Thursday, November 14, 2013

20 Years Hence, Sinéad or Madonna?

Back in the 90s, was it Sinéad O’Connor or Madonna that moved and inspired your 20-something soul?  

Last night, my husband and I found our selves four rows back at a Sinéad O’Conner concert for her “American Kindness” tour.  With her trademark shaved head and wearing a shapeless Bob Dylan long-sleeve t-shirt, she at once seemed to flash her adorable dimples and her transfiguring scowl.  She morphed before our eyes – first as a beautiful, self-possessed women, and then as a rebellious teen-age boy.   She was hard to capture, even though I tried with my iPhone camera:

But her sound was extraordinary – her voice clear and transporting.  She had the audience in a frenzy – men and women alike –and it gave me cause for reflection…

In 1990, Sinéad’s breakthrough album, “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got,” contained her most famous single, “Nothing Compares 2 U” (written by Prince), winning her a Grammy award in 1991.  The album was an international success and the music video of “Nothing Compares 2 U” (she was even before her time using texting characters) focused on her heartbreakingly expressive and beautiful face, and is still riveting

I think I felt at the time, that she and the album were mine.  That Sinéad Bernadette Marie O’Connor, a singer-songwriter from County Dublin, was talking to me – a single Jewish girl living in Hoboken, NJ.  It was the soundtrack of my 20-something years when I was studying voice, starting my career and involved in a romantic but tumultuous relationship with an Irishman (a County Kerry man with a thick Irish brogue). But last night, as I watched all the 40-something women and men dance and sway in the aisles, I realized that she deeply affected us all.

And then in those same influential years, there was Madonna, maybe the biggest role model for women at the time.  Sinéad’s album, “I Do Not Want…” was straddled by Madonna’s, “The Immaculate Conception,” in 1990 and “Erotica” in 1992.

I never saw Madonna in concert, but I watched her closely, listened to her music and danced my heart out to her hits in the clubs.  In 1990, she went on the Blond Ambition World Tour and gave a controversial performance of “Like a Virgin” and was criticized by the Catholic Church and the Pope who asked that we not attend her show. 

As you may recall, Sinéad was also soundly criticized by the Pope and the Catholic Church – particularly harshly for her defiant ripping of the Pope’s photo on “Saturday Night Live.” Sinéad’s personae and sensibility was really the polar opposite of Madonna’s. Both artists railed against the Catholic Church – but Madonna took on sexual freedom and Sinéad, sexual child abuse. 

While Sinéad could transform herself from the inside with a mere look or sway, Madonna was able to transform her image on the outside – reinventing herself with every album and music video.  While Sinéad didn’t care about style and clothing, Madonna could “strike a pose” and inspire a whole new fashion trend.  And, while nothing Sinéad did or does on stage seems choreographed, Madonna started out as a dancer, and is still today, the consummate entertainer – complete with back-up dancers. 

At last night’s concert, Sinéad treated us to some of her biggest hits, including one of my favorites, “Emperor’s New Clothes,” . I recalled how her line, “How could I possibly know what I want when I was only 21?”  struck me then, and how even now, at 40-something, I wonder what I want (but that goes under the middle age crisis category).  

All of Sinéad’s newer songs from her album, “How About I be Me (and You Be You)?” rocked the house.  She had great chemistry with her band and the harmony was spectacular, particularly in “4th and Vine” and “Take Off Your Shoes.” 

The show ended with her vocal, accompanied only by the drone of an electronic organ.  She combined her unique artistry as a musician with her soulful talents as an ordained priest…and we all walked out knowing that we had witnessed something substantive and remarkable.

So, who is it for you, Sinéad or Madonna?  Would love to hear your thoughts and insights…


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

CONUNDRUMS IN ABSURDIA: An Unscientific Quiz on Living and Parenting in the 'Burbs

1.     You throw a birthday party for your 8-year-old, with magician and a balloon-animal twister.  All the kids show up but all they want to do is text and play on their smartphones.  You…
a.     Are relieved that you wont have to entertain a bunch of noisy kids.
b.     Are appalled!  Who buys their 8 year old a smartphone?
c.      Get creative and have them play “hot potato” with their smartphones
d.     Take away their phones and force for them to be social and have fun.  You paid for it, didn’t you?

2.     You’re shopping at a the local market and your bill for organic chicken breasts, olives, parmesan cheese, tomatoes and a loaf of Italian bread comes to $50.  You…
a.     Are proud of the high-quality products our town offers
b.     Wince and tell them “never mind”
c.      Roll your eyes, but pay up.  You feel good supporting our local vendors.

3.     On the weekends, your husband lives in fleece.  You…
a.     Figure it is okay. You like to be comfortable too.
b.     Love his snuggle quotient
c.      Give it away to Good Will and tell him that you found an even more comfortable fabric called cotton.
d.     Explain that Under Armour is the new black.

4.     Your daughter comes home from a Bat Mitzvah celebration with an obscene amount of parting gifts including an iPod, sweatshirt, custom chocolates and 10 framed photos.  You…
a.     Explain that the real world isn’t like this.
b.     Are thrilled!  You needed another iPod and the sweatshirt fits you too!
c.      Appreciate the generosity but secretly dread the day your children become a Bat Mitzvah.

5.     Your child works the goldfish booth at a religious festival and can’t get over the complaints she got on their too-tiny fish-bodies, bulging eyes and poor backstroke.  You…
a.     Explain that goldfish are a valuable commodity
b.     Don’t know what to say.  Who are these people you call neighbors?
c.      Examine and write up a complete report on the goldfish specimens for size, bulging eyes and backstroke ability.

6.     You just moved from the city to the ‘burbs, thrilled that your two toddlers will have a nice lawn on which to frolic, but your new next door neighbor informs you that ticks are a problem and to keep your children off the grass.  You…
a.     See this as a sign that the world is coming to an end.
b.     Research Lyme disease and allow your kids to frolic, certain that you will be able to detect a target, no problem.
c.      Keep your kids off the grass.
d.     Pour cement on your front lawn to create a basketball court.

7.     After the snow melts, you discover a large and smelly deer carcass on your lawn.  You…
a.     Call animal control and are disgusted to find that it will cost you $150 to have the deer removed, but do it anyway.
b.     Haul the deer on a tarp to the side of the road and hope the garbage man picks it up.
c.      Find an out-of-the-way spot on your property and get the family together for a burial.
d.     You are a city slicker.  You have no idea what to do…

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Fair to Remember

During this past summer, as I recovered from my Achilles surgery, there were few high moments.  Mostly I look back at it as a blur of intense exhaustion, strenuous hopping and surprising pain.  But thanks to our great friends the Cashmans, there was one summer memory that I will treasure forever, though I wasn’t even there.

Greg and Peg Cashman took Amanda and Jake – along with their three kids - to the Yorktown Grange Fair.  Like most country fairs, there were rides, livestock shows, cotton candy and carnival games, with the requisite swindler behind the booth.  

The "One in and Win" basketball shoot caught Jake’s eye.  Jake prides himself at being a pretty good basketball player, but mostly he was excited to see that one of the prizes was a giant stuffed panda and he had to win it for Amanda – lover and collector of all things Panda.  He paid $2.00 for one shot and missed.  Then he paid $5.00 for three shots and missed.  Apparently the hoop was made of rubber and the balls just bounced off.  The trick was to get a “swoosh.”  Amanda told him it was okay and that they should just go on the rides.  But Jake was determined (as Jake is).  They would be back.

After the nausea inducing round-up, the giant slide and the ferris wheel, they were back.  Jake handed the man the five dollars for three more shots.  And wouldn’t you know it, on the 2nd shot, he got a “swoosh” -- and a truly giant panda!

Rob and I wish we were there to witness the fist pumping, jumping up and down and squeals of joy, but we got an incredible recount when the kids arrived home.   Their faces were alight as they painted a thrilling picture, and my heart was full.  “Jake is my hero,” Amanda said. And then my heart swelled.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Silver Linings Recipe Book: How My Mom Lifted the Clouds and Healed My Achilles Heel

My father always taught me to make lemonade out of lemons.  But when I tore my right Achilles tendon juggling a soccer ball at the Long Beach, California airport and ended up homebound and on crutches for the summer, I had to really reach to find the sugar for the lemons.

Enter my mom.  She arrived like a Jewish Mary Poppins, not floating in on an umbrella, but laden down with her own bottomless bag full of goodies. She took a measure of my adoring kids and found them both to be “practically perfect in every way.”  But, with my surgery scheduled for the following afternoon, this time, her magic was meant for me.

A recent widow at 79, my two siblings and I have been worrying about how to best take care of her.  But now, here she was, a pint-sized Florence Nightingale, ready to tend to my every need.  With my kids readying for sleep-away camp and my husband traveling for work, her special brand of TLC – mixed with smarts, wit and empathy – arrived just in the nick of time.

So what was in the bottomless bag?  Need you ask a Jewish mother?  Food of course!  And, a new recipe book, “Cook This, Not That!” with post-its noting a few tasty dinner options and stuffed with newspaper clippings of other healthy recipes.

Although post-surgery my appetite was nil, she brought me up trays with easy-to-digest peanut butter on Ritz crackers, elegantly placing a few grapes on the side, and a big bottle of water to calm my camel-like thirst.  When I was feeling better and able to do the one-legged hop down the stairs, we spent many fun hours cooking meals together, our favorites including ravioli with yellow zucchini and basil and rosemary chicken with lemon. 

As the chief chef, my mom took on the challenge of getting to know the whereabouts of all ingredients, utensils, pots and pans in my fairly large kitchen.   She was always game to try something new, whether it was the food processer, lemon juicer or Ninja blender.  One night, a towel set atop a pot of rice to keep it moist burst into flames.  On this night she learned the invaluable lesson of cooking on a gas stove as opposed to her own electric.   

Perhaps my favorite moment was a night we spent jigsaw puzzling while listening to Broadway tunes.  Could there be anything more peaceful then sitting with your mommy and working on a Van Gogh puzzle while singing along to Camelot, Carousel, Fiddler, The King and I, etc.?

Many afternoons, we spent together outside on the back porch, smelling the pine and listening to the crickets chirp while reading or napping.  Getting “Hop-a-long” (my new nickname) set up outside wasn’t easy though.  Along with schlepping out the chair cushions, my book, laptop and/or water, she had to play a game of musical doors with our cat, Dakota. Dakota is an indoor cat that yearns for the outdoors. But, with neither of us able to chase and carry him, we had to make sure he stayed an indoor cat.  There are two doorways that lead out to the back porch and watching my mom try to trick Dakota by going from one door to the next – faking him out as he meowed his head off, was highly entertaining.

The highlight of my days has been finding a letter in the mailbox from one or both of our campers.  I love sharing the kids’ heart-warming letters, reading them aloud until I get too fahklempt to continue. While early on, we did get the quintessential dreaded letter from Jakey, which started, “I’m sick,” and had a sad face with a tear on the envelope, the rest of his letters were happy and adorable, filled with the adjective, “great!” to describe his cabin mates, activities and the food. Amanda’s frequent letters all start in happy CAPS with some iteration of “I LOVE CAMP!” and are chock-full of all of her favorite activities, and proud and silly moments, and a daily log of her meals.  She truly fits her moniker, “Kid Foodie!” 

My mom has been with me to every doctor appointment, taking notes and making sure I follow the orthopedist’s orders.  She has made sure I take my medicine, wrapped my leg with ice and cajoled me to call the nurse when my toes turned purple. One night, I got a splinter in my finger from pushing off of a wicker chair.  Even though her vision is pretty terrible, she miraculously got the painful splinter out, and frankly, saved the day.

For our nighttime entertainment, Mel Brooks seemed to be watching over us. In the last three weeks, we found four televised Mel specials that kept us laughing.  Excerpts from his routine with Carl Reiner, The 2000 Year Old Man,
are particularly hysterical, along with clips from his greatest movies – my mom’s favorite being “Blazing Saddles.”  But mostly it was Mel Brooks’ way of telling a story that left us in hysterics – particularly about growing up Jewish in Brooklyn and performing in the Borcht Belt’s most famous resorts as at Tummler (master entertainer).  In one routine he talks about Jews and cholesterol.  Just thinking about it makes me laugh. Honestly, he is so relatable, I feel like he could be our relative.

In a few days, my kids come home from camp, and I can’t wait to see them, to smother them in hugs and kisses. But, for now it is “just mom and me.”  Yes, my fun-loving husband and I have spent these precious weekends together and my lovely friends have taken me out for dinner and drinks, but it strikes me that I probably haven’t spent this much time with my mom since I was a kid. 

In truth, although this Achilles injury has been agonizing, frequently bringing on tears from pain and frustration – and I still have a long road ahead, I already see the silver lining and have learned a new recipe for living.  It's called "Patience."  It just requires a few key ingredients including sleep, good food, and a sense-of-humor, and if you’re lucky, a big heaping spoonful of your mother’s powerful love.