life lessons, NATURE

THE IRONY OF SOCIAL DISTANCING

“Are you bored?” My mother asked me yesterday.
“No not really, I spent the previous day deep cleaning my kitchen and it took me seven hours.” (Cleaning my house is not something I have done on a regular basis).
“Cleaning for Passover?”she asked.
“Passover for one, hardly,” I replied.
“You aren’t having Passover?” She asked with a tinge of that old school Jewish guilt I haven’t heard for a long time.
“No Mom, this shit is real up here in the North,” I said with a tone of churlishness I tried to mask. My mother lives in Alabama and based on some of the history down there, the present governor hadn’t seemed to be taking this situation as serious as her northern counterparts.
“They just closed the malls yesterday,” she said. I am having Passover here.” She then proceeded to list the couples of friends coming to her house.

O.M.G. I thought. My mother is an intelligent woman. She is as liberal as they come, despite the fact she lives in a very conservative state with many ultra conservative friends. Yet, in just two weeks, in her mind anyway, she is forging ahead with a Passover seder. We are never going to recover from this pandemic if this is what is happening in the homes across America. Passover and Easter right around the corner, are people really digging their heels in and not heeding the severity of the warnings?

I have gone outside on some bike rides and walks, keeping my distance, or at least trying to, and I have noticed hundreds of people out, some attempting the distancing like my partner and me, and others lying in the grass making out, having family picnics, playing frisbee like it is a summer vacation.

We have missed our two week window to help flatten the curve and despite the warnings, despite the obvious problems in Europe reported daily, not enough people chose to #stayhome. Intelligent people who read the news who see what is going on have decided that because our government has not said the magic words, Shelter in, perhaps it isn’t that bad. The irony of this is that these are likely the same people who would dig their heels in if the government did say to stay home, refusing to be told to do anything. The live free or die mentality that is America is never more true than it is right now.

Die. We may. Especially if you are over seventy like my mother and all of her retired friends.

It has been two weeks since I closed my business and decided, after a Friday night out of dancing and partying before this new world started, that I would self impose a two week quarantine. Two weeks today. Though my self quarantine has ended in theory, it really has just begun as our world and our country spins out of control

Bored is not a word that enters my vocabulary. Ever. I am an active and energetic woman. On the go, thousands of ideas, mover and shaker, perpetual motion. Bored is not really a word that comes to my mind. There is so much life to live- even during this During Covid. time. — D.C.
I find myself with more time than I could have ever dreamed I would have. In all fairness, I have no little ones, I have no husband, I don’t even have a pet. My son is safely at his home this last semester of his senior college life with plenty of food and not too far away. I have a partner, but we don’t live together. My work is closed, my team is safe. I am not an essential worker.

I have a lot of time. I have a lot of time alone, but I am never alone. The irony of social distancing is that I have felt more social than ever. And I am an incredibly social person. The obvious lack during this time is the face to face close talking, lots of hugging contact I am used to, but taking this off the table there is a unique consciousness that has been happening. A deliberate charge to connect.

There have been the usual phone or texts and this has remained a constant, but now, added to it, are the face time calls, the Zoom get togethers and team meetings, the creation of Facebook groups that just a month ago I would have never considered. Connection during this time of unprecedented forced social distancing has turned out to be fuller than I could have ever anticipated.

Just in the time I have been writing this, I have been invited to a virtual surprise party for a ten year old girl I would have never been asked to just a month ago. I taught my 102 year old grandfather how to get on Zoom and we have had two cocktail parties with some of my favorite friends along for the ride. I have been asked to teach a virtual writing class and a virtual expressive arts class. The amount of exercise I have added to my daily routine is unprecedented because there is so much time during the day. Social distancing has brought many friends and families closer together in ways no one could have predicted.

I have written endlessly about my struggle with social media over the years, but in this unique situation, I have found it to be a helpful experience. I am not suggesting that I want this to continue endlessly, but connecting with people I care about, being a voice in the community of good, taking a stand on #stayhome and saying it aloud as often as possible.

Besides this fake social connecting, the real life nature connecting has been a surprise addition. My grandmother had two neighbors, sisters, who lived together for their entire lives. When they were well into their eighties, I went to visit them and noticed many bird feeders in their yard. When I asked them about them, Ethel, one of the sisters, said she sits in the yard and watches them. At the time, my son couldn’t have been more than six years old; the notion of sitting outside and just watching birds feed at the feeders was a foreign idea to this busy thirty something.

Now with all of this time, I find myself sitting by the window and watching the magic unfold. A fox family, cardinals singing, and as I was writing this piece this morning, I watched two ducks fly by my window and land in my yard for a spell. I have never seen ducks in my yard. Maybe they are discombobulated too.

I know this life I speak of is not the same for many, domestic abuse is on the rise, the elderly are in even a more vulnerable situation and the health care workers and first responders do not have this luxury I speak of. But even for my mama friends and team members who have little ones, each time I speak with them, they are outside with their kids playing, building forts, cooking and baking together, making the best out of this bizarre situation. The irony seems that the best is some of what is coming out of this.

We are in the midst of what I am calling a global course correction and it is invoking time together in a way we had previously forgotten in our quest for more. And our failure to notice how much disconnection there has been.

As I write this, it it two weeks today that I closed my company. My signage and my emails said, Closing for two weeks until March 28th. I changed the signs yesterday to Closed until it is safe to reopen. I have no idea when this will be. Some of my salon counterparts are giving dates. I am not willing to do this right now because frankly, I can’t imagine that we will be open anytime soon. I am in the business of touch and though I know we will all crave physical touch beyond belief, will we ever feel one hundred percent safe with this type of touch again?

A strange predicament, but without feeling overwhelmed I instead will choose to stay present to the moment, looking out my window staring at the nature that the divine provides on a moment to moment basis.
This is a curious experience in our lives and our children’s lives. We will never be the same for sure, but I would like to think that words like appreciation, love, connection and gratitude our words that will become our go to words for generations to come.

We may be past the point of new return, but as March comes to a close, so does the mixed weather. As bouts of warm weather approach with April, so do the vast numbers of people choosing not to listen to the warnings and heading outside like it is a perpetual vacation.

We have a long strange trip ahead of us as a country. I hope the country comes together and pays attention as a nationwide community. We may have separate states, but they are not separate countries. Now more than ever we must remember that we are called THE UNITED STATES for a reason.

Watch the birds. Bake some cakes, Have a virtual Easter and Passover and PLEASE #STAYHOME. #tellallyourfriends.

family, Health

LIVE BEYOND 102 DIET (or the world according to Herb Horowitz diet)

“Herbie, (aka my grandfather), do you eat brussel sprouts?” I asked him this week as I was trying to combine my “clean” eating style with his how Herbie eats style. 

“Not really.” 

“What do you want with your chicken tonight? How about brown rice pilaf?” I asked.

“Not a big fan of brown rice,” said Herb.

“How about if I make chicken pot pie tonight for dinner?” Thinking this would be a sure way to warm his heart and stomach.

“Not too many carrots,” Herb said.

As I stood there, incredulous at his lack of vegetable consumption separating the carrots out of the frozen pea carrot mix, I thought, who has it right here? By the way, there are way more carrots than peas in a frozen pea carrot mix bag in case you ever find yourself making chicken pot pie for a 102 year old man who requests not too many carrots.Are peas even a vegetable? I thought.

As I made the pie using frozen pie crust and two cans of Campbells Cream of Celery soup, I laughed to myself. My grandfather has eaten more processed food than I have likely eaten in my entire life. 

Here is a picture of his pantry and freezer to show some examples.

Pretzels, chips, cookies, crackers, canned soup, muffins, danish, Eggo Waffles, ice cream— it makes my years of Paleo, Whole 30, Vegan, Plant Based, Clean eating turn themselves on their holier than thou head.

Herbie Horowitz is 102. This Saturday will be his 25th leap year alive on this planet. He still takes a receipt home from the grocery store and analyzes it line by line when he gets home to make sure he wasn’t over charged. Herbie will still drive to a gas station further away to save a few cents on a gallon. He was born in 1917 and has lived on a “fixed” income for over thirty seven years. 

a catnap after a thorough receipt analysis.

Organic eggs, milk fruits and vegetables stay right there on the shelves as he makes his way through the aisles of Publix or Costco in favor of what is on sale. “Organic schmanic,” he will say anytime I lug in my $150 of groceries where I barely glanced at a price as I added them to my cart from Whole Foods that make up two bags. “That’s a bunch of crap,” he will say.

He drinks wine every single night and has since I have known him. It used to be a couple glasses of scotch in his “younger years.” He eats Wispread cheese and crackers as an appetizer before dinner to “nosh” along with his two or sometimes three glasses of the red version of “2 buck chuck” that is now six bucks from Trader Joes that he buys by the case and promptly places in the refrigerator, a bottle at a time. 

Herb buys whatever deli meat is on sale and eats it with mayonnaise on rye bread along with a nice pile of potato chips topped off with a few cookies for dessert. Pancakes, waffles or danish depending on his mood are part of his daily diet depending on what caregiver cooks up for him based on her ability and his mood. He has trouble sleeping, though  I have mentioned that maybe it could be the cup of Tetley caffeinated tea and cookies he has every night before bed. I get the usual response of EHH. Like, what do I know. Touché.

I scratch my head at the irony of it all. In reviewing his daily diet intake with my Aunt today, she reminded me of my other Grandfather who died when he was about 85. He was smoking one of his unfiltered English Oval cigarettes as he did for his entire life when the chest pains started. He called the ambulance, as he put out what would be his last cigarette of his life. My aunt found it that night half smoked in the ashtray where he had left it.

Grandpa Bill used to eat cereal every late morning that my grandmother would put out for him after he would wake up (like around eleven- I guess we could call this early afternoon), pour heavy cream over it and add about a quarter cup of sugar. The white table variety that was a staple on most kitchen tables in most of the twentieth century. 

This all makes me go hmmmm. Is it the food we eat? Doesn’t seem to be in these two examples. Is it the exercise we do? Not that either, since neither of them ever had any exercise routine except that of the social variety on walks. Walks that would take no more than thirty minutes, but would turn into three or four hours with all of the stopping and chatting along the way. 

 About ten years ago, when asked if he had to do anything over again, what would it be, Herb replied, “I would have started at the Y sooner.” He had joined when he was about 80. I am convinced that the- less than twenty- years he spent at the Y could be one of the reasons his heart is still going strong. This and his incredible outlook on life. His approach to people. His notion about doing the right thing, saying what is on his mind (sometimes to a fault on this one) to remembering and constantly connecting with family and friends. All of this seem to be his Herb Horowitz diet for a better life, a well lived life. A long life. 

With all of the constant discussion about what we eat, what we should and shouldn’t be adding to our mouths and our bodies, Herb Horowitz breaks every single rule in the 2020 playbook. He watches the news with breakfast, watches the news with dinner. He drinks this weird pink soda water that looks like it has about ten tablespoons of red dye # 3 in it. I am perpetually speechless when I am here visiting filling his fridge with pounds of organic fruits and vegetables and grass fed beef. 

The older I get with the delightful privilege of getting to still have my very coherent grandfather around, the more I like to think that health is more about living well, making choices in our mental attitudes, staying calm in the chaos that guides a life without illness and demobilization. At least this is the case for the grandparents I have had and still get to have as I approach my definitive mid fifties. 

As we tooled around in the motorized scooter in his new favorite recently opened grocery store, we came upon the oranges native to this neck of the Florida woods and only out for a short spell. 

“Grandpa, look, the Honey Bell’s are out!” I exclaimed. Ready to pile some into the bag to bring home.

“Nahh.. I can’t eat those— too much sugar.” 

Can’t make it up.

family, life lessons, Uncategorized

THIS IS YOUR LIFE

“Grandpa, didn’t Grandma have a shortened version of a Seder that she wrote?’ I asked him a few days ago. Passover is by far my most favorite Jewish holiday. Jewish families all over the world share the story of Moses (and Miriam for those of us who like to add some female power to the night) leading the Jews out of Egypt into The Promised Land. We eat the symbolic foods and have conversations about freedoms, slavery, privilege, humanity and so much more over a delicious feast all under the full moon.

Passover is one of those transformative holidays that usually gives me some type of spiritual ahha moment and I always wake up with a more grounded sense of myself the next day. What I enjoy about Passover is that is it more than just Let’s Eat, it is a ritual, a tradition and a retelling of the story of a liberation.

The Seder is community and pausing with family and friends. It is celebratory and hopeful and it goes on worldwide with each family adding their own twists and turns. This is how I remembered that my grandmother had made her own service to condense it for the many friends my grandparents have had over the years to make it more personal, more meaningful. And shorter. Because traditional Seders can be many hours long before dinner and this is a recipe in this short attention span life we lead for invitation turn downs at some point. Being in the Reformed Judaism category, I take some bold liberties in making sure that the Seder is both interesting and concise so when my Grandfather suggested that I take a look in my grandmother’s computer, I bolted into her old office.

My grandmother passed away almost six years ago, but yet her computer is still going strong. As I made my way into her office I noticed some vestiges of her still lingering, like the abundance of scratch paper and address labels, you know those free ones you get as a bait to make a donation to whatever charity thinks sending free address labels will get you to do this. But it is her Mac that most reminds me of her presence. Isabelle had a Mac before people were really buying Macs. She was always on the hip side.

I opened up her computer and went to her file labeled “Isabelle” thinking that so much of ourselves, who we are, how we think show up in what is stored and how it is filed. I was also struck by the notion that all may have been lost if I hadn’t been lucky enough to remember to ask about the Seder, too.

As I went through the treasure trove of files, I saw all of the writings I had sent her in my earlier years of writing that she had saved. She too was an avid writer, albeit a closet one, and I quickly discovered every trip she had gone on with the date, her itinerary and even the tour guide’s name. My grandmother not only recorded the sights and sounds of their trips, but she did it all in rhyme and I was quickly transported to China shortly after the cultural revolution. I time traveled to Africa, Tibuktu among some of the points they traveled to in the seventies. There were her trips to Israel right along with the one they took me on in 1977, too.

While their friends were headed to the Carribean and The Grand Canyon for pleasure, my grandparents were off on wild adventures to learn about the world. Because I was the oldest grandchild and lived nearby, their influence on my ability to look at the world differently was significant. I was able to read about her joys in traveling with the love of her life and was reminded of how hip she was. Then like magic, like she had directed me to this very moment herself, I found her Seder outline and printed it, happy to have found her words to share.

Since my grandfather’s stroke almost five years ago, he hasn’t gone out much and certainly hasn’t had any Passover celebrations at his house. I had decided to come down to Florida this year to have a Passover Seder with my grandfather instead of the usual Seder with my lovely son and our circle of friends back home. so that he could participate in one at his 101st year. As I have mentioned in many writings, we never know if this one will be his last one, the odds shorten each year and my pragmatism abounds.

I set up the formal dining room instead of the usual breakfast area in the kitchen and took out the good china, all of the candlesticks, and the cloth napkins. This is the joy of a holiday. The excuse to make something a little more special than just another day. Flowers on the table, special wine glasses, the old china serving dishes that I will never know their origins of. I just know they are old and were saved for special occasions. I used as many as I had food to fill them. And I printed all of her itineraries right down to her memories of her marriage to my grandfather in August 1942. It was here I got to spend some time with her in her recollections of their beginnings, the draft, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and her young life. So right before dessert, I pulled out the story and announced, Herb, this is your life and began reading it as the story it was.

Passover is the story of Exodus, the Jewish plight, the enslavement of people, but also of our own prisons we put ourselves in by our thinking. My grandmother’s writings reminded me that she did not take her own personal freedoms lightly. She lived her life to the fullest, and after re-reading her own writings, I was clearly reminded of why I live the life I do. Even though many of the people I adore were not physically at this year’s Seder either because of proximity or because they have left us, having this Passover with my Grandfather felt like everyone was there at our table. Liberation in our own way, connecting generations on this one special holiday I got to celebrate my fifty fourth year with a most cherished father figure, Herb Horowitz, my shining example that life is what you make of it.

family, travel

DOLPHINS AND JELLYFISH

It was a bright clear morning barely a wisp of a cloud in the blue sky. The temperature slowly creeping from a cool 60 to a much warmer 75 in less than two hours. A perfect breeze like there was a fan on my neck at a slow even speed. People of all shapes and sizes beginning their long jaunt to claim their perfect spot where they would be laying their heads hoping for a day of rest from their busy lives.

I speak of the glorious Florida beach in February- Siesta Key, white granite cool sands and the lucky draw of a fine week of sunny perfect weather. A stunning break surrounded by temperatures from the otherwise blustery frigid February of unpredictable New England weather.

Though the temperature “up north” has ebbed into a brief and unusual fifties, purely a chance happening in a New England February, fifty is never the same in the north because of the stark lack of green. Everything is grey despite the teasing warmth. Until I land in my beloved home away from home, I am always surprised that in addition to beach air and warm sunlight, what the absence of green has had in its effect on my personal brightness.

I watch the families and couples, the aging partners holding on to each other for dear life as they try to stay healthy to keep enjoying what I take for granted with both the luck of my youth and my health. I see single women like myself enjoying time alone with only their ruminating thoughts to keep them company. It is hard to close your eyes at this beach because there is so much to watch. The glee in the eyes as the beach goers are filled with the hope and expectations of the day that before them.

There is the sound of the tap tap tapping of the soccer ball being kicked between two men, the tossing of a football between a mom, her husband and two sons, glimpses of conversation between women catching up on family gossip as they breeze by with matching hats and those calf length pants so many of women of their age seem to wear down here on their way to the shoreline for an early morning walk together.

I sit here in the heat this time under a bright red umbrella I have chosen to splurge on renting for seventeen dollars along with a five dollar deposit and a five dollar tip for just one day. If my grandfather knew what I was spending he would say his familiar one liner, You’re out of your cotton pickin mind. The rental, mind you, includes a sandy haired surfer type probably around my son’s age dragging the umbrella, setting up the umbrella and dragging it back when I am ready to leave. Worth every penny if you ask me. Though I don’t have to rationalize the purchase, it is easier to part with the twenty-seven dollars since I stay here for free every time I visit. This money spent today seems like a drop in the bucket.

Siesta Key is an expansive beach and is quite a walk from the parking lot to the shoreline. I have learned where to claim my own piece of territory since the unfortunate award of # 1 beach in America turned my beloved beach into Disneyworld. But at least there are plenty of parking spots now though out of habit I still get here at 8:00am so I can enjoy some quiet before the throngs of people descend with their loudness and boom boxes of country or rap music interrupting my peace like I am the only one deserving to claim the right.

Though I read entire books, write endlessly and deliberately leave my phone at home, the beach does not allow a bent head for long. There is just too much to see, to hear, to witness and watch. I find myself torn between the intensity of focus my current book requires and the lifting of my head to pay attention to the excitement and curiosity of my surroundings.

The water is cloudier than usual, remnants of last year’s highly publicized and horrific red tide causing temporary breathing problems and a rapid drop in tourism and beach closures unheard of on this beach. I must head for the February dip though since I have to pee like every other person who uses the span of water instead of the long walk to the row of bathrooms at the concession stand. To go to that bathroom, I must get dressed, take my wallet, put my shoes on and traipse. It’s easier in the water and the dip in the gulf in February is like the Atlantic at the end of June refreshing, reckoning, like a mikvah, a Jewish renewal and rebirth I have only once been part of in a much younger life or a baptism for those of you who don’t know what I am talking about.

I do my ceremonial dip that demonstrates to the beach audience that I am indeed a northerner and make my way back to my chair. Because I look up often, I see the familiar pointing from the many walkers at the shoreline as they notice the fins of the dolphins swimming by. Seeing just the fin of a dolphin dip in and out causes pause allowing us if only for a moment to leave our very blue screened lives reminding us that yes, there is a real world out here. Dolphins actually swimming at a real beach at a real shoreline can never be duplicated by watching it on YouTube, though plenty of people can’t resist filming this instead of just watching. Smiles! Excitement! Bliss. Just watching people looking up gives my heart an extra skip as it reminds me that we have not all succumbed to the seclusion and isolation we have allowed our phones to dictate in our non-beach lives.

After I dry off and take a delicious nap dipping in and out of the most meditative REM sleep no app could replicate, I sit back down in my squeaky old beach chair to notice another crowd gathering again at the shoreline. This time they are all looking down at the sand discussing a new finding. A jellyfish. Not just any jellyfish, a nuclear size jellyfish I can easily see from my very far away perch. Men referring to the size of its stinger like the fish that got away on their last fishing trip with the guys.

I was just in that water. I do not want to get stung by a jellyfish especially at the beginning of my solo vacation and I am now concerned that this may be a possibility. Woe is me.

I watch a beautiful couple walk by me speaking what sounds like Polish or Russian annoyed I can’t pinpoint the language. He is fit and his shorts are shorter than the usual length an American man would wear. If I hadn’t heard his voice, the shorts would have still identified him as someone from another place. He is a muscular sort and she is voluptuous and stunning with a rounded curve now in fashion among younger women at last. He sits and promptly checks his phone; she prepares the towels and herself then sits down to take her dress off, a familiar move I recognize. I am transported back to my twenties when I was self-conscious about my own curves and shape. I felt a moment of sadness for that time when I didn’t appreciate what I am sure was a kick ass body.  What a waste of time and a perfectly good body in retrospect.

Now that no one is likely looking at this aging body with the obvious fake boobs, cellulite that seemed to arrive overnight and a bloat that is caused by even one morsel of food these days, I so easily remove my sundress and walk around in a bikini like I am Giselle. I love the irony of this. As I reflect back on my beach day I am sitting on my grandfather’s patio cleaning up my beach writing. Life is ironic in so many ways and as I sit here transcribing my penciled writings onto the computer this morning, I listen to the baby monitor bellowing out the conversation between my grandfather and one of his caregivers sharing yet another intimate moment as he makes his way back into the womb with the slow inevitable journey back. This is irony.

family, life lessons

MOMENTS OF INTIMACY

There is a baby monitor in the living room that lets anyone sitting there hear the sounds of my 101 year old grandfather when he is in his bedroom. His long life has come to this and he is lucky. We are lucky to have a man in our lives who actually did what the commercials keep telling anyone who will listen.

Save for retirement.

Herb Horowitz did so when he and my grandmother retired, they had a nice not so little nest egg to move permanently to sunny Florida andlive the retired life. Cocktail parties, tennis, walks on the beach and lots offamily to visit. A successful well-planned life.

Herbie and Isabelle were good planners, responsible and thoughtful in the way they planned out their golden years. My grandfather readily admits though, that he never planned he would still be living at the ripe age of 101. Or that my grandmother would exit before him instead of the other way around, but as he would say himself, “Be that as it may, there is nothing that can be done about this.”

Herbie has chosen to stay in the comfort of his surroundings, his home, because he has the wherewithal to do this as well as the means. Because of this, he has 24 hour very expensive care to the tune of 3600 a week, yes a week and this is why there is a baby monitor in the living room. So the caregivers can hear his call, his bark at times, his breath to make sure it is still exhaling and inhaling at the rate that an alive versus dead person breathes.

When I am visiting, I am usually in the kitchen cooking and this is when I often hear the intimate dialogue between caregiver and Herb. I often wonder if these strong heady women who get paid to care for other people’s family members while said family members parade in and out of Herb’s home like it is their own personal vacation spot think why the hell are they not taking care of their own? This is my grandparents doing as their mantra has always been to never be a burden to their children and made it their personal mission to make this happen.

We are the luckier ones for it for sure and because of his planning and pragmatism, I get to comfortably sit on the patio by the in ground indoor pool sunning myself on an 80 degree day in Sarasota while my friends and family are lighting fires and bundling up in 22 degree New England.

As I made my way to the beach for the fifth day in a row yesterday, the notion that this life I have been privileged to take part in for the last thirty years will, just by statistics, come to an end. This made my eyes water. Herb is not getting any younger and despite the fact that every time I see him, he seems to be gaining more enthusiasm and zest in his reply when asked “Herb, how are you doing?”  “FANTASTIC.” He says this with a vigor that sometimes people in their sixties are lacking. And he means it. Herb, through all of his losses in his life, lives a happy life, an appreciative one, one of kindness and care and love. I appreciate it more every time I visit realizing how one day I will get the call that it is over. Herb taught me to me a realist and for this in my emotional curvy swings, I have a thread of this, more so now then ever.

I sit here in the luxury, surrounded by a golf course and million dollar homes set up like a monopoly board, palm trees swaying in the warm breeze, tropical sounding birds singing to me and barely a soul outside to enjoy this delight. Where is everyone? I often think this as I make my way in and out of the complex passing the workers making their way in to take care of the chemically greened grass and the too organized and perfect gardens. Are these hard working people scratching their heads like I am? I hardly ever see a soul out and about in this sprawling gated community and as much as I love being here, I am happy to get home to my cold house to actually interact with the many troves of people braving the cold and walking by my house to engage in neighborhood conversation.

“Hello, How are you today? It’s a brisk one,” as they march forth on their Yankee jaunts on a blustery New England day.

My grandfather is appreciative of the visits and we are appreciative of him. I love being in his house because frankly it is the last of the vestiges of my childhood home. This house is the place where when I walk in, I am also home not just because I go in and out with a carefree abandon, but because it is the place I have always felt safe, loved, cared for. My grandparent’s home is that space I am still a grandchild at almost 54. Not just the physical space, but the emotional one that is present as soon as I am greeted. Just like I am five again coming for a sleepover. It is magic.

My grandfather has been the connector of all of us cousins, the patriarch who manages to keep a family who lives as far away as London, to Austin, Texas, and New England to DC to stay in touch despite our young busy lives. I am the oldest of 8 very close cousins, oldest by twelve – fifty two years.  I consider myself more like an aunt to my cousin’s young children. I love knowing them and being a part of their lives. My grandfather taught me this by his example of always showing up. If  he still physically could, he would.

As I listen to him through the baby monitor gently bark and his bark has gotten softer with age, I am struck by how full circle life is. Out of the womb, back to it. The baby monitor is that metaphor that serves as the constant reminder that this life I know shall pass. I know when the inevitable call does come, there will be a finality like no other I have known because even though I am so lucky I still have a grandparent, he is my last one standing. The safety and comfort I have felt knowing his role in my life is an etching in my heart that lies in wait.

I am home today with him instead of the beach because a new caregiver was due in today and he wanted me close by. “No problem,” I said, my skin needs a break from the bright sun. And I am planning a birthday party for him today because even though his birthday is November 17, I have decided that every day he wakes up is a birthday now. So today he is 101 and three months and I can’t think of a better reason to have a party.

Uncategorized

A HAPPY ENDING

A HAPPY ENDING

The cabinet, the dark almost black filigreed mahogany one shaped like a quadrangle, is that what those symbols were called in geometry class? You know part octogan, part square, where the front was more narrow than the back but it was kind of rectangularish? The cabinet with the maroon velvet inside that smelled like smoke and scotch and had an unlocked key hole with the key resting inside it because no one would have thought any fifteen year old girl would be headed there to exchange the clear liquid in the vodka bottles with water hoping no one would notice. No one did notice actually and this kind of disappointed her since as she reflected back, it was only attention and parenting she actually longed for. Though, at the time, no one could tell her this. But that story is for another story. Later.

This liquor cabinet began its life at my great grandfather Joe’s house and the memory of it goes back to when I was as young as four and I lived with him along with my young parents. The cabinet held its strong position in the corner of the living room along with all of the old china that my great grandmother had amassed before she died. This liquor cabinet was small, not holding more than about eight or nine bottles and probably had a decanter and a tray on top of it, The decanters, and I am making this up here, seemed like they would have had those gold plates anchored by chains like necklaces that said in cursivy, lets get down to business words, — scotch, brandy, whiskey. When my great grandfather died, my father became the keeper of the cabinet and it traveled with us to the house on Woodlawn St, in Fall River, MA, then the house on Emerson Rd. in Jamestown, then off to the house on Narragansett Ave. also in Jamestown. It went along with my father when he decided that marriage to Ann, my mother, his wife was not a long term plan. The old cabinet finally landed back in my own familiar territory when being a child of Ann was also not a long term plan for a fifteen year old girl dealing with her own sadness. On Pemberton Ave. Also in Jamestown. The house that Dave rented while he figured out what he was supposed to do with a troubled but highly creative young daughter who absolutely could not live with her emotionally unstable mother dealing with her own sadness. There was a lot of moving in short spaces, always on to the next possible place and space that would create a feeling of grounded security.

That cabinet stayed with my father for another four moves finally leaving me when I decided that I would be better living with my boyfriend at 17 then living with my father. David, my father, allowed this and as I write this it sounds ludicrous especially when I consider that the liquor cabinet’s residence took precedence over David’s 17 year old daughter. Me. The irony does not go unnoticed as the theme of liquor does in fact make for the main character in this story in an invisible sort of way, hidden in the cabinet, traveling in and out of my life and my parent’s lives throughout my entire childhood well into my adulthood, my marriage, my divorce, countless alanon meetings, 7 years of sobriety in between and here I am. Standing, comfortable for the most part with my own relationship with Pinot. Sort of.

I always wanted that liquor cabinet though. I am a collector of all things grandparents and my father always said I could have it. I didn’t so much want it for its status as a liquor cabinet, or any monetary value, but more as a treasure that found its way through three generations of Jewish men, I wanted to be the torch bearer to pass it on to my son so I could say that this has been in the family for four generations and now it is yours, the fifth generation. So after my father died, I asked my stepmother for it and I found out that it had not made its way to my father’s last stop, his condo in Fall River, but had landed somewhere at the factory, my grandfather’s former textile mill where all things no longer wanted in your home lay to rest. The factory had the potential of being a warehouse for all things our family no longer found useful in their homes, but couldn’t bare to get rid of. It was here that the bar had been sitting all of this time and my father never let me in on the secret, never gave me the chance to take the bar from its potential demise.

“Oh, the bar? Your father put that somewhere in the factory.” My stepmother said with such a blasé tone. “What?! What the fuck! I wanted to scream. Was there nothing of sentimental value my father could actually pass on to his only surviving child? Was it too much to ask to just get one fucking thing from the old man? The bar would be nowhere to be found because the factory was sold to his previous partner and they didn’t end well. I tried anyway, but no luck, no bar. I resigned myself to the notion that like my father, like my marriage, like the alcoholism that was an integral and interesting part of my childhood, it was gone. And it was ok. There was nothing to cry about because this was just a thing. I had my memories of this piece of furniture enough that its own departure was in itself a symbolic end to a life well lived. I actually had a happy childhood despite my constant reflections on the theme of alcohol that ran through it like the way the first sip of vodka at the end of a long day feels as it travels into your veins.

What is a happy ending anyway? Is it when I am lying on my death bed ready to take my last breath and just when my family says, “This is it, she’s is leaving us,” I pop my eyes open and shout out, “Yes! It was a great life!” And then just like that, I make my dramatic exit. Death comes and takes me away and my family sighs with a mix of joy and relief.

Rewind. No. Definitely not. That is not a happy ending. A happy ending is not a book end to the beginning. A happy ending is using the liquor cabinet as a metaphor for loss and life and fractured families as a reminder for how far I have self propelled because I have consciously chosen happiness. To be happy, not to end happy. To rejoice and to be sad and to see where the winding and wild travails take me.

You are probably hoping that this brief story ends with the liquor cabinet finding its way to my home; maybe I was at the yard sale in my old neighborhood and like a shiny beam of light, there it sat, dusty and worn, scuffed bellowing out to me, I have waited for you and you have arrived! But this is not how this story ends. This story doesn’t end because I am not over. The cabinet and its contents are gone because for me I have chosen to stop bringing the suitcase filled with the past to my table. I have emptied its contents so that conversations can start anew, with no baggage, a fresh start. And after almost three years of my mother not speaking to me and me allowing this, she finally called me to say hello. And it was kind of normal and nice, we dipped our toes into the cool water and took a brief drink. It had been a long strange trip. But in the end it was happy and I would say that it was a beginning. And this doesn’t need a liquor cabinet.

happy indeed
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SURROUNDED BY BOOKS

SURROUNDED BY BOOKS

Everywhere I look at my grandparent’s house, there are books. Not as many as there used to be as my grandfather realized long before his stroke, long before my grandmother died that they should start to move some of them somewhere. I was an all too welcome recipient as I love not only books, but anything and everything that comes from their house. I realized this last trip their familiar presence has been a staple in my world since I was born and how much I take that presence for granted. Books have been a part of the fabric of my upbringing, their importance the foundation of my life just by their lives on the shelves everywhere I look. On this trip I notice the empty spots knowing that my grandfather kindly sent many of them to me over ten years ago when I gave him my book grocery list. He was all too happy to find a new home for his collection and I was too happy to invite them as a next generation who appreciates the stories they tell.

Most of the books from my grandparents’ home have Jewish themes, Israeli themes, WWII history and one could likely tell from the titles that my grandparents were really invested in their faith. When I say faith, I do not refer to the religious aspect of it, but the cultural element. My grandparents were not religious Jews, but definitely cultural ones and their belief about what is right and wrong and how to live a life that demonstrated this was most definitively led by their Judaism. Many religions can say this, thou shall not…. The familiar Ten Commandments has been a good set of human values for the most part and we were raised mostly with this as our examples.

I have many friends who did not grow up with shelves and shelves of books and in my past life when I was married as I made my way to their homes, this was a unique difference in my observations. Books on the shelves along with art on the walls seemed to go hand in hand. Along with the books, my grandparents have art everywhere and this too has made its way to my home over the years. Again a lot of Jewish themed art along with art from their many trips to places people simply weren’t going to in the sixties and the seventies, China in the late seventies when they finally opened their borders to tourism, Israel starting in 1966, New Zealand, Ghana and Timbuktu and many other out of comfort zone places that shaped their world views. In turn they passed them on to their grandchildren by their examples along with the stories and endless slide shows we had the fortune to witness. At the time though, watching a slide show of a safari made us kids groan, but it instilled a love of travel and adventure in all of us grandchildren that we wholeheartedly appreciate.

As I look around at the dwindling and many out of date collection of books, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion, Jewish Civilization to name a few I wonder what on earth we are going to do with all of these books when the time comes for my 101 year old grandfather to move on to his next adventure, hopefully with my grandmother and father and brother. Each time I have visited him for the past ten years, I have looked at all of the “stuff” and thought to myself what the hell are we going to do with all of this? For him as I have asked him repeatedly, he replies with the simple answer, it’s not my problem, it will be yours and Bobby’s. Haha, touche, I think. While it seems like his typical pragmatic approach to all things end of life would apply here, all of this goes out the window because there seems to be in that six foot body of his a small shred of sentimentality after all.

“You are an emotional girl,” he has been fond of saying to me over the years like it was some wart to try to remove from my nose or something. Ironically it turns out that he too has a touch of emotion as well. Even though the pragmatic approach would be to start doling out the art and the trinkets, this I have decided would be admitting that death was at the door waiting. It also takes out of the house my grandmother’s essence, their travels and adventures, and for this, I concede, it makes complete sense to hold on as long as he chooses. He deserves this. It is his stuff and his life. I am sure that when the time comes for him to move on, we will be all too happy to be reminded of his presence in the stories each of these items we will lay claim to tell. The books are just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many beautiful items that will find their way into our homes for the next generations. For me it is not the value of the item, the great news for our family is that none of us need any of it, it is the sentimental that I will cherish, the kitchen gadgets of my grandmother, her incredible Corning Ware collection, useful, well cared for and endless reminders of briskets and salads and Jewish Holidays. I am in no rush for any of it because that just means that this world as I have known and loved has come to an end. I have nothing to cry about after all I have had my grandfather way beyond my wildest dreams. The books are just the metaphor for the words and actions he has instilled in me and all of his grandchildren and as long as they are there, this means that he is. This is just fine with me.

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FORGIVENESS AND GRATITUDE

FORGIVENESS AND GRATITUDE

During Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, two of the more prominent and important Jewish Holidays, there is a call to action that is directly related to forgiveness. You are supposed to make amends with anyone you may have harmed and ask for forgiveness, face to face, eye to eye. If the person does not grant you forgiveness, there is a catchall that I love. You are supposed to ask two more times and if you are still not granted forgiveness, you are forgiven because if you sincerely mean what you ask, God apparently thinks that this is the point. Intention. Courage. Humility. Like all religion, there are various interpretations. These can be symbolic gestures too, maybe you need to forgive someone else and you just simply begin the process in your own heart without even having a conversation. Maybe the person you harmed or have been harmed by has passed away or the relationship is beyond a face to face — meditating, breathing, sending that person light and surrounding their aura with love may be the start of forgiveness. I look at the directive as an opportunity to pay attention and make a motion, even if it is just a baby step, to move towards love.

I have never been violently abused, I don’t know how the possibility of forgiveness is possible in these situations. I have never been harmed in such a way where forgiveness does not even seem like it is place to even walk towards. I cannot speak to this, but I do know that when I move towards forgiveness even if it is just in my mind, I am the person who feels better. It is not about the other person, it is about my own heart. Forgiveness is not meant to change the person on the receiving end, it is the person looking back in the mirror.

If I have hurt someone unintentionally, how is that I would even know to ask for forgiveness? This is where a kind meditation can be helpful. A deep breath surrounded by some conscious quiet saying to myself, I ask for forgiveness for any harm or hurt I may have caused to anyone intentionally or unintentionally. I open my heart to forgive and be forgiven and I ask for only goodness and love to move between us. Another one that is even easier is to say I FORGIVE YOU and see the person in your minds eye. If it is you that needs the forgiveness, I FORGIVE MYSELF. I have even read that it is helpful to look at yourself directly in the mirror and say, I FORGIVE YOU. And then really sit for a moment and feel the feeling, then do it again. I have tried this and it is powerful to notice the self talk that comes up by staring at yourself in a mirror contemplating.

Sometimes this small movement of consciousness and awareness can lead to an opening. Openings are good, much better than closures. Closures of the heart are anger and resentment and this eats away at your soul. No matter what the harm, soul eating is not good for my health, for sure. Resentment as it relates to health may as well be like eating Big Macs and French fries every day three times a day for life, a heart doctor’s worst nightmare. Stress from resentment has far reaching consequences on blood pressure, headaches, immune systems, and emotional weariness that does not induce well being.

What does FORGIVENESS have to do with GRATITUDE? I mean it is Thanksgiving, not Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah, not New Years where I make my list of goals that include action items for personal improvement. This isn’t an Alanon meeting day where I am on Step 5, “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” (https://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/en_step5.pdf)

This is not confession day at church behind a screen where a priest is listening to the Forgive me Father for I have sinned. In my opinion, gratitude goes hand in hand with forgiveness. Sometimes the first step of forgiveness is to simply train your mind to consider what you are thankful for. An interesting exercise is to sit quietly and take a few deep breaths. After you have done this, think about something you are angry or resentful about and place it in your mind for just a moment. Notice how that thought makes you feel. Does your face get scrunched up, are you frowning, feeling revved up, heart racing? Now try to allow that thought to leave you, put it in a box and place it in a river and watch it float down and away. Then simply take a few breaths again, quiet your mind and think of a few things you are thankful for, grateful for. Shelter, your children, food on the table, your health, whatever comes to your heart. Hold those thoughts and notice the feelings in your body now. Relaxed, calmer, more peaceful? Do you realize that both feelings were choices you just made? Powerful.

I believe that gratitude is like exercise or learning how to play an instrument, you have to practice it daily or else you simply will not improve, and neither will your health and way you see the world. Gratitude can lead to forgiveness, but the first step is all about taking it. And it is free. This is the gem of gratitude and forgiveness. They are both free. You just have to show up.

Holidays are loaded with layers of stuff. Family dynamics, expectations, guilt, and these holidays can push buttons that trigger behavior in sometimes out of the blue surprising ways. Often not planned, not anticipated, but they can come at you with a force of strength and set you on a course that is anything but thank-full. But I have learned and really believe that behavior and my response to it is a choice I make. It takes two to make conflict. I have a choice to engage or disengage. I don’t have to read the email that is going to make me feel bad, I can just delete it. I don’t have to go on social media and allow myself to be exposed to discussions that don’t make me feel energized and happy. These are all choices that I make often. I want to feel good. This is a choice. Gratitude and Forgiveness make me feel good, great actually.

Today I am grateful for anyone who reads anything I write. Writing is my personal forgiveness and I am so thankful for its presence in my life. May your day be filled with the choice of kindness and humility so that your being is calmer and more peaceful as you make your way, “Over the river and thru the woods to grandmother’s house you go,” where sometimes the big bad wolf awaits, but you don’t have to be eaten by him.

Happiest of Thanksgivings to you.


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NOVEMBER 20, 2018


NOVEMBER 20, 2018

My brother, Michael Andrew Horowitz would have been 48 this year as I remember his life on this exact day he died 23 years ago. In two more years he will be gone the same amount of time he lived for. This is the strange thing about death and anniversaries, you start doing all kinds of weird math. Like the times when a client comes into my business and when asked their birthday, they give me the day along with the year. 1970, they say. I look up expecting to see a familiar face, but realize quickly that their face is someone who has had the luxury of aging. My brother’s face is still 25. I don’t know what he would have looked like if he was standing before me at 48.

The day my brother died 23 years ago today, my father had called me to let me know. It was early in the morning and I sobbed all day deciding a good use of tears would be to put together a photo album. Creation is a perfect task for grief. Writing, art, being in nature, all of this helps the grief come out of those dark crevices releasing it to move through and out. Out is relative, out is small drips from the kitchen faucet because you forgot to turn the handle off completely. Initially grief pours out uncontrollably like a tsunami, chaotic, screaming, disbelieving even though you knew it was coming. The pain is intense and in your face that first day, that first week, that first of all firsts. Birthdays, holidays, watching college graduations and marriages and births of babies. Knowing that life goes on, but just not for Michael. Not this lifetime anyway.

I occasionally see his friends and this is always a mixed bag of happiness and sadness. I love knowing people who knew him, who remembered him, it is a connection I both cherish and grieve. Often when I see a friend of his, a tear comes to my eye unexpectedly. I have learned to allow its presence in my eye, and its movement down my cheek with no worry that I am causing feelings of worry in the person staring back at me. After all, my brother died so many years ago. Enough with the crying already, I can hear my stoic grandmother saying to me a few months after he died. I will never stop crying for his loss in my life. This I know. This is what makes me human. This is what makes me remember his life so that my son knows of him, so that my little cousins know they had another cousin who is not here. Loss of someone who has aged in the normal progression of life is sad enough. I miss my father who despite the fact that he died too young, he died a life he loved living. Not everyone can say this. I miss my grandmother every day and she lived a full rich life dying at almost 93. Look at my grandfather who just turned 101. I will cry like a little baby when he finally goes. Sometimes a rich full life means a boatload of memories and this can make grief even more intense.

There is no time limit on grief. This I know for sure. Maybe it gets less intense over time, maybe the sobs turn into whimpers and the whimpers turn into sniffles, but they are always there. Frankly, I welcome them. I like their reminders because it connects my soul to my brother’s soul even for just a brief moment. I like to feel his presence around me and my tender heart. I know he can feel mine. Till we meet again, my dear brother. I miss you every day.




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MY LAST VISIT

MY LAST VISIT

For at least the last ten years every time I close the door behind me at my Grandfather’s house in Sarasota, Florida to say good bye again, I think to myself, Will this be my last time, my last visit? The last time I get to be in the company of my proud patriarch, my grandfather, Herb Horowitz. This may make people who are afraid of the word Death, cringe, but in my family anyway, after saying goodbye to my brother, my father and my grandmother, we are used to the topic of END. My grandfather has been instrumental in involving me in the pragmatic discussions about end of life that goes back to when my grandmother was alive well over fifteen years prior to her sudden departure five years ago. My grandparents had a family meeting to discuss with their children the ways of their wills, what to expect, what was supposed to happen, and the general hierarchy of the plan. They had seen much of what could go wrong in families and wanted to be sure that everyone knew the road map when they finally left us. This has been one of those magic memories shaping my view of dying and what trails we leave behind that has left an indelible blueprint in my own life.

Herbie Horowitz has been a planner preparing for the inevitable future and has been consistently most responsible when it came to money. As a matter of fact, it took me a long time to identify my sense of financial success in my own business and life because he set, whether intentional or not, a high bar for what success was supposed to be about. We each have defined success differently. I often live on the edge, I enjoy life with a sense of urgent vigor. This has been a piece of who I am well before I had breast cancer, but it has been my grandparents who have taught me how to plan for later always assuming that there will indeed be a later. This I have not veered from since I have been twenty five contributing to my first 401K. I have also taught this to my son and my young team in my endless discussions about wills, trusts, the importance of good insurance, IRA contributions and bringing up the what ifs with their own families and spouses.

Herb always thought he was going to go before my grandmother and her death before his threw a serious wrench in both of their best laid plans. He goes on though in a way that is indescribable unless you have the pleasure of being in his inner circle of company like I have for the past fifty-three years. I have watched this WWII vet rise to the occasion of life despite the physical problems that have come his way since my grandmother’s death. Because of his proactive planning, he has had enough money to live at home and have 24/7 care so that he can keep his life his own as best as possible. This has been a welcomed gift to his grandchildren especially me since visiting him still goes on the same as it always has, barely uninterrupted and relatively normal. My uncle has taken on the primary role of responsible adult making sure that everything keeps ticking the way it is supposed to and we are all the better for this, surely.

Herb is an extraordinary human offering words of wisdom, advice whether requested or not, usually advice you don’t yet know you need or advice you hadn’t even considered. For him, he has the credibility of a life well lived and the years to prove his sage guidance. We all celebrated his 100th year last year at a lively celebration and I think even he is surprised that he would be around for his 101st birthday yesterday. People around him are hungry and eager for his commentary and his company. The fact that he still has his wits about him and can still multiply numbers without a calculator not to mention his regular conversations with his friends, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and yes his older sister who just turned 103 makes for desired company rather than the forgotten. He brings a lot to the table and the people eager to show up to the plate are all the better for it.

I had the pleasure of bringing him to temple this past Friday night for his birthday and the yahrzeit of my brother’s death. It was an odd juxtaposition of being there to celebrate a man turning 101 on November 17th, born in 1917,coupled with remembering his grandson, my brother who died at 25 on November 20, 1995. Herb walked in on his walker, Missy, his caregiver close by, sporting his navy blue go to blazer looking for a seat close to the aisle. Everyone was seated already and he was the last one standing anxious to sit down when the Rabbi spotted him across a very crowded synagogue. The Rabbi called out to him, welcomed him and the entire congregation turned to sing him a celebratory Shehechiyanu prayer and a joyful round of Happy Birthday in Hebrew. Children looked at him with awe and curiosity, and I could see them calculating the notion of 101 years compared to their young lives and their own parents and grandparents. He beamed with light and welcomed the oohhs and ahhs. He was revered as he should be and I almost wish he was invited to stand up and speak to them to give his wisdom of retrospect on a life well lived. But he would likely say, Nahhhh, what do people want from me, I am an old man. This makes him even more desired company as it is his intelligence coupled with his humility that make for a lovely human being.

I shed tears each time I leave him and every time the phone rings with my Uncle Bobby as the caller id, I hold my breath because the odds are simply against the possibilities of our time together. He is sharp as a tack and shows no signs of early departure, but clearly he has less time ahead rather than more. This is just simple math and reality. He has raised me and my free spirit self with a practicality that surprises me as I get older. I have him and my grandmother etched deep inside me even more so than my own parents who were too young to give the type of advice I didn’t know I needed as they faltered and floundered trying to figure themselves out. All the better for it ultimately since I got the best of my grandparents’ sound stable beautiful contributions to my life.

I do know that each time I shed the tears of grief that just come on at the most random moments each time that door closes when I head back north after a visit, if it is in fact the last visit, I have been a recipient of a life well lived. In a way that will be with me until my grandchildren get to hear my own advice and close their doors after their frequent visits. He is “slowing down” sleeping more, catnaps throughout the day during breakfast, lunch, dinner, television bingewatching, but this is all part of the process of dying. Back to the beginning, needing care and attention in the ways of an infant on some levels. I do know that the visits from all of us wake him up and this causes him the same joy and happiness he has blessed us with. If this was my last visit, I know like all the others before, it was a very good one. A very good one indeed.

alayne and herb with michael in the background snapping the pic #luckyindeed