Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Promise

Picture this.  A lane lined with sycamores and sugar maples (one with a hammered-on smile), blanketed with moss or snow, and a low-riding wooden fence that winds its way up towards a big yellow house.  This is where I write. 

After years of world travel, for the past 10 years I find my inspiration from the nature outside and the human nature within.  Although I now only dream of exploring lands far away, with two kids, one cat and one husband - and my own business - my days are full.  Life brings constant joy, challenges and reasons to be thankful - but little time to write. 

So, what prompted this entry?  My precocious 13-year-old daughter started her own blog yesterday - so, like daughter, like mother.  Here's a promise (to myself) that I will fill this blog with what moves and inspires me...and hopefully, you.

Primary Season

As I choke down the coverage of this year’s presidential primaries, I am reminded of 2008 – when the fur was flying under animalistic conditions I could never have imagined…
Over my many years as a PR/communications professional, I have found myself thrust into all sorts of surreal situations (look out for my book: “What I Did for Ink: A Tell-All Tale of My Adventures with Drunks, Schizophrenics, Ranchers, Preachers and Other Clients”).
This time – a first in my eclectic career – I found myself on the campaign trail of the Democratic primaries. My client was not a candidate, a cause or a lobbyist group – but a video game publisher with a new title, Hail to the Chimp.
An old colleague contacted me. He was starting a new video game company with a name I could barely say, much less promote. Okay, it is the name of South Carolina’s football team, so I got over it and helped launch (ahem…) Gamecock Media Group. Together with developer Wideload Games, I was asked to strategically leverage the real primaries with a new game promising, “the biggest political race the animal kingdom has ever seen.” How could I say no?
Our press release (from the cockpit) announced a fast-paced original game with exciting gameplay and a comic look at politics. The storyline behind Hail to the Chimp – delivered through the metaphor of our electoral system – offered some pretty familiar themes, including political-backstabbing, self-possessed newscasters, fundraising fat cats and even inane political ads.
Ten quirky candidates were fighting for the title of President of the Animal Kingdom and we had furries (costumes covered with a dense coat of silky hairs) made up of a pack of them: Crackers the chimp (the front-runner), Ptolemy the hippo, Bean the sloth, Hedwig, the polar bear, and our GRR news anchor, Woodchuck Chumley.

We hit the campaign trail in our news van –“GRR: You hear it first!” – parked among the other network’s satellite trucks: CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN. No animals were strapped to the roof of the van (sorry Romney), but the executives (including the CEO), were dressed in the furry suits and inhumanely squeezed inside. Suffice to say, with all of that fur, we could have used a bigger van and lot more air conditioning.
First stop Des Moines for the Iowa Caucus. In the three-way contest of 2008 – Obama vs. Hillary vs. Edwards – the key themes were unifying the country and bringing about change (not contraception, college ambitions being elitist and the undoing of the American family.) Ah, the good old days…
Woodchuck Chumley reported from Barack Obama’s acceptance speech (thrilling!) and I landed a cover story headlined “Caucus Critter” (with photo) in the Des Moines Register – the reporter advising Katie Couric and Brian Williams to “move over for Woodchuck Chumley.”
The GRR News van made several stops on the campaign trail. Crackers the monkey even got to shake Ron Paul’s hand.
And all of the furries got to see John Edwards say goodbye in South Carolina.
Although the sleuth of furries went on to Super Tuesday, my campaign-trail duties ended at the electric Philadelphia primary (Obama vs. Hillary Clinton) where – depending on your affiliation – the chant was, “Vote for Obama, not your Mama! Or, “Vote for your Mama, not Obama!”
Back in my New York office, I continued my work. Gamecock was among the first to endorse Stephen Colbert for president (Although this year, Herman Cain may have done it better), had a campaign running on MTV (Cock the Vote) and Woodchuck Chumley had his own column on the Huffington Post (I know what you are thinking, “Great…another woodchuck with a blog”).
Ultimately the video game did well. Not a blockbuster, but from personal experience, I can tell you that Hail to the Chimp continues to reign and has the auspicious honor of being my 10-year-old son’s current favorite.
As for our current primary season…when I look at the clown-car of candidates that have been shot down by the Republican Party, I realize that our GRR News van stuffed with furry animal candidates was closer to reality than I might want it to be. Crackers for President?
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The Pumpkin Pinch (a.k.a. Out of His Gourd)

I was at my friend Tilly’s house admiring the new construction on her house that had turned her summer upside down – new bathrooms, kitchen, master bedroom…the works – all beautiful and all ready to go for the fall. As we headed around back to see the new mud room I noticed her garden. “Are you planting pumpkins again this year?” I asked. 

“Not after last year!” she exclaimed. And then I remembered…

She and her husband had planted pumpkins for their three adorable children and three pumpkins had sprouted. But one was especially lovely. Nicely rounded and a blushed shade of orange, she and her husband watched it grow all summer, admiring its perfection and hovering over it like loving, concerned nursemaids. They even referred to it as “Ellie’s pumpkin” – destined for their eldest daughter who was really the only child old enough to revel in the magic of pumpkins when carved into jack-o-lanterns.

One rainy evening her husband, Craig, just pulling in from work, stopped to admire the prized specimen. And lo and behold, it was gone! Cut cleanly at the vine! No animal could have chewed in such a straight line. And, the pumpkin was clearly on their side of the split-rail fence. Somebody had snatched their pumpkin!

Craig knew that his next door neighbor had recently hired gardeners to work on their property. Immediately he saw them as culprits. He imagined them coveting his perfect pumpkin as they mowed the Lamers’ lawn. After all, who wouldn’t want this darling of a pumpkin for their very own? 

Off he marched in the rain – a man in a business suit with a purpose – storming down his driveway and ready to get to the bottom of this injustice. 

The doorbell produced an unkempt woman-child in her bathrobe. He hadn’t seen her before, but he had heard the screaming fights coming from inside her home and knew that a member or two of the household wasn’t quite right.

“Excuse me, but I just was in my garden and noticed that one of my pumpkins was missing. Would you know if perhaps one of your gardeners clipped it?”

“Oh no,” she assured him. “It was me.”

“You? Well…we worked really hard this summer on growing our pumpkins and that particular pumpkin was promised to my 7-year-old daughter Ellie.”

“Oh.” An awkward silence passed between them.

Now, what? This empty-eyed simpleton obviously wanted to keep the pumpkin and wasn’t rushing to return it. The moral question stood. Did he insist upon its rightful return, or did he do the charitable thing and let this pitiful woman enjoy his gorgeous gourd.

He brightened. “I would be happy to give you another one of our pumpkins.”

“Okay. Well, I guess I’ll go get it.”

And she limped away only to return momentarily, producing the pumpkin, its long root trailing behind her.

“Here you are,” she smiled weakly.

“Thank you.”

And, dripping wet from the rain, Craig walked back home, his pumpkin-pride lost, but his prideful pumpkin intact.

Losing It!

Few things make me more nuts than when I, or my children (or husband), misplace an important belonging. With so much stuff to keep track of, I find “the search” to be an almost daily undertaking. Yesterday it was my son’s missing right hockey glove (still in the “lost” column).Consider today’s surreal hunt for another lost item…
My daughter, Amanda, left her brand new jean jacket on the bus to religious school yesterday. Should I go looking? Well, it was a birthday present… Enough said. I called the bus depot and the office clerk said she thought she saw it on the top of the pile, so I headed over. When I go there I found out that the custodian had dumped all the lost and found items on a porch at a house-come-office next door. The clerk pointed me in the right direction and I found myself faced with five garbage bags filled with a shameless amount of kids’ clothes – most of them damp (or sweaty?). I hunted through a bit – with disgust and no success - and then went looking for the custodian to see if he could give me some clue as to where it might be. He was very lovely, but we didn’t find it.
I headed back to the depot and this time asked the office clerk if she knew which bus it might be on. She found the listing and said Amanda was on bus #369 and if I wanted to, I could go look through the bus myself. “It’s parked somewhere out there,” she dismissively waved her hand in a general direction.
A mom on a mission, I walked among a maze of about 30 school buses in search of #369 and finally found it parked way at the back. So, there I am, skulking down the aisle of a hot, smelly school bus in search of my daughter’s jean jacket. And yes, I was claustrophobic and irrational with thoughts of getting stuck inside forever and never being found.
My first trek down the aisle was unsuccessful…but I decided to look one more time and there it was, the blessed jacked was wedged into a seat that was partially raised up. Success! But at what cost?

The 11th Commandment: Thou Shalt Eat Coffee Yogurt

Go figure. That is what I said to my sister Bev when she laughingly imparted a story about her recent trip to the local Snider’s Supermarket in Chevy Chase, MD.

There she was in the dairy aisle rummaging through the rows and rows of Dannon yogurt in search of her favorite flavor, when a clerk came up to her and said, “What flavor are you looking for?”

“Coffee,” she said.

“Are you Jewish?”

“Am I Jewish?” she reiterated.

“Yes, well…Jewish people love coffee yogurt.”

“Really?” said Bev.

“Yes, especially New York Jews. Are you originally from New York?”

We did grow up in a New York suburb, our refrigerator packed with Dannon coffee yogurt. But, we never put the two together. Jews and pastrami on rye, Jews and pickled herring, Jews and seltzer – yes. But, Jews and Dannon coffee yogurt? Who knew?

The refrigerator of my Jewish, depression-raised parents is always stacked with coffee yogurt. While my mom is the resident daily consumer, my dad is the bulk shopper, reputed to buy a dozen at a time – more if they are on sale. And, my mom’s friends, Sarah, Naomi, Gladys, etc. all eat Dannon coffee yogurt, mostly for lunch, and with abissel almonds or granola. I know – I am a witness.

My own Chappaqua fridge, too, is rarely without. I always buy a bunch because it seems to be in short order. A typical shopping day at the A&P finds the coffee row empty – in its place a plethora of Light and Fit Lemon Chiffons, Fruit-on-the-Bottom Boysenberries and the probiotic good-for-your-tummy Activa flavors. My husband agrees. He is also known to stock up.

When my daughter Amanda was eight, she was given her first sneak-taste of Dannon coffee by my mother – much to the dismay of my otherwise caffeine-fanatical husband. Sure enough, it was love at first bite. Could there be a coffee yogurt gene?

I decided to do some research outside of my immediate family. First, I asked my Jewish friends if they shared my passion for this luscious, caramel-colored fermented milk.

My friend Bonnie is a self-proclaimed addict. Apparently, she is a two-cup a-day-er. One 6 oz. cup doesn’t cut it, even for her 100 lb. frame.And, the way she eats it matches my own.

“It should be eaten ice cold,” said Bonnie. “I stick it in the way back of my refrigerator where it is the coldest. And, if I pull one out to eat, and the phone starts ringing, I put it back in until I am done talking.”
I nod. “Yes. It has to be ice cold, with the top almost a solid cream. If I remember, I put mine in the freezer 15 minutes before I am going to eat it.”

I also hit up many of my gentile friends….Trisha complained of the after-taste and the other dozen or so had either never tried it, or had no visceral passion.

Searching the blogosphere I immediately found this entry on Amazon’s “Al Dente’s Blog: Always on my Shopping List.” A female Brooklynite wrote, “I have loved Dannon's coffee all my life. I understand they don't sell it everywhere, but they've had it here in New York for forty years at least. I used to get it in 16-oz containers, but now I can only get it in those tiny 6-oz ones. Boo!”

So, what is up with those tiny, un-filling 6 oz. containers? And, how about the addiction factor? Could a 6 oz. cup of coffee yogurt, a mereforschpiece, contain enough caffeine to cause an addiction? Turns out asix-ounce container of Dannon Lowfat Coffee Yogurt only contains a mere 36 mg of caffeine. So, if my cat ate a whole container, he would only sleep 15 hours a day.

I decided to also do a little research on Dannon the company, which, sure enough, has Jewish roots. In 1929 Daniel Carasso, a Spanish Jew, expanded his family's business by setting up Danone in France. Fleeing France during World War II, he founded Dannon, the first American yogurt company, in New York. And, it appears that market share is still stronger in the East, home of most U.S. Jews.

In a last ditch effort (which I guess should have been my first), I contacted Dannon’s PR department. They weren’t able to confirm that coffee yogurt was more popular in the New York-area (I was too chicken to pin them down on the Jewish factor), but did offer up that they don’t market by flavor. To show their appreciation for my interest, they sent me coupons and a Dannon t-shirt.

So, I know there is probably nothing really scientific going on here -- just some oddly compelling Seinfeld-ian evidence. My sample size is too small, too local, too female, too Jewish. But, for the record, I may be on to something, and I am here to say…

Move over matzah balls and Shalom to kasha varnishkas! Say hello to Dannon coffee yogurt, the new Jewish food.

Audrey Mann Cronin
March 2, 2012
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Hockey Ready!

Turns out my husband, Rob, is a hockey nut. I guess I knew this on some level. In our newlywed years I recall cowering in a corner of the couch stunned by the thunderous boom of my husband’s powerful vocal chords lambasting the hockey players from the comfort of his tattered lazy boy. But then we had babies, and things got busy. Plus his hockey team – the Philadelphia Flyers – was not doing so well, and hockey was given a time out.

Now, six years later, hockey is back in our lives with a vengeance. Rob has taken Jakey, our high-energy, exuberant 6-year-old, under his muscle-bound wing. He’s taught him the game, and suited him up with skates, numerous and laborious pads and a bladed, taped, hockey stick. Every possible weekend, for the past year, Rob has taken Jakey, and often our daughter Amanda, ice skating.

Amanda took to the ice immediately. Being of brave spirit, Amanda had no issue digging her skates in and gliding around the rink, even with a few falls here and there. But not Jakey. He belly-ached and cried and had no patience. When he fell, he would just lie flat on the ice and whimper. When our patience was in tact, we could cajole him to keep trying. Jakey would skate back and forth between the two of us and we would catch him in our arms and give him an enthusiastic squeeze – reminding me of the days when we were teaching him to walk. When our patience wasn’t in tact, we let him cry it out on the sidelines. But, Rob kept taking him.

Ultimately, it was Amanda who taught Jakey how to skate. By appealing to his competitive nature, she would say, “Let’s race!” and he would push his little legs as hard as he could to beat her. “You must have rockets in your skates!” we would say. He liked that a lot.

By about February, Jakey could skate. Then it became all about going to the rink for stick and puck and playing in our driveway with our new hockey net. Jakey just loved trying to score goals on us and was very proud of his “hockey ready” stance.

For Jakey’s 6th birthday, Rob took him to see a Rangers game at Madison Square Garden. Within the first 5 minutes Rob had to shield Jakey’s eyes when a guy was bloodied and knocked unconscious. But, he loved the game. And, now he is an official hockey fan too, screaming at the TV like his dad.

Rob has signed Jakey up for all sorts of hockey lessons and even sent him to night-time hockey summer camp in Mt. Vernon. I think this is when Rob got the idea that Jakey was good enough to try out for a travel team.

The tryouts were over the course of three days. Rob took him to the first tryout, but couldn’t make the second. So off I went with Jakey all suited up in his 17 pieces of hockey gear. When we got there, his name was not on the registration list. The woman in charge of the hockey registration -- appropriately named Frostine -- said that we needed to have registered months in advance. Frostine said that she would allow Jakey out on the ice, but it was unlikely that he would be considered. I called Rob from the rink and he was beside himself. But, Jakey skated and Rob took him to the 3rd tryout, just in case…

A week later, Rob got a call that Jakey had been put on a non-travel team. He was disappointed, and surprised as he felt that Jakey’s performance had been good enough to qualify him. But, not wanting to be the cliché, aggressive and pesky parent, he didn’t say anything.

At the Mite’s first practice, Jakey scored all the goals – five of them. Rob tried to contain himself, but when the fifth goal slid between the coach’s legs, he allowed himself to exercise those thunderous vocal chords.

And then he got another phone call. His cell phone rang while driving on the PA Turnpike…it was Frostine.

“Hi Rob, this is Frostine from the Hockey Club. I wanted to tell you that the coaches had a board meeting and we want to call Jakey up to the travel team.”

Rob called me immediately. I asked him if he was happy.

“Are you kidding?” he said. “It’s the best day of my life.”

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