Category Archives: Men vs Women

Valentine’s Day – not only for the L-O-N-G Married

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On this Valentine’s Day my husband wants me to share with you the fact that he is disappointed.

By certain long-standing habits of mine that I refuse to modify.

  • One recent morning he came downstairs for breakfast and reached into the refrigerator for blueberries to eat atop his cereal. (as do I.)  What he found were two plastic containers of blueberries, side-by-side. One contained six or seven forlorn, slightly shriveled old blueberries. The other box was brand new – full of fresh, plump berries.

It was also clear, so he told me that evening  (he has an amateur sleuth badge from our mutual habit of watching far too many BBC detective shows) that a person he knows all too well had obviously opened up the new box of berries without taking the time to finish what was left of the old berries. Which is – according to him – a sad commentary on the differences that remain  between us even after almost 39 years of marriage.

That I would brashly dig into the sweetest of berries, because I knew I could leave it to him to polish off the older sad-looking berries.

And wouldn’t you do the same?

Given all of life’s difficulties (have you been watching the national news lately?), isn’t it reasonable, when presented with the choice, to go with the most tempting option?

I mean, I’m thrifty when I have to be – but when I don’t have to be, I do like to eat the freshest food first.

  • On a related note, he also likes to point out to anyone who will listen that I possess all of the necessary qualifications for immediate hire by whatever  division it is of the U.S.Department of Agriculture in charge of putting sell-by dates on food. Because he believes (wrongly) that a person can    confidently and safely consume food that is well past said sell-by date.

He quibbles with my predilection to toss out food that shows even the most recent of expired dates. We have – and I’m not proud of this – argued at length about what “sell by” means versus “use by.”

But don’t you also want to stay healthy?

I try to reason with him by explaining that if I were to eat very old food I could end up in the hospital – again.  (a place I do not want to re-visit having spent far too long there in 2012). If I were to become ill because of eating spoiled food, my husband would have to visit me in the hospital and that would cost him both time ( I can’t miss that much work!) and money (do you believe how expensive this hospital parking garage is?)

So I am only trying to be helpful by eating the freshest of food.

Unlike my husband who truly does love old food. And I don’t say this snidely. In all seriousness, he prefers to eat leftovers. Previously cooked food that resides inside little plastic containers inside our refrigerator for days, even for weeks, tastes good to him.

And if the most ancient of leftovers have a slightly blue tinge, all the better. (“it’s fine, it’s just like blue cheese. you like Roquefort cheese, don’t you?” he will say in his defense as he chomps down.)

Am I spoiled because I like to eat fresh food, prefer not to eat leftovers – and have a somewhat tightly wound approach to tossing out foods immediately after their use-by date? Perhaps so.

If he were a writer – he would want to edit this post – to tell you that his preference for older (a polite way of putting it) food comes to him by how he was raised. He is the child of immigrants who came to this country in the early 1950’s and worked extraordinarily hard in their factory jobs to raise a family who knew how important it was not to let any food go to waste.

I am a few generations removed from the immigrant experience and maybe that is why I am less thrifty about food than I should be. While my stay-at-home mom was hardly extravagant with her supermarket food purchases,  leftovers do not feature as large a role in my childhood memories as they do in my husband’s.

On this Valentine’s Day we consider ourselves lucky that we can share a laugh about a few old berries. Because last year was a very rocky one for us as parents. Life events tested our differing perspectives on far more serious concerns than the shelf stability of food.

It’s very important to laugh about left-overs. I highly recommend it to everyone, parents or not, l-o-n-g marrieds or not. Finding the funny in blue-tinged food can get you through the toughest of times.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Adult Kids, Aging, Family, Holidays, Husbands, Marriage, Men vs Women, Parenting, Relationships, Women

Working Mom – Making the “Right” Choices? A Look Back.

               Female lawyer working in office

A Chanukah gift from my sister arrived yesterday – a book called “Becoming Grandma” written by the TV journalist, Leslie Stahl. The timing of the gift was impeccable as my husband and I just returned from four fun, albeit diaper-change-filled, days taking care of our two grandkids while their parents spent a few nights away. I saw the author’s photo on the cover of the book – and was reminded of a draft blog post (see below) I wrote but never published. I’m still not sure if it was Leslie Stahl who had the seat next to me on the plane that day in 1990  – but seeing her photo prompted me to revisit the choices we make as working moms (and for some of us, working grandmothers.) And to think about the consequences of these choices.

Looking back, I still wonder if I made the right choices. Maybe Leslie Stahl or whoever she was on the plane wonders too?

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Life presents many choices – and one of them is whether or not to read a women’s magazine on a an airplane.

Some years ago when I was a Young Mom I took a late afternoon shuttle flight from New York City back to Washington, DC. I was returning from a business trip, traveling solo. A rare thing in my Young Mom days.

On the plane I found a seat and glanced to my right. My seat-mate was a Famous Tall Blonde TV News Person. I no longer remember her name.

Immediately I thought, “Here’s my chance.” 

I will make a casual but clever remark which will lead to an intelligent conversation with another adult (defined in my Young Mom days as someone who (a) did not wear diapers and (b) was not related to me by marriage –  a successful, talented woman, one who loves the news, all things media, as much as I did – and still do.

Or – I could just flip through the pages of The New Yorker magazine that I had brought with me on the plane –  and the Famous Tall Blonde TV News Person will no doubt look my way, see me reading an Intellectual Magazine and initiate a thoughtful chat.

We would likely end up conversing all through the flight and as the plane taxied to the terminal, we would exchange business cards and talk about getting together in a week or two.

But being a Young Mom I had also brought another magazine on board with me.

Should I open up my women’s magazine and catch up on my Young Mom required reading such as: “10 Tips for Tantrum Free Toddlers”- OR should I stick with the New Yorker?

 I chose “10 Tips for Tantrum-Free Toddlers.”

About ten minutes into the flight the Famous Tall Blonde TV News Person looked my way and glanced at the magazine on my lap.

By then I had moved on to “8 Exciting Easy Recipes for Week Night Dinners.” She turned her well-coiffed head and ignored me for the rest of the flight.

So I never got to find out if the Famous Tall Blonde TV News Person and I would have hit it off. Probably not.

In my Young Mom days I always felt like I had dual personalities – a Mom at home and a Lawyer at the office but never the twain shall meet. We were advised to low-key the Mom thing if we wanted to be successful at work.

A young partner at my first law firm once “helpfully” suggested to me that I should reduce the amount of kid-related decor in my office.  Too many photos of my kids and their crayoned pictures sent the message that I cared more about spending hours with my family than billing time for my clients.

Why was it, I wondered (although I didn’t dare say this aloud) acceptable, if not outright admired, for men to show off their Dad sides? If a male lawyer in my office decided to leave early for soccer practice, he would be lauded as a “family man.”

Funny, isn’t it, how the term “family woman” doesn’t exist?

But if I had to do it again – reflecting now on 30 plus years of working mom status (where is my badge?), I’d probably make the same choices. The office display of family photos and kiddie-drawings. Leaving mid-day to go to the school play. Not missing a school conference.  Taking criticism from certain of my male law firm colleagues when they “caught” me by the elevators, exiting the office at 6:30 p.m. and asking – “taking a half-day, Nancy?”

And not feeling guilty about reading a women’s magazine on an airplane, no matter who had the seat next to mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Avert Your Eyes! a/k/a Wearing Shorts to the Law Firm

 

NLW LAwyer

 

Here we are in a typical, sizzling, steamy July in Washington DC. And I don’t know about you, but I like to dress appropriately for very hot weather.

Not everyone agrees with my definition of appropriate.

There was a strict dress code at the first law firm where I worked. A large firm with long gray halls, gray-walled offices and lawyers who often wore gray suits to match. Not a fun place.

Per the dress code, open-toe shoes were banned. Truly, this was in writing – ladies (lawyers and staff) must not wear open-toe or peep-toe (although I’m not sure if the term “peep toe” had been invented in the 1980’s)  shoes of any kind.

I suppose this prohibition was to prevent male lawyers from seeing a few female toes, lest they be distracted by toe nudity from the crucial business of billing a high number of hours to clients who paid a fortune for the brilliant advice we gave them.

On a particularly scorching summer day, the kind that our Nation’s Capital specializes in, several of us stood in a law firm hall discussing the weather. An older partner shared his view that when the outdoor temperature exceeded his body temperature, all dress code rules could be abandoned.

If it was over 98.6 degrees outside, he claimed we should be able to wear what we wanted to.  Sounded reasonable to me.

I tested it out. I didn’t show my toes – but my knees.

One Saturday morning in July, law firm management decided to hold a rare all-lawyer, morning meeting at a downtown hotel. It was an extremely hot day, the apex of an extended heat wave. So I decided to wear white shorts.

Perfectly nice white shorts, well-ironed, to-the-knee, Bermuda-type shorts with a stylish shirt on top.

The managing partner of the firm stood at the lectern and greeted all of us – perhaps there were 160 lawyers in the audience. He made a few opening remarks about the soaring summer temperatures – then launched into a critical commentary about the only person in the room who was incorrectly dressed.

Me.

All eyes now on the 30-ish young woman, seated in row 11, noticeable not for my legal acumen, but for my rule-breaking white shorts. I had distinguished myself as the only person – male or female (perhaps 14 out of the 160) – in the entire firm who chose to wear shorts on blazingly hot day – oh, the sheer gall of it.

I tried to look downcast, demure and embarrassed. But inwardly I felt as if I was in the right, and that the other lawyers had shown their usual sheep-like adherence to all rules by wearing long-pants or long-ish skirts on one of the hottest days of the year.

At my second law firm sometime in the  late 1990’s the dress code was tossed out in favor of “business casual”, an undefined term that men more readily latched onto than women.  Men could wear a standard uniform of hideously-pleated-front khaki pants and polo shirts and call themselves “business casual.” We didn’t have a wardrobe counterpart.

I tried to adhere to the standards of “business casual” for women.

Yet on another scorching hot July day, a day when the outdoor temperature was above my body temperature, I again tempted fate and wore white shorts to work. This time on a weekday.

Now my second firm consisted of 22 or so lawyers and a similar number of staff. It was not a formal place. Our scattered-across-the-US. clients made infrequent in-person visits.

Still there were apparel rules of the unwritten kind.  And even though I was a now a partner at the second law firm, I violated a rule by showing up in nice white Bermuda shorts.

The managing partner, a good friend, took me aside and quietly suggested that wearing shorts to the office, whatever the weather, was not one of my better ideas.

Looking back, now that I am now no longer down-town-office-bound on a daily basis, I wonder what led me to challenge the work dress rules.

I am more of a rule-bender, rather than a rule-breaker type. So it wasn’t defiance of authority that led to my choice. More likely I chose to wear shorts because it was the practical thing to do. I am known for being a very practical person. And on both of those July shorts-wearing days it was extremely hot.

Lower temperatures, more clothing. Higher temperatures, less clothing.

A guideline that still seems reasonable to me.

I doubt that anyone at either of the two law firms was stirred to dubious ethical action by the sight of my (then) knobby knees and (still) slender legs on those two days when I wore shorts. Yet that feeling of being scolded for a clothing choice still rankles.

As I write this, it is 98 degrees outside. We are again in the middle of a July heat wave. I am wearing shorts. Tomorrow I will wear shorts too. And likely the next day as well.

Not sure of the weather where you are – or of the workplace you might be in, but I say go for it. Nice white shorts are always flattering. If the powers-that-be call you out on your apparel, suggest that they avert their eyes. After all, they say that the legs are the last to go.

 

 

 

 

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Do We Stay or Do We Go? – The Empty Nesters’ Dilemma

lilacs - spring, 2015

 

 

Last week it was suggested to me, ever so gently, by my husband, JP, that we reconsider our once-mutual decision to sell our house this spring.

Tell me again,” he asked as we ate dinner in our newly uncluttered kitchen. “Why do we want to move? I like it here.”

I sighed and repeated what the financial advisor told us this winter  – sell now! the market is “HOT”! –  You are empty nesters, you no longer need a three-bedroom brick, colonial home-built in 1948 in which you have lived for 33 years. Time to downsize! Move closer in! Free yourselves of unneeded possessions and repairs!

It sounded very appealing to me. Not as much to JP.

I don’t want to downsize. I like my yard. I like my garage. I like washing my car in the driveway. I even like washing your car.”  My Detroit-born husband puts a high priority on car care.

But don’t you want to be able to walk everywhere? That’s the new big thing. We’ll move to a new condo or apartment with a high “walkability” score.” I told him, visualizing romantic evening strolls to trendy bars and restaurants.

“If we want to take a walk, we can do it in our own neighborhood.  I like sitting in my own back yard, not with strangers in a shared courtyard on an apartment or condo roof. Our house seems perfectly fine to me.”

Versions of this conversation have played out for the past few weeks. I continue to declutter and donate, to empty shelves and cabinets, to get rid of law school books and obsolete electronics . My husband stays out of my way – he doesn’t stop the going-on-the-market-soon process from going forward –  but his distinct lack of enthusiasm hangs heavily in the air.

So I venture off like Goldilocks to find just the right place to move to – that will convince him we should sell once he sees what a terrific new apartment or condo I can find. Our realtor is confident our house will sell quickly. Very soon, she predicts, millennials will be swarming by the dozens to buy our home so they can start a family here – just as we did as young marrieds.

Speaking of millennials, did you know that real estate developers are rapidly building new apartments seemingly targeted at them?

This week I visited several of these new apartment communities that are springing up around us – all deliberately called “communities” – because they market themselves to entice you to sign a lease asap so you make new pals with whom you will soon be exercising in the spiffy gym, mingling in the modern club room and sitting around the community fire pit in the evenings.

These “communities” feature incredibly peppy sales reps who show you floor plan after floor plan as they exuberantly describe the many amenities “your new community” features:

  • bike storage in the basement!
  • weekly “yappy” hours for you and your canine friend!
  • fun events with local bars and restaurants!
  • free craft coffee in the modern lobby!
  • “Wine Down Wednesdays”!
  • “Breakfast on the Go”!
  • And more!!!

Pretty good, huh? Yes, if you are under age 40, my husband comments when I show him the glossy brochures one night after he gets home from work.

We already have plenty of friends, we have our own coffee and wine, we have our own bike storage (it’s called our garage)…our dog doesn’t get along so well with other dogs, you know that – and he loves our fenced back yard  – and what do I need a fire pit for?” he asks.

He makes some good points but I resist – pointing again to the photos of the shiny new, albeit tiny-size, kitchens and living areas in the floor plans. 942 square feet sounds much larger than it is.

Where would we host our family and friends and have our holiday dinners? I don’t see dining rooms in any of these floor plans, do you? The small tables they show barely seat four people.” JP continues. “Just three small closets. How would we manage?”

Rest assured, I tell him –  all of these new apartment “communities” offer extra storage spaces we can rent (for an additional monthly fee, of course.)

Have you failed to notice,” he responds. “that we already have our own free storage spaces?  We have a big basement, not to mention a tool closet and a cedar closet. Why should we move someplace much smaller and then pay extra for storage?”

His tone ups its’ sarcasm quotient as he shakes his head.

 And where would we park our cars? We each have one, remember.”

Again the car thing. To say that JP is hung up on car care underscores the obvious.

I have the answer to this one. “They offer underground parking. $200 a month. For one car. You have to pay an additional fee for a second car.”

I can park for free in my own driveway. So can you!” he retorts. “Why do we want to uproot ourselves to move? You are not very convincing.”

Perhaps my advocacy skills have slipped since my lawyering days.  I must marshal better arguments to persuade him.

We are now at an impasse; the realtor’s Listing Agreement sits – unsigned – on our kitchen counter.

 

                                                                                          *****TO BE CONTINUED*****

 

 

 

 

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Finding Your Own Lane in “Semi-Retirement”

stratton mtn

On a family trip one summer to Vermont we stopped at a familiar ski area to ride its’ alpine slide.

For the uninitiated, an alpine slide starts at the top of a non-snow-covered mountain where you sit on a sled, with a control stick between your knees, and guide your own ride along the twists and turns of a trail down the hill to the bottom.

The best part about this summer slide at Bromley Mountain is that it’s a triple track – described as “North America’s first triple-tracked” alpine slide, 2/3 of a mile long.

Triple Track means (duh) that each rider has three tracks to chose from. As I remember they were labeled – Fast, Medium and Slow – or maybe the three tracks had more clever names like #1 -“Speed For Teens”, #2 – “Active Dads” and #3 – “Moms Who Are Very Cautious.”

Whatever their designations were, I chose – no surprise here  – the latter, the slowest but steady track, kind of my life mantra, expressed on the side of a mountain. My husband and teenage son picked the faster paths, then whizzed down the mountain on their own sleds.

They were waiting for me when I arrived, five minutes later, having applied my own s-l-o-w sled’s brake multiple times as I approached every sharp turn and fast straightaway.

That triple alpine track was made for me – I like to be in charge of my own ride. I love the opportunity to choose my lane. If only life was like that alpine track.

Lately I have been veering from lane to lane.

One day I am happily zooming around with multiple plans and projects, volunteering, lunching with friends, going to meetings. The next I am contentedly at home by myself – along with our trusty terrier at my side – thinking that nothing is better than being able to sit alone in a comfortable chair (I know, don’t sit too long! bad for your health. I get it) – and write.

I did not choose to retire from my law firm at age 60 – that was an unexpected decision made for me by the cardiac authorities.  All of the articles on what to do to plan for retirement were suddenly irrelevant. I was plopped into it whether I liked it or not.

Three years have passed since then and I am still finding my way in what I call “semi-retirement.” Every day I either do too much – or I do too little.  Finding the right balance, the right lane has been tricky.

I would love nothing more than to sit at a desk all day and write. I’ve written a few short stories featuring (what else) witty and worried women in law firm settings.  Do I turn one of my favorite of these short stories into the first chapter of a novel? Or do I keep writing stories until I come up with a collection of them? Haven’t I set aside my childhood dream of becoming a published author for too long?

How ambitious those plans sound. And how self-indulgent. I now have the choice to spend hours doing what I love – while my husband is very much not-retired – (he likes his job, but loving it? you’d have to ask him.)

I  feel responsible to be productive. So some of what I write is non-fiction and earns a (tiny) fee, and I talk and write about young adult mental health and get paid for that too – and next fall, if it happens and I hope it will, I may get to teach a class about the state of mental health on college campuses.

Do these small paying “gigs” add up to giving me the right to stay in the slow lane with my writing projects?

Will the guilt I feel when I sit down to write ever subside?

I think about this as I veer from “semi-retirement” lane to lane and then back again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“The Last French Fry”: A Meeting of the Minds and Palates for Valentine’s Day

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I had another post all ready to go for today, but then realized that Valentines’ Day is this Sunday. Luckily, the wonderful women in my DC writers’ group liked a recent essay I wrote about the meeting of the minds and palates that led to my long marriage. They urged me to share it with the readers of my blog. So I’m posting it here. WARNING: It’s very food-centric and may pique your appetite; perhaps you should eat a delicious snack of your choice before reading it.

The Last French Fry

 

I blame my parents for my love of fried food

My Mom died when I was 28 and my Dad is now 93 years old and no longer eats fried food, with or without his false teeth in place. Except when we travel from DC to visit him in Connecticut. Then for old times’ sake, even though we all acknowledge it is not half as good as it once was, a fact which does not deter us, we drive to our favorite place, Rawleys, the old hot dog stand with the wooden booths on the Post Road where locals patiently stand in long lines to eat deep-fried hot dogs. We order with “the works” for my Dad, with “light mustard and onions” for me and with “chili and onions” for my husband. And two large orders of French fries, please.

I always fight over who gets the last French fry.

It is not that I am overly-attached to French fries. It is that I never used to eat the last French fry. For many years I meticulously avoided eating the last of anything, the last cookie on the plate, the last slice of pizza, the last chip in the bag.

My Mom told me that eating the last of anything meant I would become an old maid. A spinster. Unlikely to wed. She shared this bit (among many others) of folk wisdom of unknown origin with me when I was in my vulnerable teens and I took it quite to heart. It was not likely I would be without a husband since I was, from age 13 on, perhaps due to my large breasts, never without a boyfriend in tow. But I studiously refused to eat the last of any food item. Just in case.

When I met Jim, my husband-to-be, at a mixer in our dorm’s courtyard on the first night of international relations grad school, I tried to impress him with my sophisticated tastes.

I pretended to knowledge of foreign films I did not have and acted like I understood his position on the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. I did not want to let on that I regularly watched low-brow shows on TV to relax, read murder mysteries set in cozy British villages for the same reason and relished all fried foods. He thought he had met an intellectual, highly cultured young woman raised in an upscale suburban town. The part about the upscale suburban town was true.

On one of our first dates he set about to impress me with his high-brow interests. He took me to the Brattle Street theatre in Cambridge to see one of his favorite films – the painfully long, classic black & white 1938 Russian drama “Alexander Nevsky” which told the stirring tale of a 13th century battle on the icy steppes of Siberia. As giant horses and costumed Cossacks galloped on the screen, I feigned interest and glanced frequently yet discreetly, I hoped, at my watch.

After the film finally ended, he steered me to a Cambridge cafe he had found earlier that day. For all of Jim’s lofty talk about Eastern European politics and his multiple language abilities, he did not know how to read restaurant menus very well.

Only after we sat down did he discover that the menu he had seen outside the restaurant had been for lunch only. When the waiter handed us dinner menus with their significantly higher prices, I saw him wince. It was then I learned he was a scholarship student from a working class family.

The lunch menu he could afford; the dinner menu was well beyond his budget. I offered to go 50/50 on the check, an arrangement well suited to my 1970’s era feminist policies. And thus our long-term dating and dining relationship was born.

We both liked talking about international affairs (I acknowledged to his delight that he had the more in-depth knowledge), but when it came to eating ethnic cuisine, our palates were on equal footing. It had not gone unnoticed by me that ethnic cuisine offered many varieties of fried food. Somehow it was less guilt-inducing to indulge in fried food if it originated in another country.

As we continued to date through our first year of grad school, we frequented inexpensive restaurants of every ethnic stripe in the Boston area – Greek, Mexican, Sushi, Szechuan and Thai. When those became too tame for us, we ventured further out to Armenian neighborhoods to sample lahmajuns, to Korean communities to eat kimchi and to an Indonesian café to taste nasi goreng.

One of the reasons that Jim liked me, or liked eating with me, which was almost the same thing, given how often we dined out or carried in, was that I talked far too much. I talked more than I ate. He figured this out early on and took advantage of my garrulousness.

While I was busy chatting, he would nod his head, appear to be listening closely to me, but actually was aiming his fork at my plate of half-eaten Kung Pao Chicken, spearing a piece or two or three as I blabbed on. It was only after we had been together for about six months that I realized half of my dinner was regularly disappearing into his mouth. By that time, I was so besotted with him that I didn’t care.

When Jim was introduced to my Mom, she fell in love with him too. In part because he was an adventurous eater, but more so because he was always willing to share his dessert with her. When we visited them in Connecticut, my parents took us to their favorite French restaurant where Jim enjoyed moules Biarritz and the restaurant’s signature, Grand Marnier soufflé (order 25 minutes in advance please) for the first time.

Jim impressed both my Dad and Mom as a thoughtful person and a well-mannered eater. However, when he asked the waiter for mayonnaise to put on his tongue sandwich during a lunch at my parents’ mostly-Jewish country club, my Dad’s eyebrows raised high with disapproval.

It took us nearly four years to gain my Dad’s approval, and to realize that despite our religious and socioeconomic differences, our shared food palate would unite us forever. After we got engaged, my Mom gladly set about finding a caterer who would offer a menu to suit the tastes of both our families.

The ceremony was set for 12:30 p.m. rather than noon, because, according to another bit of obscure folk wisdom courtesy of my Mom, it was luckier to marry when the hands of the clock were on the upswing. On a lovely day in late May in the backyard of my family’s house, we toasted with Greek metaxa whiskey sours, dined under a big striped yellow tent on spanakopitas, gazpacho andaluz and coulibiac of salmon and then danced the Jewish hora and the Macedonian horo in circles around the dance floor.

There was nary a French fry in sight at our wedding reception. But then I didn’t have to worry about biting into that last fry anymore. And, luckily, 37 years later I still don’t.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day to all!

 

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Gift Giving and Gift Getting: “I’m not hard to buy a gift for, really I’m not.”

FullSizeRender [636456] Kitchen Tyler

 

I spotted a bright blue bag semi-hidden on a chair in our dining room earlier this morning.  Frothy bits of tissue paper erupted from its’ top. It must be another Hanukkah gift! How fun, I thought, my husband, JP, is going to surprise me tonight – on the 8th and last night of the holiday with an unexpected extra gift.

Hanukkah is a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar. We light candles, say the blessings, sing songs and celebrate with friends and family. As adults, we exchange small gifts only on the first night.

So what could this extra surprise gift be? I told myself I should wait until he gets home from work. But curiosity often (always?) gets the best of me and I walked over to the bright blue bag. I’m not proud to admit this, but I rumbled through the tissue paper to get a peek.

And what did I find inside the bag?

A kit of prescription preparation supplies for JP’s colonoscopy scheduled for later this week.

Another gift search foiled, serves me right.

I could go all treacly here and say how wonderful it is that my husband remembers (after numerous post-it note prodding by yours truly) to have regular health check-ups and that the real gift will be his news that the colonoscopy went well. All clear, I hope the doctor tells him later this week, no more unpleasant details needed, please.

But instead the dashed expectations of the bright blue bag made me think of my own less than satisfactory history as a gift recipient. Which puzzles me because, all modesty aside, I am both easy to buy for and a truly great gift giver.

Known among family and friends as a “good picker”, I have an eye for that special gift. Like the customized cross-word puzzle I gave my Dad with personalized clues based on his own life history. The perfect vintage poodle print for my friend Liz. The hand-created framed collage I made for JP, then my boyfriend, featuring creative images from the early days of our courtship.

That was also the year that my future-husband-to-be reciprocated by giving me a set of metal nail clippers in a red leatherette case. A few seasons later his Hanukkah gift was a heavy flannel nightgown sporting delicate white eyelet ruffles at its’ high neck. There was also the time he gave me huge, hideously dangling, bright orange fan-shaped earrings.

And when I turned sixty, my closest friends hosted a small dinner for me after which I eagerly opened their gifts. Skin cream. Hand cream. A gift certificate for a facial. More moisturizer. Another hand cream.

So this is how I am perceived: As someone who needs help cutting her nails, likes to dress in the image of an American pioneer woman while sleeping, enjoys wearing large flashy earrings and has very, very, very, very dry skin.

All untrue! Shouldn’t my husband and friends know me better?

You can attribute nice motives to each gift giver, of course.  The nail clipper set proved useful. The nightgown was intended to keep me warm. The earrings were handmade, purchased at a favorite crafts fair.  And while my skin is well-kept, thank you, I do have a known weakness for creams and lotions that smell of lavender. So points there.

Perhaps the real point of the bright blue bag colonoscopy supplies episode is that reality intrudes even during the happiest of gift-giving seasons.

This year it was our two-year old grandson who received from us – in my humble opinion – the most thoughtful Hanukkah gift of all. A relatively inexpensive toy kitchen which we quickly discovered was reasonably priced because it had been falsely labeled as “easy to assemble”. The 75 lb. box was delivered to our door by a brawny UPS guy last week.

Inside the box we found a 16 page booklet of visual-only instructions, 42 separately numbered particle-board and plastic pieces and 104 (I counted) small screws and bolts encased in individual plastic bags.

With my minor assistance, JP completed the kitchen in four plus hours which included much cursing and “whose idea was this” grumbles. But so worth it when our grandson’s eyes lit up when he saw his very own faux stainless steel refrigerator, oven, stove and dishwasher ensemble – including a non-working kitchen faucet and painted-on subway-tile backsplash.

This week while our grandson is busy stirring painted wood food inside tiny pots and pans on his new-four-burner stove, my husband will be busy shall we say, modifying his diet (again, no unpleasant details needed) in “anticipation” of his upcoming colonoscopy.

Celebrations, holidays, spending time with family always coincide with reality. Getting gifts we may not like. Giving gifts we hope our recipients love. And waiting on the news of the one gift always high on our getting older wish list, one you cannot assemble, construct or purchase –  good health.

 

 

 

 

 

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