Thursday, July 31, 2008


This picture is not really what I'm talking about, but you could bring your own, I suppose.

Okay, this won't really change your life, but it may improve your life if you spend much time in a bar. Lean in, sistah. Listen carefully.

Many, many bars have hooks underneath to hang your purse.

There it is. I was saying to Jeff one night, "If only they had a hook here," and I looked and there it was. The bartender told me that most bars have them. Who knew? Not me. Men put their suit coats there, the bartender said and often leave them.

I do not know the history of the hooks. They are usually in good-old-fashioned bars so they were probably not invented for our purses. Maybe they were once there for men's hats. That was my friend Martha's thought. She also did not know they were there until I told her and when I mentioned it to my friend Christie Mellor, author of "Three Martini Playdate", she too admitted she'd just discovered them quite recently.

I suppose if you've ever ended up under a bar you may have seen them but surprisingly, I have not ever done that.

I managed to live some 47 years without knowing about them. So brilliant. So much better than leaving your purse on the back of your chair to be stolen or on the floor linked around your foot for safety reasons. If you've never done that you must live in a very, very nice place with no theft.

A word of advice though: Never ever grope around blindly to find a hook under the bar. Always LOOK underneath. I think that requires no explanation.

Hang your purse. Forget about it. Order a martini. Enjoy. Remember me when you do.



Monday, July 28, 2008


Our friend Max, his mother, daughter, and Lilly in Oak Park. Max will not tell you if you order a chicken accidentally.

This summer seems to be the season of reunions for me. So far I have returned to Spain to have a reunion with my carefree youth; I had a reunion with Max, a Dutch friend Jeff and I made when I had an internship in The Netherlands; I've been to Jeff's 30th class reunion; and my 30th class reunion is next week.

The reunion in Spain didn't go so well. I showed up but my carefree youth was nowhere to be found. You really cannot go back. You will not be able to recapture the heady, halcyon days of backpacking through Europe and making out with complete strangers when you are with your husband and your children. Well, you could try, but it would look so bad. And all those young men who used to "echar piropos" (shout poetic compliments at you) are only doing that to young ladies who could be your daughters. It's not that you aren't attractive to them, it's worse. You are invisible. As Coffee Friend 2 put it so succinctly, "You can go back to places from your youth but in the end you will just feel old as shit."

Our reunion with Max went much better. He came with his 87 year old mother and 12 year old daughter and we had fun visiting and touring around Chicago. We also had fun reminiscing about travel mishaps we shared in our twenties like the time in Berlin when I thought I ordered a coffee cake to go with my coffee at 10:00 am and instead got an entire chicken with potatoes. Why, I asked him as I did all those years ago, did you allow me to order a chicken with my coffee? Well, he responded, you seemed so very sure about it. It's true, I was always reluctant to ask for help when ordering in a foreign language. We also remembered the time Jeff ordered a Gin and Tonic with lemon in a Dutch bar and was served a glass of gin, a glass of tonic, and a glass of lemonade.

Jeff's class reunion was fun. I have a working knowledge of the key players in his class and it was fun to see that none of the cast of characters disappointed me: the queen of the hop is still the queen of Jackson, Michigan, the king is now a successful attorney in Arizona. Everyone else looked pretty good but I suppose almost without exception the only people showing up at a 30 year reunion are those who have aged well.

For those of you who still have big class reunions ahead of you, I offer some preview of what you can expect:

10 year reunion: You realize that high school and the pecking order really was bullshit. Some of the "cool people" got knocked up and married losers. Some of the losers are doing extremely well on Wall Street. For the most part though, everyone is faring as you'd expect. No one looks much older. You will talk to some people you would never have dared talk to in high school but it's not exactly as if you are suddenly buddies with the "cool kids". This is the first time in your life you realize that what is a very clear, unforgettable memory to you is most likely an event that is completely forgotten by the other people involved--this leads to a lot of conversations that start with , "Don't you remember that time....?" and a person looking at you as if you are crazy. Don't worry, the same thing will happen to you.

20 year reunion: Some people are starting to age badly but for the most part you all look pretty young. You stop asking people what they do and ask them how they are. You actually listen when they talk about their kids because you have some now too. There are very few surprises: if the queen of the prom is now fat, ugly, and divorced she is not going to make an appearance. Unfortunately for her, her mere absence leads to much speculation that she is probably fat, ugly, and divorced. You are having real trouble remembering who the cool kids were. This surprises you. You will remember someone very well--you knew her since kindergarten, remember where she lived, her parents, siblings, and pets but you cannot remember one single conversation or event you shared with her. However, you will remember very clearly how she made you feel and the kind of person she was.

30 year reunion: When you first walk in the room you will be SHOCKED by how old everyone in the room is. Then it will dawn on you that they are just normal looking 48 year olds. Some look better than others but you all look OLD for the first time. Careers and status are totally unimportant. Most of the conversation centers on where you live now, what your kids are up to, and remembering various teachers in your mutual past. You realize that by the time we all meet up in heaven we really won't care who was who in high school. At the end of the evening as you leave, no one looks very old to you anymore. They just look like a grown-up version of their high school selves.

If you have a reunion of any kind this summer, remember, to paraphrase Maya Angelou, no one remembers what you did or what you said but they will remember how you made them feel. So make someone feel good--you will not be forgotten


Monday, July 21, 2008


As I am entertaining out of town--actually, out of country, guests this week, please enjoy this previously viewed piece. Judy

“Mommy, you need to sign this sheet on our ‘Drug and Alcohol’ unit,” Grace says, shoving a piece of paper in front of me and nearly knocking my martini over.“Hey, hey, watch my cocktail there!” I say. Grace giggles and I’m grateful she isn’t one of those self-righteous kids who protests if you have a drink.

It’s common knowledge around the ‘hood that once they hit the “Drug and Alcohol” unit in fourth grade science you may have to go underground with your cocktail. I have one friend who started hiding her vodka tonic in a coffee mug. Can you believe she does that? It’s barbaric; the only thing one should drink from a coffee mug is coffee. A good cocktail deserves the proper glass. Are they teaching that in the drug and alcohol unit?

I look at the worksheet Grace has dutifully filled out for today’s assignment. It covers the dangers of using someone else’s prescription drugs. Well, I’ll drink to that. I peer at the paper,looking confused.“I don’t get it, Grace. This isn’t teaching you a thing about drugs and alcohol. Like how much Vermouth is in a dry martini? Where to go to score some smack? Now how are you supposed to learn that stuff?” I ask her.

“Mommy,” she sighs then peers over her cat glasses at me and shakes her head in exasperation. She’s an old soul and deserves a better mother than the one she got.I sigh too. I long for the days before someone told us to just say no. I prefer to just say, “Sure why not,” and “You can just freshen this up”. The sad truth is that I was born several decades too late. I want to go back to the days when mommies were encouraged to have cocktails while playing bridge and daddies had three martini lunches. When doctors handed out Valium like mints to harried housewives. Nowadays you have to see a specialist just to get Prozac. Hell, my doctor wouldn’t give me antibiotics without a full physical.

Instead of all that, I'm left with a paltry five o'clock cocktail. It does the trick, I suppose, but even that some people frown upon. I should explain; I didn’t always have a cocktail at five o’clock, but then again I didn’t always have kids.

As any mom knows the five o’clock hour is known as “the witching hour”. Like the perfect storm there are many forces at work that converge at once to form the witching hour. They are as follows:

1. Playdates, formal or informal come to an end as most mommies start to gather their brood for the evening.

2. The kids start to melt down: regardless of age, from infancy to teen-hood this is the time of day the child realizes he has not had enough of something. Not enough sleep, food, social interaction, time to get homework done…whatever; he hasn’t had enough and it’s time the universe paid for this injustice. He decides to take his frustrations out on the universe by (depending on the age of the child) wailing inconsolably, whining until his mother’s ears bleed, or sulking conspicuously (which isn’t noisy but does have the effect of sucking out all positive life-force in the room).

3. Market forces begin to take effect: the value of the TV sharply declines as PBS Kids winds down causing the value of the Play Station II to incline sharply. The result is that all the children in the household will begin to fight over the PS2.

4. The mommy realizes that, yes, once again, she has neglected to figure out what dinner might be. This is because after months or years of trying to feed her children properly she has lost a wee bit of her enthusiasm for this task. In fact, despite the fact that she is resourceful enough to come up with a Halloween costume that doubles as a winter snowsuit she can no longer think of a single meal that simultaneously meets her criteria and the children’s criteria for a proper dinner. Her criteria are that the foods must be healthy, contain no refined sugar or flour, no trans-fatty acids, be pesticide-free, and ideally be served with three vegetables. The kids’ criteria are simpler: no vegetables and all food must be white. Now if you draw a ven diagram of these two subsets you will see there is no overlap whatsoever. Oh, and I forgot, it should be something her husband likes to eat too, on the off-chance that he may get home in time for dinner. Which leads me nicely into item number 5.

5. The daddy calls from work to say that he will be late. By late he means later than his usual 7:00 p.m. time. He means well after the wild and chaotic time of day that the family euphemistically calls “bedtime”. He also does not mean he will be toiling at his desk through dinner, snacking on a banana and a glass of skim milk. He means he is headed somewhere for cocktails, adult conversation, and a meal prepared, served, and cleared away by someone else. This makes the mommy a bit resentful.

These five things almost always happen at just around 5:00. Together the fine balance of order that has been established since the children returned from school collapses like the house of cards it always was. Children begin screaming, mommies begin slamming cupboards and pots and pans, pets howl, and potted plants wither as an evil wind blows through the household. It was at just such a moment as this on a Tuesday in February (is there anything drearier than February?) that I had an epiphany. I was dumping the Kraft Mac-n-cheese into the pot (the creamy kind not that powdery stuff, what kind of mom do you think I am?) when I thought to myself, “If only it were Friday, I’d have a beer.” Then I thought, “Wait a minute! I’m not pregnant. I’m not nursing. I’m over 21. I could have a beer on a TUESDAY!” and I popped open a Sam Adams and began a new tradition.

Now when the witching hour starts winding up I simply walk over to the fridge and say hello to my good friend Sam. He takes the edge off. I’m able to concentrate on whipping up a healthy meal (like homemade macaroni and cheese) and calmly and quietly referee the melee around me.

I have shared this revelation with many friends. Most are already aware of the medicinal effects of the nightly cocktail. Some are a little concerned that it is a slippery slope that could lead to substance abuse. It is my job to reassure them that there is nothing wrong with a single cocktail. Look at the French! They have wine with lunch and dinner and have you ever seen a more relaxed country? They can’t even muster the energy necessary to fight back when invaded that’s how relaxed they are. I’ve become sort of the Dali-lama of the drinking mom set. They come to me with their concerns.

Isn’t it wrong to drink alone? Hey, you’re not alone, your kids are home (remember they’re the ones who drove you to this to begin with).

But I look so forward to having my cocktail, isn’t that wrong? You look forward to a cup of coffee and a good dump too, does that mean you need to cut them out of your life? Christ, we live in a puritanical world when you go hunting for reasons to give up the things you love.

Besides, after having given up booze for the last decade when you were trying to get pregnant, you were pregnant, and then you were nursing, you’ve got some catching up to do. Remember that wedding you went to with your office mates when you were eight months pregnant and the only sober one at the wedding (besides the flower girl) was you? Didn’t you have to watch as your friends, co-workers, and husband did the conga line through the kitchen, leaving you to waddle to the bathroom, sober as a judge. What you’ve seen sober no one should have seen. You’ve earned that drink.

My husband has no problem with this habit of mine. In fact he encourages it. On the nights when he does come home early enough, he and I have a cocktail together in the living room, threatening the children with the following: “You may not disturb us unless there is blood, vomit, or broken bones involved,” (which is exactly what we tell them when we take our Saturday afternoon “naps” too).

Even with this threat, our youngest has managed to inveigle her way into our ritual. She found my collection of tiny martini glasses; the ones I stuffed in my purse after I sampled a half-dozen Apple-tinis that those cute little girls from Absolut were serving at a fundraiser. She likes to fill them with apple juice and join us in the living room. She never interrupts us so we let her stay.

Recently, we had friends over for drinks and Lilly went and fetched her mock-tini and sat down. Our friends, parents of a newborn, looked at her slightly amused and partly horrified.

"What is that?" asked the mother.

"It's from her 'Barbie Cocktail' collection," I said smoothly. They didn't know if they should laugh or call DCFS. I ignored their faces and called Grace into the room.

“Grace,” I said, “Look at your sister. Now she’s going to do well in the fourth grade when she gets to the ‘Drug and Alcohol Unit’.” Grace shakes her head and walks away but Lilly, who is in first grade, raises her mock-tini in salute.

“Cheers, Mama,” she says.I raise my glass in return.

“Cheers indeed.” It’s nice to know a mother can pass on her wisdom to at least one of her children.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


My daughters, last month, when I still liked them.

Usually I reach this stage in the summer vacation near the end of August but this year I am ahead of the game. I'm at that stage when I'm wondering when school starts. As I type this, my daughters are having a raging fight over who lost the black leggings which the oldest daughter HAS to wear to camp tomorrow for their "Favorite Decade Day" Christ, who invents these things? Like we don't have enough of this crap during the school year when my kids seem to constantly remember on a Sunday night that they need something for a school project the next day like poster boards, and hot glue guns, and weapons grade plutonium.

You might say my kids are kind of crowding me these days. They're in my personal space. They're all up in my grill. Last week one of them stepped on the back of my flip-flop. Again. I turned and said between clenched teeth, "Would you all PLEASE stop stepping on my flip-flops?" Do you know how close you have to be walking behind someone to step on their flip-flop?

I'm not the only one feeling this way. When I brought the subject up at coffee ( I escaped from the buggers for a whole hour last week) Coffee Friend 1 agreed that she too was feeling a little cramped by having her four kids follow her everywhere. "One of them stepped on my flip-flop and it actually broke," she said. "And I want to know which parent started the email that's going around asking for a longer summer vacation." She was starting to rant a little. Her youngest looked up from the strawberry-playdough creation she was eating, amused as her mommy got hot, "I mean who the fuh wants these little bastards around one more day than they already are!"

Exactly. Yesterday, while driving my progeny around in the shuttle bus, I mean mini-van, the youngest and the oldest started bickering like my grandparents. Pushing buttons, annoying the crap out of each other, and getting louder and louder until finally, I slammed the car into park and said under my breath, "Get. Out. Of. My. Car."

To their credit, they did not argue or protest. They simply got out of the car and started to walk the few blocks home, resuming their bickering and annoying each other all the way.

I wasn't always this way. I used to love summer vacation. I mean, I still love summer vacation, but I used to love nearly all of it, not just the first six weeks. But alas, the kids get older and nature takes over. It isn't right to want to spend as much time with your 14-year-old son as you did when he was a 3-year-old. So nature turns that delightful little boy who adored you into a snarling sarcastic beast who rolls his eyes a lot. And the mommy who used to cuddle and take him on errands now kicks his sorry ass out of the minivan. Ah, the circle of life. We're right on schedule for a touching goodbye when he goes to college that should look like this--Me: Don't let the door hit you in the ass, Him: Up yours old lady.

When we took that long trip to Italy a few years back the kids got desperately homesick in the middle of it. I explained that when you travel, you will have bad days but on balance it will all be worth it. And it was. They got over their homesickness and we had a fabulous vacation. I'm hoping the same applies to summer vacation and that this too shall pass and we can enjoy the back end of our vacation as much as we enjoyed the front end.

So, here's to the dog days of summer. It's hot as hell and the cicadas are singing. My kids are arguing and I'm looking a little frantically at the calendar.

Good times.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


A bit of housekeeping...thanks to the suggestion of one kind fan, Cindy V, I've added the option to subscribe to my blog. If it works as I understand it to, you fill out a form and you get notified by email whenever I post a new blog.

Go ahead, the button is on the right there. Let me know how it works.



Tuesday, July 08, 2008


WONDER BUNNY our house bunny.

We have a pet bunny named WonderBunny who lives with us. He is fed and watered and taken to the vet on a regular basis. I often think how silly that is when I look at the bunnies in our backyard who run free. How little separates them from him and though I worry about him and take him to the vet I don't really do that for his little yard cousins.

This all came home to roost this weekend when Lilly found an injured baby bunny in the back yard. Something had already eaten the bunny siblings (we found the remains scattered around) and the mommy appeared to have abandoned her. Lilly begged to try to nurse her back to health. I knew how this would end but how could I explain the difference between caring for OUR bunny and caring for THIS bunny. Well, I couldn't really and I could not refuse her when she said, "But Mommy, I have to at least try to help."
And so we began the timeless ritual of finding a shoebox, feathering it with grass and fur and purchasing an eyedropper with which to feed the bunny. I made my stand on the issue clear, "I will buy the eyedropper but I will not take her to the vet!" I also informed her that I would not be buying kitten milk which some website said a baby bunny needs and is available at your local vet. Who milks cats?

Drawing that line in the sand is a little odd. After all, I would buy WonderBunny kitten milk if he needed it to stay alive. Hell, I'd probably milk a cat to keep WonderBunny alive.

It made me think of the kids at McNair Elementary. They're my own backyard bunnies, I guess. McNair is a school in a very bad part of Chicago that my coffee friends and I have adopted as our sister school. After railing against the disparities of education in this world (our kids have laptops, those kids don't even have crayons) we approached our principals about adopting an underpriveliged school. They were all for it and we've been able to help out a little by sending them school supplies.

I send them crayons but I don't take them to the doctor. Another line in the sand. We do what we can and hope it's enough.

It was not good enough for the wounded bunny. She died yesterday and Lilly went into deep mourning, refusing to get out of her pajamas and bursting into tears all day long. She railed against a world that allows babies to get killed when they are just days old and I could not cheer her up much with talk of nature and the circle of life.

To make it even worse, when we looked out back at dusk we saw the mommy bunny. She'd come looking for her babies but they were all gone. The import of this moment was not lost on Lilly. She burst into tears again, "Would she would have lived if her mommy could have taken care of her? Is it my fault she died because I moved her? Should we take the body to her so she knows she's gone?"
I had no answers. Maybe the bunny would have lived if we hadn't tried to help. Maybe she wouldn't but the truth was I just didn't know.

Where to draw the line in the sand? When to help and not to help? When does our help do more harm than good? These are questions for all of us and they are not easily answered.
For now I guess I'll just have to stick with Lilly's first words, "I have to at least try to help."