadly, I know it will not last.  The temperature will slowly inch higher by the few degrees needed to turn fancy white flakes into boring drops of rain.  But until that transition takes place, I look out the window and relish the memory of another winter day, 11 years earlier.

My reaction to the snow on that weekday morning was quite different that the peaceful reaction I feel today.  I had to wake, shower, dress, get my then three year old daughter Melissa up, dressed, and fed.  Then I cleaned off my car, came back inside, and stuffed my little pumpkin into her coat, boots, gloves, hat, and scarf.   Finally, harried, and frustrated, I struggled to get my little girl and all of her winter coverings to fit into the car seat.

We drove to the day care center without incident.  Melissa sat silently in the back seat, watching the snowflakes falling in earnest.  We arrived.  I parked, and anxiously glanced at my watch.  Yes, today, I would certainly be late for work.   I unhooked the car seat and helped her out, and with, perhaps, a bit too much edginess to my voice, encouraged her to move faster. 

We started to walk towards the entrance to the day care center when suddenly, she stopped.  Now what, I thought, again glancing at my watch.  She looked at me, then tilted her head up to look at the snow, and said, “Mommy, I can catch the snowflakes on my tongue.”

I came to a dead stop.  Thoughts of traffic and work and being on time no longer existed in my mind.  Nobody had ever told my beautiful, sweet little girl about the simple pleasure of catching snowflakes on the tongue.  She had figured it out all on her own.   In her innocence, she reminded me that sometimes, life’s most precious moments come at unexpected times, and you have to stop and smell the roses, or in our case, stop and catch the snowflakes, as it were.

I took her hand, looked up at the sky and held out my tongue.  Together, we just stood there, catching snowflakes.  I’m not sure how much time passed, or how many flakes landed in my mouth.  I do know, that once we decided to move on, my daughter’s face, nearly hidden under the hat and scarf, had lit up with delight, and I became much more relaxed, the prospect of being late no longer mattered.

As time goes by, there are so many wonderful moments with Melissa that touch my heart.  Some I will remember, some memories will fade away.  But a snowy January morning, when a three year old girl experienced the simple pleasure of catching snowflakes on her tongue for the very first time, will stay with me forever.


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Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Passion for Potter...Harry That is

Several month ago, I found myself dressed in my best professional red business suit, seated at a round table inside a small conference room at a classic Hilton Hotel in Charlotte, NC.
I quickly noticed the assortment of outlandishly decorated gift bags placed strategically in front of each person in the room.  I wondered what sort of role these bags would play in a meeting about providing home care services to children with physical and developmental disabilities.   I would soon find out.
Our lives are filled with daily interactions, but how well do we really know one another?  The decorated bags would help answer that question.  On the outside of each person’s bag were photos, drawings, buttons, stickers, and assorted memorabilia representing things people already knew.  However, I eagerly waited for my coworkers to spill the contents of the interior of their bags.  For therein revealed classified information that hardly anyone would guess about each person’s life.
I watched with interest as my colleagues described their families, commitment to their faith, volunteer activities, travel, pets, etc.   I wondered, if I had been asked to join this “get to know you” activity, would I have had the courage to admit my…. …. 
Alright.  I’ll use a stronger adjective.
Yes!  My OBSESION with Harry Potter!  
Could I, as a middle aged woman, admit to my colleagues that I am obsessed with a children’s tale.  Would I have the nerve to tell them that I know the spell for summoning objects (accio), the town closest to The Burrow (Ottery St. Catchpole), Hermione Granger’s middle name (Jean), or the best method to destroy a horcrux (a basilisk fang).
          No, probably not.  Good thing I only held the title of spectator, not participant in this little game.  They’d never have to know that I’ve read all seven Harry Potter novels more times than I’ve read new, original material.  They’d never have to know that I log onto Potter websites every day and interact with fans half my age.  They’d never have to know that my secret dream is to join J.K. Rowling for a cup coffee and ask her, “How did you create it all?” 
          But then, something amazing happened!  One of my colleagues, Jessica, pulled out from the depths of her bag a tiny, golden colored ball with wings.  I nearly leapt out of my seat and shouted, “It’s the snitch!  It’s the snitch!” (a small ball used in the game of Quidditch) 
Oh, sorry, I forgot, this is a blog for Muggles. 
(Quidditch is a wizarding sport, too complicated to explain in a short blog, read Sorcerer’s Stone for more details). 
Oh sorry again. 
(Muggles are non-wizarding folks, like you and me)
          But back to the Charlotte Hilton.  As every face in the room turned to look at me, I sunk back into my chair, my face matching the color of my suit. I returned my posture and expression to one of polite interest, and counted the minutes until lunch when I could chat with Jessica, a kindred spirit, a fellow, middle-aged woman with a passion for Potter!
          I have tried to pinpoint the exact moment when my love for all things Potter evolved into an obsession.  The truth is, I’m really not sure. 
          The beautiful, detail-rich story takes the reader on a vivid journey where pages cannot be turned fast enough in an effort to learn Harry’s fate.  Now that I know what happens, I take my time during each subsequent re-reading.  I savor every nuance, every plot twist, every subtle detail that I may have missed during the first, second, or third time that I devoured each page.   I find myself, once again, rooting for Harry, the underdog hero who had leadership thrust upon him; and cheering the virtues of pitting good against evil for the final, breathtaking, suspenseful showdown.
I waited with anticipation for each movie, and patiently stood in the theater ticket line surrounded by a gaggle of teens.  (No, I did not attend the midnight premiers, I am 46 after all - bedtime is 10 pm!)  Perhaps I, like many other Potterholics, suffered so much after the last book ended that we had to cling to every little thing in the Wizarding World.  If there were still more movies to make, then the story really hadn’t ended.  At least that’s what I told myself.
          Now that the final movie has come and gone, there is nothing left to look forward too.  So…….. I’ll open up the pages once again to a fascinating world, created by an ambitious writer, who had an idea, while riding on a train, about an orphan boy, who learns he is a wizard.
And I’ll relive the magic, once again.


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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Skype: Technology for Old Folks

In 1989, theatergoers flocked to the cinema to watch Back to the Future Part II, the continuing saga of Marty McFly as he travels forward in time to save the world once again from an altered future caused by his self-created chaos. 

Midway through the movie, we find Marty at home as a middle aged man, dealing with a rebellious teen, nagging wife and overbearing boss who communicates in real time via a giant screen, leaving his slacking employee nowhere to hide. 

Of course, technology like that only happens in the movies, I thought at the time.  Talking on the phone and actually being able to see the person at the same time. 
Yeah right.

Fast forward 23 years.

A few months ago we rented the Back to the Future series for my 14-year old daughter Melissa.  While she thoroughly enjoyed watching a young Michal J. Fox traipse through time, she did not find the technology surprising at all.  Why, you ask?  I will tell you the answer in one word.


While the concept of carrying on a conversation with someone you can actually see is still quite strange to me, for Melissa, chatting live non-stop with her friends is a normal, everyday occurrence.   In fact, oftentimes there will be two, three, or even four teen girls and boys in little boxes on the computer screen.

I have tried, unsuccessfully, to connect with my friends and family on skype.  I cannot get used to seeing the person on the screen.  Even worse, I cannot get used to seeing myself in the little box in the corner.  Instead of focusing on my friend’s face, I find myself unwittingly focusing on my own.  Is my hair really that straggly?  Are my blemishes really that noticeable?  Do I really look that tired? 
Also, for reasons that befuddle poor Melissa, I mistakenly believe one needs to scream to be heard by the person appearing on the screen.   Not true, Melissa reassures me, but still, the few times I skype, I can’t help but unnaturally raise my voice five decibels.

So when Bob, Melissa, and I prepared to skype with my mother-in-law and assorted aunts, uncles, and cousins, beaming to us live from Raleigh, North Carolina, I knew that I would, again, scream at the screen.  However, I took comfort in watching my relatives also appear completely inept at this newfangled contraption.

“Can they hear us?” says my sister-in-law as a large group appeared crowded together in front of the computer.

“Yes mom, they can hear you,” says my niece in exasperation.

“We can hear you,” I scream.

“You don’t have to scream mom,” says Melissa, also in exasperation.

“I don’t think they can hear us,” says my sister-in-law……again.
“We can hear you!” I scream……..again.

“I can hear them but I don’t think they can hear us,” say my sister-in-law……again.

“Yes, yes, WE CAN HEAR YOU!” I scream……….again.

“I like your new hairdo,” yells my husband Bob to my sister-in-law.

“Guys, you don’t have to scream!” says Melissa………..again.

“What was that you said, something about doop de doo?” says my brother-in-law.

“I LIKE YOUR NEW HAIR DO,” yells Bob……….again.

“Can they hear us?” says my sister-in-law…..again.


I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to skype.  I shudder at the thought of people seeing me in my daily attire, worn out t-shirts and sweat pants.  So, I’ll leave skype for the next generation and I’ll continue to gab away on an old fashioned device where nobody can see you at your worst, that wonderful invention….the telephone!


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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Melissa Sings, Mommy Cries

It doesn’t matter if your child is a sheep in the kindergarten Christmas pageant, or the lead actor in a Tony-award winning Broadway musical, the sense of pride when a mother watches her baby perform is overwhelming!  You just want to grab a microphone, climb to the top of the Empire State Building, and shout to the world, “HEY, THAT’S MY KID!”

Tonight, my 14-year old daughter Melissa took to the stage for the Medford Memorial Middle School Winter Chorus Concert for her first solo performance!  As I watched, fighting back the tears of pride, I journeyed back to her second grade spring concert, when my baby auditioned, and was subsequently denied a solo part.  Every year since then, she has auditioned for solo parts in the school chorus, only to be denied again, and again, and again.  Yet, with each disappointment came a renewed sense of determination to try again, and again, and again.

I watched Melissa grow as a singer, musician, and performer.  In 5th grade she began playing the flute, and even though she joined the band a year later than most of the students, she advanced quickly and became just as good as her classmates who had more experience.  With 6th grade came a transition to a new school, and an ambition to join both the band and the chorus.  In 7th grade, she again joined the band and the chorus, and got into the Memorial Singers, a more advanced chorus charged with bringing more beautiful and difficult arrangements to life.

Band and chorus gave Melissa a deep appreciation for all things musical.  Soon, her father’s 25-year old guitar came out of hiding to find a new life in the hands of a teenager girl determined to learn the chords.  Self-taught lessons via the internet came first, formal guitar lessons came next, and a recital in front of a small group of people followed.  Each audition and each lesson not only helped improve her musical talent, it built her self-esteem and transformed a shy little girl into an expressive young lady, ready for her spotlight at Medford Memorial Middle School.

Melissa sang a solo for a traditional African song called Bonse Aba.  As I watched, nothing else mattered.  The world froze.  All that existed was my daughter, my beautiful daughter, who auditioned year, after year, and worked so hard, to finally show the world (or at least the middle school parents) how far she has come!  
Congratulations Melissa, I love you!


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The Traffic Circle of Doom

Here in New Jersey, we call them “Traffic Circles”.    In other parts of the country they answer to the name of “Rotary”,  and Giselle, our trusty GPS named for a character in the movie Enchanted, calls them round abouts.

However, it doesn’t matter what they are called, if you have not studied and prepped and practiced before entering a traffic circle, well, the results could be horrifying.  And for those poor souls who enter a busy traffic circle for the first time, late at night, in the rain, in a strange city,  (insert sound of terrifying clap of thunder) ….they enter The Traffic Circle of Doom.

The drive to Washington, DC had been unexpectedly uneventful.  We were looking forward to spending the holiday weekend with my step-daughter Jessica. With presents and suit cases tucked carefully in the truck, a fully charged ipad
placed strategically within my 14-year old Melissa’s reach, and plenty of snacks to sustain us during the three hour drive, we happily hit the road.

Now, I should tell you that Bob and I have, what I consider to be a very respectful relationship.  Arguments, which come few and far between, are usually triggered by one of four factors:
1. Being hot
2. Being hungry
3. Getting stuck in traffic
4. Getting lost

Combine one or more of these factors and you’re entering dangerous waters.   Mix all four together and, well, we’d just stuff the divorce attorney in the back seat to save time.

So, getting back to our drive to Washington, DC.  Giselle faithfully guided us over bridges, onto highways, through tunnels, and finally, to the exit that would put us within three seemingly short miles of our final destination.   But first, unbeknown to us, we would have to pass one final obstacle (insert sound track from Jaws)
The Traffic Circle of Doom!

We approached slowly, with caution.  Bob turned the wiper blades to high in an effort to aid visibility, while I tried to decipher the map on Giselle’s screen. 

“Enter round about and take third exit,” came Giselle’s command.

Ok, we can do this, I thought. 

Enter the circle.  So far so good.

Pass one exit.

Alright, we’re  going to make it.

Approach second exit.

Wait.  Why is the car turning?  Giselle said the third exit and it’s only the second exit.            WHY IS THE CAR TURNING?

Ok, stay calm, Bob tells me.  He got confused, innocent mistake.  We’ll merely go around the block and tackle the circle again.

Ha ha.  Around the block.  Seems like such a simple concept.  But no, not in Washington, DC.  Around the block can take another three years in Washington DC, what with 3,000 traffic lights each lasting 10,000 hours, and 50,000 one way streets forcing you to the other side of town just to eventually get you back to…… The Traffic Circle of Doom.

I should pause here in our tale to explain why I nearly lapse into seizures every time I get lost.  Researchers have worked long and hard to unlock the mysteries of a lost person’s mind, but the answer is so simple …….Control, or shall I say, lack of it.  Being lost = Being Out of Control.   When I am out of control all rational thought oozes out of my brain.   Will I be stuck in Washington DC traffic forever, unable to navigate a simple traffic circle?  No, of course not, that’s just silly………YES!  YES I WILL!  I WILL NEVER GET OUT OF THIS CAR!  I WILL NEVER SEE JESSICA!  WE WILL BE STUCK IN THIS TRAFFIC CIRCLE UNTIL THE END OF TIME!

So, as all sense of serenity escaped through every pore in my skin, we turned the corner, turned again, did a zig zag, slipped under a tunnel, loop de looped around a bend and ended up back at The Traffic Circle of Doom.

“Enter round about and take second exit.”

I have no idea why we now had to escape at the second exit instead of the third, but we don’t question Giselle.

Enter the circle.

Hold my breath.

Pass one exit.


Approach the second exit.

Inhale and hold.

Drive past the second exit.  

Giselle said to get off at the second exit!  Why didn’t we get off at the second exit?!


Tears fell in earnest as I became unequivocally convinced I would linger in Washington, DC traffic until the end of time.  After expletives directed at my husband that my daughter should have never heard escaped from my mouth, we finally arrived at our destination.

Bob and I laughed off our little adventure as we handed the keys to Jessica, who willingly took the wheel whenever we needed to drive in DC throughout our weekend stay.

Thank goodness I have a good natured husband with a sense of humor who can forgive me when I erupt from within.  Bob, I love you, but next time we get near a traffic circle, please, I beg of you, let me drive.


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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Hanukkah Fairy

We all know of the famous Christmas tale that begins, “Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Clause.”  Well, my story takes somewhat of a different spin.  You see, four years ago, I finally had to say to my then 10-year old daughter, “No, Melissa, there really isn’t a Hanukah Fairy.”

It all began when my baby girl (now a teenager) still enjoyed the innocence of kindergarten.  As December approached, her classmates chattered endlessly with anticipation, wondering aloud what wonderful presents they would find under their tree Christmas morning, courtesy of their hero, the one and only Santa Claus.  From the perspective of a five year old, not getting a present from Santa just seemed so unfair.  It didn’t matter that her grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, family friends and of course, my husband and I showered her with presents for the eight days of Hanukah.  As one of only a few Jewish children in her class, all that she knew was that her gifts did not come from Santa, and that, in her young mind, made her feel terribly left out.

Sooooo….. I told her she should feel lucky, because we had the Hanukah Fairy.  Ok, I admit, I am not proud of my deception to my five-year old.  However, when her big brown eyes lit up, and her frown faded away, I simply had to perpetuate the myth.  What I didn’t count on were all of the questions.   “Where does the Hanukah Fairy live?”  (at the mall)  “How does she know what I want for Hanukah?”  (I tell her when I go shopping, and she picks out the presents and gives them to me) 

The hardest questions were targeted to my husband, who desperately struggled to elaborate on a lie he didn’t invent!  “Daddy, is the Hanukah Fairy real?” she asked during a quiet moment when the two shared a car ride alone.  “Uh, well, hmmm,” came his eloquent response, as he wiped the sweat off his forehead and secretly cursed me under his breath.   “The Hanukah Fairy is real if you believe it’s real.”

The holiday came and went, with Melissa finally convinced that she was special.  As winter melted into spring, I forgot all about my lie.  When the holiday season approached the following year, I naively thought my little girl would also forget about the Hanukah Fairy.  Alas, t’was not meant to be.  As Hanukah inched closer, not only did Melissa wonder aloud about the many presents the Hanukah Fairy would bring, but she told all of her friends about it, who in turn told their parents, who in turn asked me about this strange part of Hanukah that they had never heard of.  I had to whisper out of earshot of my daughter and explain how and why I made the whole thing up.

As Melissa got older, my husband and I tried very hard to help her understand that, even though we celebrated a different holiday, we shared with everyone the spirit of faith and goodwill that for me, is the best part of the holiday season.  Each year, we “adopted” a family less fortunate, and Melissa always helped pick out gifts for the kids.  On Christmas day,  Melissa made cards out of construction paper and we delivered them to patients in the local hospital where I worked at the time.

We also tried to help her understand the story of Hanukah.  It takes place in ancient times, when the Syrians attacked the Jews, trying to force them to give up their faith.  Although horribly outnumbered, the Jews won the battle, but their Temple was destroyed.  However, amidst the devastation, they found enough oil to burn in a lamp for one day.  Yet, miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, and that is why we celebrate eight days of Hanukah, and light a candle for each day.  Hanukah pays homage to everyone who has fought for the right to worship as they please, to celebrate their heritage, to share their own traditions with their children, and to be proud of who they are.  In short, Hanukah celebrates freedom!


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Monday, January 9, 2012

The Boca Del Vista Home for Sick Dogs

When a new job forced my husband Bob, daughter Melissa and me to leave our comfortable home in central New Jersey and head an hour south to Medford, in the southern part of the state, the promise of a new dog made the transition much easier.  After all, my six-year old had been begging me for a cuddly canine for years.

Melissa soon developed a deep connection with Emily, the Rottweiler mix who willingly left the confines of the animal shelter for the comfort of a single family home in the ‘burbs.  However, as much as she loved the dog, the adjectives I’d use to describe him would not include the word “cuddly”.  Instead, I’d go with loyal, aggressive, anxious, and, unfortunately, terminally ill.

Veterinarian bills notwithstanding, we tried our best to make sure Emily’s last few months were comfortable and happy, while keeping the severity of her condition a secret from our six-year old.  However, the inevitable day eventually came when the only humane decision left for Emily would be to put her down.

To say goodbye to a pet is difficult, to tell an innocent child what must be done is heart wrenching.   With only the knowledge that Emily would seemingly be going to the doctor to get better, she happily boarded the bus for a typical day of first grade activities.  After the bus pulled away, putting our child safely out of earshot, Bob and I coaxed Emily into the car.  Since Bob worked from home and my job involved a 45 minute commute, logic dictated that he take Emily on her last journey to the vet.  I made him promise not to tell Melissa until I got home at 6pm, so that we could sit her down and, with strength in numbers, break the devastating news to her together.

At 3pm, Melissa bounded off the bus into her father’s waiting arms and with excitement and anticipation, asked the question Bob had hoped would wait until I got home.  “Daddy, how is Emily?”

A few minutes later I sat in my office, staring, horror-struck, at the phone. 

“You told her what!?” I exclaimed.

“I told her we sent Emily to the home for sick dogs in Florida,” he quietly confessed.

Sigh.  So much for my carefully planned speech about heaven, forever love and stuff like that.    In her sweet, innocent mind, Melissa now believed her beloved pet would soon recover, thanks to the exceptional care at the home for sick dogs in Florida.

I can’t blame Bob.  He looked into his child’s eyes and did what all parents strive to do from the moment their children enter their lives, protect her from pain.

So, we perpetuated the lie, and endured the strange looks from adults when Melissa told them where Emily now lived.  My mother-in-law, with her wicked sense of humor, dubbed Emily’s new “fictional” residence, The Boca Del Vista Home for Sick Dogs in Florida.

Every few months Melissa would ask about Emily, and soon those months stretched into years.  Finally, when our daughter entered her teen years, Bob and I finally admitted that the home for sick dogs had only existed in our minds.    But, we are all convinced, Emily has lived happily all these years in the home for good dogs in heaven.


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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Mommy, Can I Have a Dog?

For my first official blog, this is a repeat of a story I wrote when my now 14-year old asked for a dog at the age of six.  Although I don't write about it in this first blog, our dog sadly, passed away soon after she entered our life.  I'll write about what happened after she passed in my next blog!

“Mommy, can I have a dog?” 

And so it began. The official start of my 6-year old daughter’s quest for a canine companion. 

Unaware that her seemingly logical attempts to convince me to say yes have been used by thousands of children before her, Melissa tried to appeal to my sense of fairness.

“Mommy, I’ll take care of her, I’ll give her a bath, I’ll feed her, I’ll walk her, I promise,” she proclaimed with confidence.

“Even at 6:00 in the morning in the middle of January when it’s freezing cold outside?” I asked.

“Uh huh”

“Maybe when you’re older,” piped in my husband Bob.

“BUT Daaadddddyyyy, I want a dog now!”

Alas, she is guided by love, not logic, which is not inherently a bad thing.  Sometime I wish that logic did not occupy such a prominent part of my brain, but in this case, my head, not my heart, took hold of the reins.  The reasons for not getting a dog were endless.  Our townhouse was small.  Our cat, who has had a sure and steady rule over the family for nearly 12 years, would certainly not welcome an intruder.  My husband and I both work. We have no yard for the dog to roam free and, contrary to my little girl’s solemn promise to walk the pup at sunrise on winter mornings, I knew full well that the person taking those frigid strolls would be me.

Melissa’s constant begging for a dog eventually subsided, but never entirely went away.  Every few weeks or so, particularly after seeing one of those heart-wrenching “Boy finds dog-boy loses dog, boy finds dog again and lives happily ever after” movies, the pleading would begin anew

“Mommy, I don’t want to wait until I’m 13, I want a dog NOW!”

Repeat anti-dog rationale stated above.

She forgot about the dog during the holidays, which was good since the bombardment of gifts from relatives across the country left little room for anything else in our tiny house.  She forgot about the dog during the month of January, as the winter weather drove her outdoors, immune to the cold, to frolic in the first snow of the season.  She forgot about the dog until that fateful day in February, when my husband and I somehow had to find a way to tell our little girl that we were going to move far away from her school, her friends, her Brownie Troop and all that has been familiar to her.

I picked her up from school that day and drove her home, dreading the moment that she would notice the “For Sale” sign in the bedroom window.  That moment came immediately.

“What’s that sign mommy?”

Before I could answer she wandered into the house, up the stairs and into my husband’s home-office where he scooped her up with his big, strong daddy arms.

“Melissa,” he said.  “When we move, we are going to get you a dog.”

My eyes widened.  My mouth dropped.  I glared at him in silence and thought, how about discussing this with me?!  No luck.  She jumped off his lap with glee and started thinking up names for her future pet.  There was no turning back

Fast forward 6 months.  Finally, after many real estate pitfalls that I’ll save for a future column, we are in our dream home.  “Emily”, lovingly named by the animal shelter workers who cared for her, sits at my feet, happy as can be.  A Rottweiler/Shepard mix (or so they suspect), our new dog had lived for three months at the shelter.  It only took two days for Emily to feel comfortable in her new home.  She’s crazy about us, and the feeling is mutual.  We wonder about her life prior to wandering the streets as a stray.  Her pleasant demeanor and ability to let us know when she has to “go” leads us to believe that her former owner trained her well.  Sadly, our vet tells us the new addition to our family may be further along in her life than originally thought. 

Now, I too, am guided by love.  Giving her back is not an option, she is already a part of our family.  Bob and I decide that Melissa need not know that her dog is old.  “We’ll enjoy her as long as we have her,” said Bob as we watched Melissa play with Emily is the comfortable confines of our large, fenced in back yard.

The two of them run over to us, both out of breath from their fun.  “Mommy,” says Melissa with a smile on her face, “ I love Emily, I want to keep her forever.”

“Me too, Melissa,” I said. “Me too.”
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), millions of dogs and cats are destroyed annually in shelters across the country because there are no homes for them and many of these animals are pure breeds. If you would like to adopt from a shelter and save a life, log on to www.petfinder.com, the ASPCA's online partner.  Their database website accesses approximately 60,000 animals at 5,528 shelters and rescue groups that are available for adoption throughout the United States. You can search this site by breed, sex, age, gender and location.  Petfinder will provide you with a photo and bio on each pet waiting for adoption.


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Welcome to my first blog!  It is after midnight and I'm working hard to prevent my head from dropping onto the keyboard and drifting into a deep sleep with my finger stuck on the key of zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

So for now, this first entry will be short!  But trust me, there will be more to come!
That's all for now!