Running Sucks

out of shape runnerThere is no other way to say it. Running sucks. I seriously don’t understand the concept of a runner’s high or the euphoria of the ten mile run. When friends run, they go to other places in their mind, places of peace and joy.

I find joy in a bottle of wine and macaroni & cheese.

When most people run, they find rainbows and unicorns. I only find bitterness. The last time I ran, actually ran full out was a decade and a half ago. It was the AIDS marathon which I didn’t train for (pretty much lets you into the mindset of this non runner) I did it because I wanted a free trip to Hawaii. So, I raised the money and ran. I ran, run being the operative word, for the first 14 miles… until my body simply stopped and turned on me, confused why I was asking it to do something completely out of its comfort zone. I crawled the last 12.2 miles and never ran again.  Sure, I biked and swam and walked…fast. But never again did I properly run. Even the triathlons I’ve done were bike-swim-walks.

Which brings me to this week.Which brings me to today. Which brings me to this moment.

This moment of red faced, can’t catch my breath, exhaustion and disgust. After nearly a year and a half of grief, apathy, lethargy and food and alcohol overindulgence, I’ve had a check in with myself. A reevaluation of sorts. Work- check. Social life- check. Health…. well, um, you see, it’s like….. and after as many excuses as I could find on thesaurus.com, I couldn’t find a viable reason why I was so unhealthy. So, I did the hardest thing one could do…I joined a bootcamp with a trainer. It means I’m now sharing the burden of my improbable journey to fitness with someone else. Disbursing some of the responsibility. Having a partner in this ridiculous quest for better health. Because, the fact is…I cannot go it alone. I simply don’t have the willpower which immediately caves in the second someone opens a 1997 brunello or I smell grilled onions on a grilled cheese sandwich.

So, the girl who devotedly watches The Biggest Loser with either a entire box of macaroni and cheese and a six pack, or an entire anchovy pizza and a bottle of wine, is reforming. Is trying to reform. Is making the attempt at reformation.

The bootcamp is four days a week, and I’m not entirely sure I would have signed up if I knew running was involved. My best friend, a marathoner, chided me. “Of course, running is involved. It’s the ultimate form of exercise. It’s the fastest way to burn calories, the most efficient way to get in your cardio, blah, blah, blah.” And it did sound like blah blah blah, because the minute someone mentions running, I tune out and they suddenly turn into the Charlie Brown teacher.  Which is ironic because I CANNOT TUNE OUT when I run. The trainer said, “go to a happy place”. However, when I run, I go to every unhappy place I’ve ever been. My mind is not a pretty place when I’m running, or trying to run, or faking running by walking quickly and moving my hands back and forth so it looks like I’m running. There are no happy places in my mind when I run. Experts say the things you hate are often the best things for you: kale, cardio, running. Who knows, maybe….as I track my progress, I’ll agree with the experts and grow to love to run….perhaps I’ll even make an entire mile without walking and/or throwing up.

All I know, as I embark on my physical and emotional journey to better health…running sucks.


Searching for Doris Schwartz

Today I met my childhood doppelgänger.  Granted, it was three decades after the fact, but it was well worth the wait. Growing up a chubby Jewish kid with frizzy hair who wanted nothing more than to sing and dance and act…there was no better role model for me than Doris Schwartz; the heart of TV’s 1982-1987 series FAME.

Like Doris, I wanted to live for ever. I wanted to learn how to fly. High. I felt it coming together. People would see me and cry…FAME.

Except…they never did.

Mostly because the only thing Doris and I really had in common was our passion and our frizzy hair. I couldn’t sing or dance. I didn’t go to the High School of Performing Arts, I went to Beth Tfiloh Day School. I certainly didn’t have an awkwardly cool clique like Montgomery, Bruno, Leroy, and Coco.  My best friend wasn’t Danny Amatullo, a comedian who dallied with uppers and had  father issues. My best friend was Becky Eisenberg, a beautiful, gifted brain who loved to read and could sail.

So Doris and I went our separate ways. I played lacrosse and field hockey and got two fairly useless academic degrees while Valerie Landsburg went on to have a successful career, becoming a quadruple threat. While she was Acting, Writing, Directing and Producing… I was busy spending a LOT of money at CVS and Walgreens trying to find the perfect product to tame my frizzy JewFro.

But her spunk and talent never left me. She helped me through those incredibly awkward years along with Judy Blume and a lot of Macaroni and Cheese. When I became a writer, I channeled Doris. A lot of my funny flawed female characters are based on a healthy combination of me and Doris.

There has always been a built in aspirational level on shows set in manufactured high schools. 90210, Degrassi, Buffy, Freaks and Geeks, Pretty Little Liars, Glee, Gossip Girl, My So Called Life,  Saved by the Bell, Veronica Mars... and I’ve seen them all. And other than the fact that clearly I watch too much television, is the realization that most of teenage angst is manufactured. It is put on. It is fake. Claire Danes’s  Angela Chase is one of the two exceptions to that rule. The second is Valerie Landsburg’s Doris Schwartz. Because, to me, she was real. Landsburg’s commitment and vulnerability made Doris Schwartz a fully fleshed out character. She felt what I felt. She looked like I looked. I felt her pain and pathos and hunger and drive. I got her jokes and appreciated her chutzpah. She was both flawed and likable.

Yesterday, after a long hike in Topanga Canyon, I stopped for lunch at a local eatery. And which singer-songwriter-musician was entertaining the laid back crowd….none other than Valerie Landsburg. Her voice was just as strong and she played a melange of instruments, proving the fact that one only gets more talented as she gets older. Doris Schwartz certainly has.

And don’t even get me started on the genius of Carol Mayo Jenkins.


Another op’ning, another show…

Voted “Baltimore’s Best Bookstore” by Baltimore Magazine and Baltimore City Paper, the Ivy Bookshop epitomizes everything which is good about independent booksellers. Unlike Big Box stores, the Ivy Bookshop is run by husband and wife owners Ed and Ann Berlin, who are ever present in the store and incredibly knowledgable about their enormous stock of books.

I absolutely love doing book signings in indie stores and the Ivy Bookshop did not disappoint. A Baltimore native, I was thrilled that not only members of the community came out to support the well publicized event…but also old friends, coaches, teachers, relatives and family friends.   It was slightly surreal to read aloud from The Affair and The Consequences as both my high school and college lacrosse coaches were there as well as my journalism teacher, Hebrew School teacher and my fourth grade best friend. 

I love books. Ever since I learned how to read and was able to pick out a dozen books at the library each week, books have been my treasures, offering me a wealth of adventure, companions and ideas. As soon as I read The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, I wanted to sleep at the Met. When I read The Secret World of Og, I was determined that there were cities of people who lived underneath the ground. And after devouring the Narnia series…well, let’s just say I spent a lot of time looking for portals in closets. I love books and I love independent booksellers who take the time to talk to their customers and engage in literary conversations with them, determining exactly which adventure is right for them.

The Ivy Bookshop is one of those wonderful and, dare I say, magical  places.  Next time you are in Baltimore Maryland….enter it,  and the adventure will soon begin. 6080 Falls Road Baltimore, MD 21209


How to look younger the natural way…gain some weight and get a facial.

My face is plump. Like a doll. A porcelain doll with nary a wrinkle, blemish or spot.

While Botox and Restylane are not my thing (although I have nothing against them), I personally prefer the natural way to look ten years younger…. weigh an extra two stone (that’s British so I don’t have to admit my gross excess) and get regular facials.

By regular, I mean once a month as they are simply too cost prohibitive to do daily….although the idea of doing a facial a day for a year is the beauty version of the foodie version of Julie Powell’s challenge to cook a recipe a day from Julia Child’s book.

Any takers?

But I digress. I now have a plump face…and it’s all natural. When scouring the uber hip and trendy areas of Los Angeles like Silverlake, Echo Park and Atwater Village…I came across Elysian Valley, known to insiders as Frogtown. It’s called Frogtown due to its proximity to the LA River and was given the moniker when Los Angeles’s frog population exploded, covering streets and lawns in the 1960s and 70s.

And right in the heart of Frogtown is Doll Face skincare studio run exclusively by Lila Castellanos.

Is Lila Castellanos a household name like Kate Somerville or Nadia Thibault? No, but she should be. Because after having a treatment like her, my acne ridden, wrinkled skin felt like a plump doll. Not Barbie…we’re talking American Girl Doll. And I will be forever grateful. With her own retro fifties style, Lila is a one woman salon…i.e. you won’t be beautified by one of her underlings. It’s just Lila. And Lila is more than enough.

I entered Lila’s hipster space a bit tentatively because I had just had a breakout which gave me a super unattractive fu manchu. She looked me over, was kind and said, “No problem. We can take care of this.” An hour and a half later, not only was my skin plump, hydrated, youthfully glowing and smooth… there was nary a trace of my breakout.

A miracle? No. Dollface Skincare Studio. Yes.

A cleanse, mask, some dermabrasion, a peel and some extractions, Lila spent the ninety minutes whipping my face back into shape so that it was Red Carpet ready. Although I think she misunderstood that I simply have a red carpet in my living room.

I say to the celebutantes and Desperate Housewives and Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Atlanta and New Jersey…. get that plastic surgery if you want… but a facial is a lot cheaper.

post facial. no makeup.


Wax On, Wax Off

Remember the Karate Kid? Not the tricked out Jaden Smith one, but the 1984 Ralph Macchio classic? At one of the film’s pivotal moments, Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel-san zen basics by instructing him to “wax on, wax off”. Recently, I’ve been trying to embrace the simplicity of life by culling it down to the basics. And one of my worst basic skills is washing dishes. Actually, let’s make that my absolutely worst skill. I am simply not good at it. So much so, that I have been asked at dinner parties NOT to help wash dishes. So…dishes tend to stack up in my house. And I grumble and moan and eventually, bitterly wash them. It is never a pleasant experience.

So, I thought, why not introduce zen to the art of washing dishes? I rolled up my sleeves, plastered a smile on my face and rather than starting the ordeal with a moan and a whinge, I turned on Pandora and took a deep breath.

First, the Indigo Girls Galileo came on. I grabbed my smiling face sponge Scrub Daddy I bought after watching an episode of Shark Tank and got to work.

It took me the entire song to wash and dry one wine glass, giving it a restaurant quality shine. I was still a bit bitter, and still grumbling a bit. The Zen hadn’t flooded my body and my hands felt raw and chapped.

A few dishes later and a few songs later, time somehow slipped away and I felt myself simultaneously washing and bawling to the Beatles Here Comes the Sun.

Even though I had heard the song innumerable times in my life, the lyrics suddenly resonated. Perhaps it was the combination of washing and drying, but the words imprinted.

“Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter. Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here. Here comes the sun, here comes the sun And I say it’s all right.”

The lyrics and the melody were so…simple. I was suddenly transformed. I felt… zen. I was totally in the moment. Maybe it only lasted for the three minutes of the song, but I felt it.

For the first time in my life, I felt it.

And, when all was said and done…I had an empty sink.

Moral of the story, if you are searching for Zen…. forget the Gregorian chants and Ravi Shankar on the sitar….just look for Paul, George, John and Ringo.


Pre pub day jitters

I just cleaned my house.

And I am not a good cleaner. In fact, I’m a terrible cleaner. But, I’m a bundle of nerves and excitement and cleaning calms me down.

I remember watching Monica’s neuroses on Friends when she’d clean to calm herself down. And while I thought it was a terrific character trait, it was never applicable to me.

Until now.

With The Consequences coming out tomorrow, I feel a nervous excitement like I am on stage just as the curtain is about to go up.  I feel like I am on the lacrosse field waiting for the first blow of the ref’s whistle. I feel like….. I am waiting at home for The Consequences to be published.  This is my fourth book, eighth if you count several of my pieces which have been published solely as ebooks, and the excitement has never once waned.

Call me a hopeless romantic…imagining that when the clock strikes 12:01 tomorrow, lines will form outside Barnes and Noble stores and/or people will be eagerly sitting at their computers buying the book on Amazon and Books a Million. I think it’s the element of the unknown. Maybe people will buy the book, maybe they won’t. One can only hope.

When I went to Italy last year to see the play version of The Affair and The Consequences, I nearly threw up in my seat as the curtain rose. Would the audience respond to this story of infidelity? In Italian no less. But once Robert, Stephanie and Kathy gave their opening monologues, I relaxed into my seat. They were taking the audience on a journey and I stopped being the neurotic writer and allowed myself to let go and simply be an appreciative audience member.

Tomorrow, when The Consequences comes out, I will try to let go and be an excited member of the public who will go buy the book. Or maybe I’ll clean some more.

Sometimes, the fun is in the not knowing.

 


The Consequences of friends and the celebration of friends of consequence

I just read an article in one of those magazines, which suckers like me are always buying in the supermarket checkout line. You know the ones…where happy, peppy models pretending to be ‘real people’ promise that it is possible to lose 20 pounds in two weeks. I invariably buy the magazine and without exception read about the diet as I am enjoying a big bowl of macaroni and cheese and washing it down with a nice Cabernet.

In the most recent rag–featuring a toothy woman named Kelly who is eating Chinese food and promising to lower my obesity risk by 300%,  I discovered an interesting tidbit on page 14: “Having a few loving friends you can lean on when times are tough reduces the risk of breast cancer as much as 25%.”

As Suzanne Collins’ President Snow would say, “May the odds be ever in your favor.

I have recently come against tough times and I have been incredibly lucky to have friends of consequence when my life was irrevocably changed by a death this year. The Consequences of this were that the bedrock of my foundation was deeply cracked. Yet, I still managed to write. Suffocating in grief, I still wrote because that’s what writers do. Mechanics still fix cars, teachers still teach, politicians still lie….we go on. And so The Affair  became The Consequences. And while this pub day will be missing an extremely important supporter, other supporters have filled in the hole. New friends of consequence have stepped up and old friends have stepped up more. Therefore, rather than winge and whine and have a lot of wine, I celebrate my release.

Because I’m celebrating my friends.

Each one of my friends in the book’s acknowledgements helped get me through my pain and, for that, I am extremely grateful. Others, who were not mentioned, were invaluable as well. I know writing is a solitary life. It is a lonely life and an introspective one. However, I could not be a writer without my community of friends: my unbelievable support system who either pick me up when I fall or sit down on the ground with me, patiently waiting for me to get up.

The definition of Consequences is twofold: Something that happens as a result of a particular action or set of conditions and Importance or value. Both definitions have had major significance between last year’s publication of The Affair and this Tuesday’s publication of The Consequences.

The Consequences of death is grief. The Consequences of an Affair is a great deal of tsuris and pain. The two are not terribly dissimilar. However, the Consequences of having a strong support system of friends… is priceless.


Macgyvering the Menorah

Lighting the Chanukkah candles. It’s one of those time honored traditions that grounds me in my faith. And while I love both giving and receiving presents, my favorite thing is actually lighting the candles, singing the prayers and meditating on the flames as they burn down.

The problem is…year after year…the waxy buildup in the tiny holes is incredibly frustrating.

I dig out the mess with fork prongs, chopsticks, earring backs, pens, paint brush handles and paperclips. You name it, I’ve tried it. And while the wax eventually comes out…there are often scrapes, bruises, cuts and several band-aids which accompany the process.

Let’s face it, cleaning is not my specialty.

This year, when tasked with the daunting choice of which instrument to use to clean the menorah and subsequently maim myself… an idea was born.

Now, my appreciation of vino has come a long way since I first discovered wine coolers in college. Over the course of time and taste I’ve sampled a variety of alcohol from keg beer to piña coladas,  before my taste buds eventually committed to  full bodied reds. And with my slow education, came the evolution of my wine tools...gone are the days of the simple opener…it has been replaced by a melange of options. In fact, my instrument of choice, is the rabbit… which is not to be confused with the other popular rabbit women enjoy.

My rabbit corkscrew opens wine cleanly, efficiently and quickly.

But I never got rid of my original corkscrew. So, I rummaged through my junk drawer and found it nestled between a box of mismatched nails and a pile of multicolored ribbons. And I proceeded to uncork….my menorah.

Pretending the leftover wax was a cork, I plunged in the corkscrew and gently turned… and all of the wax from the last few decades pulled out…cleanly, efficiently and quickly.

I may not have invented the Internet or solved world peace…but I’m fairly proud of my new de-waxing menorah solution.


It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown & how not to prepare for a fast

Sophomore year of college, I got mono.

A lot of kids get mono in college and, statistically,  most of them get it sophomore year. Although that may be a statistic which is primarily in my head as I tend to make statistics up.

I was so sick that I lost twenty pounds and I was already on the slender side to begin with — I was 19 — most people are on the slender side at nineteen. But, I digress. I remember weakly getting on the train to go home and ALL I wanted to do was watch It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. I couldn’t swallow, I couldn’t sit, I just desperately wanted to find solace from Snoopy and his gang and have some pumpkin pie. And when my parents finally got me settled under the afghan onto the couch where I would sleep in a daze for the next two weeks – sure enough Charlie Brown was on. But I was so sick, I fell asleep. I missed both the movie and the pie.

Two and a half decades later, I am watching the same Charlie Brown in a slightly different situation. And although Snoopy and the gang look exactly the same, I managed to find the twenty pounds I lost, along with twenty more who wanted to come along for the ride. So…

Tomorrow, I start a fast.

There are innumerable reasons for this drastic step… one, I have finally come to terms with the fact that macaroni and cheese is not necessarily a healing food, two I am on a journey of self-discovery and three, I just watched  the fascinating documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. So, I’m going to go for it. Two weeks. Two longggggg weeks.  It might be hellish, but according to a stranger in a store who recently sold me an overpriced ring, “Sometimes you have to go through the darkness in order to get to the light.” 

And rather than traditionally start a fast the way one is supposed to traditionally start a fast: gently, gradually, gingerly… I stuff. I’m a stuffer.  In the last three hours, I have stuffed most of my refrigerator down my gullet.  There is no dairy and no grain on this fast, so, I have just

ingested sixteen mini doughnuts, three beers, a tub of tzatziki and a large anchovy pizza…. and this is after I dropped by the bagel store this afternoon to have a bagel, cream cheese and lox.

Gluttonous? absolutely. But as a foodie who loves her food and drink, I am NOT good at detoxing and perhaps this is my backasswards way of psychologically preparing my mind and my body.

Or at least during the first few days, I’ll be so disgusted with myself I’ll forget to be hungry… and when the two weeks are over… maybe I’ll watch the movie again… and have some Pumpkin pie.


Sophomore Slump. My second triathlon and why carbo loading with wine does not work


My first tri was amazing. I set a goal and I reached it. My naiveté fueled me, my exuberance sustained me and my training prepared me.

My second tri wasn’t as successful.

I can sum up the experience with the F expletive. I muttered it several times throughout the race. In the murky lake water where the seaweed all but attacked me, on the hilly bike course which promised to be flat and on the run where the temperatures soared.

So I cursed. Several times.  And about 33 F’s later, I crossed the finish line….broken and battered…but I finished. I got a medal and the bragging rights of finishing not one but two triathlons.

1,992,000 people have done at least one triathlon in their lives. I have now done two.

And with two triathlons under my belt and a third one in December to fill the trifecta, I have learned a few things.

1. Carboloading with wine does not work. It tastes good…it tastes really good; however, it doesn’t quite prepare you as well as the more traditional pre-race meals.

2. Never trust the event’s brochure.  This is my second ‘flat’ triathlon which has been hilly. Maybe whoever writes the copy doesn’t quite understand the difference between the word flat and hill. A hill is an incline, slope, gradient,ramp, rise…it means it goes up. Flat is anything which is level and horizontal. Both courses had a lot of vertical in them. And I am not a big fan of vertical.

3. If you train in a beautiful Burbank Olympic sized pool, which is clean and uncrowded, you are ill equipped to do a triathlon in a lake.  A dark lake. A murky lake. A muddy lake where seaweed seems to grab your arms and legs, you can’t see anything and the water smells.

4. Triathlon is spelled triathlon. Not triathalon…it took me a while to catch on to that one.