Saturday, January 31, 2015

Besides the Snow, There's This

Painting by Umberto Boccioni, 1910

What with snow, snow and more snow on the way, not to mention frigid temperatures and high winds, Maine in winter has a way of dampening the spirit. So I was excited when, in our local birdcage-liner under the heading "Diversions," I found the following notice:
Post-Mortem Mourning Practices in 18th  & 19th Century New England
The Maine Historical Society offers a free lecture on the mourning practices in 18th and 19th century New England on Saturday, January 31, at 1:30 pm. In addition to wearing only black apparel for up to a year, mourners in New England abided by fashions and customs that demonstrated intense grief. A board member of Portland's historic Eastern Cemetery will lead us in an exploration of these practices.

Friday, January 30, 2015

To Be Jewish in Maine: Just Sayin'

They don't have this here, among other things.
I was born 68 years ago in Brooklyn, New York, in a Jewish hospital in a neighborhood full of Jews. We moved to Long Island when I was a year old, where I grew up eating bagels and lox and celebrating Hanukkah and Passover but still playing with all the Catholic kids on my street, none of whom treated me any differently than they treated each other.

There were lots of Jews and non-Jews in my high school, and lots of black kids too. Everyone always got along just fine. My religion never seemed to be an issue for me or anyone else. Eventually I married a Christian boy I had met in college and his parents loved me and accepted me instantly.

Years later I married another Jew after the first guy turned out to be Mr. Wrong. We lived in Washington, D.C. and then moved to Utah for his work. All the Mormons were intrigued by us and were extremely nice. We made good friends. I was hired for several jobs in the four years I lived in Salt Lake City. One was as a columnist for the Mormon-owned daily paper.

Eventually returning to Washington D.C., things were peachy. Lots of bagels and lox, but also lots of other things. Oddly enough, my closest friends were not Jewish, but nobody ever thought a thing about it. Again I had many jobs, both full-time and freelance, and lots of dinner invitations.

Six years ago we moved to Maine. We have no friends here, except for one or two neighbors who have been superficially kind. I have interviewed for many positions, all far below my pay grade if you get my meaning, and been passed by. I have not been accepted as a volunteer at several places, one of them being the local YMCA. (ha!) Recently I was "fired" from a volunteer position which turned out to be a total waste of time and gave me absolutely no pleasure, but still, I was always punctual, willing and diligent, so wtf?

Besides New York, D.C. and Utah, over the years I've also lived in California and Maryland, but it's only been here in Maine, America's whitest state, where Jews comprise 1% of the population (in Utah that figure is .0.2%), that I finally understand how discrimination works: Stealthily, and under the radar.

Not Funny

I can still remember back when if someone said, "five to eight" or "ten to twelve," I assumed they were talking about an appointment time. Now I know they really mean how many inches of snow we are getting up here in the frozen north.

It's not funny.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Nothing to See Here

Flo counting her money.
I am at home making applesauce. I am not topless. I am not doing drugs or drinking to excess. I do not have a squadron of hunky men cavorting about, attempting to fulfill my wanton desires. I don't even have wanton desires. I never wear high heels or perfume, have never dated George Clooney and have not changed gender. I am boring. I am nobody. Thus, whatever I say here is meaningless -- until I become famous, at which point every last word will command a high price.

This is a sorry state of affairs, since there are so many talented people in the world who will pass through it unseen and unappreciated because they lack the one thing necessary to be catapulted to stardom. I have no idea what that one thing is, but that horrible woman who plays Flo on those stupid Progressive Insurance commercials does.

Flo is famous! She makes tons of money! People recognize her, and I am betting she can get a damn good table in any restaurant she wants, at least for lunch. This is nothing less than a crime against humanity.

Scary Stuff

There are always two twins.
I just read this in a scholarly article: "Studies have shown that two identical twins are more likely to have anxiety problems than two non-identical twins, which tells us that our genes probably play a role." Here's the troubling part: You can only have two identical twins!

Obviously just one cannot be a twin, and you cannot have three identical twins because then they are called triplets. Four are called quadruplets, and so on. Twins are defined as "two offspring produced by the same pregnancy." See that? The word "two" is inferred. You don't have to say "two twins" ever. If one of the twins dies you can say, "The poor remaining twin is bereft." You can say, "The only twin that's left is lonely." You can certainly say, "I'm glad that was the twin that lived, I hated that other one." But you never need to say "two twins." It's just dumb and stupid and redundant.

Think about it next time.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Finally, Some Peace

Being in the moment is a lot more fun than I suspected. For most of my life I have worried about what I did in the past or what will happen in the future, even when my right this minute was pretty good. This of course squanders the very good present, turning it into fodder for a shitty past.

I cannot recommend this state of being highly enough. It's like getting a new lease on life: Being here now, unless you are being waterboarded or in a Nazi concentration camp (or any concentration camp really), is likely your best bet at all times. Next thing you know I might start doing yoga, who knows, but that is in the future so I will not think of it.

Speaking of Pleonasm

I  hate it when someone is recounting a personal anecdote and mentions it involved "a friend of mine." Why not just say "friend" and assume we'll understand whose? I also hate when people say "two twins" when simply saying "twins" does the job quite efficiently. Same with "this point in time." Exactly when else would the point under discussion take place?

A new one that you hear a lot regarding real estate or shopping for cars is "price point" instead of just "price," as if adding the second word makes you some kind of Rhodes scholar, not that being a Rhodes scholar is such a big deal anymore since both Bill "Skirt-chaser" Clinton and Rachel "Holier-Than-Thou" Maddow can both claim that distinction. Coincidentally, both of them are very pleonastic.

I've said too much already.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Try to Be Here Now

Way back then.
Many Facebookers post pictures of themselves and their families from better days, times gone by, or whatever you want to call not now, not today, not reality. I am guilty of this myself, mostly because I was so much better-looking when I was younger, just like everyone. But I resist posting too many pictures from my past because it is sad, desperate and counter-productive to being here now, which I try hard to be every second of every day. I wish other people would stop too. It's not only disturbing but downright depressing, and only makes it painfully obvious that their life right now is not satisfying.
In the moment.

Hunkering Down

Mitch's fire.
We have not yet lost our power even though the wind is fierce enough to bring down trees onto power lines, and so I have been staying tuned to the TV for the latest news on Winter Storm Juno.  Everyone keeps saying that those people in the storm's path should "hunker down" until it's over late tonight. Confused, I found "hunker" in the dictionary and learned that it means "to squat or crouch down low." The secondary meaning is "to apply oneself seriously to a task." I have no intention of doing either of those things, certainly not today.

Right now I am sitting upright on my couch. The only task to which I have applied myself all day was making tuna salad for lunch. Mitch made a fire in the fireplace, and he was crouching down when he was chopping the wood and actually building the fire, so he at least did a smattering of hunkering down. I may take a nap and actually stretch out on the couch in front of the fire, but I'm not sure that lying completely prone counts as hunkering down.

Looking out a window at our front door.
Anyway, here in Maine Juno continues to batter us, piling new feet of snow against all the doors and despite the fact that everyone in New York City is getting back to normal. I'm so happy for them.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Storm Before the Calm

The storm isn't here yet but this sweatshirt is already available!
It's bright and sunny here in coastal Maine, with not a cloud in the sky, still the townsfolk are in a literal frenzy. I went to get gas this morning and the normally empty Irving station nearest my home looked like an outtake from last year's "World War Z." All of the eight pumps were in use, with lines of cars and trucks jockeying for position to be next. Naturally I joined them, my level of panic increasing just from seeing them all there. In fact I already had half a tank and have no plans to go anywhere today or even the next few days, but still--I wanted my tank full just in case. In case of what I am not sure, but you never know.

Next I went to the grocery store to get blueberries because we might be trapped inside for days and we're all out. Again the scene was chaos, sort of like bumper cars only with a purpose. Caught up in the excitement, I bought some herbed goat cheese just in case and a pound of edamame salad because you never know.

The storm behind all this furor is right now making its way up the eastern seaboard, aiming directly at my house. Yesterday it sounded bad but today it's worse: the forecasters have now upped the ante and are calling it CATASTROPHIC, adding that there will surely be hurricane-force winds and hundreds if not thousands of people without power along the coast, i.e. me and Mitch. One good thing about it all is that once it hits, neither my TV nor computer will work so I won't know how bad things really are and will instead be able to focus on Nature in all its glory. (Unless my roof caves in; then I'll know.)

As for now, it's hard not to tune in and hear the deliciously dire predictions about the STORM OF THE CENTURY, or at least one of the storms of one of the centuries. Because I'm betting that as soon as it arrives, things will quiet right down around here.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Forget the Bread and Milk, Get Your Last Rites!

Hey, there's a storm a-comin! And it's not just any storm, it's Winter Storm Juno! Dumping several feet of snow on the already beaten-down Northeast corridor, it promises to be of HISTORIC PROPORTIONS! Not only that, but it will also be LIFE-THREATENING!! And if it doesn't kill you, you're not out of the woods because its SEVERELY DAMAGING WINDS will be CRIPPLING and will PARALYZE an entire city!!!! So even if you survive, which is doubtful if you live in low-lying coastal areas that will definitely be flooded, you may still spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair, perhaps need a walker, or worse.

So say the ladies and gents over at The Weather Channel this morning, completely ruining a lovely and sunny Sunday. They must all snort cocaine before they go on-air, or at the very least down several triple espressos in quick succession. They are off the charts when it comes to instilling fear in the hearts and minds of ordinary citizens. No wonder so many people in America are on anti-anxiety meds.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Too Much of a Good Thing

Right now it is snowing, and promises to do so all day and into the night. This turn of events fills me with dread rather than glee. Glee regarding snow rarely surfaces anymore, which is sad since the weather has few rivals in terms of beauty and magic. Heat is a bastard, wind is a terror and rain is a total drag, but snow can be lovely under the right circumstances.

Back when I lived in Washington, D.C., even the hint of snow ushered in a joyous and raucous mood change among the general population, calling for steaming mugs of hot chocolate, or even better, Irish coffee with generous shots of Jameson's topped with slurps of whipped cream. In my 30 years there it was rare that we ever got a blizzard, but when we did it was ten times better than Christmas. If things were bad enough the government would shut down, always a nice touch. Like an impromptu trip to the moon, snow offered total fun for everyone despite the fact that you couldn't park anywhere for the next week. Every hill in every neighborhood was instantly swarming with children in bright snowsuits, sledding or tubing their way down amid the barking dogs and chaperoning parents.

Here in Maine where snow is commonplace, it's a yawn if not a major pain in the ass. Right away I flash on "no hot tub and the cats have to stay inside," two quite negative thoughts. In reality it's no big deal since the plow guys and salt spreaders show up quickly, making driving fairly easy. In fact nothing really stops for the snow, so it's business as usual except slower; it's the ice and freezing rain, both caused by our frigid temperatures, that keep you trapped inside for days. (I currently am in possession of 16 rolls of toilet paper.)

Looking out the window I can see that it's pretty, but that's what happens when you get too much of a good thing: It stops being a good thing, which is why I'm grateful Jackson Browne only plays here every few years. I'd hate to get tired of him.

Friday, January 23, 2015

"Old" Isn't "Dead"

One of my favorite people in the world will turn 95 this March. I have known her forever, since she was my mother's best friend when they were both just girls. Since my mother died at 62, Gloria became, in my mind, my "other mother."

Beautiful, of Italian descent with a dash of Sophia Loren, she is and always has been a wild woman. Still very active, she lives alone, drives herself to the gym and to her weekly Bingo and Mahjong games, shares her great sense of humor with everyone and has all her original marbles in place. She is a total hoot--think Betty White on steroids. Yet our society has essentially turned its back on old people, focusing instead on dumb nitwits like Miley Cyrus and her ilk as if they have one damn thing to teach us about life!

Recently I spoke on the phone with Gloria about my upcoming trip to Phoenix for her birthday celebration, and she told me about her recent fall off a high cement curb, breaking her wrist. She's fine now, but that got me started on a few of my own troubles, like high blood pressure, a concussion and last year's fractured ribs, causing me to hold on tight to the railing when I go up and down the stairs these days. "I am 68, after all," I said.

She laughed and said, "Oh, you're such a baby. When I was 68 I went bouncing around everywhere."

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Move Over, Billy Joel

                   Gordon Studer
When I woke up this morning I sensed something good waiting but couldn't recall what. It's not Christmas, and anyway I'm a Jew so even if it were Christmas it wouldn't impact me. It's not my birthday, and even if it were nothing would happen, unless my friend Debra were visiting. So what could it be? Schlepping downstairs, my usual mode of transportation until that first cup of coffee, I stumbled past my husband's piano tucked on a side wall in the dining room and then I remembered: I took a lesson yesterday and now I can play the damn thing!

As a kid I took weekly piano lessons for several years. All I remember is that when I struck the wrong key the teacher, a harsh woman with a bun perched on the very top of her head like a bird's nest, would slap my knuckles with a wooden ruler. Surprise: I stopped taking lessons and blocked the experience from my mind. Until yesterday morning I could not even plink out a bad version of "Chopsticks" under duress. But all that changed in 30 minutes when I went to see a piano teacher I found in a local newspaper ad.

I was skeptical that much could happen in such a short amount of time, especially since the requisite two golden retrievers every Mainer owns were on-site, demanding the usual "Oohing" and "Aahing" and basically eating up my minutes until they were assured I was not a threat. Still, we finally got started and kept at it and suddenly the next student arrived and I was stunned at how the time had flown by.

The teacher sent me home with a book and practice lessons and lo and behold, last night I was playing the piano. My repertoire is limited, of course (Frere Jacques, Good King Wenceslas, Jingle Bells), but until yesterday it was just another piece of furniture to dust (and listen to Mitch play). Now it's competition for my computer.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Me and My Mind

I'm currently reading a book about meditation, the best I've come across to date, and have so far learned that "I" am not my thoughts. My thoughts are just vibrations. They are nothing. They are like a waterfall in my head. This is actually quite a relief, because lately my thoughts have been terrifying and often keep me up at night. Naturally I am happy to hear they don't matter a whit and that there is a "me" totally independent of "them."

Meditation has always intrigued me. I envy people who do it easily and claim it helps them relax, since relaxing has been at the top of my To-Do list for the last 30 years. These days, just about the only thing that helps me relax comes in the form of a little white pill. That's fine, I suppose, until they take it off the market or find out it causes cancer in lab rats, so I'm all for finding an alternative natural solution.

The book is called "Turning the Mind Into an Ally," and who doesn't want that? Written by Sakyong Mipham, it promises to make my experience here a whole lot better. I'm only on page 66 but I already can tell that my mind is not an ally yet and I'd better get started, especially since, according to the book jacket, "the journey never ends."

No Lame Duck for Me

I would rather watch paint dry than witness Obama spewing more of his vapid, platitudinous jargon written by  unelected young men with no political experience of their own, so I ignored last night's prime time speech dedicated to whitewashing the "state of the union" and which was broadcast on no less than 20 channels, common in any self-respecting dictatorship, and instead found a rerun of "Everybody Loves Raymond" that made me laugh instead of cringe, which is my usual reaction to Obama's pathetic attempts at being presidential.

How anyone still likes him is a mystery to me. But then, so many things are. One in particular is the piano, so I am off to my first lesson in 50 years. At least that should be interesting.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Time to Go

Last night I dreamed that 
an angry lobster wearing duck boots
was chasing me, trying to hit me over the head 
with a giant Whoopie Pie. 
Or maybe it was a giant Whoopie Pie dressed in a lobster outfit
that hit me over the head with a duck boot, not sure.

Either way, I woke up and realized: it's time to move on.

Monday, January 19, 2015


Apparently nobody in Maine can stand me. This is problematic if I have any interest in spending time outside my home, which I do less and less. The problem is twofold, I am guessing. One is that I am Jewish, and Jews are not all that popular here, like blacks and anyone else who is not a 100% white, just off the Mayflower type. The second is that I am from New York and given to speaking my mind, speaking the truth, and saying what I mean, which is also frowned upon here.

The way you make it in Maine is you wear a lot of bulky sweaters in winter, get fatter every year, go gray, and eat a lot of lobster but call it "lobstah." In summer you go out on your boat and eat and drink. You never put your dogs, preferably two black labs or two Golden retrievers, on leashes and instead let them crap all over the neighborhood lawns and think that's just fine. And God forbid, never invite anyone into your home, or onto your boat, or anywhere near your personal life.

This morning I was told that my volunteer services are no longer welcome at Maine Medical Center, which is a huge hospital here. It seems that the feedback was not good concerning me. The volunteer coordinator would not go into specifics, just like the time they wouldn't hire me at L. L Bean. All they say is "everyone says you are a sweet lady, but they don't want you back."

This time I was allegedly inappropriate with several patients. I am trying hard to recall if I ever gave any male patients a blow job. I'm guessing no, especially since oral sex is against the law here. Several times I did ask patients if there were anything I could do to make them feel better, but I guess they took it the wrong way. So now I am not even "hired" for no pay in the state of Maine. I am wondering how much longer I will last in the state of Maine, or even on this planet.

Unreal Reality TV

Sometimes I consider what amount of money would be enough for me to have my life broadcast to a national audience on what is known as Reality TV, and I always come up with the same answer: No amount. In fact, if the producers of such a venture held a gun to my head and said, "Do it or we will shoot," I would simply arrange myself comfortably and say, "Shoot."

There is currently a show called "My 600-lb Life" that features hugely obese freaky people, their tiny faces perched atop acres of fat, who cannot even move and have to be hoisted up with cranes and have not left their homes in 20 years. There are the moronic, Botoxed, rich housewives with all the jewelry and makeup who plan parties and go shopping and gossip about one another. There are the horrible marriages where the wives swap places and go live with strangers for two weeks and yell at the new husbands and kids. There are the mentally ill hoarders and their sobbing families who live like deranged animals in houses crammed to the ceiling with garbage and Barbie dolls in their original, unopened packages. There are drug addicts and tubby dieters and country bumpkins letting us see into their trailer park trash double-wides where they eat squirrels for dinner.

I sense all these things as a channel-surf by, never stopping for more than a few seconds for fear I will see something that will keep me up at night. Still, I wonder at the very existence of these shows and the people behind them who think they are a good idea, and the advertisers who sponsor them, as if anyone would buy their products after all that.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

My Own War Zone

For me, and people like me on salt-restricted diets, going through any day is like tiptoeing through a minefield in a war zone. Salt is everywhere, in everything. It's basically unavoidable in all food in all restaurants, and if you didn't cook it yourself, you'll never know until you keel over.

It's like this: Right now I feel okay. I eat something. Oops, now I feel sort of bad. Oh, now I feel better. I eat something else. Uh oh, now I feel bad again.

That pretty much sums up what it's like to have labile hypertension. Your blood pressure goes up....way up. Then it goes down....way down. Sky high, then ten minutes later I almost pass out from lack of oxygen to the brain. So naturally I am always on the lookout for clues as to how to avoid the ups and the downs, not to mention the strokes and the heart attacks.

This morning I brushed my teeth and then immediately drank a glass of water. But for some reason, the water tasted especially salty. It was straight from the kitchen tap, and it's usually fine. I wondered if my toothpaste could contain salt! I use Sensodyne. So I checked it out. And guess what. It does. I use it twice  a day and have for years. I am not supposed to have even a grain of salt if I can help it.

I wonder what bad thing is in Crest, or Colgate. And all the other products we use daily, trustingly, never thinking they are harming us. But suppose they all have side effects like the ones we hear about on TV for all those drugs that are supposed to help us? Dizziness, shortness of breath, confusion, dry mouth, suicidal thoughts -- you know the ones.

Each of us is fighting a different battle. Be careful out there among the landmines.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

FILM REVIEW: "American Sniper"

Keeping in mind that war is hell, see this movie if you have a perverse hankering to witness just how bad that can be. This particular war takes place in modern-day Iraq, showing you in grim detail how your life can suck if only you would enlist in the military. There are guns, tanks, helicopters, grenades and lots of sand and men in goggles. Faces get shot off. Bodies drop in the dirt, spurting blood onto nearby buildings like those old Spin Art paintings from the 60s.

This is Bradley Cooper, maybe, or another guy.

As my husband so poetically put it, American Sniper is a dick flick. Anyone going for the purpose of seeing current #1 heartthrob Bradley Cooper might as well stay home since he is nowhere to be found. Instead we have his beefed-up doppelganger with a toned-down intellect and a Texas twang. As former real-life Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, in this based-on-a true-story story, he's quite good with a rifle. In fact, he's legendary. He's a legend in his own time, which is why he earned the nickname Legend, a fact we hear repeatedly in case we missed it the first few times.

Our hero also has a civilian life which he gets back to every three or nine months. His new wife (Sienna Miller) is pretty, patient and pregnant most of the time. In several scenes we see her chatting happily with Chris on her cell phone about trivial matters on the home front while he, in Iraq, has a kill in the crosshairs. Eventually we see her screaming into the phone as she hears the gunfire and puts two and two together. (Personally, I would have hung up immediately.)

The esteemed Clint Eastwood directed but I'm not sure he had a lot to do, since all the scenes looked pretty much the same: Soldiers wearing camouflage and gas masks riding in tanks, or a line of them hunched over and aiming rifles into crappy-looking shacks. There are no big thrills, memorable scenes or profound monologs. The enemy is anyone wearing a curtain on his head. Most of them get shot, usually by Chris since he is so darned good at it.

I guess the title says it all. What did you expect?

America Hits Rock Bottom

Maybe they promised James a new t-shirt.
I am not sure which is worse: Secretary of State John Kerry, arms folded, watching James Taylor sing "You've Got a Friend" to the French president or Reverend Al Sharpton screaming that he has to call an "emergency race meeting" about the absence of black nominees for this year's Oscars. Both instances make me even more embarrassed to be an American, a feeling that started six years ago with Michelle Obama saying she had never been prouder of her country. (Funny coincidence.)

Now I am wondering what's a race meeting, how they convinced Taylor to do it and where to move.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Wusses R Us

In case you need even more proof (besides the existence of reality TV) that the human race is devolving instead of evolving, with people in general more feeble and less capable today than in the past, take a look at this sign outside my local supermarket, where pregnant women and families with infants are considered to be handicapped and thus in need of special parking privileges.

Twenty-seven years ago I was a pregnant 40-year-old and I clearly recall being able to walk just fine. Once my child was born I was still able to walk, and even push a shopping cart with him in it.

And now this.

White Hollywood

This morning many liberals are foaming at the mouth directly into their already foamy Starbucks lattes over the fact that there were no "people of color" nominated for an Oscar --announced yesterday -- in the Best Actor, Actress or Director categories. 

OHMIGOD! The lack of diversity! The Oprah was snubbed! And what about Selma????!!!  Martin Luther King, snubbed!!!! How dare they??? What will happen? Riots? Sit-ins on the Red Carpet? Where is Joan Rivers when we need her most????

I assume nominations are based on the merits of the performances, so I'm guessing there just weren’t any real standouts in those categories by those people this time around. After all, besides the fact that the president of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences is a black woman, white people have been known to act and direct quite well, setting a high bar.

Meanwhile, nobody is complaining that 67% of all players in the NFL are black, or that in 2013, African-Americans comprised 76.3 % of all NBA players, while 81% were players "of color." I'd say we need a little more diversity in our complaints about no diversity.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Another Kind of Terrorism

Despite the potential peril to my psyche, which grows ever more sensitive daily, I always check my spam folder to see if something legitimate ended up in there. Today I found one missive from a person whose name I did not recognize, and with the subject line, "Bald patient is fucking his nude nurse." Naturally I did not click.

Still, it got me wondering why someone would send such a thing. Just how did they come up with it? Is a bald patient somehow more intriguing than one with hair, and thus guaranteed to garner more interest? And why is the nurse nude? If it had simply said, "Patient is fucking his nurse," would there be a lot less interest or just a little less? If I had clicked on that link, what good thing would have happened for the sender?

Even though I always ignore them, spammers intrigue me. How many are there, and what do they want from us?  Add them to the terrorists -- the Islamist kind and that other kind Obama cares about instead -- and it's a wonder we aren't all cowering in a corner most of the time. (I know I am.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

It's Winter Now, But Summer's Coming Back

Winter is fun since you can hide your rolls of fat under bulky sweaters, parkas, scarves, ski pants and those puffy coats. But it's only temporary, and now is the time to start your diet, for the day will come when your body will emerge from hibernation and we'll all see just what you've been doing. Losing weight is easy with just a few rules in place:

Eat only half of what is on your plate. Throw the rest down the garbage disposal, and if you think that's a shameful waste, then just consider how throwing it down your gullet feeds any more of those starving children.

Prepare foods that are healthy but not all that tasty and not even to your liking. For example, beets. And stop using salt in your cooking and meal preparations. In no time you will be much less interested in eating.

Get on the scale first thing every morning. Invest in a good one, preferably a doctor's scale rather than one that sits on the floor and changes your weight depending on which way the wind is blowing.

Stop eating in restaurants so often. According to author Trent Hamm, "The average American eats an average of 4.2 commercially prepared meals per week. In other words, as a nation, we eat out between four and five times a week, on average. This number equates to 18.2 meals in an average month eaten outside the home." And he's only talking about people on limited incomes; the affluent do it much more frequently.

If you find yourself in a restaurant, make sure it is not Chinese; you will definitely gain three pounds by morning. Besides that, here are some other tips to keep from turning into the Goodyear Blimp by Memorial Day:

1. Tell your server "NO BREAD!" long before it arrives. 
2. Only order foods you can pronounce.
3. Forget dessert; don't even ask what they have "just for fun."
4. Share an appetizer or skip it altogether.
5. Tell your server you are on a salt-free diet and you could die. The chef will be instructed to hold the salt, trust me.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Boo-fucking-hoo Already

Good thing Kleenex is biodegradable.....
Question: Do we all have to suffer everyone's suffering? It seems that more and more people choose to broadcast their personal tragedies online, often even making YouTube videos of their horror stories and then asking for money to help with a particular problem. Since I have access to enough sadness in my own life, and in the lives of those close to me, and those not even close but in my path, and also those not even in my path but on the sidelines, like when I do volunteer work at the hospital, I do not need more. Sadness is pretty much the only thing I am totally stocked up on. (That and belly fat.)

Some examples: Just now I went online and stumbled upon a video about a stillborn baby and his mother who died in childbirth and the father singing a Beatles song to his dying baby. Yesterday, while trying to keep my blood pressure under 200, I came upon the Facebook page of a friend of a friend whose 18-year-old daughter had died of cancer the day before, and suddenly I was sobbing my already-taxed heart out for a complete stranger and looking for my pills.

Thus in my current state of ill health it is imperative that I use the Internet solely for the reasons God intended: to play Words With Friends and Scrabble and post my blog. If anyone needs me, please call or email.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Kindling for Your Kindle

I remember a time when books were painstakingly written by diligent authors who demanded our intelligence. Not anymore. After a quick glance of the New York Times Book Review, I've concluded that current best-sellers don't even need an author anymore, just a famous name and in tiny print underneath, a ghost writer who can also take dictation.

Popular books today tell you how to live your own life or divulge in sickening detail how other people have screwed up theirs. No longer aiming for our brains, political pundits and rehabbed celebrities simply go for the gut. The good news is that there's a bottomless pit of unwritten books waiting for a motivated writer with a hashtag and and a few thousand Facebook friends. Hoping to strike it rich in 2015, here are a few of my ideas:

1. "Who's Had What Done?" You catch a glimpse of your favorite celebrity somewhere, likely in a TV commercial for hair color or insurance. You think something's different, but you're not sure what. It's hard to keep up. WHWD?  will answer those burning questions, like: Who's had more surgery, Cher or Chaz? How come Goldie Hawn still looks like that and she's exactly my age? Whatever happened to those bags under Hillary Clinton's eyes? Where is  Andie MacDowell's real face? Filled with tons of before and after pictures, it's the ultimate coffee table book on who's had what nipped, tucked, removed, burned off, cemented on, lifted, implanted or injected.

2. "Truly Revealing Underwear" Bikinis or briefs, boxers or French cut: What does it all mean? Can a woman who wears white cotton briefs find happiness with a man who wears silk boxers?  Are flannel long johns ever appropriate outside of New England? And just what kind of self-hating maniac wears footy pajamas? Taking a giant step beyond horoscopes, and way cheaper than joining, this handy guide will offer another route to finding compatibility with a mate.

3. "Recipes from Death Row" Inspired by my grandmother, who took thousands of her best recipes with her to the grave, this quirky cookbook will offer family favorites from folks about to be executed. (Just because someone is a psycho killer or serial murderer doesn't mean he or she can't cook.) Filled with lively anecdotes from fellow inmates, interviews with prison chefs and exciting last meal menus, it will give new meaning to the term "fried food."

4. "Gender for Dummies" Surely this has happened to you: You're dining out and your server comes to take your order. He/she sports a long ponytail and tasteful diamond stud earrings and wears slacks and a shirt, just like all the other employees. Searching for clues, you detect a hint of blush and perhaps a touch of eyeliner. He/she would be a perfect fix-up for your sister or brother, but you're not sure which. Also, should you say "miss" or "sir" to get his/her attention? Finally, foolproof ways to make the diagnosis (i. e., hairy knuckles, neck stubble) without embarrassment.

5. "Public Restroom Dos and Don'ts" Everyone knows that the giant, empty stall the size of a motel room in the far corner is provided for people in wheelchairs. We all respect that, and certainly we all applaud that. But what about when there's a long line, like at the theater, and nobody waiting is handicapped yet the Big One remains empty? While the special stall needs to be available, must it be immediately available? Do handicapped people have a more urgent need? Other topics covered include real vs. fake hand-washing, what to do when the automatic flush activates at an inopportune moment, impromptu toilet paper solutions and where to hang your purse.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Where's Bammy?

Sometimes an inferiority complex is justified. Today it is clear that America is low man on the totem pole of world leaders, all of whom have gathered in France at a huge, city-wide rally to show support against the horrors of Islamic radicalism and the murders at Charlie Hebdo earlier in the week.

They are all there, even the head of the Palestinians, walking virtually arm-in-arm with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet not one representative from our government managed to show up, even though Eric Holder -- almost a nobody but still in the Cabinet -- is in Paris anyway! One wonders how he spent the day. What with millions of marchers inundating every corner of that city, it's hard to believe there was even one croissant left anywhere.

As for Obama, check the golf course closest to the White House. After all, it is a Sunday.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Misunderstanding Muslims

The 47-year-old editor of Charlie Hebdo, slain in the name of Allah.
Turns out that having a cold isn't really that funny after all. It's Day 6 of mine and I still can't sleep lying down or breathe standing up. Just shoot me. Oops, not really, in case there are any Muslims reading this.

Sue me, I made a joke about Muslims, and we all would agree that's off-limits, not to mention simply not true. Everyone knows they are a peaceful, loving people, unless you commit adultery and then they will literally stone you to death and you would deserve it. Oh sorry, there I go again. Sure, sure -- most Muslims are pussycats who would certainly never condone the wanton killing of innocents, or so I've heard. It's just that after this week's debacle in Paris which left more than 17 dead and several more dying, I'm having a hard time seeing what's good about their religion. I wish someone who fully understands it would explain it to everyone else. Maybe Obama will in his upcoming State of the Union address; he seems to be all over it.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Uptight and Out of Touch

Despite my kosher upbringing, with the Friday night temple services and the Passover matzohs and the eight nights of Hanukkah candles and the schmaltz and stuffed kishka, my first marriage was to a non-Jew. His parents, who I loved dearly like my own, were textbook WASPs. They accepted me readily despite our opposing religious beliefs as we shared more important things, like a wry sense of humor and a love of Scrabble. Still, we differed in key ways, most notably my need to hug and their need not to.

Hugging is in my DNA. I'm pretty sure it started at birth and never stopped. Growing up I was hugged for this, that and the other by my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors and friends of the family. I always liked it and considered it a good thing, so naturally I continued the behavior with my new husband's family.

I never let up, hugging them on every arrival and departure. I hugged them on holidays, or when gifts were given or received, and for no damn reason at all. And my parents hugged them too, whenever they saw them and regardless of the occasion. After years of them politely tolerating this, I noticed that both my in-laws were timidly beginning to initiate the hugs. And one Christmas morning, my mother-in-law hugged me especially hard and whispered, "Before you came along we never hugged. Thank you for teaching us how."

That was back in 1973, literally the good old days. Today my grown son (27) considers my desire to hug him to be "a power play." He will neither give nor receive a hug, and after years of his stodgy rejection I no longer try. Our arrivals and departures are dry occasions marked by nothing at all, and with at least six feet between us. This behavior is apparently common among his generation, which may explain why the growing unmet need for bodily contact has spawned an entire cottage industry of huggers for hire. According to today's Wall Street Journal, clients are paying "$80 an hour, or up to $400 for an overnight gig" with what are being called professional snugglers. They spoon, they tickle, they cuddle. It's strictly therapeutic, not sexual, with no hanky-panky whatsoever. According to one 35-year-old satisfied female customer, "I felt transformed."

The newspaper article explains, "Touch may lower heart rates and reduce stress, according to academic research."  All I can say is, "Duh."

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Netflix Trumps Jesus

            Gordon Studer                    
Most people agree that the invention of the wheel was a pretty big deal. But really, think about it: With no wheels we would have no traffic, and wouldn't that be a plus? And certainly no 18-wheelers, a situation that would elicit applause from everyone, especially comedian Tracy Morgan who was severely injured by one of the horrid behemoths last year. No, just forget the wheel. Instead, it's pretty obvious that the #1 invention of all time has got to be Netflix, something I never realized  until this week.

Despite having had access to Netflix for over a year, I never learned how to work it. It was only on those rare occasions when my husband was home and we decided to watch a movie that the subject ever came up, and that was only after the local Blockbuster closed. But this week, stuck at home sick, I have plumbed the depths of Netflix and now my heart literally aches for those who must live without it.

Today, without even getting off the couch, I started a Woody Allen movie that was a dog. It was called "Scoop" and you probably never heard of it and I have already said more words than it warrants, anyway I got rid of it with a flick of my thumb and went back to Search. There at my fingertips were thousands of movies and TV shows, including every episode, by name, of the original "Twilight Zone" series. It's truly a miracle. I now believe in Netflix more than Jesus because I have never seen Jesus but I have seen Netflix and it is spectacular, better even than Extra-strength Tylenol, which is another great invention superior to the wheel, although it is round. (Use with caution as when taken for prolonged periods it may cause delusional thinking.)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


Along with snow, sleet, black ice, freezing rain and power outages, winter brings with it many charms, not the least of which is the common cold. Despite its bad reputation, and depending on the severity of symptoms, catching a cold can be as good as a Florida vacation. Better, in fact, since you're guaranteed to lose a few pounds instead of gaining five, there are absolutely no bugs and you won't have to apply sunscreen. Best of all, you can have a bad time and say so without disappointing anyone, including yourself.

My current cold started three days ago with a subtle sore throat. It was annoying but nothing I couldn't handle, allowing me to still perform all my regular chores and not only show up for meals but cook them. By the next morning things had gone downhill --or uphill -- and I was beginning to sneeze occasionally. As my husband prepared to leave for a short business trip, I assured him that I was fine. I went to the bank, the grocery store and the post office, engaging in meaningless small talk at all stops. My cats still received their usual first-class treatment, with me opening and closing all doors when summoned, scooping litter and conducting numerous treat sessions.

That night I felt bad enough to take some NyQuil which rendered me dead to the world until it wore off at 3:30 in the morning. Fortunately I was unable to get back to sleep and so was able to watch back-to-back infomercials for Suzanne Somer's age-reversing potions and the Total Gym exercise system guaranteed to get me into "the best shape of my life." (I am excited to start looking younger as soon as I can stand up again.)

Yesterday I finally hit pay dirt: I was way too sick to keep my pre-op appointment for next week's scheduled cataract surgery! In fact, the nurse I spoke with said we'd have to cancel the surgery too since "the cold going around these days lasts three or four weeks." I promised to reschedule when I'm feeling better or when Hell freezes over, whichever comes first.

With my calendar cleared I was free to cough and sneeze -- a great way to tone your abs when done correctly -- and watch movies all day. I opted for a Tom Hanks festival, starting with Cast Away which made me feel a lot better -- at least I wasn't stranded on a desert island or Helen Hunt wondering where her career went. Then I watched Philadelphia, blubbering through most of it from a combination of my worsening symptoms and the horror of AIDS.

This morning I'm still sick but two pounds lighter.  It's 7 degrees outside and I don't have to go anywhere. My husband returned last night which is nice, especially since he stopped on his way home to pick up some ice cream for me. That was so thoughtful. Still, this morning I suggested he make dinner plans for himself this evening since there's no food in the house and I won't be cooking, although I might make some popcorn for my afternoon movie.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Another Day!

Sure you’re crazy, I tell myself, but who isn’t? I mean, consider the terms: You’re born, you’re the center of attention, everyone makes a big fuss, takes care of your every need. You eat, sleep, grow, and get excited about things, like the snow and the circus and Christmas coming up. Life is great. In fact, you struggle against sleep each night because it’s so much fun just being awake. Then one day -- one minute -- you don’t know (although I can’t remember not knowing, there must have been a time) and the next minute you do: Everything ends! The whole shebang! And not just for you, but for everyone you know. The mailman, your parents, the crazy lady down the street, everyone in the supermarket, even famous people: Everyone dies! 

So you say, "Okay, I can handle it, just tell me when." And they say, "The funny thing is, nobody knows, it could be any day now. Of course, some people have been known to last a hundred years or more." You go on but it’s not the same, and life becomes the daily sweepstakes. Gee, I wonder who died today? Hey, here’s a list in the newspaper, these people think of everything. There’s even something called "life insurance" for after you go, except then it’s too late to do you any good. It’s enough to make anyone crazy.

So they started having doctors for this sort of thing, this Awareness of Truth Syndrome that could cut you down in your prime. Psychiatrists, psychologists, witch doctors, priests, call them what you will, it all boils down to the same thing: Here’s my life, doc, what should I do with it? And what if I die before I do anything at all? 

But the doc doesn’t know the answers any more than you do. He’s got the same terms, since there is no other plan available. There is only Plan A: Birth, Life, and Death, details varied and unspecified. So really, the shrinks just act like they know. But what a performance -- some people even pay to see it. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

The End of the Line

I am always striving to write a meaningful post. Something that has a kernel of truth, yet is funny, comforting and  memorable. Of course I have never achieved this goal, and wonder if anyone ever has. Famous quotes abound, but few of them mean a damn thing. For example, in 1933 FDR uttered his famous, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," in his first inaugural address. Boy, did he turn out to be wrong, particularly if you were a Jew. Basically it's an outright lie, which you know if you have ever had oral surgery, but it sure made people feel good at the time, and so it caught on.

People love those feel-good platitudes, especially when they remove all personal responsibility and turn us into hapless boobs buffeted by the winds of chance. "It is what it is" has become so popular that psychologists and psychiatrists use it when they come up empty with why you have this or that problem. You can't do anything about it when it is what it is, because that's what it is, ya know?

The real problem is that my most meaningful observations are hardly upbeat, having to do with the hard truths of life. So I try to write something funny, but I'm all out of funny.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Nuts for the Winter

"Black Walnut on Bedspread"
My husband and I share a vacation home with friends. A five-hour drive from our primary residence in Maine, we go there less in winter as it is often buried under feet of snow, being in New York's Hudson Valley. Still exceptions are made, and we arrived here a few days ago to ring in the new year, discovering that during our last absence a new tenant had moved in. We assume him to be a squirrel.

The new guy runs around in the walls and ceiling when he thinks we're asleep. He's actually quite noisy, giving himself away each time. But the real way we know he's here is his habit of storing food for the winter in random hideouts around the house. Thus far I have come upon no less than nine whole black walnuts in odd places, the oddest being under the covers at the foot of our bed.

This morning I found one hidden between two pillows on one of the guest beds. Yesterday there were two nestled between the couch cushions and another behind the toilet in the downstairs bath. Each time I've come across one I have seized it as evidence, shown it to whoever is around, and then hurled it out across the front lawn. But then, following a night of snow and freezing rain, when I found one this morning I hesitated, thinking of the poor squirrel going back to each hiding place and finding it empty. How would that feel, I wondered. Would he doubt his sanity, thinking he had left it somewhere else? That he's in the wrong house after all? And too, what will he eat when the big snows come, as surely they will?

Against the advice of my housemates, I left the one I found today undisturbed. After all, we're leaving in a hour and there is all that snow on the ground. What does it hurt?

Friday, January 2, 2015

First in a Series: Extraordinary Ordinary People

That's Keith, speaking his mind at a political rally.
I have been writing this blog since 2007. Since none of my friends or family members do the same, sometimes I read my old posts when I want a laugh or just feel like taking a stroll down memory lane. This morning I chanced upon one from March of 2011 about the mercurial nature of the news. The best thing about it came in the form of a comment from my husband's nephew, Keith Rouda, a giant of a man in many ways, not the least of which is his writing ability. Here's his description of the state of the media today, and we would all agree it has only gotten worse since then:

"We live a life of the 24-hour cable cycle: the fast paced, premium ad rates, breaking news flash, "HOLY SHIT THERE'S A CAR CHASE IN BFE HAPPENING RIGHT THE HELL NOW," controversy sells, Wolfe Blitzerized, hyper-fragmented, dis-intermediated and re-intermediated, mass-customized, news is a profit center now, post-apocalyptic (not really but it seems like it should be in this sentence), convergence happened, 140-character mobile alerted, pull your goddamn car over so I can fire you in time for the lede..."

Few people could say it better. A political animal with a profound understanding of what's going on in that arena, Keith has honed his skills over many years, working on campaigns at the grass-roots level and higher. I wish he would either write a blog or run for president.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Power of Art

Last night when I got into bed I read a short story by a great writer named Russell Banks. He has won many awards, written many best-sellers, and looks like a decent sort in his book jacket photo. His fiction is incredibly real, and usually a tad on the dark side, but his lyrical way with words makes the accompanying sadness worth it. At least until this particular strange tale called "Blue." It's about a perfectly ordinary and endearing 47-year-old lady -- she happens to be African-American just because, and on the poor side -- who goes to buy her first car after having saved up for one for three years.

Most of the story is about how she inadvertently gets locked inside the used car lot after hours, and is then chased by the savage pit bull guard dog, reaching safety only by climbing on top of an SUV. After many hours, late into the night, when she mistakenly thinks the dog is asleep, she attempts an escape and, the author makes quite clear, is killed by the dog. For no good reason. Now why would anyone write such a story? And how was I supposed to fall sleep after reading that? (Good thing there are so many sleep aids on the market.)

Just an hour before "Blue" bummed me out, I watched a movie on Netflix that was funny and fabulous despite being about death and murder. Bernie came out two years ago but somehow I missed it, and if you did too, then find it somewhere ASAP. Directed by Richard Linklater and starring the always great (and oddly underrated) Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine in one of her best roles ever, and Matthew McConaughey as the ultimate Texan, it's a docu-dramedy based on a true story that will lift your spirits and have you fall asleep smiling.