Friday, April 25, 2008

"Don't complain, don't explain."

These four simple words have accompanied me for decades. I can’t remember now where I read this quote, (if you do know, please leave a comment below) but they have made my life easier, comforted me in difficult times and bestowed grace on me.

This, of course, is about the “other” kind of complaining. Negative complaining.

Emotional complaining and being negative are not only a waste of time, it is bad for your soul. For more eloquent explanation of this, read “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle.

You know what I’m talking about. The kind of complaining that goes round and round, leaving you no better off. On the receiving end, you phone a friend and say, “How are you?” And man…you hear about it! What a downer.

Being negative doesn’t raise your spirits or get you what you want.

Secondly, you don’t need to explain yourself all the time to everyone. You don’t owe the world an explanation for everything you do or don’t do.

“I can’t come to dinner because my sister is arriving and she doesn’t have a car and my car is in the shop so I have to go to the airport to get her but the taxi is so darn expensive and I’m a little broke now because the paychecks at work got delayed because there was a power failure and the computers were down, and can you imagine we had to sit there steaming for the entire afternoon, which made me late…”

A simple, “Thank you so much for the invitation, but I can’t join you this evening.”

Tone of voice is everything. People sense authenticity and sincerity.

I’m not saying you can’t share the issues of your life with a friend (that’s what friends are for) …just not everyone. If a friend really wants to hear about your mood, your doctor’s appointment, the current drama in your life, they’ll let you know.

Someday you'll be going round and round, stuck in negativity...and these four words will spring up like a mantra to calm and simply your life, silencing the clutter of your mind.

“Don’t complain. Don’t explain.”

Thursday, April 24, 2008

How to complain

Learning how to complain properly can serve you well for the rest of your life. It can make your life a lot easier and more pleasant.

I’m not talking about bad mood complaining like, “I hate my hair,” or “That movie was terrible!” (I’ll cover that kind of complaining in another blog entry.)

I’m talking about constructive complaining, for when things in life don’t go your way or don’t happen properly or to your liking.

For instance: You’re in a restaurant and the fish you ordered doesn’t taste fresh. The new windows weren’t installed properly in your house. A charge showed up on your credit card after you cancelled the purchase.

1. Complaining properly is all about your tone of voice. If you speak with an annoyed tone, angry, ready to kill – all the other person hears is your tone of voice, and not the substance of the complaint. All they think is, “This person is a jerk,” or “What a bitch!” All they see is a crazy, impossible person. And they don’t want to help you.

2. Start with a compliment. “You know, I eat in this restaurant at least once a month and I’ve always had a delicious food here. But tonight, there is really something wrong with this fish.” This establishes you as a sane, decent person with a legitimate complaint.

3. Complain calmly. State the facts in an even tone of voice.

4. Realize that the person you are complaining to, in many cases, isn’t responsible for the problem, so don’t treat them as if they are. Yelling at a waiter because the soup is cold isn’t good. His job is to carry the soup to you; it is the job of the chef to make sure the soup is hot. Yelling at a credit card person doesn’t help, because s/he is just an employee with no power, taking your call.

5. If you are nice and/or civil to the person you complain to, then they will want to help you resolve the issue.

6. Make a suggestion as to how you want the problem resolved. Don’t just say, “This fish doesn’t taste fresh.” Say, “This fish doesn’t taste fresh, and I don’t feel comfortable eating it. I would like to send it back to the kitchen and have a steak instead. Also, could you please tell the chef to check the fish, so that other patrons won't get sick?" You have to tell people what you want, what would make you happy.

7. Don’t stop at no. If someone can’t help you, don’t yell at him or her, antagonizing the situation even more. Simply ask to speak to the manager, headwaiter, or supervisor. But not in a threatening tone. “I understand you can’t help me resolve this. Can you please pass me to your supervisor?”

8. Write letters. Write emails. Write to the President of the company. She or he probably won’t personally read your letter, but I know from working in corporate America, that all letters to Presidents get read and answered by someone who will take action on behalf of the Prez.

I’ve had people bend over backwards to help me resolve a situation. I'm not saying it is easy, or that you won't have to be tenacious sometimes, to get what you want. My New Yorker magazines disappeared for 4 months. I wrote to the subscription department, with detailed explanations, and they got me my back magazines and extended my subscription for 6 months longer as a compensation, thanking me for being so detailed in my report. Another recent example is that recently, my credit card was billed incorrectly. It took several calls and emails, but finally, I found the person who would credit the mistaken charge. Then, I received 5000 points as a "We're sorry," compensation.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Do I even have to address this stupid topic?
A cigarette is cancer in a stick.
You can either get active cancer (smoking) or passive cancer (being around someone who smokes). Take your pick.
Do you want to huff and puff and be short of breath?
Do you want to have yellow teeth and bad breath?
Do you want extra wrinkles and crepey skin?
Is there something wrong with the air you breathe?
Do you want to experience the joys of lung cancer or emphysema?
Do you have lots of money to waste?
There is no one good reason for the existence of cigarettes.
Cigarettes = pure stupidity.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Love your hair

Let me spare you years of anguish.

There are two things you should understand if you don’t want your hair to drive you crazy for the rest of your life. In the grand adventure that is life, hair is not worth all the worry.

Hair grows. If perchance you get it cut into a style that doesn’t work for you, relax. Hair grows. If you get tired of short hair, grow it. If you are tired of long hair, cut it. Never think that you can’t change your hair or that a mistake is irreparable. “This too shall pass.”

Understand your hair type and accept it. This is where most people’s problems with their hair begin. It is a common belief that whatever kind of hair you have, you wish it were different.

Your hair cannot be what it is not. It is by trying to work against your hair type that you cause yourself needless anguish. Why work against your own good looks? Be the best YOU can be. Nature knows best. You have exactly the hair that you should have.

Of course, experiment. You have to. It’s part of life. Get a perm. Try highlights. Go super short. Then go long with a ponytail. Cut bangs. Grow bangs. But in the end you will see that f you have straight hair, you really look better with straight hair. And if you have curly hair, all your efforts to straighten it won’t really be in your best interest. But there are lessons you must learn yourself.

Hair Tips

1. Forget what’s in fashion. Go to the style that is most attractive for your face and for your hair type. You never saw Jackie Kennedy in a shag or a pixie.

2. At a certain point in your life, you must give up the hairstyle of your youth. When you are young, your youth is what carries you and basically anything looks good on you. But steer clear of the Miss Havisham effect. (Remember Great Expectations by Charles Dickens?) Have you ever seen older women who insist on looking like they did when they were seventeen? Scary. Modify your hair to your age so you look your best.

3. Beautiful hair is healthy hair. Don’t mistreat it. Don’t over perm, over color, or go without cutting your hair.

4. Your hair is your permanent fashion accessory. It can make or break your look. If you are beautifully dressed but have dirty or badly cut hair, you have ruined all your effort. Keep your hair nicely clean and trimmed. Learn how to use gels to slick your hair in different directions if you don’t have time to wash or are having a bad hair day.

5. There is no such thing as a “bad hair day.” This is a subjective perception on your part and has nothing to do with reality. If you announce to people (and you shouldn’t) “I’m having a bad hair day,” they will invariably say, “Oh, I think your hair looks great.” What to do if you feel less than thrilled by your hair? Use gels. Wash it and start over. Maybe it’s not a bad hair day but rather, time for a haircut. But some great hats. Learn to use head wraps. Laugh.

6. Spend money on great haircuts. A good cut can absolutely transform your hair, your face, your entire being.

7. “Men like long hair.” Forget it. This is a myth that has tortured women for eons. What you want is to look and feel your best. You’re the one wearing your hair on your head, not the man. If you wear long hair and it looks terrible on you, you are not doing yourself a favor. You are playing the pleasing game and you will never be your own person.

8. Fashion magazines have nothing to do with reality. A magazine photograph represents a split second of time, where the model has been prepped by a phalanx of stylists, hair, makeup and editors. Her hair has just been arranged, strand-by-strand, with the hair stylist standing off camera with a brush should one strand budge.

This is not real life, nor is it your life. Enjoy the fantasy, but embrace the reality: YOU are the real, (gorgeous!) thing.

P.S. Happy Birthday to my darling daughter Nina, who is 16 today!

Monday, April 21, 2008

The 11 must-have people in your life

You can't get through life alone. You cannot possibly be an expert in every area of your life. Wherever you live and especially, when you move, try to find these important people who are basic to your well being. Cultivating lifelong relationships is even better.

Get referrals from people you like and respect. My gynecologist, besides being a superb doctor, has an extraordinary personality. Whenever I need a specialist I ask him, for he has a chain of equally good doctors with extraordinary personalities.

Don't wait for the crisis point to find a lawyer or a doctor. When you are in an emergency, you are not in the mood to be interviewing people. You want to have them at the ready. Always be open to meeting these individuals, so that when you do need their help, you feel confident in their abilities and that they have your best interests in mind.

1. A good doctor.
2. A good dentist.
3. A good mechanic.
4. A good lawyer.
5. A good plumber.
6. A good electrician.
7. A good accountant.
8. A good hair stylist.
9. A good therapist.
10. A good spiritual advisor.
11. A good friend.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

"Sex & the City" and my kids

My Mother was horrified that I let my young teenage children watch Sex & the City. She thought it was far too risqué (her word).

I made the usual argument. “Well...they watch how to kill and maim, rape and plunder, how to blow things up, how to load guns and shoot them. What’s wrong with learning about love and sex?” She still didn’t buy it.

Not only did I let them watch it (only occasionally telling them to close their eyes, which they did gladly—sometimes too much information is, well, too much and even they knew it) but when they got to high school, I bought the entire series and we watched it together from start to finish.

It was the best sex education my kids could have had. Because they watched their friends -- Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha -- struggle to make sense of sex. They saw, episode-by-episode, that sex isn't perfect or easy.

We laughed and cried our way through the cocktails, the fabulous clothes, beautiful Manhattan inside and out, great apartments, vacations, cultural events, the restaurants and the bars -- all sprinkled with sex. Rather than turning my kids into precocious or jaded monsters, Sex & the City showed them "it's a wonderful life" but complicated.

They saw good sex, bad sex, confused sex, kinky sex, no sex. They learned an entire lexicon about kissing, hand holding, sexual positions, masturbating, dildos, penis size, premature ejaculation, fetishes, three ways, prostitutes, sexually transmitted diseases, homosexuality, transvestites, et al. But they saw all this vis a vis characters they had come to know and like.

But more than the techniques and vocabulary of sexual life, they saw the excitement, anguish and pitfalls of dating and looking for love. They saw men and women trying to love each other, the missed signals, the fighting, the making up and the sad parting of the ways. They saw loneliness, selfishness, neurosis and generosity. They saw different sexual appetites and attitudes. They saw testicular cancer, breast cancer, alcoholism, drug use – and all how it related to sex and sexuality.

From the vantage point of my age and experience, the best thing they learned is that sex is something you can laugh about -- and then get on with the ever fascinating business of living.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Not your usual sex tips

1. You are not born a great lover. You become a great lover, by experimenting and learning – what you like, what sex means to you, what your lover likes. In addition to experimental learning, do some homework and hit the books. There are some great sex books out there. As in everything you want to learn in life: practice.

2. With each lover in your life, you begin at zero. Each lover is a different communication where you begin again. You might think you are an accomplished lover, but suddenly you will find yourself fumbling like a teenager.

3. Sex is about communication, both verbal and nonverbal. Communicate to your partner what you like and what you don’t like. Ask your partner the same. Don’t be a selfish lover. Learn how to give pleasure and how to receive pleasure. A great lover is open and sensitive.

4. Masturbating is sex. Good sex. Do it and enjoy it. It relaxes you, gets rid of tension, makes you feel better, keeps you happy. It is another aspect of your sexuality. (Such an ugly sounding word for something so nice, don't you think?)

5. Sex means different things to different people. For some it doesn’t mean all that much. Others obsess about it. For some, sex as the ultimate expression of intimacy and love, for others, it is a physical act of release, nothing more. For some it is recreational, for others it is a religious experience. All these attitudes will change of the tone of your sexual encounters with different lovers in your life. Everyone has different limits and appetites for sex.

6. Nobody is having as much sex as you think they are. Don’t compare yourself to other people’s sex lives.

7. Having sex or not should not affect your self esteem. You are still a sexy man and a sexy woman even if you are not having sex. Don't let other people make you feel bad if you are not having sex.

8. If you’re not having sex, you are still a sexual being. You are still sexy and sensual.

9. You will spend more of your life not having sex than you will having it.

10. Don’t have sex if you don’t want to. Take responsibility. Have principles. Don’t be manipulated by people. Don’t be ruled by your penis or your vagina. You are not a doggy on the street; there are moral decisions to be made. Be the adult and say no if the situation isn’t right.

11. If you have sex with people at work rest assured, it will create problems. I'm not telling you what to do, just the facts. People gossip. You can’t concentrate. Your performance suffers. If things get awkward, you’ll be looking for a new job.

12. Don’t sleep with your best friend’s boy/girlfriend or husband/wife.

13. Be discrete because discretion is sexy. Don’t talk about your sex life or betray intimate secrets of your lovers. Don’t brag about your sex life to your friends. Only insecure people need to boast about their sexual prowess. If their sex is so good, why do they have to talk about it?

14. Sex is powerful. Respect its power.

15. Having sex means you will be hurt by sex. A whole variety of hurts. I won't even bother to catalog them. Just pick yourself up, brush yourself off. Love yourself and know that you are the most lovable, sexiest person alive.

16. Use condoms.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Your sex life (Don't believe movie sex)

You’re thinking, “Zheesh! The last person I want to get sex advice from is my Mother."

But, me being me, here it is anyway. And, it is actually really nice advice.

I’ll just say this: Sex is for you to discover and enjoy.

And this: What I wish for you is to have a beautiful sexual life.

Sex, like everything in life, is extremely paradoxical and complex. How’s that for an understatement?

Sex is extremely important, and yet, in the grand scheme of things, sex is not important at all.

Society has a false and damaging preoccupation with “having a great sex life.” When you aren’t having sex, it becomes the most important thing in the world. And when you are having sex, you sort of forget about it and take it for granted.

Sex takes on different meanings during your life, ebbing and flowing. Each generation of youth bursts forth into their own sexuality. All young people feel they are inventing sex. And in a sense you are. Because you must each invent a sexual life for yourselves.

Sex is a chameleon, changing colors all the time. Sex can be wonderful, easy, beautiful, spiritual, delicate. But it can also be scary, uncomfortable, embarrassing, weird, mean. Sex can also be disappointing, frustrating and sad.

Society bombards us with the message that sex, and sexuality, is the most important thing in the world. Typically, your first view of sex is in the movies and in books. Novels are filled with detailed sex scenes. The movies show us glistening images of attractive young movie stars with great hair, makeup, pretty, honed bodies having perfect, sensual, lustful sex. They swoon over each other like synchronized swimmers, usually climaxing at the same music filled moment.

This assault of perfection in the movies and in literature does nothing but undermine you. How can you possibly measure up? The problem is, you will think that this is actually what will happen when you finally do have sex. Movie sex is not reality. Imagine, the cameras a few feet away with a crew of onlookers, body doubles stand by, the lovers are acting.

So don’t be surprised if the first time you kiss someone, you don’t feel fireworks. Same with sexual intercourse. Sex is an acquired taste and skill.

Americans tend to separate their sexuality from their persona. Sex is something they “have” or “do.” Europeans and Latin Americans think differently. They believe that your sexuality is your entire being. Your sexuality not just the sex act per se, it is who you are -- the way you act, dress, eat, play, enjoy and live your life.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The lifelong comfort of a French Potage

One of the nicest things you can do for yourself, or a friend, is make a pot of soup. Soup has the magical power of being able to comfort and inspire.

I first met potage (pronounced poh-tahj) in Paris during my Sweet Briar Junior Year in France. I was thrilled to be living on Gertrude Stein’s street, at 16 rue de Fleurus in the 6th arrondissement, right off the Jardin de Luxembourg. My hostess, an extremely religious spinster, Mademoiselle Ley, served potage to Mary, Chris and me every evening as our first course. We never tired of it. It warmed us and settled our tummies for the meal to come.

The French have been making potage since time began. The beauty of potage is that you make it with whatever vegetables you have around. In lean times, the potage is thin; in good times, it's thick.

Potage will be the “little black dress” of your cooking repertoire. It is elegant and easy. It is sexily delicious and good for you too. It is perfect when you think you have nothing in the house to eat…or when you want to start an elegant dinner party with soup. Girlfriends and boyfriends will look at you with longing eyes. Even children love potage. The flavor is accessible to little palates and the texture is velvet.

Whenever I’m feeling blue, I fill a pot with water and throw in a few vegetables, and suddenly, the world is not such a scary place anymore.

I’ll start you off with quantities and vegetable suggestions, and then just make it with whatever you have in the house, using whatever quantity of water you want. Start tasting and adjusting until you have something you like.

French Potage

8 cups of water
2 potatoes
4 carrots
1 large onion
1 large squash – either a few zucchini or whatever you have (1/2 a butternut; one red pepper…you get the idea!)

Put the water in a large pot to bring to a boil.

Peel whatever veggies need peeling. Chop everything into large chunks. Toss into the pot.

Cover the pot and bring to a low boil. Let simmer until the veggies are really soft. Maybe 30-40 minutes.

When you can stick a fork into the veggies and they are extremely soft, turn off the flame and let everything cool down.

Scoop out some of the veggies and put them in a blender with a little bit of the water and blend to a puree.

Return the puree to the pot. Continue blending until all the veggies are pureed. You want a uniform, smooth soup.

Stir your potage. If the potage is too watery, boil it down a bit. If it is too thick, add some water.

Simmer your lovely potage as you add the seasonings. Again, whatever you have on hand: A tablespoon or two of powdered chicken broth is rather important. Taste and then add salt. A few grinds of pepper. I like to snip some fresh dill and parsley. (But if your kids hate little green stuff floating, then don’t.) You might add a pinch of thyme. A splash of balsamic vinegar to make the flavors sing.

In France, potage is served in a shallow soup bowl. You can serve it alone as a first course. For heartier fare, toss some croutons in or grate some cheese over it. It’s nice served with crusty bread and thinly sliced ham, but my favorite is to accompany potage with a grilled cheese sandwich.


As always, if you sauté the onion in a frying pan before you add it to the water, you will get a deeper flavor.

My daughter Nina likes me to go the extra step and sieve the soup after I puree it to give it an even finer texture.

For a different slant, you can break up a little spaghetti or toss some alphabets into the soup. But then it’s not really potage anymore.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pass the butter please. On table manners.

“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are,” said Jean-Anthelme Brillat–Savarin, author of The Physiology of Taste, always on my bookshelf.

I say: “ Show me how you eat and I will tell you who you are.”

Table manners are a microcosm of your life in society. Your behavior at table speaks of your past, of your future, of who you are or wish to be, of where you’ve been, of where you're going. Not to mention that eating with people who have bad table manners can make you lose your appetite.

I work with college students. I always meet my students for the first time at a casual dinner.
After the meal, I know everything I need to know about them. From their table manners.

I see who their parents are and how they have been brought up. I know if they have traveled, whether they are intelligent and sensitive, or vague and without a clue. It begins even with the way the students approach the empty table and how they choose where they want to sit and with whom. Volumes speak to me in how they converse for the first time with new fellow students and with me. I can see much in the way they handle their napkins and their relationship to the objects on the table. I can see their lives in the way they read the menu and address the waiter. I can learn things in the way they look at the food when the plate is placed before them, and how they manipulate their knives, forks, spoons. And finally, how they arrange everything at the end to signal they are finished. And sadly, there are those who, after I have paid the bill, leave without a "thank you."

I learn if they are perceptive, neurotic, demanding impossible. I see if they are wasteful, shy, adventuresome, rude, fearful, picky, gluttonous, happy, sloppy, whatever. It is all there at the table.

One student licks her knife and picks up every crumb off her plate with a wet finger. Another drinks coffee and pokes his eye out with the spoon he insists on leaving in the cup. Yet another student grills the waiter, “Does this dish have cheese? What kind of cheese is it? Is it white or yellow cheese? Is it melted or cold? It is grated or sliced? Is there a lot or a little? Is it high fat or low fat?” Then, upon receiving this diligently queried dish, she inspects it, poking this corner and that with her knife, proclaiming, “I can’t possibly eat this,” and moving the plate aside.

Another student asks, “How much can I eat?” and worse, if there could be such a thing, “How many dollars' worth can I order?”

“Do you ask that when you are out on a date?” I say.

Like it or not, table manners are a barometer of civilization, they are the lubrication of a life in society. We are not cavemen grunting and pointing. Sharing a meal with someone is a daily ritual of social interaction. The ease and delight with which you choose, order, converse, eat, drink and finish can open doors for you, and shut them. Table manners can lose you a date or get you a job.

Many years ago I interviewed in the public affairs department of Exxon Corporation. My appointment began at 11:00 a.m. and after an hour and a half of conversation the Senior Vice President pulled back his chair and said, “Okay then. Let’s go to lunch.”

He took me to an elegant and very expensive Indian restaurant in midtown. I declined a cocktail and spoke to the waiter in quiet, respectful manner. (Never drink on a job interview no matter how confident or relaxed or nervous you are feeling.) I studied the menu with interest and decided to try something new that I had never eaten before. When it arrived, I ate it with delicacy and delight. I was able to make conversation and eat at the same time.

It wasn't because he didn’t want to eat alone that day that he invited me. Our lunch was the final testing ground. Why? Because the job required dealing with high ranking executives and he would not hire someone who could not function smoothly at the table. I passed lunch and I got the job.

Table manners do have to be learned. It is hard work for parents. When I think of the tiresome mealtimes I have had with my children: “Sit up straight. Watch out, your sleeve is in the soup. Move your glass a little further from the edge of the table. Lift the fork up to you, not your head down to the food. Don’t chew with your mouth open. This is how you hold your knife. This is how you put your fork and knife to signal when you are finished. Wipe your mouth before taking a drink. Take sips not glugs. Don’t burp. Don’t stretch at the table. Wait until everyone is finished before asking if you can leave. This is how you cut your meat. Don’t talk to the waiter like that.”

If you think these are all obvious do's and don'ts, believe me, they are not.

Table manners should be as natural as breathing, and not something you have to think about. If you need to freshen up, get yourself one of the many excellent etiquette books out there.

Because if you are at ease at the table, you are at ease in life.

P.S. One of the nicest things Jean Cappello ever said to me was, "Your children have such beautiful table manners."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Life is a voyage

I feel compelled to write this because you, my darling son and daughter, feel the intensity of your lives and are wondering about having and creating "the right life."

You don't have one life. You have many lives.

You will be a hippie, a conservative, a single person, part of a couple. You will be a student, a worker, a volunteer. You will have a job, be unemployed, start your own business. There will be times when you drink a lot, perhaps, and times when you are against alcohol totally. You will have years when you meditate, eat vegetables and do yoga. Then you will find yourself a rip-roaring steak eater, the more rare the better. You will be a baker, baking your family's daily bread, and then go for years buying your cookies and pies. You will identify yourself as a painter, then stop painting and become a business person or vice versa. You will go through many different styles of life and of clothes. You will be skinny, you will be chubby. You will be happy, you will be depressed. You will have long hair, short, spiky, coloured, permed, curly, straight hair. You will be single, married, divorced, a widower. You might be a parent, a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, a niece, a nephew, a cousin, a sister, a brother, an in-law, a friend, an enemy, a client, a boss, an employee.

No matter who you are or who you are with, you are always yourself, alone.

Life is an evolution of who you are, of who you become. You are never one thing. Life is a voyage. Flow in each moment, loving each version of yourself, each burning interest of the day. Life is always a quest. Embrace the journey; there is no "arriving." That's what makes life so wonderful. Always something around the bend. Always something to learn, something to strive for.

And if you understand now, that there is always one more person who needs your love and understanding, you will never be lost.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Good Mother of a Mother

That's the grandmother, of course.

My German friend, Barbara Asper, was babysitting for her daughter Maya's children, Jana and Juri, while Maya was away at a teacher's conference for four days.

Barbara was reading the list Maya left her, about the kids' schedules, mealtime menus, activities. She looked up at me and said, in a proud and happy voice: "I always do exactly what my daughter tells me to do!"

"Wow," I said. "That's remarkable and generous."

Barbara continued, "Look, I had my chance as a Mother, raising my children as I wanted to. Now, it is my daughter's turn to be a Mother and do exactly what she wants. Besides, my mother-in-law never would do what I asked her to do and that made me so frustrated."

Thank you Barbara! I won't be a grandmother for awhile, but you have saved me from a lot of angst. You have taught me that Grandmothering is not showing your children that you know better than they do about how to raise their children.

The Good Grandmother respects her children's right to raise their children as they want to.'s their turn.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Three Tenets of Life

When I was single and lived in Manhattan, my friends and I were obsessed with getting the same three things exactly right in our lives:

A great love. (Soul.)
A great apartment. (Shelter.)
A great job. (Sustenance, Mind & Spirit.)

They are the basic components of happiness: meaningful work, a roof over your head, and someone to share it with. No matter in what country you live, in what time you live, these are the big three.

Getting all three to your satisfaction seemed elusive. In my Manhattan days, we would joke that you could have one, possibly two, but never all three. You might have a great job, but a terrible apartment. You might have a great love, but a terrible job. You might have a terrible job, but a fab apartment.

Hence, my amended three tenets of life are:

You need a roof over your head to find your dream place.
You need a job to get a good job.
You need to have loved (and lost, perhaps) in order to find "the love of your life."

The point being: don't hold out for perfection. Jump into the fray. Start the energy. Get your basics working first and then you can get picky.

When you move to a new city or new country, your first priority is to get a roof over your head. You can't be choosy if you have no place to sleep. Rent a "decent" place for awhile. You don't have to love it. You need to learn the lay of the land. Learn your way around the city, check out the different neighborhods and discover where it is you really want to live. If you arrive to a new place and buy immediatly, you may soon come to dislike your neighborhood or stumble upon another one you like much better. You need time and clarity to find your dream abode and are in no position to see anything when you are desperate for shelter.

Same goes for a job. You need to have a job, in order to get a good job. It is a fact of life that you are more attractive to prospective employers if you are employed by someone else. If you have a job, you are considered employable...someone else hired you after all! It also takes away your desperation. If you have a job and are at least earning money and supporting yourself, you won't jump at any job. You are more discriminating and feer to shop around for what it is you really want. Losing your desperation makes you more attractive.

Ah love. The same thing: losing your desperation makes you more attractive. Learn to live beautifully by yourself and love your life as a single person. Then, bring out what my old college friend Jan Heissinger called, "the shock troops." The shock troops are any old guy or girl who gets you out of the house and into the flow of life. Don't sit home and wait for Mr. or Ms. Right to come along. They don't exist and they won't knock on your door. Jump into that fray again. Go out, be social, practice your social skills. Dating helps you to be casual, helps you to have fun and to meet other people. It takes away your desperate edge.

It is hard to work on all three things at once. A roof over your head is the most important. We are talking basic survival here. Then, you can get a job to pay for this roof. With those two down, you can concentrate on getting a better roof and a better job. And, if you are lucky, in the process of doing the first two, love will find you, instead of you having to look for it!

Friday, April 11, 2008

If you are a houseguest...

... Be a great one and you’ll be invited back.

Always bring a hostess gift. It doesn’t have to be expensive but you must bring something. Keep it light if you’re traveling by plane. Textiles are always good – lovely kitchen towels, for instance. If weight is not a factor, something the hostess can consume is always appreciated. Beautiful soaps, incense, fancy chocolates, a great book. Remember: how many nights of hotel are you saving by staying with your host?

Take your host(s) out for a meal. Or two or three. Be generous. Pay for the coffee if you’re out strolling together. Offer to dash out and buy the milk if they need it.

Clean up your foot print when you leave – as if you weren’t ever there.

Strip the bed and fold the sheets. It doesn’t matter that they will be put into the wash. It is not a nice “look” to come into a guestroom and see dirty sheets crumpled in a pile. And it is worse to come in the room and see an unmade bed with dirty sheets that need to be stripped. Stripping the bed and folding the sheets shows respect and thoughtfulness.

Empty your bedroom & bathroom trash into a bag and ask where you should deposit it.

Leave the bathroom neat. No hairs in the sink, no bathtub ring.

Hand over the keys before you forget!

Really make a thank you ceremony when you leave, an official moment to acknowledge your hosts and the gratitude you feel towards their generosity.

Invite them to your home. Even if you live in a dorm room, say, “If you ever need a place to stay, I’d be happy to have you.” Because you would!

Send a thank you note.

April 9, 2008

Welcoming the jetlagged traveler to your home

My friend Sally Bradshaw is a British lyric soprano with a celestial voice. She lives in a charming maisonette in Highbury Park, London and has a medieval country home in Najacs, France. Sally travels the world, singing in festivals, directing operas, teaching singing, recording everything from Handel to Pet Shop Boys.

On my last trip to London, I arrived at Gatwick at 6 a.m. I stood on the immigration/passport control line, waited for my luggage, changed dollars into pounds, bought a train ticket and an Oyster card, rode the train into Victoria Station, got onto the Victoria Line to Sally's tube stop, Highbury Islington, walked through Highbury Fields and finally, rang Sally's bell at 8 a.m.

Sally answered the door in her lovely white flowing nightgown and robe and took me in. Her table was set with a hot, brewing pot of PG Tips and an English breakfast of soft boiled eggs, wholegrain toast, her homemade marmelade and French country butter. It was a balm to my frayed traveler's soul.

So here are some thoughts on how to welcome the jetlagged traveler to your home.

Have the bed already made up for your traveler. Just the sight of it will welcome and soothe. It is unnerving to see your flustered host running around snapping open sheets and hurriedly making a bed. I already feel I've been too much trouble.

Don’t forget to put a folded bath towel and washcloth at the foot of the bed.

By the bed: A set of house keys. A covered pitcher of water and a glass. A local guidebook. A bud vase. A chocolate.

A pot of hot tea waiting when they walk in. Don’t ask, “Would you like a cup of tea?” They’ll invariably say no. Jetlagged travelers are in no position to make any decisions.

Ready options for a warm, light meal. Travelers need comforting after all the nerve jangling. Soup (preferably homemade) is always great to have simmering on the stove. It never overcooks and is always ready. Bread, cheese and fruit to accompany. Or, if they arrive in the morning, a light, fresh breakfast.

After you’ve fed them, invite them to take a nap. They might say no, but they will lie down and fall asleep anyway.

P.S. I told Sally not to get me at the airport because my flight arrived at 5:55 a.m. But, whenever possible, meet your guest at the airport. This is a welcoming gesture that is a huge comfort. And it will be extended to you when you need it most.

Plane Survival

When airplane travel began, it was expensive and glamorous.

I don’t need to tell you that flying today is mentally and physically exhausting, requiring a survival of the fittest attitude. By the time you squish into your tiny seat on the aircraft, you've traveled to the airport and stood on how many lines? --check in, security, boarding... All necessary for the miracle of air travel, but still. Being prepared is the key to controlling the cramped fatigue and perhaps, turning your flight into an almost pleasant experience.

Food is scarce and getting worse on flights. Being hungry on a plane adds to your general level of misery and/or anxiety. So…

Pack gummies or fruit candy. Gummies are friendly and cheerful, comforting and not messy.

Pack crackers or cookies. I’ve often looked over with envious eyes at people who had thought to bring a little snack on the plane.

When you make your reservation, order the vegetarian meal even if you’re not a vegetarian. For some reason, the airlines pay more attention to the special meals. You get served first, before anyone else and are not waiting for the cart to make its inexorably slow way down the aisle. At that altitude, light food with low salt is what your body can handle, instead of sticky, over salted mush, or sticky, over salted tough stuff. Also, on vegetarian meals they always put fresh fruit or a fruit salad.

Better yet, eat before you get on the plane or bring a wonderful, gourmet sandwich that you bought at your favorite deli or made at home.

Learn about good airport restaurants. Pappadeaux in Houston International has some of the best seafood I’ve eaten anywhere.

Try to sit in the front of the plane. Lower engine noise is somehow less tiring on the mind.

An aisle seat makes it easy for you to get up and move. Very important for long trips. Get up and stretch once each hour so you don’t have heart and leg problems. This is not an “old person’s” problem, it happens to young people too. Swollen ankles are a sign that something is very wrong.
A window seat is good for sleeping on long haul flights. But don’t feel embarrassed about asking your seatmates for a chance to pass through. Continue to get up and walk around.

Planes are always cold. Take your own pashmina. Take cozy airplane socks. Your feet will swell and feel tight if you keep shoes on for long distance flights. An eyeshade really tunes you out of the world. An inflatable pillow is a must. Keeps you from that head dropping with jerk up reaction and the open mouth, which is so attractive.

Drink H2O every time they offer it to you. The pressurized air in the cabins is so dry... it can dry a wet terry cloth towel in half an hour. Dehydration contributes to jet lag and travel malaise.

Planes are rife with germs. Take some Airborne or Vitamin C fizzy tablets and plop one into the water every few hours. Use your hand wipes.

Many happy landings.

Pack light, travel happy.

I'm just back from Zurich and London, and want to get this down for you post haste! Culled from a lifetime of travel to save you agonizing hours of lugging impossibly heavy suitcases up and down steps, of black and blue knees, of returning home to unpack clothes you never wore once, declaring, “I’ll never pack like this again.”

If you have packed correctly, you should hate all your clothes by the time you get home.

This isn’t about packing to go away for college, or packing for a road trip. This is about packing for touristic travel: the classic two-week trip to Europe. I’m talking airplanes, subways, buses, trams, getting lost wandering long blocks to your hotel. Travel is exhausting enough without having to cart too much stuff around. Also, with all the restrictions on suitcase weight for air travel and the one carry on rule…you’ve got to travel smart.


One great wheelie. On the smaller side.

Two pants: one pair jeans; one pair black pants.
One sweat pants: to sleep in, to exercise in.
One skirt if you're a girl; another pants if you're a guy.
5 undies
3 undershirts or bras
3 pairs socks
1 pair tights (for skirt)
1 nice sweater, preferably black
1 hoodie or a second sweater
2 long sleeve t’s or shirts
3 short sleeve t’s or shirts
3 pairs of shoes: one you wear, the other two you pack. Daily walking (can be joggers); “opera” sneakers (a black shoe that is comfortable, that when paired with your black pants or skirt, you could actually wear to the opera!); Birkies or Crocs: super comfort, to give your feet a rest, to wear around the hotel room or dash down the street to pick up a baguette.

You’re either wearing or you packed your jacket.

Carry On Bag

- Travel umbrella
- Packable raincoat or windbreaker
- Underwear in a baggie
- Teensy flashlight. You have NO idea how this can help you. Fixing a car in the dark of a deserted highway…Signaling someone for help…Reading the phone book to find help…
- Toothbrush
- Tissues
- Lipbalm (airplanes are dry!)
- Airplane needs: travel socks (yes, take your shoes off in the plane), inflatable travel pillow, earphone, eye shades (a must!) Being comfy on a long distance flight is everything.
- Little travel notebook & pen
- Your paperback book. Key to have something to occupy your mind when your plane is sitting on the tarmac for hours.
- Tiny digital camera
- Pashmina. For both men & women. Use as a scarf, a blanket, a pillow, a sarong.
- Granola bars and candy
- Glasses, sunglasses, baseball cap
- Your meds. When you catch a cold on a trip, you want familiar remedies at hand. You know how they work and the proper dosages. Running out to a pharmacy in the middle of the night, when you're running a fever, with bad German, is not an optimum situation.

12 Travel Tips
1. Don’t worry if you forget something – you can always buy it there. Buying abroad is part of the fun.
2. Heaviness matters. Heaviness adds up. Travel size toiletries to get you started. Then, see #1. It’s fun to come home with Swiss toothpaste.
3. Guidebooks are extremely heavy. Copy the pages you need and leave the book at home. Magazines are heavy. Read and shed along the way. Bring a cheap, mass-market paperback to read on the plane and leave behind.
4. Travel makeup: minimal! One lipstick that you use also on cheeks. One balm. One mascara. One powder compact. One eye pencil. See #1. Save the drama and artistry for when you're home.
5. Don’t pack jewelry. Wear “travel jewelry” – which is jewelry that if you lost, you wouldn’t be hysterical. (I wear my Tiffany silver ring, necklace, watch and earrings, and leave the rest in the safe.)
6. Really DO pack an extra set of undies/socks in your carryon bag. Until you’ve been stranded after a 10-hour flight without your luggage, you have no idea how much you will want this. To arrive at a hotel and be able to change into fresh undies is everything.
7. Europe is always colder and rainer than you think it will be. Summer or winter.
8. The carry on rule really is one bag. Your handbag should fit into your carry on. Do you really need a handbag? A small, hands free, cross shoulder bag is good. Laptops are heavy. Don't live on line when you travel. Internet cafes are everywhere.
9. Dollars, pesos, pounds, euros, Swiss francs. In your wallet, carry the currency you currently need. Put everything you're not using in a little flat pouch.
10. Wash your hands all the time. Doctors have said that 95% of travel illnesses can be avoided by washing hands -- after handling money, holding the subway railing, opening doors. Washing your hands before you eat can keep you healthy.
11. Don't take perfume and body lotion. Just take a small bottle of perfumed body lotion. Takes care of two needs at once.
12. Mail it home. If you buy clothing or souvenirs and they don't fit, just mail them home and save yourself the hassle.

The Seth Gopin test. Pick up your packed carry on and suitcase. Walk down the stairs from your bedroom and out of your house, then around the block twice and back upstairs. If you can’t do that with a smile on your face, go back and start over.

Bon Voyage! And send a postcard!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Difficult Decisions

Sometimes when you need to make a big decision…YOU CAN’T! You are paralyzed with indecision. You think and think, you moan and groan. You ask your friends what they think and every one tells you something different and everything sounds right, and then wrong.

How do you decide the really big stuff when it seems impossible to decide. Should I marry him? Should I leave her? Should I move to Montana simply because I like it there? Should I go to this graduate school or take that job? Not to mention all the serious issues you will be confronted with about health, relationships and money.

Here are some thoughts that have helped me and now, maybe you.

The power of a pencil and paper. Write things down. Make lists. Sometimes the simple fact of committing things to paper can help you to see them more calmly and clearly. Writing things down reduces the question at hand -- to facts, to visual and quantifiable things. Instead of lots of emotions swirling around, you can look at the words in black and white. Write a list of pros and cons. Make a list of your feelings, your fears, your expectations, a list of why and why not’s. Writing things down is such a simple concept that we often overlook because you think, how can this possibly help? But it does. Try it.

Letting go. When a big decision is absolutely paralyzing, sometimes it helps to stop trying to force an answer. Focusing so hard on a problem can make the answer even more elusive. So, stop.

Instead, focus on the details of your daily life, and it is entirely possible that the big answer will float up to you and make itself marvelously clear. Instead of obsessing about the issue at hand, think about what to cook for dinner. What you need to prepare for the meeting tomorrow. About taking your car to be serviced. About what to do this weekend. What to bake for the church sale. Calling the dentist for an appointment. Cutting the grass.

By not focusing so much on the big question at hand, you are giving the answer some space to make itself known. You open your heart to receive the answer. “Of course!” you will suddenly realize as you fold the laundry. “Yes!” you will say as you walk the dog. Letting go so that the decision can float to you is sometimes the only way forward.

Making no decision is sometimes a good decision. It takes the pressure off. Not yes, not no. Not you, not me. Making no decision leaves you open to all options. It gives you the space to see the answer.

Worst Case Scenario. When in doubt, you can always fall back on the model of “worst case scenario” to free you from the fear of making a mistaken decision. Say, “What is the worst thing that will happen if I do this?” Fully understanding the consequences and the worst possible outcome, can free you to take a risk more comfortably.

In the end, there is really no such thing as a mistake in life, just a life well lived with all its twists and turns, ups and downs, and righting yourself as you bobble in the water.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Most Beautiful Chicken Soup

Following my advice on How to be Sick. Nicely. is my finely-honed-over-the-years recipe for chicken soup. My kids always ask for this. It comforts them psychologically (Mother's love) and it truly is just the thing to sip when they feel under the weather. We also love it as a Sunday supper soup. If you are Motherless, make it for yourself and you will feel the love. If you have young children, start making it now so they too will have the benefit of your Mother Love for years to come.

What makes this soup so appealing is its pure, bright, gentle flavor. I skim the fat and strain the stock resulting in a clear yellow broth. Tender slivers of chicken, noodles, thin discs of carrots, celery and onion turn it into a classic. Make it for a friend and they'll be forever grateful and kind to you.

Of course there are shortcuts (canned chicken broth, store roasted chicken) but here is the definitive recipe for posterity. catch the chicken, kill the chicken, clean the chicken...Just kidding! People, this is not a lot of work. Three easy steps. Let me talk you through it. Give it a try once and you'll see.

Make the broth
1 chicken
8 cups of water (or enough to cover the chicken)
1 bay leaf
3 peppercorns
1 large clove of garlic (I pan roast the garlic in a cast iron skillet before adding to the pot. It deepens the flavor, but you don't have to do it.)
A toss of salt (a rounded 1/2 tsp is good)

Wash the chicken. Make sure to remove the gizzards, kidney, neck, etc. that may come with the chicken when you buy it.
Put the chicken in a large pot and cover it with water.
Add the bay, peppercorns, garlic, salt.
Cover and bring to a nice boil. Not a furious boil, but a nice boil.
Cook until the chicken is tender and...cooked! About 45 mins. to 1 hour.
Turn off the flame and lift the chicken out of the pot carefully and put on a plate to cool.

When the broth has cooled down a bit, skim the fat. I do this with a special pitcher I bought expressly for this purpose, that separates the fat from the broth, but you can do this with a big soupspoon too, skimming the fat gently off the top.
Next, strain the soup over a strainer into a clean pot. You could even line the strainer with one paper towel if you like. Voila: a gorgeous broth. Now, simmer the broth on a low flame.

While the chicken is cooking

2 carrots
1/2 large onion
2 inside stalks of celery

Slice the carrots & celery into thin and lovely slices
Dice the onion nicely.

Saute the above, gently, in a bit of butter or olive oil. Don't fry, just saute. The vegies should be soft, not dried out. This is a very important step. You don't just throw raw veggies into a broth. You'll see the difference in sauteing them first, in flavor and in the way the veggies will color the soup nicely.

Turning broth into soup

Peel the chicken meat off the chicken. Dice it up into whatever size you like (some like big chunks, some like little) and add to the broth. If you only like white meat, just use the breast meat. Add to the simmering broth.

Add your gently sauteed veggies to the simmering broth.

Add a little bit of pasta. You can break up a little spaghetti, or throw in some alphabets or whatever pasta you have around. Go easy on the quantity. Pasta is very misleading in its ability to grow and absorb the broth. If you add too much, you will have mush. Start with a 1/3 cup of alphabets, for example. You can always add more later, after you see what has happened, if you like more pasta..

1 tablespoon of powdered chicken broth (Knorr) to give your broth a tad more body.
A splash of balsamic vinegar. This "brightens" the flavor. It will go unnoticed by all, but it is your secret!
Snip some fresh dill into the soup. Or, use powdered dill if you don't have fresh.
Taste for salt. Add more if needed. A few grinds of pepper.
Add more a bit more water if the broth has reduced too much.

Simmer your soup gently until the pasta is cooked.
Serve it piping hot in a bowl with a wedge of fresh lemon to squeeze in at the last minute. This lemon juice is truly your secret ingredient.
Nice with sliced French bread & sweet butter. Or, saltines are nice too.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

How to be sick. Nicely.

I'm not talking catastrophic illness here...just the common cold, strep, flu. Being sick when you are alone -- whether at college, while you're traveling, or living alone--is an art and requires a strategy. There are two general schools of being sick: "Stop the world I want to get off," (that's me) or "It's nothing." The latter is where you ignore it macho style until you get so sick, you are out even longer.

You get sick from germs or virus. However, if you let yourself get run down, your body succumbs more easily. If you are overworked, stressed, under emotional strain, your body's defenses give in. It is as if the soul is saying, Arthur Miller (Death of a Salesman) style, "Attention must be paid."

If you don't treat yourelf nicely when you're sick, no one else will. Maybe there really is no one around and you're truly alone for the long haul. Why not make it as pleasant as you can, instead of adding to your misery. You are a captive audience of one, so do it in style. Here's your chance to become Queen and King for a day.

1. Don't think any deep thoughts or make any major decisions while you are sick. You are weak and feeling perhaps lonely and sad. Depressed even. Life seems overly serious and impossible when you are sick. If you find yourself drawn into existential conversations with your mind, put it on hold and say, Scarlett O'Hara style (Gone with the Wind) "I'll think about it tomorrow."
2. Lay in the supplies and hunker down! Listen to the runny nose, the tickle in your throat, the achiness and the sneezes and trudge post haste to the store as if you're preparing for a snowstorm. Buy the orange juice, the ginger ale, the Campbell's Chicken Noodle or Tomato, the saltines, ice cream, Jell-O, Social Tea biscuits. Get the aspirin, cough syrup, cough drops, cold meds, tissues, lots of them. Buy some magazines; get some books and tapes from the library. Set up your bed with fresh sheets, have a hot shower, get into your favorite PJ's sick!
3. Really do take cold medication. "Oh, it's just a cold," you say. But if you let a seriously stuffy nose can end up with sinusitis. If you let a bad cough go can get bronchitis. Take the aspirin or Tylenol for fever, aches and pains.
4. Nyquil (or the night time versions of cold meds) is your best friend at night. A good night's sleep is where healing happens.
5. Really do drink lots of liquids. The doctors always say that, but it is TRUE! It flushes out your system, it seems to cool and hydrate you. You do not want to get dehydrated.
6. If your fever persists for more than 3 days, and your symptoms don't start to get better within 5 days...GO TO THE DOCTOR.
7. Call your friends and tell them you are sick. Someone needs to know you are sick so you feel less alone. You will feel better knowing there is someone worrying about you, caring about you. Don't be so stoic.
8. Declare yourself an official lump. Catch up on all your sleep. Watch all the daytime TV you want. Cruise the Internet. Listen to talk radio. Read books and magazines. Make phone calls. There are lots of bed bound activities : Pay bills, make Christmas lists, writer letters, shop from catalogs.
9. Pretend this is a spa vacation. Use your illness as a mental retreat from the world. A break in routine. View being sick as a meditative activity. Empty your mind.
10. At a certain point in your illness, it helps to take a short, hot shower. Wash your hair if you can. Dry it right away. Put on fresh PJ's. Change your sheets. Feeling grungy and sticky doesn't add to the experience.
11. Think you are recovered? Spend one more day at home. Going back to school or work too soon can give you a relapse and take more days away from your life. Of course, you won't believe this until you're headed back to school or work too soon and have landed back in bed...but you heard it here.
12. The Hot Toddy! Oh those cozy English...they really know how to feel better. A mug of boiling water, a splash of whiskey, a stir of honey, a squeeze of lemon. It's magical.
13. Vin Chaud! The French version. Heat a cup of red wine, a stir of honey, a squish of lemon, a cinnamon stick.
14. Be nice to others when they are sick. Bring your friends whatever they need and whatever they don't. Don't wait to be asked. Jump at the chance to shop for them. (They didn't have all this good advice like you do.) Phone them daily and ask their progress and...listen to it. A phone call from someone who cares is a tremendous gift.
15. Thank your body. Appreciate your body. It works 24 hours a day for your entire lifetime. Be aware of how you take your health for granted and what a precious gift your health is.
16. A side benefit of being sick? The easiest, natural cleansing diet. You're drinking lots of liquids, giving your tummy a rest. When you're well, you'll have lost a few pounds!
17. Call Mother. Mom is who you want when you're sick, even if you don't think so. She'll coo over you and tell you how to take care of yourself even though you schluff off her comments. You will feel a lot better after that phone call.

If you are the macho type who goes to work with the flu, you don't need my advice. You're macho, remember? You can tough it out on your own.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Nina and me.

It's Nina's turn.

Pablo had my full attention for two years before his sister Nina was born.

With Pablo going to college, things have come full circle. Now I will have an amazing two years of exclusive time with my smart, talented, funny, beautiful daughter Nina.

Nina, as second child, feels she has always gotten the short end of everything.

I also felt the same way, because I too, was the second child, the sister of an older brother. But of course, now as an adult, I know differently: Mother loved both Buzz and me equally but in different ways, as mothers do with sons and daughters.

The minute my brother left home for college, I was the queen of the house, the supreme, reigning, ten times cooler teenager. I was no longer compared to Buzz in any way -- and I came into my own, changing in ways I could not have imagined.

This is Nina's special time and a blessed gift for me. Already we are planning our bohemian girly life, mother and daughter friends, how we will eat veggies, do yoga and bike together, take an evening stroll for sorbet. For the first and only time in her life, she will have all of me.

Here's to you, Nina!

Pablo is going to college!

"When you go to college..." It's a phrase you say to your child all his/her life, staring from the day they are born. It's a cliche, it's a dream, it's far off into some unknown future. You want it for your child, but are thankful the day will never come.

It came. It's now.

My baby boy, my first born, Pablo, IS going to college. Grinnell College. Class of 2012. He's not only leaving home, but he's leaving the country. His presence in my life will never be the same again. When he returns home, it will be as a visitor.

Tears well at odd moments of the day. I know there is nothing more for him, right now, in Yucatan, at our home. He needs to become who he is, away from me, on his own in the world. It is the end of a certain kind of Mothering -- the delight of the day to day intimacy, of my eyes loving my child, of being able to call his name and knowing he will answer.

The only thing that soothes me is knowing how happy he will be. Campus life is wonderful. College is a beautiful bubble: You're on your own and not paying for it. My college years were a treasure of discovery and delights and I know they will be for him as well.

"The empty nest." A cliche and also a real issue to resolve, as all parents do. I am left to contemplate Pablo's empty room and my reinvention as a Mother of an adult "child." It will never be the same again. Something big is over -- for both of us.

I cry in private. To him I show my proud and happy face. I am proud and happy for him. We must let each other go. He will only understand how much it hurts when he lets his own child go. In some distant future.

Right now though, the world is his, and he wants at it.

Godspeed my darling.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Welcome to my world!

There are lots of self help books out there, covering every subject in exhaustive detail, and countless professionals who are only too eager to help you through life's difficulties for a handsome fee. But The Portable Mother is something different. It is about what I call Motherlove or Momism: the unique feeling that only a Mother can provide. This is not the best advice, nor the only advice, it is a Mother's advice.

I was 55 when my Mother passed away. I was lucky enough to have known her for so many years. But when she died, I realized I did not know her at all! I only knew my Mother as, my Mother. By the time I was born...she had lived so much of her life that I would never know about. Wait, I thought, come back.

It was only then that I "got" it: you only really understand that you don't know your Mother, after she has died. And the perplexing corollary to that: you understand your Mother only after she has died.

Regardless of our relationship with our Mothers (good, bad, indifferent), we all need a Mother sometimes...because being an adult is hard and downright scary.

My friend, the poet Anne Carson writes me: "Parents giving advice to their children is an age-old form of letters. In the classic tradition it is called "wisdom literature." In West's edition of Hesiod's "Works and Days" he summarises precedents in Sumerian, Akkadian, Ireland, India, Greece and Rome. The usual form is that a father instructs his son or a sage instructs a future king; Hesiod, however, instructs his brother, Perses. Three Roman authors who wrote works to help their children are Cato: De agri cultura, On Farming; Cicero, who wrote De officiis, On Public service; and Macrobius, Somnium Scipionis, Scipio's dream."

Parents trying to teach their children about life brings to mind the inherent difficulty of age trying to talk to youth. Carolyn Heilbrun wrote: "There are few old people who have not wished to tie a young person down, hand and foot, and tell her or him the truth about life. Unfortunately, the young person will not listen, and the old person will inevitably come across as, at best, a tedious bore."

Raising a child is a gift, an enterprise, an adventure. It is a soul business.
So here we go.