Happy Birthday Herb

Herb spent his 85th birthday on his knees watering flowers and pulling weeds, confronting the unexpected and premature summer heat. The sweat-drenched smile on his face demonstrated he was one happy man – in want of nothing more. But 85 is a milestone and this weekend his family is planning a celebration to honor this energetic and loving man.

I’ll be there with my significant other, and with my children and their significant others because Herb is my step dad, and has been for the past 23 years when he and my mom, both widowed, tied the knot. Because of their union, my sister and I inherited three step siblings and siblings-in-law, and six step nieces and nephews.

Every family event, from weddings to bar mitzvahs to major birthdays, has brought together Mom and Herb’s children and grandchildren who live throughout the United States and France. Amazingly, we all get along.

The first Thanksgiving after my husband died, they all came to my house (the dinner table stretched from the dining room, through the living room and into the foyer) so my kids and I wouldn’t be alone.

When my son broke his arm playing hockey in New Jersey the same night my daughter was rushed to a hospital in Baltimore (where she was a college freshman), I couldn’t be in both places at the same time – though, being a mom, I tried. So my step sister who lives in Maryland went to my daughter’s side.

When my sister’s daughter moved to Boston and didn’t know anyone, our step sister-in-law welcomed her and started a practice of including her in holidays and events.

I know that we step sibs have the distinct advantage of never having had to share a bathroom, or argue about riding shotgun. We were in our twenties and thirties when our parents married, all out of the house and developing families of our own. But still, it matters who sits at the helm.

At ours, sits Herb and Thelma.

Together they make one smart adorable couple who walk every day rain or shine, stopping for coffee and the morning newspaper, read books they’ve borrowed from the library, go to independent films that provoke thought, play golf and bridge, and so much more.

On Saturday when Herb blows out the candles on his cake and we stand around and cheer, I know what we’ll all be thinking.

What are we going to do for his 90th!?


It's All in the Timing

So your mother-in-law interferes in your life with her son. She’s pretty sure you can’t cook as well as she can. Has he lost weight? She’s a little surprised you’re going out drinking with your girlfriends and he’s home caulking the bathroom. I raised such a handyman! She’s absolutely certain that he loves you more than you love him. His father doesn’t put ME on a pedestal.

The problem here is that it isn’t really about what either woman thinks in the early months and years of a relationship, the problem is the timing of these thoughts. The relationship between the two women has a better chance of succeeding if they start out on the same page, at the same time.

Here’s why:

You meet her son and WANT his mom to like you. She wants to like you, too, but needs time to process this new adult son (whom she still loves like a boy). She doesn’t know if she can trust you…yet. She doesn’t know if you are good enough for him…yet. She doesn’t know that you are really trying…yet.

And then when she finally turns a corner and begins to realize you ARE good for her son, the damage is done. You’ve given up trying.

Here’s a tip for mothers-in-law. It may be understandable that you are cautious about trusting and loving this other woman until you are convinced she’s wonderful. But if it takes you months or years to finally accept her and acknowledge that she’s really not so bad, she’s already hurt, angered and discouraged by your earlier rebuffs.

It’s a little like Romeo and Juliet. If only they had communicated before she drank the potion!

Rather than starting out guarded and wary, assume this is a marriage made in heaven. THEN if your daughter-in-law turns out to fulfill your worse fears, you can alter your demeanor.

As years go by, the two women may find a number of reasons that justify their lack of mutual fondness. But poor timing should never be one of them.


P.S. To my faithful readers who comment on my blogs on Facebook, I invite you to comment on the blog site, too!

The Straw Hat: Happy Father's Day, Dad

It’s a positively gorgeous day and I just had breakfast with a friend. We sat on her patio observing and discussing her garden – a mix of budding annuals, spent peonies and developing tomato plants. As gardens always do, it made me think of my dad.

Norman Slott had been widely known and respected as a builder, engineer, golfer, bridge player, gifted Ivy League grad, and, of course, loving husband, father, grandfather and friend. But mostly when I think of my dad, I draw upon one familiar image; that of a youthful, middle-aged man clad in old clothes, well-worn shoes, and protected from the sun’s rays by an enormous straw cowboy hat. He’s bent at the waist, his hands encased in garden gloves and he’s toiling in his vegetable garden. And what a garden it was – teeming with plants bursting with tomatoes, cucumbers, green and red peppers, squash and whatever else hit his fancy that particular spring. Anything that wasn’t eaten or given away by fall found its way into brine and mason jars and enjoyed throughout the winter months.

I like to think I may have inherited a lot of my father’s impressive qualities, but I only know for certain of one: his love of gardening.

As my father knew, away from the stresses of his job and the traumas of the world, he found peace in his garden. When I’m digging and pruning and propping up branches laden with fruit, my mind stays focused on the task, and its rewards – some almost immediate like when I plant a handful of impatiens or petunias and stand back to soak in the instant beauty and color. Gardening empties my mind of all those negative thoughts and worries and issues that never serve me well.

I have always found that of everything I do, it is when I am nurturing my garden (probably a fourth of the size of my father’s) or filling vases with flowers that I have selectively snapped off from my outside plants, that I am truly blissful. Maybe it’s the beauty, maybe the reward of seeing profits for my labor, or maybe it’s just thinking I’m like my dad.

My dad died much too young and much too fast in 1984 after a brief fight with pancreatic cancer. He has left behind many legacies for he was truly a remarkable man. But for me, it’s first and foremost his -and my – love of the outdoors and the soil – worms and all – and all that it can produce.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go water my plants, and deadhead my roses so my garden looks trimmed and tidy for Sunday – Father’s Day. I may not be able to see him, but I will be thinking of him and picturing him in his garden.

In my garage, his old straw cowboy hat hangs above a shelf crammed with my garden tools, pots and planters. It’s as though it oversees all that’s happening below.

Happy Father’s Day.


Hot for Hot in Cleveland

I’m psyched. Tomorrow night four great comedic actors will grace us with a NEW (not a rehash, not a rerun and not a remake) sitcom about four women whose ages average out to a stunning, youthful 62. And these are unequivocally, respectfully and famously hot actors.

Hot in Cleveland which appears on TV Land as a fresh, summer offering, features three aging LA friends:Valerie Bertinelli, 50, of One Day at a Time and weight loss fame; Jane Leeves, 49, of Frasier, and Wendie Malick of Just Shoot Me who turns 60 in December. The women’s plane is forced to land in Cleveland on their way to Paris.

In LA they are over the hill. In Cleveland they are HOT.

So they stay.

But what increases their average age is the addition of the fourth actor, 88-year-old Betty White. I’ve always liked Betty White, but after seeing her host Saturday Night Live and appear on Boston Legal (I miss that show), I am a Betty White devotee.

She’s funny, smart, adorable and OLD.

And while – age wise – I fit more in line with the other actors on the show, Betty White gives me encouragement. There IS so much more to strive for as we age.

How many 20 somethings do we all know – maybe we are one of them ourselves – who feel stressed over not knowing what to do with their lives? How many middle-aged women (and men for that matter) think once their kids are grown, they may be lucky to get a job, but a new career?!?!? And how many seniors think it’s time to retire, make sure their long-term insurance is paid, and finish every sentence with: “If I live and be well.”?

For what it’s worth, in my 20s I was a journalist in a job I hated more than I liked. In my 30s, I became a landscape designer so I could spend more time with my young kids (I’ve always loved the mom part). In my 40s I returned to graduate school. In my 50s I published my first book.

Who knows what’s in store for me in the next phase.

But I can look at Betty White and dream that one day in the future even someone like me might be considered HOT.


The King and I

I still remember hearing the Drifters sing “Up on the Roof.” I was in grade school and had a crush on this kid named Andy. He and his two boyfriends and my two girlfriends were hanging out together in his basement listening to music. I didn’t realize then that it was written by a young songwriter, Carole King.

Flash-forward to college: King’s rich, alto voice singing “I Feel the Earth Move,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (she wrote this at 17 with Gerry Goffin!), “It’s Too Late,” “You’ve Got a Friend” filled my dorm room. (Okay, so that explains my freshman GPA).

Flash-forward to last night. There she was at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia belting out all those old hits of hers – and of others like Aretha Franklin, Celine Dion, The Monkees, Blood, Sweat and Tears and on and on and on – all of which she wrote.

She’s 68 now, and gorgeous. And on a reunion tour with James Taylor, who I also love, with three members of his original band. The Wachovia holds 20,000 and it was a sold-out crowd.

The longtime friendship between King and Taylor – no, they were never married to each other – is obvious by the warmth that emanates from the stage. Their personalities are not larger than life like Lady Gaga’s or Beyonce (who, by the way, I also love) but full of normal, everyday, we’re-your-friends life. You honestly feel that when the concert ends they’ll text you and suggest you meet at Pat’s Steaks for a cheesesteak and diet coke.

The only special effects on the stage – other than the screens that blow up their image so even those of us in the cheap seats can see (Wachovia Center hosts the Philadelphia Flyers) – were limited to a few old still shots of King/Taylor in their youth. Even their dress – Taylor started out in slacks and a long sleeve button-down shirt as though he had just gotten off the train from work and didn’t have time to change – and King in black leggings, black tunic and high heel boots – was understated. And after intermission they returned to the stage both wearing jeans. The only part of their wardrobe that stood out was King’s mane of curls – blonde with an ever so slight tinge of whitish-gray.

I’m still riding high today, my head filled with sounds of her singing “Natural Woman.” I must be some old time geek. Who born after say, 1980, would be a fan of Carole King’s and James Taylor’s? After all, James Taylor’s wasn’t the only bald head shining up at me last night.

So on the way to the concert when I received a text from my son, I felt just a teeny bit apologetic when I explained our destination.

“Who r u seeing?”

“Don’t laugh,” I texted back. “Carole King and James Taylor.”

Then I waited for his “Who?” response, or some cutesy reference to my age.

Instead I got:

“That’s awesome. I love JT.”

Me too.


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