Participation Trophies

I have a shelf of my kids Participation Trophies in my family room that I keep for laughs. Why? Because I proudly admit that I raised my kids in an era where “everyone’s a winner” . Some of my children were amazing in sports and some were not. That’s how it shakes out in most families. In spite of that,  I made them all play something because I am a big believer in exercise. Were ego’s crushed due to lack of skill? Possibly. Maybe. Probably. But…they still got a trophy!

Now that my kids are grown and out of the house, I sometimes long for those days of sitting on the bleachers and screaming, “WAY TO GO!” (Yes…even when they got hit in the head with a ball). I miss the kids, I miss the crazy-ass parents, I miss those hot sweaty gyms…well, maybe not so much, but those were times that weren’t really about trophies and winning. They were about team play, growing up and a lot of fun, sideline-socializing.

Believe it or not, one of my kids still plays Rec Sports. During the week, he’s an emerging corporate executive, but on the weekends, he’s playing basketball in an adult league on a team that includes many of his former high school rec team ballers. Last week, for the very first time, I went and watched these “adult” rec ballers play in a sweaty, Hell’s Kitchen, public school gym.

Some of these guys were really hairy and bald all at the same time. Not quite how I remembered those idyllic high school games. In the absence of other parents, I cheered from the sideline and shot a bit of video from my new iPhone. Needless to say, my son’s team lost by more than 20 points. A “blow-out” so to speak.

When I got home, I edited the few filmed highlights together. I added some sound effects and created a new kind of Participation Trophy. I think the JUST KRISTAPS Rec team is all that and then some. They’re all winners as far as I’m concerned.

 

 

Aging Superpower: THE SHAPE SHIFTER

As we age, our bodies take on new shapes.

D’uh, I’m not telling you anything new. We collect some around the middle, boobs fall, asses drop, upper arms wing-out… it can cause a lot of grief, especially when you stand naked in front of a mirror and say WTF happened? The worst is when you droop-shame yourself. You got older, that’s what happened.  If you’ve ever had to get yourself out of some Spanx with a crowbar, you know what I’m talking about.

I signed up for some Art School.

Who would have thought that spending time in a figure painting class would give you a new appreciation of the human body? I want to sound like an academic painter here, but I’m not, so let me begin by saying:

Perky boobs are just not fun to paint.

If there is one thing I can take away from my art class it is that bigger is better because bigger captures light, creates shadows, adds dimension and is fucking beautiful. Period.

No offense to really thin models, but they make you feel like you’re in a medical drawing class. Pass.

The female body is amazing…shape shifting and all. We need to start a new movement. Our changing bodies are a superpower…at least on canvas.

 

 

The Great Grandma Google

Seven years ago, I wrote an essay about the time I accidentally threw away my Great Grandmother’s cherished engagement ring in the garbage and how I luckily found it in the dump before it got sent out to sea. It was a miracle of sorts and an episode that I revisit from time to time when I think about what I would have done if I hadn’t found it. That ring conjures up so many memories of my growing up in Pittsburgh with my loving, but oh-so-domineering, Grandmother. Who would have thought that some old jewelry could do that to you?

The other morning, I was thinking about how little I knew about my Great Grandmother, the original owner of that ring. She died the year I was born and nobody really talked about her. I kind of remember my Dad telling me things like, “She wasn’t very nice” and my Mother’s recollection which was a little more descriptive: “She was ten times meaner than your Grandmother, and that’s sugar coating it.” But for the most part, she remained a mystery. My Grandmother never spoke much about her except to tell me that she was extremely smart, followed by a knowing wink. It was almost if she was letting me in on a secret, without telling me what it was.

There was one unusual thing that she did mention to me back then, but I never really followed up on that because I thought it fell into the pool of my Grandmother’s other expert exaggerations like, If you cross your eyeballs they’ll freeze, Your Dad could have been a professional tap dancer, Sit up straight or you’ll be a hunchback by the time your 20, My podiatrist is madly in love with me, and so on. But today, in this easy age of Google, I felt like this story was worth looking into.

When I was ten years old, and practicing my memorization of the Gettysburg address, my Grandmother told me that during the Civil War, her mother’s family was kicked out of Kentucky by Ulysses S. Grant because they were Jewish. Why this came to my mind now, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s all this immigration talk in the news or maybe it’s because I don’t sleep and have many early mornings to sit and think about life.

It took more than a few hours on the Internet and a couple of phone calls to Paducah, Kentucky to find out that THIS WAS TRUE!

My Great Grandmother, Bertha Livingston Newman, was born in Paducah, Kentucky on June 18th, 1877. Her father, Mangold Livingston came from Germany around 1850 and settled briefly in Smithland, Kentucky. When the railroad came to Paducah in 1850, he relocated there and set up a wholesale dry goods and fruit operation, the M. Livingston Co. (think early Costco). He married his wife, Amelia Friedberg, also from Germany, around 1861. During the Civil War, Paducah was a Union stronghold but it became the place of smuggling and illegal trading with the Confederate South. Apparently, Ulysses S. Grant was super pissed about that. Some reported that Union soldiers were the ones doing the illegal trading, but somehow the Jews got blamed for it and Ulysses S. Grant issued his infamous, anti-Semitic General Order No. 11 in 1862, which expelled all Jews from Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. Given 24 hours to leave, Jewish families had to pack-up and head north. Bertha wasn’t born yet, but her parents and older siblings began to make their way toward Ohio. A Paducah man by the name of Cesar Kaskel, immediately traveled to Washington to meet with Abraham Lincoln and report this unconstitutional decree. Upon hearing this, Lincoln ordered Grant to revoke the order. Within a week, the Jewish families returned to Paducah and resumed their lives. My Great Grandmother was born there 12 years later. She grew up in Paducah, met her husband, Sam Newman, a businessman from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Enter the ring…hello, 1895) They relocated there (that’s where my Grandmother was born) and eventually moved to Pittsburgh in the early 1900’s, where my Great Grandfather started the Keystone Grinder & Manufacturing Company, an outfit that made gadgets, which fixed busted Railroad Tracks. Old documents, county certificates and voting registries enable you to track movements, but without primary sources or saved correspondence, it is impossible to investigate “intelligence”. All this great history and my Great Grandmother didn’t leave a trail. What made her “smart”? Why didn’t I follow up on that with my Grandmother while she was still alive? The only thing that I can surmise is that Bertha had something to do with my Great Grandfather’s successful business, but I have no way of fact checking that one. We all know that behind-the-scenes women were seldom recognized in those days. Is that what the knowing wink meant?

I have to believe it was. Bertha deserves a story.

The photo I’ve attached to this essay is Bertha’s wedding picture. To think that she was wearing the ring that I tossed in the garbage in this beautiful shot, gives me eternal chills…especially when I envision her supervising the repair of broken railroad tracks.

Dear Oprah, Bread Is What Got Me Here In The First Place

In case you missed it yesterday, Weight Watchers new spokesperson and 10 percent shareholder, Oprah Winfrey, tweeted Eat bread.Lose Weight.Whaattt? #ComeJoinMe and SURPRISE…the stock shot up as people flocked to join. Don’t get me wrong, I love Oprah and I’m delighted that she reportedly made 12 million dollars from that stock surging tweet, but seriously, BREAD IS WHAT GOT ME TO WEIGHT WATCHERS IN THE FIRST PLACE.

For diet enthusiasts, bread is usually the first thing that you most reluctantly drop. Burger no bun, lettuce wraps and the I’m-so-sick-of-fucken-salads-salads is the basic drill. Gravy and sauces laugh at you from the bottom of your dish, because your plate gets cleared before you can sop-it-up with that b-that-shall-not-be-mentioned.

A few months ago, on a 10 day trip to Southern Italy, I promised myself that I wouldn’t hold back on anything and as a result, I had an intensely romantic affair with bread. To say that I went in head first would be an understatement. What’s not to love about untreated, non-processed, all natural grains baked to perfection? And that crust? OMG, I just couldn’t get enough of it. Ask my friend, Amy, who witnessed my full on bender. She’s still talking about it.

The problem with bread, and even good bread is that it’s not a stand alone. There’s olive oil, cheese, preserves, sauces, meats, and even PIZZA…yes, pizza is bread.

5.5. pounds later, I’m back home with pants that won’t zip.

My Mom, who’s been a lifetime member of Weight Watchers’ for years, suggested I give it a try. “New point system, with a great phone app that’s super easy” she promised. “And you get 30 points a day!” she added. Weight Watchers’ PointsPlus system is based on the protein, fat, carbohydrates and fiber content of foods. The app makes it super easy to type in anything and get the point value.

One, small, hard roll is 5 points. In Italy, I ate 6 of those a day….a least.

“If you like to eat, and want the diet to work, go for the zero point foods” suggested another friend. That would be fruits and vegetables. (Note: pants were still hard to zip because of bloat/gas factor).

I’m happy to say that Weight Watchers does work, if you follow their point system which is a clever way of instilling portion control, but I don’t think it’s BREAD FRIENDLY, Oprah…at least not for breadaholics like myself.

Oral Obituary

When I was growing up, there was a lot of magazine reading going on in my house. My father, who was a dentist, had a newsstand of subscriptions ordered for his waiting room, but our house always got first dibs. We had them all. LIFE, Time, Newsweek, National Geographic, Woman’s Day, Harpers, Vogue, Tiger Beat and Good Housekeeping, which encouraged my mother to try daring Sunday night recipes that almost killed us. On top of that, were two daily newspapers, The Pittsburgh Post Gazette and the former Pittsburgh Press, plus the weekly Jewish Chronicle. We were a classic, news-informed, current events family, with ink-stained fingertips and two steps away from a Hoarders episode if reality TV existed in those days.

An early favorite magazine of mine was Highlights For Children. Before I even read some of the silly stories in there, I made sure to do a few puzzles and circle all the hidden pictures, in pen, no less, which really upset my siblings. It was a first come, first serve, ethos in my house. When my brothers got older and discovered Mad Magazine and then Playboy (that one never made it to the waiting room), many who-had-it-first, mailbox fights ensued.

Growing up, I noticed that we each had a unique reading behavior. My father’s was peculiar, but memorable. He was a real newspaper man. Before he ever read the headlines or the sports, he went straight for the obituaries. He didn’t even know most of the dead people that he read about, but he was infatuated with how they met their end, their various backgrounds, their summaries of good deeds, and the family they left behind. We used to make fun of him for turning to that page first, however he couldn’t help himself.

“They are supposed to be read,” he would justify, and occasionally, he came across someone he knew.

Was he curious? Yes. Was he being respectful by reading the obituaries? Yes. Was he entertained? Yes to that, too. When I graduated from college and moved to New York City, I occasionally peeked at the New York Times Obituaries. Some of them were like junior novels. Most of them far exceeded the half column allotted in the Pittsburgh papers.

I remember calling my Dad and reading him a few. “They’ve got some pretty impressive dead people in New York,” he said.

My Dad was so funny. He had an arsenal of great one-liners. He used to fill his patients mouths with dental dams and gauze and then practice his jokes.

“That is what you would call a captive audience.” I accused.

“They’re still laughing” he reported, “Muffled, but laughing”.

“We’ll have to add a stand-up comic line, to your obit,” I replied and we laughed like hell about that one.

Sixty years later, long after my Dad had divorced my mother, retired, dated like a madman and finally married a woman 4 years older than me, he was rushed to the hospital with an intestinal blockage. While in the ER, he had a massive heart attack and never regained consciousness. He was kept on life support for 14 days, his wife trying everything possible to bring him back.

I was never a fan of his wife and she was never a fan of mine. These are common occurrences as families go through shake-ups. She was not comfortable with the closeness that my siblings and I had with our Dad. We felt her tremendous rejection from our very first meeting. I think that she truly believed that since we were adults, we should get our own life. She wanted a life with only my Dad.

Over the time that they were together, she would make brief appearances at family functions, but as the years wore on, those sightings became less frequent and when they suddenly and secretly married five years before my father’s death, she avoided all contact completely. Unfortunately, my father deferred to her isolationist policy and our relationship was relegated to letters and phone calls.

While sitting in the ICU, trying desperately to make comforting small talk, my father’s wife announced that she did not want an obituary to be released upon his death. My facial expression to that declaration prompted this next unforgettable line:

“I don’t want the world to know that I’m some rich widow,” she said.

My sister was sitting right next to me and for the first time ever in our lives, we were completely speechless.

A few days later, my father passed away. As per his wishes, there was no service. I wrote his obituary that night and faxed it to the funeral home. To prevent false reporting of deaths, I learned that Obituary submissions must come directly from a funeral director. I got a call the next morning telling me that my father’s wife was forbidding its release.

“That’s insane.” I said. “I’m his daughter!”

The funeral director agreed with me and apologized profusely. Because my Father’s wife had the Power Of Attorney, she was able to prevent the one thing my father enjoyed most about reading the newspaper. My heart sunk. How could we deny him his very own obituary? As a result of her decision, we had to call each and every one of my father’s friends and relatives and tell them what had happened. His death announcement became an oral Obituary; delivered by his children, recounting the great things about him in ways that a paper truly couldn’t. Although this situation was beyond incredulous, my Father’s wife gave us an inadvertent gift as the constant retelling of my father’s oral Obituary helped us cope with his death.

I never spoke to his wife again. I can only hope that when she encountered people who asked about my father’s whereabouts, she let them know that he passed away and wasn’t home reading the obituaries.

That was seven years ago. I recently found the original “benched” obituary. I wanted to embed it into the end of this essay for no other reason than I now had the power, but I realized that it didn’t hold a candle to the oral version of which I’m still telling.

(Photo of Edward Newman Aronson, 1934, age 9, practicing his stand-up routine on a dirt path in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We think that the cigarette might have been real.)

Living Down The “up dog”

Don’t you love it when your kids have a “favorite story” of you from back in the day that they just can’t let go? You know, the kind that can sometimes be embarrassing or revealing in ways that you wish they weren’t?

It goes without saying that being in the company of smart-ass boys can be very entertaining…especially when they are your own. My boys have taught me all kinds of stuff. Speedy ways to use the internet, good music finds, funny You Tube videos and the cultural benefits of shows like FAMILY GUY and SOUTH PARK.

I really don’t care that they make fun of me behind my back because usually their teasing is REALLY funny, but they’re starting to erode my sharp-as-a-tack personal myth.

About eight years ago, while driving both of my yo-yo’s to somewhere I can’t remember, they were sitting in the back seat and started talking amongst themselves about something called “Up Dog”. I was paying attention to the road and only caught pieces of their conversation. This happened a lot back then and usually ended up with me chiming in classic mother lines like, “Watch your language”, “Keep it down” etc. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that they were setting me up for a You-Tube worthy performance. It started with backseat lines like this:

“OMG, That’s disgusting. He did what? Not the Up Dog! Nobody does the Up Dog. You’ve seen an Up Dog?” This was peppered with lots of laughter.

I peered into the rear view mirror and chimed in, “Keep it appropriate”, one of my favorite parenting lines.

“Mom, he’s talking about Up Dog again” offered one of my sons.

“What is Up Dog?” I said.

Hysterical laughter ensued.

“Seriously” I yelled over the laughter, “What is Up Dog?”

Even more laughter erupted from the backseat.

“Is this another wacky sexual thing? What the hell is Up Dog?” I screamed.

This went on for a few minutes and pushed my, we-know-something-that-you-don’t-know buttons. “Tell me, right now, dammit!” I demanded.

My boys practically wet themselves.

“We can’t”, they cried.

“OMG, What the F**K IS UP DOG” I yelled.

They were howling. Moaning. Couldn’t breathe.

“I’m stopping the car if you don’t tell me this second WHAT’S UP DOG!” and then I realized that they had pulled off the prank of the year.

OMG. I had to stop the car because I was laughing so hard.

To hear them tell it now, years later, is even funnier. And to think, I thought that I was so sharp back then.

Found My First Selfie

In the summer of 1975, as an early birthday present, my Dad bought me my first 35mm SLR camera. I remember how hard I lobbied for it (now I know where my kids get it from) and how excited I was to finally get it. It was a Canon FTb and it had the coveted 10 second timer which, back-in-the-day, allowed you to be in your own photos.

I can tell a lot from this photo and I am certain that I hadn’t yet figured out how to use that 10 second timer. I shot a few portraits of my Dad that day, but he got annoyed that I was interrupting his lawn mowing.

If you look closely, you’ll notice that the price tag is still hanging from the strap. I’m standing on my back patio, taking a photo of myself in the reflection of the sliding glass door and probably thinking, “I look so cool holding this camera!”  and there in the background, is my Dad, captured on film, trying to escape the “Just one more” pleas of yours truly.

Making The Middle-Aged Hot List

A few years ago, while building a humorous website targeted towards aging women, I filmed a short of myself trying on a pair of Spanx. I did it because I wanted to show our web developers that middle-aged women will do and share ridiculous things that celebrate a self deprecating appreciation of growing old. I really didn’t think it was that funny, but our 20-30 something developers thought it was hysterical. In fact, they encouraged me to launch the website with it. “No one will know it’s you” they promised…except of course, my friends who announced things like, “You’ve got balls sister” ,“Are you outta your mind?” and “What kind of hormones are you on?

Needless to say, we launched the site with MySpanx as our opening video feature and Kaboom, my ass went around the world. It really wasn’t the kind of share I expected. When I landed on a Danish car building site, I thought that having some “power-in-the-tank” was really misinterpreted, but that’s what happens when you release something on the internet for the public to see.

The true highlight came when BuzzFeed picked it up. I found out about the link when I received a panicked phone call from my daughter at work.

MY DAUGHTER: OMG Mom, YOU’RE ON BUZZ FEED! YOU MADE THE HOTLIST!

ME: Whaat?

MY DAUGHTER: YOU’RE BUTT HAS GONE VIRAL. I’M SENDING YOU THE LINK.

ME: Whaat?

MY DAUGHTER: You’re 7th on a list of 40 SIGNS YOU’RE ALMOST 40!

ME: Almost 40? I’m NORTH OF 50.

MY DAUGHTER: Who cares? You already have over a million hits!

I wanted to get excited about all the hits but truthfully, I just wanted to thank the BuzzFeed editor who deducted a decade.

Taking The Pledge

When I was little, this was dress-up of the highest order. With nary a rank, and absolutely no earned badges whatsoever, my six-month brownie stint made me feel like I was a world leader. Where else at the age of seven could you get a pseudo military outfit like that?

There was something very “Princess Grace” about those gloves and I remember that you had to wear them when taking the pledge or posing for troop pictures. This was the closest I ever got to the “service” and was probably my most favorite uniform (Isaly’s Ice Cream, not withstanding.)

Speaking of pledges, for all you nostalgia buffs, here it is:

On my honor, I will try:
To serve God and my country,
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law.

I take my pledges very seriously as you can see by the expression on my face. Thank goodness this one emphasized the word try. 

Perk-o-lating

Well, this is embarrassing. I just received an email with my Dunkin Donuts Perks stats.

Yes, I am one of those coffee chugging peeps who downloaded that incredibly convenient Dunkin Donuts phone app.

In the last 610 days, I’ve made 690 visits to Dunkin Donuts. Actually, I need to make an adjustment there. Of those 610 days, I was out of the country for 28 days, and in states where there wasn’t a Dunkin Donuts for about 30 days, which leaves me with a revised count of about 552 days.

I had at least one a day and then some because on top of that, I was awarded 47 free beverages for my coffee chugging loyalty.

OMG. I think I should be flagged when I donate blood. I had no idea I was this loyal.

I have to admit, I really appreciate the stroking of my ego with this badge-qualifying email, but seriously folks, how many more coffees do I have to drink to get the free shirt?