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MOAM Book Club Summer 2019

Oops. I started writing this post way back in July when the summer was stretched out in front of me. And now it’s almost over. But not quite. The days are still long and if you try really hard it’s possible to channel that summery vibe. Especially if you step outside and feel the heat (and humidity. #MonicafromFriends) If you can’t stand the heat, get into the air con – with a fabulous book or three. Here is your MOAM Book Club – Summer Edition. Better late than never…

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

This book introduced me to Reese Witherspoon’s book club. I know, I can’t believe I typed that either. But it did and I’m so glad because while all her choices aren’t for me (The Library. Half fab. Half agony), this one was amazing. Terrific storytelling about a wild child growing up alone in the marshes of North Carolina. I couldn’t put it down. Neither will youC

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

This debut novel is an award-winning, buzzed-about book by a young and super talented new voice. A college-aged couple of exes find themselves entangled with an older, “cooler” married couple….A lot of feelings are felt and analyzed and while I didn’t actually love it, I appreciated the writing itself so I’m keeping it on the list. Also because Rooney’s second novel was incredible.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

This sophomoric outing by Sally Rooney grabbed me from page one and wouldn’t let me go. This is a love story between two high schoolers who become secret friends, then lovers, then exes… on repeat. They drift apart and are drawn back together over the years, from school to college to beyond graduation. I adored it and may have finished it in about 3 days.

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

This is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in the close-knit Muslim community in Toronto. This isn’t a particularly challenging read, but I’m a Jane Austen fan and this was a frothy, fun read that is perfect for summer – or anytime.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

I absolutely adored this epic, award-winning novel. A generational saga set in Korea and Japan, this was a sweeping, heart-breaking and absolutely fantastic study of characters, history, class and family. One story would cede into the next in a totally satisfying way and I can honestly say that despite being over 500 pages, it wasn’t long enough!

Golden Child: A Novel by Claire Adams

Set in rural Trinidad, this is the tale of a family with twin sons: one is a genius who brings his family nothing but joy while the other is a challenging, non-conforming boy who brings nothing but trouble. A series of events leads the family to grapple with the age-old issue of how far they would go to ensure the success if their children? And at what expense? Heartbreaking.

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

Four siblings are left to their own devices while their mom endures a period of depression. Another decade-spanning saga of characters that grow apart and reconnect. I fully invested in each of the siblings and, while the book isn’t perfect, it’s a beautifully written exploration of love, loss and family.

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray

Every review of this book compares it to An American Marriage and The Mothers and, frankly, I couldn’t put it better myself. When Althea, the eldest of three girls, and her husband are arrested, the younger sisters must return to their childhood home to care for their teenage nieces as the trial looms. Facing demons, understanding memories and all the angst and emotions that go with it are beautifully layered in this story of family and forgiveness that is page turning and fabulous.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Is there anyone out there who hasn’t read this story of the rise and fall of the legendary 70’s band? Really?? What are you waiting for? The series? Yes, an adaptation of the “definitive history” is in the works. And yes, it’s fiction. Cleverly written as an oral history, complete with interviews with the band and their entourage, Daisy Jones is the perfect end-of-summer easy, breezy read.

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

When a woman loses her best friend, she finds herself saddled with his unwanted dog, a troubled and mourning Great Dane. Obviously, I was all over this book. It’s a little trippy and unconventional, but I loved this study of friendship, loss, love and relationships – between friends, lovers, and dogs.

The Secrets Between Us / The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

I had The Space Between Us on my to-read list for years. And I’m so glad I held off reading this incredible story about a disillusioned upper-middle class housewife and her illiterate, long-term maid and confident. Why so glad, you ask? Because by the time I finished the book, 8 years after it was published, the sequel had been released! I was able to keep going with this unbelievable story of modern India, castes, class, gender and friendship. Lucky me – and now, lucky you!!

Necessary People by Anna Pitoniak

The tagline of this novel is “friends come and go…ambition is forever”. Kinda cheesy, but kinda fun in a single-white-female way! Two friends: one has it all. One wants it all. BFF’s become frenemies. You know the drill. Except you don’t. Read on…

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo

I love me a multi-generational family drama. This one starts in the 70’s and follows a couple, their four daughters and their extended family as they navigate the ups and downs of marriage, sisterhood and relationships. Throw a secret adopted kid into the mix, add some serious dysfunction, and then try to put this one down.

Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Just when he thought he’d come to terms with the end of his 15-year marriage, Toby Fleishman finds himself charting new territory when his ex-wife disappears. People are loving this perceptive story of marriage, relationships and the narratives we tell ourselves. I felt the lead up was way too long and the big reveal, when it comes, was underp-explored. Still, everyone keeps asking if I’ve read it and loved it. Yes, I have. But no, I didn’t.

Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Years by Ruth Reichl

This memoir traces Reichl’s rise through the food-writing ranks: from freelance foodie, to NY Times restaurant critic, to helming Gourmet magazine from its peak to its demise. Entertaining, (ahem) dishy, and delicious – plus there are recipes!!

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

Oh, Elizabeth Gilbert. How I love your writing. And how I long to edit your storytelling. There’s such great juicy stuff in this book, and it’s a quick and engaging read. I loved world of the 1930’s NYC Theatre set. I loved the premise of a “naughty girl” sent from the suburbs to stay with her flamboyant aunt. I love that she found her freedom – sexual and otherwise – and met a slew of compelling, wild characters. But I hated the narration/framing device. Like Eat, Pray, Love – I loved the Eat, loathed the Pray, and liked the Love. Two outta three ain’t bad….

Whisper Network by Chandler Baker

This timely “me-too” story of feminism and friendship is bound to be adapted for TV sometime soon. It already reads like an episodic TV series. Even as I devoured it, I couldn’t believe I liked it. There’s more than a hint of Big Little Lies in these pages and though it isn’t nearly as great, there’s something about this tale of corporate cover ups, ambition and sisterhood that had me hooked.

Machines like Me by Ian McEwan

Disclosure: I am a massive Ian McEwan fan. He could write out a grocery list and I’d read it. Even when he’s flawed, he’s fab. This book is set in an alternate version of 1980’s Thatcherite London and revolves around a threesome: Charlie, a lazy and lost day trader, his neighbour Miranda, with whom he’s in love, and Adam, a far-too-human AI bot. Intriguing, philosophical, and, as always, crazy clever. McEwan has re-written a history. And while it isn’t quite on par with some of his other works, it’s thought-provoking and brilliant.

AUDIBLE: I’m obsessed with my Audible app. I spend way too much time walking my beast dog and Audible has made me want to walk even more. I have no doubt these books are just as good in print, but holy shit are they compelling in the ears!!!

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

Brilliant journalism. Phenomenal narration. The author has sent 8 years embedded in the lives of three very different women in this study of female desire. Sounds like a movie, reads like a novel and is non-fiction at its best.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb: A Therapist, HER Therapist and Our Lives Revealed.

The title says it all. The author is genius in every way and I loved everything about this book – except the narration. I wish I had read this on the page instead of listening. But once I got over the voice I got really into it. You will too. Amazing on every level.

You Don’t Look Your Age…and Other Fairy Tales by Sheila Nevins

O.M.G. Spit takes, snot rockets and overall laugh-out-loud bits of this book put a spring in my step and a smile on my step. Nevins’ essays on aging, errors, and other nightmares is accompanied by a star-studded cast of narrators and is sensational. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. And you’ll laugh some more.

Life Will be the Death of Me by Chelsea Handler

This is Chelsea’s story of her year of therapy and self-discovery. She narrates her own story with bravery, gusto and hilarity. Dark, funny and sad all at once. I’m a fan.

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August 22, 2019   2 Comments

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Winter Break

Vacation was calling. And I was listening…

A few weeks ago I was presented with an opportunity for my kids and I to escape winter and head down to sunny Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for a long weekend. Said weekend happened to be Family Day and my boys had a mid-winter break from school. My husband was busy with work so I told my kids the good news…and was met with an awkward silence. My youngest son, age 10, told me he wanted to stay home with his father to have special one-on-one time. I didn’t mind, as it gave me a chance to hang with my big boys, ages 13 and 15. Next, my 13-year-old reminded me that his hockey team was fighting for a playoff spot and he couldn’t miss the games. That left my eldest, he of the similar interests and sympatico vibes. When I told him it was just him ‘n me, he cringed and told me he’d rather stay home.

Naturally I flew off the handle.

Insulted and hurt, I yelled at them all and stomped off, dramatically. And my eldest son yelled right back, exasperated. “You always tell us to be honest, so why are you getting so mad at me?” He was absolutely right. Why was I getting so upset? Here’s my 15 year-old boy with school work and friends and XBox who knows himself really well. And realized, before I did, that he’d likely be bored hanging out poolside with “a bunch of old people”.

Cringing at the “old” part, I begrudgingly acknowledged that he was right. I’m not the parent who throws around a football, plays water volleyball or roughhouses in the pool. I’m the reader. The lounger. The dinner entertainment. I tried luring him down with offers of surfing lessons, and even suggested he bring a friend, but he was having none of it. He asked me if, when I was 15, I would’ve gone with my mom to visit my grandparents. Obviously I would. And I did. With or without parents, and often with my brother, I jumped at the chance to escape winter and head down to Florida to visit the grandparents in the concrete jungle they called their southern home, Palm Aire.

Palm Aire was built around a golf course, surrounded by apparent no-go areas, and I loved to hate it. I’d lie out by the pool with the grandmothers and their final-net super sprayed hairdos that couldn’t get wet or be touched, fending off questions about boyfriends and marriage. My Zaidy would golf, or swim a couple of lengths before grabbing his paper and a seat next to me. We’d go for early-bird dinners and watch a lot of television. While my brother would often test the grandparents’ patience by rollerblading the 5 miles to the beach, or disappearing to meet up with rando friends he’d make on the daily, I’d hang out with my grandmother as she’d share stories and gossip. We’d join my grandfather at the local dirty bakery to pick up day-old bagels he could scoop out and fill with cottage cheese. They’d drop me off at Loehmann’s Plaza or take me to The Flea. I think I bought a pink Sony Walkman 3 years in a row. If it rained and they were feeling particularly wild ‘n crazy we’d bypass Burdine’s and drive to The Galleria, where Saks and Bloomingdale’s were waiting. My grandparents loved it as much as I did, encouraging me to try and buy. “If you love it”, they’d say, “buy two”. Ann Taylor, The Limited, Express, Victoria’s Secret and, of course, the holy grail: Polo Ralph Lauren for stripey button downs and rugby shirts. I’d fly back home tanned, overfed, and excited to show my friends all the contraband clothing I smuggled passed customs

But those were the 19080’s. And this is now. When I pictured my boys between the hours of noon and 6PM, I knew they’d be going out of their minds. No one to run around with or play with. They weren’t into lounging and chatting, shopping and eating. Regardless of whatever adventure I dangled as bait (Surfing! Zip-lining! Fishing! Day trips!) they simply weren’t biting. My eldest explained that I shouldn’t take it personally, it just wasn’t as fun without another kid around. Was I hurt? Yes. Did I get over it? Yes. And did I still ditch my family over Family Day weekend to go to Mexico? Damn right!  When I called to tell the grandparents the news, that it was just me flying south, they didn’t even pretend to hide their delight. Sure, they missed my kids, their grandchildren. But they were thrilled to have their daughter to themselves for a fast 4 days. Four days of lounging and chatting, shopping and eating. And when I returned the snowy Sunday of the long-weekend, with novelty-tees, tequila and Mexican chocolate, it was just in time to spend Family Day with my family. And to remind me that flying south to visit the grandparents really is the best way to spend time, with or without the kids.

March 6, 2019   2 Comments

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Writers Write

I have been writing this blog, in one format or another, for 13 years. T.H.I.R.T.E.E.N. From the earliest and far more frequent blogspot days up until the sporadic postings of today, I’ve been “a blogger”. Now I call this “my website”, rather than my blog, but it is whatever it is: restaurant reccos, film and TV reviews, rants, raves and, of course, my book club. There have been celeb photobombs and selfies, mini-travelogues and motherhood musings. But most of all, it’s been a place I can come to write. Kernels of ideas, nuggets of wisdom, food for thought – name your metaphor, it’s been all that (and more) for me. Often I wonder if there’s anybody out there. So to those who read, bookmark and forward to friends, I thank you. And to the many who ask “why don’t you just write a book?”, I say: believe me, I’m trying. And maybe one day I will. But in the meantime, I write what I can. For myself, for the people who pay me, and for you.

I’m trying to embrace my vulnerability without diffusing it with humour. Sounds cheesy. And feels gross. It’s really really hard. And takes a shit-ton of practice. In the meantime, there’s this…

“Writers write. She’s always known that. She used to live by the rule, writing faithfully every day. Jotting in her journal, completing assignments, even copying out interesting sayings, song lyrics, or what she deemed to be poetic. Writers write. So she wrote. Snippets of overheard conversations. Concerns and frustrations about lovers and family. How she wanted to be treated. How she was treated. How she treated others. No matter what was happening in her life, she was a writer. And writers write. So she wrote too. Articles, reviews, screenplays, television pilots. Imaginary dialogue she wished she herself had the balls to speak aloud. Confessions she dreamed she would hear. She was a writer. She defined herself by the term. She told anyone who asked. She never shirked away from her daily page requirements. That’s just the way it was. Because writers write.

Until they don’t.

Until they find themselves overcome by the day to day living of their lives. She got lucky. She worked freelance. She met the man of her dreams, who loved her right back. They got married. Bought a loft, then a house, and then one more. Got a dog. Had a baby. Had two more. And soon the words on the page became less frequent. At first, she couldn’t find the time. But then she couldn’t find the words. Letters on pages became by meals on tables. Overheard conversations turned into recipe adaptations. The joy of looking up after a day spent at her keyboard, living an imaginary life and creating characters, dialogue, and scenes were replaced with school runs, grocery shops and bedtimes. Meetings turned into appointments.

Just like that she went from a writer who writes to a mom who mothers. From someone who was a respected “something”, to an unheard, oft-ignored nothing. The most important job in the world, she’d hear when she muttered she was “just a mom”. But she knew better. It was so obvious. It was a volunteer position. Where she worked for tiny tyrants who ruled her life. Her home felt like a prison at times, her family its warden.

The years went past and the kids grew more independent. Sort of. They didn’t always want her anymore, though they still needed her. They always would, in some capacity. She didn’t need them, but she wanted them. She loved them. But she was starting to wonder what she had given up to “have it all”. Her freedom. Her body. Her mind. She knew writers needed to write, but she found it almost impossible to do so. And when she did sit down, hands on keyboard and screen glowing brightly, she found herself in a spiral of rage. Her imagination dulled, she would spill out her feelings about her family, her friends, her life and her choices. Typing through tears, she’d feel ridiculous, painting herself as a victim, when she actually loved her life….Most of the time. She would re-read her words and set forth editing, putting a shiny, positive spin on each and every one. And then she’d delete it all, knowing she’d start again, someday soon.

Because writers write. That’s just what they do. “

January 31, 2019   2 Comments

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MOAM BOOK CLUB

Howdy reading readers.

It’s been a long, hot, fabulous summer. A summer of love, parties, and revelling in being 50.

It’s also been a summer of reading!

I’ve been writing to lots of you with mini-lists, but here, at long last, is The Big One.  I’ve tried to add a link so you can purchase the books directly from this site, thereby earning me about $.03/book (CAD!!) but between wordpress updates and Amazon affiliate codes, I cannot for the life of me figure it out.

So here is the official Summer 2018 MOAM Book Club. Do feel free to send me comments, questions and reccos. And don’t be share to spread the book club love.

Remember, friends,  reading is for life, not just for summer…..

THE LONELY HEARTS HOTEL by Heather O’Neill

I absolutely loved this magical tale set in 1930’s Montreal (with a side of NYC). Two babies left in an orphanage grow up together and fall in love. One is a musical genius, the other the consummate song’n dance gal. Together they dream up the most extravagant and fabulous circus act ever to be seen. Of course things don’t go quite as they imagined. Separated as teens, each is forced to use their talents to survive, until they can be reunited. Stunning writing. Gorgeous characters. Whimsical yet dark. Total page turner.

SALVAGE THE BONES by Jesmyn Ward

A pregnant teenager and her brothers are essentially raising themselves as their drunken father prepares for the upcoming hurricane. This is a visceral and beautifully written award-winning  book set in an impoverished rural town. Dog fighting, sick puppies, motherless children, and young people looking for love as devastation in the form of Hurricane Katrina looms made this a real graphic and incredible page turner.

SING, UNBURIED, SING by Jesmyn Ward

After I finished Salvage the Bones I needed another fix of Ward’s writing. I found it in this, her next novel. Another award-winner, another story of familial desolation. This time ghosts haunt the present and the past in this poetic and stunning story of a drug-addicted woman striving to be a better parent, and her young biracial son trying to come to terms with who he is, where he comes from and where he is going. Southern Gothic greatness.

THE IMMORTALISTS by Chloe Benjamin

What would you do if you knew the exact date of your own death? In the late 1960’s in New York’s Lower East Side, four young siblings visit a psychic who claims to be able to predict just that. Hearing their prophecies, each sibling sets out on their own path. A tale of destiny and choices, paths dreamed of and routes taken, I was this novel to be intriguing, compelling and amazing.

AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE by Tayari Jones

Celestial and Roy, a young married couple finds their newly wedded bliss destroyed when Roy is arrested and convicted for a crime Celestial knows he couldn’t possibly have committed. Through letters and straight up page-turning prose, this story of about being Black in America, trying to hold to love when you’re forced apart, and trying to keep it together, separately. So timely. So brilliant.

THE RULES DO NOT APPLY: A MEMOIR by Ariel Levy

I read several memoirs this past year, most of which fell flat. Ariel Levy’s, however, was searing, honest, funny and brutal. I’m lifting the quote straight from the back cover for this one. “When thirty-eight-year-old New Yorker writer Ariel Levy left for a reporting trip to Mongolia in 2012, she was pregnant, married, financially secure, and successful on her own terms. A month later, none of that was true.” Extraordinary.

THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah

This book had been repeatedly recommended to me. Set in WW2 France, it is the story of two sisters and how they survive the war. I never really had any interest in reading it, but it kept getting mentioned, and it kind of reminded me of All the Light We cannot See (which I read in one sitting). So I picked it up The Nightingale….and put it down only after devouring it in one long sleepless night. What a story! What a read! This in an author who really knows who to spin a tale.

THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin Hannah

See: above. Another Kristin Hannah novel, another total page turner… A Vietnam vet uproots his young family to go live off the grid in the wilds of Alaska. This is the story of the teenage daughter, coming of age and coming to terms with her parents’ unconventional and passionate choices. An extraordinary portrait of life, resilience and growing up in Alaska’s wildly beautiful and dangerous frontier. This author has written 30 novels. What to read of hers next??

GIRLS BURN BRIGHTER by Shoba Rao

In an extremely poor Indian village, two young girls form an unlikely friendship. Despite the hideous life they are born into, they find solace, light and love in the bond they share. One which threatens the power structure and the others in their lives. A statement about feminism, the caste system, and the power of love, this book is magnificent and horrifying as the girls find themselves living separate and brutal lives, always holding on to the belief that they will be reunited. Tragic, hopeful, gripping.

THE GUNNERS by Rebecca Kauffman

Six kids from very different families become best friends – complete with ghost stories, sleepovers, adventures and a clubhouse. They were destined, like so many childhood pals, to be bffs forever. And like many childhood bffs, when they hit high school, things changed. As they grew up, moved on, and skipped town, only Mikey stayed behind, living a lonely life as his vision fails. When one of the gang kills herself, the rest return to town and they reconnect and reminisce. Very Big Chill-esque….

WE ALL LOVE THE BEAUTIFUL GIRLS by Joanne Proulx

I loved this book! A family’s life is ripped apart on one fateful night: the parents discover they’ve been cheated out of all their savings by their friend and business partner, and their son passes out in a snowbank with terrible consequences. Yes, in one night. After hitting the reader with all that, this is the story of what happens next.  Relationships are tested, as everyone tries to find ways to deal with the fallout. Some crumble and fail, some grow into something new. All are changed….

THERE THERE by Tommy Orange

There’s a big powwow happening in Oakland. For some, it’s a reunion. For others, an opportunity. As a diverse group of people share their interconnecting stories, one thing is certain: they will all converge at the powwow and shit will go down. This is a poetic, surprising, gripping and incredible read. Voices we don’t hear often enough come through loud and clear in this bright and beautiful book about indigenous urban identity. Powerful storytelling at its finest, this amazing book hits all the right notes from beginning to end.

LESS by Andrew Sean Greer

This Pulitzer-winning book centres on a failing novelist on the eve of his 50th birthday. In an effort to avoid the wedding of a past lover, he hits the road and travels around the world, trying to hide from himself. This is very much a character study with some great moments and even greater truths. It is very “writerly” and character-driven rather than plot-heavy. I absolutely loved this voice. So many lines in this book spoke to me…and stuck with me. And not just because I recently turned 50. Well, maybe a little….

STANDARD DEVIATION by Katherine Heiny

Graham lives with his second wife, the zany and kinda crazy Audra, and their autistic son. When his first wife re-enters the picture, he is forced to re-evaluate the choices he’s made in life and love. I laughed out loud while reading this. The character of Audra jumps straight off the page. This book is far from perfect, but it’s tender, awkward, and touching. It’s not a total laugh-riot, but when it’s funny, it’s it’s reeeeeally funny.

THE DIRTY BOOK CLUB by Lisi Harrison

When MJ ups and leaves her amazing job in NYC for a perfect life in California, things don’t quite turn out as planned. She is soon mysteriously conscripted into the DBC: the dirty book club, where the scandalous and erotic fiction inspires four very different women to open up about what’s happening in their real lives. Set both forty years ago and today, the author reminds us that the power of friendship is never dated.  If you’re looking for a fun read about female relationships and empowerment, look no further than this hilarious romp.

CIRCE by Madeline Miller

I am a sucker for Greek mythology and absolutely loved the Song of Achilles. When I read that this same author had a new book, I had to read it. I liked the tale better than the retelling, but I felt compelled to continue reading it to remind myself of Circe’s story and because I loved being lost in that world. A must read for mythology lovers. And a might-read for everyone else.

OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES by Abbi Waxman

A carpool mom stops to grab something from one of her neighbours – and finds her naked on the floor with a man who isn’t her husband. This is an easy, beach read about the goings-on in a neighbourhood and the affect the affair has on the families in the carpool. I quickly got sucked in to the daily drama and gossip.  Liane Moriarty-lite.

THE WIFE BETWEEN US  by Greer Hendricks

It’s hard to write about this suspenseful, twisty thriller without giving too much away, or sending the reader on a quest to forge it all out before the book’s end. Suffice to say this is a real page turner about a marriage gone very wring and the lengths a wronged party will go to fix it. I’ll leave it at that, or else it’s spoiler-alert central! Clever and yes, it’s being made into a flick…..

THAT KIND OF MOTHER by Rumaan Alam

I wanted to love this book, I really did. It’s really well-written and depicts the early days of motherhood when your life is turned totally upside down. It’s the story of a young white women who bonds with her black nursing coach. It takes a pretty crazy turn and explores some sensitive and timely topics. Overall, however, something about it left me cold. That said, people adore this book, so I’m putting it on the list.

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 13, 2018   No Comments

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GRADUATION DAY

It’s June, and therefore, for those with children of almost any school age, it’s Graduation Season.

Whether from pre-school to elementary, middle to high school, or university and beyond we have all been told, repeatedly, that it is a BIG DEAL. Growing up, wasn’t it just high school that was a big deal? Prom, corsage, limo? And university – duh – but pre?? Like the trophies and the medals – it’s graduation for everyone!

For my junior high “graduation” – our grade performed a musical version of the creation story.  I was one of 3 angels who wore flapper-style fringed dresses and sang a doo-wop song about being in Heaven. No joke. Another friend was the MC. And those were good parts. Some kids had to be “dancers” – in the dark, under black lights with white gloves doing jazz hands.

We’ve come a long way. In some ways.

When my eldest “graduated” from nursery it was kind of cute. Basically it was a photo-op situation where the parents (mostly moms) gushed about how fast time was flying. Some were saddened by it. I was relieved.

Then there was the big switch from pre-school/early years to Grade 1. For my kids, it wasn’t all that different. They went from an all-day Senior Kindergarten play-based classroom to an-day Grade One “big boy” class. Photos were, of course, adorable but the kids’ situation didn’t change all that much.

For the Elementary to Middle School jump, the kids (and parents) had an orientation so we could all understand how it would work. It felt scary. It felt serious.  Ultimately, for our family, it was still the same kids and the same school, but it was indeed different. Different teachers teaching different classes in different rooms. For a kid who didn’t like to sit in one place, it was a godsend. For one who thought a particular teacher hated him, it was a miracle. And the best part? They had lockers.

Lockers. Some of the girls had mini carpets and teeny tiny chandeliers in their lockers. The boys had magnets and shelves…for magnets. A kid with a locker was a Big Kid. Or so it seemed to the children in grade 6. To those finishing Grade 8, the once mighty locker became just another place to put their stuff.

At about halfway through the first term of Grade 8, talk of “Grad” began. I didn’t get it. At all. Graduation from Grade 8 – for me – was not “Grad”. “Real” graduation was from high school. Or university. Suddenly I found myself discussing Prom, breakfasts, pre-parties, post-parties. The kids were barely involved. There was a parent party, a parent poem, a photo collage made by – of course – the parents for their young graduates. Decor, menus, venues – the emails were flying. Even though I was on the planning committee, I felt like quite an imposter – I didn’t buy in. Not to any of it.

And now as the big day approaches, I cannot help but think about what it really means for my boy to be heading off to high school in September. He’s excited to be going to school with all of his friends even though, as I like to tell him (frequently), he probably hasn’t even met his friends yet! Up to now, it’s been all-childhood, all the time. I know his pals, their parents, his teachers.  Now, he’s entering his own phase. New friends. New experiences that have absolutely nothing to do with us. We won’t really know where he is, what he’s doing, or with whom. I’m well aware that it’s been my job to get him to this place, and I can only hope that he makes the right choices. I have total confidence in this young person but still – it terrifies me.

I am thrilled and scared. Happy and devastated. I know what I was up to in high school. I both laugh and cringe when I think about it. When I look at this boy, with whom I have such a special relationship, and I picture him leaving me out of his high school life – because that is exactly what he is supposed to do – I get teary. Not too many teenagers are coming home to discuss what’s going on with their mommies. Some do, sometimes, but not a lot. While my son and I are truly sympatico, I am not his best friend, nor is he mine. I don’t expect him to tell me everything, and as he enters these totally impactful high school years I’ll be happy if/when he tells me anything! This is his time. He’ll be making new memories and really carving out he who is. All exciting stuff, invigorating and, hopefully, not too traumatizing.

So much of who we become is etched upon us in high school. The music we’re into. The friends we find. The mistakes we make. High school is a place of freedom and excitement, but also a place where it can be so hard to figure out who we are. We get boxed in. Left out. Egged on. Some part of us never leaves high school.

And now that’s where he’s heading.

So as we enter his final week of middle school, with the parties and the ceremonies and the goodbyes, I know that it is “only grade 8”. And that in 4 short years when he (hopefully!) graduates from high school I will think back to this with fondness and smiles.

But for today I will wish my young graduate the fortitude to make the right decisions. To be his own person.  To stay kind, funny, compassionate and smart. There will be wounds in the teenage world of social warfare, and challenges he’ll think he can never possibly surpass. Life will be the best. And the worst. And we will be there for him whether he wants us or not.

And whether we want to or not, we will set him free and watch him fly…..

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June 19, 2017   5 Comments

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This is (almost) 50

On the near-eve of my 49th birthday, it is nearly impossible to escape The Big 5-0 looming ahead. I think I started telling people I was “almost 50” when I was 46. To which they’d often respond “but you don’t look 50”. That’s because I wasn’t. Then.

But with the year-long countdown about to begin I have been reflecting on turning almost-50. And not just the “do I want a party to celebrate” kind of reflecting. (The answer, for those wondering is: no, I do not.)

The other big question I imagine most of us hitting any kind of milestone birthday ask is: Am I where I thought I’d be?

Not exactly.

I was speaking to my mother, reminiscing about when she turned 50. I told her she seemed way ahead of where I’m at. To me it seemed like she was able to do pretty much whatever she wanted. Her children were older, she traveled a ton, her home was beautifully appointed and cared for meticulously, as was her cottage. For milestone birthdays she and her friends would make glamorous parties for each other – at home and away, involving costumes, themes, personalized T-shirts and surprise guests. My mom, at 50, was a free-wheeling, seemingly financially secure grown up. A real “adult” yet with a fun and youthful joie de vivre.

Me? Not so much.

I have 3 kids under 14. Our house lands somewhere on the scale between falling down and being torn up. I have several different freelance careers, and  I alternately love and/or loathe them all. My husband works his ass off day and night, coaches all 3 kids on and off the field/ice/pitch. Financial freedom is a dream we may never see realized. Leaving the house (sans children) – let alone the country – requires a shitload of organization and planning and is often not even possible. In fact, I still feel like a kid. A somewhat haggard and often exhausted kid.

I even have some of the same hang-ups from my youth including, sadly, “does my ass look fat?” And, ridiculously, “does he still like me?” You’d think I would move on from these teenage girl concerns. But you’d be wrong. On the flip side, and yes, there is a flip side burning bright,  I also have the knowledge and confidence that being older brings. Beauty absolutely fades and is a commodity I didn’t realize I used to have in spades. Now it’s more about looking good…. considering…. The insecurity within my own relationship? Now we make jokes about it – and blame my father. I can wear the same things day after day and have (almost) no qualms about walking out of the house “looking like that”. I’m not afraid to start up – and finish – a conversation. Or to speak my mind. Best of all I’m not overly concerned with judgements and opinions. Most of the time. I  know that I’m a damn good wife/mother/daughter/friend.   At this stage, the only one I tend to disappoint most is myself. Even my imposter-syndrome is only visible to those who know me very well. Fake it ’til you make it, Baby!

And yet, talking to my mom and telling her she really seemed to have it together, her one comment was that I was exactly where I should be. That I was the one who has it together with my 3 fabulous kids and a healthy marriage. She, on the other hand, had been divorced.

I couldn’t believe it. On paper, she had it all. And the only thing she could mention was that she was divorced? This from a woman who has been together with her husband for nearly 40 years (35 married) and still going strong. To me that’s an amazingly successful marriage. An accomplishment. But in her eyes, despite emerging from a broken marriage stronger, wiser and a mom of two, she still felt “less than” sixteen years later at age 50. If only we could see the positive things about ourselves through the eyes of others… I would argue that one of the best things that could’ve happened to my brother and I was being raised by a mother who was in a happy and healthy relationship.

50 and 23 in 1991.

So now, a month shy of 49, the question really is not “am I where I thought I would be” but, rather, “am I where I want to be?”

In so many ways, I think I am. I’m lucky enough to remember the dreams I had, acknowledge the ones I’ve lost, and be open to discovering new ones. Some dreams may stay dreams and that’s OK. Most of the time.  I am well aware that age is just a number, and all the other clichés that come with long days and short years. But with each birthday it becomes impossible not to reflect on the dreams that change along with the bodies – and the eyesight. New dreams emerge with the wrinkles, the readers, the grey hairs. The important thing is to be willing – and very able –  to deal with it all. Having an incredible cohort to join your journey (and a fabulous colorist) doesn’t hurt either.

Too much? Too personal? Too bad. I’m (almost) 50.

 

 

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April 27, 2017   2 Comments

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LOST& FOUND

We have a new rule in our house – if you’re not ready to leave when it’s time to go, you take the bus. Unless you’re 7 years old. Then you just get to school late. But for the 10.5 and 12 year old? Hop on the bus, Gus.

So far, we haven’t had to put said plan into action for the older boys. But that all changed last week when my middle guy could. not. get. out. of. bed. Just couldn’t. So I left him behind. When he called me at 8:28AM and told me he was ready to take the bus, I tried my best to be casual – and find him another lift to school. But no, he was ready, he said. He knew the way, he said. He’d be taking the bus.

So we went thought the route, step-by-step.

  1. Right at the end of our street to the bus stop.
  2. Ask driver for the stop by name.
  3. Look out the window for the school building.
  4. Call from the office when you get to school.

Simple, right? And, just in case, I emailed the school asking them to let me know when he arrived.

About 45 minutes of radio silence later I called my husband to see if he’d been home and seen our kid. He hadn’t. I was getting a bit worried. He wasn’t. I called the school. They too weren’t worried and presumed B had called me on his own. I explained that he didn’t have a cel phone. Ummmm….I was getting a little clammy… They reassured me that he must be at school since he hadn’t been marked absent. I asked them for visual confirmation and to call me back.

I was now sweating.

My phone rang from an unknown number a few minutes later. Sure enough, it was my boy, sobbing hysterically.

“Mommy!!! I’m lost” he wailed.

“Lost?? Where are you? Whose phone is this?” I demanded.

“I’m at a Starbucks. At Yonge and Lawrence”.

WTF?!?!

“Mommy’s coming!”I yelled, turning into Wonder Woman in my mind and hopping into my invisible plane/visible SUV.

For those local, let me explain:he was supposed to go a handful of stops down Bathurst. But was calling me from Yonge and Lawrence. This was not on the route. Not even close.

I sped over to pick him up, heart racing nearly as fast as my wheels. I parked illegally and ran into Starbucks. There he was, drinking a glass of water. He told me the baristas had been so nice – offering him cake pops and hot chocolate. When I went over to thank them, however, they glared at me as though I was the worst parent on the planet. “Guess that experiment didn’t work?” I joked, lamely. They were having none of it. Just judgey McJudging me and my parenting. I grabbed my child and slunk away under their icy stares.

As we drove back to school, B explained that he did, indeed get on the bus. And when he asked the driver for his stop, the man told him he’d “never heard of it”. And it all went south – and east – from there. You see, we’d forgotten that there was more than one bus! And the driver didn’t think to mention that to this 10 year old either. So as the bus turned left unexpectedly (for him), my son figured they were on a detour. And when they passed a local hockey arena, he figured he wasn’t that far off. But as it continued to chug along (down Chaplin, locals), he knew something was very, very wrong.

The bus pulled into the final stop: Davisville subway station. B piled off with the rest of the passengers. Most headed into the depths of the subway. Luckily, B did not. He spotted the Yonge Street sign and started started walking. And walking. And walking. Walking north, on the longest street in the world.

Rather than ask a stranger to use their phone (“they all looked like robbers”), he figured he’d find a safe place. Like a bank. And when he couldn’t find our bank, he went for second best: Starbucks. Not noticing the handful of Starbucks on the opposite side of the street, my boy walked from 2.1km. From Yonge and Davisville to Yonge and Craighurst. That’s the one across from Sporting Life, friends. A long, long walk away.

Every time I retell the story I get a little sweaty, share a bit of nervous laughter. But mostly I am grateful for what we all learned:

  1. No, he didn’t need a cel phone (or cash) because he figured it out.
  2. He’ll never be late again.
  3. He was way more resilient and street smart than we had pegged him.
  4. My guy really found himself by getting lost….

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April 4, 2016   6 Comments

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TIFF 2014 – Live from the Green Room

More like….Previously Recorded in the Green Room…
But better late than never, right? RIGHT?

RDJ!!

RDJ!!

First up: The Judge.

Opening night movie. Starring the awesomely talented Robert Downey Jr. Guess what? Robert Downey Jr. was fabulous. Because he always is. Because he’s Robert Downey Jr. And he’s kind of perfect. Ladies of a certain age (OK, mine) go nuts for this guy. And who wouldn’t?!?

Who doesn't love this face?! Even beside a disused lightswitch

Who doesn’t love this face?! Disused lightswitch photobomb be damned!

The movie? Not as nuts for that…There were some moments, to be sure, but it tried to be too many things to too many folks. I could’ve done without the courtroom action. Because taken as a family drama, The Judge was tender and touching and all those good things. But, alas, it’s billed as a courtroom drama. And while the performances were terrific the movie itself, sadly, was not.

Crazy cute couple.

Crazy cute couple.

Kristin Bell was there, supporting her man Dax Shepard. He was friendly, she was funny, they’re fantastic.

Vera Farmiga = Ageless!

Vera Farmiga = Ageless!

Friday night: Boychoir.

Prepubescent boys. Singing in a choir. Ree ree ree!!!

Choirleader Dustin Hoffman

Choirleader Dustin Hoffman

Some of you may know that I find the voices of soprano children singers to be amongst the world’s creepiest things. There’s something very Nazi-ish for me. Or Exorcist-y. The thought of those high voices singing in Latin or German or even in English…In a church……yikes!! However, Boychoir was about an 11-yr old boy, and I’m the mom of an 11-year-old boy, so….

HIGHLIGHT!!!

Leo takes tiff!

What a thrill!

Movie-wise, the idea that these young singers are given the gift of a stunning classical voice that one day disappears is an intriguing one. Too bad that wasn’t the main crux of the plot. We’ve seen this story before. Duelling voices. Raw talent vs polished. Nothing groundbreaking. But the voices!!! Stunning! Forget about the movie, it’s the extraordinary voices. Astonishing. Mesmerizing. Not even remotely creepy.

(But hearing them without seeing their faces? Still gives me the wrong kind of chills.)

My boy and Artie...I mean Kevin McHale

My boy and Artie…I mean Kevin McHale

My mother, meanwhile, was thrilled too. Not just because her grandson was with her. But because of this:

Sweet Home Alabama Super-fan

Sweet Home Alabama Super-fan

Who knew?

Next up was Ruth & Alex, starring Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman. We gave it a miss. But not before THIS happened:

leo morgan

I had no clue that my kid was such a colossal Morgan Freeman fan. Oh, but he is! He spotted MF before anyone else. Pointed him out. Knew his flicks. And proceeded to chat it up with his new-found friend. Big time. While Mr Freeman was somewhat glacial to the gen pop in the green room, with my kid he was a total super star!

That really was the peak of my short-lived TIFF time. We bailed on Saturday night, returning for Sunday night’s World Premiere, This is Where I leave you.

Deep breath….

I was disappointed. People loved it, I know, I know. Words were exchanged, on Facebook and off. In the streets and on the phone. It’s hard to adapt a beloved book from page to screen. And kudos to Jonathan Tropper for trying his best with his own brilliant book. Yeah, there were laughs. And the performances were terrific, but overall it kinda left me cold. Seeing it at TIFF, cast in tow, tends to lower the bar. I held this one up to high high standards so was bound to be disappointed. Cute. Not great.

BUT the ladies!!! Oh, the ladies in this flick. Tina Fey? Trying to figure out how to close a bag of candies into her tiny clutch made me love her even more.

She's smart. She's funny. She looked great. AND she eats. LOVE!

She’s smart. She’s funny. She looked great. AND she eats. LOVE!

Connie Britton? Wow wow and wow! She is spec-tac-u-lar. And not just because I love Nashville (it’s true! I do!). She was completely charming. And look at her! She’s 47. Forty-f&cking-seven!!!!

HOT!!!!

Girl crush alert!

And then there’s Jane Fonda. A dame who works it. Works it well. She looked unreal. Ummmm… She probably is but it doesn’t matter because she totally pulls it off and looks gorgeous. When she walked in, she gave my mother the most magnificent bear hug! And then proceeded to walk right past her. So strange, yet so amusing…

b.1937 WTF???

b.1937 WTF???

The last film of the night was The Equalizer. Yeah – THAT Equalizer! I was a huge fan of the ’80’s TV series. I may have been too tired to stick around for the flick version but I was awake enough to check him out:

Hi Denzel!

Hi Denzel!

Aaaaad, this is where I leave you (I couldn’t resist). Too many kids + too many sports + Back-to-school = logistical nightmare. So this year’s TIFF green room goss is short. But hopefully sweet.

Happy tiff to all.
All but me.
Go team go!

September 9, 2014   No Comments

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MARCH OF THE LIVING

As many of you loyal readers know, I have just returned from Poland, where I participated in the March of the Living (MOL) from Auschwitz to Birkenau. The trip itself is a 2-part educational journey, from Poland to Israel. Originally designed for 17-year old students, there was so much interest that there is now an adult trip, as well as a young adult trip. For more information, click here.

A bit of background: I went to Prague for my 30th birthday, 16 long years ago. It was a magnificent city. And I hated it. For me, it was like the Epcot Center for dead Jews. We went to Terezin (Theresienstadt), a concentration camp masquerading as Jewish settlement, complete with gas chamber and crematorium. Thousands of people were murdered there and, after visiting the town/camp, I had no interest in seeing any others.

Until January 2014 when I attended an exhibit at the UN in NYC. Entitled “When you listen to a witness, you become a witness”, the event showcased photos from previous Marches, as well as testimony from survivors.  As the survivors spoke it was impossible not to be moved to tears. I decided I wanted to join my parents on the March of Living, to travel to Poland and visit these places with people who survived the horrors. I wanted to bear witness, and hear the stories first-hand, before those who had survived were no longer alive to tell their stories.

As the departure date neared, I couldn’t help but wonder what on earth I was thinking. Why was I choosing a trip of tears? Why hadn’t I just booked a beach vacay? Friends and family were wishing me bon voyage with some trepidation – no one wanted to say “have fun” or, “enjoy”. It simply wasn’t that kind of trip. Was it?

The night before I left, my Man and I spent some time on-line, googling Poland and Warsaw and checking out what else there was to see, aside from death camps and cemeteries. Admittedly, I was nervous to go to a place where, in my mind, they hate Jews. First thing I learned was that, among all the Nazi-occupied countries in Europe, Poland was the least collaborative. In fact, of all of the “Righteous among the Nations”, the highest number came from Poland.

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LOT Polish airways was phenomenal. The flight attendants were lovely and helpful and friendly. Was this a taste of the Poland to come? Turns out, it was. When my bag disappeared and I arrived in Warsaw without a change of clothes, I hit the local mall where the people I dealt with were nothing but nice. And normal. It was like being at Yorkdale, just a lot whiter. A lot. Being used to multi-culti Toronto, that was the one thing that stood out in Poland.

With the arrival of 3 busloads of Toronto-based Adults, our trip began in earnest. First stop were cemeteries in Lodz and Warsaw, with a visit to the Radegast train station memorial, the sight were thousands of Jews were deported from the Lodz ghetto to certain death.

lodz memorial

It was a long day with tired, jet-lagged people and an overwhelming amount of gravestones.

Jewish Cemetery in Lodz

Jewish Cemetery in Lodz

With each stone, a story:  LL Zamenhof, an opthamologist who created the international language of Esperanto; Marek Edelman, a commander of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising who survived, participated in the Warsaw Uprising and eventually died in Lodz in 2009, age 90; Janusz Korcak, the Dr Seuss/Dr Spock of the day, a famous educator and pediatrician, who ran an orphanage in the ghetto. When offered shelter on the Aryan side, as well as special treatment, he refused, sticking with “his” children – all the way to Treblinka where they were all murdered. The list goes on….At the Lodz cemetery, thousands of markers have been placed by Israeli soldiers to commemorate those who were killed. Each year, more are added to the growing field of memory.

Gensha Cemetery in Warsaw

Gensha Cemetery in Warsaw

Our brilliant tour guide, Mike Hollander, reminded us at every turn: for the Poles, the Holocaust was a Polish tragedy in which 6 million Poles died, half of them Jewish.  This can be seen at the Treblinka memorial.

treblinka 1

Treblinka, a death camp in which over 800,000 human beings were murdered was destroyed by the Nazis as they retreated. It is now a contemplative, beautiful memorial built by the Polish government as “a tragic monument of martyrdom”. Over 130 stones have been placed, each to commemorate the name of a town from which Jews were deported and killed.

One such town was Tykochin where, in the summer of 1941, 2000 Jewish men, women and children – half of the town’s population – were taken from their homes. Marched into the nearby Lupohowa Forest, they were forced to dig ditches before being shot. An entire town, obliterated in a matter of hours, buried in a handful of mass graves.

Tykochin Shul

Tykochin Shul

The synagogue still stands in Tykochin, a memorial to the town’s once thriving Jewish community. One of our accompanying survivors, Irving Eisner, led our group in a rousing sing-song in which it was impossible not to partake.

Warsaw Old Town!

Warsaw Old Town!

We spent a day wandering the rainy streets of Warsaw: the gorgeous and interactive Chopin museum; the Historic Centre of Warsaw, completely rebuilt after being destroyed by the Germans and now a UNESCO-heritage site; the New Museum of Jewish Life; memorials to the Ghetto uprising; Mila 18 – the bunker the heroes of the Warsaw ghetto uprising used as their headquarters. For those who’ve read the Leon Uris novel, it was a bit of a pilgrimage!

Mila 18.

Mila 18.

Next stop: Krakow. We visited the old Jewish quarter, the ghetto, and the pharmacy belonging to Tadeusz Pankiewicz, a Catholic Pole who rescued many Jews and who bore witness to the abuse, deportation and death of many more. We did a drive by past Schindler’s factory and walked around the market square. Pope John Paul II was canonized that day, so the streets were packed with worshippers, revellers, and fans of the near-local priest who made it to the big time.

Krakow.

Krakow.

And then there was the day of the March. Max Eisen, the phenomenally wise and well-spoken survivor who accompanied our bus, walked us through Auschwitz, the camp where he survived while the remainder of his family was murdered.

Max Eisen

Max Eisen

Clothing of all sizes. Suitcases with the names of adults and children still chalked on them. Prosthetic limbs, canes and crutches. Eyeglasses and shoes. Several tonnes of human hair. All stolen from humans before and after their death, and now on display. Personally, I found it repulsive. I couldn’t bring myself to take photos of such things. Seeing the display cases filled with children’s items – from bonnets to toys to dolls –  I lost it.

Empty, ready for Marchers.

Before: Empty, ready for Marchers.

Outside, in between the barracks, were the holding areas for the Marchers. Placards representing over 10,000 people from 40 countries were lined up: Canada, US, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Panama, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Hungary, Austria, Germany, England, France, Israel and, of course, Poland were just some of the countries from which I saw people.  Everyone wore matching blue windbreakers.

After: filled with Marchers.

After: filled with Marchers.

We began our march, from Auschwitz to Birkenau.

As far as can see

As far as the eye could see there were marchers in blue jackets. There was no beginning, no end. Poles lined the streets to watch and, contrary to rumours I’ve heard, there were absolutely no people throwing stones or yelling insults. Au contraire. There was nothing but love and humanity along the 3Km route.

Polish supp

Traditionally, the march is silent but where we were it was anything but. Israelis sang songs and survivors shared stories. School children from all over, Jews and non-Jews, all marched together in remembrance.

birkenau

As we entered the gates of Birkenau, we walked along the train tracks. People placed markers in honour of those who had perished. I was walking on behalf of my friend Sue’s mom, Lynn Mumford, nee Lisl Lichtenstein. At age 7 she was sent to live in England. Her brother, Erich, was 12 or 13, too old to be a part of the UK-bound Kindertransport.  He perished, along with the rest of the family.

Over a loudspeaker, a list of children who had been killed was being read. As people filled into the area, some took seats, some sat on grass, and some simply stood. There were performances, songs and speeches. Among the more memorable speakers were the President of Hungary, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the destruction of Hungarian Jewry; the grand-niece of Raoul Wallenberg who, using his diplomatic office, saved over 100,000 Jewish people before disappearing into the Soviet Gulag at the war’s end; the Head Sephardic Rabbi in NY who ran through a list of Sephardi communities that were decimated. Canadian MP Irwin Cotler, the former Head Rabbi in Israel, and Chilean philanthropist Leonardo Farkas also spoke. Finally, 6 survivors helped complete a Torah scroll that would be accompanying all future marches of the Living.

After such an emotional day, I was ready to go home. I wanted – needed – to be with my people. But we had a couple more stops to make.

First was Kielce, famous for the pogrom which killed 42 Jewish survivors after the war was over. There was also a beautifully touching memorial to the 45 Jewish children of Kielce who were marched into the cemetery and then executed by Nazis. Vile. The next day we joined many other groups in Lublin, an ancient site of Jewish learning in Poland. We visited the Yeshiva and then we made our way back to Warsaw via Madjanek.

majdanek

This concentration camp, almost fully intact, is mere minutes from the city of Lublin. It was here where particularly sadistic and chilling stories were set. Barracks still stand, some filled with shoes, others with other remnants of Jewish life. And death. The camp is enormous. At its end, a mammoth stone monument representing the weight of memory covers a mountain of ashes of the victims collected by local civilians and preserved in an open-air mausoleum.

The sun shines on the ashes of the victims of Madjanek.

The sun shines on the ashes of the victims of Madjanek.

What an intensely moving and incredible week it was. That there could be so much humanity where one of history’s darkest moments took place is difficult to fathom. So many tears shed, yet many uplifting moments as well. I’ve brought home more hope and faith than I left with. For those thinking about making this difficult journey, I can’t urge you strongly enough to do it NOW, while there are still survivors left to share their stories. While the physical structures hold their own meanings, it’s the words and memories of the brave and incredible survivors who accompanied us and allowed us to bear witness that had the most impact. As Mike, our guide, reminded us countless times: it’s the presence of absence, and the absence of presence that leaves us with more questions than answers.

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May 4, 2014   No Comments

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NY, NY (again! again!)

New York City has made an appearance on this site before: and why not? Each visit brings its own tales of fun and excitement, with new places to go, new things to do and new things to eat… My last visit was built around a wedding in NJ and an exhibit at the UN. Making it a super-long weekend was a no-brainer.

First half was ladies’ night: all night. And all day from Friday-Monday. Then first-born son arrived Monday in time to hang out with the grandparents, uncle and extendo-clan. Getting there was super-cheap. Porter offered up a load of flights at $220 return. Including tax.

We traipsed through Soho, bee-lining it to my favourite shops Olive & Bette’s and Scoop. Both had badass sales, including $20 tables and The 50%-off-the-lowest-sale-price Sales. I blew my load within two hours.

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But wait! There was more…. Despite warnings of “frigid” temperatures, walking through Nolita kept us warm. (Disclaimer: not only were we moving, we were popping into just about every cute spot with a remotely well-dressed window) Novelty shops were everywhere in the East Village. Cool cards, foldable hipster reading glasses, moustache lip balms and rock star cutout dolls a-plenty. All kinds of dollars spent on novelty gifts – for ourselves and our people. Head shops on Broadway, assorted West Village boutiques and even a quick shlep up to Bloomies and we’d exhausted our retail adventures. My son, however, didn’t exhaust his until a visit to Dylan’s Candy Bar a (where they had NONE of my childhood sweeties. I’m talking those uber-junkie day-glo marshmallow-ish bananas and strawberries) with a final stop at FAO Schwartz where we bought practically all the toys being demo’d…

Big Piano...never gets old...

The Big Piano: it never gets old…

 

Wandering the streetscapes was fun, but it was “Broadway Week” while we were there, complete with 2-for-1 tickets! Who knew? Erm….Not us. We kept seeing ads in cabs, but the only show we caught was Buyer & Cellar, set in the underground mall underneath Barbra Streisand’s house. That’s right. Funny one-man comedy (but funnier concept) . Off-b’way matinee’d, caught a flick, saw some friends. Hit the UN, the New Museum and the New Jersey Turnpike.

And then there was The Tenement Museum. This place was so cool I had to go twice – and I am not a museum person. But, alas, this is no regular museum. Home to thousands until it was boarded up in the 30’s, the building was opened up in the 80’s and essentially a time capsule was discovered. Since then, using years of research and census data, apartments have been restored and homes recreated. Tours through the building share the stories of the families who lived there. Interactive, personal, emotional: amazing.

Best thing about the weekend (company aside)? The food! We did our research so you don’t have to:

SnackSoho: Lovely little lunch spot. Room is tiny but portions are massive. Greek-ish and delish.

Café Gitane: get there by 10:30 because this joint is packed! At least the one on Mott St…. French with Morroccan flavours, fabulous coffee, great vibes, and awesome avocado on toast. Baked eggs are AOK too!

Dominique Ansel Bakery –Once I discovered this place, I didn’t bother going anywhere else. Home of the original Cronut, the lines are out the door. But if you skip the Cronut, you miss the queue too. Go for the pastries, stay for the coffee. And the homemade granola parfait. And do not miss the DKA – some sort of caramelized pastry thing. Addictive.

Photo courtesy of Dominique Ansel Bakery. I ate mine too quickly to snap pics.....

Photo courtesy of Dominique Ansel Bakery. I ate mine too quickly to snap pics…..

 

Empellon Cucina: Modern Mexican that’s still authentic. Their guacamole with 7 salsas (and some snazzy crisps) was incredible. Ditto the ceviche taco. And pineapple margaritas. (And the resto is way hipper than its website)

Red Farm: YUM!! I constantly crave this type of food. Yes, I still love the Pan Asian places. And seeing how packed this place is, I’m not alone. No reservations, but worth the wait. Crispy beef was insane. So was the pastrami egg roll. And the chicken dumplings.

Balaboosta: Hummous & pakoras & swiss chard spaghetti oh my! We wanted everything on this menu. Everything!!!! The “Israeli Street Fair” was just that: a full-on party on a plate. And the mortar ‘n pestle hummous kind of speaks for itself.

Minds out of the gutter! And back to the table.

Minds out of the gutter! And back to the table.

 

Also went to some classic spots with my 10-year old: Katz’s Deli, Smith & Wollensky, and Serendipity. He likes meat and fruit, chocolate and cookies. So these spots were good for a young, non-gourmando palate. They were about the experiences, not the food.

 

Yeah, we finished it. With some help from grandparents...

Yeah, we finished it. With some help from grandparents…

 

Only losers head to NYC mid-winter? Perhaps! But with cheap flights, reservations a-plenty, semi-private tours (and, apparently, 2-for-one shows) maybe it’s time to rethink your winter weekend getaway**.

 

**Or not. But despite the cold/snow/slush it wasn’t as bad as Toronto!

February 5, 2014   No Comments

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