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


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.


Getting back up on the bike: literally and figuratively

Two years ago, when I fell during the 600 mile AIDS lifecycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I thought it would be hard to get back on the bike. I was scared, sore and maimed…with 21 stitches stretching from my eye to my cheekbone. But I got back up…because it was just a physical fall. Superficial pain: A few scrapes, some bruises, a tear here and there and several stitches. Physical pain is manageable. It is easy to overcome and I was fine. Scared, but fine. Mainly because my biking partner was with me — my emotional rock, my safety net, my confidence booster, my best friend.

So, how do you get back on the bike when you fall off emotionally? How do you get back on the bike when your best friend is gone?

You lift one leg over the seat, clip in and ride.

You do it because he would have wanted you to do it.

Because it’s who you were. Who you are. Who you will be.

And even though you cry the entire ride — you embrace the sadness, letting your tears evaporate in the hot sun and get blown away by the steady wind. You accept the pain and the hurt and the memories of the pair of you riding. You attempt to cycle, hoping that a memory or two glides through the gaping hole in your heart and sneaks past the searing pain. You push up hills and remember. You race down hills and forget.  And with each gear you shift, you get slightly stronger.  And even though the entire experience reminds you of him and feels awkward and strange and sad without him, it is what you need to help you begin to find your balance again.

Getting back on the bike is hard. But life keeps spinning onwards and so must we.


Life lessons from Italy #10 – Wine, a lesson in six bottles

Amarone, Barbaresco,  Barbera, Barolo  Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Valpolicella…I tried them all.

There was a lot of wine in Italy and I tried them all, often asking waiters for the best local wines they served. I sniffed, tasted, sipped, swished and drank. And I learned a few things.

1. In Italy wine is often cheaper than water.

2. In Italy, it is fairly easy to get a bottle of wine which has originated less than an hour away.

3. In Italy, everyone drinks wine

4. In Italy, trust your waiter. He/she usually can recommend a great bottle of wine.

5. In Italy, for a glass of wine simply say, “Posso avere una bicchiere di
rosso?”

6. In Italy, it is best to say, “Una bottiglia di vino per favore (um, and apparently the ‘g’ is silent…but I didn’t learn that until AFTER I got home when an Italian friend politely told me about my mispronunciation)

I guess I’ll have to go back to Italy and try again!


 




Life lessons from Italy #9 – The Italian Downton Abbey

 

I love Downton Abbey. From the first piano note of the rapturous theme song,  I have been addicted to the colorful conflicts of the fictional aristocrats and proletarians.  I can easily see myself in several of the characters: I’m a cross between Lady Sybil, without the wardrobe;  Isobel Crawley without the money and Mrs. Hughes without the patience.

So, when I had a few days at the end of my Italian journey, I chose to spend it in a castle….I figured that I could  have tea and enjoy witty banter and dress in formal clothes for dinner.

What I didn’t count on in my castle, was having the flu. My sequin A lined dress turned into a terry bathrobe and there wasn’t an aristocratic stranger on site to romantically hand me a silk handkerchief; rather, it was just me unromantically blowing my nose into wads of scratchy toilet paper.

I lived in my fairytale castle for two days, spending most of my time holed up in my room and coming up for air “to take supper” before returning to my personal farmacia of Italian meds.

 

I spent most of the time in my castle, bemoaning my fate, taking pictures of myself laying listlessly in bed and wondering what Bates would do.

The reality is, if I were in Downton Abbey, I would probably have succumbed to the plague.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Life lessons from Italy #8 – All pastas are not created equal


I’ve done Atkins… but I love carbs.

I’ve done Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig… but I love carbs.

I’ve done Lindora and Nutrisystem and South Beach… but I love carbs.

And Italy is the capital of carbs. To be a connoisseur of pasta, one has to learn the alphabet of pastas….or just try every single one of them. Which I did. Repeatedly.

A picture says 1,000 words.

So here are ten thousand words…

 

 

The irony of the whole thing…after two solid weeks of eating like this… I lost eight pounds.