Sunday, November 25, 2012

Operation Duck Rescue

Eight years ago, thanks to the prospect of a new job, a "For Sale" sign went up on the front lawn of our small town house and we soon found ourselves two hours to the south, riding in the back seat of our realtor's minivan, being "chauffeured" from one flawed home to another, trying to find the perfect fit.

Weekend after weekend, that minivan created well-worn tracks in our soon-to-be South Jersey neighborhood, as my husband Bob and I rejected each potential place to lay down our roots.  

Too expensive.  Too old.  Too big.  Too small.  Too many trees.  Not enough trees.  

The list went on.

Finally, Bob and I noticed the brightly colored balloons inviting prospective home owners to check out a single family home on an extremely busy main road.  As we parked the car, I watched the heavy traffic fly past this house at speeds upward of 50 miles per hour.  Is this where I wanted my 6-year old daughter Melissa to grow up?  In fear of her going outside and running straight into oncoming traffic?  


Today I sit in the living room of the very house I refused to consider, thinking about the two reasons why I changed my mind.

1. The kitchen.  Large, open, bright, and airy, this beautiful room beckoned with promises of future, fun-filled family dinners full of love and laughter.

2. The back yard.  Bob and I walked through the sliding glass doors in the kitchen into a back yard utopia.  A finely crafted deck gave way to a classic, kidney shaped, in-ground swimming pool, complete with diving board and slide.  What's more, one merely had to look out past the hedges to view the  beauty of a crystal clear, glistening lake which took its place amid the peaceful landscape of a professional, 18-hole golf course.  The busy, outside world that plagued the front door of this property disappeared when setting foot in the back.   

Bob and I made an offer that same day!

While Melissa took delight in a swimming pool to call her own, for her parents, the thrill quickly began to wane.  The pool, we learned all too soon, could be described as a relic.  Built over 40 years ago, its outdated filter system resulted in hours of backbreaking work to keep the water clean.  To make matters worse, it nearly required a second mortgage to cover the cost of its upkeep.  Since Bob and I worked full-time jobs and Melissa spent the long summer days at a local camp, we figured the few times we actually splashed around in the water cost us at least $200 per dip.  After two summers, we surrendered to our wallets.

Melissa watched in horror as a thick blue tarp, anchored on all sides by a dozen heavy bricks, permanently covered her very own watering hole.  As the months passed, the tarp began to sag, allowing the formation of a rain-filled mini-lake on top of our pool, which played host to an assortment of frogs guessed it, ducks!

The following summer, we sat in our cozy kitchen, enjoying breakfast with my mother-in-law Pearl, who had traveled from North Carolina.   Suddenly, Melissa glanced out the back door and noticed a rather large duck sitting motionless on the edge of the pool.  We watched with curiosity, waiting for this feathered water fowl to do something, anything.  But still she sat, and sat, and sat.

Finally, by lunch time, curiosity got the better of us.  Melissa, Bob, Pearl, and I slowly opened the back door and cautiously crept towards the duck, taking care not to startle the poor thing.  Our efforts at stealth were for naught, for the duck ignored our steady approach and still refused to show any signs of movement.  As we inched ever closer to the edge of the pool, we soon learned the reason for her vigil.

Our eyes feasted on four tiny, yellow, fluffy, baby ducklings splashing innocently in the mini-lake.  Too young to master the art of flying, the ducklings had no way to get out.  Their mother sat helpless, watching her babies.

They were trapped.

The four of us looked at each, and unspoken meaning passed between us.

It was time to put Operation Duck Rescue into action.

My first thought led to the garage where we had stored the pool equipment, including a net attached to a long pole, generally used to remove leaves and other type of clutter from the pool water.  Perhaps we could scoop up the ducklings in the net?

However, after further discussion, that idea was deemed too risky, as mommy duck might misinterpret our good intentions as an attack on her youngsters.

Thankfully, my brilliant Melissa came up with Plan B.  Coax the ducklings to the pool's stairs and have them hop right on out of their lair.  Of course, this meant removing a portion of the tarp so that the duckling could get access to the stairs.  Unfortunately, removing the tarp also required  moving the 3,974 pound bricks that anchored it in place.

The four of us got to work.

After several minutes and lots of sweat, we pulled back the tarp to reveal the four steps that allowed entry into, or in this case, exit out of the pool.  Instinctively, mommy duck correctly interpreted our good intentions.  She jumped back into the mini-lake to guide her offspring out of the pool.

We watched in quiet fascination as the four ducklings gathered in a single file line and followed their mother to the stairs, where their exit sat ready and waiting.  We watched in quiet fascination as mommy duck hopped skillfully onto step number one, step number two, step number three, step number four, and out onto solid ground.

Uh oh.

The steps were too high.  Try as they may, the babies just could not hop as well as their mother, who now realized that the plan had failed and jumped back into the pool.

Time for Plan C.

We needed to put something on top of each step so that the babies didn't have to jump so high to reach their goal.  

The Bricks!

Once again, the four of us heaved four, 3,974 pound concrete blocks onto each step, wiped the sweat from our brow, watched, and waited.

Once again, mommy duck understood our intentions, and once again, she led her brood across the water to the steps.  With fingers crossed, this time we prayed our exit strategy would, indeed, be successful.

Mommy duck hopped onto step number one, and baby duckling number one followed.

Mommy duck hopped onto steps two, three, four, and out, while, baby duckling number one followed.

Hooray!  We could now celebrate the escape of at least one of our new found feathered friends.

But wait.

Baby ducklings two, three, and four were still struggling to get from step one to step two.  Mommy duck, seeing them in distress, jumped back into the pool.......aaannnndddd, baby duckling number one instinctively followed.

Four ducklings were still in the pool.  We were back to square one.

Unable to devise a brilliant Plan D, we simply watched, and waited.

Mommy duck again hopped from step to step with ease, as her offspring struggled to emulate her skillful moves.  We held our breath as each duckling fought their way from step to step, some making it to new heights, while others reaching a milestone only to fall backwards to their starting point.  Finally, after what seemed like hours, all four of our feathered friends now stood on solid ground!

Mission Accomplished!

We watched once again in quiet fascination as the four ducklings fell into place in a single file line behind their mother, who led them out of the back gate, onto the golf course, and towards the glistening lake which beckoned them home. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Due to a very busy week, I didn't get a chance to write a new blog post this week.  So, for your entertainment pleasure, I am rerunning a post from last April!  Enjoy!

Off to The Mall…I Better Bring My Ear Plugs

I need to return a pair of jeans for my 14-year old daughter Melissa, who refused to try them on when we were in the actual store and insisted on buying them and bringing them home.

“It’s no big deal mom,” she reasoned. “If they don’t fit we’ll just return them.”

No big deal for her maybe, she’s not the one who has to make another trip during her precious and limited work lunch hour to the “Land of Wonder for Teenage Girls”. Or, as the old folks call it, “The Mall”.

I set foot inside “The Land of Wonder” and search the directory for a particular business establishment we’ll refer to as the “We’re Going to Encourage Teenage Girls to Use all of Their Senses in Their Decision to Purchase our Clothing” store.

Well, that is quite a long name. Let’s give it another alias. Hey, I know, how about: “The Store”. Yes, that has a nice ring to it.

The directory reveals a long list of shops dedicated to selling skimpy, tiny, small, and revealing shirts and jeans for their eager target market, namely, skimpy, tiny, small, and revealing teenage girls. I find “The Store” on the directory, but soon realize that the map really is not necessary, for I can smell “The Store” from three football fields away. My nose is greeted with a nauseating mix of perfume and suntan lotion which grows stronger the closer I get, while my ears are greeted with the  “soothing” sounds of hip hop loud enough to please teenagers in "The Store", the mall, across the street, in the next state, throughout the country, in China, Australia, etc…

Outside “The Store”, two soft, cozy armchairs beckon potential shoppers to sit and relax, take in the nauseating fragrance, and listen to the “soothing” hip hop music.

I walk into “The Store” and I am immediately greeted by a salesgirl who looks like a recent kindergarten graduate.

“Hi, we __ hav__ a _sale if you buy __ you __ one __for half _ _ per __.”

 “CAN YOU REPEAT THAT!” I shout over the din of the hip hop tunes.

 “You can get ___ off __ of shirts and __ yes __thank __ so __need ___ help__ percent__ tomorrow__ok?”


 “We are hav__ a __new __yes__today__jeans___tomor___ right? ___help ___see___ok?”

 I give up.

I make my way to the register where the 12 year old manager is waiting on another aggravated looking mom and her excited teen. When it is my turn, I shout, “I NEED TO RETURN THESE JEANS!”

“Would _ like ___ put____store____American____credit___you?”


 “Will this___be___your___express____store____thank__?”

By using an unknown ability to lip read, I manage to discern that he is asking if I want to put the refund on my credit card or if I want store credit.


Credit card = money for me

Store credit = clothes for Melissa

I choose me.

As he is pushing the beeping buttons on the register, I am overcome by a sudden desire to speak my mind.


My mini-tirade is met with a blank stare.


 He hands me back my credit card and I hustle out of the store, barely noticing that the kindergartener is saying, “Thank_ come__ two__ percent ___ see___ sale___tomorrow___ notice___you___bye.”

I rush back through the mall, longing to go into that bastion of fun for old fuddy duddy dames like me, “The Department Store”. But alas, my journey into “The Store” has taken all of my time. I must get back to work. Shopping for professional garb would have to wait.

Later that evening, Melissa grills me.

“Did you return my jeans?”

“Yes, I did,” I reply.

“Oh, thanks mom.” Pause. Pause. “Y’know, I still need to get new jeans. Can we go back to the mall on Saturday?”

“Only if you let me take some time to shop for shoes,” I demand.

She rolls her eyes and begrudgingly agrees.


Another trip to “The Store”.

I’d better get my ear plugs now.

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

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Fat Lip

Preteen girls tend to lack somewhat in the areas of judgement and rational thinking.  That could be why, at the tender age of nine, my friend and I walked her bike up to the top of a very large hill, she jumped on the seat while I positioned my rear on the handle bars......and down, down, down we flew.

Needless to say, within mere moments, I found myself flat on my face on the hard concrete pavement.  The fat lip that ensued lasted more than a week's time.  I refused to go outside.  I refused to go to school.  Heck, I even refused to leave my room.

Of course, as the cliched saying goes, time heals all wounds.   And in fact my lip did, eventually return to normal size.  However, little did I realize how forceful the impact of my "biking accident" was until 37 years after that traumatic event.

Cut to last Friday evening as I made my way home after a long, long week.  Most Fridays usually find me in quite the good mood, excited to leave my work world behind and embrace the relaxing, welcoming, open arms of the weekend.  Not so this time.  If I could use one adjective to describe myself during that short journey home, I'd use the word "exhausted".   The sore throat I had nursed all week had taken its toll, draining my energy and ability to focus.  What's more, incessant pain in my jaw served as a reminder of the recent dental work I had suffered through a few days earlier.   That, coupled with relentless worry about a dear friend going through a tough time, all added up to a burning desire to pour a huge glass of wine, crawl into the bathtub, and escape for a while.

As I steered my car along the well-worn road to home, another minor ailment reared its ugly head, my chapped lips.  With my cherry flavored lip balm therapy safely out of reach inside my pocketbook, which sat on the passenger seat floor, I absentmindedly began picking at my lips until....


I now had a self-inflicted wound to add to my woes.

When I arrived home, I pushed aside the welcoming hug from my husband Bob and 15-year old daughter Melissa, ran to the bathroom and looked in the mirror in terror, afraid of what I might see.  A tiny bit of swelling had already started where I had picked at the skin on my lip, however I convinced myself that nobody would ever notice.  What's more, Bob and Melissa also assured me that the sore spot could barely be seen and I should certainly stop worrying.

Their reassurance, however, did nothing from stopping me from running into the bathroom every ten minutes to watch in horror as my bottom lip swelled to 3,000 times its normal size.   As I emerged from the bathroom nearly in tears, my family could no longer pretend I did not resemble a circus freak....however they assured me the swelling would go down in the morning, and nobody would ever notice.

Later that evening I sat in bed, held an ice pack on my lip, and stared off into space.  Melissa came in and, seeing me in my pathetic state, gave me hug after hug, trying to relieve my depression.  Her support, while appreciated, did nothing to deter my feelings of utter frustration at my own actions.  True, this time around I must admit the fat lip did not come as a result of an attempted acrobatic cycling feat....but still, I felt just as responsible as I did on that fateful autumn day, 37 years ago when I landed flat on my face.

Suddenly, I was no longer a 47 year old working wife and mother.

I was nine years old again, falling off the handle bars, and feeling the punishing pain of stupidity in action.

I was nine years old again, with a grotesque fat lip and feeling like a freak.

I was nine years old again, afraid to come out of my bedroom, full of the insecurities that grip young girls who question their beauty, their value, and their place in the world.

I was nine years old again, longing for normalcy, stability, and love.

As morning dawned, I stumbled out of bed and, with fear in my heart, stole a quick glance in the mirror.  The swelling had, indeed, subsided a bit, at least to the point where lipstick could hide the abnormality (an advantage I lacked at the age of nine).  Both Bob and Melissa lovingly lied, again assuring me they couldn't see it at all.   In fact, by day's end, the lip had nearly returned to some semblance of normalcy.

I relished in the love of my family, who instinctively knew all the right things to say and do to make me feel whole again.  As I emerged from my bedroom, I bid farewell to the nine year old girl who returned to her rightful place, buried in memories.

As for me, I vow to never, ever pick my lips again.........or ride on bicycle handlebars!

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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Surviving Sandy

I like hurricanes.

Wait.  Please allow me to rephrase that.

I am completely fascinated by nature's ability to combine a series of seemingly random, yet complex weather events that come together to unleash incredibly powerful forces that define...and, in some cases...even destroy our precious landscape.

We can predict storms, prepare for storms, calculate, coordinate, and evacuate ahead of storms.  However, we simply cannot, try as we may, control their path, their intensity, their fizzle, or their fury.

Therefore, when television stations and newspapers alike blared their resounding warning of the approach of "Superstorm Sandy", I positioned myself in front of The Weather Channel and drifted into a hypnotic trance as the forecasters described my impending doom.

My husband Bob, on the other hand, had more important things to worry about, such as having enough food and battery powered flashlights to get us through the blackout that news outlets were predicting would grip half the civilized world.  So, on Friday evening, he and my 15-year old daughter Melissa (along with every other resident living within a 4,000 miles radius) descended upon the supermarket.

On Saturday, we enlisted the support of "rent-a-teen" (my friend Angelica's sons Chris, 16 and Brandon, 13) to clear out the roughly 7,924 cardboard boxes that littered the floor of our garage so that we could safely house our new car during the storm.

By Sunday evening,  I gathered all of our candles, lighters, and flashlights, placed them on the kitchen table, then resumed my hypnotic Weather Channel trance.

Schools throughout the state announced closures, my supervisor urged everyone to stay home, government agencies declared a state of emergency, and at the Weinstein household, we watched and watched and watched....and waited.

As Monday morning dawned, we expected to awaken to scenes of total destruction, however, Sandy had not yet "officially" arrived to our neck of the woods.  Light rain showers and a steady breeze greeted the residents of Medford, but for the coastal communities of the New Jersey shore located about 60 miles to the east, the break of day told a different story.  With Sandy still dozens of miles away, beach towns were already coping with unprecedented flooding that promised only to grow worse by the hour.

I decided to do case we lost power.  Bob decided to get as much work done on his computer as case we lost power.  We decided to cook dinner early.... in case we lost power.  

As the day wore on and the rain and wind picked up in intensity, our little family began to feel a small sense of relief.  Our house and the trees that surrounded it remained intact.  We sat in the living room, watching TV (yes, you guessed it, The Weather Channel), joking, laughing, and coming to the conclusion that Sandy must have been nothing but hype.

Then suddenly....the lights flickered. 

But wait!  False alarm.  Light returned in five seconds.

Ten minutes later....the lights flickered.

But wait!  Another false alarm.  Light returned in five seconds.

Five minutes later...the lights flickered.  However, this time the lights did not return.

By the time the sun set, our house had been plunged into...................TOTAL DARKNESS.

Melissa and I lit the candles and grabbed the flashlights, while I prepared our family for the mandatory evening blackout activity, a game of monopoly.  As Melissa proceeded to purchase all of the valuable properties and take all of my "fake" money, mother and daughter ignored Bob's warning to conserve our cell phone batteries and gave in to the urge to text repeated updates, jokes, recipes, the complete works of William Shakespeare, etc to friends and family. 

After we tired of Monopoly, Melissa picked up her guitar and mother and daughter sang our hearts out to Beatles tunes, Taylor Swift, and Green Day, while Bob bestowed upon us appreciative applause.  Finally, by 10 pm, as power seemed unlikely to ever return, we conceded defeat, piled the bed with dozens of covers, and tucked in for a long, rainy, windy night.

By morning, an eerie silence told us the storm had moved on.  Devoid of the electricity needed for warmth, the house temperature had plunged below 60 degrees.  I texted Angelica, who responded immediately with an invitation to spend the day at her warm and well lit home.  She sealed the deal with a promise of home made pumpkin pancakes for breakfast. 

A few hours later, I found myself once again staring at a monopoly board, although this time I had to contend with not only Melissa, but Angelica, Chris, and Brandon as my worthy opponents.  (Bob, who abhors board games, remained content to watch TV).  Amid much laughter, when we had all made it around the board a mere three or four times, we cleared the table to make room for spaghetti with Angelica's home made sauce (yum), while Chris and Melissa both insisted they had won the game.

After lunch and a quick walk in the drizzle, Chris challenged us to a game of Scrabble.  However, he didn't get the chance to prove he could indeed, beat anybody at the game, since Bob realized he had forgotten his medicine...forcing us to return to our cold, dark, gloomy home.

Obviously, without light or energy to power the stove and microwave, a home-cooked meal remained out of the question.  As we munched salads at a local diner, we pondered our next move.  The temperature promised to dip into the 40s that evening, making sleeping at home quite an unwelcome prospect.  Melissa's best friend came through with the offer of a mid-week sleepover, while Angelica begged Bob and me to come back, even promising to give up her bed so we could sleep in comfort.

We stopped back to the house of gloom so Melissa and I could pack overnight bags.  Bob, on the other hand, decided to spend the next several hours secure on our living room sofa, clad in a winter coat, hat, and thousands of blankets.

As Melissa and I used our only two flashlights to scan our closets for clothes to pack, Bob groped in the pitch black that had enveloped our kitchen, tripped and accidentally spilled his coffee, which now covered the entire table, dripped onto the chairs, and began its sinister spread across the kitchen floor.

In response to his screams of horror, Melissa and I raced downstairs, only to find my poor husband at his "Hurricane Sandy Blackout" breaking point.  We grabbed paper towels and began cleaning the mess, while he tried to cope with his feelings of utter frustration at our predicament.  Clearly, the time had come to simply leave Bob alone.

A few hours later I found myself in Angelica's comfy living room, watching TV, sipping wine and laughing as her boys hit each other with rubber bands, balls, rolled up bits of paper, candy bars, etc.  Having raised a sweet, calm teenage daughter, I found Chris and Brandon endearing and funny....adjectives that Angelica, who simply ignored their behavior, would certainly not use to describe their antics.

Much later, after Chris had graciously agreed to give me his room for the night, I laid in bed, eyes wide open, thinking about my husband and daughter.  During that first evening, the hurricane had brought us together as a family, playing board games and strumming guitar.  Then, the hurricane brought us together with dear friends, sharing good food, good times and lots of laughter.  But now, the hurricane had driven a huge wedge in my little family....and even though I knew we were safe, still, we were all under separate roofs. 

I missed them.

Fortunately, by evening, we were reunited in our house which now glistened with light and warmth.   As we celebrated our new-found appreciation for all things electrical, reports were coming in from others who had not fared quite as well.  Many were still without power.   The New Jersey shore, now in ruins, suffered catastrophic devastation,  as did parts of New York City and Queens.

Did I actually say I like hurricanes?    Not anymore.

If you like my stories please tell me in the comments section below!  Thanks for visiting!