The Winter of Our Discontent

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coldIt is unsettling, but a fun game.  I get into the car and the outside temperature indicator reads about 47 degrees.  Then I pull out of the garage and every time I check the temperature reading, it has nosedived.  I pull into the market about a mile from the house for my morning coffee and the indicator may tell me that the temperature is in the thirties or twenties.  I know, in my heart of hearts, that the decline is not over.  Rather, it is just the beginning.  Coffee in hand, or should I say, coffee in cup holder, I drive to either my office or the dry cleaner and the car thermometer seems to have rested on a number in the low twenties or even the teens.  On recent occasions, there have been single digit numbers.  I cringe but I pull on a hat, gloves, and a scarf or two!  Lip protector on my lips and charcoal warmers on hand in case I need them.

So what does a fairly rational family do in the harshest winter in a long time?  Do they go visit their families in Florida?  No, that would be too easy.  We go visit our family in Chicago.  Please stop laughing.  My husband had some time and we needed to see our daughter’s new apartment in Chicago.  It is a fabulous town.  We are actually had a good time.  Nice shops, great hotel, Second City, good food.  But it is freakin’ freezing.  It gives cold a new meaning.

I always tell people that in the cold you can always throw another layer on.  I am crying uncle.  Old man winter, you are winning this year but I am not down and out yet!  Spring is just about 6 weeks away, and I am counting the day.  Tomorrow brings another Nor’easter, with 6-12 inches of snow.  Here are some tips for keeping warm.

In the house:

  • Close all of your windows and doors.  Make sure they are caulked or sealed to keep the cold air outside.  If you feel a breeze, place a towel or shirt where the air is leaking.
  • Close the doors to unused rooms.  If the kids are gone or you are not using a room, close the door to those rooms.   You can cover the registers in these rooms too.
  • Use curtains.  Sets of curtains block drafts.  Open curtains when the sun is shining and close them when it is not.
  • Rugs and carpets help prevent heat loss through the floors and are warmer to walk on than bare floors.
  • Insulate attics and crawl spaces.
  • Cook – bake or roast or broil. openoverWhen you cook you dry the air and heat the kitchen.  Even when you are done, leave the oven door ajar for a bit while the oven cools off.
  • Light candles.  Candles produce heat.  Just be careful where you put them and don’t leave them unattended.
  • Incandescent lights give off more heat.  Turn them on if you have them.
  • Drink warm beverages.  Coffee, tea, or broth all qualify.
  • Dress warmly in layers.  As the bottom layer, you can use the moisture whisking material that carries sweat away from the skin .  Cotton is good as the lowest layer but does not carry the moisture away.  Hats, turtlenecks, tights under pants, and thermal underwear are all good things to have on hand, even when you are home.  I cherish my Under Armour.  For my lady friends, panty hose under your jeans or pants works wonders as an insulator. Feel free to lend them to the cold men in your home  :-).
    • Wear slippers or keep your feet covered when you are home.  You can also wear a hat in the house, or if you wear a hoodie, put up the hood.
  • Get Moving! Exercise warms you up and keep you warm.  Moving around produces body heat.
  • Snuggle -  What more is there to say.
  • You can sit on a heating pad, or use an electric blanket.
  • Inside, you can wear a Snuggli or robe, or in my friends’ cases, a fleece.
  • Ah, the hot water bottle. hot water bottle Before you go to bed, take a heating pad or warm hot water bottle and put it under the cover, by your feet.  When you get into bed, it will be so much more cozy.

Outside

  • Dress in layers. (See above)
    • Remember to keep your head, fingers and toes warm and covered.
      • This is a fashionista’s fantasy.  The assortment of hats, scarves and socks is amazing.  So have some fun.
      • If you want function, try the gloves with the fingertips that let you use your smartphone even with your gloves on.
      • You can try the new glittens, gloves with mitten covers that pull back, so your fingers are covered but your fingertips are free to dial a phone, pay the cashier at the grocer, or open a door.glittens
    • Use a scarf or stretchy fleece neck cowl to keep your neck warm.
    • I love the charcoal hand and feet warmers when I need to be outside for any length of time.  So if you are watching the children or grandchildren play sports in the cold weather, these hand and feet warmers are worth their weight in gold.  I once tried electric socks (Brookstone), and they didn’t work out so well.  But my skier friends use them.
  • Stay active.  Just like when you are in the house, if you keep moving you will stay warmer.
  • Just like indoors, drink warm beverages.

Take heart, we are 50 days from Spring!!  Hope this helps.

Saying Goodbye to 2013

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This year has been an incredible year for the Swidlers.  I don’t think I want it to end.   As I think back over this year, I realize how blessed I am.

The first half of the year was occupied by wedding planning.  What can be bad?  It was hectic, busy and thrilling.  We were running around, making decisions, trying on dresses, planning the shower and the wedding.  The big day came and it was perfect.  The weekend was perfect.  Swidler-Longhini 100

But even before the wedding, our youngest, Craig, graduated from Emory University.  After twenty-five years of tuitions, we were done! We laughed, we cried, we danced at that graduation.  My husband and I raised three incredible children.  They are all well-rounded and contributing to society.  I am not sure exactly how we did that, but it worked out.  And most of all, we got a raise, no more tuition.

So, we went to graduation, had a wedding, and then my oldest daughter ran the NYC marathon.  It was something she wanted to do for years.  In 2012 she was ready to run, but Hurricane Sandy squashed that opportunity.744343-1370-0026s

In November Sandy had a significant birthday.  In December I passed my tests to receive a Real Estate License.  Phew!

As I think back, there were numerous weddings, babies, and good things for many of my friends and family. I am exhausted thinking about everything that went on around us. photo 2

On all of the award shows, they have the memorial slides.  Yes, there were some very sad passings this years as well.  My heart goes out to those that lost loved ones.  But overall, it was a good year.  Now the challenge is to keep the blessings coming in 2014 and keep reaching for new opportunities.

So let me close by wishing everyone a fabulous new year, filled with only good things.

Kick The…Acorn?

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acornI walk my dog every day so he and I get our exercise.  We watch the seasons change, see what the neighbors are doing, and check out the neighborhood in general.  The Woodster and I are an unofficial neighborhood watch.  Sometimes it does get a bit tedious.  When I have my phone with me I sing along and it does seem to make the time go faster. I also think we walk to the beat. The dog couldn’t care less.  He wants to stop and smell every blade of grass that any other animal has ever trod on, urinated on, or smelled.  To test my skill and ability I kick the acorns as we walk along.  Fall is especially acorn-abundant so I have a big choice of which acorn to kick.

I pick one acorn.  Kick it and continue to kick it until it disappears or falls apart.  I try to see how far and how straight it goes.  I do this for no other reason other than it is there.

In the winter, after a snow, I tend to kick pieces of snow or ice that are in my path.  In my own way I am breaking up the snow.  I also learned that not all snowballs are what they appear.  As I draw back my foot to kick what I believe is a free-standing chunk of snow, I realize as the pain moves up my leg that it is still frozen to the ground.  Fool me once shame on you.  The fact that this has happened to me on more than one occasion is now — shame on me.snowball

Occasionally I kick the rock or pebble that dares to be in my path. So what have I learned from this?

  • As I have reached middle age, I now have the attention span of a three-year old.
  • I am so creative that I can make up games to amuse myself like a day camp counselor. Along these lines, I do still enjoy a good arts and crafts project.
  • I need to bring my phone along when I walk the dog so that I can sing along.  Those that have heard me sing would beg to differ.
  • Pele or Becks  I am not, but I am getting good at kicking straight and far.

Most of all I look back on feeling good that the simplest of activities has made me happy.  No technology, just me, my dog and an acorn.  Maybe one of those acorns that I end up kicking into the nearby woods will take root and be the next mighty oak tree on Blackberry Drive.  Yes I know, it is truly the opening of the Andy Griffith show, when he and Opie are skimming rocks on the water.  It works for me.  It settles my nerves and clears my head.  When thoughts are swirling around and I feel overwhelmed, the walk does help me sort things out and prioritize.  What simple things in life work to do that for you?  Please let me know.

The Veil Saga

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veilchart72aSo by now everyone knows my daughter Alexandra got married.  In true wedding style, there was some drama.  Nothing too serious but nerve wracking all the same.

The saga begins–

When Alex was trying on her gown for a fitting, they put the most gorgeous veil on her.  Those ladies at Saks Bridal were great to work with.  It seemed a bit extreme to pay that much money for the veil, which would be on her head for, I don’t know, 20 minutes.  Would anyone really remember or see the veil after that?  No.

So I scoured the internet for a comparable, yet less expensive veil.  I found one on Simply Bridal, ordered it.  We were golden.

Now my regular UPS man knows that if he pulls up and the dog is outside:

  • If he leaves a package on the front stoop when the dog is out, the dog will rip it apart, box and contents. (He no longer chews my shoes, but alas, can’t break him of the package problem).
  • I am home.  The dog is only alone on the front lawn if I am home.  So, he rings the bell and hands me the package.  If the dog is not outside, not a problem.  Leave the box and no one is the wiser.
    picture of woody the dog

    It wasn’t me!!

Unfortunately, the substitute UPS man was not aware of the Woody Factor.  So, he dropped the veil on the front porch, gave the dog a milk bone and left.  Woodster went to work.  By the time I found the veil, it was ripped in 5 places and the packaging was torn to shreds.  I took this as a sign from above to order the veil from Saks.

Act 2 of our saga — In mid-April I called Saks Bridal and ordered the veil.  No problem, should we ship it to you when it arrives?  I think not.  Hold the veil with the dress.  Four days before the wedding we go to Saks for the final fitting.  Dress looks great.  The veil mayvan brings in the veil and shows us how and where to place the veil.  She wondered why I turned a whiter shade of pale.  (My apologies to Procol Harem.)  I actually remained quite calm as I mentioned, “That’s not my veil.  I ordered the single veil, finger tip length with a pencil ribbon edge.  This veil is a double veil, down to her knees.”  The veil-meister was not happy either but she was able to get the veil people to ship the right one to the hotel we are staying at near our venue.

Act 3, the saga continues — I get to the hotel and I am handed a full length white garment bag, with Alex’s veil.  Phew.  The Wedding Day has finally arrived.  We do hair and makeup.  I lay the gown, veil, and various dresses and tuxedos out on the bed so they will be packed in the cars going to the venue for photos.  As they picked up the various garment bags, the car packers thought the second white garment bag was empty as it was so thin, and hung it back up in my closet.  The veil did not make it to the venue with us and we did not notice until we were taking pictures.  This veil was more trouble than it was worth but at this point, I had gone through so much for the veil, there would be no wedding without it!!!!  It’s not that the veil was so important.  I could certainly wear it around the house as I do laundry, but hey, we went through so much to get it this far.

The grand finale — So we call Uncle Robert at the hotel.  I don’t know how he got into my room, but he got the veil and got it to us in time for pictures and the wedding.

Now the veil sits on a hanger in a closet.  Hmm, I have some laundry to do, perhaps wearing the veil will make me feel so much better.

What are your funny family sagas?

The Mother of the Bride

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brideWhen I got engaged as a young woman, my mom planned the whole wedding.  I was with her when we picked out the location and of course I picked out the dress.  I don’t remember having much input into anything else.  I remember going to what was the Tarrytown Hilton and wanting to get married in their rose garden.  However, the pool was next to the garden and they were quite clear that during my ceremony they would not close the pool, but rather ask everyone to be quiet.  Not one to want to get married while Billy was splashing Tommy, we moved on.  When my wedding was being planned, Sandy was a second year med student.  He had classes and was studying for his boards.  All he had to do was get his tux.  He was more than happy to have someone else plan the wedding.

During Thanksgiving of 2011, my daughter got engaged.  We kvelled, we laughed and then we got down to business.  There were venues to visit, bands to audition, flowers to design.  I had waited 25 years to plan this wedding.  I dreamed of finding that rose garden and having a lovely sit down dinner with a band that would shake your booty.  There were a million details, from the design on the cocktail napkins, her dress, my dress, the menu, down to the pocket square in the mens’ tuxedos. The checklist from The Knot was about 500 lines on an Excel spreadsheet. What I learned early on was… my daughter had very clear ideas about what she wanted for this wedding.  Wait a minute, is that how it goes?  Yes, it’s true.  It wasn’t my wedding.

So, my daughter, her fiance and I formed a team.  Alex and Tony, being very artistic and creative were the strategic planners.  I was the COO, taking their ideas, having the ultimate veto power if I really didn’t like it, and putting it into action.  There were some heated exchanges but overall, none of their ideas were bad or anything I couldn’t live with.  Alex’s premise was she wanted to stay as far away from cookie cutter affairs as possible.  I got very nervous.  I am a left-brained engineer.  I like those formulae that work.  You know, if it isn’t broke, why fix it?

The fact we were planning a wedding that was a new format had me worried. No one seemed to notice I hadn’t slept in six months worrying about it.  We picked a different venue, a vineyard in Stonington, CT.  There was not going to be a sit down meal, but rather an evolving buffet with no assigned seats.  It worked.  She wanted an a cappella group to sing her down the aisle and perform at the cocktail party.  There was one thing that I got, the band rocked.  I have never been to a wedding where when the band wrapped up, the dance floor clambered for an encore.

Now it is over and the weight of the world is off my shoulders.  Tomorrow I am picking up the proofs, so my memories of that evening will be renewed.  I also learned a lot.  My dress was nice, but too long and too heavy for a summer affair.  I also learned that the right tailor and the right underwear make all the difference. My shoes were too uncomfortable as I soak my blistered feet.  There is nothing like a tux for a wedding.  Suits are nice, but a tux stays classy forever.  I really needed a bigger venue.  There were about 30 people I could not invite because of limited space.

I also renewed my belief that there is so much poop in the world, that when you have an opportunity to celebrate, do it up.  My husband lets me get away with this although he believes, “Why don’t I buy a Jag, drive it for a day, and push it off a cliff?”

I want to say a big thank you to my new in-laws, the Longhini’s.  They were wonderful partners in this endeavor and I am so glad to be a part of their family and have them be a part of mine.

Some more thank yous

My party planner Sarah True of True Events had fabulous ideas, kept me on schedule, but most of all, reassured me when I got a little crazy.  Yumiko of Hana Florists delivered exactly what we asked for, only better.  Gourmet Galley made our crazy idea perfection.  My photographer Images by David, was a pleasure to work with.  Merrily and Michael, you have a beautiful vineyard. Blue Jupiter wowed the crowd during the cocktail party and ceremony.  The Rhythm Collective of Elan Artists were amazing beyond belief.  The dance floor was packed from start to finish and they knew more about how to roll out our different format than I ever could. Please forgive me if I forgot anyone.

Who you gonna call?

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Sometimes poop happens and you wonder if there are unearthly beings floating around. As I think about it, many years ago we had a Chevy Suburban. Periodically the alarm would go off in the middle of the night. We wrote it off to a faulty electrical system. Items disappear (in addition to socks) and then magically reappear. For weeks my husband was looking for a black sweater. Last week it showed up in his closet.

photo(20)Recently, I had a house full of company. During that time, I noticed a plate I have on display kept being turned around.  I thought it was a practically joke on the part of my mom or my daughters.  They swear they did not do it.  Well, the company went home and the plate was turned around again.  At the same time, my slate WELCOME sign on my front porch ended up in pieces.  Then again, there was the dog barking into empty rooms. So I wrote to a paranormal society.  They think I could have a poltergeist or there is a spirit tied to the plate.  The plate was a gift from Israel and I can live with a Sabra spirit.  I fear the Welcome sign fell victim to overambitious landscapers who were doing my spring cleanup with industrial blowers.  photo(19)I saw them blowing the leaves off the front porch.  I do not think I have a ghoul, I think I have a devilish husband with a warped sense of humor, although he swears he did not do it.  So I hear burning sage works, or placing salt in the four corners of your home.  I like these alternatives because they are inexpensive.

Perhaps my hubby will fess up when he sees the price of an exorcism.  But.. just in case, anyone have any knowledge on this?

How many times…

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11749Everyone my age walks  into a room and then forgets why they walked into that room.  But there is so much more.  How many times have you:

1. Reached for the conditioner in the shower and realized you put in more shampoo?  Oh well, the instructions say to apply twice.

2. Left the shower and realized you only shaved one leg?

3. Served a wonderful dinner for 10 and then realized you forgot to serve some of the food you prepared?  This is usually a condiment, like cranberry sauce or cole slaw.  No matter how many lists you have hanging on the refrigerator or taped to your cabinets, something will not make it to the table.

4.  Prepared your favorite recipe and two seconds before serving it, you realized you left something out.  Just as I was about to serve the zuppe de pesce, I realized I forgot to add shrimp.  It is a good thing shrimp don’t take long to cook.

5. Taken a list of errands, traveled miles to get them all done, and then returned home realizing you left one key errand out.  For some reason, this is usually the dry cleaner.  When I lived closer to downtown, I would have gone out again to complete the list.  Now that I live a little farther away, the dry cleaning will have to wait.  Of course this only applies when I don’t need something from the dry cleaner.  If I do need that dress for an event tonight, it is back in the car and I am  on the way.

6. Reached for the shampoo and realized you had the conditioner?

7. Sworn you put that list, or coupons, or recipe into your pocketbook, but it is really still on the counter?

8. Left the house and not remembered if you brought the dog inside?

9. Opened up the menu upside down.  Last week I opened up my mah jongg card, and was halfway through the first game before I actually looked to see that it was upside down.

10. Forgotten where you put your glasses, checkbook, book, iPad, cell phone, slippers?

11. Walked up and down your stairs bringing things up and down, except the one thing you actually need?

I know there are more, I just can’t remember.  What funny things do you do or witness, that you know happens to other people, that you can share.

Weight Watchers Redeux

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wwI am not sure if I spelled that correctly in the title, but here we go again.  I have been dieting and exercising.  My clothes fit better, I did not go up the size I was on the verge of going up to, but the number hasn’t moved from the scale.  Is it fat turned to muscle?  Or is it just the same old fat?  So in an attempt to change that number on the scale, in the right direction, I am onto Weight Watchers once again.

No, it wasn’t Jennifer Hudson that convinced me, albeit she looks FABULOUS!  It was me, feeling like poop. The good thing is, I am really watching what I eat.  The best discovery is the new tool, the scanner app.  You can scan a food bar code with your smart phone, and the app will tell you what the points are.  How cool is that?  It has revolutionized my diet.  What is less points, the Special K bar or the Fruit Gushers?  How many points is that oatmeal vs the English Muffin?  Fruits and veggies are mostly all 0 points, so I am one vegetable and berry-salad eating mama.

About a dozen years ago I was very successful on Weight Watchers.  But s l o w l y, the weight has crept back on.  Menopause did not help.  So I don’t expect to lose weight like I did then, but hopefully things will start to shift and decrease.

Along those lines, pass me any good WW recipes you may have.  Let me start the chain of events by telling you I made the WW bouillabaisse this evening and it was a bit hit. Let me know. Thanks in advance.

What do you mean — Mah Jongg isn’t exercise???

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rube1I am trying to lose weight for an upcoming event.  I walk, pilate, diet.  It seems that most of my spare time however is playing mah jongg.  So here is my idea.  We get four stationary bicycles.  Set them up around a card table that is on a platform or lift.  This way we can play mah jongg while we cycle in place.  Too Rube Goldberg?  Hmm.

What if we get that Suzanne Somers thing that you squeeze with your thighs? We can do that and throw mah jongg tiles at the same time.  Maybe we need some weights that we can lift or that nutcracker thingy you squeeze while waiting for someone to throw a tile.mahjong

I never believed  in those belts that heat up or vibrate and turn your body into a lean, mean, fat-fighting machine.  If you know anything about them, please let me know.  I  can wear one  under my  shirt while I play.

So I have to resort to diet and exercise.  The key problem is that when I return from a two-mile walk with the dog or a Pilates class, I am starving!  I know it is psychological, if I wasn’t dieting, I would not be so hungry after class.  Ergo… I am working on not thinking about the diet, eating in a more healthy manner, and continuing to put my Engineering degree to work to figure to combine working out and playing mah jongg at the same time.

Got any ideas?  Let me know.

Small City, Smaller Town, Smallest World

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Every knows, almost ad nauseam, that I grew up in New York City.  So when I moved to Stamford, I thought of it as a small town.  At about 120,000 people, it is a small city.  Yet, between thirty years at Verizon, the kids’ schools, after school and travel sports, my temple, the Jewish Community Center (the small but vocal Jewish Community), Volunteer work, and mah jongg,  I seem to know a lot of people.  So the other night, when a good friend and I walked into Williams-Sonoma in the mall to get a bridal shower gift, lo and behold, we knew the woman working there.  She helped us select and wrap the gift and then another woman working there walked in that I knew from the days of the girls’ softball travels.  The four of us chatted and we realized that in our city, we knew a lot of folks in common. Suddenly, it wasn’t a city anymore, it was small town chatter.

Last week I went to study at Starbucks and I started to chat with a gentleman that is there all of the time and I was introduced to over a year ago.  We started to talk about our children and voila, his son works at BBN, an R&D company in Cambridge, MA.  BBN was once a Verizon subsidiary, ergo I know some folks there and we chatted about that coincidence. I did have coffee with the BBN president when I was in Boston in December (oh, you name dropper you!) so I dropped the prez a quick email about the coincidence.

It is amazing how your network grows, like the fabric of a spider’s web.  The people you meet through the people you know just grows at an amazing rate.  As I age, the overall network growth is slowing, but I see it happening to my children all of the time.  Friends of friends from school, camp, work, sports, cousins, has put them within a huge network of friends.  Facebook and Twitter help keep the lines of communication amongst these networks and pockets of friends alive.  A quick email or tweet can be circulated amongst thousands with the press of a button.   WORD TO THE  WISE – BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU PUT IN ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATIONS FOR THIS REASON!

Everyone knows what everyone is doing, and when you need some folks for softball, or mah jongg, or just to grab a drink with a friend, a quick note posted in the right place gets the job done.

Of course, nothing beats walking into a Starbucks in Venice, California and bumping into the one person I know that lives in the LA area.

As Dave Matthews put it, “Now the world is small, remember how it used to be,  with mountains and oceans and winters and rivers and stars.”

Sometimes you want to be alone, but other times you want to be part of something big.  My small-town, city lets me do both.  Your thoughts?