Sunday, August 26, 2012

My Little American Idol

As the summer of 1975 inched ever closer to September, my parents, brother Steven, sister Bev, and I jammed into the family station wagon and embarked on a three day journey south to that magical place filled with endless wonder....Walt Disney World!    During that first visit, with a ten-year old's eagerness to view the world using nothing but imagination, I fully embraced The Happiest Place on Earth ....and I never let go.

Today, as I unpacked after returning from what was, perhaps, my one millionth visit, I closed my eyes and vividly recalled another little girl, very much like her mother, as she witnessed the magic of Disney for her very first time.

It had been a vacation that almost didn't happen.

Originally booked for May of 2001, my husband Bob's emergency gallbladder surgery forced us to change our plans.   We called the airline and hotel and decided on an arrival date of September 13, 2001, when kids would be back at school and crowds would be minimal.

On September 11, two days prior to leaving, we spared our four-year old daughter Melissa from learning the real reason our trip had been cancelled, told her the pilot had become sick, and grieved with the rest of the nation.

Finally, in January, anxious to escape a brutally cold New Jersey winter, we boarded the plane!

With excitement and anticipation, Bob had set out to guarantee that every moment of Melissa's first visit would be filled with wonder.   That meant ensuring our little princess had the opportunity to meet some "real" princesses like Belle, Ariel, and Cinderella!  Unfortunately, the ever-so-popular Breakfast with the Princesses demanded reservations at least one month in advance, and only a few fortunate souls made the grade.  So, four weeks prior to our departure, Bob awakened as the sun peeked over the horizon, made his way down to the kitchen, dialed Disney reservations on our land line, repeated the same number on his cell, put both phones to each ear, and patiently waited.   His perseverance paid off, as we soon found ourselves seated at a table nestled inside Cinderella's Castle, as the "oh so famous" royalty from Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid fawned over my star-struck offspring.

Fast forward 11 years.

At 15, Melissa has long ago given up the notion that cartoon characters can come to life.  She has, instead, switched loyalties to the real life performers who sing their hearts out each week, hoping against hope to avoid elimination and become the next American Idol.

Full of musical ability, I believe Melissa sees a part of herself in the dreams of each American Idol contestant.  Therefore it came as no surprise when she announced her desire to perform on The American Idol Experience, a signature attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Disney invites guests of all musical abilities to audition, and from the hundreds who seek fame and fortune each day, only 15 are actually chosen to appear during one of five daily performances.  The program mimics the weekly TV program, with three performers per show competing for the coveted title, and a live studio audience made up of Disney guests voting to seal their fate.  The winner then gets a front of the line pass to audition for the real American Idol!

Although she has the world's sweetest voice that often moves me to tears, Melissa's performance experience is minimal.  True, she wowed the crowd with a solo during her middle school chorus concert, (Bob held the video camera, since my heaving sobs made for unsteady hands) yet the prospect of openly displaying her beautiful talents definitely took her out of her comfort zone.  All the more reason to swell with pride at her eagerness to audition.

If she had experienced an onslaught of nerves, she hid those feelings well.

We followed our way through the faux movie sets that frame Disney's Hollywood Studios until we saw the sign: "American Idol Experience: Auditions Here".

The friendly staff extolled a warm greeting on my "star-to-be", and since, at age 15, she still held the status of minor, they allowed her "manager" (me) to join her.  While Bob waited in a coffee shop (only one parent allowed), we walked inside, getting one step closer to my daughter's moment in the sun!

We were ushered into a small room, where two women sat behind a desk in preparation to bestow judgement upon my daughter's musical abilities.  Melissa stood facing them, while I sat in a chair behind her.   Not sure how cut throat this competition could be, I feared the judges would cut her off after five seconds with an insincere THANK YOU THAT WILL BE ALL.

Fortunately, the scenario played out quite differently.

The two women, it turned out, were full of smiles.   In an effort to put Melissa at ease, they asked about her interests, school, musical experience, etc.  Then, still smiling, they encouraged her to sing from the heart....which she did, for a full 45 seconds.

During her performance, and as she held onto that final note, the smiles on the faces of the judges grew only wider.  They complimented her and gave her wonderful, solid advice to enhance her abilities, then  even encouraged her to belt out the song one more time.  Again, the two judges spoke with compassion to my daughter, who now, along with me, thought there might be an inkling of a possibility that she would be chosen as one of the elite few to move onto round two.

Alas, 'twas not meant to be.

The judges presented Melissa with an official "I auditioned for The America Idol Experience" button, which she promptly and proudly attached to her backpack.  We both thanked them for their kindness and, just like that, a mere 15 minutes after we had walked in, the audition had ended.

However, instead of feeling deflated, Melissa seemed energized by the entire experience....and so did I.  I felt extremely grateful to those two judges who surely must see hundreds of people each day, yet managed to find it within them to share their kindness and expert advice with a somewhat shy 15-year old who had the courage to give stardom a shot!

We found Bob and transformed back into theme park goers as we made our way to the Toy Story ride.  Yet, for the remainder of our trip, I noticed Melissa laughed with a bit more ease, walked with a slight spring in her step  and yes, actually glowed with pride.

She had done it!  She had auditioned!  And even though she didn't make it, her willingness to share a piece of herself made us so proud.

Our little Princess had become our American Idol!  The Disney magic lives on.

If you like my stories please feel free to share your comments below!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Seasons of Love

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, a year in the life?

When I first heard these beautiful lyrics on the Broadway stage through the talented actors who starred in RENT, I had no idea that some day, several years later, I would be sitting in a school auditorium, watching my daughter Melissa and her chorus peers reach deep into their hearts and bring these poignant words to life once again....with much more meaning, as they bid farewell to their middle school years.  

How do you measure a year?  A month?  A day?  A moment?  A warm summer's evening?  A setting sun?  A time in your life that will never come again?

Melissa accepted her middle school diploma in June, excitement on her face as she greeted the promise of endless days of summer.  Hours and hours of bright sunshine, unbearable heat that settles deep into the soul, humid evenings with little relief, swimming, biking, and savoring every moment like it just might last forever. does not.

I have often thought of the seasons as a square.  The bottom line, with unending darkness, bone chilling cold, and days wrapped in blankets, represents the long winter months.  My husband Bob, Melissa, and I enjoy cozy evenings together, where favorite TV shows promote family togetherness.   We venture out on weekends to break the monotony, wishing for warmer weather, yet enjoying our time together.

As the line on the right of the square climbs upward, the days grow longer and spring brings the world back to life.  Saturdays feature soccer games, where April's warm jackets give way to shorts and T's by June's end.  We drink in the beauty of crisp, fresh air, blue skies, blooming flowers of every size and color, spring chorus concerts, trips to the city, birthdays, holidays, and waning school days.

The top line starts with the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, when we can still see wisps of sunlight as late as 9 pm.

By the middle of August, we begin to notice an ever so slight difference in the sure and steady sunset.  Yes, the heat and humidity are still ever present, however, a glance at the summer sky at 7:30 pm now reveals darkness where two months ago, daylight once stood.

We try to hold back these moments, but the slightly shorter days are there to warn us, to remind us, to ensure us that in only a few short weeks, summer will inevitably give way to the final line on the square.  This line spirals downward, as we dust off sweatshirts and jackets, readjust to school routines,   purchase pumpkins and pies, spend endless hours at the mall in search of the perfect gift, and reaffirm our love for family and friends as the holiday season rushes in with open and welcome arms.

Each time of year brings with it unexpected joy.  For even when we long for the next line on the square, we are always together as a family, living, sharing, and loving every moment...every season of love.

If you like my stories, please tell me in the comments below.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Best Friends and Bees

My best friend Fern and I have spent the majority of the summer communicating via short, misspelled texts. (I have not yet mastered this new technology, as my 15-year old daughter Melissa will attest.)

Although Fern and I live a mere 15 minutes from each other by car, spending time together is a far and few between luxury.   Certain obstacles get in the way of a get together, including, but not limited too:

1. Our jobs
2. Our kids
3. Our husbands
4. Our laundry
5. You get the idea

Finally last Monday, with Fern's daughter tucked away at the sea shore, and Melissa spending a week with my inherited daughter Jessica, we realized that, although we'd be abandoning our husbands, we could actually spend a couple of hours together.

I glanced at the clock every few minutes at work, looking forward to day's end and the start of my time with my BFF.  After changing out of the dreaded work dress and pumps, I wolfed down a quick dinner with my husband Bob and ran out the door.  Upon entering my car, I glanced left, then right.  A veritable  trash dump greeted my gaze, and, although I knew Fern wouldn't mind, I just couldn't let my her sit amid half full water bottles, an empty can of soda, tissues, napkins, expired magazines, rubber bands, gum wrappers, a broken umbrella, a blanket, a pillow, and a bag full of CD that are now obsolete since we've embraced the iPod.

I paused before starting the car and set to work making the passenger seat presentable for my dear, best friend.  Several trips to the trash can later, I settled comfortably in my seat, and, feeling a sense of accomplishment, turned the key into the ignition.

However, unbeknownst to me, while I was cleaning the car, someone....or should I say....something had decided to join me for the ride.

(Cue theme from jaws)

No sooner had I turned out of my driveway into the street did I hear a soft, yet ominous buzzing sound.  I glanced around for the source of the noise, and discovered to my horror the WORLD'S LARGEST BEE sitting comfortably on my windshield!

"Maybe it's on the outside," came my immediate wishful thinking!

No such luck!

At this point, I realized I needed to stay calm, keep both hands on the wheel and behave in  a mature, rational manner so that I did not end up as video footage on the 11 pm news.

"Our top story tonight, a horrific accident occurred in New Jersey earlier this evening.  Authorities are reporting that the driver, Lisa Weinstein, lost control of the car while trying to kill a bee."

Soooooo - I let out a blood curdling scream, swerved my car onto a patch of grass of the side of the road, came to an abrupt halt, threw open the door and begging my uninvited guest to leave, which, gratefully, it did.

The only positive side to the ENCOUNTER WITH THE BEE, was I knew I'd have a great story to share with Fern, which is exactly what I did an hour later as the two of us sat on a park bench savoring a huge cup of ice cream (there are no calories when you eat ice cream with your best friend).

We talked about the shared joy of our daily dealings with our delightful teen daughters.(For my readers  who do not have teen daughters, please note that this sentence is dripping with sarcasm, since teen daughters were born with a genetic disposition to think their mothers are morons.)  We talked of our husbands, our jobs, our finances, our dreams, our memories, our regrets, and our love for each other and our 40 year old friendship.

Fern came into my life in the first grade.  I'm not sure if she invited me to her house first, or if I had extended the initial invitation, however, we fast became best friends.   As the elementary years passed, hopscotch and bike rides gave way to walks to the corner drug store to buy the latest movie magazines.  Middle school found us in different classes, and new friends temporarily filled the gap.  When high school came along, Fern chose to remain in our school close to home, while I chose a school across town.  The friendship could have ended there...but the gods had other plans.

We "discovered" each other once again during out first year of college and immediately picked up where we left off.  Of course, our priorities had changed slightly, to now include boys and boys and boys and boys and boys, oh, and did I mention....boys.  Of course, we also had to discuss parties, and our classes, which both included boys!

Graduation came and went, along with lamenting about job interviews and resumes, and nasty bosses, and shopping for work clothes, and searching for husbands.  Then came weddings, and pregnancies, and babies, and health issues, and new jobs, and lost jobs, and a painful divorce, and a wonderful new husband, and step-children.  We have shared secrets and laughter, screamed and cried, argued and made up, and, through it all, have never wavered in our status as best friends.

So last Monday, as I recounted the tale of the killer bee and we enjoyed the simplicity of a summer evening eating ice cream, I relished every moment with her and I knew, 40 years later, we'd probably be complaining about our grand kids, still eating ice cream, and reminiscing about killer bees!

If you like my stories please feel free to tell me in the comments below!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Introducing Cindy Brown - My First Guest Post!

Hi there, one of the best things about blogging has been the opportunity to meet so many of my fellow bloggers.  Today I am pleased to present my first guest post, presented by my friend, fellow blogger, and brilliant writer Cindy Borwn - who has a wickedly funny blog called Everyday Underwear.  Cindy's blog was recently syndicated by Blog Her!

Cindy Brown is a middle-aged (if she lives to be 84) midwestern mom of two girls and a wife to a wonderful husband.  She has many animals, including her beloved Great Pyrenees dogs and (tolerates) her kids' mini-weenie and her husband's bees.  Cindy started her freelance writing career last year and began her humor blog in November of last year.  Follow Cindy on Twitter at or enjoy her Facebook Page at Cindy's goal is to pass out funny bones to all of the needy and humor impaired inhabitants of earth (and other planets when the World Wide Web becomes the Interplanetary Web).

Messing with my Laundry is Grounds for Justifiable Homicide

I may not be the best housekeeper, have a Mother of the Year award on my mantel, or do Betty Crocker any justice whatsoever, but there are certain things you don’t mess with in my house.
Laundry is the number one thing I wish to murder my children over. I’m not kidding. Okay, maybe I am, but I have honestly gotten so mad at them over messing with my laundry that I’ve wondered how bad a prison sentence could really be.

They must not realize how hard I labor over laundry. It’s a huge challenge to get the laundry to the laundry room in the first place. They reside upstairs. I don’t like to go up there unless there’s a very good reason, like uncontrollable crying and/or screaming or perhaps an unusually loud and inexplicable thud. It’s scary and disappointing up there. There is immaturity beyond comprehension and mess beyond understanding up there. There are monsters up there.

Someday, my children will grow up and move out. THEN, I might go upstairs. But until that time comes, I rely on them to bring the laundry down to me, with occasional spot-checking for moldy towels or to help pull items from the depths of their closet that they’re sure are lost and gone forever. They are usually wrong and I’m happy to prove it.

One of my laundry frustrations is when I ask them fifty times to bring the dirty laundry down and they say, “okay” a thousand times and throw a few items down the stairs and make me think it’s all down here. I do all the laundry and feel very proud of myself and then WHAM! They bring down the mother lode and I have to start all over again. “Where did that come from?” They don’t know. They never know. Grrrr!

The process:
1)      Get it downstairs (and from every other conceivable corner in the house)
2)      Sort
3)      Wash
4)      Dry
5)      Sort again/lay in very neat piles
6)      Deliver to designated areas
7)      Put away
8)      Start over
9)      Do it again
10)   Repeat ad nauseam
11)   Kill anyone who makes process harder

After the step one frustration, my children make this process harder before step three and after steps five and six. Before step three (wash), they enter the laundry room and ransack the baskets looking for an article of clothing to wear, even if it’s dirty and stinky. They rarely find the article of clothing they’re searching for, leave the contents of the basket all over the floor – sometimes multiple baskets’ contents are left on the floor -- and I have to do a complete re-sort. I want to kill them.

After step five, they will come down and ransack the clean piles of sorted laundry in search of an article of clothing to wear, leave the entire pile right there where they found it instead of taking it upstairs to put it away, and they leave the pile in horrible disarray, thus wrinkling and upsetting my very neatly made stacks. I am past wanting to murder them at that point. By then, I am thinking, “How can I conceal the dismembered bodies and where will I say they have gone?”

After step six (deliver to designated areas), they will fail to do as they are told, “Stop what you’re doing right now and put these away,” and they will leave some or all of the clothes on their bed, where they get slept on, knocked off, and re-deposited into the dirty laundry. Clean, wrinkled, and smelly from hanging out with actual dirty laundry. So, I have to wash it again.

How many years do they give for manslaughter? 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

(I dedicate this blog post to all of the breast cancer survivors out there, and the people who love them!)

The Mammogram

The sheet of paper practically burned a hole through my pocketbook.  My gynecologist had presented the "oh so important" prescription to me two months ago upon completion of my annual exam, encouraging me to make the call.  In response to her heart-felt plea, I shoved the prescription in a secret purse compartment, irresponsibly procrastinating, while neglecting my own health.

Although yes, I knew I needed to make the call, for some reason, I abstained from running to the phone. After all, the experience of having your "well-endowed" private parts squeezed so tightly between two metal plates that you are rendered unable to inhale even the tiniest breath did not appeal to my sense of urgency.

Finally, during a productive afternoon of scheduling a pediatrician appointment for my 15-year old daughter Melissa and dentist appointments for my husband Bob and me, I decided to take advantage of my sudden willingness to embrace the health care system and I MADE THE CALL.

Two weeks later I found myself in the Women's Imaging Center, undressing in the small, but comfortable and well appointed dressing room, and waiting for the radiology tech to come in and squeeze the crap out of my boobs perform this important diagnostic screening test.

With a sense of compassion that can only come from working with "endowments" of all shapes and sizes day in and day out, the sweet radiology tech twisted my private parts this way and that and pushed and pressed and shoved and squeezed until finally, she seemed satisfied.

"Now don't move," she cautioned as she went behind a protective barrier and pressed a button.

I thought about my current inability to breath, and my "endowments" that were currently being held hostage by this sophisticated piece of machinery and I wondered, "Just where did she think I was going to go?"

I held my breath, listened for the reassuring whirring sound and then the beep that told me when the machine had finished performing its magic.  Finally, she set my "endowments" free and I breathed a sigh of relief.

She happily told me the exam had come to its conclusion, I could get out of jail, pass go, collect $200, go home, relax, and soothe my tender boobs.  If the magical machine spotted a suspicious spot, I'd get a call from my gynecologist.  If not, see ya next year!

Or so I thought.

Two days later, Bob called me at work, a sense of controlled concern in his voice.  The Women's Imaging Center had called.  Seems there were, what they called, technical problems with my mammogram....I needed to go back and get squished have the important diagnostic screening test again.

I called the Women's Imaging Center where the scheduler tried to reassure me that the reason for my return had nothing to do with the medical results, but rather, a technical problem.   Still, I worried and wondered....what did that mean?  Perhaps the nice lady who scheduled this follow up mammogram really knew something about my results.  Perhaps she lied about there being a simple technical problem just so I wouldn't panic!  Perhaps I had reason to worry!  Perhaps I needed to speak to someone who could realign my brain into rational thought.  Not Bob, he'd be worried too.   I needed a kindred spirit, another woman who knew, who understood, who cared.

This compassion came in the form of a co-worker who reassured me that it would be highly unethical for a scheduler to lie to me about the reason for a follow up mammogram.  What's more, surely if the problem has been medical, I would have heard this news from my doctor.

Her kind words kept my panic at bay, for I knew she must be right.  I scheduled the follow up for a Friday during my lunch hour, since the scheduler told me I'd be in and out in no time at big deal.

Yeah, right.

As Friday dawned, I tried to forget about the lunch time appointment, but all too soon, the noon hour rolled around.  I drove to the Women's Imaging Center, gave the appointment desk my name, dutifully followed the instructions to take a seat, and waited....and waited....and waited.....and waited.

So much for being finished in no time at all.

Finally I made my way back to the registration desk and kindly explained my predicament.  My lunch hour would soon come to a close, and I was nowhere closer to learning my fate than I had been an hour earlier.

My sense of urgency came through loud and clear, for a few minutes later, I again walked into the dressing room, placed the "fashionable" gown over my body, and entered the exam room.  At this point I learned that during my first mammogram two days earlier, despite being held hostage, I had actually managed to move, rendered the images impossible to read.  My left "endowment" would pay for this transgression.  Oh yes, that would be the last time my left "endowment" would ever dare to move during a mammogram.

Here we go again.

Push.  Pull. Twist. Turn. Inhale. Freeze. Squeeze. Whir. Beep. Breathe!

Freedom at last!  Or so I thought.  According to the radiology tech, the doctor wanted me to wait while he read the images.   I could not taste the sweet smell of freedom until this mysterious physician gave me the all clear.

I called my office.  No Friday afternoon work for me.

After a few minutes of perusing the latest issue of People Magazine (Poor Suri Cruise, who will get custody?) the radiology tech came over to me and said, "Let's talk privately."

As we walked into a small room, my head filled with irrational details:

"Where will I get treated?"
"Will I need surgery?"
"Will I need radiation?"
"Will I need chemo?"
"Will we still be able to go on vacation?"
"How much disability am I entitled to from work?"

"They saw something on your left breast," the tech said from what seemed like miles away.  "It's probably nothing, just some breast tissue, but the radiologist wants to get another image just to be sure.  Are you able to stay a few minutes longer."

I nodded in the affirmative.

Here we go.  Again.

Push.  Pull. Twist. Turn. Inhale. Freeze. Squeeze. Whir. Beep. Breathe!

I returned to the waiting room and finished my story on the poor little Suri Cruise, however, my brain truly failed to comprehend the words.  A few minutes later the radiology tech returned.

Now the mysterious doctor wanted an ultrasound of my left breast.

My thoughts went into overdrive.

"How big is the tumor?"
"Has it spread?"
"How much time do I have"
"I wonder who will come to my funeral?"

At least the only discomfort that accompanied this test came from a bit of a cold feeling when the tech smothered my left "endowment" with gel.  A few minutes later, she told me to wait while she showed the image to the radiologist, who I now imagined as the secret wizard behind the curtain, conjuring up a magic spell to take Dorothy home.  Perhaps if I clicked my own heels three times, this nightmare would come to an end.

After a few minutes (or several hours, depending upon your perspective) the tech returned.

 "Get dressed, go home, everything is fine, see you next year."

I ran out the door and home to my husband, who shared my sigh of relief.

Despite my reluctance to get a mammogram, I cannot stress enough how important it is in the diagnosis of breast cancer at its earliest stages, when there is the best chance for successful treatment.  I encourage you to click on this link to read cancer screening guidelines from the American Cancer Society.

If you like my stories, please feel free to tell me in the comments section below!