I spent all of yesterday at Book Con 2015 in Manhattan. It was wall to wall writers, readers, publishers, fans, and celebrities. I’m not sure which presentation was the most interesting, which was the most inspiring, or which was the most meaningful, and I could write forever about it. But since none of us have that kind of time I thought I would summarize some of the highlights of what I brought home yesterday from BookCon.
1. New Yorkers are the most colorful, interesting, interested and friendliest people in the world. Even when it’s hot and crowded and you’re hungry and tried. I love every one of them.
2. Celebrities turned authors are really smart people.
3. Every woman in a long line for the ladies room is thinking “We should just take over that men’s room too, ” and it only takes one of us to say it out loud before the army forms into guards, monitors, and infiltrators.
4. Macaroni and Cheese is a popular focus for a surprising number of cookbooks.
5. There’s a crazy number of ways to get from where you are to where you want to be. It all depends on how badly you want to be there and how willing you are to navigate the the obstacles that get in your way.
I have to mention too that I brought home a lot of swag and a couple of new books. Next year I will do a little advanced planning, like bringing lunch. I did trade a guy my John Green ticket for a bag of trail mix. I had to leave early and my daughter was hungry.
Starbucks makes me crazy. When you make a pot of supermarket coffee and drink it from your finest “You’re #1” mug, two things happen: you spend about a dime, and there’s not a lot of landfill. But it isn’t really just the money or the garbage that I resent about Starbucks, it’s also how their most frequent customers take a transcendent thing like a cup of premium coffee completely for granted.
I grew up when the electric percolator was modern technology. Ours sat on the table or the kitchen counter (really just a wood plank balanced between the stove and the sink), and every day my mother filled it with water, added some measurement of coffee and set it to work. Through the glass dome on the lid I watched the liquid repeatedly appear and reappear a darker color each time, and with with every hue came an increased aroma of brewing coffee. Every day it seemed magical to me that my mom knew the exact moment when it was ready to pour.
One day my mother moved the percolator from the makeshift counter top and put a brand new mixer there. She announced with glee that we were going to make a cake. My job (which I did with intense purpose) was to crack eggs and check measurements and then press “start.” I counted seconds aloud to pass the time since two minutes is an eternity when you’re six, but somewhere around second 45 there began a loud and regular thumping and then a pulsing vibration. The wood plank slipped from its perch and everything on it, including the churning mixer went crashing to the floor. My mother held her arm in front of my body to protect me from flying cake batter and I watched as the power cord sprang from the outlet and whipped through the air like an angry snake, until finally the plug on the end of it hit the floor and everything went silent. I waited for her to speak, to say anything about what I should do but she just stood there.
I studied her face as she surveyed the stripes of cake batter that covered the entire kitchen, ceiling to floor, every wall, the chairs, the table, and the appliances. Her lips were slightly parted when she turned completely around to take in the entirety of the cake batter carnage. Finally she put her hands on my shoulders, looked down at me and said, “Helen, I think we should go out and get a cup of coffee.” She nodded approvingly of her own decision, grabbed her purse and my hand and we walked to the nearby luncheonette.
Soon we were seated at a table for two, on chairs with worn gray vinyl cushions and a laminate tabletop that had speckles of red and silver. A pleasant waitress greeted us and took the order – one cup of coffee for mom and one cup of milk for me, both in white handled cups with saucers please. The waitress smiled as she turned away. Things were improving. Quickly she brought two cups exactly as ordered and placed them in front of us. “Can I get you anything else?” She asked. Mom smiled broadly and said, “No, this is all we need right now thanks.”
I pushed my cup and saucer closer to my mothers so she could transfer some of her coffee into my milk until it turned light beige. Then we raised our cups, took our first sips and finally exhaled. Mom kept one hand around her coffee cup and the other hand moved through the air as she talked. I don’t really remember the exact conversation but I do know that in the next thirty minutes all of that mess in the kitchen changed from one herculean task to something small we’d take care of later, after we had a little time to get the right perspective, and maybe some cake. Occasionally the waitress stopped by and offered us a “warmer”, which my mother happily accepted, and when we left, mom paid with a dollar and I put the change on the table for a tip.
So my point is “Hey there Starbucks enthusiasts, you’re missing the point!” Coffee out should be savored, a side dish to great thinking, conversation, or dessert. It shouldn’t be regarded as overpriced fast food (or beverages). USA today has a handy calculator so we can feel empowered or horrible at the amount we spend on coffee in paper cups. And that doesn’t figure in the cost to eliminate the 2.3 billion paper cups they hand out every single year.
And what about the tip cup at the cash register? We are expected to leave a tip even before we’ve had any product and the only service we get is when over the din of the espresso machine, milk steamer and indie music tracks, a voice calls out the name they wrote on the paper cup so we can get up and fetch it.
But I have to admit, sometimes I do walk in to Starbucks, order a $5.65 Grande Cappuccino with an extra shot vanilla syrup, and I don’t complain about it. It’s my mid week fuel and sometimes my lunch. But then I also hear Tom Hanks in You’ve Got Mail, (1998), every time and I’m reminded that times have changed, and so has the coffee shop…
“The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self … Nora Ephron
So I ask myself is that enough value right there? Could be. But still, Starbucks makes me crazy.
I have a hard time with Mother’s Day, forgive me children. Before you, I would visit my mom, we had lunch, I gave her flowers, and that made us both really happy.
Then enter a move, a mother in law, three kids and deep sense of obligation to drag us all from our house to my mother’s and then to my in-law’s, making sure no one was disappointed. But the truth is that as much as I did want to see them happy, what I really wanted to say was, “Can you all just leave me out? Let me stay home and watch TV? I want to eat a really good plate of French Fries and read a book while you all go out and visit. Before you go just clean the house even a little bit so I feel better being here, and then when you all come home, you make dinner, clean up, and let me be the first one to go to bed? Please?”
I never said that until the year after I lost my own mom. I figured she’d want me to be happy so I asked my husband to take my mother in law and the kids all to visit his family an hour away. Then fate and an inattentive driver stepped in, crashed into our car and sent the lot of them all back to me for the rest of the day. As my mother would say, “Just be happy nobody got hurt.”
I don’t mean to say I hate Mother’s Day, although I do think it’s unfair to celebrate a holiday with inflated prices and guilt, particularly when some of us miss our moms, or miss being one.
This year my daughter is working, my husband is traveling which leaves me with two daughters at home. We saw grandma Chibnik yesterday, and sadly we will only have my mom in spirit, but happy ones. I kind of want to go to the mall and forget about the pile of dirty clothes. I want to pick out a new purse, eat crappy food, and remember this mother’s day as one of low stress, and high self love.
This morning I got cards and presents and hugs. My spa plans didn’t work out but that’s okay. I can always look at the kids who call me mom and know that I don’t need a holiday to feel special. Just look at my hand painted wine glass, fancy new watch and my new coffee mug. It’s more than enough. Now I can drink coffee and check when it’s time to switch to a nice glass of Pinot. Just boycott the $5.99 Hallmark cards and throw in a T-shirt that says your love is all the gift I need. Well, maybe love and a small token of your appreciation.
As the mother of three teenagers I am an expert in angst. First theirs, then mine, then theirs, and soon. As a result I’ve developed an offense I’d like to share. Keep in mind that I’m just an everyday explorer into the teenage mind, like Lewis & Clark, and Marco Polo, I’m navigating as I go.
#1 – remove the words ‘you said’ from their vocabulary. Our children do not understand that when you said you would finally take them to Disney World you were trying to figure out the bills, your stomach was growling even though your pants were too tight from stress eating all week, the dog just threw up on the carpet, the TV was too loud and the one person you don’t want to talk to just showed up on your Caller ID. Of course you agreed! You would have agreed to anything just to stop the noise … and your kids will not forget that that you did.
#2 – it’s unacceptable to start a sentence with s/he. I hear them going at it like two angry cats in a closet. Then it’s over and one of them comes to me in a rage. “Did you hear that?” she says. “Yes,” I reply. At this point they are forbidden to start any sentence with the word ‘she.’ This sometimes gets them so angry with me that they forgot they were mad at each other first. One of them once told me that is was their combined frustration with me that will make them bond forever, so score one for mommy.
#3 – you must never ever say the words ‘at least’. Recently one of my kids found a stain on her pants. We were on the way to school and it was too late to change. It didn’t seem like a big deal to me and I thought about saying “at least it’s small” or “at least it’s not on your shirt,” but I was silent. Had I said any of those things she would have sent a death ray from her corneas to the spot between two eyes because she is certain of only this. The stain is all anybody will talk about for weeks to come and there is absolutely no bright side. Just look at her with empathy and say nary a word. Even though her unhappiness gnaws at you, don’t do it, and resist the urge to buy her new pants. It won’t solve the her problem and you now have to take her shopping which wasn’t in the expense budget for money or your time but, if you do make this mistake I hope that you have already removed the words “you said” from their vocabulary like I suggested in tip number one.
I wish I had more, and I wish I was better at being the referee, therapist, doctor and credit card donor in my family but I’m doing my best. Is it worth a try at least? Maybe, but I can’t say that either, since I’ve already vowed to at least never say the words ‘At Least.’
If you’ve known me long enough, you know about New Food Fridays. If you don’t, you can read about how I got my kids to try something, ANTYHING new in this months issue of Family Fun (that’s me in the yellow oval). I’m so proud…
Meet George 2015. Our first snow person of the new year.
I wish I’d cataloged all the snow people I’ve made over the years. I remember being a young girl rolling giant balls of snow, first the big one, then the middle one, and finally the topper… and the face. My brother gave me lessons in rolling this way and that through the snow until I had a nice round boulder.
All bundled up, I could barely move in a black wool coat buttoned to my chin and my favorite hat tightly tied with pom pom strings. I set out in the storm to build a perfect snowman. My father was there to help assemble and decorate, and as I look back I find it remarkable that he did almost everything while holding a lit cigar between his teeth.
The most memorable snowman I ever made had no name because I, like the weather bureau, only recently started naming winter fallouts. Making that snowman seemed like an all day affair and I remember how hard I worked. The snow was a little dry so dad sent me in for a bucket of warm water. He rubbed the water over each snowy body part to make them stack better which I guess was some kind of magic boy scout remedy that only he knew about. The snowman once assembled felt ten feet high (probably because I was only three feet tall) and had the perfunctory hat and scarf, stick arms, and button eyes.
My mother stayed inside. She had all the power over the snowman adornments. After much debate, she gave me the lone carrot that was intended for the middle of the meatloaf. She handed it over grudgingly and with a warning that the meatloaf just wouldn’t hold up without it, but I needed a carrot nose, nonnegotiable.
Proudly we stood back to admire what we built and I will never forget when my father, who’s cigar was now reduced to a mere nub, walked over, took the slobbery chewed up end from his teeth and shoved it right in the mouth of our snowman, snow-dad.
We stood there, my brother, my father and I, and nodded in sync at the creation, then my father picked up the empty bucket, put his arm around me and back in the house we went where we could smell the meatloaf baking in the oven.
I’ll only admit now that I missed the carrot. Everybody said it was the same but it wasn’t. The carrot was back for the next Sunday supper but that afternoon it’s absence was unimportant. The meatloaf took one for the team.
January 1st brings me the same kind of hope as Monday mornings.
Invariably throughout the year I decide to eat right and exercise my body and brain better, maybe try organizing a closet or fix the household budget, and Monday is almost always a good day to start. So I go to sleep Sunday night fully prepared to turn over a new leaf right? Then things deteriorate (or never get started) as they sometimes do and I surrender for a fresh start on the next available Monday. But today isn’t a Monday morning, it’s the first day of a whole new year. There are colossal things to change, to build, to overcome, to do! But sadly, the enthusiasm will wane and my colossal ambitions are most often also colossal failures. This year however, things will be different.
Last year I divided my annual “what could I improve” list into three areas: Home, Health, and Hobby. I will rate myself a 5.5 for overall all success since life is about the journey after all. Here’s my report for each of the three categories.
For home I inventoried the house, I made a list of all the things that I thought needed to be done and prioritized them as a 1, 2, or 3. Between my husband and I we did most of the 1’s, some of the 2’s and I’m not sure what happened with the 3’s because we lost the list.
To improve my health I squeezed in a physical on December 29th and no surprises there. My cholesterol is too high.
As for hobby, look for my article in a soon to be released issue of Family Fun Magazine! I revived my blog, started a new Facebook page and have two regular writer’s groups… go me.
That all sounds pretty good but I still think that in 2015 I can still be more successful. Not that I feel bad about last year but can’t we all find room to improve? So in an effort to find some coaching and inspiration, I turned to some self help books and here’s what I discovered. There is help for everything and it only takes 30 days! I mean they claim a total transformation in just 30 days. I’m not kidding about this.
According to the book titles in the health category, you can fix your waistline, your heart, memory, buns and butts in thirty days. This book however claims it will take you to perfection. Click here for perfection
Until this year my family has always gathered at our house to share Thanksgiving. I clean, cook, stress and repeat, until everybody has had at least one disagreement and the house is a mess. This year I skipped the “cook, stress and repeat,” and turned this into one Thanksgiving for which I will always be grateful.
This year we hauled our fivesome to NY to watch the Macy’s Balloons inflate while navigating ourselves through a a sleet storm. We stayed in what might have been a hotel room or a closet with a bed, we’re still not sure. We ate really bad food in what seemed like a nice place and my daughters and I walked 35 blocks from our hotel to Bryant Park the day after, just window shopping and stopping once for hot chocolate.
On that long blustery walk we stopped to help an elderly lady near Central Park. From a half block away I noticed her. She wore a navy blue buttoned up wool coat with a nice white hat and scarf. She stood on the sidewalk waving while taxi after taxi passed her by and picked up the more aggressive people who were able to whistle or step out from the curb to be more visible. My guess is they didn’t see her tiny frame and passive gestures, and as we got closer I could see that her hands, one gripping her walker and the other in the air were red and chapped.
I asked if she’d like help getting a cab and she said yes, her voice brittle and the relief nearly bringing her to tears. We got her a taxi and I watched the driver help put her walker in the back of the cab. I noticed how shaky she was as he tucked her in the back seat and she told us how hard it is to be so helpless, and how kind we were to stop. I told her to have a nice holiday and stay warm and we waved goodbye.
This morning, back at home, we talked about the weekend, the funny people on the subway, the celebrities on the parade floats, the bad food and the teeny hotel room but we didn’t talk about the lady in Central Park probably because for us, for the kids, it was so small in terms of effort, but in reward it was huge. It took so little for us to help her. She needed an inch from us to go a mile and the intangible reward of her happiness wont be broken or lost or forgotten.
It makes me wish we could always move just one smidgeon in a kinder direction not because it’s Thanksgiving, but because it’s a good idea.
My birthday is looming and yesterday morning I had a little pity party for passing youth. At first it felt like bereavement for my younger prettier and thinner self, then it turned into wistful wishing for a smarter or richer life. I wished I still had a mother to cry to, and then I thought about Oldself.
Oldself isn’t in the dictionary but I’m using it anyway. It’s just the younger version of our true selves but it’s not the truth. It’s the one we choose to remember. Not the one who suffered the agonies and anxieties and mistakes of growing up, but the one who was happy and colorful and carefree and glorious. Oldself had no bad days, except maybe the darkest ones but even those are edited. Oldself is pretty and young and is running in slow motion through a field of daisies, rushing in for a hug that will last a good long time. She doesn’t have acne, or arguments, she’s so happy she doesn’t even have a Christmas Wish List. Oldself is completely content.
My kids have bad days sometimes and I remember that it was a thing once, to have a bad day. I guess with age and experience in relativity, you realize that bad days are seldom if ever entirely bad, and that bad moments happen, and soon pass. When my kids are having those down days I’m sometimes at a loss to help them because I surely can’t fix everything. I can hug them and listen to them and hope the rest fades away. I can talk about how they’ll forget all this one day but they don’t understand. They can’t. They don’t have an oldself yet.
Today when I look in the mirror I don’t see a young pretty energetic girl. I see someone who is certain that wealth isn’t measured in dollars and happiness surely doesn’t come from a store. That’s where oldself and myself align, as I expect it will for my kids one day. But oh, for now in this in between time it’s true that for my young daughters, sometimes life will be a real bitch.
So I am saying thank you to Oldself for a birthday present called perspective. Try putting that on a wish list and you’ll see what I mean about aging, I hate getting older but I don’t mind being wiser.
Let’s talk about grapes for a minute, okay? They are tasty, fun, versatile, but not free. Even so I do admit to having my own free sample grape taste now and again and yes I have allowed my kids to try a green AND a red grape before deciding on which grape would make the cut for that week. But now after 16 plus years in the supermarket with kids, I wonder just how many grapes I’ve sampled with, and without my children ? Should I run out and give the supermarket a check for one pound, maybe two? And do I offer that money on a day when they’re on sale or do I price gouge myself?
I googled this earlier and as I expected, opinions on the grape sample run the gamut from “of course it’s okay” to “you deserve jail time.” It’s a safe bet the grape police aren’t parents, and that the liberals are mostly exhausted parents of young children who think there should be a free grape buffet at the store’s entrance.
I’m somewhere in the middle of the great grape debate but in my perfect world there’s a store with goody bags of juice boxes and grapes for all the hard working and tired moms who could do with a little less guilt.
But wherever you stand on the great grape debate, I encourage you to enjoy this recipe from Real Simple that requires grapes, but just a few…