Poland Bound

I was 13 years old the first time I visited Poland. It was 1990 and Wilson Phillips played heavily on my yellow Sony Walkman. At my side was my moody older sister, moping because she’d rather have been on a high school France trip than dragged to some dusty village for a summer of family roots-tracing. (Life is so hard, you guys.)

I couldn’t understand the importance of that first trip at that age, at that time in history. Not only was it my mother’s first time back since she’d left in the 1960s, but just a year earlier the collapse of Communism had begun in Eastern Europe. At my middle school history teacher’s request, I kept a journal. She had wanted to see, through my eyes, the picture of a country in transition. Sadly, she mostly got entries like this:

Hairy underarms aside, Continue reading

Wait, Seriously Janice Min?

If you’re a schoolyard bully, you can’t possibly think you’ll get any sympathy from the  playgroundfolk the day some other kid calls you a really, really mean name and makes you cry. Likewise, if you’re the former editor of Us Weekly, you don’t get to invent the sport of celebrity baby-bump watching and then publicly complain about the unrealistic pressure you feel to bounce back to your pre-pregnancy body.

But Janice Min took a stab at it in The New York Times this past weekend, with a piece titled: Can a Mom Get a Break? It’s a question a lot of moms could have asked Min while she was at the helm of the celebrity glossy from 2003 to 2009. But Min now bemoans the very post-baby body obsession she perpetuated and profited from – all while kind of blind to her own hypocrisy:

…I pushed out a 6-pound-10-ounce baby girl nearly four months ago. And I’m 42 to boot. Can’t I get a free pass?


I know, you guys. Here’s more:

There, in the stacks of periodicals at the nail salon, these genetic aberrations smile at us from celebrity magazines, or from our computer screens, wearing bikinis on the beach in Cabo weeks after Caesarean sections, or going straight from recovery room to Victoria’s Secret runway. Shortly before Mother’s Day this year, People magazine anointed Beyoncé as “World’s Most Beautiful Woman” with a cover line “Back After Baby!”

Continue reading

The Book Blanket

Marilyn Monroe reading

See? Doesn't Marilyn look like she could use The Book Blanket?

Recent conversation between my husband and me while both reading in bed one night. Thing you need to first know about us: He’s forever hot, swiping a hand to his forehead to show me the sweaty proof, I’m forever shivering in our air conditioning, wrapped in a blanket in the middle of summer and accusing him of “icing me out of my own apartment!”

Me: Oh my God! I just had an idea for an invention!

Husband: (reluctantly pulls eyes away from his book)

Me: Well, do you want to know what it is?

Husband: Well, yes!

Me: Well, you didn’t say so.

Husband: Continue.

Me: It’s really good. I should tell my sister about it because she’s good at figuring out how to make and sell inventions.

Husband: (gives a look that says, “What has your sister ever invented and sold?”)

Me: Ok so, anyway. You know how I’m always cold? And when I try to read in bed at night, it’s hard, because I want to hold my book like I normally would, but my arms get cold if they’re not under the covers?

Husband: Yes?

Me: Well you know what I should make? A blanket that has a slit in it! Continue reading

And That’s Why You Don’t Take Your Husband Handbag Shopping

My mom's preoccupation with purses apparently goes back to her own childhood in Poland. Here she is with my aunt, both clutching their handbags. What could they possibly have had that was so important they needed to carry around with them on the farm?

I don’t do purses. Call them handbags, clutches, pocketbooks – I don’t do them.

Sure, I had my share of ”pocka-books” as a kid – the white, faux-leather one I carried on my First Holy Communion, the pink Liz Claiborne that I badgered my mom to buy me in middle school. Even then, I had no practical use for them. The first was a mere photo prop, the other a lame adolescent status symbol (Liz Claiborne purses were huge at the time, you guys). But both purses were pretty much always empty. Save for a few crumpled gum wrappers. And lint.

This is totally the Liz Claiborne pocketbook I begged my mom to buy me in the '90s. Apparently you can buy it on etsy for $12.

Around 13 or 14, I started to rebel against anything overtly girly. And that very much included a purse. So from then on, I stressed to anyone who would listen that what I carried was a bag – a book bag, messenger bag, duffel bag, gym bag. But never, ever a handbag.

I didn’t get it. My friends collected pricey handbags the way my mom collected ceramic knicknacks of farm girls, arranging them in her glass cabinet just so. I didn’t have any interest in collecting and admiring and “arranging just so.” And besides, why all the fuss when my jeans provided me with four perfectly good pockets for storage – and a bonus pair in my coat during the cold months?

I upgraded to a leather satchel when I was old enough to have business cards, a cell phone and a weekly paycheck that required I look somewhat presentable. Still, on weekends I left the satchel at home and stuffed the necessary credit cards, ID, cash and keys into pockets and bra straps. The hands-free approach worked perfectly for me. But it seemed to make everyone else nervous.

“You gonna loose you wallet like that!” my dad would say when I stacked my cell phone, wallet and keys on the corner of a restaurant table.

“Lemme take you to Sears tomorrow and buy you a pocketbook,” my mom would say, gravely. “Please.”

“I don’t do pocketbooks,” I’d say. (I didn’t even touch the Sears part.) Continue reading

Nora Ephron Saved My Wedding

I can’t stop reading the tributes and stories over Nora Ephron’s passing. (See also this, this and this.) Here was a woman so admired, her death moved even the elegant, unflappable Charlie Rose to choke back tears, admitting on CBS This Morning, “I just always wanted her to like me.”

Anyway, so maybe the title of this blog post is overselling my point a smidge. But when we got married last year, my husband and I were determined to bypass the cheesy wedding ceremony readings that wrap up love and marriage in all-too-neat little packages, that gloss over the messy parts or are just plain stuffy and corny (Love is patient, love is kind….). But we did want something read before we exchanged our vows, something that was honest and real and raw and funny. Something that felt like us. We scoured the Internets. And just when I thought we might be doomed to be the millionth couple to go all e.e. cummings (I carry your heart with me…),  we found this snipped from When Harry Met Sally. And it was perfect. Because who better to quote on matters of the heart than Nora Ephron?

“I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

My Mom and the Devil: Eastern Europeans Don’t Do Coddling

My mother in her babushka. I'm probably sitting there thinking, "What? There's a Satan? Put me back in, put me back in!"

I don’t remember how old I was, but I figure it was somewhere in the early elementary school years when I learned the concepts of heaven and hell in CCD, which is the strangely cryptic way we Catholics refer to our religious classes. Kind of like KGB. Except not at all.

I remember our teacher, Mrs. Teller, scribbling on the blackboard in the dim church basement that doubled as our classroom. She was compiling a list of behaviors that would get us into heaven, and which into hell. Now, I was a pretty good kid by most standards. But scanning Mrs. Teller’s list, I began to have some serious concerns about that time I threw my sister across the dining room table. To say nothing about that time I purposely kicked her in the vagina. Continue reading

Happy 40th, Ms.

I feel like the crappy kid who was too busy to call her mom on her actual birthday, but tried to make amends with an e-card the next day. Or something like that. But still. Yesterday, the New York City Council honored Ms. magazine’s 40th anniversary with a celebration at City Hall, not a 10-minute walk from my apartment (another check against me).

I wish I could have been there to fete the occasion, and to honor the magazine that opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking. I discovered Ms. in college, and was lucky enough to nab an internship there my senior year. While I’m pretty certain I hold the record for being the quietest intern in its history, I loved it so much I convinced them to let me stay through the summer. I remember being so intimidated, so in awe of the staff, of the collective history and wisdom around the table of our editorial meetings. What was I doing in a room with Gloria Steinem? I gulped whenever I was asked to throw in my two cents on an issue or story that was running. And I’m sure I stammered and stumbled a lot. I’m not sure if this is a common experience for children of immigrants, but at least in my case, I was raised to stay under the radar, to not impose myself or my beliefs on other people. And I’m not saying that’s always a good thing. Growing up, the phrase “children should be seen and not heard” was thrown around more than once.

We didn’t talk politics or social issues around the dinner table, and to this day, I’m honestly Continue reading

Life’s Dream Accomplished, I Can Die Now*

*Or, “That Time I Went to See Live! With Kelly
(only a slight exaggeration)

Regis might be long gone, but I still snagged this vintage ticket. Also, I could have Photoshopped out that pimple. But I didn't. Because I keep it real. Also, I don't have Photoshop.

So here’s the thing. I’m not too shy to admit that I’m a total fan of the previously titled Live! With Regis & Kelly show. If Oprah was like my TV Mom growing up, then Regis was my crabby uncle, Kathie Lee the crazy aunt we loved because we had to, but never mentioned publicly. Then along came Kelly, like the cool older cousin you hoped would teach you to feather your bangs and take you clubbing in the city.

As a kid, sick days and summers were the best because it meant I could drag a chair up to the mini TV on our kitchen counter at 9 am, pour myself a big bowl of Corn Pops and watch my favorite show, which I knew was taped in New York City. I watched and slurped at the sugary milk of my cereal, aching to grow up one day and live there. Which would naturally mean employment at either 1) WABC, working alongside Regis and Gelman or 2) Corporate America.  (I didn’t really understand what the latter was, but from all the 80s movies I saw on HBO, I knew it involved wearing business suits with big, fat shoulder pads and walking crowded city streets to get to work. Where do I sign up?!)

Fast forward to adulthood, and while I wasn’t yet living in New York with my fancy shoulder pads, I was still watching the show. After bad dates or restless nights in my lonesome twenties, I self-medicated with Regis and Kelly’s host chat segments on the Internet, watching one after another into the wee hours of the morning. No, seriously. The 20-minute banter at the start of each show was like cotton candy – light and airy, a guilty pleasure, slightly nostalgic, making me feel good about myself and my place in the world. No, seriously. (Say what you want, but I also think Kelly is a comic genius. And you know I don’t use that word lightly.)

I’d always wanted to see the show live in studio, but either I couldn’t get tickets or distance didn’t allow it. Fast forward and I am now living in New York (still no shoulder pads, dammit)…and I managed to procure tickets for the show this week! When I got the call from the studio, I was like one of those screaming ladies on the Publisher’s Clearing House commercials. (Though, I can’t lie: it was a little bittersweet now that Regis is gone.) I brought my mother and sister along (grumbled my mom: What, you couldn’t get tickets for Dr. Oz?) and we woke at the crack of Wednesday morning to stand on a snaking line at 67th and Columbus, shuffling to our seats with the crowd of mostly tourists (Lady A: “We have tickets for The Chew tomorrow!” Lady B: “You mean The View?” Lady A: “Nooo! The Chew!)

And when the music started, and Kelly danced onto the set with guest co-host Neil Patrick Harris (oh my god, you guys!), Continue reading

A Maharaja in Warsaw?

The Maharaja of Nawanagar with Polish orphans, Jamnagar: photo - CSPA. Via Polskie Radio

Here’s a fascinating bit of Polish history I’d never known about before. During World War II, a Maharaja took in nearly 500 Polish orphans, giving them a safe haven and building a camp with schools, dormitories and medical facilities on the Kathiawar Peninsula in India. Now, Warsaw is honoring Jamsaheb Digvijay Singh, the former ruler of the princely state of Nawanagar, for his kindness and generosity. A plaza will be named in his memory, called simply “The Square of the Good Maharaja.” (Apparently, the Poles have a little trouble with the pronunciation of the prince’s name. Which is saying something, because the Polish are pretty good at navigating strings of letters that don’t seem like they should go together.)

This is begging for a screenplay, and I so badly want to write it. You know, after the 10 other projects I have floating around in my brain. Anyway, read more about the Maharaja here in the Cosmopolitan Review.

* A tip of the hat to Barbara Proko for sharing this on Facebook.