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Friday, March 27, 2015

Will you still need me, Will you still feed me?

My high school buddies and I jumped on the post-break-up Beatles bandwagon, believing, with at least part of our Rubber Souls, that the songs were written specifically for us.

From Paperback Writer to Day Tripper to With a Little Help from my Friends, we lived the lyrics, belting them out loud and proud, as we drove the Wyndmoor-Oreland-Flourtown circuit in Penny’s (aka Patty’s) little tan Corvair.

We were young. We were invincible. And we believed with all our hearts that one of us would end up marrying Const DePaulis. And when she did, all of us would walk down the aisle of Seven Dolars Roman Catholic Church, as bride or bridesmaid, to the tune of Alex Arduino’s guitar gently wailing, I Will.  

Well, things don’t always end up as we expect. The five of us grew up, got married and moved north, south and west. Between us we had seven children, five husbands and two exes. None of us married Const DePaulis.


Besides constant access to the Corvair and a mother who let us smoke Virginia Slims in her living room, one of the biggest bonuses of befriending Penny was that she had two older brothers.

They didn’t pay us much attention when we were in high school; they were off doing their own thing by then. But in our 20s, Steve and Jimmy were the key to our social existence.

Perhaps best of all, they lived on their own. We didn't have to bother with parents bothering our fun. Instead, we spent countless hours hanging out, crowded into the living room of Jimmy’s Hatboro home with the pretense of watching the Eagles or Phillies. Of course we were interested in Steve Carlton’s ERA, but we cared way more about spending time with the older brothers and their ultra-cool friends.

We were, and miraculously still are, seven years younger than Jimmy. But part of the appeal was that he never treated us like Penny’s pesky playmates, but rather as the intelligently vibrant young lasses that we were. The brothers gallantly included us in weekend adventures to Cape May and Sea Isle City, where dozens of us sprawled across the couches and floors of parents’ houses who wouldn’t have hesitated to call 911 had they been privy to our shenanigans.

The older brothers’ milestone birthdays were met with awe rather than trepidation. After all, when we had such fun-loving role models, what was there to fear about turning 25 or 30 or 35 or 40? They set the bar for the future, both literally and figuratively.

All too soon, Penny and her brothers moved to Florida. One by one they left the cold and build careers and families farther south. Though our party days were being replaced by responsibilities, we quickly learned that a bar on the beach is well worth the price of a plane ticket.

While Penny and I vacation together every year, I don’t see her brothers very often anymore. But, social media helps keeps the big world small and old friends close.

Which is where I realized we’d come full circle.

Brother Jimmy hit another milestone birthday last week. 

His Beatles’ birthday.

Which naturally got me to reminiscing.

There was a time when we really, truly believed that 64 was old. That when we got older, losing our hair, many years from now… that we’d be so old, so bald, so out of touch that we wouldn’t even be aware that we had crossed over to the other side.

We may not be able to twist and shout like we once did, but we’ve learned to adjust. We just favor our artificial limbs and do the best we can on the dance floor. We still spend time with friends who spark our creativity, who make us laugh, who make us better people. And we never stop looking for ways to make new memories. Because, after all, life goes on. As long as we let it.

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

My Biggest Vice

I am way too self-righteous to have as many vices as I do. But I get around it by acknowledging and lambasting my faults before anyone else can do it for me.

For instance, I talk ad nauseum about my lack of self-discipline when it comes to chocolate and other high-caloric treats. It doesn’t matter that four years ago I lost 100 pounds. What matters is that I ever had that much to lose in the first place. And so I spend my life beating myself up as I yo-yo with my weight, placing way too much worth on middle-aged love handles and how much they weigh on a scale. I have neither gained nor lost friends based on my fluctuating figure and I could bet an entire pound bag of m&m’s that my ever-loving spouse has no idea if I am larger or smaller than the day we wed.

However, there is one universal vice that I have never entertained.


I self-righteously denounce its presence in my life. I declare with pride that my spouse and I maintain a coffee-free household. I delight in the fact that I don’t have to waste valuable counter space on machinery nor wake up to the rancid stench of percolating coffee grounds. Overnight guests are warned that Mr. Coffee has been banished to the basement and that their morning Joe will be brewed from a can of Maxwell House that has been stored in our freezer for half-a-dozen years. And so, our guests routinely opt for a morning jaunt to the neighborhood bagel store rather than risking it on what we have to offer. 

I have never had a cup of coffee in my life.

And I never plan to.

Coincidentally, I married a man who starts the day the same way I do. With a nice, cold, caffeinated diet soda.

My soda comes with as many rules as the rest of my life. I drink out of a specific glass. With a straw. With as many ice cubes as I can cram into the cup. I don’t partake until I have completed my morning exercise. But when I do, I sit down and relish every single sip of that 100 percent un-natural, caramelized, carbonated and undoubtedly carcinogenic vice of mine along with a dry English muffin and the New York Post. And then I have another. And another. I drink my diet soda all morning long, not cutting myself off until shortly after lunchtime.  

Multiple two-liter bottles line the wall in my kitchen. My insides shake when the supply gets low, a bottle goes flat or Max doesn’t replace what he drinks. He’s the only one of my children who has picked up my nasty habit.

My sister Emily hates that I drink so much diet soda. She thinks it’s going to kill me. My father said it was surely the impetus for my hospitalization with pancreatitis and just may be the root of all evil.  Both my bladder and my brain are a slave to my soda.

And yet, I continued to imbibe.

Until I gave it up. 

I didn't do it on purpose. It just kind of happened.

It was when I was away with my friend Jean the first week in February. We were meeting our friends in the Sunset Lounge at 9 am to disembark the cruise ship and explore St. Maarten. I planned to procure my morning soda at the bar, but alas, it was closed. It meant I would have to run to the other end of the ship to get it, and I would have, but Jean was already annoyed that one unnamed cousin was keeping us waiting. And so, I thought I would just wait till we got off the ship and I found a corner soda shop.

Well, the cousin never showed up, and neither did the soda shop. The first drink I had that day was a Dark and Stormy and I didn’t feel any worse for wear. So, I went another day without soda. And another. And another.

And soon, a month had passed. I was soda-free.

About two weeks after we got home from the cruise, I got a headache. Because I  have virtually never had a headache and my biggest life’s fear is suffering a stroke, I went to the doctor when it didn’t subside after a week.

I had absolutely no other symptoms, but to be safe the doctor sent me for a CT scan. I was almost laughed out of the Emergency Room when I admitted my pain level was a 1 on a scale of 1 to 10.

“But, I’ve never had a headache in my life!” I whined.

And so they suggested a neurologist.

It was another two weeks before I could get an appointment, and during that time my headaches got worse. I would wake up in the morning feeling completely fine. I’d go off to the gym and get about an hour of writing in and then it would hit. If I took to my bed for a half-hour it would go away long enough for me to work for another hour or two. But then it would come back.

I was convinced it was the beginning of the end.

The short, dark and handsome neurologist asked me all kinds of probing questions. None of my answers pointed toward anything serious. But, I insisted, it’s just not normal for me.

“You don’t think," I wondered aloud. "It could have anything to do with giving up caffeine, do you?”

Had he not been board certified I suspect he would have burst out laughing and answered, “Uh…DUH!”

Instead, he graciously guaranteed me that my headaches were connected to caffeine withdrawal.

“But, I’ve been soda-free for five weeks!” I claimed. “And the headaches didn’t start till about two weeks after I stopped. It just doesn’t make sense.”

“Trust me,” he said.

And so, I went home from that appointment and poured myself a nice stiff drink.

And another. And another.

Now, had I known for sure that my headaches would have gone away without re-caffeinating, I just may have stuck to my guns. But instead, I gave up giving up my savored soda, chalking it up to one of life's guilty little pleasures that's easier to live with than to live without.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Not-so-Random Acts of Friendship

“So, Mom. What are the chances that you’d be willing to give me a $371.16 birthday present?” the daughter asked.

Pretty slim, I thought, considering the overpriced Christmas gifts she received just two months prior.

“And what exactly is this $371.16 birthday present you’re yearning for?”  I asked instead.

“Well, everyone is going to Chapel Hill for the Duke game.”


We haggled a bit, just because I’m a responsible parent. But, she came out on top, knowing full well that while I’d make her Xerox pages before I would spend that kind of money on say a college text book, I would never balk at the price of friendship. She's heading to Chapel Hill tonight. On an airplane. For the third time since she graduated last May. But, all her friends will be there.

I don’t know why friends are so important to me. I used to think it was because I always picked the right ones. But then I realized it must be luck because most of them came to me randomly.  My oldest friend Margaret became my friend simply because I moved three doors down from her at four years-old. We then befriended the rest of the neighborhood, most of whom are still very much in our lives, 50-some years later.

Then came the high school friends, Madge, Debbie, Rachel and Patty, a group that would never exist had Seven Dolars not sent their good little Catholics off to public school. I met great friends (and a spouse) just because I happened to drop a resume off at TV Guide magazine one Tuesday afternoon when my friend Mary Anne and I drove past the building. I have my friends from CNBC because my spouse convinced me that if I just took the position as a secretary for now, I'd eventually get the writing job. I made friends in Teaneck through the committees I joined and organizations I helped run and met still other friends by way of countless hours on baseball bleachers, in basketball courts and at cheerleading venues. I even became a part of an extraordinary group of friends simply because my daughter went to college at the University of North Carolina.

But perhaps the most random of all were the friends I met in college. It was a matter of survival, really. No sooner had my parents pulled away from my freshman dorm in their wood-paneled Ford station wagon that I realized I was alone. All alone.

So, I waltzed I across the hall and demanded the friendship of Chris and Leslie, whose Beatles albums, wine bottle candlesticks and “this is our one and only life – let’s live it” attitude was infinitely more appealing than my own roommate’s uplifting Hollie Hobbie posters and plaques taped to the cinder block walls.

Shortly thereafter, I barreled into Peggy and Ann’s room, literally asking, “Will you be my friend?’ They were too taken aback to say no. Later, Jeanne was assimilated into our group which also included another Chris, equally as loveably loony.

Not all of us graduated from that college. I transferred after two years, one of us took a year off, another dropped out all together. But we all stayed friends for the next 40 years.

Leslie is the one who started the All Girls’ Christmas Party. The first Saturday in December we would gather at one of our houses for a sleepover. We’d arrive mid-afternoon and be gone by noon the following day. As the years went by and we added husbands and kids, the rule was that the families could be there for a quick hello, but then had to vacate the premises. Once every six years my spouse and offspring would go stay in a hotel for the night or off to visit friends. It was in all of our prenuptial agreements. 

About ten years ago, we decided one night was not enough and now the All Girls’ Christmas Party has morphed into a three-day weekend in October. We rent a condo or a house somewhere in the prettiness and have more time to catch up and rejuvenate our souls.

We have never, ever missed a year.

It’s easy to let friendships slide. There’s time and money and breastfeeding babies. There’s work and family and home renovations. There’s always an excuse to not get together. But never a good enough reason not to.

Getting together with good friends is the best therapy there is. You can talk about your ever-loving spouse and your above-average children and your near-perfect life, honestly and rationally. And your friends will know what’s true and what’s not. You share your dreams, maybe the same ones you’ve had for a lifetime, maybe brand new ones. And you gain the strength to go home and love deeper, appreciate more and recognize your life's limitations and liabilities. You make changes. You become a better person. Or at least you try. Because your friends will only encourage you to do what's best.
We used to joke about being 102 years-old, walking the boardwalk, bundled up on a warm Indian Summer afternoon shouting, “What’s that? What you say?” and being sacked out by 8 pm. We used to wonder who would be the last girl standing. But we never talked about who would be the first to leave us.

As it ended up, the first one was Chris. She battled small cell lung cancer for almost four years, fighting hard and living her life every day that she could. She wasn’t afraid. She wasn’t angry. And she never missed an All Girls’ weekend. As a matter of fact, we started doubling up on our time together once she was diagnosed.

We came from all directions, driving through the snow for Chris’s funeral in Seaford, Delaware last Thursday. We hugged. We cried. But we didn’t fall apart. Because there’s something about sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in a church pew during a funeral for a friend that gave us the strength and solace to carry on.

And we will. 

Friendships may be formed randomly, but there's something very intentional about keeping them alive. Which is why I always say, if you're lucky enough to find yourself thrown into a friendship that matters, spend the money, make the time, book the flight, ditch the family and simply make the effort.


Monday, March 2, 2015

Shoveling Protocol

When it comes to shoveling snow, I’m actually glad that all my kids are gone. I no longer have to make excuses for why the old people were always out doing manual labor while there were able-bodied teenagers in the house.

“Oh, Max is still asleep. He was up late last night doing a book report.”

“Leo is recovering from shoulder surgery, he can’t shovel.”

And of course, I never even mentioned Molly because she made it very clear very early on that shoveling was not a job for a girl.

My spouse, being a manly man, loves to shovel snow. Just as he loves to rake leaves. He does it by hand; no snow-blower, no leaf-blower, all he needs is a good, sturdy shovel and he’s good to go.

But, unfortunately, he has a job to which, after a pre-dawn, snow-or-shine walking of his mammal in the woods, he has to travel a fair distance and deal with difficult people. So, a weekday snow storm is not his idea of a good time.

Especially because I have added several houses to his workload.

In our old house, we always shoveled our next door neighbor’s driveway. The Fischers are lovely people, our parents’ age, who always appreciated our efforts. We genuinely liked each other making my spouse happy to cross town a couple of times that first winter after we moved to make sure they were all dug out.

In our new house, we found ourselves next to another neighbor of similar age. And so we started shoveling his walk. And driveway. And front path.  And back steps. And cleaning off his car.

The difference was that this next door neighbor, who I shall call Milt – just in case he has a hidden propensity for reading blogs –never acknowledged, let alone thanked us, for our kind deeds.

But all I had to do was think of my mother who lives alone in Pennsylvania. Her next door neighbors, the Winslows, are the kindest people in the world. They would never, in a million years, let her shovel her own snow. And so, I was just being a Winslow. 

And then I got involved with Rose who lived caddy-corner across the street. She was even older and less able than Milt. After witnessing our first random act of kindness, she took to calling three days in advance of a storm to book one of the boys to do her very long driveway. Sidewalk. Front path. Back path. And front steps. But because the aforementioned sons were sleeping or recovering (or neither), I would insist that my spouse shovel her house as well. Otherwise she would call at 8 am, then 9, then 10, wondering why the boys hadn’t been over yet. In the later years, Leo, who to his credit, did shovel a time or two, went over to sell raffle tickets for his travel baseball team. Rose shooed him away, not believing when he told her he was Betsy's boy.

Then there’s another neighbor who we shall call Sam. Two years ago his 40 year-old son fell ill and he and his wife were back and forth to the hospital every day. Although Sam is wealthy enough to pay for the entire block to be shoveled professionally, in a gesture of neighborliness, we took on his long driveway. Sidewalk. And front path as well.

Sam, unlike the other neighbors is overly thankful. He stops at our back door with bags of goodies after every snow fall. Apple-pie-flavored yogurt, kosher wine (sparkling), pomegranates and pickles.  One day I told Sam about Milt’s thanklessness. Sam must have lit into Milt because now, in the middle of August, Milt will call across the hedges, “Thanks for shoveling the snow!”

Now don't for a minute think I don't do my share of shoveling. My spouse may be better than I am at the task, but I have gotten so I look forward to a good snow. If I can milk the shoveling for at least 45 minutes, I can count it as a workout and skip the gym that day. 

Which brings us up to today. It was snowing when I went to bed last night so I left my spouse a note asking him to save me a driveway or two.

“Milt’s house is all yours!” was the note he left in response.

Out I went, hours after my spouse had left for work. It was a fairly pleasant snowfall – not too cold, not too deep, not too heavy. I did Milt’s sidewalk. And driveway. And back steps and was just heading up the front steps.

In my way was The New York Times, in its bright blue plastic bag, so I picked it up and flung it to the front door.  However, with one hand on the shovel, my aim was completely off and the paper went over the edge of the stairs and five feet down, behind the bushes next to the house.

Now, there was no sign of Milt at all. As a matter of fact, his car was not in the driveway and there were no tire tracks. I wondered if he had gone off to Florida, or perhaps he had just stayed with his lady friend overnight. I could so easily leave that newspaper behind the bushes, beside the house, for the landscapers to find come spring.

But then I realized that wasn’t very Winslowish of me, and so reached over the railing and was able to wiggle the paper onto the shovel. As I lifted the shovel, the paper went sliding off, farther away, deeper into the bushes.

I looked around, I really did, to see if anyone was watching me. No one was. And so I simply finished shoveling the path and headed home. But after a few steps, I turned back. I laid myself across the cold, wet, snowy railing and leaned precariously over, dangling the shovel deep down into the brush. 

I rescued the newspaper without breaking a bone. I got a nice workout in. I felt good about doing a good deed.

Yet, I can't help but wonder, how much more snow do we have to shovel?