“In Search of Love”

It has been said that sharing your life with a partner magnifies the highs and lows, and I really believe that’s true.  After my husband Sid’s passing, I spent a lot of time reflecting and mourning the loss of this extraordinary man, and I now realize that I’m ready for a new relationship in my life.  I’m sure that the last thing Sid would want is for me to be by myself, and I miss that feeling of sharing and togetherness.  Having had two bad marriages and finally a wonderful one, at this point I know a thing or two about relationships.

Keeping those lessons in mind, I’m now looking for a man who’s not afraid of commitment.  I want to feel secure that my partner has my best interest at heart even when we’re not together, and I want to feel the same way about  him.  I know that a relationship like this doesn’t happen overnight, of course.

Over the years, I’ve come to see the importance of having some specific qualities in mind when I’m looking for a relationship.  I’ve tried it the other way — getting into a relationship without much thought — and I’ve suffered the consequences.  I know there are plenty of men out there who are just looking for a good time, a physical relationship with no strings attached, and that’s fine — but that’s not what I’m looking for this time around.  I’m looking for someone who can make me smile, who appreciates my interests, my dog Monty and my children.  They’re grown now, with lives of their own, but this is still important to me. I’d love to be swept off my feet by a handsome man who appreciates me, and who appreciates life.  Life is too short, and fun and happiness are important.  I’m also keeping in mind what I don’t want.  I don’t want a man who doesn’t like my friends, because they’re so precious to me and I can’t imagine a life that doesn’t include them.  I also don’t want someone who wants to change me.  I like who I am, at long last, and I’m not interested in making any changes.

Love biking along the West Side

Love biking along the West Side

I’m also ready to have fun — and that doesn’t mean in big, spectacular and expensive ways, but in comfortable, day-to-day ways.  I like going to the grocery store together and planning a meal, simply enjoying one another’s company.  Also, with so much stress in our lives these days, I’m looking for a partner who can turn off his thoughts about work and simply focus on the joy of being together.  Having overcome so many challenges over the past few decades, I want to be with someone who is truly “present” for me, someone who appreciates life and wants to embrace it as much as I do.  I want a man who is comfortable in his own skin and truly able to connect, to let down his “Berlin wall” when it comes to his emotions.  A man like that is able to express and experience love, and understands the importance of commitment. Also, I love music and I love to dance, and I want a partner who shares those pleasures too.

I hate to say it, but the list of qualities I’m looking for has become rather long.  I want to share my life with a good listener, who’s kind, and takes care of himself.  I’m looking for a man who is cultured and polite, and — most importantly — who appreciates me for who I am and who loves me as much as Sid did.  If I can find someone who loves me that much, it would be like winning the lottery.  Imagine that!  Some friends have told me that I’m limiting myself by being so particular, and that my long list reminds them of that joke about “the department store where women shop for a man.”  The punch line to that joke, of course, is that by “moving from floor to floor,” and being more and more particular about the qualities the ideal man must have, you ultimately reach a floor that’s empty — because there’s no “perfect” man out there.  I believe the man who’s perfect for me is out there, however, and I’ve decided not to settle for less.

This may sound odd coming from a blogger, but I love old-fashioned courtship.  Back in high school, a boy would approach a girl to ask for a date — never the other way around.  As much as I enjoy social networking here on the Internet, I’m not really interested in an “e-courtship.”  I like getting together in person.  Although the way that men and women interact has changed so much over the years — mostly for the better — I think that most men still prefer to be the one asking for a date, and that’s comfortable for me too.

At this point, you may be thinking that I really have my act together, but I must confess that the “dating scene” scares me a bit.  My friends are often telling me how hard it is to find someone they really care about.  They’ve also told me to lower my expectations because a man isn’t going to want a woman who brings “baggage” to the relationship.  My belief, however, is that if you’ve reached this point in life and you don’t have any baggage — previous marriages or relationships, children, and so on — then you haven’t lived much of a life.  A first date is not the right time to talk about my past, of course, and I certainly don’t plan on doing that.  Besides, I’m looking for fun and the joy that comes with getting to know a new friend for the first time.  If we hit it off, and we start spending more time together, there will be plenty of time to talk about all that later.  I don’t want to compare notes on our past relationships, at least not on the first date.  I want to take things slowly, so the relationship has a chance to develop naturally.  Helen Gurley Brown, the editor of Cosmo, had a great rule about not rushing into anything.  She said, “no sex before the third date,” and I agree.  As for the baggage, I think you should leave it alone until the fifth date.  If you make it to the fifth date, and you’ve found someone you still want to continue seeing, then I think you can start talking about your past in more detail.  For the time being, all of my baggage is in storage.

If you see the man I’m looking for out there, please let me know.  I’m not anxiously and desperately looking for him, however — and after all these years, I’ve decided not to change who I am in order to accommodate a relationship that’s not quite right.  As much as I’m looking for a new relationship, I’m not willing to make any changes.  In some sense, I think of myself as “starting from zero,” and it’s an exciting feeling!

frog in hand –

I know that there are a lot of women out there looking for a man, and I realize that I’m not the young, sexy girl I once was.  Still, I’m proud of all that I have to offer — including the wisdom I’ve gained from countless challenges, and a determination to make each and every day something special.  I also know that if I don’t find that man I’m looking for, I’ll be okay.  For me to share my life, I need a partner who is just as enthusiastic about engaging with life as I am.  Otherwise, what’s the point?  At this point, finding love would be a bonus, like the icing on the cake.  I’ve finally come to a point my life where I appreciate myself, and I’m enjoying the experiences and people who come into my life every day.  One day, perhaps one of those people will be the man of my dreams!


“The Power of a Moment: Part II”

Family at the Amsterdam Airport

My family at the Amsterdam airport (just arrived to spend the summer)

I was hesitant to go back to Holland.  It had been 45 years since I left.  Nobody I knew was there anymore and I thought it just wouldn’t be the same.  But when I arrived, I was surprised to find that the doors opened up for me.  When I mentioned who I was, people said, “Oh!  Your grandfather danced at my wedding!”  Others I met said, “I remember when your father got married!”  All of a sudden, I remember saying to myself, “Oh my God, I’m home.”  It was thrilling. The community actually threw a little party for me and I’d never felt more welcome anywhere.  In that one moment, my whole life changed.

Celebrating with Liejse (my cousin) and friends

We all have good moments and bad.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that out of the bad comes the good.  I’ve struggled through many hardships in my life, and with each one, I can tell you that when I took the leap to move past whatever was holding me back, it changed me.  It made me feel better and stronger.  It made me grow.

It’s so essential to keep ourselves open to every experience.  You never know where someone is going to lead you, but if you’re open and ready to allow the world to embrace you – ready to drop your expectations and follow where life takes you – you’d be amazed at where you might end up.

And yes, there will always be disappointments, but we must steel ourselves for those difficult moments and be ready to move on.  Your blind date may end up being your best friend or he may end up being a jerk.  Either way, the important part is that you tried.  You were open.  And if it doesn’t work out, you just need to cut your losses and move forward.

Sometimes we make good moments just by being ready for them.  I remember the day I walked into Freedom Academy as a guest speaker. It was chaotic.  The kids were all over the place, yelling and fighting, and the teachers were frazzled.  It was clear that no one was going to listen to the presentation I had prepared.  This could have been a huge disappointment; I could have run screaming from that auditorium.  But instead, I stopped and looked around me, and I realized that these were amazing kids.  They were intelligent and bright and they didn’t want to waste their time listening to someone who didn’t care what they had to say.  So I changed my plan, started asking them questions instead.  And when they opened up to me, I realized I had an opportunity to make a difference in their lives, to help them succeed.  Now there’s a moment.

The bottom line is that if you’re not open to change, it’s not going to happen.  You’ve got to know what you want and you’ve got to ask for it.  You’ve got to be prepared to take action when an opportunity presents itself, and you can’t be surprised if getting what you asked for takes a little longer than you anticipated.  I made the decision in 2005 that I wanted to become a writer. It’s 2012. It took me a little longer to become what I wanted than I had thought it would, but I did eventually reach my goal.  The path I took was a little more roundabout than I had expected, and if I wasn’t open to the possibilities, I would never have made it.  You can’t just wake up one morning and twitch your nose and all of a sudden have everything you want.  It doesn’t work like that.  Just as you can’t drive to across the country without a roadmap, I needed to put in the time and to set goals and to work towards them.

At Freedom Academy, I gave my 11th grade students each a folder and told them it’s their college prep folder.  This folder says to the world, “I am getting ready for college.”  It says, “I am getting ready to graduate. I am on track and I am working towards a goal.”  I told them that they can dream – that they can be anyone they want – but they’re not going to be anyone until they step up and own those dreams.

We each need to design who we want to be.  Just like I told my 11th graders, you can be anybody you want to be, but that dream has to come from your heart.  Write your list of what you dream of and every time you achieve one of those dreams, check it off the list.  Those are the moments you control.  Those are the moments you need to focus on.  Those are the moments you need to embrace.  Don’t stop yourself from going for what you want and being open to change.  Moments, encounters, relationships that you thought would be disappointing could turn out to be the best experiences you’ve ever had.  Those moments are precious.  They make you happy and make you proud and they evoke the most positive energies that you can possibly have.

beautiful summer day in Holland

My favorite moments are the ones where I sit back and smile and say, “I did it.”  Many years ago, I didn’t know what was going to happen to me.  I had two kids, fifty bucks to my name, a dog, and a tractor I didn’t know how to drive.  Today, I know how to drive that tractor.  I know how to earn money.  My children are grown up and their success amazes me.  I’m living my life the way I want to, but only because I was willing to take the steps and see the moments and see the joy.  There’s been a lot of adversity in my life, and I much prefer the successes and the joys.  But because of the lessons I’ve learned from those adversities, I’ve made it to where I am: finally enjoying the good moments.


“The Power of a Moment: Part I”

Maui Hotel view

Sunrise

I woke up in Maui to sunshine and a warm sea breeze.  As I luxuriated in my plush hotel bed, my husband was taking our children for a walk.  Though everything was as it should be, the only feeling I remember having at that moment is guilt. Yes, my life was perfect, but I wasn’t happy.  Yes, I loved my children madly, I loved my husband, and I was in the middle of a dream vacation, but I wasn’t fulfilled.  Something was wrong and I didn’t want to admit it to myself, so instead of recognizing that moment of premonition for what it was, I wallowed in my guilt — feeling that I was not properly grateful for all that I had been given.

Pool Side

Pool side Maui

Sometimes we just know that something is wrong.  In a single moment, we look at our lives and realize that something is off. But we don’t know what to do, so we push this feeling away, shove it down underneath our routines and our obligations and all the things we think we’re supposed to be doing and feeling. And we let that feeling or intuition stay there… at least until it forces its way out.

Six months later, my husband walked in and told me that he was leaving me.  That was the moment my life turned upside-down. Though abrupt development turned out to be the right thing for our family, the way it all came about was traumatic for me. And I know today that if I had listened to my gut back in Maui and taken action, much of that trauma could have been avoided.

The people I admire most are the ones who can look at themselves honestly and admit when they’re not happy.  Instead of bottling it up or feeling guilty about it, they say to themselves, “There’s a reason I’m not happy and I need to find out what it is and do something about it.”  These people are always great communicators.  They talk to their spouses and their children and friends, and they communicate that they’re not doing well.  In this way, they are able to work through their unhappiness and forge change in their lives in ways that are healthy and productive.  Unfortunately, for most of my life, I wasn’t one of those people.

Instead, I was one of the people who gets hit with a trauma and just wants to stay in bed. After my husband left, enjoying my life was hard, if not impossible.  I struggled to hold things together, to take care of my children and pay my rent, and I was sinking under the weight of it all.  And then one day I had another moment.  I reached the point where I had to decide whether I was going to make it or whether I was going to give up.  I realized that I liked who I was and I loved my children, and I didn’t like the way my life had been going. And more importantly, I realized that I didn’t have to continue letting this event ruin my life.  I decided that I would not spend another minute being a victim of my own inaction.

I know for a fact that there are a lot of other people out there today dealing with the same feelings that I dealt with.  Most of us put those feelings in a box and bury it deep inside.  The essential truth, however — a lesson that I had to learn the hard way — was that in time, that box has to open, and the longer you wait, the more self-damage you’re going to do.  I know that we’ve been taught that we’re supposed to think and feel and behave a certain way, but sometimes we just can’t do that anymore.  And it doesn’t get us anywhere to deny that.  If we continue to do the same things day after day, it’s not fair for us to expect different results.  Instead, all we get in return for our perseverance is anger and bitterness and loneliness.  Those negative energies have an effect on us – mentally, physically, and emotionally.  Those negative energies literally make us sick.  But the power to heal ourselves is in our hands.

Iao Needle

Iao Needle Iao Valley National Park

When my children’s father told me it was over, I felt as if I was being thrown off a tall waterfall with jagged rocks at the bottom.  And when I survived that fall, I felt like a fish out of water, flopping everywhere and gasping for air.  I was an emotional wreck and became someone I didn’t even know.   I was all by myself, I didn’t know what to do, and I needed release.  So I talked and talked to anyone who would listen, sometimes even to a wall.  This felt good at first, but later I was mortified at what I’d done.  Instead of sharing what I was going through with the right people, I shared it with anyone, and it was embarrassing having these people know the intimate details of my life.  In retrospect, the entire situation could have been avoided if I had only listened to what my heart was saying that morning in Maui.

Life is not a light switch.  Learning to listen to yourself and make a change in your life is not an overnight process, and you have to be prepared to really work at it.  It’s not easy to teach yourself that there is nothing wrong with you, and that there’s nothing you should feel guilty about.  When you have a moment of clarity, the important thing is to communicate to the right people.  I knew when I was lying in bed in Hawaii that my life was wrong.  That realization wasn’t a mistake.  The mistake was not discussing these feelings with my husband and working through it together, even if that meant divorce.  Instead, I hid my feelings, and when my husband blindsided me, I was plunged into insanity.

If I could do it over again, I would have controlled the insanity.  I would have communicated my feelings right away. I would have done what I now call “getting naked” — load my iPod with happy songs and go for a walk, read a self-help book, and talk to my girlfriends about anything besides my trauma.  This for me is the recipe for recovery.  My walks give me time to be introspective and work through my feelings. My books give me support and advice.  And my friends are there to keep me grounded.  Talking with my friends gives me the chance to take a break from life’s challenges, and just be silly for a few minutes.  It’s a great way to remind myself that life is not always hard.  And if all that wasn’t enough, I would have had no trouble turning to a therapist who would listen to me without judgment.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from the challenging moments in my life, it’s don’t settle.  If you settle for what you have and don’t go for what makes you happy, it will eat away at who you are and change you into someone you don’t recognize anymore.  I know because it happened to me.  None of us can escape the trauma that’s a natural part of life.  Marriages end, loved ones die, and jobs move on without us. Sometimes our moments are more subtle, just a feeling we get when things are supposed to be perfect but we know they’re not.  Either way, the key to minimizing the pain and being aware of life’s great lessons is through communication and trusting in ourselves.  We don’t want our sons and daughters to make the same mistakes, so we need to set the example by sharing our feelings and working through them together. When we start making the right decisions for ourselves, it’s not just a moment anymore, but a gift – a gift of investing in who we really are and in our own happiness.  And that’s a gift that you can only give yourself.


“New People in the New Year”

I’m fortunate to have a long list of hopes and dreams and things I’m looking forward to in the New Year.  I’m eager for the kids at Freedom Academy to start their internship program, and I’m looking forward to watching them develop and grow.  I’m excited to continue my blog and to have readers who like my work, and I look forward to seeing my work in magazines and publishing my book. I’m dedicated to taking care of myself in every way – eating right, exercising, keeping my mind stimulated, and finding the balance between working hard and playing harder.  Most importantly – and most challenging for me – I’m putting myself out there like never before in hopes of bringing new and wonderful people into my life.  I spent much of my past hiding scared, but in 2012 I’m ready to confidently become a part of the world.  And it’s exciting.

Fireworks!

I started 2012 with fireworks and friends. Having never hosted a New Year’s Eve party before, I decided to kick off the year by inviting neighbors, loved ones, and acquaintances old and new to share sweets at my apartment and celebrate as the ball dropped.  My number one goal this year is to start socializing and meeting new people and dating again, so what better way to begin than by inviting everyone I know to a New Year’s bash?  This is my opportunity to shine, and I’m hopeful that I’ll find fun and romance along the way.

To even think of myself dating is a scary thought.  My life right now isn’t complicated, and dating is going to add a whole new wrinkle.  I love people, of course, but I still find that meeting new people is a bit out of my comfort zone.  It makes me feel vulnerable and anxious that I might be hurt again.  Like most people, the last thing I want is to feel rejected.  But that risk of rejection is also why dating is a rush.  Yes, there will be negative experiences, but I am ready to take them on, because otherwise I’d have to shut myself out and miss all the good that comes along with the bad. Feeling joy is an essential part of life, but we wouldn’t appreciate joy if we never felt any pain.

So I’m putting myself out there in 2012.  I’m bracing myself for the worst, but I’m really hoping for the best.  How wonderful it would be to have someone nice in my life, someone to share life’s joys and sorrows with.  At the same time, I’ll never allow myself to settle.  Instead, I will be resilient and remember what means the most to me: being free to be who I am and surrounding myself with people who respect me for it.  I’m going to give myself a chance to make this dream a reality, by going out and meeting people and creating opportunities for the right people to wander into my life, whether it’s two people or ten or twenty. Maybe I’ll fall in love with one of these people, or maybe we’ll just have coffee and watch a football game. Either way, I will know I made the effort to connect.

Creating a new life is not easy, of course.  The most difficult part is getting to know yourself and learning what makes you happy.  This is also the best part.  When we believe in ourselves and make the changes in our lives that we know we need to make, we make ourselves happy, and we make everyone around us happy too. When I feel good about myself and my life is balanced, the people I love feel that calmness too.  It brings calm to their lives because they know that I’m okay, and as long as I’m okay, they’re okay too.  And that’s a very special place to be.

Yes, meeting new people can be scary and uncomfortable, and I’d much rather sit at home with my dog, but I’m starting this New Year off by taking that first step towards putting myself out there.  My plan is to take it one baby step at a time.  Hopefully by March, I’ll have an even wider circle of friends and all kinds of new activities to enjoy, and an even better beginning of my new life. I’m going to stand tall and open myself up to the possibility of being liked, of being a new friend, and also of being a better friend.  I’m opening the door to happiness and success.  Yes, in this New Year, I’m going to do things a bit differently.


“Turning Off the Boxes”

In the coming year, I’m resolving to turn off my “boxes” – computer, TV, cell phone – a little more often.  Instead, I’m going to use that time to focus on connecting with a real, live person, whether that person is myself or someone else.  IMAG0393[2]

I confess that I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with computers.  Back in college, I remember taking a computer-based math course, and after only a few weeks of the course, I remember wishing for a tutor to save me from being completely overwhelmed.  I protested the existence of computers altogether because I thought they would destroy our creativity and social skills.  A few decades later, having seen how computers have been instrumental in enabling me to become a writer and to be successful in business, I have to admit that I owe a lot to the “boxes” I’ve worked with over the years.  But I can’t say that my initial reaction was entirely off the mark, either.

Computers do help us become more creative – and to tap that creativity in new and different and magnificent ways – but sometimes we forget that ideas start with a human being.  After all, what good is an Excel spreadsheet filled with numbers if you don’t know what those numbers mean?  And if we’re being honest, surely all of us must admit that we’ve taken to talking less since the advent of the cell phone.  Yes, we text, we email, we speak over the phone, but how often do we seek each other out for face-to-face connection like we did before these “boxes” became such a big part of our lives?

The problem with all of this digital “talk” is that there’s no real depth. I’ve noticed that on all these online dating sites, when I talk to people and they ask how my day was, if I go beyond, “Good,” they lose interest.  I worry that technology has made us lazy, and this laziness has carried over into the realm of our social communication.  We’re all become accustomed to instant gratification and speed and anything that will make our lives easier.  As a result, we’re not willing to put in the time to really listen and connect. Is a “smiley” emoticon really an acceptable substitute for a smile?

For me, it’s an essential truth that nothing takes away from the real.  Touching, feeling, being a part of three dimensions – there’s nothing like it.  Our boxes certainly make us more productive, but they’re also isolating us from each other. When you’re sad and having a bad day, it’s hard to curl up in bed with some great e-mails from your friends. Sometimes you just need real intimacy, and for that you need a person.

For that reason, a little while ago, I started turning off my boxes.  On one occasion I turned off the television for a day.  Then I turned off my computer for a day. It’s interesting what happens when you turn these things off and you have to amuse yourself instead.  You get creative.  You read a book or cook a new meal or simply spend some time outside.  You seek out other people, whether that’s calling your mom or meeting up with an old friend for lunch.  I found that when I turned off my boxes, that time became a gift.

I want to encourage everyone to give themselves this same little gift.  Every day, even if just for an hour, turn off your boxes. Just like a diet, it may be hard to stick to at first, but if you make it “a must,” I promise that eventually you’ll start really enjoying it.  You’ll become more selective about how you spend your time, and as a result you’ll use it more productively and focus more on the things that truly make you happy.  It’s very empowering to realize that you know what to do with yourself if and when the boxes go away.

We all need to devote a little time to ourselves, to doing something different and growing and discovering.  And when we do this, we find that we’re more open to other people as well.  We realize that we’ve been missing out on a lot of information, and all of a sudden we remember how to communicate, and how to let others in.

This year, let’s all stop hiding behind our little square boxes, whether it’s the computer or the television or something else.  Instead, let’s rebuild the foundations of our lives by seeking out more human contact, by getting emotionally involved and being open to deeper communication. There’s no substitute for a real experience, and no connection that can’t be enhanced by taking out the electronic middleman.  Let’s turn off the boxes and make better use of our time, together.


“Minute By Minute”

I painted my kitchen. It’s still gray, but it’s a different shade of gray.  It may not have been a huge change, but it took me a long time to work up to this.  My house needs repainting, but to paint the rest of the house will mean I have to get rid of things, and what I have to get rid of all the things that belonged to my husband before he passed.  I wasn’t quite ready to do that, but after I finished painting the kitchen, I felt cleansed.  It made me feel different and made me smile, and suddenly I was ready to start painting the rest of my house.  I love my husband, but I realized it’s time for him to move out.

Change is really difficult.  And scary. Moving my husband’s things out is very frightening.  I still live at the same address and I haven’t changed the apartment since he died, because I think somewhere inside I know that if I change our home, it will be permanent.  He will really be gone, and it will just be me and this new life that I’m living on my own, and I’m not sure if I’m ready for that change.

Before I started painting, my house felt safe.  It was familiar and I could live the same way for years and years, and Sid would still be around me through his things.  But I’d also never grow, never move on, never life my life the way he would want me to live it.  I realized I had to take that leap, make the next step.  And so I started with the kitchen.

Was it easy? No. Does changing my apartment make me nervous?  Yes.  Is it sad?  Absolutely.  It’s not easy to box away good things, like what I had with Sid.  It may be even harder to box away the bad things.  But I guess the best way of looking at change is that at one time or another, whether it’s physically or emotionally, you’re going to need to box things up and seal them away. Those things will always be there, and you need to deal with that fact, but they do not need to be by your side as you move forward.  Change is when we stop letting our baggage move with us.  And we need to do this, because otherwise we can’t feel free and we aren’t able to enjoy the possibilities.  So we need to put our old things in boxes and store them in an appropriate place that allows us to move forward unencumbered.

Change is hard. Taking care of yourself and living life should be your top priority, but sometimes you can only deal with doing one thing at a time, minute-by-minute. After I lost Sid, I needed to live each minute on its own.  I had obligations, but I couldn’t look a week ahead and imagine doing them. So I started with ten minutes. I gave myself ten minutes a day to just go outside and breathe the air and let myself feel good.  Then my walks turned into 30 minutes, then an hour, and then one day I woke up to find that I was excited.  And I’ve just been working on it from there.

So Sid’s stuff is moving to storage.  I think storage is a good place for those boxes, because I know there might come a time when I just need a moment to be amongst his things, to sit there and feel comfortable because I’m in a place that’s familiar.  I made the arrangements and all I have to do now is take the boxes out of the closets and stack them up and someone’s going to come and store them away.  Then I get to start fresh.

Change is always a work in progress, and it’s always hard.  The scariest part is knowing that I can’t go back.  Change only works in one direction, and I can’t change what’s in the past, can’t undo what’s already done.  I can only look forward to the future.


“Celebrating the Holidays in Your Heart”

My first Christmas, I came home with a 14-foot live tree hitched to the top of my Chevy Blazer. Having grown up Jewish, I wasn’t quite sure how to properly string the lights on the tree, so I left that for my Presbyterian husband to do.  Instead, I concentrated on very meticulously hanging an ornament from each bough, and it wasn’t until my husband came home that I learned you’re supposed to put the lights on first.  Whoops.  So to all of you Jews out there celebrating your first Christmas, listen up: lights before ornaments.  That’s Christmas 101.

The holiday season is a very special time of year for me, albeit a busy time.  I ease myself into it each year with Thanksgiving, and then I prepare for the onslaught: my son’s birthday on December 14th, followed by Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years, then finally capping it off with my daughter’s birthday in early January.  Each year I find myself talking about the holidays with all of my friends pretty much incessantly until it’s over – what are you doing, where are you going, who are you spending it with, what are you eating, what gifts are you buying, and so on and so forth.  And all the while I have a smile plastered on my face, since I love this time of year.

It wasn’t always that way, though.  In reality, the holiday season can be a stressful period, and it’s not made any less stressful by the fact that we each feel like a failure if the holidays in our family don’t look a Norman Rockwell painting.  I spent many Christmases being very sad – when my family was going through a dysfunctional period, when I was divorced and alone for the first time, when a loved one had passed away.  That’s hard.  When you’re alone – or when you feel alone, even if you’re surrounded by people – the holidays are difficult.  I remember the year after my husband left me, all of a sudden I’m on my own and trying to make Christmas special for my kids, which is hard enough to do being Jewish and even harder considering that I had no money.  I was on the edge of despair, trudging through the snow one day, and I dropped my glove.  I looked down and was astounded to discover three crisp $100 bills lying right there in the snow. Knowing how much I would miss that money if I had been the one who dropped it, I tried to find the owner but there was no one around.  Eventually I just looked up and said, “Thank you.”  That money changed my entire world that holiday.

Despite my Christmas miracle, that was actually the last year I bought a tree.  At the end of that Christmas, my kids told me that they didn’t need such an extravagant holiday anymore.  They wanted me to be who I was, even if that meant no Christmas.  And their acceptance and love was one of the best gifts I have ever received.

When things get stressful this holiday, it’s important to remember that you create your own holiday spirit.  Leave the anxiety and the baggage outside the door and let go of your expectations of what a holiday is “supposed” to be.  Understand that the best gifts cost absolutely no money.  Instead, it’s the little things we do for one another that are the greatest gifts.  The emotional side of the holidays is truly priceless, so concentrate on being festive by being generous with your time and attention and love, instead of with your wallet.

When the clock strikes 2012, it will mark a new beginning for all of us.  We should be proud of who we are and should celebrate by remembering the people we love and the people we work with and the people that make our day-to-day lives better.  Let’s support the people who are there for us in our communities and show our appreciation for the little things they do for us.  Let’s all smile and believe that the happiness we see on all those Christmas shows is achievable and that we are deserving of it. And most importantly, let’s all remember that the holiday season is not about the gifts; it’s about the heart that gives them.


“Small Town New York”

My hood

My small town

I live in a very small town.  Just like everyone else who lives in a small town, I wave to my neighbors on the street, I know the owners of the shops I frequent, and I’m up on the gossip about who’s getting married and who’s done what since high school and who’s newly single.  I meet my friends for tennis in the park and bring my dog for walks. Overall, it’s a very safe and happy little town. The only difference is that my small town happens to be located in the center of one of the largest metropolitan cities in the world.  Welcome to New York’s Upper West Side.

View from my deck - roof top deck....

View from my deck

New York can be overwhelming.  But before you say, “Not for me,” you have to remember that I’m a girl from the country.  My dream was a 3,000-plus square foot house with a three-car garage and two acres of property.  Living in an apartment is never where I thought my life would go.  I love gardening, I love to grill, and I love to walk in big open spaces. To live in New York City, I had to learn to look at this city a little differently, to see my neighborhood – or more specifically, the 8-block radius around my house – as my own small town. And as soon as I learned to do that, all of a sudden I felt comfortable and at home.

Just like a suburban neighborhood, my apartment building has subdivisions.  They’re just vertical instead of horizontal. And just like I would wave “Hi!” to my neighbors from the car, now I say “Hi!” in the elevator.  I have a mall with all my favorite stores, but their storefronts are on a street instead of in a building.  I have beautiful parks and some fabulous grocery stores and great local restaurants, only now I walk to them instead of drive.  I hang out regularly with a group at the local bar.  I go to poetry readings and sometimes even brave “open mic night” with my latest blog entry.  I go for sushi with my best buddy and take walks and do those everyday things that small town people do — even though I live in New York, one of the biggest cities in the world.

Lincoln Center

 

Central Park

Central Park on my way to Mid Town

 

 

 

66th Subway Station

 

 

 

After getting lost on the subway or paying too much for dinner downtown, people get discouraged about New York, and then they give up.  But like anything else, New York is open to you as long as you give it an honest opportunity.  Doing the same things and living the same life is comfortable and safe, but it’s also boring.  If you live in the same home and work the same job and visit the same friends and go the same places and you’re unhappy, nothing is going to improve until you change.  New York, for me, was a great way to get out of a rut, and has proven time and again to be a great place to keep me from getting into a rut.  Yes, a city this size can be intimidating, but it’s all about perspective.  If you set the expectation that you’re going to start by learning your own neighborhood – your own small town within this vast city – you’ll soon see that it’s just like living anywhere else.

TRACT 187 CULTURE CLATCH Poetry readings

That’s not to say that New York doesn’t have its own special perks.  You can get practically anything you want at any time, even if it’s an ice cream sundae delivered to your door at 3 o’clock in the morning.  (This is especially fun if you’re hosting a sleepover for your kids.)  Where else can you walk eight blocks and find everything you need, from the everyday basics (grocery store, cleaners, pet store) to the delightful (theater, concerts, and world-class museums)?  And did I mention that I regularly walk my dog alongside legendary rock stars and Oscar winning actors?

I love New York, but when other New Yorkers ask me where I’m from, I inevitably mutter some version of, “Oh, I’m not from here.”  Over the years, however, I’ve noticed that they always reply the same thing: “I’m not from here, either.”  In reality, it doesn’t matter that very few of us were actually born here. What matters is that this is our home now, that this is where our families are and where our hearts belong.  New York is our small town, but it’s also much more than that.  New York is our new beginning.

 

 

 

 

 



“A Thanks to Those Who Came Before”

I’d like to take a few moments to say thank you to all the women who came before.  Thank you for standing up and teaching everyone that to be a woman is to be a multi-faceted human being.  Gloria, Betty, Margaret, Mary, Harriet, Patricia, Ruth… these women and many others beside them blazed a trail that has enabled all of us today to be anyone we want to be.  It took me many years to appreciate that, but I now know – unequivocally – that the things these women fought for have made me the woman I am today.

Growing up, I truly didn’t understand how feminism impacted me or the women I knew.  In fact, I’ll admit that I didn’t like feminists and actually went out of my way not to be associated with them.  I thought the women’s liberation movement was too masculine.  I thought they focused on things that weren’t relevant to me or my life.  But I thought wrong.

In my small town outside of Toronto, women would get married and we’d stay home and have kids and we could generally expect to be well supported by our husbands.  In my family in particular, women had the freedom to do anything they wanted.  My female relatives were all well-rounded, educated, active, and seemingly fulfilled.  So I didn’t understand what women’s lib was trying to change.  Everything seemed just fine to me.  What I didn’t realize until I was a broke single mother fighting for child support was that the reason women where I came from could do anything they wanted was because they were financially secure. Back in the 60’s and 70’s, the experience of a working woman was worlds away from where it is today and worlds away as well from the experience of all the women I knew.  To be financially independent as a woman is everything.  But where I grew up, these things never crossed your mind, and so I just didn’t get it.  I thought women’s liberation wasn’t for me.

I was very lucky in that my mother and father taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be. But they also stressed that being a mom was the most important job I could ever do, and doing it right would be crucial.  So I followed that path.  I got married and had two beautiful children, and to this day, I have to admit that I get more fulfillment and joy out of my children than anything else.  But after my first husband left me, I learned quickly that being a mom – especially a single mom – is about much more than changing diapers and making a nice meal each night.  It’s about making sure you have the resources to buy those diapers and get that food on the table.  For that, I needed a job.  And this is where Gloria made all the difference.

Unlike the women I grew up with, I no longer I had the luxury of a steady paycheck brought home by my husband each week.  I had to support myself and my family on my own, and once I got myself a job (which was much harder than it sounds), that job was everything.  I needed that paycheck, so no matter what happened, I had to stay at that job.  And my employers knew they had me, so they didn’t promote me, they didn’t give me a raise, and sometimes it seemed they didn’t even feel they needed to treat me with respect.  Despite this, I worked hard and gave it my best every day, because when you need your job, you do everything in your power to compete and stay ahead, because if you lose that job… well, it’s just not an option.

Over my lifetime, my experience as a working woman has changed immensely.  And much of that change – if not all – was due to the women who fought to put us on equal footing with men in the workplace. Looking back, I realized that these women raised me.  The words they wrote made me a better woman.  The policies they fought for made me a businesswoman.  Their experiences made me smarter in my own life.  And their passion made me able to survive in a world that forty years ago was very difficult for women, period.

These women made so much progress, but our job isn’t done yet.  It’s time for us to take the mantle and continue their fight. It’s so important for us to work together, to mend the rifts which have grown between us.  The career women and the housewives, the mothers and the childless, those who got married and those who didn’t – we are all women. And for any of us to succeed, we need to come together and complement each other and make each other’s lives easier instead of more difficult.  As Gloria and the others have shown us, women can achieve great things together. But before we can do that, we need to like ourselves and respect ourselves.  We need to own being a woman and be resilient against whatever the worlds throws at us.  And most importantly, we need to understand that who we are will trickle down to our daughters and the next generation.  We need to stop competing and move forward together.

Sometimes it seems like we’ve forgotten how to stand up.  Forty years ago, women stood up together, and we are where we are today as a direct result of their actions.  Now we know we can’t accept certain things, like being hit by a partner or harassed by a coworker.  Now we know we need education, to set the foundation for our careers and to fully develop ourselves as people.  And now we know we need support systems, both in our institutions and in our personal lives.  But we still have a long way to go.

And if we stand together for change, we have an opportunity to make things better for women and men alike.  I’m really excited about what’s happening with the protests on Wall Street right now because they’re taking a stand and they’re doing it well, with polite persistence instead of rioting and violence.  They make change look reasonable and welcome and right. So let’s go with them into this bright future – let’s stand together once more, as women, and demand that the world deliver on the vision spoken by Gloria, and by all of the others who came before.  And let’s thank those women for laying out that grand vision and paving the way for us all.