Monday, September 28, 2009

Why I Loved The Jewish Holiday

One of the perks of being a Catholic school student and having parents who taught in public school was that they always pulled us out of school for the Jewish holidays and took us on a mini vacation to Vermont.

Mom was a sucker for fall foliage and would plan awesome trips to Vermont which seemed really extravagant, but actually weren't thanks to the Entertainment Book. The Entertainment Book, for those of you who have never seen one, is this huge book filled with great coupons. People sometimes sell them as fundraisers. Back in the '80s the Entertainment Book had amazing deals for resorts. Now it's like "$1 off a $20 deluxe car wash" "Buy one Big Mac get one FREE."

Seriously? Who buys just a Big Mac? Isn't it all about the Value Meal? When was the last time you waited on that endless drive-thru line behind six moms driving minivans and simply ordered, One Big Mac? Actually maybe people do and I'm in the dark...

We always stayed at this awesome resort complete with a crystal clear indoor swimming pool, hot tub, bike baths and tennis courts (not that I played tennis). The inn's quaint dining room served the most delicious gourmet meals and every day at 3PM there was an afternoon tea service in the lounge area. I especially loved the veggies and dill dip! I'd hang out by the lobby fireplace, catching up on the latest Ralph Macchio scoops from Tiger Beat and learn the proper way to apply lipstick from YM magazine. I felt so grown up sipping herbal tea and people watching while blasting the Beach Boys on Dad's old silver Sony Walkman with the spongy orange headphones.

The fun began from the moment we pulled out of the driveway. I actually liked the long "road trip" style drive from Long Island to New England. We'd set up the backseat with our pillows and magazines - there wasn't Nintendo DS or portable DVD players back then. The highlight of the ride would be stopping at rest stops and loading up on Combos and Twix bars.

We'd spend one day at the outlets and fill the trunk with Dexter shoes and polo shirts. The next day involved the outdoors and start out with a few hours on the Alpine Slide, which I enjoyed most of all. It's pretty ironic to me now that I've become this really fearful adult who steers clear of roller coasters, rides and horror movies.

But at age 11, Pico Mountain was no match for me! I hopped right on and sped down that Killington mountain, wind whipping through my hair and not a care in the world. Well, maybe one care - I recall thinking that if the kid ahead of me suddenly stops, then what do I do? Today, I would never even dream of planting my fat ass on one of those things.

Looking back now, I think there was something really cool about taking a vacation with my family while the other kids were stuck in school. I don't think this was something most of my other classmates did. We only took this particular time off because of the Jewish holiday. It was the only time we didn't have off from school at the same time as my parents. In fact, I think we had more holidays off than they did - my personal favorite was All Saints Day! I mean, what kid doesn't want off the day after Halloween? That was like the best Halloween treat ever!

PS When I first met my husband, I told him about the inn and it turned out he too went there as a child. We took our very first Thanksgiving together there and even took a photo together by the fireplace. I thought about having our wedding there, but sadly the resort has since closed.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Sundays

Today is a rainy fall Sunday. Thinking about my younger days and growing up fourth-generation Italian, our Sunday consisted of church and pasta with meatballs. I hated pasta as a kid. Probably because we ate it twice a week. Every Sunday and Wednesday. Now I'll eat it if the husband is in the mood, but it's rarely my first choice.

Sundays as a kid, we would typically have a nice breakfast, attend mass, consume a pasta dinner with Italian bread (my mom would send me walk to the corner bakery - "No Semolina!" she'd yell to me as I'd set out on my ten minute walk. Afterward, we'd watch the Mets or Yankees game and finish homework assignments and get ready for the school week - usually in that exact order.

The day would begin with a hearty, delicious breakfast of pancakes or eggs and bacon. I went through a weird stage around age 12, where I would wake up super duper early and prepare a huge scrambled egg breakfast complete with potatoes, toast and bacon for my parents and little brother.

My mom doesn't remember this short-lived Sunday ritual of me cooking them breakfast, but I do and I loved it. I would quietly pretend I was on a cooking show like a young Julia Child with a Long Island accent. In my head I would say, "First we crack the eggs, careful not to let those nasty shells in" ... then I'd look up as if a camera was panning in on me. I'd smile, happily whisking the milk and egg yoke mixture. I'd peel and slice potatoes and add spices like Paprika and onion salt and toss them in a butter-laden frying pan (I didn't know about oil). Where did I learn this? My mom never made breakfast potatoes. How did I know what Paprika was?

Afterward, we'd pile into the family Oldsmobile Cutlass with full bellies and go to church. Now, I'm not gonna lie, church sucked. I swear, I never once listened to the stories the priests told and found the crying babies and cute alter boys way more fascinating than whatever lesson we were learning that Sunday.

Worse yet, my mom had this habit of physically forcing me to sit nearest the stranger while she plopped herself down between my brother and me. She seemed to thrive on having me sit butt-to-butt with a polyester-clad lady that reeked of moth balls. If not that, my pew partner was an older man with knobby knees and wrinkly hands I was forced to shake during the whole dreaded "Peace be with you" portion of the service. It was pure agony. My luck never had me seated next to an adorable preteen boy wearing a Gremlins shirt and Pony sneakers like myself or my current crush from school.

I remember that 45 minutes of my weekend seemed like an eternity. It felt as if it droned on and on as I anxiously awaited the priest to dismiss us with, "You may go in Peace, to Love and Serve the Lord."

Today, I'm an adult and other than being able to skip church, Sunday seems to go sorta the same way. The ball game is always on - it seems like it's an extra long game on Sundays. It really does. I wonder if they tell the teams to drag it out a bit longer or something. We consume a plentiful b-fast then discuss dinner minutes after the egg covered pans and dishes are washed. We tend to lay around. That sick stomach I'd get thinking about school the next day now replaced with thoughts of the work day ahead.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Five Unforgettable Things My Mother Taught Me

I sometimes wonder if I’m the only one who remembers simple rules my mother taught me while growing up. It’s weird because although I’m actually old enough to have a teenage kid, I still think of them. I guess this could be a spin-off of the blog where I complained about how I never forget various comments I’ve endured throughout my lifetime…

1. “When washing your face, never rub! Always pat dry.” I don’t know where she got this from, but it was something she always instructed me to do when washing my face. To this day, every evening when I roughly scrub my impossible-to-remove eyeliner with a washcloth, I feel guilty for not softly “patting” my eye lids clean or dry.

2. “When shaving your legs, never go above the knee.” One summer, my mom walked in on me while shaving the barely-there hairs off my legs and exclaimed, “Never above the knee!” I’m not sure why this even happened – I was much too young to be shaving my legs that summer. I guess a friend said she did it, so I had to do it. But this “never above the knee” stuff makes me laugh. I guess back in the ‘80s, moms didn’t know people wax and shave their entire bodies.

3. “Don’t take candy from strangers.” OK, this is very true and as adults, we should heed this warning. Think about the Andrew Lusters of the world passing women Roofies in their drinks. Then there was my economics teacher in high school. Someone in my class offered him a cupcake and he refused. He told us a wild story about how in the ‘70s a student gave him a brownie and it was a special brownie and he was wacked out of his mind all day.

4. “Don’t get in the car with someone you don’t know!” As with rule number 3, this is still true today, I guess unless it’s someone you pay, such as a limo or cab driver. The one time I did this, I swear the outcome could have gone horribly wrong. It was during my rave days. My friend Kristina and I drove out to Deer Park to hit up our favorite “rave” club, Caffeine. Thirty minutes from home and my 1979 Mercedes 300D decided that was the perfect night to cease all operations. Stuck out in Suffolk county at 11PM alongside the Southern State, before cell phones, we nervously accepted a ride from a nut job. He kindly taxied us to some godforsaken area off the highway to use a payphone and kept shutting his headlights off. We truly thought he was going to kill us that night. He ended up instead, prank calling me for months because he had my contact info. Originally we asked him to call AAA and he came back saying they didn’t believe him – we later discovered that AAA would never do that. They said they take all calls seriously and if it prevented a stranded motorist from taking a ride with a freak, they wouldn’t insist on speaking to the driver/AAA member.

5. “Don’t eat raw cake mix!” Come on, who doesn’t love to lick the spoon from a Better Crocker cake mix? I know raw egg is what's holding it all together, but sorry Mom, I can’t resist and to this day, I insist on licking the bowl and spoon and hope I don’t catch a disgusting case of Salmonella.

There were lots of other little rules like, “No soda before bedtime” which my cousins still remember from when I babysat them in fifth grade. Basically that’s true, caffeine can keep you up. My mom was always pretty laid back and I learned this the hard way when staying with friends at their homes.

My dad’s thing was, “No elbows on the table.” I still have trouble with that one and it’s funny because my husband is really good about that, yet he often holds his spoon like a sailor – that was my childhood friend’s moms rule. She always made sure we held our spoons properly. To this day, I always notice if someone is gripping their fork or spoon with a fist-like motion and think of my friend’s mom.

She had a proper British accent and that alone made you sit up straight. I stayed with that friend and her family for a week in 1983 and I swear this woman couldn’t stand me. I had many bad habits. She nearly had a nervous breakdown because I always threw my dirty clothes into the hamper inside-out. I think of that when folding my husband’s clothes and they’re, of course, always inside-out. “I’m leaving them inside out to teach you a lesson,” the mother yelled to me from the family’s laundry room. I sometimes leave my husband’s clothes inside out and smile thinking of that summer stay at their home.

My high school boyfriend’s parents had an obsession with drying the bathroom sink after each use. I couldn’t get the hang of that, but he was so good – he did it every time. Then I think my college friend Jen had to do that for fear the wrath of her mom too. I wish I could get my husband to clean his toothpaste splatters off the bathroom mirror and sink, but I know that’s really wishful thinking. Each time I rinse it off, I think of my once 15-year-old boyfriend nervously drying the sink and surrounding area and wonder what it’s like in other people’s homes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I Stole A Little Person

Tonight I had a doctor appointment where I regressed to third grade behavior which some of you may find incredibly disturbing. If you can't handle it, exit now. You have been warned.

Arriving a few minutes early, I sat alone in the small waiting room. I looked around and noticed the same Sweet Pickles Weekly Reader books I saw last visit were once again sitting on the end table nearest me. While staring at the cover image of Goof Off Goose, the old '80s TV commercial jingle of course played out in my head just as it did the last time, "Smart moms know how kids minds grow... Sweet Pickles..." Soon images of that stupid bus rolling down the street and a narrator or child exclaiming, "Here comes the Sweet Pickles bus!" followed.

Next to the books I noticed something I just had to have. A little person. An original '80s golden haired ponytail-sporting figure with exaggerated eyelashes and large smile. In kindergarten I absolutely loved Little People. Today's Little People aren't the same. I had the house and the barn and I think a school house. Today, they're larger and rounder probably built to keep three-year-old kids from swallowing them or shoving them up their nose.

I scoped out the scene and made sure I was in the clear and quickly pocketed the little gem. I don't know why I needed to have this. When I was very young, I went through a phase where I would five-finger other kid's stuff. I especially had a thing for Snoopy and Hello Kitty school supplies and stationery items. If one of the girls left a Hello Kitty eraser out on her desk, I would quickly swipe it and bring it home.

My obsession with taking things that didn't belong to me transitioned from school to the public library. My mom always brought us to our town's local library at least twice a week. There were two significant items at the library that interested me most. Yeah, not the books... The kid's library area had a glass case housing whatever the current monthly craft or display happened to be.

I especially loved Christmas time. I think there was a dollhouse decked out for Christmas with a miniature fake tree and small gift wrapped boxes carefully placed underneath. I wanted so badly to touch the gifts and play with the ornaments, but they locked the case to keep away little wandering hands. My other favorite part of the kid's library was a cardboard box filled with random items. Above the tattered box hung a LOST & FOUND sign. I would rummage through the box and grab one or two items and bring them home with me and inspect them carefully when I was alone in my room. Maybe it was a tiny plastic coin purse or perhaps a special pen with a troll sportin' neon hair attached.

It really gave me a strange feeling of euphoria. Like I had scored points in a video game or won something. I loved looking at my little treasures and wondering who owned them before me. Did the kid miss the item? Why would someone leave such great stuff behind. How come these kids weren't more careful and watchful of their items?

This was my secret and I never told my friends or my family. I once attempted to snag a handful of Hello Kitty stationery items including a small note set with tiny envelopes and stickers, some scented erasers and tiny pencils in an equally tiny plastic pencil case. My brother was in a stroller. I had the brilliant idea of sneaking the items under his blanket and nobody would notice as we wheeled him out of Dennison's Stationery in the Green Acres Mall. My plan backfired when my mom spotted them and forced me to return the items and reminded me that stealing was wrong and illegal. You can go to jail for taking things that you need to pay for.

By the time I was in fourth grade I had matured into more adult items. I remember taking AA batteries and ultra tiny bottles of Binaca from Courtesy Drugs down the block from our home. I don't know why I did that. I didn't need liquid breath drops that tasted so very potent. I can still smell the blue liquid and taste the sweet, yet strong alcohol taste that lingered in my mouth for what seemed like forever.

Eventually I outgrew this devilish phase and I never took anything of worth really. I just had this thing for random trinkets. I don't know what it was about these items. There was something about spreading them all out on my twin bed. I'd sit under the pretty princess-like blue and white gingham canopy and matching bedspread and just admire each little item as if they were nuggets of pure gold.

Tonight I left with a little trinket and I keep examining it and I know I will probably return it on my next visit. On the drive home I wondered if the doctor would notice it. What if a child asks, "Where is the little person?" I better remember to return it.


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