Monday, December 15, 2008

Mothering Myself

...And letting myself be Mothered by my friends.

That's what women friends do. We Mother each other.

Like right now. I'm home from knee surgery, immobilized in bed. This queen bee is not used to not doing ten things at a time, especially during the hectic and fun holiday season. But this year, it has to be different.

Judy took me to the hospital and has Mothered me ever since. Visiting me, getting me out of the hospital (no easy feat!), buying my meds, injecting me with antibiotic (she gives THE best shot), and listening to all my cares and woes. She picks up my mail and well, it is endless what she does for me.

Yesterday Marieke grocery shopped for me and then entered my kitchen to cook a masterful asparagus and fresh pea risotto, a fresh salad, sliced strawberries. Gourmet comfort food made by a loving friend. As she was cleaning up, Susan showed up with a bath chair and helped me bathe and dressed my scar.

The last time I lay in bed and had someone cook for me when I was a child. The last time I had someone help me bathe was when I was a child.

This is what women do for each other. We Mother each other.

It is hard for me to be Mothered. I am so used to doing all the Mothering. But I am sitting back and letting them help me, because the day will come when I will do the same for them.

My women friends are Angels. And beautiful Mothers.

P.S. So if you don't hear from me for awhile...I'm recovering from surgery and...being Mothered.)

Friday, November 28, 2008

My son, out in the world.

My son is celebrating his first Thanksgiving away from home, in another country. He has taken his place in the world. He made his own travel arrangements. He chose his wardrobe and packed his suitcase. It was up to him to make sure he remembered toothbrush, credit card and hostess gift. "He arrived," teletexted my cousin, “and looks great and is nice and smart and sweet.”

That’s what a Mother wants to hear.

She also wants to hear that he shooed the hostess away from washing dishes and took over the chore himself. (Hmmm..he never shooed me away from the dishes! Maybe I have this to look forward to.)

This is what all those early years were about. All the work you do with your children, about making beds and picking up their clothes and table manners and hostess gifts… All the teaching, cajoling and punishing, which makes you tired of the sound of your own voice…really does kick in at a certain age.

This is the person you were dreaming of. A warm, considerate, compassionate, grateful, joyful person., taking his place, out in the world., creating a satisfying, lovely, inspiring life for himself and others.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Will you regret it later on?

One August during a curiously stressful visit by my Mother, it was time to decide whether I’d take the children to her house for Christmas—a 12 hour trip in two airplanes. Experience had taught me that reservations had to be made then, or it would be all sold out.

I wasn’t ready to make this decision just yet because I was feeling bruised by her negative manner.

Dr. Janny to the rescue. She's my best friend since junior high school who, today, is a wonderful psychiatrist.

“What I always ask my patients is," she said, “If you don’t go, is this something you might regret in the future?”

“If it is something you would regret in the future, then don’t even think twice about it and do it. But if it is something you won’t regret, then you’re off the hook.”

I immediately made the reservations.

It turned out to be my Mother’s last Christmas.

Now that she is gone, it is clear to me that her stressful visit in August was because she was not feeling well; in fact, she was dying. But we didn’t know it yet. She never said, “I don’t feel well,” she just acted grouchy and difficult. She acted the same way on her visit to my brother, puzzling him at the time as well.

Now we look back and understand everything – and have no regrets. We take comfort and rejoice in the memories.

Monday, November 3, 2008

All gemutlich, all the time.

As I get older, life seems to get "scarier." My mortality is ever present in a new way. I have experienced pain, loss and tragedy in the death of family and friends.

My "new" philosophy of life is very simple. It is my old philosophy of life, only now, I am living it with more vigor and insistence.

"All gemutlich, all the time."

Gemutlich means cozy, endearing, in German.

It's a rough world out there.

All gemutlich, all the time.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

My Mother's Diamond Ring

One of the iconic visions I have of my Mother is the diamond ring on her hand. I saw it every day. It was the hand I held. It was the hand that fed me and caressed me. It truly represented her “until death do us part” marriage with my Father

One day, when my Father was failing, my Mother decided I should have her diamond ring. We had just come from the lawyer where she had rewritten her will.

She was feeling vulnerable, old and forgetful. “I don’t want to be one of these ladies who get taken to the hospital in an ambulance and her diamond ring is stolen off of her,” she said. And so, we went to get it reset together. I wanted her to enjoy choosing a setting with me for her beautiful stone. “Never let your diamond out of your sight,” she said, as we stood there, watching the jeweler set it into platinum.

After they were married, she always told it, one day my Father came home with a packet of loose diamonds. Those were the days when life was simpler. My Father’s accountant’s husband was a jeweler on 47th St. in Manhattan. My Mother looked at all the loose diamonds. “I chose the biggest one, of course.” It happened to be just a little over one carat and a very very good quality.

I was surprised, delighted and saddened when my Mother gave me her diamond. It signaled some sort of defeat, or acceptance in her heart, of something that was over. I thought it was tremendously generous of her to give it to me while she was still alive. She wanted to see the transition of the ring and not imagine it as something that would happen after her passing. She also wanted the security of really knowing where it went.

And now, my Mother has passed away, her diamond accompanies me every day. It is a powerful touchstone. Her diamond makes me strong and reminds me who I am, from where I came, and of how loved I was and still am.

I am happily divorced, but I still wear my Mother’s diamond on my left hand. I am too “old” now, to care that some man might think me engaged and be warned away. When has a ring ever stopped the right man?

My diamond gives me hope and strength. It is my Mother’s love on my finger.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Mothering your Mother

This is about the first time you realize that your Mother can’t Mother you any longer. She will never say that of course. The words go unspoken, but the reality is there.

It is the inevitable moment in the parent-child relationship when frailty enters and the natural order is reversed. If you are lucky, you are much older when this happens. But no matter when, it is a big sadness and nothing is ever quite the same.

The kindest thing to do…is just to carry on. But the problem comes in recognizing the moment.

It happened for me when I came home for Christmas one year with my young children. I arrived, exhausted, with the kids, after 12 hours of flying and stress. As I had in previous years, I wanted to walk into a welcoming winter wonderland, with fire blazing, dinner on the table, house decorated and wine at the ready.

Absolutely nothing was done. There was no dinner waiting, not even Chinese take out. There was no milk or juice in the fridge. No wine, boxes of cereal or bagels for breakfast. The house was not decorated. Not even a Christmas tree bought.

Instead of realizing what had really happened on a significant level, I was just furious with my Mother. I was frustrated and annoyed because I thought my Mother was just being lazy and inconsiderate.

I knew she was old…but couldn’t she have made one trip to the supermarket? Couldn’t she have brought a tree home and put it in a bucket out by the garage? Couldn’t she have made one bed a day?

It was a grim moment. I called the Chinese restaurant for a delivery. I got in the car and dashed to the grocery to pick up breakfast supplies. I made the beds and we fell into them. The next day I decorated, shopped, cooked and cleaned. And it was that way for ever more.

If you have been Mothered well, you rise to the challenge naturally and easily. It was up to me to make Christmas magic for my Mother. This is the sandwich role for a woman that comes at a certain age. You Mother your children and you Mother your Mother. And the whole time you are amazed at the energy you have to pull it off.

It is actually a gift for you, although you don’t recognize it at the time. You are paving the way for the great sadness that is yet to come.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Personal touchstones of taste. On Tania, our own little nutritionist.

I’m drinking hot water with a splash of milk and thinking of my grandmother, who used to drink this every evening, after dinner. When I would offer coffee and tea, she would insist on just boiled water with a splash of milk. I’d think, how silly, how could that possibly taste good?

I now understand that she drank this because there was no decaffeinated tea back then. It was something hot, digestive and comforting after the evening meal. Even though I have decaf teabags in the house, I’m still sipping boiled water with a splash of milk. I feel a connection to her when I sip this drink.

And it is only now I realize that my grandmother Tatiana was our little nutritionist. Only back then, we thought she was quaint. She was ahead of her time, before people had chic nutritionists or the food pages of the New York Times to dictate the latest health trends.

Now that I’m battling my weight in middle age, I have a new appreciation of her discipline and her nutritional habits. She always ate lightly at night and kept her gorgeous figure her entire life.
I used to giggle that she would eat prunes for breakfast, followed by toast spread with cottage cheese and a drizzle of honey. But now, because I’ve read that prunes are one of nature’s perfect foods, high in antioxidants, iron and fiber, I make sure to eat a few each day too. One of my favorite breakfasts is cottage cheese on toast, drizzled with honey.

My father was an aficionado of oatmeal. My Mother loved the classic grilled cheese sandwich. Nette’s Merema taught me about the cool hot bite of crystallized ginger on the tongue and gingersnaps with tea. Now, I eat oatmeal, grilled cheese sandwiches and ginger whenever I can find it.

This is about the comfort of family tastes. You never know what your personal touchstones will be until later in life. And it is a grace and gift when one day they reappear. Tastes are a palpable way of feeling close to these departed people who at one time, loved you with all their heart, and whose love warms you still.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How to talk on the telephone

I’m kidding, right? You have to learn how to talk on the telephone?
Well, yes apparently. We talk on the phone all the time, but I’ve noticed people just flow all over the place.

There is a telephone etiquette: Don’t be rude, don’t be abrupt or too fast, don’t give away too much information, don’t ramble.

Answering the phone. In office life, and in countries like Germany and Switzerland, you answer the phone announcing your name, so the caller can immediately identify whether s/he reached the right number. As in, "Dunkel" or "Dunkel residence."

In much of the rest of the world, the phone is answered, Pronto, Bueno, Allo, Hello – which basically indicates: we have a connection, proceed.

Identify yourself. Don’t just start talking, assuming the other person recognizes your voice. You’re not that special. And often, a hello doesn’t register.

If it is a business call you would say, “Hello, this is Elizabeth Dunkel. I’m calling to speak to… about …..”

If it is a personal call, identify yourself as well. I don’t care how well you think the other person knows your voice. There's nothing more annoying than answering the phone and someone says, "Hi," and I'm left wondering, okay, who is this? So I finally say, “Who is this?” and the other person is offended because I don’t recognize them.

Be polite. Don’t just say, “Is Joe there?” Too abrupt. Get out of my way buster.
Chat for a minute. “Hi, this is Elizabeth. How are you?” Chat a bit and then ask for Joe.

Don’t just say, “wrong number” and hang up. The phone will ring five seconds later with the same wrong call and you’ll be bothered again. Ask the person, “What number are you trying to reach?” And when they tell you, you reply, “No, you have reached xxx-xxxx,” and they will understand what they marked incorrectly, or that they simply don’t have the proper number.

Don’t ever start a phone call with, “Who is this?” That is rude and abrupt.
Imagine. Your phone rings. You answer it, only to hear, “Who is this?”
When someone does that to me, I turn the question around. They need to identify themselves first, they’re the ones who called me. So, I say, “The question is, to whom would you like to speak?”


People have lives. Feel free to ask, “Is this a good time to call?” And if not, “When is a good time for me to call?” Feel free to say, “I’d really like to talk to you but this is not a good time for me to talk, can I return your call?

Be concise. Don’t ramble. Say, “I’m on my cell, I’m lost, can you look up a phone number for me?”

Always end your phone call with the words, “Thank you so much for your call.” Or, “Nice talking to you.”

See, that wasn't so painful, was it?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Mother as "Personal Assistant"

Lately, I’m not feeling like a Mother anymore…but mostly, my daughter’s personal assistant.

Nina is 16 and a half and a junior in high school. Remember how grown up you felt when you were that age? Well, I’m respecting that.

I wake her up in the morning for school. I make her a cup of tea. I drive her to school. I ask her, “What would you like for lunch today?” The reason I ask, is because it is just the two of us, and if I make what I want, and she doesn’t want it, she just won’t eat it. So since I’m easy, it’s easier for me to prepare something she will eat.

I see that her clothes are washed and ironed. I drive her to her sports, academic events and social life. I give her cash when she needs it. Not exhorbitant amounts, but enough for the occasional burger or movie.

This all feels more like personal assisting, not mothering. But I guess that’s a play on words. Because it really is Mothering. With a grown up and very modern twist.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I cringe now...

…when I think of how my children overhead me, occasionally, complaining about my Mother.

There were times I would get off the phone with her, exasperated about something she had said. Or hadn’t said. I would be annoyed if she didn’t offer to pay my air tickets home. I was annoyed when she didn’t give me a gift, or even a card or a flower, on my 50th birthday. I was annoyed she wouldn’t move down to where I lived so I could care for her.

These episodes were just the sturm and drang of daily living on this earth. But my complaints didn’t touch the deep love I felt for my Mother. I worried so much about her. I hated living so far away. I hated not being able to accompany her in the care of my Father, to give her the love and support she needed and deserved, and the companionship that only mothers and daughters can share.

My Mother was lonely as she cared for my Father, and even lonelier when she survived him and lived alone for the first time in over 60 years. And on top of that, she was plagued with cancer, only we didn’t know it yet.

So what am I saying to you Mothers who still have Mothers of your own?

That my kids did hear my complaints. That words can hide what is truly deep in our hearts.

I do believe they understood my great love and reverence for my Mother. It’s the deep love that’s in every child's gut, a part of your very soul and breath.

That’s what Mother love is, it's just a part of you.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Maligning the Mother

Mothers are the grist for the lifetime mill. Everything begins with Mother. Mother is the source of your life, then the source of your joy. Just look at any baby cooing at her Mother, or any toddler’s face lighting up when Mother comes into the room.

For those precious years, we Mothers are on the pedestal, in the great love affair between Mother and child, and then, floof, our child becomes an adult and we are off the pedestal and into the frying pan of life’s impossible people to deal with.

Is our love that suffocating or awful? Why is it that Mothers morph into the monster, and become the source of our formerly adoring, adult child’s ennui?

Why is it that a friend can give you advice and you can “hear” it, but if your Mother gives you the same advice, you discount it, or, it drives you crazy?

Think of the Mother in literature and the Mother in movies. The larger than life “Mommie Dearest.” The eye rolling, the children suffering their Mother, the Mother as the cause of all root problems. “The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood” was all about the daughter’s inability to live her own authentic life due to a misunderstood conflict in her mother-daughter relationship. In Sean Wilsey’s book, “Oh the Glory of It All” he writes, “When describing my Mother it is impossible to overstate her grandeur, her haughtiness, her generosity, her old Hollywood star power, her immaturity…”

We mothers are quite powerful, it seems. Perhaps it would be better to be… less powerful?

But you are powerful when you are raising your child. And therein lies the problem. You keep your children alive, clean, fed, rested, educated. I’m beginning to think the stamp of that powerful presence you had in their lives always has the power to wound in the most unsuspected ways.

No one wants to be the cause of eye rolling. I certainly don’t want to be the sturm and drang Mother. The demanding Mother. The guilt trip Mother. The needy Mother. The impossible Mother. The loud Mother. The exhausting Mother.

But I’m beginning to think it is part of the Mother “lode.” The power that you once had lingers in the raise of an eyebrow, in a tone of voice. Perhaps, sadly, it helps pave the way for the ultimate separation.

In the meantime, I vow to remain cheerful, light, receptive. That’s what an adult child wants, right? Now that my Mother is gone, I understand, it is certainly how she treated me.

Friday, October 17, 2008

How you heal determines the quality of the rest of your life.

This is not my advice. This advice was given to me by my dear friend Judy, and it has been engraved in my heart and mind forever. Even I have a hard time following it.

I may have touched on this theme in my entry “How to be Sick. Nicely.” But as I have just checked one of my students out of the hospital after a grave illness, it comes to mind ever more strongly. I told him, “How you heal now, can affect the rest of your life.”

We get sick. Our bodies suffer an assault. And then we want to get back to our lives immediately, as they were. When you are recovering from a serious illness, you need to give your body time to heal. You are bored, you are anxious to get back to your life as you knew it, but don’t. Take that extra week or month. If you ignore the healing process, you can compromise the functioning of your body for the rest of your life.

We ask so much of our bodies. We take them for granted. But if the doctor says, don’t drive for a month, or stay in bed for at least a week, or don’t drink milk or alcohol for a month: follow this advice. Don’t suffer the relapse, because then it will take you even longer to heal and you can suffer chronic problems for the rest of your life as a result.

Your health is the only thing that matters in this life. You hear that so often, it's become a cliche. And you only understand it when illness strikes. But it is true. Oh so true.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My little stranger

I have a stranger living under my roof. And she is my lovely 16-year-old daughter.

When she was born and handed to me in the hospital, I looked at her and said, "Who are you?" and spent the next 16 years finding out.

When you are the mother of a baby or later, a small child, you feel you know everything about them. You know what they eat, how they slept, what they did from morning to night. You are there to experience their discoveries and their moods. You are in constant conversation with them.

Then they become teenagers and you have no idea who they are.

They become contemplative. Secretive. They share confidences with their friends, not with you. They disappear for hours on end and don’t tell you a thing. My daughter comes home from her evening French class at the Alliance Francaise and shuts herself in her room to talk to her new boyfriend. She shares her feelings with him.

And so begins another new aspect of parenting. But no one ever told you about this one.

The success of a parent – adult child relationship rests on being able to treat your son or daughter with the exquisite politesse of a new friend about whom you find everything fascinating.

You cannot assume anything or trample on the currency of your former intimacy. You must respect their lives, their boundaries, their new likes and dislikes. As their parent, your new role is to simply support them with unconditional love.

That’s what keeps them coming home, happy to see you, happy to be with you.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A slice of heaven

In keeping with living a life of gratitude, and the fact that "life is in the details," I thought I'd start a new category called, "A Little Slice of Heaven."

Raising kids is not only exhausting -- it is often mind numbing. The repetition of driving, cooking, cleaning, shopping, bathing, cleaning, shopping, cooking, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning...can put the soul to sleep. Of course, the honor of raising children has its enormous pleasures and rewards, which is why we do this in the first place.

However, there are little slices of heaven, which sometimes get overlooked in the daily routine.

Our children have no idea of the sheer pleasure of parenting that we experience. They think nothing of it. But we know better. So, occasionally, I'm going to "shout out" moments that I consider a little slice of heaven.

Today's: Sitting in a darkened movie theatre with my 16 year old daughter, watching a French film, en francais bien sur!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Am I an adult yet?

I remember asking myself that question after I graduated college. I got my first job and lived in my own apartment. By all accounts, I had assumed the life of a responsible adult. But I didn’t feel like an adult. I asked my friends, "Are we adults yet?" and "Is this what being an adult feels like?"

I am here to report, that the moment when I truly felt like an adult – was not when I turned 21, 30 or 35, 40 or 50, not when I got married, bought a house, not even when I had children. In the eyes of the world I was an adult, but those things felt rather more like life pulling me along the passages of... life.

I finally felt like an adult when I got a divorce.

That was two years ago. Now, at 57, I can honestly say, yes, I feel like an adult. It was the divorce. Making a serious decision invoking the law, taking responsibility for my life and my past. Something about paying lawyers and going before a judge to get my freedom back.

My divorce was a defining moment in my life in more ways than one. It was not only regaining my freedom, but it was the most adult and scary thing I had ever done.

What about you? When did you feel like an adult?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Book Proposal & Return to Elegance

I'm working on a book proposal for The Portable Mother, which is why I'm not posting as often.

Also, my original material for The Portable Mother is packed away in a box and I must find it! As many of you know, I'm currently living in a rental because I'm building a house. Half my life is in boxes, pending the second move into the new house. The Portable Mother is in a box! I'm definitely portable, and definitely not perfect.

Time to take a breath and begin again.

A Return to Elegance is the new theme for my life. Living smaller, living better, living with more clarity, more substance, more time. Let's face it, family life is...messy! It's fun messy. Its about laundry and cooking and tending the sick, and driving and making costumes, and all the hubbub.

Life is simpler at my house these days, with Pablo gone to college. Nina is in high school, a young lady very much involved in her own life. My daily mothering has simmered down substantially.
This past week, I was reminded of my pre marriage, pre child life. It was indeed a life of elegance.

Thoughtful elegance. The elegance of economy. Sensual elegance. Intellectual elegance. Artistic elegance. Personal elegance. I'm happy to reclaim this mode of being, after a whirlwind 20 years of full speed ahead, joyful, day to day Mothering. I did a great job, but now it's time for elegance.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Why you should drive the carpool.

Let’s say Friday night has arrived. You're exhausted after a week of driving to and from school, to piano, to soccer, to the study group, the play rehearsal, plus your own errands.

You're looking forward to a quiet night at home when your child asks, “Can you drive me and some friends to the movies?” And if you are like me, you try, “Can’t you stay home tonight?” or “Can you get another mother to do it?”

Mothers, I urge you: drive that carpool.

In carpool is when you see who your kids’ friends are and where they live. You get to see your child in a social situation, who she is among her friends and how she acts among them. You get to see your child in a way you never can at home.

When I first started driving carpools I thought I had to be a cool mom and chat with the kids. I thought my job was to put them at ease.

Wrong. A simple hello is enough. You don’t like it when your taxi driver talks your head off or peppers you with questions about your life.

Just be quiet and drive. And the best part: listen. A carpool Mom has the pleasure of listening to their conversation, their jokes, their gossip, their concerns.

Hey, you’re not spying; you’re just the driver.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The best time to talk to your kids

Here’s a little tip for you Mothers with young children who are reading The Portable Mother.

Friends ask me, “Do you call Pablo at college?”
Well, yes and no.
If I have something I need to communicate to him –airplane ticket info, loan application, important family news, I call him, give him the info, and then we chat a little and hang up. Mission accomplished.

But if I call him because I want to chat or to hear his voice, what I’ll get is a yawn, a disinterest, or he’s busy.

It reminded me of when my kids were little and I would pick them up at school and want to hear about their day. They’d get into the car and I’d say brightly, “So how was school?”

“Fine.”

“What’d you do today?”

“Not much.”

Here I wanted to hear about their day, and they were not interested. After a few tries I realized: They’ve been in school all day. They are tired. They are up to here with school. The last thing they want to talk about is school.

Later on in the day, when I’d be driving them to a piano lesson or taking them to buy some school supplies…they’d start talking and everything came out. Because they were ready to talk.

The best time to talk to your kids? When they want to talk. Not when you want to talk.

So, make them want to talk by leaving them alone a little. I’ve learned to wait for a good chat. When Pablo wants to talk, he’ll call me. It’s then that he’s loving, amenable, talkative, and sharing.

When I go online and see that Pablo is online I stifle the natural urge to immediately message “Hi!” I don’t want him to feel stalked by his mother.

Rather, I wait. He sees I’m online. If he wants, he’ll message me.

And more often than not, he does. “Hi!” pops up on my screen. And I’m the happiest Mother ever.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Good things about the empty nest.

For the last few weeks I’ve been writing about empty nest. I think that’s enough for now.

Before I go back to the original purpose of The Portable Mother, which is to write things I want my children to know about life…I thought I’d dedicate a day to celebrating the good things about the empty nest.

It makes me think of an English nanny I had one summer when Nina was born and Pablo was two. (She’s now a mother of three with a busy life.) She taught me to say, whenever something wasn’t going according to plan “…and the good thing is…” and to insist on finding something good in the situation, no matter how small it might be.

You can’t be the mother of small children your whole life. Fun and wonderful as it is, we all get our chance, and then we must continue on. Our kids our counting on it! So, here are just a few of the things I’m rediscovering.

Gas in the car
Not having to negotiate using my car with my Pablo's social life
Juice in the fridge
Always a chocolate or a cookie when I want one
Less house cleaning
Less laundry
Lower grocery bill
Not having to cook if I don’t want to
Phone rings a lot less
No dirty dishes in the sink
No sofa pillows to puff up
Sleeping late
Taking naps
Not living on a school schedule (having to be back by a certain time to chauffeur or cook)
Hours of reading a delicious book
Learning German
Joining a gym
Writing a new novel
Reinventing myself and remembering who I was and what life was like when I was single.
Being grateful that I had the sacred opportunity to nurture two human beings.
Being grateful that I will be there for them as long as I live.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

It's so over.

A month into Pablo’s freshman college life, I’m finally realizing it.
It is so over.
Mothering, as I knew it, is over.
I had my chance. 18 years of: go to bed, cut your hair, make your bed, take a shower, why don’t you…etc. 18 years of cajoling about piano, or sports, or friends, or homework.

Pablo doesn’t write, he doesn’t call. He’s so thrilled with his new found freedom to become an adult, his freedom to understand who he is in the world, without me telling him: go to bed, cut your hair, don’t play your music so loud.

When he comes home, he will be this adult “friend” –someone who I love endlessly, with a strange connection to me. I was once his Mother; I was once the person who had to teach him, tell him, and shower him with love. Now, I am his Mother – someone who will always take him in, who will always go visit him somewhere, who will always be his biggest champion.

But I can never tell him again what to do. I can make suggestions. But only when I am asked.

He doesn’t call, he doesn’t write. Doesn’t he love me? Doesn’t he miss me? But then, I remember, as a college freshman I wasn’t homesick. I didn’t miss my Mother particularly. I loved knowing she was “there” – but that was about it. I knew I was loved and supported. That's what you know for the rest of your life, that you are loved and supported by your Mother.

One of the rewards of launching your “child” in the world, is seeing what lessons you taught them, that they are now putting into practice as they discover who they are on their own.

What I see in Pablo is this: His joy with the world is my joy. I planted it. His hunger for reading is my hunger for reading. His desire for new experiences – horseback riding, piano, aikido, medieval sword fighting, party planning – is my desire for new experiences. He is generous and kind. He is compassionate and thoughtful. All the things I hoped and wanted he would be. He is all of this and more.

I spent my precious 18 years teaching my Pablo everything I know about life. Now it is my turn to watch and let him teach me who he is and how he will live his life.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Empty Nest

Think about it: you spend more of your life with an empty nest than you do as a 24/7 mothering mother.

The first 18 years are the most important in a certain, definitive way. But all the next years of your “child’s” life…are his life!

You are always the Mother. But are you the Mother who is, “ Sigh…I have to go see my Mother…” or the Mother who is, “I can’t wait to get home and visit my Mother!”

It’s your choice. And it requires a big shift in behavior.

There are lots of books about having babies, raising babies, how to be a mother.
But not so many about how to be an empty nest Mother.

As Pablo completes his first month in college, I find myself thinking about my Mother a lot. Once I left home to go to college and beyond, I didn’t realize that she had a life because I was so busy with my own. I was off traveling, discovering, working, and she was, in my mind, always at home.

It is now, as I look at the watercolors she left behind and register the dates on them, I realize she was painting. She had friends and took trips with my father and had a whole life I didn’t know about.

To me, she was there when I called on the phone, and there at the airport or bus station, or at the front door if I pulled up in a car or a taxi. Always waiting, welcoming, ready to cook, drive, shop, and hear the stories of my life.

I’m in a transition period. You don’t just take your kid to college and you’re off! There is reflection, a bit of mourning for a certain way of life, that day to day, living in the same house intimacy. I won’t be needed as a Mother in those ways ever again.

But I will be needed as a Mother in new ways. And this is what I’m musing about, as I discover who is the new version of myself and what is the life I want to lead now.

Monday, September 8, 2008

"...And how do you feel about that?"

When I took Pablo to college, the sensitive deans planned a wonderful day for the freshman parents. They knew we had driven and flown very far, and to just drop off your kid and disappear was not what we needed at this delicate time.

What we needed, they felt, was to be read the riot act, but in gentle--and humorous--terms.

So while Pablo was settling in and running errands on campus, the deans eased us into being college parents.

The major lesson was how to talk to your now adult child i.e. college student.

Your student calls you, either to share events and stories about his life or to complain about something. And no longer are you to offer your unsolicited opinion or advice.

Instead, you are to say, “And how do you feel about that?”

And then you listen.

Then you say, “And what are you going to do about that?”

And then you listen.

Only if you are asked for your advice or opinion, you give it. If not, you don’t.

Think about it. You didn’t want to hear your Mother’s opinion about what you ate for lunch, or what sport you decided to take up, or where you decided to go for vacation. Think about your friendships. Your best friends don’t offer their opinion on every little thing you do. If they did…you probably wouldn’t have them as friends.

I know, it’s hard. We’ve been telling our children what we think for so many years now that it just comes naturally. Kids don’t want a parent constantly saying what she feels about some aspect of their lives or behavior. It makes them feel they are under scrutiny, where everything they do or don’t do will be judged.

Carolyn Heilbrun, author of “The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond 60” wrote that one of the ways of being a wanted adult in the lives of her children was to stop talking and start listening. What your adult children tell you will be far more interesting than anything you could ever say to them. It is their world and their struggle, now. What they need most, is someone who will listen.

I'm not saying I have all this down yet. It takes practice to stop jumping in and trying to fix things. But I do think, if you treat your adult children as respectfully and lovingly as you do a friend, and you have a greater chance of having a loving, rich relationship for life.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The 18-year-long pajama party is over...

Nature knows best. Nature helped me through the big goodbye.

The summer was excruciatingly hot. Pablo, Nina and I packed up and moved to our new house. They couldn't believe how stressful and awful moving was. "Welcome to my world," I said to them.

Recent high school graduate Pablo was impossible, as only a Mother can describe. He stayed out until the wee hours and then came home and slept till mid afternoon. He didn’t get a job because in Mexico you need to be 18 to get a job, and when you do get a summer job…you might earn about 400 U.S. dollars after eight weeks of serious toiling… He didn’t see the point. I kept telling him about developing a work ethic until I got tired of hearing my own voice.

You see, he knew best. He knew better. He wouldn’t listen. He didn’t care. He drove me crazy.

I was so sick of him by the end of the summer that I dropped him off at college with the attitude, “Here, take him.”

That's nature for you. Nature engineered it perfectly. 18 years is our allotted human time. Birds get pushed out of the nest much younger, like a few weeks. Mama birds too get tired of the fuss and push the birds out of the nest.

The night before I drove him to college, we stayed in a hotel. At 3 a.m., I realized he wasn’t in the room. I got dressed and went down to the deserted lobby. There he was, chatting on Internet. I burst into tears and started yelling at him. “Do you realize what time it is? We have to get up at 6 a.m.! You have a long day tomorrow! Go to bed!” I went back upstairs humiliated at the absurdity of this. Me, yelling at my 18-year-old son, who I was going to take leave of tomorrow. Reminded me of couples who have a big fight before one of them leaves on a business trip.

Leaving him at college was fine. I knew he was in a luminous place, surrounded by great natural beauty and inspiring professors.

He was not at all sad to see me go, or at least, he didn’t show it. He was too overwhelmed with the beauty and challenge of his new life. And the scent of freedom.

Of course I cried when I left him. He couldn’t understand my sadness.

I was crying for me. My years of Mothering were officially over. My job, as 24/7 “Mother” was phased out, terminated. I was shown the door and handed my pink slip. I had my chance with him, a full 18 years…and now it was over. I cried for this.

And I mourned for this: When your kids are young, you are the star of their lives. And now, I have a supporting role, a bit part. The college administrators told us parents that our children would finally begin to see us now as people, and not just as their Mothers. That's a good thing.

That day I delivered him to college, I saw him become an adult right before my eyes. He trotted around a campus he had never seen before, getting his photo, picking up an ID, going to the cashier, the registrar, getting keys, meeting a roommate, navigating everything new. He took charge of his clothes and put everything away. He made plans to open a bank account and had a slew of meetings to get to. Everything he didn’t do at home all summer, he just slid into perfectly.

This is what you wish for when you are a Mother -- that you raise your child to be able to thrive in a new world.

Back home, I am discovering new joys in my life as the Mother of an adult. I feel lighter now. There is no more, “Go to bed, it’s late.” Or, “pick up your room.” “You asked me for $$ yesterday.” No more hearing the boring, antagonized drone of my own voice.

I no longer have to cook huge meals, buy gallons of juice, watch cartons of cookies disappear before my eyes. I can diet. I can sip tea. I have my life back.

It was a glorious 18 year long pajama party.

And now, that party’s over. A new relationship between Pablo and me begins.

Nature knows best.

Monday, September 1, 2008

"Catch as catch can, here we are, back at the stand."

So wrote J.D. Salinger.

I'm back. Reporting after a fast and furious summer.

Fast facts: Pablo is in college. He is tremendously happy.

The Mother, (me) is also doing well.

I learned so much! And I will tell you all about it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Summer Break

Hello Everyone,
Just to let you know that I'm in the midst of packing and moving to a new house.
I'll be back with wonderful writing and fresh insights as soon as I am internet abled again.
Have a lovely summer!
xxxooo

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Learning to talk less

Sigh.

For a parent who has talked to her children all their lives…I now have to stop. It has finally dawned on me: I’m talking too much.

When your kids are little, you are their everything. Remember how your baby smiled and gurgled when you entered the room? You were the source of all their delight.

You talk all the time to young children: You teach, you entertain, you counsel. And now, it is very clear that when I tell my teenagers what I think about something, they don’t want to hear it.

It is a stage in parenting I never considered. No one does. You expect to be the hero of your children’s lives forever. If you don't watch out, you become a bother. It is painful to see my kids’ faces cringe when I talk too much.

“Mother, be quiet,” Nina says. Pablo just tunes out.
Sigh.

I’ve been told your kids come back to you after they break away.

But right now, I need to follow my own advice: (I’m the bank and a vacation destination and a source of pure love and support.)

My job description has changed. Now I need to be their rock. Still. Solid. Silent.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

"Enormous Changes at the Last Minute."

It’s the famous title of Grace Paley’s collection of short stories, published in 1974. These six simple words arranged so artfully strike a deep understanding in my heart and have accompanied me for years. You live, and nothing seems to change even though it is changing all the time and suddenly: enormous changes at the last minute.

Pablo graduated high school on Friday evening. He still seemed unripe and unready for college. But the day after he graduated: enormous changes at the last minute. He now seems ripe and ready, as if he matured overnight.

I haven’t written for a few days, because: enormous changes at the last minute. I signed a contract with a builder to begin construction on my “empty nest house.” Then, my house sold. It was as if the universe said, well, she’s moving ahead with her plans, so we will take care of business. Which means I have to rent a house for nine months. Which means, two moves in nine months. Are you exhausted yet? My life right now is filled with lawyers, paperwork of house closing, house rental, house building, garage sales, packing and moving. My mind is too frittered to write lyrically.

Which brings me to a quote about life from my friend, Barbara Dunkel. “You can have it all, but you can’t have it all at the same time.” So right now, I’m busy with houses. And when my housing crisis is done…I will get back to writing. And reading and cooking. But right now, sleepless nights, a bit too much stress, and houses.

Which brings me to Mao Tse-Tung. Now I’m not a big fan of Mao and of what he did to China, but for better or worse, he left his mark on world history. Mao was a sailor and liked to use sailing metaphors when speaking about life. He viewed himself as “The Great Helmsman,” steering China into his vision of the future. He explained to the Chinese people that: sometimes, the way to get to where you want to go is by taking a detour.

The first thing you learn in sailing is, that most of the time, you can’t get to where you want to go in a straight line, because of the ways the fickle wind is blowing in relation to your sails. So you learn to tack. Tacking is when you work with the wind to move forward in a zig zag manner. Sometimes you zig, sometimes you zag, but eventually you’ll get there. Well, life is like that. Sometimes, you can’t just get to the place you want to go directly. You need to do some tacking, some detouring. But you’ll eventually get there if your sights are set strongly and you work with whatever way the wind blows.

Which brings me to another truth that rings deep in my heart. This one from Emily Dickinson. It is how I’m feeling now, about all the enormous changes at the last minute. “To live is so startling, it leaves little time for anything else.”

Monday, July 7, 2008

Thought of the Day

"I will never fully know my mother, any more than I will ever know my father...or myself. I have been missing the point. The point is not knowing another person, or learning to love another person. The point is simply this: how tender can we bear to be? What good manners can we show as we welcome ourselves and others into our hearts?"

-- Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

Back tomorrow with regular posting. Pablo graduated from high school and I sold my house...so lots going on. But I've been missing you all and want to continue sharing all this good stuff I've got for you!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Helicopter Moms: What have you been doing for the last 18 years?

In the July 2008 issue of Oprah magazine, there is an article on "helicopter moms" -- those moms who hover over their kids when they go to college and beyond, ready to swoop down and "fix" things.

There is a Mother who drives 4 hours to do her college son's laundry. "He's so busy...I'm glad I can help," she says proudly. There is the Mother who checks her child's college assignments online and calls her if she missed class or didn't hand in a paper. There's the Mother who calls her child's friends to ask them how her child is. And then there's the Mother who calls employers and tells them to hire her child. Yet another bargains the compensation package with human resources.

Mothers: what have you been doing for the last 18 years? If you have done your job right -- they will attack life with gusto. The struggle is theirs. Remember when you started out? You struggled, you learned, you made mistakes and fixed them. You grew up. You became an adult.

If you're saying, oh but its a tougher world out there...It's no tougher than when you had at it. Each generation inherits its own world with their new and improved, adapted survival skills.

J.K. Rowling was the invited speaker at Harvard's 2008 Commencement. The title of her speech was: "The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination." Bottom line: her failures were better and bigger teachers than her success.

All the prodding I did to my daughter for not studying was to no avail. It was only when she failed several subjects (School in Mexico is very different from school in the U.S. I won't go into it here.) and had to suffer the consequences, did she begin to take responsibility for her education. Now, she's a serious student.

Helicopter moms are raising a bunch of babies. Hovering is not in the best interest of your child. They have to grow up sometime. Maybe...when you're dead?

I've let go already and my son still has 6 weeks left at home. I'm always here to help, but only if he asks for it.

You can read J.K. Rowling's inspirational speech at http://harvardmagazine.com/go/jkrowling.html

Monday, June 23, 2008

Bittersweet Mothering

I haven’t been writing because I’ve been busy living. Pablo graduates in five days. He’s in his last exams. He’s out partying with his friends and then sleeping late at home.

These are my last days to tell Pablo things about life. But, he doesn’t want to know what I think or what I know about anything anymore. (Hence this blog! Someday, he’ll be very interested and read it all.)

The blog is turning into something entirely different than I had imagined. It began, first, as an attempt to write down my life advice for Pablo, so he could refer to it as needed. Then I began writing my thoughts and advice about the Mothering of an older child.

I was surprised to learn that Mothers of young children are reading my blog, as if I am a beacon of light in the future night. Their children are young, and they read my words with interested dread and say, “Thank goodness I have years before my kids leave home.” Exhausted as they are from their toddlers and grade school aged children, they know how time flies and want to be reminded to love their kids every minute. For these brave, young Mothers, my words are like watching a horror film through half closed eyes: you know this moment will come, but don’t want to imagine it for yourself, but still you want to see someone else do it, you want to see if the heroine (the mother!) gets out alive! And that your children will still love you when they go.

Yesterday, Pablo paged through my Class of 1969 High School Yearbook with me. He was fascinated to see me as a young girl, his age. He (of course!) couldn’t believe the clothes, the hairstyles, the Nixon-Humphrey posters on the walls of the school. He was impressed with the energy, the activities that we had back then. I told him, “I feel the same as you right now, like I was 18, I really do. The body ages, but the soul stays the same age. Always young.”

Then he let me teach him how to really make his bed. (“It’s all about precision,” I said, “You know, geometry – lines and angles.”) He is finally, really realizing that in a few weeks I will drop him off at college and he’ll be on his own. He listened to me discuss washing machines, water temperature, not to mix whites and colors, and to fish his clothes out of the dryer immediately so they wouldn’t wrinkle. I ended with, "You really should wash your sheets at least every two weeks, because people really don't like people who smell." He nodded.

He’s getting a lot of mail from college these days. He chose to fill out his course pre-registration in the living room where I was reading. He thought out loud with question marks in his voice. No surprises yet –Intro to Psychology, to Philosophy, to Literary Analysis and to Shakespeare. He mused between piano, cello and violin. He will try rock climbing as his sport.

I sat there and smiled. It actually felt great not to have to give him my opinion. I may be paying the outrageous college tuition bills, but now, the decisions are his. I understood that the first 18 years of Motherhood are about the Mother being happy with her child's growth and behavior. Now, all that's important, is that Pablo does what makes him happy.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

How I became a different kind of "cool mom"

In the teenage movie, “Mean Girls” there is a “cool mom” who wants to be her daughter’s best friend. This mom thinks she will get her daughter's approval (!) by dressing like her and being “oh so understanding,” and jiving with her friends when they come over.

I tried that for about five seconds and my kids let me know: uncool mom.

They want mom to be a mom.
To act like a mom.
To dress your age, whatever that means. (It means different things to different women.)
To act your age, whatever that means. (All women have their personal style.)
To be seen and not so heard.
To be welcoming and available, but not join in, or hover.

One thing I was very clear about, when my kids were growing up, was that I wanted my house to be the house their friends wanted to come and hang out in. That way, I could keep a pulse on what was going on and get to know my kids’ friends, if only in a fleeting way. Better than having your kid disappear to someone else’s house for hours on end and really not knowing what is going on or with whom.

So I’d stock the kitchen with goodies, do the “hellos” and disappear.
When the kids left, I’d say my goodbyes.

And that’s when my kids heard their friends say, “Your mom is so cool.”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Teenagers teach you how to let go - Part 2

The reality is: you don't let go of your kids; they let go of you.

Remember when your toddler always wanted to hold your hand? And then came the day when he didn't want to hold your hand anymore.

They let go of you.

Pablo is graduating from high school next week and leaving for college on August 19. My friend Rosalie said to me, “Enjoy your final days with Pablo!”

What’s there to enjoy?
He’s gone already.
He’s always out with his friends.
He’s at work.
He's with his girlfriend.
He comes in late.
He sleeps late.
I never see him.

He’s teaching me how to be without him.

But yes, I will enjoy him.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The power of the grocery store

We spend our lives at the grocery store. It seems we’re always saying, in exhausted tones, “I’m dashing to the grocery store,” and “I’ve got to do the grocery shopping.” It becomes a bore and a chore.

But with my “children” aged 16 and 18, on the cusp of leaving home for college, i.e. forever, I have come to understand that “going to the super” for me, means LIFE. It means: I have a family to take care of, people who are relying on me, I am loved and needed. These days, I cherish going to the grocery, because I understand my days as a Mothering Mom are numbered.

I will soon be entering years of shopping just for me, with no particular urgency, because it will not be a tragedy if I dine on a cup of tea and a tomato sandwich. (One of my favorite things to eat.)

After years of the forced march of grocery shopping, I now recognize that some of my happiest moments have been spent in supermarkets, thinking of what dish to delight my children with, or what I can get away with tonight for dinner that's easy. My kids have always loved it whenI pull into the driveway after my grocery shop. They cheerfully dash out to bring in the groceries, appraising what I’ve bought. "She got cookies!" Nina yells. Pablo is thrilled to discover a favorite hunk of cheese and some great cold cuts that they will eat, Tony Soprano style, standing in front of the fridge, slice by slice.

I love to watch people in the grocery store. I see the rhythm of daily life: exhausted Mothers wondering what to cook, power Mothers with their meticulously planned lists. A young woman studys a can of lentil soup. The white haired couple puts a box of Social Tea biscuits in their cart. A father buys potato chips and charcoal, and two young men at the deli, buy fried chicken, ready to eat.

I think of the stages of my grocery life. First there were the years of mountains of formula, baby food and diapers. Then I shopped first with one child and then the second, sitting in the cart’s seat, kissing and talking to them as I put things into the cart, delighting them with a piece of cheese from the deli lady. I recall the years of heavy entertaining which required “the big shops.” Then, when my Father was old and frail, I roamed the aisles, looking for soft foods to tempt him: donuts, puddings and jellos, baby food (again), and diapers (adult size this time).

My mother’s last trip outside her home was to the grocery store. She wanted to get out of the house and drive somewhere close. So she went to Kings. She told me how she enjoyed the air conditioning, and how nice everything looked, so colorful and bright. She was dying, but she smelled life in the grocery store.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Mother of the moment

I'm thinking about how when I was a young mother, it never occured to me that there are different kinds of mothering you do at different moments in your children's lives. These thoughts are all rising up in me as my children become adults and prepare to leave home.

So: You are a different kind of Mother at different moments of your children's lives. Back home from the hospital with your newborn, you are, quite simply, the cow. Your job is to provide milk.

Then you become the teacher. You teach them how to talk, walk, and ETCETERA. The big etcetera takes the next 17 years. LOL! The first time your toddler takes his first steps away from you, realize that they already have one foot out the door, exploring their world. And that your job is to welcome them back, every single time.

As the mother of teenagers, your job is to stop teaching, and to listen. To them.

The job of the empty nest mother is simply to exist.

It is the knowledge of your existence that they want, not your physical presence.

You should be in the house, but not in the room.

You should be there, not here.

You should be alive, not dead.

You have always been here to serve them, but now, you must only be available to help them only when they ask for it.

Memory: The equanimity of George & Helen

It is only now, after the death of my iconic parents, and with the approaching adulthood of my children, that I can fully appreciate the gracious, nonmeddling attitude of my parents toward my life and my brother's life. George & Helen were supportive of whatever we did and let us go. They respected our choices. They let us make our own mistakes and supported us when we needed it.
Mother never complained about spending Christmas or other holidays without us, when we had in-law commitments. Never. I can just imagine she didn't like it, but she never complained. Going home was always a pleasure. They didn't particularly like our choice of spouses...and the ensuing divorces...but they never criticized our choices. WOW! That's a lesson for me. I will keep that in mind!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Teenagers teach you how to let go.

When your children are young, you often wonder what it will be like when your darlings finally leave home for college. It gives you the shudders. You can't and don't want to even imagine it.

It happens in stages. And if you have done your parenting correctly, one day you will find yourself alone on a Saturday evening.

It will be the beginning of a lifetime of Saturday nights you will now begin to spend without your children, who've been the stars of your life for the past 17 years.

Nina is at a cafe, having an evening chat with friends. Pablo is at the bowling alley with a girlfriend, dancing on the electronic dance machines. He took a change of shirt and a water bottle.

Earlier I cooked, and now there is a pot of pea soup simmering on the stove, for whenever they want it, to make them happy to return home and to remind them that Mother loves them madly.

The wine you buy at this stage in your middle aged life should get progressively finer and more expensive, because although you drink less, you should drink better. Always good to have an animal around, preferably a dog, but a cat at least. My hearth is the television with a good, vintage movie playing and a humming laptop by my side. Cyberspace beckons with huge ideas and life everywhere. Good books and the sensual pleasure of knitting with exquisite Italian wool.

The "children" will call on their cellphones if they need me. Long after I've gone to bed, they will arrive home, socially sated. The idea of my kids in the kitchen, while I'm asleep, comparing their evenings over hot soup and then going to bed... makes me feel I've done my job well and that their home will always be a happy place in their hearts.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Psst....It's all about the accessories...

Before I begin to share my tips for beautiful and easy dressing, culled from a lifetime of mistakes and learning… let me get this off my chest.

Have you noticed how the world looks as though they are walking around in their pajamas, or, coming and going to the gym? If you really look at people in the mall or at the airport it will positively hurt your eyes: sweatshirts, exercise clothes, Bermudas, sweatpants, baggy jeans. Ouch!

You don’t have to sacrifice comfort for elegance, ever. Even on long haul airplane flights. Sleek black yoga pants from Lululemon have a great street cut and are comfortably stretchy for long hours squished into a seat. Layered with t-shirt, sweater, scarf…and you’re looking great and comfortable

Natural fibers are your best friend. Natural fibers breathe and they feel good on your skin. They are always classic and elegant. The basics are: cotton, linen, silk and wool.

The classics are the basics. A great pair of good fitting jeans. Khaki slacks. Black slacks. A white cotton shirt. A white linen shirt. A white t-shirt. A black t-shirt. A denim shirt. A flannel shirt. A black sweater. Black skirt. “Little Black dress” Black shoes. Great sneakers. Solid loafers and flats. A wonderfully cut blazer. A trench coat. A great tank bathing suit.

Which brings me to my major fashion secret, which isn’t a secret at all.

It really is all about the accessories. Once you have the basic classics... great accessories make or break an outfit. Accessories are the things that truly define you and set you apart from others. Here’s the litmus test: two women are wearing the same jeans and a white shirt. One woman has a beautiful watch, nice leather flats and an exquisite leather handbag. The other woman has tatty sneakers and a dirty canvas bag. One looks lovely and elegant. The other looks sloppy and…poor.

Today I’m wearing a simple white t-shirt and a black skirt. The reason you won’t mistake me for a waitress is my huge, red bead multi-strand necklace and my Donald Pliner delicate black gladiator sandals.

I learned about accessories when I lived in France. Sit in a cafĂ© in Paris and you’ll see every woman has a gorgeous handbag and an excellent watch. Are they all rich? No. French women save up for one fabulous handbag, instead of having a wardrobe of inexpensive ones. One good watch. One great Hermes scarf. And then they wear it.

Shoes tell everything about you. Buy the most expensive, comfortable shoes you can afford. Everyone has their niche when it comes to what’s an expensive shoe. Even if I could afford them, I am not interested in Carrie Bradshaw’s Manolo Blahniks. I have found a comfortable, stylish niche with Donald Pliner and Cole Haan. For sport, Merrill. Expensive shoes do last longer and look better.

Jewelry must-haves. A good, classic watch. One elegant gold ring. Large enough diamond stud earrings. A strand of good pearls. You don’t need a lot, you just need exquisite. After you have the basic pieces, then you can start to play with necklaces, bracelets and rings. Be aware that jewelry is a never-ending lust; you will always see a piece of jewelry that you want. Your taste evolves as your grow older (and richer) as well. Costume jewelry is acceptable if you have great taste and pile it on for effect; not trying to pretend it is something that it isn’t.

Beware your underwear. Life’s too short for stretched out, fugly underwear. Buy it often and throw it out often. When it comes to style, comfort is everything. If you are not comfortable in your underwear…what hope is there for your day? You don’t need to spend a fortune. Good style has trickled down to Calvin Klein, Victoria’s Secret, Banana Republic. Start with natural fibers of course, meaning in this case: cotton. Save the lacy little nothings for when you don’t need such support for long hours at a time.

Handbags. Entirely too complicated to go into here. I can hear you laughing…as some of you know, I have a... love... of handbags. Just start with one good black leather handbag, and one evening bag. A beautiful small evening bag dresses up something as simple as black pants and a black sweater, and also can look great with jeans and a t.

Spend what you probably think is a small fortune on a good wallet. You have purchased correctly, if afterwards you moan and say, “Why…I could have bought xx for the same amount of money!” Wallets are expensive. All that craftsmanship in such a tiny space. But how many times a day do you reach for your wallet? At least 20, if not more. Your wallet is a trusted companion and the years it will last will amortize it to a sensible sum to have spent.

If it’s night, it must be black. I always chuckle when someone asks me “What are you wearing tonight?” After all this time do they even have to ask? Is there any other color?

Black is always perfect, chic, appropriate. Black always looks great. Black is always impeccable. Black can look casual, or dressy. The little black dress can go to work, cocktails, dinner, theatre, a funeral. Black slacks and sweater looks good in almost every situation, day or night. Black is also: slimming. Is it any wonder why the people who work at fashion mags wear black?

Alas, when I moved to the tropics, it became impossible to wear black during the day. The white light of the sun just doesn’t work with black clothing. So, white and khaki have become my new black.

What is the single, greatest fashion accessory? A great body. By “great body” I don’t mean you need to be reed slim. Have your own great body – in shape, a good weight, physically fit and most important, healthy. If you are happy with your body, you look good. Try the jeans test: if you look good in jeans and a white shirt…you’re looking good! Sometimes you don’t need to buy new clothes…you just need to lose a little weight.

Overaccessorizing. This is a great piece of WASP advice I learned in Lisa Birnbach's "The Preppie Handbook" that I think is really good. When women dress for the evening, they err towards over accessorizing. So here it is: When you are finished dressing and ready to leave, stand in front of the mirror and take off one thing. Now you are ready to go out. It never fails.

Underdressed is better than overdressed. This is my personal opinion and you can feel free to disagree. Elegance means: pared down, or as Diana Vreeland said, “Elegance is refusal.” Only if I am invited to meet royalty or going to the Vienna Opera Ball, would I even consider wearing a long gown. Simple clothes and expensive jewelry makes me always dressed correctly.

Your fashion signature. After my first visit to Italy years ago…I have always owned a pair of red flats. I learned this from watching those effortlessly chic Italian women who always have something “tweak” their look. Red flats are my finishing touch; they are a smile. What’s your fashion signature?

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Shirt on your back -or- How to get dressed

What's the big deal? You wake up, you get dressed.

Clothing, like almost everything in life, is a paradox. Clothes can make your life miserable or charming. "Clothes do not make the man," and yet, the right clothes for you, can make you a happier, more confident, comfortable person. Wearing clothing that isn't you can make you feel rotten, affect your experience of an event, or uncomfortable in something too tight or too short.

"Don't judge people by the clothes they wear." And yet, we do. The clothing you choose to wear speaks volumes about you.

There are trillions of choices out there. Who are you and what will you wear? What is your style? Why does something look good on someone else and look terrible on you?

Understanding your personal style is a process that can take years. Your personal style can change in your different careers and lifestyle changes. When I worked in the public affairs department of Exxon Corporation in New York City, I wore the constricting, unimaginative uniform of the 80's career woman: silk blouses, stockings, conservative skirts, tailored jackets. I never felt good about these clothes, or the job. These were not my happiest years. I own none of this clothes today.

A few years later I became a copywriter in an ad agency, and I dressed stylish and creative wearing the high fashion of Comme des Garcons, Issey Miyake, Agnes B. I was much happier. I spent a fortune on clothes, none of which I own today, either.

That's because I became a mother and my style changed again, into quick to put on easy to care for clothes that babies could throw up on. I spent a lot of time on the floor too with the babies. So it was jogging clothes, leggings with big tops, jeans.

Then I moved to the tropics where clothes faded and lost its shape in a matter of months due to the calcified water, bleaching from the sun, extreme heat, and mildew. My friend Jean Cappello came to the rescue. "The secret to tropical dressing is to get yourself to the Gap or Banana Republic and buy some great cotton and linen pieces and wear them for six months, then throw them out and start over." Which is what I do and now I always look fresh and stylish.

Some people don't care what they wear. Others obsess. As in everything, the secret to clothing happiness is moderation. You want to get to the point where you enjoy your clothes, dressing is easy and fun, and shopping is not a bother.

Experiment with clothes. Have fun, try different things on. See what looks good on you, what feels good on you. Of course you'll make mistakes from time to time. To be expected. When you find yourself attracted to the same thing, over and over, you'll know it's you.

Tomorrow: my best clothing tips.

Thought of the day

There are two enduring things that we should aspire to give to our children: the first is roots, and the second is wings. -- Hodding Carter

Friday, June 6, 2008

Death "etiquette" -- as if there could be such a thing...

Here are some understatements: Death is as real and common as birth. Death is, actually, life's main event. Death is the ultimate unknown.

But we don’t want to think about it. We don't like to talk about it.

So, when death arrives in our lives via our families and our friends, we feel unequal, insecure and awkward about how to deal with it. Death strips your soul raw. Here are some gentle tips to help you through.

I live in a place where wakes and funerals are an accepted and crucial social event to honor a person’s life and make your love and support known to the grieving family and friends. My kids grew up going to wakes and funerals, and I would like to think they feel comfortable with death in a way that I didn't when I was a child. My parents were so uncomfortable about death they never went to funerals if they could help it.

Don’t shy away from dying people. Visit the dying. They have a lot to teach you. The dying are in a holy state, hovering on an invisible border. They are the closest you can be to divinity in your living, breathing life.

When my father was dying, my Mother and I spent hours sitting with him. He seemed to be very busy in his mind, doing "soul work." If I talked to him, I felt I was disturbing him. I was in despair. I asked a friend who is a pastor and who has sat through many death vigils, "What should I do? How should I be?"

His words comforted me. "Your presence is all that is required. You take your cute from your father. If he wants to talk, listen. If you wants you to talk, then talk. If he wants silence, be silent. But your presence is what is important. Don't feel you hav to entertain him or say dramatic goodbyes. Just be. Be there."

Go to funerals. Your presence gives comfort to the friends and relatives. Your presence is an honor to the deceased, bearing witness to the goodness of their life. You don’t have to worry about what you should say or do. Anything you say or do is perfect. It is your presence that is everything. An embrace, a hand holding says volumes.

Death does not mean an end to your relationships. Whatever relationship you had with the person in life, will be the same one you have in death. Yes, when someone dies, your earthly relationship with that person is over. You can’t sit at a table and share a meal, you can’t call them up for a chat on the phone.

But your emotional and psychological relationship with them never ends. Conflicts that you didn’t resolve with them during your earthly time together will reappear until you work through them. Your relationship is never over with the people you loved in your life.

Tears are a good thing. This is no time to be dry eyed. Cry as much as you can, as much as you want. You’ll cry for every reason – for what was resolved and what wasn’t. For what you said and what you didn’t. Because you’re sad for yourself, because you’re sad for their family. Souls can hear you.

Death is a maestro, the ultimate teacher. Every person’s death that you experience should bring you closer to life, and to your own life. Let death bring you closer to your loved ones, help you to mend broken relationships, release the hate and vonfusion in your heart.

Don’t judge other people’s death. Dying is a messy, human business. Since we only die once, dying is not something we know how to do. There is no right or wrong way to die. Some countries, like Holland, have legal euthanasia. Others countries have organizations, like Exit in Switzerland. There is no easy way out. It is just as hard. Just as in childbirth, any behavior that gets you to the end result is fine. Every person’s death is unique and to be honored.

Letting go is hard. Often, it helps, when a person is in the final stages, to assure them that they are doing great, that there is nothing to fear, that everything will be okay, that you will be okay, that they can let go. Often, dying people need “permission” to let go. Sometimes people die precisely when you leave the room.

My brother was plagued by the fact that he was not with our Mother when she passed away. She died in her bed, in her bedroom, in her home, cared for lovingly by my brother. He had gone downstairs to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. When he came back to her room, she had passed. He felt guilty. I told him that I couldn’t die in front of my children, that my all-encompassing love for them would make it hard for me to leave. He took comfort in my words.

Don’t ignore your feelings about death. Acknowledge them. If you feel frightened, uncomfortable, whatever, live all these feelings, think about them. Death is the ultimate unknown and all our fears are justifiable.

Read books bout death, both clinical and spiritual. When my Mother was dying, I learned a lot from talking to the Hospice workers, and from reading a lot of material published by the hospice movement.

Grieving takes a long time. Expect death to shock you, to make you feel vulnerable, exposed and unimaginably sad. Grieving takes on different strengths, different faces and different stages. It can take years to “get over” someone’s death. And you never really “get over” a death of a loved one.

Often at first, when a friend or family member dies, you feel relief. This is natural. You have just seen this person suffering. And now, they are at rest. The grief will come later. The mourning comes in waves and in stages. It lasts longer than you think.

Let time do its gentle work on you.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

More thoughts on death

When Pablo borrows the car to go out for the evening I always say, “Please drive carefully.”
“Of course,” he says flippantly.
“No, really,” I say.
“Well, we’ve all got to die sometime,” he replies with the insouciance of youth.

When you are young, you feel invincible. Death is a fuzzy concept, something that happens to other people, to old people. You can’t even imagine your own death.

We Mothers know how fragile life is. We know that death is always only one breath away, one heartbeat away. My job as your Mother, when you were born, was to keep you alive. My job, for the rest of my days, is to wish you happiness and life.

The “Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” is a book that I keep by my bedside. Not because I am morbid, but because I am life loving. The Tibetan idea is: if you are always aware that you are going to die, you will live a better life. This book helps me to live joyfully every day. Instead of waking up in the morning and saying, “Oh, okay,” taking it for granted that you woke up alive, the Tibetans suggest you think, “My God, I’m alive! A miracle! Another amazing day!”

Being born and dying are the only two things you have in common with every single creature on this earth.

I ask that you let the awareness of your death and the death of loved ones help you to live each day joyfully, fully, lovingly, intensely, freely, lightly. Live always respecting the sheer miracle of being alive. See "the tiger in the grass" every day because he is indeed, hovering there.

In Sherwin Nuland’s illuminating book, “How We Die,” he discusses people’s desire for “a good death.” But "a good death" is a myth, he says, there is no such thing. Dying is hard work and traumatic. He continues: the only way to have “a good death” is to live a good life, meaning, a life that is rich and full and satisfying for you.

I prefer the term “passing over” rather than death. Death signifies an end, a termination. I personally don’t believe in this. Yes, the physical body dies. But the soul does not cease to exist. The soul, that which gives life to our flesh and blood, is divine, it is the energy of our consciousness, and when we pass, this energy transforms into something else.

Believe in angels. They abound all around us. In many forms, both seen and unseen.

Here is an excerpt from “Facts of Faith” by Henry Scott Holland that brings me comfort when I miss my Mother, which is...every day.

Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way, which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner. All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Thinking about death

Death has been on my mind lately...and always, actually. Tomorrow, I'll share some of my thoughts on death with you …but for today, I leave you with a pensamiento by a favorite author of mine, who published her first novel in 1978, "Stones for Ibarra" when she was 68 years old.

Yesterday was my eighty-fifth birthday, and my son, who has had lung and brain cancer for two years, gave me a toy stuffed tiger as a reminder to write, without further delay, a short account of my long life…
…It was only four years ago that I realized I was making my way through the thickets of life together with a scarcely visible, four-footed companion, who matched his steps to mine.
I first learned of the tiger in the examining room of my glaucoma doctor.
Sitting in a black revolving chair, my chin in a rest, my forehead against a strap, and facing an intense light about to be focused on my inner eye, while the doctor at his illuminated glass counter made entries on my record, I turned pessimistic.
“Let us hope,” I said, “that I don’t lose more sight in my right eye,” and went on, “since I have only peripheral vision in my left.”
Without turning from my folder, the doctor said, “Don’t belittle peripheral vision. That’s how we see the tiger in the grass.”
Then he added, “It’s also how the tiger sees us.”
In this way, at the eye clinic, almost at the end of my life, I met and recognized the tiger that was mine and had been from the start.


-- "The Tiger in the Grass" by Harriet Doerr

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

My Defining Moment: The Black Box

A defining moment is one that can change the course of your life, change your thinking, and open the world to you in new ways. If you are perceptive, you might have several defining moments in your life. Often, you don’t realize it is a defining moment until days, weeks, months, or years after.

I wanted to tell you about my first, adult, defining moment. I didn’t know it was a defining moment at the time, it just seemed like an experience.

I was an average student in high school – entirely undistinguished and unformed. I drifted through Tenafly High in a cloud of painful self-consciousness, the typical self-doubting adolescent haze.

Chemistry class was the bane of senior year, with the difficult hurdle of its pass/fail chem labs. The first lab was the famous “Black Box.” Away from our prying eyes, Mr. Colombo, our chem teacher, (in my memory, forever wearing his beige lab coat) put an object into a black wood box and nailed it shut. Using the principles of scientific observation we had to figure out what was inside The Black Box.

For one week we could hold it, weigh it, shake it, smell it, listen to it. We could do anything but throw it, or open it. Among ourselves we talked and talked, in study hall, in the cafeteria, at the football game, at gym, in the library, on the phone, as we walked to school in the mornings and home in the evenings, trying to collectively put our observations together and guess what was inside The Black Box.

After a few days, everyone decided it was an empty film canister. Back in 1969 (!) cameras used film, and the film came on a metal canister.

This didn’t make any sense to me at all. A film canister was even, it was light, and it didn't wobble. Whenever I held the box, the object had an uneven roll and an uneven weight, it tilted and seemed to fall on its heavy side, causing it to wobble.

But who was I to think it could be something else, me, Liza Dunkel, not an honors student, me against 120 classmates.

I tried desperately to imagine what it could be. Then, one day during class, my eyes settled on a row of acid bottles. The glass stopper of an acid, or poison bottle, is thick and rounded on the bottom, with a thin plaque to grip it on top. Placed on its side, it rolled and wobbled unevenly. Bingo.

I told my best friend, Janet Feigelson, the super smart star of the honors classes, about my idea of the acid bottle stopper. I told Sharon Goldstein and Mark Jay and other smart kids. They shook their heads. “No way," they said, "It’s a film canister."

No one heard me because I was “just” Liza Dunkel, a nobody.

Everyone wrote up their labs in the little blue books, laying out the arguments about why it was a film canister. For awhile, I actually considered joining everyone, because I could not believe that I could figure out something so different from 120 other people. I had so little confidence in myself, how could I possibly be right? And what if they were all right and I was the only one in the entire senior class who flunked the first chem lab?

But in the end, I just couldn’t do it. I had heard and felt the object tilt. A film canister doesn’t tilt.

Finally, the big day arrived for the great opening of The Black Box.

I had chemistry first period. Standing beside the stack of graded blue lab books, Mr. Columbo smiled at us and shook his head. “What a bunch of dummies,” he said. Everyone groaned. He proceeded to toy with us, lifting off the top of the Black Box looking inside and replacing the top.

“In all of the senior class, there was only one person who guessed correctly what was in the Black Box.”

My head and heart were pounding. Could I be this person? Could it be me? No! I wasn’t smart. How could I alone have figured it out and no one else? No, it must be someone else.

“And that person…is sitting right here in the front row!” he shouted, pointing at me! I screamed with joy amidst the uproar in the room as he held up the glass stopper of an acid bottle.

After class, the word flew through the halls of Tenafly High. I floated with happiness for the rest of the day as I was congratulated (even by Eddie Harris) and looked at with new eyes.

Maybe I was smart, after all. Could I even be, special? The Black Box was the first lesson I had about the need to believe in myself, to listen to myself, to rely on what I thought was true. The Black Box was a premonition of great things to come. It wouldn’t be until college that I would realize my great potential.

Remember children to seize your defining moments and make them yours. I wish you a lifetime of defining moments.

Monday, June 2, 2008

What's wrong with this equation?

Just some wistful thoughts for you sons and daughters to think about. And also for you Mothers out there too.

When your children are young, you are their hero. Their faces light up when they see you. You can do no wrong. You are their world, their joy, their survival.

Then they get older, and comes the moment when they tolerate you with a smile. They still need you, but you begin to embarrass them. Your sheer existence bugs them.

And then comes the moment I’m in right now. My son can’t wait to leave home. He wants no Mother in his daily life…just a Mother out there – somewhere.

There’s something wrong with this equation. Our children are the beings we love most dearly in our lives. We cherish them, raise them, educate them and then at 18 – after all that loving, which will never stop on our part… we must let go of them, because they want nothing more to do with us!

The only consolation, of course, is that we all felt this way too. Ready to get away from our own Mothers and claim our lives. Ready to live without Mother watching.

It is our turn to let go. It comes with the territory. And if you let go properly, you become the Mother that your kids want to come home to. And after some time passes, you become the Mother who they enjoy being with, again.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri, in her new collection of stories “Unaccustomed Earth” writes:

"He remembered his children coming home from college, impatient with him and his wife, enamored of their newfound independence, always wanting to leave. It had tormented his wife and, though he never admitted it, had pained him as well. He couldn’t help thinking, on those occasions, how young they’d once been, how helpless in his nervous arms, needing him for their very survival, knowing no one else. He and his wife were their whole world. But eventually that need dissipated, dwindled to something amorphous, tenuous, something that threatened at times to snap… ...The entire enterprise of having a family, of putting children on this earth, as gratifying as it sometimes felt, was flawed from the start."

Friday, May 30, 2008

No such thing as a late bloomer

You've heard this expression? "She's a late bloomer." Used in an apologetic tone for someone who is taking their time, or not finding their way, or changing their direction in life.

Late bloomer? What is this? I don't like this expression and think it should be banished.

Life is not a contest or a race.

You might be a later bloomer....but you're never late. It's not about who flowers first.

You just take your own sweet time. Flowers bloom at all times of the year. Early spring flowers...late summer flowers...fall flowers. All equally beautiful at their own special time.

Remember that!

Practice makes Perfect

Don't wait for--or look for-- the perfect man, the perfect job, the perfect vacation, the perfect house, the perfect car, the perfect dress, the perfect whatever.

If you wait for perfection, you miss out on life's experiences and waste a lot of time. You'll be sitting on the sidelines while everyone else is living.

Just get yourself into the fray and work your way up to perfection! Get a job and then you'll find a better job. Don't wait for Mr. Right; go out with Mr. Okay. He just might turn into Mr. Right.

It really is practice that makes perfect.

P.S. Perfection doesn't exist. When you do find something that's "perfect," it will be perfect for awhile, until you decide something else is... more perfect.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Life with no regrets

You can't live a life with no regrets. We are human, and there is no such thing as a perfect life.

There are two kinds of regrets in life, those you can do something about, and those you can't.

It is never too late to say I love you or I'm sorry. Depending on your age, it might not be too late to learn or try something new, visit a place, buy a particular thing. If you have the chance to undo a regret, do it!

The regrets that you can't do anything about are the ones that hurt. But don't get stuck! Feel the pain and then move on.

Thinking about your future feeling may help you to think twice before deciding to do -- or not do -- a particular thing. Here's an example: Your friend is in ill health. You are torn about your vacation that you planned with your family -- do you go to the beach with your family, or take some time to see your friend. Ask yourself, "How would I feel if in a year, my friend were gone?" The answer to that guides your decision about what to do. Another question to always ask yourself is, "What would I like to have done to me?" and then act accordingly.

Also, keep in mind the famous saying: "You only regret what you don't do."

You never regret things you have done, because everything - good experiences and bad-- adds to who you are as a person. You never say, for instance, "I regret that I went to Montana where I climbed mountains and rode horses." But you will probably say, "I regret that I never went to Montana."

Here are a few of my gentle regrets. I share them with you, in the hope that perhaps they might help you to think about your lives.

I regret not having started therapy earlier in my life. I went into therapy at age 33. I lived for so many years, unhappy, confused, lost. If I had started earlier, I might have been more in command of my life at an earlier age. Moral: Don't waste time being unhappy. Take control and deal with it. Do whatever it takes to get to th root of your unhappiness, insecurity, whatever.

I regret that I didn't go into the Peace Corps when I was accepted back in 1975. Looking back now...I can't believe I didn't go! What an amazing experience that would have been! I had been accepted to teach English in French speaking Togo. I had the government physical, they pulled my wisdom teeth out getting me all ready for the adventure...and then...I didn't go! Decades later I now understand that it would have sent my life into an entirely different direction. I don't beat myself up about it too much, because, well, my life took other turns. But it is something I think about. Moral: An action not taken can change the course of your life. Only you don't know it at the time! Another moral: Go for it! Take risks!

I regret that I didn't take music more seriously and make it my career. I am tremendously musical. I had a good voice. I played the piano. Most important, I loved music. I'm not saying I would have been a rock star or a concert pianist. Far from it. But I was talented enough to have had a soul satisfying career in music, a music teacher, for instance. Moral: Take your talents seriously.

I regret that I didn't go to medical school. I would have liked to have spent my life in a healing profession. But the fact is, I never took my acadmic achievements or intellect seriously. It never occurred to me that I could become a doctor. I thought it was something other people did. Now I realize, that person could have been me! Moral: Take yourself seriously.

I regret that I didn't have a honeymoon. Not a life shattering regret, but just something to think about. The husband and I didn't have any money for a honeymoon. Or so we thought. We could have at least gone to Atlantic City for a weekend, or something simple like that, to call something a "Honeymoon" and honor the event. As a result, all my life I've said, "I never had a honeymoon." I'm divorced now...and regret not having a honeymoon even more! Moral: You never get a honeymoon again, so do it the first time!

There is one regret you can't win! I'm laughing here! You've all had this experience. It's when you are shopping on vacation and you see something you want to buy. If you don't buy it, thinking, "Oh, I'll see it again, later on, cheaper," I guarantee you, you'll never see it again. And if you buy it then and there, at full price, I guarantee you, you WILL see it again later, cheaper! For some reason this is a no win situation! My advice after a lifetime of this: buy it, enjoy it and carry on!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Celestial Cheesecake

Since I just spent two days talking about gifts...I thought I'd give you one.

Everyone needs at least one WOW dessert recipe in their repertoire. This is mine. I cherish this cheesecake recipe so much, I want to share it with you.

Many years ago, I asked my Mother's grand friend, Betty Kass, to send me a few of her signature recipes. Betty, who raised her kids in Huntington Woods, Michigan, was a masterful cook, and having some of her favorite recipes would be my way of having her spirit with me always.

My Mother passed away almost two years ago, but Betty Kass continues on as I write this, in an Alzheimer's home in Colorado.

This is a masterful recipe because it is foolproof, easy to make, exquisitely delicate and impressive. It is my idea of a perfect cheesecake: light but creamy. Great to serve at any dinner party, no matter how humble the first course. Make it early and forget about it. And if you bring it to a friend, they will know they are cherished.

But mostly, it is a great dessert to welcome kids, friends and family back home.

Betty Kass' Huntington Woods Cheesecake

Graham cracker crust in a 10" springform pan.

5 eggs, divided into whites and yolks
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 3-ounce packages of cream cheese
1/2 pint sour cream
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. Make a graham cracker crust in a 10" springform pan.

2. Beat to stiff and set aside: 5 egg whites,1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp cream of tartar.
3. In another bowl, beat 5 egg yolks to pale.
4. Add 1 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch. BEAT well.
5. Add 3 3-ounce packages of cream cheese. BEAT well.
6. Add 1/2 pint sour cream. BEAT well.
7. Add 1 cup milk. BEAT 5 minutes.
8. Fold in the egg whites (from #2 above). Don't beat. Just fold in delicately!
9. Turn entire mixture into graham cracker crust.
10. Bake in 350 degree oven for one hour.
11. Here's the secret! TURN OFF OVEN AND LET SET FOR SEVERAL HOURS. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR. DO NOT PEEK!
12. Can be served as is, or top with fresh strawberries and glaze if you like.

Share the magic with someone you love.