My Two Seniors

 

Photo My 2 Seniors

This is how I remember it happening. It was a Friday night and I couldn’t stop pacing the room. Big A* had just left me a phone message that we might be receiving a call from his Jesuit high school to report that some students were moshing at tonight’s dance. As I hurried to look up the definition of moshing (a style of dance which involves pushing or slamming into each other), JC* called to tell me she had a blind date. I quickly gave her a rundown of safety tips, but she was more interested in what dress I thought she should wear and said she would check in later.

Back when Big A was still in high school and JC was moving to Chicago to be nearer to us, their lives seemed to collide in a parallel universe for a few short months. Contrary to popular opinion, high school seniors and senior citizens seem to have more in common than most people think.

Though one goes to bed too late and one gets up too early, their main goal in life is socialization. Having completed intense research in order to track their activities during the course of one week, I discovered that these two, party animals remained neck in neck for number of hours of communal involvement.

More in-depth investigation uncovered interesting findings. While playing rugby, Big A and his teammates would scrum, which involved players packing closely together with their heads down in an attempt to gain possession of the ball. This was not too far off from a similar strategy of a group of senior women in their attempt to gain possession of 50 percent off sale items during an outlet mall visit.

Another rugby analogy presented itself in the form of the traditional sharing of food at the end of each game. The host team would stand to the side and invite the visiting team to serve themselves first, then the ravenous players would all attack the table. Again, not too distant from the sight of a group of early bird diners and an all-you-can-eat salad bar. I rest my case.

We shopped for two microwaves and settled both into their new digs; a dorm room and a senior community (which, soon gave way to a condo when JC announced that her new neighbors were too old). In my attempt to seek out some sort of a generation gap, all I actually found were grandmother and grandson shopping together at Gap Inc.

Much time has gone by, but these two still share a special bond. I can rest assured that when I am out of town, they will take care of each other, which they did recently when they enjoyed cocktails and dinner at one of the new, hot spot restaurants and took in a Gypsy Kings concert.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

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Holy Toledo, What a Wedding!

Photo Holy Toledo

The bride and groom surveying the Kentucky landscape.

It was their special day and they wanted it to epitomize who they were. My lovely niece and her charming beau invited parents, siblings and their best pals to the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky for their wedding ceremony. As rock climbers, they were unfazed by the “over the river and through the woods” hike to the final destination, but my sister-in-law/mother of the bride was already sure that whether she chose to hike or take the ski lift, it would be with eyes shut tightly.

The groom stood on a boulder and announced the day’s agenda. Guests were invited to say a few words and, before long, there wasn’t “a dry eye in the house.” A close friend prepared to be the celebrant by taking an online course and beautifully blended the traditional vows with the bride and groom’s loving and personal promises to each other.

As befitting the occasion, a large log cabin was rented for the weekend. Two foodie families were also joined together that weekend and took turns grilling gourmet meals. The weather smiled down on them as they enjoyed the magnificent terrain during the day, the bonfires at night and each others’ company.

We are among the 75 guests invited to a reception at the Botanical Gardens in Toledo, Ohio. We follow the path from the parking lot and soon find ourselves in the middle of 60 acres of tranquility. The reception is held in a room with big windows that overlook the sculpture garden. My excitement level, extremely high when attending any wedding, is heightened by the fact that my siblings and their children will be all together for the first time in years. This giddiness combined with the first view of the room’s décor overwhelms me.

As I hug and kiss my way around the room, I can’t help but notice out of the corner of my eye that everyone is gathering around the tables and commenting. I find out that the floral arrangements are origami paper flowers planted in edible dirt made up of chocolate covered acai berries in homemade baskets, all created by the bride. The bride’s bouquet is made of natural sola wooden flowers, hand dyed in shades of blush pink and Champagne. Lovely handmade gifts are also on display, such as painted wooden plaques designed by the groom’s sister.

This is all too much for me and I sit down, hoping the lightheaded feeling will pass. Thoughts of projects past begin to creep into my mind and each disaster begins to unfold as if it were yesterday.

The excitement of my first home economics project at age 12 that took a turn for the worst when a 24-hour dry cleaners had to be located (not easy back then) in order to remove the white chalk that was usually used on the underside of the garment. With memories of previous sewing skills, (when wrestling, the sleeves on the pajamas I made for my siblings would inexplicably fall off), it took all I had to walk the runway at the fashion show, fingers crossed all the way that I’d still have a skirt on as I exited. The family promise I made to never to use Crazy Glue again when I accidentally glued my 2 fingers together. And, the family intervention, necessary when I insisted on sewing the hem of Big A’s* grade school pants twice in one week; somehow attaching them to our bed quilt as I sat sewing and then, when the hems fell out during recess, causing Big A to topple over onto half of the kickball team, creating turmoil in the nurse’s office.

A concerned family member notices me and brings me a beverage, which is so delicious that it startles me out of my trance. It’s a rosemary Paloma, an amazing concoction of rosemary simple syrup (homemade by the groom), tequila, grapefruit juice and seltzer. Also offered is a Kentucky Mule (the bride’s jalapeño simple syrup recipe, cucumbers and bourbon), watermelon mint iced tea and apple cinnamon iced tea.

I am now picking up a pattern and learn that both families have worked together to create today’s menu and that everything is homemade: the wine, the beer, the pickles, the rolls, the salads, the beans, the wedding cake (lemon cake with blueberry filling and a lemon basil butternut icing), the chicken wings (3 flavors) and the brisket that the groom’s dad tended all night while sleeping next to his smoker. I am sure that Martha Stewart would be as impressed with this event as I was the day she instructed us all to begin a recipe by collecting cranberries from our cranberry bog.

I am full, both of food and emotions, as I look around and marvel at all the happiness and love in this room. I don’t want the weekend to end and don’t want to let go of this moment. Then, I remember that, just like a good recipe, life is meant to be savored, and when the last taste is gone, it spurs us on to create again.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

Sunday in Milwaukee  

Photo Sunday in Milwaukee

Every time we visit Big A* we try to mix it up a bit, except for the $16.95 lobster lunch at the Milwaukee Public Market. That we don’t mind doing repeatedly.

We walk to Birch & Butcher from Big A’s apartment. It’s clean lines and Zen atmosphere along with the colored pencils and the page to color reminds us that this is what Sundays are for. We all agree that sharing is the right thing to do. There’s nothing better than starting the day with a lox platter (a homemade everything bagel with smoked trout, cream cheese, charred tomato, red onion jam and capers), rosemary biscuits (topped with sausage, charcuterie gravy and a poached egg) and pulled pork shoulder (with polenta, roasted mushrooms and a poached egg). Just as I wonder which banquette would be a great spot for a nap, it is time to head to our next stop.

None of us know why we never visited Villa Terrace before. Designed by renowned architect David Adler, it was originally the home of Lloyd and Agnes Smith and is now a decorative arts museum. Majestically sitting above Lake Michigan in all its Mediterranean splendor, it’s hard to believe that the home and its award-winning gardens are in the middle of the city.

We each find a favorite daydreaming spot outside, then strain our necks in order to see more of the neighbors’ lavish homes. We peruse every nook and cranny, not wanting to miss any of the family’s history, the art collections or the amazing wrought iron pieces.

What I didn’t expect was what happened next. A Korean drummer was invited to give a presentation that day and before I knew it, I was a part of her drum circle, banging to the rhythm on my instrument of choice along with others. As she collected the instruments, she told us about a recent trip to her homeland and how events such as these are such a simple way to bring people together. I leave with a spring in my step and am ready for our next stop.

The Third Ward, a historic warehouse district, has really grown into itself since Big A was in college at Marquette University. It’s always fun to walk around and visit the unique shops (though I’ve yet to make a purchase, my favorite, called Shoo,sells handmade shoes). It’s hot and 5 o’clock somewhere, so we decide to stop at the new Journeyman Hotel, take a look around and wind up at their rooftop bar.

With watches synchronized, we decide to change for dinner, then meet again. We head to Harbor House, early so we can sit outside on their Adirondack chairs and have a cocktail while we take in the view of Lake Michigan. Just as we get comfortable, the fog rolls in and we can hardly see our hands in front of our faces. As if by magic, the fog suddenly lifts when our drinks arrive and we laugh when the waiter says it was all part of the plan. We dine on raw oysters, scallops, halibut and even throw in a veal chop for good measure.

It’s been another successful visit. We’ve spent time with Big A and eaten our way around Milwaukee, with just enough time to plan our next adventures together

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Your Birthday is Not a Mirth Day

Photo Birthday Mirth Day

The loud crash startled us. By the time I lifted my eye mask off one eye, looked around, noticed nothing broken in my immediate area and tried to wake up, Mr. Wiz* had jumped up, figured out what had happened and already cleaned it up. Known for his supersonic hearing capabilities (he says it makes up for his poor eyesight), it seemed to me that he was already sitting up in bed, having heard the sound of a change in air velocity before the actual crash.

It was a freak accident. One of the pitchers from my collection that I have displayed along the top of the kitchen cabinets fell off the hidden, upside-down plastic container that I had it sitting on (to give it some height). This led to an abrupt change of display tactics, as all were removed from their precarious perches until we would be able to come up with a better plan. Better that then a major head injury caused by flying pottery. I should have known right then and there that my birthday was destined to be the stuff that humorous articles are made of.

No longer feeling that I needed to wear a bicycle helmet to do the dishes, I washed a bowl and instinctively turned on the garbage disposal. It was the loud grating sound that gave me that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I quickly shut it off, but the damage was done. I looked down and could see a twisted demitasse spoon lodged in its inner workings. When Mr. Wiz dashed over to survey the damage (damn, those ears!), I stood behind him and softly hummed “Happy Birthday To Me”, so as to try to diffuse the situation. He assured me that accidents happen, but was kind enough not to mention that they seem to happen to me at a disproportionate level. One quick call to a plumber and we were on our way.

The plan was to head over to Austin’s Lake Travis for the afternoon. I called JC* and told her we were on our way to pick her up. Mr. Wiz and I were singing to the car radio and just when we hit the high notes, we felt blasts of hot air coming out of the air conditioning vents. While I realize that covered wagons traversed Texas with not as much as a fan, nowadays when it’s summer in Austin, you need your AC. Our new destination was now the car dealership and soon after, we were able to secure a loaner car. On our way again, we both agreed that it was too late for our original plan.

We headed to JC’s to reconnoiter and come up with a plan B. Just as we were trying to decide what to do next, the deafening shrill of the building’s fire alarm sounded. From her terrace, we could see four fire engines pulling up. The alarms silenced and it turned out that we didn’t have to evacuate the building. A word to the wise: if you live in a high-rise and there is smoke in your apartment, remember to open your patio/terrace door and not the main door to your home. One of her neighbors with a breadcrumb filled toaster was probably feeling very embarrassed.

Our dinner reservation was in 20 minutes. We were disappointed that JC was feeling a bit under the weather and would not be joining us. We had originally brought clothes to change into, but at this point it seemed as if we should just get going before any other mishaps occurred. We did a walk/run to our destination and were so happy to arrive, crisis free.

We ate slowly, enjoying every bite of the delicious meal and every sip of the perfectly paired wine. Mr. Wiz laughingly commented as to how impressed he was that I was able to go with the flow. That reminded me of a past birthday of mine.

When I was 4 years old, JC and my grandmother took me to an amusement park on my special day. Not in agreement with their departure time, I threw myself on the ground, screaming, and made myself stiff as a board, resulting in each of them grabbing my arms and legs in order to get me back on the New York City bus. With her black eyes shining (which sparkled when she was happy and burned a hole into you when she was not), my grandmother recited a poem to me that day (in a combination of English and Spanish) that I never forgot:

There was a little girl
And she had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead
And when she was good, she was very, very good
But, when she was bad, she was horrid

I announced that a toast was in order. I may still have that curl, but as I grow older, I strive to find the lighter, more humorous side of life. So, here’s to going with the flow, leaping over those mud puddles and heading wherever its current takes you.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

My Hindu Wedding Adventure

Photo Hindu Wedding

My henna dried to a rich reddish brown color; beautiful!

Take my advice: If you are ever invited to a Hindu wedding, accept the invitation immediately. And if it’s in Portland, Oregon, plan to spend a week there.

My sister-in-law and brother-in-law are famous for their event planning, which usually includes a weeklong celebration for a family event. Lucky for us, it’s been in cities that we’ve yet to visit. Our latest family adventure was in Portland, Oregon for my niece’s wedding to a lovely young man of Sri Lankan descent.

The Haldi Ceremony

We are honored to be invited to the lovely home of the groom’s parents and observe this important pre-wedding event. On arrival, we remove our shoes and place them with the more than 50 other pairs on the floor of their grand entrance. The living room furniture has been removed and the wood floor is covered with colorful quilts. The parents and siblings of the bride and groom all take part in an elaborate ceremony conducted by a Hindu priest.

We learn that “haldi” is the Hindi word for turmeric. The women of the family had prepared a special paste of turmeric and herbs. The groom is led to a chair in the middle of the room and one by one, family and friends apply the paste to the groom’s skin. The older relatives lovingly pat on the cream while the younger family members jokingly smear it all over him. Its purpose is to cleanse body and soul. I am also told that because of its antibacterial properties, the groom has just received the equivalent of a $200 facial.

A delicious catered lunch follows and though I am usually a fussy eater, I enjoy every bite of the Indian specialties, along with the interesting conversations with friends and family from as far away as Sri Lanka and England. We thank our hosts and bid our new friends goodbye until the evening’s festivities.

The Sangeet Ceremony

I am here early in order to be first in line to receive a henna application from one of the two artists in attendance. The 300 plus guests have not yet arrived, so Carmen and I have time to chat. She tells me how she became a henna artist and that she mixes her own paste using lavender, known for its calming scent.

The DJ quickly gets the crowd on its feet by handing out colorful sticks and lining us up in a series of long lines facing each other. The Bollywood music starts and we learn a dance, tapping sticks with the person across from us before we move to the left, skip one person and continue.

The “Sangeet” is a celebration of the wedding to come in order to relish in the happiness and joy surrounding the bride and groom and join the two families together. We delight in watching the dance routines performed by family and friends in honor of the special couple and tasting the Indian street food that is served.

The Baraat

We are up early, standing outside the hotel where today’s festivities will take place. In a few minutes, the groom will arrive on a white horse. In times gone by, the groom’s wedding procession would travel to the bride’s village accompanied by friends and family. Today, led by a drummer and taped music, we all dance and sing as we escort him around the block. The look on the faces of the people in the coffee shop as we pass is priceless.

The Hindu Wedding

In the ballroom, a canopy of flowing sheer fabric and pastel flowers sits above elaborate gold gilded chairs. In the center are the items that the two Hindu priests will utilize for the ceremony. On each guest’s chair, is a detailed explanation of what will take place (which we are very grateful for), along with a small, brightly wrapped package containing a homemade cake. It will go well with the hot and cold beverages served. The event is a fusion of colorful saris worn by many of the guests.

The groom looks resplendent in his turban and matching gold and ruby red embroidered sherwani, a long, fitted coat. Only the bride can top this and she does. Her regal lehenga, an elaborately embroidered red and gold, two-piece skirt and top with a sheer sash is magnificent. The intricate henna designs on her feet and hands, the red “bindi” (a dot on her forehead), and the many bracelets that dangle up her arms have transformed my niece into a Hindu princess.

I am transfixed by the many lovely rituals that are performed; the look on the groom’s face when he sees his bride for the first time, hidden at first behind a white cloth; the flower garlands the bride and groom place on each other to proclaim acceptance of each other; the tying together of their scarves to signify their unity; the seven steps that they take together around the sacred fire, each representing marriage promises to each other.

As sacred fires sometimes do, its smoke triggers the hotel smoke alarm. The shrieking sound does nothing to deter the ceremony and the happy couple are gifted with photos of the firemen as part of their wedding album. A lovely lunch of Indian delights follows in a number of beautifully appointed rooms. We make our way back to our hotel and rest up for the next event.

The Western Wedding.

We’ve all changed into yet another outfit and we now congregate in a flower festooned room complete with soft music serenading us. The bridesmaids have changed from their saris to cocktail dresses and the groomsmen are now in suits and ties, rather than their sherwanis. The groom is dashing in his suit and bow tie and, once again, the bride steals the show in her elegant lace, blush colored gown and simple flower holding up her long hair on one side.

The Maid of Honor acts as the celebrant and enhances the ceremony with personal tidbits about the bride and groom, as only a friend can do. At one point, she catches us off guard by reminding us that this year marked the 50thanniversary of the landmark civil rights decision by the Supreme Court to invalidate laws prohibiting interracial marriage; a reminder that sparks emotion on this special day. The bride and groom’s vows give us a peek into their relationship, their promises to each other sweetly declared for all to hear.

We are ushered downstairs to another beautiful room for cocktails and hors d’ oeuvres, then later, we travel upstairs to a spectacular ballroom for dinner and dancing. In between, family and friends of the bride and groom welcome us, toast and even sing to the bride and groom. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law are tonight’s hosts. They were an integral part of every event and I marvel at how they both glowed, maneuvering through fabulous wardrobe changes and protocols as if they were experts. We dance the night away and make sure we hug all our new friends as the evening comes to a close.

The henna has since faded, but the coming together of two families and two cultures in the spirit of love will long be remembered.

 

 

 

Unfurling My Curls

Photo Unfurling My CurlsBeing a little girl with curly hair had its perks. I could launch into a medley of ShirleyTemple songs and tap dance my way to a later bedtime, but as I grew up I became tangled in its complexities.

My unruly curls and I were soon taken to my Titi Olga’s beauty salon for a consultation (Titi is an affectionate term for aunt, in Spanish). Located in the basement of her home, it most probably was being run without a license. Possibly affected by the strong odor of the chemical solutions, JC* lost all control of the situation and the decision was made to trust the illegal professional to give me a permanent. I left there with a lollipop and a hair style that gave new meaning to Curly Top, one of Shirley Temple’s hit movies.

As a teenager, the Beach Boys music reminded me that my curls were interfering with my goal of long, blonde, straight hair and living in California. Luckily, I had read in a teen magazine that I could straighten my hair on my own. The project required an ironing board, an iron and one important item that I had forgotten about: the towel that goes between the iron and the hair. It was a miracle that JC walked into the laundry room just at the right moment and shrieked, saving me from a 911 experience that would, no doubt, still be the talk of the police locker room today.

There was another article in that same teen magazine (they went bankrupt soon after) that said to set your hair with juice cans, the larger diameter helping to straighten the hair. Though my younger siblings were apprehensive at first, the little entrepreneurs set up shop, charging their friends 25 cents to view their alien older sister in her native habitat. And, when I awoke one morning, screaming, as I discovered that you could read the word “Tropicana” in bold letters across my rolled hair, those little devils raised the admission price to 50 cents.

As if out of a scene from It’s a Wonderful Life, I unexpectedly experienced life curl free when I became pregnant. It wasn’t pretty. My mind raced through the twists and turns of a life without those rowdy ringlets and I swore on my bubble hair dryer that if my curls somehow returned, I would never brush them off as an annoyance again.

In an ironic turn of events, Big A* was born with a bald little head and my curls miraculously returned, crowning my head, once again, with those wild twirls of hair that were and are the root of who I am.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

 

The King of Queens

Photo King of Queens

Ask anyone and they will tell you that I was the one to coin that phrase years before the popular TV show. My dad not only owned a construction company in Queens, a borough of Manhattan, he spoke of it as if it were his magical kingdom.

Every morning (sometimes seven days a week), he would leave the house before we got up and regale us with fascinating facts and stories when he’d arrive home. The reason that the fruits and vegetables from Queens were larger than any we’d ever seen was because the vacant lots they were grown in contained special soil. While he couldn’t make his way around a country road, he knew of a network of back alleys which could magically transport him to any Queens destination in half the time.

Though he only stood 5 feet 6 inches, he lived life large. He had a powerful presence that was not lost on any of the Queens store or restaurant owners. When he walked into an establishment, there was always a ruffle of excitement as they welcomed Mr. Frank and he delighted in that.

Wonderful marketer that he was, he noticed that the demographics in his area were changing. Many of the Queens homeowners were now widows who were a bit fearful of dealing with rough, tough and possibly unscrupulous contractors. That gave him the idea to create the persona of “The Gentleman Roofer.” His new Yellow Pages ad and business cards featured a photo of him in a bowler hat and tuxedo. When customers would ask if the Gentleman Roofer would be wearing his hat, he started to carry plastic ones in his trunk.

The photo shoot for the new marketing campaign was created in my parent’s living room. Initially, an argument ensued when my dad, in a hurry, insisted on just wearing the tuxedo jacket along with his boxer shorts, reasoning that the photo would be taken from the waist up. With JC* as the photographer (and no experience in this field of endeavor), what happened next was another Lucy and Desi moment. For years, those outtakes were the highlight of every family get together. We’d laugh until we cried at the photos of my dad yelling in each photo as JC repeatedly took crooked images of him in his combination tuxedo/underwear outfit.

Once he visited your home to give you a quote was when the magic happened. In five minutes, he would size you up. If you lived alone, he would show you family photos, tell you about his voice lessons and leave you a tape of him singing Frank Sinatra tunes. If you were aggressive and started haggling about pricing, he would suggest another area contractor. They were not as good as his company, but there might be a better rapport. This usually led to that customer calling, begging for another chance (and paying more for the privilege)

For months after he died, I would call his company phone number at night just to hear his robust voice on the message and smile. I knew that the new owner would eventually update it, but I doubted that anyone could match his Christmas message. Recorded over 50 times until perfect, it featured JC singing “Jingle Bells” softly in the background (again, with no experience in this field of endeavor) and my dad reminding you that you will have a happier holiday if you call the Gentleman Roofer for an appointment.

Happy Father’s Day!

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.