“…we’re not in Kansas anymore”

Dorothy’s line in the Wizard of Oz, I’ve a feeling  we’re not in Kansas anymore, delivered to her beloved Toto when they arrived in Oz has become a classic. So many times lately it runs through my head, because we are not in Kansas anymore either. Life is not normal and many things we experience are uncomfortable and unfamiliar. I don’t think I will ever get used to seeing people wearing masks though it has already become routine. We live day to day with an underlying fear that the virus is out there and until there is a miracle vaccine we will not be getting back to whatever “normal” was. All we can do is adjust to the “new normal.”

In the interim for the next months, we have to accept that life has irrevocably changed for us in little ways and big ways though maybe in some instances it might end up being for the better. We are challenged to be flexible.  I have to say I’m enjoying my two writing classes on Zoom. My Wednesday morning memoir class is great as is my Friday morning poetry. The most important part about these classes is that they encourage me to write every week as well as engage with the other class members.

No one could argue less Bay Area traffic has been a positive outcome though it signifies less people going to work. It also means a fundamental change in more people being able to work from home and spending less time on the road. My son in law tells me he has gotten used to working from home despite the distractions of the children. It will be interesting to see how working from home will continue.

I miss not being able to attend my synagogue the way I used to on a regular basis. It is opening gradually in phases, at first only on for limited attendance daily services, though one must reserve  a spot in advance. Because I am a “senior” I need to get permission from my doctor to attend.  Oy vey. That sounds daunting, and I probably just won’t even try. I love getting dressed up with a nice dress and one of my many hats, going to services on Saturday morning, seeing friends, sharing a bite, socializing, and of course getting my spiritual fix hearing the rabbi speak and even from just being in the building. It is what I have done my whole life and it is difficult to not be able to do it.

I’m already fretting over the high holidays. I can’t imagine what they will look like. My high holiday traditions run deep; attending services, get-togethers with family and friends. I know for certain this year will be radically different, and it is doubtful we can even attend a limited version of services. Because we observe the Orthodox traditions, we won’t be on Zoom as other denominations will be. It will be very strange and I’m trying to wrap my head around it now in advance.

Another new phenomenon to cope with was getting a call from my husband’s doctor’s office and being informed his visit would be a tele-visit. We were not really happy with this latest change. How can there be a real check up just talking?  It seems very inadequate and I fear the beginning of a new trend.  One of my doctors is doing the same thing. I think back to when I was a child, and our pediatrician, Dr. Wolf, would make a house call if one of us was sick and sometimes come twice in one day. I still remember he would give us penicillin shots for everything. Ouch! Oh my Toto, those days are long gone .

My husband’s gym which is especially geared for cardiac rehab that he relied on and attended faithfully is closed for the next months. They don’t know when they are reopening. It’s just another reality of this current situation.  My gym is opening with pages of rules and new procedures. I’m not even sure I want to go back. The good news is that Jeff and I walk  several times every week usually around three miles at a time, and we have a list of places we like to go to now. Most of the time these locations are not crowded, and we can leave off our masks. We have discovered many wonderful scenic locales, near the bay or surrounded by magnificent redwoods. We are so lucky to have incredible natural wonders and delights very close.

I salute my sister and her new husband for adapting to the Covid 19 crisis in an amazing  and flexible way. They were supposed to get married in the summer and were planning a big celebration. Their children would be traveling from the East Coast and Israel (where my niece was spending the year with her family.) It would have been a real bash with family and friends coming from all over. Then came the virus and all their plans were derailed. These two lovely seniors, were not going to let the virus stop them. True love prevailed and they got a last minute slot to have a Zoom wedding with one day’s notice conducted by the county of San Mateo. They called their rabbi to be there remotely, informed their closest family and friends and my nephew set it up a computer and speaker in his backyard in San Carlos with his family the only people close by (but still social distancing.)

 The rabbi had told them they would exchange rings, and do the rest of the traditional  ceremony when they could have everyone gathered. They got rings from Costco the night before (which didn’t fit )and my sister put together a bouquet. Her beautiful dress was still at the dress salon, but in the end it didn’t really matter. She was a radiant bride.

The suspense was provided by the registrar from the county who kept going back and forth with them until the marriage certificate was correct which meant sending versions of it on their iPhones. I was holding my breath watching from my screen, but my sister and her husband were as cool as could be. This makeshift ceremony could not have been envisioned by my sister in all her worst pre-wedding nightmares. Finally the certificate was accepted, they said their vows, the Rabbi said a few sweet words and blessings, and they exchanged rings. Everyone all over the world  yelled Mazel Tov from their screens. In the end it was perfect and certainly a wedding to remember.

No Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore, but we are in that new place, somewhere over the rainbow. We have to emulate the happy couple, make adjustments, work around what we are able to do, accept what we can’t change for now, and above all, stay healthy and let love prevail.

Pancakes for Dinner

During the past months of all the tumult brought on by the Covid-19 crisis, I’ve felt a little off kilter. I know I’m not alone in this feeling of discombobulation….(now that’s a three cent word!) It’s just knowing that things are not normal nor will they be for a very long time, if ever. We are settling in to a “new normal” whatever that entails. Now I grab a mask every time I leave the house. I have become used to seeing people on the street and at the store in masks and no longer look at them as if they are aliens.               

My how things have changed. I remember before we went in to lock-down seeing news showing people in China wearing masks. I used to be amused, think how quaint and how ridiculous. Do they really need masks? I also assumed a virus thousands of miles away had no relevance for me. We have learned a harsh lesson that we live in a small world which has no borders. We are just one big dysfunctional family. I think of that song you hear in Disneyland, “It’s a Small World, which stays in your head for days. The ride is fun anyway.               

Have you noticed in these crazy days misplacing things? Here is our saga which is pretty funny anyway. First my husband misplaced his hearing aid which he had put in the console of my car. He takes them out before putting on his mask because they are easy to pull out. I’ve already lost three earrings. When we are back in our car after our hike in the redwoods he goes to put on his hearing aid and one is missing. Then the hunt ensues with flashlights looking in the crevices of the car, underneath the car seats which we do for several days. The good news is he could reorder a free hearing aid (saving maybe $800) from Costco on a one time basis which comes with the warranty for the hearing aid. The caveat is if you find it, you can’t cancel the order so be sure you lost it.

Certain that his hearing aid was lost, he put in the order. The next event was losing his car keys. He had come home from a fast food stop when the person handing him the food sneezed though covered his mouth. Nonetheless my husband was totally rattled and came home shaken. That was when his keys disappeared. Then the hunt for the keys began. We looked everywhere…in garbage cans, in every pair of pants, under the bed, in sofas, turned the house upside down. They were just gone. I decided to look in his jacket pocket one more time digging way in. What do I find? Not the keys, but the hearing aid. Yes, this is the truth. However, you guessed it. Though we tried, we could not stop the re-order of the hearing aid.               

Anyway, we are trying to not be distracted but it doesn’t always work. I lose my cellphone maybe once a day. I lost it at home one morning and spent a half hour going upstairs and downstairs looking for my phone under beds, in furniture, in all the bedrooms. No phone anywhere. I go out to my car and it looks like it is in the car based on my Bluetooth message. I’m frustrated, Out come the flashlights again and my husband is helping me look under the driver’s seat.

Guess what he finds? He sees his old car keys though he has no clue as to how they got there. I blame this disquietude on the Covid-19 crisis. And do you know what feels good and soothing? Pancakes for dinner. There is nothing like mindless carbs to soothe and comfort one when life feels out of sorts. Moral of the story, try to put your keys and phone back in the same place and get a case for your hearing aids and keep a box of pancake mix on hand for emergencies.

Almost Paradise

All the way through my eight chemotherapy sessions I kept a vision in my mind of going to Maui. The thought of ocean waves, warm sun, sandy beaches and drinks with paper umbrellas provided me with a dream to cling to during rough patches.

I had no idea that chemotherapy would be so tough. The actual infusions took several hours. I had two different types of drugs, four sessions for each. The first four treatments, the AC portion were brutal. While you are sitting for the infusion, which means drugs pour in to you intravenously, you don’t feel anything. You can eat and drink, doze and listen to music. I had a mix of rock music and favorite tunes on my I phone and brought snacks and lunch. The first half hour were anti-nausea drugs. Chemo is given these days unlike years past with a great deal of effort to not letting the patient experience the severe vomiting. The anti-nausea medicine administered by IV lasts for several days. I also had an arsenal of anti- nausea medicines to take orally at home if needed.

After the administration of the anti- nausea medicines, the nurse came over with the bag containing the AC portion. This drug is known as the “red death” because it turns your urine pink, but more than that you can feel like death warmed over when you are recuperating from it. There is a very strict protocol about administering the chemo drugs. Two nurses have to sign off on it and before any drug was given they asked me my name and birthdate and scanned my wristband with my patient number. Giving the wrong drug could be a very serious error.

The drug was hooked up and it slowly dripped in. I had to get up from my reclining chair several times to go to the bathroom as I was taking in lots of fluids. I dragged along the pole with the bags hanging from them. The room where I was given the chemo had three other patients in different corners who are receiving their chemo cocktails. Sometimes we chatted a bit or not. There were people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. I was especially touched by the young women who have to deal with this cruel disease. My husband brought me to every chemo session but I sent him away to have lunch or take a walk. The space was small and I didn’t want him to have to sit there.
After the session we would go home often hitting the afternoon Bay Bridge traffic. I rested quietly in the car a bit shaky but feeling all right. The tidal wave that washed over my body hit later in the evening or the second day. It is difficult to describe how one feels but is overall crappy. I didn’t get out of bed too much the next day or hung out on the family room sofa. I watched lots of mindless TV and tried to eat but everything tasted strange. Overall , chemotherapy which kills the fast growing cancer cells wreaks havoc with one’s body in many ways.

Some of my side effects were rather severe, passing out, a three week long canker sore and the list goes on. I wound up in the hospital emergency room three times and had to stay two times. I managed to pick up pneumonia. It is not uncommon to get a secondary infection as one’s white cells are compromised. The second phase of the chemo was a different drug which thankfully was not as difficult as the first four .
I would keep a dream in my mind….Ah…Maui…just hang in, get through the chemo and before radiation starts I had permission to get on a plane. We booked a package that included airfare, a rental car and five nights at the luxurious Hyatt Regency. I upgraded to an ocean front room because I wanted to wake up to sounds of the ocean. I started thinking about my clothes trying on my summer shorts, pulling out sundresses and checking out my bathing suits. Ironically I had lost almost fifteen pounds so everything fit well. I don’t recommend the chemo diet to anyone!

I even ordered a couple of new bathing suits and a new cover-up on line. We did do one thing we normally don’t do which was take out insurance. This would cover the portion of the trip that would not refunded if we had to cancel. We were concerned about the rampant flu which was hitting so many.

I finished my chemo and was slowly getting my strength back, starting to exercise and returning to somewhat of a normal life. Then I picked up a virus one week before we were supposed to leave. It was not severe but just tricky enough to give me a fever that spiked every evening. I went to my doctor who said it was not the full blown flu, and I could wait several days to see how I felt and decide about Maui. It only took me one day to decide I would not be ready to get on a plane which was a wise decision. The “little” virus hung on for ten days, and I kept spiking a fever. The last place I wanted to be sick was in a hotel room.

So there went my Maui dreams. I put my clothes back and tucked away my new bathing suit. My husband confessed he did not think we would make it on this trip. He was not disappointed. Friends kept saying that I must be so sad, however surprisingly I was not. After one has soldiered through surgery and chemotherapy and the whole ordeal of a cancer diagnosis, not going to Maui is just not that big of a deal. I still had my pipe dreams when I needed to relax. We eventually made it there when the time was right.

Cigar Smoke Memories

Most people loathe the smell of cigar smoke, but for me a whiff transports me to a long forgotten time of my youth. I can picture it. A festive Saturday evening party at my parent’s house with relatives and friends gathered for dinner. Guaranteed this was no pot luck as my mother did all the cooking. They have just finished the sumptuous buffet of four kinds of cold cuts, potato salad (or kartoffel salat if you want to be correct); fresh beet salad with slivers of onions; finely cut cole slaw with parsley and grated carrots; stuffed eggs dusted with paprika and carefully garnished with pimento; two different jello molds (yes people really ate them in the 1950’s, and mounds of delectable brown rice.

The brown rice, cooked in a large shiny pot, had broken pieces of vermicelli noodles and sautéed brown mushrooms. I haven’t been able to duplicate it no matter how many times I’ve tried, even starting with the prerequisite made-from-scratch chicken broth and following her recipe to the letter. It never approaches my mother’s legendary dish.
After the meal, the women segregated themselves in the living room for the serious gossip. The sated men moved to the Formica kitchen table. Cards came out and my father passed around cigars from a cardboard box with the drawing of an Indian on the cover. We coveted those cardboard boxes to store prized “treasures.” The men lit up and smelly cigars hung rakishly out of their mouths. The air filled with a bluish smoky haze, and ashtrays were scattered about for the falling ash. Then my father filled shot glasses with schnapps, whiskey.

My sister and I hid in the hall observing the raucous men. When they saw us we’d get teased and run away but sneak back and to spy on their mysterious practices. The men played a game remembered from their youth as they were German immigrants having fled Hitler. When they got their hand, they shouted in German then slammed down the cards, loud and laughing. They all had stories of survival and loss, but at that moment in time that pain was forgotten and they were having a ball. My sister and I wanted to play the card game too but of course it was only for the men. I liked Mr. Kaiser, the joker of the group, with slick backed black hair, red suspenders and a white shirt rolled up at the sleeves. He looked like a serious card player and never stopped telling stories.

After the card game, the men joined the wives now gathered in the dining room for dessert of never less than five different choices. My mother was a master baker and dessert was serious business in our house. She served a dense applesauce cake; zwetschen kuchen (plum cake in a yeast dough); glazed cherry tarts, an apple cake and chocolate chip cookies which were hard and crispy and so delectable you never stopped at one. These chocolate chip cookies were a huge favorite in our family and she made them for most holidays keeping them in big glass jars and sending them to friends and neighbors on special occasions.

Everyone heaped their plates with slivers of the different desserts so as not to miss anything. After more good natured schmoozing, my sister and I fell into bed ready to pass out having stayed up way past our bedtime. The smell of cigar smoke still fills me with sweet memories of those years.

Angel on the 620 to Phoenix

Catherine scrunches in the seat avoiding the passengers entering the Greyhound. She makes herself small and inconspicuous praying no one will sit next to her. She absently reaches for her hair to lift it off her shoulders realizing with a start that she had chopped it off—her, blonde, perfectly-highlighted, thick gorgeous hair. All that is left is a short stubble covered in Clairol’s Mocha Brown #6W that she got at CVS two days ago. She closes her eyes and relives this morning— taking the sheers and cutting it in chunks, the awful feel of her hair falling to her shoulders then covering the ground. Like a robot, she snapped on blue kitchen gloves and went in the shower to do the dye job.

When she got out she was shivering so hard her teeth hurt. She cleared away the steam from the mirror,  and a stranger was looking back at her —blue hollow eyes framed in a white face but with a triumphant grin that she didn’t recognize. She hadn’t felt good about herself for a long time and she knew at that very moment she was taking her life back.  The rest of the morning was a blur—grabbing her carry-on out of the closet and tossing in  only a few basic clothes she’d need for now until she could get on her feet.  She was leaving her overstuffed  walk-in closet with rows of shoes and designer labels.

 She checked the bus schedule for the tenth time pulling out the worn paper she had downloaded and carried with her for the last two weeks. She was taking the 620 to Phoenix leaving at 2:30PM. She cleaned up the bathroom meticulously to not leave any trace of hair or dye. She took a last look at her beautiful apartment, each piece of furniture and accessory carefully selected from on line high end websites. She and Eric were going to live here until they bought a house. She slammed the door and ran out to the Uber she had called.

The driver left her at the bus station in a grungy part of Oakland she’d never ventured in to. She paid cash for her ticket. She had seen this on TV and knew not to leave a trail that could be easily tracked. Catherine found a seat in the drafty terminal idly watching people coming and going and waited until it was time to board. She found the correct line for her bus and took a seat in the middle next to the window. People are filing on holding paper shopping bags and worn valises; a man with no teeth  who has a sour smell when he passes her, a burly tattooed teenager with a Mohawk and darting eyes, a young, sad-looking Hispanic woman with a diaper bag holding a sleeping baby covered in a pink blanket.  No one wants to be on this bus, and she fits right in. She is one of them now.

 A big African American woman with two tote bags and a huge purse comes lumbering up the steps barely squeezing down the aisle just as the door is closing. Oh please don’t sit here next to me. I don’t want to be squished for eighteen hours. The woman plops down breathing heavily, smelling like she just sprayed herself with cheap cologne.

“Afternoon ‘Darlin. “ She greets Catherine with a friendly smile but her eyes appraise her with surprisingly direct scrutiny. “On your way to Phoenix?” I’m going to visit my sister Cheryl, and I hate airplanes. If people were meant to fly, we’d have wings.” She chuckles and her whole body shakes. “My name is Margie.”

Catherine mumbles,” uh, hello” then goes back to pretending to read a worn Inquirer she found stuffed in the net seat pocket as though it is the most interesting literature she has ever read.

Margie doesn’t  give up. “And you are…you know we are going to be roommates for the next eighteen hours.” She laughs again with her rumbling laugh and Catherine squirms. She doesn’t want to be rude, but she just wants to be left alone. She’s never been rude— not to anyone; maids, janitors, car attendants. She has lived her life being considerate and polite, never wanting to hurt anyone. She sighs; it was being too nice and sweet and weak that landed her on this bus.

“Uh my name is, uh, Tess. Catherine decides she isn’t going to be Catherine anymore. Catherine is her old  pampered life of manis and pedis, designer clothes and every indulgence a spoiled only child could receive by adoring parents.  That girl is finished. Yes, Tess, she likes the sound of it, simple, clean, unencumbered., one syllable. She is going to live a one-syllable life from now on.

“Well, nice to know you Ms. Tess. Would you like one of my DEE licious sugar cookies? The trick you know is sprinkling the sugar while they’re still warm when you take them out of the oven.”

“No thank you Ma-am, uh Margie. I’m going to rest.“ Tess closes her eyes tilting the seat back, but it only goes maybe an inch. This bus isn’t business class for sure she ruefully smirks. Her mind is a cyclone of careening thoughts. I can’t believe I got away. She puts her hand protectively on the $5,000 in cash she wears in the fanny pack strapped to her stomach. Wait till Eric finds out I cleaned out our wedding account. He’s going to be so pissed.

 Then it hits her like a cold ocean wave washing over her body and she shudders. What have I done— oh God—run off four days before my wedding. My $6,000 Lazaro gown is at the dressmaker, the caterer is expecting final approval for the five course menu; the florist is getting in hundreds of imported roses and tulips. I insisted on yellow tulips which are out of season. I’m such a brat.  Tonight is my bachlorette party. I’m nauseous. Everyone is going to be freaking out when they can’t find me and what about Mom and Dad. They’ll be calling the police by tonight.

Tess swallows so she won’t retch, sniffles but tears keep rolling down her pale cheeks like a hot river. As hard as she tries, she can’t stifle them and the sobs and hiccups start. This goes on for a good hour, and Margie doesn’t say a word but keeps pulling tissues out of her shopping bag and handing them to her. When she cries herself out and is quietly at the hiccupping stage, she falls into a fitful sleep leaning on Margie’s shoulder.

Tess wakes  up and for a few seconds doesn’t know where she is then remembers the worst dream of her life. With a sickening awareness filling her, she knows it isn’t a dream. Margie holds her hand.

“Darlin, you feeling better? Sometimes you just got to get it all out. Here have a cookie.”

Tess takes the sugar cookie even managing a half smile.

“You feel like talking? By the way, you missed a spot on the top of your hair. You should’a stayed blonde. The brown is a little dark for your skin tone.”

Tess stares at her surprised that this stranger has pegged her so easily. She nibbles a few more bites of the delicious cookie, wipes crumbs off her lips and starts in. “I’m supposed to be married this Sunday,… huge church wedding, designer gown, fancy hotel reception, eight bridesmaids, the whole nine yards. My parents have been planning this extravaganza since I was in diapers. 

You’re probably wondering about where my fiancé fits into this  pretty picture. He is perfect— very good looking,  smart, rich, great personality, a doctor no less. Just one little thing I left out. He…uh, raped me more than once. You see, uh…he has a vicious controlling side and a terrible temper, and he knew how to hurt me so it wouldn’t show.”

She lets out a relieved breath that she got those words out and told someone, even this kind stranger. Margie asks in a quiet voice, “Now what dear?”

 “I’m not sure. Phoenix is where I went to college, and I have contacts there. I’ll find a job and start over.”

“What about your parents?”

Her eyes well up and she clenches her hands. “I, uh was going to call them in a day or two. I just can’t face them yet.”

Margie is quiet then looks Tess directly in the eyes. “Tess, you’re one brave lady and it’s clear you’ve made the right decision to call off the wedding, but you have to contact your parents. They are probably crazy with worry. Our next stop is Barstow and I’ll be with you when you call them.”

Tess nods and grips Margie’s hand and won’t let go. She stares out the window lost in her thoughts. At around 9pm when the bus stops, they head in to the terminal. While the other passengers buy snacks and head to the restrooms, they find a bench off to the side. Margie hands her cell phone to her.

Tess punches in each number slowly, “Mom?” she chokes up. Margie puts her hand on her shoulder . “Yes, Mom it’s me. I’m ok. I’m really ok. I wasn’t in a car accident. No, I haven’t been kidnapped. No, I don’t have amnesia. Yes, call off the police and tell them they don’t need to look for me.” Margie mouths the words, go on.

“Mom, please stop crying. Ok, I’ll talk to daddy. Daddy, I’m ok. I’m not sick or hurt.” Tess  gives a short desperate laugh and Margie  gives her another squeeze.”

“Dad, let me explain. Uh…this is hard to talk about, but for the last six months I’ve known I shouldn’t stay with Eric. He has a violent temper and has abused me on several occasions. Remember that bad bruise I had on my leg? I told you I got hit with a tennis ball. I lied. He kicked me with his pointed boot.  Dad, take a seat. I don’t want you getting a heart attack. Yes, you can put me on the speaker phone.

All the special “gifts” that you and mom thought were so sweet and romantic; the fancy diamond bracelet, the sapphire ring, and my sports car—hell, that was my present the day after he raped me. Yes, your future son-in-law, that perfect man, the doctor, has a brutal side. I begged him to go to counseling but each time he swore he’d never hurt me again and that he loved me with all his heart. He also said that if I ever tried to get away from him, he’d find me and really hurt me or say I was crazy, and everyone would believe him.

I’m so sorry I let it get this far. I was swept up in the wedding frenzy too, and I wanted to go through with it for your sake. When he raped me again last week I knew I had to get away. I’m going into hiding for a while until I can unravel this mess and straighten out my life.

Call Susan. Yes, Susan our wedding planner. She can be our wedding un-planner and notify the vendors. You’re going to call who, your attorney? I suppose that’s a good idea. Seymour can put a restraining order put on Eric. I’m not going to tell you where I’ll be, but I promise to call you every day. I love you both so much and will regret that I’ve hurt you every day I live on this earth. I’ve got to go. I love you.” 

Tess sits quietly on the bench for a minute relieved that maybe the worst is over. She didn’t notice Margie leave her assuming she went to the bathroom or to buy food. Everyone is  getting back on the bus. Tess climbs on board and figures Margie might be in the seat already but she isn’t there. When they start to pull out and Margie doesn’t get on, Tess panics thinking something has happened to her. She glances down at the empty seat and sees a folded piece of paper.  She opens it: ‘Tess, contact my “sister” Cheryl Schwartz at the Women’s Shelter of Phoenix. Tell her your one of Margie’s girls. She will help you get situated.’

The bus starts to roll and Tess is stunned. Margie has vanished like she never existed. She begins to think maybe she is an angel sent to help her. She leans back in her seat and falls into a sound sleep.

After 49 Years

This article appeared in Riza Press Journal, January 2020

Showcasing real-life role models of healthy, loving relationships. In a world where media tends to glorify toxic relationships and technology makes it easier to  to swipe through new options instead of persevere through the emotional work of relationships, it’s time to turn the spotlight onto what’s healthy in love.

My husband and I will be celebrating our 49th anniversary this year. Wow…that is a long time to be with one person. I think I’m qualified to give some valuable insights on how to have a long lasting relationship.

You might want to know how it all began for us. I was nineteen and convinced my older
brother to take me to a Blue Monday party for Jewish singles on June 12, 1970 (of course I remember the date) at a club in North Beach in San Francisco. Though I was supposed to be twenty one, I looked older and got in no problem. I was wearing a two piece outfitit a black longish polyester top, with white pants. Polyester was big that year!! My hair was shoulder length, a sandy blonde. I was tall, not skinny, pretty cute, and liked guys who were older than me, and they had to be tall. I had just completed my sophomore year at UC Berkeley.

So when a tall guy with curly hair and glasses asked me to dance I figured why not. I
found out later his friend dragged him there bribing him with dinner before the party at a nearby Chinese restaurant he liked. When he saw an old girlfriend who had recently dumped him he quickly asked me to dance. I suppose it was “bashert,” the Yiddish word for destined. It was meant to be. That night initially I wasn’t so impressed as he was wearing a torn sweater and didn’t have money to buy me a drink. He did get his friend to give me a ride home and when he brought me up the stairs he happened to meet my father who was coming home at the same time. They shook hands. My dad liked him right away from that brief encounter. Hmmmm….

Within two days he called me for a date, and we went out and this time he did not have a torn sweater. We went out a few more times then both of us had summer obligations. He was in the army reserves for two weeks of training as this was during the Vietnam war. I was away at a leadership training institute for a month. During those six weeks apart we wrote to each other… yes, old fashioned cards and letters. There was something brewing in the sweet and cautious words we exchanged. It was clear we liked each other and as soon as we both were back started steady dating. It did not take long until I met his parents and he met mine. Our families had lots in common and by September we were engaged after only knowing each other a few months.

What clicked for us? We shared basic values of decency, honesty, and had a mutual
attraction. I was completing my teaching credential; he was already working in business with his father. We got married the following summer and have been blessed with a truly wonderful marriage which has withstood its share of ups and downs, joys and sorrows. We raised three great daughters and are now enjoying seven grandchildren.

So now you know how we met. Though I won’t claim to be an “expert” here are some
thoughts I have on why our marriage has worked:

Be the best of friends. Have fun together. We still do even now after all these years. Laugh often. Most importantly talk to each other; share what’s on your mind, the good and bad. Share your fears and your hopes and dreams. There will be occasions you’ll cry together too, but your mate should always be your most trusted confidant. Honesty and trust are the building blocks for any successful relationship.

Don’t ever stop telling each other I love you. I still do this every day, sometimes before we go to sleep, I’ll say, “You do know I love you.” He’ll answer half asleep, “uh huh.” Kiss a lot. Be kind to one other. Be playful. Make time to have a good sexual relationship even if it might be difficult with small kids. We consider it the icing on the cake. Hold hands when you walk together or in the car. Be gentle and loving.

Don’t make each other wait. Be on time. It’s about respect. Compliment each other and when you have to, criticize gently. Yes, you will have disagreements, it is natural. But never be cruel to each other. An insult cannot be taken back. Harsh words can leave a lasting imprint. Of course we have had our squabbles and still do, but thankfully they are always little. Some examples, he hates that I buy food we already have in the pantry. His mantra is “TAKE INVENTORY.”

I can’t stand that he is basically messy. He lets his clothes pile up in our bedroom until he finally hangs them up. He will leave open kitchen cabinets and is not very helpful around the house. My sons-in-law are much more hands on. I love to shop and buy way too many shoes but he knows to not bug me about it. .He will wear the same clothes for years. Big picture….these are small problems, annoyances and the realization we are different people.

Bottom line is we say our piece then get over it. I will pout for a while. He claims he always gives in. I’m not sure that’s true. We follow that cliché of not going to bed mad and as corny as it might seem, it is a good rule. Of course there are situations where couples face really serious problems. Don’t be afraid to get professional help or seek therapy or do what is necessary to work through the hurdles you might be facing.

You don’t have to do everything together or do all of the same things. It is great to have
some similar interests but I like to think we each have our “departments”, things we enjoy either alone or with friends. It makes one stronger and happier to have individual interests and time apart. Now that we are both retired, we more than ever need our own gigs as well as things we enjoy doing together. I am a writer and poet and take several different writing workshops, go to Zumba and play mahjong. My husband volunteers four days a week and loves it. For him Wednesday night poker is sacrosanct and he goes to a gym three days a week. We love to go for walks, catch movies, travel, and enjoy our seven grandchildren and help out with them frequently. We also share the same religious values which are a priority in our home and a foundation for how we raised our children and live our life.

This is important. Don’t enter a relationship thinking it will ever be 50/50. When our
three children were small, my husband travelled every week. I put my career aspirations
aside which took the pressure off of us both working. We knew that one of us had to be
there and because I was willing to stay home he was able to travel without worrying. A good marriage is a partnership of working together and sharing responsibilities but realizing that things can’t always be equal. These days in many cases both partners have to work and as I see with my children life is stressful and couples need to cooperate more than ever.

There are many times when one of the partners is more needy for whatever reason. We
supported each other when we lost our parents and through my brother’s illness. I helped my husband through a major transition when he decided to close our business, and I had to find a new career and be the major earner. I knew that he was burned out and it turned out to be a great opportunity for both of us because I was able to get out in the work force and do something different and he did not feel as pressured. It is important to support each other and talk over those difficult life-changing decisions.

The last few years have brought us some tough challenges as a couple. I think of life as a road one travels with unexpected detours, potholes and switchbacks that you have to
negotiate. My husband stood by my side when I found out unexpectedly I had breast cancer. It was a shock as I had no family history and was perfectly healthy. He cheered me on through all of it, took me to every chemo appointment, told me I was beautiful when I lost all my hair, brought me Cheerios in bed at 11PM when that was all I could swallow. I put him through a lot.

Then he returned the favor two years ago when he had bypass surgery and unexpected
complications putting him in the hospital for six weeks when I never left his side. One night in intensive care he teetered between life and death with compromised breathing. Thankfully I got him back and took care of him at home until he could walk and breathe again and gradually returned to good health. Some couples crack when they face a crisis, the fault lines of their relationship raw and exposed, but we became closer. We learned the hard way how fragile life can be and try to appreciate each other and live each day.

So just know that a good marriage takes effort, kindness and understanding, and
never forget that no one is perfect. If you stay best friends, work together, keep kissing and laughing, you will have a good chance to succeed.

7 Tips for a Successful Grandchildren Sleepover

This article appeared in Grand Magazine, September 2019

Well, you said “yes” and now you have to entertain your grandchildren, ages two and four for a weekend, which can mean up to 72 hours but who’s counting?  Whether you are called Grandma, or Abuela, or Nana, or in my case Savta (Hebrew for grandmother) you might be called upon to help out for an extended period of time. I have friends who absolutely refuse longer babysitting gigs and friends who do it all the time.

I have friends who absolutely refuse longer babysitting gigs…

I treasure being a grandparent, especially because I never knew my own grandparents; two were killed by the Nazis, the other two died soon after they came to America. Growing up I looked with longing at grandparents of friends whom they of course usually found annoying. I felt the loss of never having a grandparent at a milestone event, never baking cutout cookie with my grandmothers, or introducing them to my future husband. My mother, who was known as “Omi,” was a super grandmother and frequently watched our kids when we went away. My children were blessed with having their grandparents in their lives as are my seven grandchildren.

Here is a list of seven tips I have gleaned from past experience:

1) Bedtime: This can be the most challenging moment of the day. Some of my grandchildren go to sleep easily but one little stinker resists all my tricks until he practically collapses out of sheer exhaustion with me right behind him. Don’t forget their blankies, night nights, binkies or whatever they need to soothe. My one wise son-in-law sent along kitty and “back up kitty”. Reading books, telling stories and following the parents’ suggested nighttime routine is useful. You need tons of patience and be prepared to get up in the middle of the night as needed for cuddles, bad dreams, growing pains or whatever.

2) Eating: This can also be challenging. Some of my grandchildren are great eaters; others not so much and are very picky. Again check with parents to see what they like even if it means pasta twice a day or scrambled eggs for breakfast and dinner. All of my children are sticklers in trying to avoid sugar and junk food and perish the thought of fast-food French fries. However, once in a great while grandparents can indulge their junk food starved, kale eating little ones and the world will not come to an end. And don’t forget snacks for the car. Who cares if your backseat now looks like a school cafeteria. Apple slices, little cups of pretzel sticks (providing they are old enough to handle those), goldfish in a bag; juice boxes, water,  whatever it takes to get from point A to point B.

3) Just in case: Pray you’ll never need it…  permission to get medical treatment. You should also have baby Tylenol or what parents use for unexpected fevers. Here is a link to a grandparent’s medical consent form.

4) Car seats: These can be a pain but eventually you will learn how to properly secure your little ones which is of course very important, though it can be backbreaking. If you have mastered how to attach a car seat to your backseat you have graduated to an elite rank of grandparenthood!

5) Planning outings: It really helps to get the children away from the TV which parents hate (even though many shows for kids are very clever and educational and can be a lifesaver when trying to get dinner ready.) Get to know what is available in your community, whether it be wonderful parks, beaches, zoos, children’s museums, or playgrounds.

6) Playspace: if you have a designated area in your home, it is great to corral the children and keep toys from landing everywhere. We have a “playroom” normally our favorite TV watching area, but it is also the repository of their toys kept in bins as well as art supplies like crayons and playdough. Even though I try to engage them in helping to pick up, I’m still invariably picking up the next day after they leave. I love toys where they can use their imagination; a tent for example. When the weather gets warm, a hose or a tot pool is always a big hit. I also love when they take a pile of pillows and make a fort or play train with old boxes. A kitchen cabinet with spoons and pots the little ones can bang is a big hit too.

7) Bath time: have towels, jammies, and diapers ready for when they come out. Keep a bin for their bath toys and special soaps. Also, have a designated diaper-changing area with wipes, bags, and cream.

Ahhh… parents on their way. They’ll be here in 36 minutes but who’s counting? Little ones leave, all in one piece, with lots of kisses and promise to come back again soon. Whew…I survived until the next time.

A July Afternoon at the Wharf

I remember envying the tourists,
carefree, riding the cable cars, delighting
in their crab cocktails and sourdough loaves,
but I was lucky too, winning-the-lottery lucky,
having just heard results of my PET scan,
after three days of not sleeping, barely eating,
delivered nonchalantly
by a young balding doctor in desert boots
who read me my fate off a scrap of paper he pulled from his white-coat pocket
as though he was a prescient fortune teller.
Blessedly my cancer had not spread further,
though I’d need chemo and radiation,
“the gold standard of treatment.”
He was on to his next patient,
before I could even hug him.
We couldn’t go home that July afternoon,
bubbling over with our newly minted hope
and headed for the Wharf.
The sun brighter, the sky bluer,
a scraggly street musician sang Motown on a keyboard. I stood boogying to Marvin Gaye.
Passersby were amused by the sixtyish woman dancing by herself, but I didn’t care.
When I sat down laughing,
my husband hugged me,
and we kissed on the green bench.

Just Beyond

I try to recall
cousin Cynthia’s second husband
you know…what’s-his-name
or that actor from Breaking Bad

but names elude me
hover just beyond reach
wily fugitives
from my once impeccable memory

they hang in that murky space
I can no longer reach with alacrity

sit defiantly on the tip of my tongue
so bratty– they sneak home at three in the morning
when they wake me up
and give me the finger

I used to spout the prologue of Romeo and Juliet
answer the questions on Jeopardy before the buzzer

this aging thing– it’s a bitch
hey, this is me who danced to the Doors
I thought I would surely dodge that bullet

and I don’t get why bad memories linger
like the burnt smell after a fire
stuff you wish you could forget
why can’t those thoughts
retire for good to that place of hazy recall

ah…but it’s the faded snapshots I treasure the most
sweet images of good times
ebbing and flowing like gentle currents
gathering on the banks of my mind—

I will fight against this aging thing
but I fear the battle is just getting started.

Mr. Avocado Man

An older man in khakis and a Giants cap sits on a bench
in late afternoon sun
outside Whole Foods on Telegraph Avenue
meticulously stacking
slices of whole wheat bread
then placing one on a napkin

he cuts and positions slivers with his plastic knife
from a luscious avocado
perfectly split, pit left in
setting the pieces like a precious mosaic
then scooping the sandwich with the napkin
pressing the two halves together

over and over he does this
absorbed and content with his handiwork
on his whole wheat canvas
then swallows each in a few voracious bites
taking up the next slice
to begin his avocado dance again

I am mesmerized, envious
picking at my tuna on a hard French roll
having just come from the hospital up the street
refusing to eat in their cafeteria
though there’s nothing really wrong with the food
except for me wanting out of the building

my newly-discovered lump gnaws
an unwelcome foreign invader  
how did it worm its way
into my soft and sexy right breast
I throw away my half eaten sandwich

closing my eyes as tears pool
sweet memories tingle of fevered nighttime groping
and morning caresses under tangled sheets
I cling to my husband of forty three years

Tell me Mr. Avocado Man
do you come here every day
with your stack of bread and perfect avocado
show me how you make your sandwiches
help me to forget today
and what I must face tomorrow