5 Chickens and a Pencil

Five chickens and a pencil walk into a bar… just kidding. I am literally the worst at telling jokes. They go something like this. Why did the chicken cross the road, wait, was it a chicken, I am not sure if it was a chicken or a hen, oh it doesn’t matter, there was a bird of some sort who wanted to get to the other side, wait. Forget it.

Believing in magic and dreaming the unthinkable…that is what five chickens and a pencil is about. I don’t understand people who say they don’t want their kids to believe in the Tooth Fairy, Santa, the Easter Bunny. Why? Life is long, there is plenty of time for reality.

Parents with more than one kid realize about four seconds into kid number two that no two children are alike. No better way to see differences than Christmas lists. My Olivia, always smiling and happy that the holiday festivities were finally underway would spend a lot of time discussing the situation, but mommy why do we write a letter, but mommy how does he get the letter, but mommy I don’t know how to write lollipop, but mommy I want Elmo Saves Christmas on, but mommy why it can’t be Christmas every day. Jacob was all business, a short plea for forgiveness of any sins, a reminder of his good deeds, then a dive into the wants.

When he was about 8 he finished in record time. Sneaking a look I saw that he asked for five rubber chickens, you know the skinny ones that look like they should be hanging in a Chinese butcher’s window. Waca waca waca, hilarious gag props…for his vaudeville act on the playground. The problem was, there was nothing else on the list, he was testing me. Jacob had asked for a rubber chicken a few weeks earlier, my response was what on earth do you need a rubber chicken for, of course I am not buying a rubber chicken, save up your own money if you need a chicken. Now he had me. In our house Santa always delivered at least one thing on the list. (I realize now how privileged that is…but it is what it is). If he only had rubber chickens on his list and Santa refused to deliver them… then Santa was mom. Ugg. I was both beyond proud of his little devious mind and completely annoyed…annoyed enough to go on a quest.

Before “shopping local” was a thing, people just shopped local. It was quite human and the connections could be either joyous or leave you shaken. Try-n-Buy, our local toy store was the place of dreams, perky sales people helped you find the perfect gift then wrapped them in bows…swoon. So I called the store and got the one sales person with a chip on her shoulder (I had a knack for this) and asked if they carried rubber joke chickens. After giving some theatrical descriptions she totally understood what I wanted, and quickly replied NO. So I told her of my suspicions and that I really wanted to win this Santa test. She put me on hold and on her return said, We got him, I can order them, they will be here next week. Huge swoon for small town living, local stores, and grumpy sales people who get joy from defeating young children in mental warfare.

My husband is not really a preparing for Christmas kind of guy but by Christmas Eve he is all about joining the fun…Kat, let’s put the chickens in a pot on the stove and leave a clue in his stocking. Oh man, an empty stocking, most people would say it was too harsh. But being a child who watched her cousins look for their Easter baskets for DAYS to finally find them under the floorboards (I kid you not), this seemed like a perfectly normal idea to me. Christmas morning Jacob flies down the stairs to find an empty stocking, he was shell shocked. Greg quickly told him to look inside. The note, the clue, the find… a whole stocking of Santa goodness including…five rubber chickens…the energy in the room can not be described. It was that moment of sheer perfection. Magic. There is no better feeling in the world than seeing your children happy.

In a recent NY to CA phone marathon I asked if Jacob remembered the chickens…I love hearing their versions of our family folklore. Yes, for sure he remembered, he told me it was a test, but that he also really really did want the chickens. It seems his elementary school gym teacher had his own version of dodge ball. It involved a curtain hung between the two lines of kids so you could not really aim at a specific target…oh, and there were not hard, textured, red balls that left welts on your body…there were rubber chickens. He said rubber chickens flying over the curtain was one of the funniest sights, chicken after chicken, kids laughing, fun. Can you imagine…dodge ball that did not leave you in pain. Brilliant.

A few years after the rubber chicken incident Jacob looked me in the eye and said Mom, do you believe in Santa? I responded Jacob, I love believing in Santa. He completely got it, and replied, Me too. A tender moment, a moment where I did not feel like I had failed the parenting test I was given, a memory.

One hard part of having twenty-something kids is there is little magic left. There is fun… never in a million years did they expect Hamilton tickets from Santa…but they also immediately hugged their parents for the gift. The joy of having neighbors with young kids is we get to see the holidays through their eyes. We got a peek at the Santa letters this year, and immediately my mind started spinning. One asked for a five foot tall pencil…is this a test or is there a back story? With permission from their parents, this prop maker and her illustrator husband, will be sending an early, very authentic looking parcel from the North Pole. Our elf on the shelf and a foot long joke pencil will be “delivered” as a precursor to the big day…and bigger pencil. Hopefully it will bring some joy, some thinking the unthinkable…some magic.

Wishing you the permission to believe in what ever you want to believe in…because believing is good. Swoon.

Before being packaged. Chicken photo in those boxes of photos tucked in the attic. Maybe they deserve to come out.

Cherished Goods

I went through one of my favorite boxes today…full of cherished memories and bits of goodness from those I love. Their brilliance, their personalities, their talents…their recipes.

Master recipes…after tasing food that is so good, you must get the exact details from the cook. Proven and tested. Hand-written, copies of copies, scratched down notes taken over the phone, personalities on display. Folded and refolded, dripped on, burnt, these bits of history are the stories of our lives…the tastes, smells, warmth. To be shared with our own kids, and hopefully their kids. Swoon.

My dad was a complex man…happy to be quietly reading one minute and throwing a huge party the next. A recovering alcoholic, he was know for his amazing margaritas (always in a chilled glass), never letting on if he was sad he could no longer have one himself. I had just moved into my first NYC apartment, my roommate and I were going to throw a holiday party. Old school…dress up, cocktails, cheese cubes and salami. We bought our late 80s off the shoulder little dresses on sale and were completely floored at the cost of “grown-up” alcohol. In a pinch I called my dad for advice, he replied with the magic word…sangria…get some cheap wine and you are good to go. The recipe showed up in the mail, his handwriting, his cryptic and confusing notes, his love for a good party. 30+ years later, this index card is one of my most cherished gifts from my dad…a stained piece of card stock where a bit of him lives on.

My mom cooks like a real cook, she follows no rules except for the knowledge she has gained from feeling and doing. Everything she makes is delicious. Getting recipes from her can be a bit dangerous. They go sort of like this…Take one of my big serving spoons of oil and put it in a good pan, add a little bit of flour, then a nice amount of salt and pepper…but only if you think it needs it. Kit Kat, just stir til it looks right. What I have found is the best way to learn her recipes is to: one…cook with her, and two…to have her to write out the recipes numerous times, then piece them together. Mom’s recipes arrive in the form of post cards, notes on old shopping lists, typed on an IBM typewriter circa 1972, or in rambling phone messages…they allow me to visit inside her head, which is a treat in itself.

My mother-in-law bakes…like makes beyond delicious pie crust from scratch with crisco from a can and happily makes two thousand, four hundred, and sixty two different Christmas cookies each year…the woman is a machine. Growing up as one of 9 on a South Dakota farm, her chore was baking…where she earned her 10,000 hours of Malcom Gladwell practice time. The first Christmas I spent with Greg’s family in Iowa was different from my NY holidays…no stuffed grape leaves, learning that green salad might involve jello, and the nightly display of his mom’s homemade cookie genius on the molded holiday themed serving trays. One can not under estimate the power of really good cookies. I am a pretty decent baker, this woman puts me to shame.

My friend Maria has no clue how talented she is, she is just one of those people who bring magic to everything she touches. Her mom was French, so she grew up cooking with butter, salt, and oil. When she was the chef at a private elementary school, she regularly received thank you notes from parents who were so excited that their kids were now eating vegetables. Maria’s haricot verts recipe is beyond…it is a staple in our home and served at all family dinners. My nieces and nephews call them Auntie Kat String Beans…but I give full credit to Maria. When I read the recipe her emphasis on BUTTER and seasoning with out fear is like a pep talk. I am sure it was written as our kids played in the other room, as we drank coffee after a family sleepover…with very little sleep. Love emitted through newsprint.

I just had the best afternoon. The beauty of having little work means I have time to go down the rabbit hole of memories…to think about those who have changed my life, to appreciate the beauty of a box filled with greasy papers.

There is always a silver lining.

Let me know if you want copies of any of the goodness above.

Anticipation

Do you remember that commercial? Carly Simon singing, the ketchup pouring so slowly…the glands behind my jaw used to tingle just watching it…because who doesn’t love that salty and sugar-laden goodness accompanying their fries?

Remember the joy of waiting…waiting for the ketchup to come out of a glass bottle, for the sound of mail plopping down on the foyer floor, for the song of the moment to play on the radio, for new school clothes, for an empty cab. Remember the excitement at school the day A Year Without a Santa Claus, Rudolph or A Charlie Brown Christmas were airing…and the joy on the playground the day after, singing Heat Miser on a loop?

Anticipating Christmas.

Politically correct commercial interruption here. I grew up celebrating Christmas. I now like to celebrate Winter Solstice because it recognizes all celebrations of light and Hanukkah because my nephews celebrate it…and as my daughter announced at my brother’s engagement to a Jewish woman, “Great, now we are Jewish too!”. I don’t mean to exclude anyone with this Swoon, I am just a Christmas girl who does not get mad if you wish me Happy Holidays.

Anticipating Christmas. It is my joy. It makes me smile. It is such a huge part of my life. It is about as swoony as a swoon can be. It would be a great blog name. Anticipating Christmas. Which reminds me of…

Many moons ago my sister-in-law worked for Martha Stewart. Young, hip, a crafter like no other… she would call me for ideas to use in MS Kids magazine. I had kids, she did not, so I became a useful resource. Once she asked me for tips on organizing Christmas, which I happily supplied, an article was written, and on her advice I secured the blog name “Organizing Christmas”. I had two kids, a business, and I over volunteered…there was no time for blogging so it never happened. Times changed, kids left, a pandemic arrived… and Swooning began. It is important to be flexible.

Anticipating Christmas.

When I was in 4th grade my mom went back to work. My dad quit his job and decided the future was in healthy food and frozen yogurt…a bit odd for a man who lived on Entenmann’s cakes. My mom, brought up in an Armenian household, knew how to cook healthy…so she went from being a stay at home mom…to being the cook at the new family restaurant. Preparing couscous, lentil soup, stuffed grape leaves, and chickpea salads for those looking to keep their figures—namely the actors and prostitutes of 42nd Street. Our world changed. We had a babysitter, we no longer had nightly multi-course dinners, and we shopped at discount stores. What didn’t change: Christmas.

Christmas was all about family, decorating, music, tv specials, Lionel trains, cookies, pageants and parties; it was joyous. Having a working mom did not change any of it. Crazy traditions like the yearly line up of the three kids…standing in front of the fresh 10-foot tall tree tied to the banister leading up stairs…raising our hands and repeating after mom “Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye if I lie, I promise to jump out my bedroom window if the tree is on fire and the stairs are blocked.” The yearly check in our stockings…for amounts like $1.62, because our dad, always a numbers guy, felt it necessary to spend exactly the same amount of money on each of us…to the penny. Swoon.

I would say I cannot wait for Christmas, but the truth is…I love waiting for Christmas. It is all about the wait. I have been decorating since the day after Thanksgiving. Christmas music blaring, room by room the goodness appears, the memories are relived. Gingerbread houses made, cookies packed, advent calendars opened. I am happy, even in 2020. Determined to bring our Christmas traditions to my Jacob in California, two huge boxes were shipped out yesterday, presents, party poppers, and Nanny-made baked goods. He will not be able to plop down on my lap as I sit on the couch and our daily good morning hugs will have to wait. Those bits of delicious are now on top of my anticipation list…and will be that much sweeter when we are finally together again.

Merry Everything. Enjoy the wait.

Christmas 1970 or so, before the tree was in front of the stairs. The pink tutu and green slippers (right) went on right over the feetsie pjs…swoon.

Hi again!

It’s been a while. Thanksgiving sans 30 guests, the growing pandemic, family scattered across the country, long winter days…it has been tough and not much of a swoon-inspiring time. Each day in November I do a FB post about something I am thankful for…it might be my morning coffee or having healthy friends and family…nothing is too big or too small. This little exercise took up the writing slot in my brain, but now I am back…until I am not. I am beginning to learn that one has the right to feel their feels and do as they do. As they say…it is what it is.

I was recently asked to be a guest on a podcast about creativity. Pre-March Kat would have been stressed, insecure, and thinking why on earth would they want to talk to ME. Post-March Kat is like, ok um, sure, why not? We will chat, I like to chat. We will explore what creativity is, which can only be fun. I really didn’t think much about it until I was asked for a bio and headshot. Now, that is a problem. I have neither.

Who am I? Am I Pre-Pandemic Kat…who had a flourishing business; who whipped together insta dinners; who had professionally painted blue toenails and smooth brown hair? Or am I Pandemic Kat…who cooks lavish dinners and pies, and then some more pies; who produces community Covid-safe experiences and virtual holiday gatherings during her “work day”; who has experienced less hair care and pampering in the last 9 months…than her dog. If I only plan on being Pandemic Kat for another 4-6 months (one can hope) am I really her? After much thought, the truth is, I am Pandemic Kat…I am forever changed.

Swoon, on to the hard part, the headshot.

After taking more selfies than any truly self-obsessed teenage girl (sans the fish lips), I notice my newly acquired wrinkles, gray hair, and puffy eyes. So here we go again, do I use an old headshot or do I embrace the current me? I used to work for a hospital where a huge, I mean hugely huge donor insisted we use a headshot that was at least 35 years old. She was well into her ninth decade, we were living in the late 90s, and her photo was from way back when her groovy Lilly Pulitzer dress…was the height of fashion. I didn’t get it, why not use a more recent photo? Now I totally get it. We are one person in our minds, and another that the world sees. I have aged this past year, which makes sense, I have been sadder than ever before, so it only makes sense that those hardships would show. I have also been pretty impressed with the resilience our family has shown during these nutty times…and with that, I will choose to focus on the growth…wrinkles and all. I will embrace my new headshot…at least for the podcast needs.

I hope you are well. I hope you are able to find bits of goodness in this incredibly odd time…that is all we can do. If you want to experience the podcast feel free to tune in, I think it is this Sunday, not totally sure. Now that the bio and headshot is done I am back to not overthinking it…which is a nice perk of being Pandemic Kat. https://www.iamcreativephilly.net/podcast

Pandemic Kat… in all her glory.

The Election of ’74

I don’t really remember the details of my first election. I was in second grade and had the most beautiful teacher in the world. She had long brown hair which she wore in a side, super high, ponytail…draping down to her shoulders. She wore blue eyeshadow, pink glazed metallic lip gloss, and thick pink-toned foundation. Linda Ronstadt meets Barbie. I loved her. I was her helper, her pet, she understood my strengths (running a classroom while she was out of the room) and weaknesses (reading aloud and math problems involving trains with lots of passengers getting on and off). I was elected to be president of the class, because of course I was…who needs an education when you can be president?

Way back when, before parents lobbied for the “good” teachers, we received class assignments on the first day of school. Sitting in the institutional tan and green auditorium, raising and lowering our squeaking seats, we waited. Finally hearing our name called for the walk of dread or glee depending on which class you were joining up front. I am not sure if I am making this up, I only remember it happening once. Memories are odd. Anyway, third grade was going to be spectacular, I had my favorite teacher…again. The same teacher, same thick makeup covering the scars from her teenage skin issues, the same beautiful mane. Swoon.

Once again, and I have no idea how, I was nominated to run for president of my 3rd grade class. Then two days into the election period…I was told I had to drop out. My teacher explained that I had already been president last year and someone else deserved a chance. I trusted the rules, I trusted my favorite teacher, all good.

That afternoon, over a glass of milk and some Ritz crackers, mom and I discussed the day…and that was where I met a different version of my mother. She was so calm on the outside but I could feel the fury. Every word so deliberate. “Kitkat, tell me again, exactly what she said, exactly.” I repeated the rules. “Kitkat, did she tell you that today or when you were nominated?” I told her it happened that day, right before lunch. Mom had been listening so intently, and taking such large drags on her cigarette that when she finally released the smoke through her nose…it went on, and on, and on. She kissed my forehead and started dialing her co-PTA president on the rotary phone…back in those days, dialing could take a really long time and be very very loud…the way one dialed was a clear window to their current emotion. My mom was beyond upset. It seems that the PTA board had put the principal on notice for some pretty bad stuff that very morning…and having his ego bruised by a bunch of women, he told my favorite teacher, the woman I put on a pedestal…who also happened to be his niece…that I could not be president. He took out his frustrations on a little girl.

I learned some big lessons that week. People will do what they need to do to get what they want, no matter how wrong it is. Recipients of nepotism will do what they need to do to keep their jobs, no matter who they hurt. People do not care about rules, or facts, or doing the right thing, they protect themselves at all costs. Elementary school principals who park their Porsche on what could be a play area for kids probably have their priorities mixed up. Powerful men exposed by a bunch of women can get really really mean…they also can get taken out. Parents forget their kids have ears when they are in crisis mode. And most of all, my mom was a badass and would call out every single one of these people and point out how very ashamed they should be.

I did not get to be president of the class that year and that was just fine. It is dangerous to always get what you want and the truth is, it was nicer to let someone else shine. At the end of the year I was selected to perform a dance routine…on a table in front of the stage…at a special school assembly, with all the other kids in the grade on the stage behind me. My teacher knew I would learn the routine and follow the costuming instructions. We danced to The World is Black, The World Is White by Three Dog Night. I wore my black dance leotard and white short shorts, white knee-high socks and Mary Janes…with black and white yarn bows in my shoulder length pigtails. The other kids wore blue lace dresses, plaid green and black Christmas skirts, tweed gray rompers…anything but the black and white they were supposed to be wearing…they looked really pretty but were SO missing the point of the song.

My favorite teacher stole my chance at the election, she bowed down to her bully uncle, she hurt me to the core…but she apologized in her own way…giving me center stage. I accepted her apology by showing up in black and white from head to toe…leading the grade in our politically correct dance…and making her look good.

Being gracious is so underrated. Let’s all be gracious, that way everyone wins.

Swoon.

Shrinky Dinks and Jesus

Today was filled with all kinds of goodness. We took a walk, leaves beneath our feet, swish, crinkle, swish…the sound of Fall. Started off wearing a sweater knowing after a mile or so it would be wrapped around my waist. I love this season. Cutting root vegetables from the farmers market, purple, yellow, and orange carrots for a curried stew. The smells from the slow cook in grandma’s cast iron pot on the stove bring joy all day. Knowing I can chill until dinner when all I will need to do is make some ginger rice and set the table. Fall. Family, cozy and quiet, a reset from the go go go of summer. Well…usually…not this summer, but I am not looking back to the summer lost, I am embracing the Fall ahead.

The stew was stewing, fire glowing, and The Brady Bunch on as background nostalgic yet cringe-worthy goodness, I scrolled and participated in one of those “let’s all remember the past and bond over our similarities” posts. Not about music, or movies, or what naughty things we did as teens…about crafts and games. My kind of questionnaire.

What crafts did I do? What games did I play… my head exploded. Fall days growing up were all about crafts and games, non stop! My answers…papier-mâché, homemade Play-doh, batiking, beeswax candle making, baking, painting shells, Shrinky Dinks, decoupage with wrapping paper and comics, coil pots, loom kits, newspaper weaving, cootie catchers, Barbie clothes making, fairy houses, water painting, broken pottery mosaics, creating our own newspapers and comics, hand-coloring bw photos. What joy…sitting at the kitchen table or on the living room floor, mom in the kitchen cooking, dad in the living room cursing at or quietly enjoying the Giants game…swoon. Other people’s answers reminded me of things I have not thought of in ages, literally ages…chewing gum wrapper and daisy chains, transferring the Sunday comics onto Silly Putty, the Creepy Crawler Bug Maker set. Oh my gosh, the burns we used to get from that bug maker. Spectacular. Life, Monopoly, Spit, Payday, Clue, Careers, The Guinness Book of World Records game… so much fun, so great to reminisce. What a gift.

After a day of swoon worthy memories I went to my studio to work a bit. Working on Sundays almost always assures a pleasant Monday. I walked in to find some CDs that Greg found in the basement…the basement from hell, an episode of hoarders…the basement of anything you might need, if you can find it. The basement that had my original Broadway cast recording of Godspell… the scream that opens the show, the centerfold with Jesus…Jesus who used to buy lunch at my parents’ health food restaurant on 42nd and 6th Avenue (a delightful and juicy story that must wait), my Godspell, my childhood.

Poor Greg just made the mistake of saying “Oh, I didn’t know you had this soundtrack”. Um…seriously. That comment lead to me performing my 45 year-old choreography for the opening number…I am a bit rusty to say the least. He was a gentleman and just smiled while secretly hoping I would not end up in the hospital from my twists and turns. He really is a good man.

When I was nine I danced. I danced every day after school, tap, jazz, ballet, acrobatics… my parents were very generous. I would do homework, eat dinner, then dance some more. Our living room had floor to ceiling paned windows and once it became dark, those windows magically became mirrors…I die just thinking about this. Not registering that they were not actually mirrors I danced for the neighborhood nightly. Routines to HAIR, Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, Pippin…in my black baggy leotard with my white panties sticking out the sides. I thought I was amazing…looking exactly like one of Jerome Robbins’ ladies. Confidence is wasted on the young.

After such a pleasant day of reminiscing, I write to wish you all peeks into your past, the joy of innocent hobbies, back to the days when we could dance for hours pain free…speaking of which…my hip currently is out of wack from my performance 10 minutes ago. It was worth it… swoon.

October

Swoon. My FaceBook memories are exploding with sheer goodness. Annual college girls weekends at Fire Island; Halloween costumes, parades and parties; a road trip across the country; a celebration of life backyard soiree for our 50th birthdays and 25th wedding anniversary. So. Much. Joy. I lay in bed every morning reliving the feeling of so much good, savoring it, getting energized from the past.

Today… boom. The jacket showed up. Such emotion, such feels. October is breast cancer awareness month.

One of my college besties is a survivor. She made a promise to herself to do the Avon Breast Cancer Walk in NY once she was back to herself. We made a plan, hotel room (I do not camp after walking a ridiculous amount of milage), dinner plans with additional college buddies (I happily drink fancy cocktails at any time), training (important when walking 39 miles in two days).

Two pairs of good walking sneakers, fanny pack, bandages, blister cream, pink lipstick… check. Walking and weaving, back and forth…getting in 15-18 mile training walks. Now I just needed pink clothing. Nope. Not going to happen. I wear black…with some cute accents…in black. So I ordered a black jacket and decided I would paint the names of survivors and those lost on it in pink puff paint. Pink puff paint should check off the “join the party” and “be a girly girl” boxes just fine.

I had my personal list of survivors and people lost to cancer but the more I thought about it, the more I also wanted to also represent the many wonderful people who gave towards my entrance “donation”. Generous people who funded my walk within just one day of asking. I put out an ask and almost immediately I had an inbox of responses, names, stories, tributes. Swoon.

I was honored to walk for the lost loved ones of my friends, after hearing the stories of their lives, they mattered to me too. I was humbled to walk for those who survived. That jacket represented so many good souls.

Cancer man, it sucks. It changes so many lives. We walk for cancer. We eat healthy, we exercise, we stop smoking, we don’t pesticide our yards…because of cancer. We have a respect and fear of the disease…we know can take so much away from us…randomly, any time it wants.

Why did I get so emotional this am? Because for the life of me I can not understand why so many do not have the same respect and fear of Covid-19.

I looked up how many people will die of all cancers in 2020…it is approximately 606,000 deaths…about 43,000 from breast cancer alone. We are experiencing a pandemic where 215,000 people have died in the last 8 months.

Question… if wearing a mask, avoiding inside social situations, and standing 6 feet from people at all times meant your chance of getting cancer would go WAY down, maybe even go away, don’t you think everyone would follow those guidelines?

I do not personally know anyone who has died of cancer this year (knock on wood), yet I know it is real. This pandemic is real. Respect it.

It is a privilege to be alive.

Front and back…more names were added to the sleeves last minute.

Planning

I love a good plan. I have always known this but it has become really clear during the pandemic. Besides toilet paper and food deliveries, there has not been enough to plan for. When you are deprived of something that brings you joy, your whole being changes. You don’t really notice it, it is a slow drain, bits of your being just go away.

My girlfriend from college called, her kids needed something to look forward to, she needed something to look forward to… we all needed something to look forward to. Anything. Since both families are very strict about masks and social distancing we decided on a gathering. Two sets of everything, seating areas, 10 feet apart, outside. Safe.

Planning.

We will have chili, cornbreads, pies, and s’mores. We can build a fire pit, and make sure to have enough wool blankets…because cozy is good. We can pull out games just in case we don’t have enough to talk about…ha..that is funny.

Preparing.

“My” chili recipe is beyond, it came from a friend of a friend and while I make it I curse whoever this Martha (not Stewart) person is. A ridiculous amount of steps, full of specifics and absolutes. It is really bossy. Notes like, put in one QUALITY milk chocolate bar, not Hersheys, well… ok then. Chopping huge mixing bowls full of onions (three varieties) and peppers (three colors) while marinating the cubed steak in freshly squeezed lime juice and garlic (chopped, you use the minced later), insert eye roll. Cute dishes and tablecloths, check. 90s music blasting while we do, check.

Do you know how contagious walking into a room twirling and singing and dancing a la Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club is to your family… very contagious. Smiles, dance partners, barking dogs. Joy.

The joy just continued and compounded. We all needed each other. Laughter, food, and funny stories galore. A chilly gray afternoon, an even chillier evening…all made warm and delightful by good company.

Planning.

Two years ago today my Jacob and I started our drive across the country to his new life. He was down in the dumps because it seems two years of experience was a prerequisite for any job he was applying for in NY. He had a job offer and a delightfully brilliant girlfriend in Los Angeles…time to go, no brainer. We would take a mother son adventure we lovingly called “our belated, never before had, maternity leave”. I was in organizational list-making bliss. What clothing, computer equipment, games, musical instruments, life items could we fit in a little Prius? What is one willing to leave behind as they start a new chapter in their lives? What music should we download? What snacks should we start out with? How long would we drive each day and where would we sleep each night? Planning.

Our first day we drove with butterflies in our bellies…was this really a good idea, this was not camp, or college…this was a trip to drop him off at a new life, across the country. Sigh. Taking turns being the DJ we discovered new music and relived theater experiences singing along to soundtracks. We recreated the “Moving Right Along” video…California here we come and we embraced having no idea what lay ahead for the next six days. Bits of goodness…like realizing New Jersey rest stops should be more appreciated, scoping out groovy drive-ins for milkshakes and burgers, learning that in Ohio you are offered ketchup or ranch with your fries…we talked, and we were silent. Exhausting, exhilarating…joy.

For the next few days, I will receive FB memory reminders…posts, pictures, videos, the whole shebang. A priceless gift I have because of a life-changing request from my Olivia…as her big brother took off for his new life, so far away, she said…Mom, just post every day, I want to read all about it. What a treasure that request was.

Somehow between planning a very casual gathering and seeing day one of our cross country adventure pop up on FB this morning…I am rejuvenated, even if just for a bit.

I am still here. I am grateful.

It is amazing how much you can fit in a Prius…and even more amazing how full his childhood room still is.

They Were Five…

so little, just starting Kindergarten…their teensy-tiny siblings in preschool together. The summer had just wrapped up with last trips to the community pool. An illustrator, a designer, a nurse, and a firefighter…guess who was married to who. We were young families who connected.

We woke up to the most beautiful day. Oh my gosh the color of the sky, the blue, that blue, that haunting blue. Just a tad of red it in to make it sing, that blue. Dropping my Jacob off at elementary school was new, looking back to me a few times, those big brown eyes needing a bit of strength, some reassurance…before entering that big brick building alone. Then dropping of my Olivia at nursery school, she was all in, huge smile and sparkling eyes…not once did she ever look back. Walking down to my office, stopping for coffee and a chat with the ladies holding court at their tables, moving on to accomplish what needed to get done before putting the mom hat on again.

A phone call from a client in the city. “It is burning.”

TV on. This can not be happening. Call Greg who watches TV “with me” while I am at the office blocks away. Call Andrea, she will need to get to the hospital. Charlie will be down there fighting the fire for sure, I can pick up her kids if she wants. That’s how suburbia works, when we say “our kids” we mean every kid in the community. She says, I think I am ok, the hospital said to wait until we are called in. She was good, she was going to wait and see what was going on with Charlie.

She never heard from Charlie.

We banded together as a community. People helped as they could, but no matter what we did it was not like having a dad around. Losing a parent is difficult. Losing a really funny, snarky, and incredibly intelligent hands-on parent…well, there are no words.

Andrea is the strongest woman I know, well, besides RBG who is one step above human. Andrea never hated, ever, and she never stopped giving to others. She creates, she mothers, she educates, she is positive and kind. She is as we should be.

This is a Swoon of random thoughts.

Today is a day I am more quiet than usual. More as I should be. Today is a day I think back to memorial service planning “plan for 300-500 or so”…to all of the pranks and jokes Charlie pulled on me… to our little little kids playing in the backyard together, innocent from the permanence of what just happened…to that blue sky.

Today I try to be better. I try to follow the example of the fun and free spirited Charlie, studying to be a captain, studying for his families future…and to the steadfast, strong, creative, and giving Andrea, who would give you the shirt off her back if she thought it might help.

I try.

Donuts and Pretzels

September 4th. It’s my dad’s birthday. Maybe it means breakfast for dinner, maybe a black and white cookie, or an Entenmann’s cake, or donuts. Maybe I will eat pretzels and watch a Cyd Charisse movie, or Bridge on the River Kwai. I will kiss my mom and text my siblings. We will all think about him, sigh, as we do. I believe in celebrating those who have passed…in keeping them alive through story, rituals, and memories…I believe they feel our love. It is a comforting way to deal with death.

My nephew Lionel never got to meet my dad in person, but somehow I find the connection between Lionel and the grandpa he never met beyond strong. There is a part of my dad in him. Born a bit over a year after my dad passed, Lionel looks exactly like him…those full crooked lips, those gorgeous blue eyes. This resemblance had me in tears the first time I met him. I walked in the hospital room, looked at his little face, and ran out crying…a happy cry. My poor sister-in-law. She saw it too, nursing a baby who looks exactly like your father-in-law is not easy, but she powered through. As he grows up we see that Lionel doesn’t just look like my dad, he has the same off the charts smarts, spirit, twinkle in his eyes…and he is a most genuine and kind human. Swoon.

My dad was an imp. When I play the movie version of the stories I know of his youth, I picture the scrappy kids from The Little Rascals, running around the streets getting into mischief. Saturdays meant some stickball then the picture show…for 10 cents he could watched the serials, then a double feature…with a bag of penny candy as his food for the day. When we would buy penny candy as kids…Tootsie Rolls, taffy, Dots… literally for a penny each, he would tell us of getting a BAG of candy for a penny, those were the days.

So much to write, but this is not an obit, it is a Swoon, a Swoon during a time when it is so hard to swoon. There will be no Fire Island this Labor Day weekend, no celebrating my dad in the house he loved so so very much, no chat with him while at the ocean, or creating a huge family dinner of eggs over easy and home fries…none of that. All that set aside for this year, but there was no way I was also missing out on the Entenmann’s, so I braved the grocery store. We will celebrate with sugar, preservatives, and fat. Donuts will be delivered to Jacob in Los Angeles…because remembering is important. I am sure my siblings will celebrate with their own dad junk food selections…there were so very many to choose from. Remembering brings smiles.

“Our memories, they have to be passed down by those who knew us in life—in the stories they tell about us.” — from the movie Coco

Happy Birthday Dad. So many more people got know you a bit today. Swoon.