Happy Birthday Gloria–Ethan, go nuts!

Happy first birthday  to my nephew Ethan. I appreciate that he was born on August 28 because that is also my mother’s birthday. So from now on, every year on August 28, I get to be happy for his birthday while I am a little sad when I think about my mom and miss her a bit more than I do on other days. I appreciate the balance.

The house in which I grew up at 5081 Somerset Street in Buena Park, California was a fun one. We were encouraged to play (as long as we got good grades and read a lot of books). My mom, Gloria, went to great efforts to provide the opportunities. We had tons of stuff to do outside beyond the requisite bike and bat: a swing set, a ping pong table acquired with blue chip stamps applied to pages of books with wet sponges, hippity hops, kick balls, and even stilts.

Inside our home we had cupboards of board games, floor space to play marbles and jacks and the living room was not formal. Instead, it was set up so that we could hang out with our friends and play air hockey or pachinko, color large posters and do jigsaw puzzles. We even had a player piano.

By the time that we were teenagers and entertained gentlemen callers on the weekends, there was a multitude of ways for a young man to occupy his hands in that room without ever touching one of Gloria’s daughters. She was fun and smart!

We were also encouraged to have a “collection.” Each of us had one displayed on shelves in our room: Martha collected miniature pianos, Betsy (boo) collected deer figurines and I collected dolls from around the world. In the family room next to the TV was Gloria’s collection: nutcrackers.

There was a big poster on the wall that said, “Peanut butter is love. Spread some around today.” Not only did it appropriately decorate her collection below, it was also an inclusive nod to my father’s particularly strong affinity for peanut butter. Nowhere in this blog post will there be even a hint of suggestion that either of my parents might have been a bit nuts. That’s because they weren’t.

Underneath the poster were two bookshelves about 3 1/2 feet high that held an odd assortment of nutcrackers shaped like animals and machines. On top there was a bowl of nuts (still in the shell) and the opportunity to step up to the counter to crack one and eat it whenever one so desired.

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Her collection included a great variety: a small wooden contraption that Martha actually made for her, gifts that relatives brought back from Israel over the years and my all time favorite which is a pair of woman’s legs that my Great Aunt Tee gave to her. I loved that particular nutcracker long before its suggestive nature dawned on me along with the impressive significance that it came from a woman who was probably born in the 1800’s!

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I don’t know how the collection started, but I do remember when it made a distinct transition. Well, I don’t remember exactly when, but one year my parents went on a trip to New York City. (I’m sure my sisters can provide more specific details.) It was a big deal because my parents didn’t travel much. They returned from New York City with Uncle Alf.

Uncle Alf was married to my Great Aunt Tee which makes him great too. They lived in Omaha. He did not go to New York with my parents. Nor did he return with them. From their great travels, my parents brought home a toy soldier nutcracker. It was like the one from the ballet that had a white goatee and moustache just like our Uncle Alf, so that’s why we named it after him.

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I don’t have the original in my home as I believe one of my sisters has him in her care, but it looks like one of these.

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It wasn’t until this very moment, writing this blog post that I noticed that both Aunt Tee and Uncle Alf had a connection in my mother’s collection. Hmmm…

With the addition of Uncle Alf to the general collection came a new focus: toy soldier nutcrackers. Once again, it was fun. Over the years my mom collected all kinds of variations on the theme. We purchased them for her as Chanukkah gifts, birthday gifts, “I saw this and I thought you might like it” gifts. She collected cheap versions and expensive ones. The collection grew—exponentially.

Fast forward several decades and 3 homes later to her lovely abode at 125th Street in Johnson County, Kansas where she and her adoring paramour Aaron lived together in her final years. Even there you could easily find her collection that followed from Buena Park. Even New York City’s Uncle Alf was present along with my old favorites: the legs, the squirrel and the gifts from Israel.

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For a long time the nutcrackers had their own room. Gloria had shelves built in the guest room where they lined the walls to stand guard over sleeping grandchildren and out of town visitors. The impressive collection had expanded to posters of nutcrackers and bookmarks and pretty much almost anything that sported their image.

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Finally, about 5 years or so before she died, she was done. She did not get rid of them, nothing as drastic as that. When Aaron moved in and they redesigned the guest room as his office, the nutcrackers were respectfully relegated to the basement. Once again shelves were built and they were displayed, but not in such a prominent position.

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She politely asked us to stop buying them for her, she no longer had room or interest.

The only people who spent much time in the basement were her kids and grandkids when we came to visit and the cleaning lady. But the nutcrackers did not seem sad and neither did my mom. She was finding other ways to have fun.

After she died we tried to donate the collection as a whole, but did not find a willing recipient. Our affection for the collection was not to be found elsewhere. So we each took tokens to our respective homes for ourselves and our children, gave some to others with fond memories and the rest was finally packed away and dispersed to parts unknown.

Last month I went on a trip to Leavenworth, Washington with two of my childhood friends. While walking through this oddly themed Bavarian town we came across the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum. Imagine that! While we did not enter the museum itself, we browsed through the gift shop. My friends were very accommodating, having spent a significant portion of their adolescence enjoying the fun nature of my childhood home and cracking a few nuts in their tenure there.

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The gift shop was impressive and I saw many old friends in their collection, relishing the memories they prompted. It was bittersweet not being able to call my mom and tell her all about it, but a great photo opportunity.

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So, Happy 1st Birthday, Ethan. I hope your life is filled with fun and that you get good grades and read a lot of books. But most of all… today go nuts.

And mom, Happy Birthday. I miss you.

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I see the light at the end of the carpool tunnel

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I sure felt sorry for my daughter when she got her driver’s permit. Even though she completed all of the requirements virtually by herself, she was still completely dependent on us whenever she wanted to drive.

For six months she had to navigate around town with me, her neurotic Jewish mother, strapped securely next to her in the passenger seat. It was necessary  in order to earn enough hours of practice to take the road test to get her real driver’s license. She was great.

I was a wreck. Nervous Nelly does not even begin to describe my ridiculous barrage of fears and warnings and sharp scoldings that hysterically spewed forth  as she practiced driving safely behind the wheel of our family car.

At first I let her navigate the treacherous three block  drive home from the bus stop after school. My heart pounding, watching in my rear view mirror as she carefully pulled out on to the residential road and I held my breath the entire ride as we crawled along at 25 mph towards our street.

Next, we expanded a full mile to Costco for afternoon errands–taking the back roads the entire way. Eventually we hit the boulevard, with its precarious intersections and lane changes. Finally we embarked on the freeway, allowing her to merge her skills and actually get somewhere on this island besides the bus, the store and school.

It was excruciating–for both of us. I breathed deeply, my anxiety mounting each time we left the house. I apologized as we got in the car for the impulses and fears that I was simply unable to control. She said that it was okay, but I could that tell her feelings were hurt.

I remembered my own mother over 30 years ago, riding next to me, nervously pressing an imaginary brake pedal into the car floor, wearing a spot in the carpeted mat with her irrational fears and distrust of my competence.

Like mother, like daughter. Mine noticed that I grab a tight hold on to the door handle as we approached each intersection or another car dared to drive on the same road as did we.  I thought I was hiding it until one day she remarked with a thin veil of good humor on my nervous habit. Mostly she managed to suck it up with her eyes on the prize–her driver’s license.

Early on in the process her step-father assumed as much of the practice as possible, due to his reasonable and patient nature. She much preferred to drive with him. But in order to log as many supervised hours as she needed behind the wheel, she had to deal with her mother. She deserves a medal.

In a manner of speaking, she got one–her driver’s license.

Last month we took a drive together to Kapolei Hale, this time with an appointment. The examiner called her name and she drove off with this virtual stranger to take the test that, if she passed, would change both of our lives forever.

I was surprised how nervous I was. Who cares about how she felt.  I really wanted her to get her license. Why else would I have tortured myself by sitting in the passenger seat while she drove, danger eminent at every turn, facing my irrational fears deeply rooted in motherhood and a few control issues.

If she got her license I wouldn’t have to ride with her anymore.  It would free up hours of my time usually spent on the road, behind the wheel, taking her back and forth to the multitude of sports and school activities in which she enthusiastically participates. She could drive herself there and back. She could go to the store and pick up last-minute items that our family always seems to need at 8:00 PM, just when I’m ready to relax for a while. She can take her step-sister places too. The possibilities are endless.

With my eyes also on the prize, waiting passed fairly quickly. 20 minutes after departure, the examiner followed by my daughter returned, walking silently back up the hill. She turned her solemn face to me, flashed a quick smile and mouthed, “I passed.”

I can only imagine how great she felt because I was jubilant. I was free! For sixteen years I carted and ferried and carpooled this child to play dates, school, doctor’s appointments, Hebrew classes, social functions, hula practice, softball games, canoe paddling regattas.

It might be said that our relationship  formed and blossomed during all of the time spent together in the car. From out of the womb into the world, from infant seat to booster seat, back seat to front seat, passenger seat to driver’s seat, from drop off to pick up this child has been in tow. My passenger.

And now she can drive herself. It is time. On our way back from the DMV (her driving, me less nervous) I told her in a very stern voice, “You may think that having your driver’s license is your ticket to freedom,” taking a poignant pause for her to think and worry a bit, “but I have to tell you that it really is mine.”

Finally, my days of carpooling and arranging my schedule around hers are coming to a close. I have the option to sleep past 5:30 AM on school days because she is perfectly capable of setting an alarm, getting up herself and driving to the bus stop without me. And she does.

I can go out on a Saturday night without having to be at the ready to pick her up from the football game after the fourth quarter decides to end. If we need her to drive the younger teen to an activity or appointment or party we just have to ask and she is at the ready to oblige (she’d better be!)

It is such a wonderful feeling that I am not willing to taint it with anxious, unnecessary worry. We have safety precautions in place. She is very responsible and careful. It is enough.

I know I am going to miss her and the time we spend together in the car, talking and sharing, not to mention having a captive audience. In the short month she has been driving on her own I have had time to reflect.

I think about the music we’ve shared: CD’s with Sesame Street songs and how she’d sing along  in her sweet toddler’s voice, the Aaron Carter phase, Fergalicious on the radio and recently whatever she blasts from her iPod so I can keep up to date with her and what is trending these days.

There has been a lot of talking: constant chatter and incessant questions from the backseat when she was little, sometimes driving me a bit crazy, after learning to read she read every sign out loud, school gossip and teenage confessions, scoldings and reprimands. Every moment a blessing to bring us to this moment.

I have to admit that the relief still overrides the sentiment, leaving me not with a sense of loss, just a nice warm feeling of satisfaction. And when I miss her just a little too much, all I have to do is invite her to join me for a trip to the commissary or the mall and she is at the ready and willing.

She hops right in that passenger seat, I back out of the driveway and we roll on towards our destination, picking up right where we left off on our mother, daughter journey. And thank goodness that once again, I get to drive.

If you build it, they will come

When my youngest sister started calling it the ”Beach Mitzvah” a few months before the big day, the new event title stuck and we’ve been referring to it that way ever since.

That is what it was, a Beach Mitzvah. Our youngest daughter became a Bat Mitzvah last month and the service was held under a tent at Paradise Cove in Ko Olina…. and it was fabulous.

Once all of our mainland guests arrived, all of the details were taken care of and we were finally celebrating this significant rite of passage together with our family and community on the lush green grass, under the warm bright sun, along the crystal clear water of one of Oahu’s most beautiful “Secret Coves,” it is hard to imagine that choosing this venue so that our youngest daughter could perform this particular rite of passage was anything but completely deliberate.

In reality it was an act of compromise that turned out to be exactly what we wanted, a Beach Mitzvah.

It is not uncommon for these important events that are usually planned at least a year in advance to suffer a few setbacks. Caterers screw up, teenagers forget their Torah portions, people  get stuck in traffic on their way to the Synagogue.  It teaches us to focus on what is important and why we come together to appreciate the true meaning of these rituals. Ours was no exception. Luckily for us, the bumps in the road happened long before the Bat Mitzvah date.

Due to forces beyond our control and details on which I will not dwell at this moment, we switched shuls in the middle of her Bat Mitzvah study and preparation. Our new congregation, The Aloha Jewish Chapel (AJC,) is located on Pearl Harbor Naval Base with limited public access. So we had to figure out a way to bring over one hundred people, our family and local community, together for a service outside of this military installation.

Combine that with the fact that our Bat Mitzvah is quite the individual, the idea of a typical reception, a Saturday night party with a DJ and dancing, was not her idea of a fun way to celebrate all of her hard work and study. She preferred a beach party so she could swim and hang out with her friends in the cool water of the Pacific Ocean and also celebrate this paradise that we call home. That part was not a problem for us. We also prefer this type of celebration.

It wasn’t easy coordinating all of the moving parts of this particular piece of our family’s Jewish traditions, but once we “settled” on Paradise Cove, everything fell right into place—kind of like Divine intervention!

When we realized the need to hold the service outside of the chapel, it was the Bat Mitzvah herself who immediately made the connection between the Torah portion she was studying and our choice of venue. In her portion of Terumah, Exodus  25 1-16, G-d tells the Israelites to: וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם,  “Make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.”

That’s exactly what we did. We made a mishkan, a sanctuary. We put up a tent with three sides at Paradise Cove. In the front we created a “Bima” by setting a small folding Japanese table that I bought years ago at City Mill on top of a folding 6 foot table and covering each with a table cloth. It ended up creating both a lectern on which to place the Torah and an “Ark” in which to keep it safely covered during the rest of the service.

We placed 120 plastic white chairs under the tent  in a semi-circle facing the Bima, hooked up microphones for sound, brought the Torah from the AJC and voila, G-d was definitely among us.

My sister commented that it’s not very often that the Torah gets to go outside—kind of like a Torah field trip. We decided that it must be enjoying its few moments in the fresh air. We certainly did.  And boy did we celebrate.

In some ways it was not much different than a typical weekend family celebration. We shuttled guests between airport and hotels. We coordinated schedules with 25 out of town visitors. On Friday, we enjoyed Shabbat dinner and Erev Shabbat services with our family at the AJC. On Sunday we had a barbecue at our house  for our family to be together again. And every minute of it was very special.

But I have to say that the Beach Mitzvah was particularly poignant. The pieces of this puzzle transformed so magically and beautifully we couldn’t help but feel the inspiring presence of G-d—in our Bat Mitzvah who’s sweet voice chanting from the Torah reminded us that she chooses to take her place among generations of Jews who have chanted those same words and made similar sanctuaries in their own communities and homes and hearts, in the united pride of parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings and friends and in the sublime paradise of the mishkan we created by the beach on the leeward side of Oahu for our beautiful and wonderful and amazing Beach Mitzvah.

This is how we do it…

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Time for a change

If you are reading this, then you have probably noticed the new look. It was time for a change. We are rearranging and renovating the house and yard and the change has done us good. We are enjoying the space anew.

Did I mention that I am going to celebrate my 50th birthday soon. I am embracing the jubilee with a sense of celebration and renewal. I can be a creature of habit and have decided to make change, embrace change, try to change and change it up in any way I can, including the design of this blog. I hope you enjoy it as much as I am.

And the cool thing is, I can always change it again!

Facebook is not a verb

Please do not Facebook me. It ruffles my English teacher sensibilities.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am  not opposed to interaction in the social media arena, as long as you use good grammar! I have a profile, I update my status from time to time. I check in with my friends and family pretty regularly to see what they are up to. I check on my daughter a lot!

Nope, it’s how you use the word that is the problem. Facebook is not a verb. How can you Facebook me? It’s so “In Your Face.” It sounds almost painful.

Please feel free to contact me on Facebook, through Facebook, with Facebook. I simply request that you do not do it directly to me. Facebook is a proper noun–although I have noticed that all is not always proper on Facebook!

I’m not sure why I have such a strong reaction to this emerging colloquialism. I was not so resistant to googling. In fact, I embraced it. I encourage my children to google stuff all of the time. I even offer to engage with them. “Let’s google it,” I cheerfully say as I walk towards the computer (or ask my teenager to get out her phone.)

I have come to accept that I text, I blog and, if I had it in me, I’d even scrapbook.

I remember once my sister described a friend’s son as being out “Bar Mitzvahing.” That sure sounds like fun. I wish we lived in a place where there were so many Jewish kids that mine were at a Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebration every weekend. I’ll accept that as a verb any day!

Facebooking does not work for me. Never one to judge, I will not comment on how you choose to spend your time or invest your energy. I extend that basic respect towards you (did you know that disrespect is also not a verb?)

I simply request that you reciprocate in kind. Feel free to contact me, but please don’t Facebook me. Like I said before, it makes me uncomfortable.

Mahalo to Ticket Master and Bamp Project

I’d like to say thank you to Ticket Master and Bamp Project for giving us a refund for the tickets we bought to see Russell Peters on October 27. We couldn’t attend because of the tsunami warning and they gave us our money back. I am impressed.

We purchased our tickets over the phone and planned to pick them up at will call on the evening of the show. It was 7:30 p.m. and we were walking up to the will call window when the phone rang. It was our teenager calling to inform us that a tsunami warning had been issued. They were predicting a severe event. So we got  back in the car and drove home the 35 miles from Honolulu to Kapolei, just beating the traffic from all of the people who were evacuating to higher ground.

Not only did we not want our kids to be home alone at this time, but my husband is also active duty with the National Guard. He would be called to duty in the event of an emergency and we all needed to be prepared. Sure enough, his phone started ringing minutes later.

It couldn’t be helped that we missed the live performance of one of our favorite comedians. We were not expecting to get a refund, but are very pleased that we did.

It’s not like I can call any particular person on the phone and say thanks, because I don’t really know who is responsible for this reasonable act of good customer service. So I will post this somewhat public note of appreciation in hopes that the sentiment will somehow reach them–or at least linger in the universe and create some positive energy for a while.

Anybody who knows me is aware that I have strong feelings about customer service. I think that it should be good, no exceptions. I get it from my mom.

I can remember when I was a kid.  We’d be out shopping  and I’d get so embarrassed when she would sharply suggest to the teenage clerk in a retail store  to stop talking on the phone so that she can please do her job and assist us with our purchase.

That was back in the days when families had one phone at home and communication with the outside world was much more limited. It was long before cell phones and texting, so teenagers would grab any opportunity possible to chat on the phone with their friends–even at work. My mother did not approve.

Of course I can see her perspective much more clearly now that I am a mother myself. And due to my own personal mortification from the increasingly distant past, I can also feel my own teenager, by my side,  shrinking in shame at that moment when we are buying something at a retail store or ordering food at a deli counter and I freakishly morph into my mom.

That same sharp tone magically emanates from my being as I clearly delineate the service that I expect from this representative of whomever is getting my hard-earned cash. And I expect that service sooner, rather than later. In other words, “Stop texting and help me now, please.”

My friend Catherine and I often joke about starting a business and calling it The Customer Service Police. We could drive around Oahu visiting businesses and detecting bad customer service. Once identified, we could offer training for staff to rectify the problem and help their service profile.

Don’t even get me started on customer service over the phone. OMG, talk about frustrating. My experience is that I get a different answer to my customer service question depending on whoever answers the call.

I don’t really blame the people who answer those phones. Most of the time they haven’t had the appropriate training to do their jobs or they have not been granted the level of authority to address my concerns in a reasonable manner. That’s why I always ask for a supervisor.

I find that I am more likely to get a favorable response to a reasonable request when I speak with a supervisor.

With Ticket Master, that wasn’t necessary. When I called, the phone attendant listened to my story and asked me to hold while she addressed the issue. It took her a while. However, she came back on the line a few times to clarify a few details, give me a status update  and humbly ask for my patience while she looked in to the matter at hand.

Eventually she told me that it would take about ten days for a final resolution, but that she thought we were in a favorable position for a refund due to circumstances beyond our control.

It took less than ten days for the refund to appear on our credit card. Now that’s what I call good customer service.

Mahalo Ticket Master.

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