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Category Archives: relationships

Pamela Smart, TV murder and who’s writing your story in the New Year

by SweetMidlife
Bang your own drum, or be content with someone else doing it for you. And that means they get to pick the tune.

Bang your own drum, or be content with someone else doing it for you. And that means they get to pick the tune.

Leslie here! One of my New Year’s resolutions – yeah, they’re mostly poppycock, but hear me out – is to spend less time reading other people’s writing and actually writing myself. I’m a writer after all. Says so on my business card and my tax returns. It’s almost embarrassing how not proactive I’ve been, particularly when you consider that I always thought I was. But if you don’t take careful possession of who you actually appear to be, and who is telling your truth, you are doomed. Like, “doomed” if you were reading it in Vincent Price’s voice. Like you’re screwed.

I was reminded of this on New Year’s Day, watching “Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart,” a 2014 HBO documentary that’s not so much about the murder of a young husband by his wife’s teen lover and his friends that she’s accused of setting up, but why we think we know what we know about it. Smart, a former school New England school media coordinator who is serving life without parole for engineering the plot, still maintains her innocence, and director Jeremiah Zagar seems to think that’s possible. But that’s not what his movie is about. It’s about how Smart herself was set up as the unfortunate subject of a “ripped-from-the-headlines” culture in the early ’90s, before myriad studies on how media coverage effects both juries and public opinion. There were several books, a widely-scene TV movie starring Helen Hunt and even a wickedly excellent Gus Van Zandt movie, “To Die For” that was loosely based on the case. Even though the movies came after the verdict, there is evidence that they have tainted any chance Smart has of getting a new trial. Person after person involved in the case, from co-conspirators to reporters to even the filmmakers and writers who recorded it as history, admit that they have a hard time separating fact from fiction. They sometimes forget which details were in evidence and which were lines spouted by Helen Hunt on a TV set.

It’s eerie to imagine that a real woman could be sitting in jail for the rest of her life – she’s spent more than half of it there already – because she had the dumb luck of falling into a salacious situation of her own making. It possessed all sorts of nasty little made-for-Geraldo details like the seduction of a teen boy,  old found bikini photos made to look like they were taken explicitly to seduce the kid, a secret, damning tape and the like. Smart’s defense team, who decided that they didn’t want to try the case in the press, didn’t insist that she tell her own story. What they didn’t appreciate is that this story was going to be told for her, in so many televised testimonies and talk show punditry. Watching the court of public opinion bury Smart two decades later, in glorious early-90s big hair and shoulder pads, is claustrophobic, because of what we know now about how media can bury or salvage you depending on its whims. The case predated the present Casey Anthonys and even the Dalia Dippolitos – troubled women with a whiff of sexual inappropriateness and big doe eyes that make people either want to save them or smack them. Maybe they’re all guilty. But if they weren’t – like if there was video of someone else committing their crimes – some people would still refuse to believe it because we’ve all discussed it and decided that they did it.

So what I’m saying is this – whether you’re the First Lady or the lunch lady, you are a public person to someone. There are people who are curious about you, who are forming opinions about you based on your Facebook profile or your last ten Tweets, or your Pinterest boards or even what they saw you buy at the Winn-Dixie last week. They probably don’t even realize that these opinions are being formed, but they are being formed, all the same. I respect the right of everyone to have their own lives, to curate the details of those lives accordingly and to not have to justify anything they do to a bunch of strangers. But “Captivated” reminded me that if you don’t take an active role in telling your own story, it’s still being told. I will take that lesson this year as a person who posts about working out but doesn’t lose weight because I keep eating things you don’t see, as a writer who sometimes spends too much time watching TV someone else wrote and not writing herself. Stuff like that. I can say I’m one thing, in all the Pinterest and Facebook and Twitter I want, but if I don’t actively inhabit those things, I am not them. I am telling a different story. Be aware of who you are and how your life tells that story. It might be speaking louder than your words.


So much to say, so little blogging: Some thoughts while I’ve been away

by SweetMidlife
IMG_2327

How many times do you watch a kid’s movie before it burrows UNTO YOUR SOUL?

 

It’s Leslie! And it’s been a minute – several of them, really – since I’ve written here. I was up to a lot, including finalizing the adoption of my son, Brooks, who is almost three years old and more than almost awesome. He is all the way awesome. And super loud.

In that time, with all that stuff going on, there’s a lot I’ve been thinking about, some stuff that directly relates to motherhood (I’ve been raising him since he was six months old, but it’s just been official now.) Some of it is serious, some of it is stupid and some of it involves the proper number of times a day a child should eat macaroni and cheese.

– Is it wrong to tell your kid “We are not watching any more ‘Dora Into The City’ today because Mommy doesn’t like it and it’s making her angry?”

– How much mac and cheese will warp your kid and turn their blood into actual Velveeta cheese sauce?

– I realized this morning as I packed the kid into the stroller to walk him to daycare that we were out of lunch food so I walked past the CVS and put a Campbell’s soup cup, one of those plastic cups of peaches (but in real juice!) and a yogurt in his lunch bag. Not one thing was either homemade or even wrapped lovingly in a plastic bag by me. Am I a bad person?

– “Bad Moms” was actually funny but annoying because every one of these moms was upper middle class or at least well-off, where they could blow off their part-time jobs or stay at home or at least get drunk in the middle of the day and not once was one of their complaints “If I change my life at all I can’t pay my bills.” Because I know very few moms who don’t worry about that.

– Are you gonna watch “Dancing With The Stars” even if it means endorsing Ryan Locthe’s stupid butt? (I am! Because of Vanilla Ice and Babyface.”

– Does the cancellation of “I Am Cait” set back the transgender movement or just mean Caitlyn Jenner needs to be nice to Kris Jenner so she can get back on “Keeping Up With The Kardashians?”

– How much sleep do you need before you can’t function? Asking for a friend.


Lynne and Leslie Ask Each Other Random Christmas Questions. You Are Welcome.

by SweetMidlife

Merry Christmas from The Sweet Midlife! This has been a year of many ups, and many downs, and we have had a bunch of both in our families. And here we are, at Christmas, determined to have a good holiday not in spite of the losses we have gone through this year, but to savor this holiday BECAUSE we know how precious it is to still have what we do have. We also hold onto the part of the holiday that celebrates the coming of Jesus, and that gives us hope, but even if you don’t celebrate that part, our wish for you is that you find that hope somewhere this season, and find some joy.

Since we can’t be together this Christmas, we, Lynne and Leslie, thought that we would have an online conversation of sorts by asking each other Holiday-themed questions. Let’s see what happens. Leslie answers first.

Leslie being Christmasy.

Leslie being Christmasy.

Lynne asks: “What are you doing tomorrow? Also, Willis, what are you saying?”

Leslie: I am going to a friend’s for dinner and bringing wine. Is it bad when people only want you to bring wine? What are you trying to say, Friend? You’re saying I can’t cook? Boom. I’m making a banana pudding just because and I like it so if you don’t want it I’ll take it. Why am I arguing with myself?

Also…Willis is over your tired question. Since, like, 1979.

Lynne asks: “What is the best Hallmark-y type movie you have watched this year? And was Hayley Duff in it? She is in all the movies. 

Leslie: The only Hayley movie I saw was “His Secret Family,” and it was NOT a Christmas movie. It was a “Girl, background checks! Hello?” movie. Also, when your insane husband who had a secret family says he only needs one family now, he’s coming to kill you. Why are you still in your house? My favorite was “A Baby For Christmas” on Up, because Neil and Drucilla were back together! (Amirite, “Young and the Restless” fans?)

Lynne asks: “Holiday baking question: Why should we believe it’s not butter? Shouldn’t it always be butter?”

Leslie: Butter is the reason I will likely never be vegan. Sorry, cows. I appreciate your service.

Lynne asks: “What was your favorite Christmas memory from our childhood? I can’t wait to hear this.”

Leslie: That time that we didn’t get our tree until Christmas Eve, again, and a family friend said she knew a guy who delivered them door-to-door and I was like “If this tree is fugly we can’t take it back and you’re gonna feel obligated to pay for it and then we have a fugly tree,” but we were all lazy and Daddy was like “I’m not paying for an ugly tree” and sure enough the dude came at like 8 p.m. and it was the Charlie Brown tree’s sicklier cousin. I mean, he was coughing like Satine in “Moulin Rouge!” But we had no more options and we paid for it, because the guy was there and no one wanted to turn it down and seem rude. #getyourtree

Lynne asks: “Snow Miser: Misunderstood Genius over-shadowed by his flashier brother?”

Leslie: Snow Miser is the Jan Brady of Christmas, meaning that he has to discover his own groove. #I’mtoomuch

OK, this is Leslie. Lynne’s turn to answer. Let’s do this.

 

I always feel like a snowman's watching me... actually, I don't. That would be weird.

I always feel like a snowman’s watching me… actually, I don’t. That would be weird.

Leslie asks: “Do you suppose Rudolph ever snapped because of childhood memories of being bullied and then totally used for his nose-glowing, or just waited till he had tenure and started his own rival delivery service? Cause I would have.”

Lynne: I don’t think he snapped. I think that he held onto that and became famous after writing his memoirs, titled “Turn On Your Noselight: How I Overcame Oppression and Now Run This Reindeer Thing.” The alternate title was “How You Like Me Now, Blitzen?”

Leslie asks: “If last Christmas I gave you my heart, but the very next day you gave it away, how did I get it back to be able to give it to someone special? And how bad of a friend was Andrew Ridgely for poaching George’s girl in that video?”

Lynne: I think the guy she gave it to pawned it so he could buy more short-shorts, because that’s what people wore in Wham! videos. George heard it was at the shop, and got it back. And I can’t hate on Andrew. He wanted something to do afterawhile.

Leslie asks: “Is making “My Favorite Things’ into a holiday song just a naked ode to materialism? And would Maria approve?”

Lynne: It might be. Maria was all about recycling, hence curtain-based playclothes. And you didn’t ask, but I feel like I should shout out to The Baronness. Whattup, Barronness. Oh, what if Maria remade Salt N Pepa’s “I’ll Take Your Man” and sang it to the Baronness and had Gretel as her own Spinderella? Huh? I would buy that record.

Leslie asks: “Where is this Barnes and Noble that Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett hang out, and can you think of any other duo it would be fun to run into while holiday shopping?”

Lynne: I WISH I could run into them, but if they showed up at our B&N, we probably would have missed them because we had to go home because we wouldn’t let the 3 year-old eat all the Starbucks cake pops.

Leslie asks: So what’s your favorite Christmas memory at Casa Streeter?

So many. Ooh, you started it with the Christmas Eve tree procrastination-turned-tradition tales. There was the year we waited so late on Christmas Eve to get our tree from the lot at the parking lot of Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, where the Orioles and Colts used to play, and by the time we got there, the dude who worked there had gone home and left all of the trees there for people to take for free.. And this was before everyone had cell phones, but I remember people on their carphones (Daddy had one!) calling their friends going “Pookie! You better come get you a tree, Yo. It’s free!”

SO, thus concludes Streeter Twin Christmas Convo time. What’s your favorite Christmas memory?

 

 

 

 

 


Book Review: “Stuck In The Passing Lane” by Jed Ringel

by SweetMidlife

by Lynne

Leslie and I have talked a lot about both finding our husbands in our late-30’s, and how Leslie andmarried those dudes the year that we turned 39. What I realize is that I haven’t talked much about HOW I found my husband on eHarmony, and that this was the probably the 4th time I had subscribed to that service, and the many-eth time that I had tried online dating. I wasn’t interested in having an entire relationship online, but I liked the idea of being introduced to people who I would not have met in my regular circles, and who were also looking for a relationship. Through my search, I opened my eyes to people that I may not have considered before, and also found that it was okay to ask for the things that I wanted, and if I didn’t find someone (although I REALLY wanted to), that I would use whatever I learned to make myself who what Pastor and relationship-author Andy Stanley calls “the person that who you are looking for is looking for”. Because you should be that person whether you are looking for someone or not.

Jed Ringel, the author of the new memoir “Stuck In the Passing Lane”, is on a similar search when the book opens. He is a financially successful man in his 50’s who is also the almost-divorced father of 3 teen-aged daughters whom he struggles to maintain a relationship with. The book chronicles his many attempts at finding the right person, through date after funny date after disastrous kinda-relationship, attempts that take him from the New York City-area where he lives to Russia (twice) and Singapore and back. This is a man who literally goes far in the quest for love/companionship/sex. What happens in his journeys, though, is that he finds more than that: he learns a lot about himself. I know that this sounds cliched, and like something out of a Hallmark movie, but it’s more meaningful than that. His story is more than can be scripted. I won’t give away the ending, but the things that Jed finds as he looks for a mate reveal to him things that he didn’t know about himself, things that he knew but didn’t want to admit, and ultimately things that help him realize what he is worth altogether.

I started reading this book a few weeks ago, read about 20 pages, then put it down, partly because other things came up, but also because I wasn’t sure that I liked Jed at first. I don’t think that I had read many memoirs from men that were this open and vulnerable and also kind of explicit- he writes in length about his sexual experiences, and that was a bit too much detail for me personally. But when I went back to the book, I finished it in 2 days, and I found that I really, really was pulling for Jed, not just to find a good woman, but to be okay, and to be happy in a way that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have someone else as a part of that happiness. I felt like I was taking this journey with a new friend. BECAUSE of that openness and honesty, and his willingness to show himself in ways that were sometimes not-so-flattering. You will find yourself saying “Yay!” when he meets someone promising, or gets an email from a daughter who there had been some strain with, and you find yourself yelling “No! Don’t date HER!” like you are yelling at the screen while watching a horror movie when he meets someone questionable, and your heart breaks with his when things don’t quite pan out with people that you and he hoped that they would.

But he keeps going. And that’s what I liked the most about this book, and what I think you might too. There is much to be said for people who hone in on a goal, work for it, and get that thing right away. But that’s not Jed’s story, and it’s not the story of most people I know, including me. Jed’s story is about feeling stuck in his travels, but also about being willing to travel in the first place. It’s about finding what you want, what you won’t put up with, and being open to what happens along the way. The search for the right one starts a journey that leads so many other places. It’s about hope, and we can all use that. I highly recommend “Stuck in the Passing Lane”.


Girl, Put Your Cell Phone Down.

by SweetMidlife

Lynne here!

My friend Wonderful Tracey posted a challenge on Facebook a few days ago for people to pledge, for one week, to put down their phones when they were around other people, and linked to this article. This means no checking your status, or your email, or what Blake Shelton said on “The Voice” last night, or the latest political scandal on CNN, or who liked the funny thing you just posted because it was brilliant and people need to start pressing those “thumbs up” buttons. People are always posting challenges and such on the Facebook, as my dad called it, and some of them I have accepted (if not completed all the way), like posting a Bible verse every day because that is encouraging. Some of them I have rolled past, like forwarding something because the original poster says this proves that I love Jesus if I share it, and proves that I don’t love him if I don’t. Because that is bogus and Jesus didn’t appoint you the judge of who loves Him based on clicks.

But the putting away your phone thing hit me right in the gut, because I knew that this would be hard for me. Like really hard. Because I love my phone. I mean, I forget where it is sometimes when I am doing other things, and there are times when I have missed texts because I had my phone in my purse for a few days, and that means that I lived without it. But those times of non-phone awareness are lesser in number than the times, usually during the day, that I am constantly checking that thing. I hear a beep and I need to see who that was. I post something funny or shared a cute picture of my kid, and I look a bunch of times to see who agrees with me that I am funny and that my kid is indeed cute. I want to check it at red lights, which is dangerous. And I often check it when I am out with people. This is different from answering it if someone actually calls you, or looking down to see if I should answer it. No, this is pre-ring checking, because someone MIGHT need me. And someone might think that I am important.

And that is what it is about for me, really. People engaging with me online makes me feel worth the engagement, like I am loved. It’s about more than just the “likes” or the clicks. Just as this book I am reading about food says that we often overeat because we crave something else besides food, when I check my phone excessively, I am craving something, too.

Connection.

Which I have if people are sitting in front of me.

My kid, my lunch date, my husband, the checkout guy at Trader Joe’s. All human. All ready to communicate and make me laugh and have me listen and kiss them (my husband) and make small talk about tortilla chips. And I am throwing their desire to connect with me back in their faces if I throw them over for possible comments on that funny video I posted.

So I have been really working on this the last few days and I ain’t gonna lie. It’s been hard because just like you don’t often realize how many M&M’s you stuffed into your mouth until you look down and count them, I didn’t realize how attached I am to checking stuff until I decided to stop doing it so much. I would be lying to you if I told you that I was going cold turkey on this, but I am really, really trying. And it has been very rewarding.

Because there is a time for Facebook and web-surfing and funny things that the little girl who plays Diane on “Black-ish” said (because that little girl is comedy GOLD). And there is even time for the friends who I talk to exclusively on Facebook. But I need to set that time aside and not have that impede the people in front of me. Because that’s not right.

This is why I know that this needs to be a life-change for me, and not just a thing I try for a week. Because people are precious. And important. And I am putting down my phone now and closing the laptop.

HI! How are you doing?

Do you have a phone-checking issue? Would you take the challenge to put it down around other people?

2 of the people I can connect with when I put my phone down.

2 of the people I can connect with when I put my phone down, namely my husband and my kid.


The impending end of “Parenthood,” grief and “appropriateness”

by SweetMidlife

images

This is Leslie, and both my sister and I are dreading the end of our frustrating, exhilarating and ultimately emotionally binding stint as quasi-members of talky-talky fictional Bay area family the Bravermans, of NBC’s “Parenthood” (or as my husband calls it, ‘I just hate those people.’)

I don’t hate the Bravermans, a multi-generational, sometimes too-close band of brothers, sisters, parents, cousins, nieces, uncles, aunts, nephews, aunt’s boyfriends, niece’s rage-happy boyfriends and whatnot. I love them. And I include all of those relationships to point out the complicated and very realistic way in which the scripted family is connected, and how the actions and affections of someone you didn’t even consider yourself all that close to can impact your life, particularly if, like the Bravermans, you’re all up under each other all the time and don’t seem to have enough friends you aren’t related to.

Those sometimes painful but unbreakable ties, as in life, sometimes exhibit themselves in times of stress, as in last Thursday’s episode, when the Bravermans are gathered in what Lynne and I can tell you is the unhappiest place on earth – a hospital waiting room at some Godforsaken hour waiting to hear if your father’s going to live or not. And in that moment of overwhelming fear and dread – their father Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) has probably just had a heart attack – any other emotion that manages to edge its way into the room is welcome, at least for a couple of seconds before the clouds come crashing down when the doors swing open.

So as they’re sitting there, trying not to cry, sister Julia (Erika Christiansen) walks in obviously dressed in the outfit she was wearing the night before (She’s…reacquainting herself with her ex-husband. Without her pants.)  Her sisters and niece rib her about it, which to me seemed not only completely natural – these people are all up in each other’s business, after all, so of course they’d comment – but healthy, because it’s normal to not want to talk about your father possibly dying several hundred feet away.

So normal did it seem that the moment sort of went over my head, until I read the recap on EW.com, which I read faithfully. The writer, Michelle Newman, liked the episode but was bothered by the mid-tragedy jocularity – ” I get that it’s a natural instinct in times like this to try to deflect the enormity of the situation, but the gossipy nature of their conversation seemed inappropriate, no matter how much I wanted to know all the deets,” she writes.

I read that passage over three or four times, and then called my sister and paraphrased it for her. And as good a writer as Newman is, this made us wonder if she’s ever been in that waiting room, if she’s ever lost someone. If she has, and she grieves differently, no judgement. I hope that her method got her through, and that she is doing well. But we wholeheartedly disagree, like, a lot, that appropriateness has anything whatsoever to do with that moment. Not in the thick of things.

Look: An unscheduled walk of shame to focus on is a gift in this situation. Lynne and I are part of the sad Parental Loss club, but since childhood have been going to funerals, sitting vigil in waiting rooms and at bedsides, and, as of the death of my mother-in-law almost five years ago, sitting shiva.

And while I believe that it’s inappropriate to start stuff with your family in a moment of weakness, like, unrelated stuff that could wait, life continues even as Death prepares to ring the doorbell (Lord, I wish you could yell “We aren’t here!” and turn the porch light off until it goes dejectedly back to its car and goes away.) Babies will pee in the pew at the funeral. The florist will mistakenly but beautifully decorate the wreath from your cousin Chick and family “Chicken Family,” and everyone you are related to will laugh so hard that it’s painful, even as the rest of the mourners look at you like you crazy. Your father will miss Gladys Knight’s performance on “Dancing With The Stars” because he’s on his way to dialysis, and even though he needs the dialysis to live, he will grumble about it, because he was only watching this stupid show for Gladys.

Every single one of those things has happened in the past 30 years to us and I can tell you this – You do not stop loving, eating, peeing, laughing or being human in the middle of tragedy. Humanity is a gift in these cases, in those rooms. Humanity keeps you sane, or as sane as you can be kept, because you’re trying to scratch your brain out of your skull trying to keep it from chanting “He’s gonna die. He’s gonna die. Hey, Hoda’s hair looks nice! He’s gonna die.”

The Bravermans are not perfect. I do not understand some of their romantic or parenting choices, or entirely where their money comes from, or how moving from a giant rambling house with land in the expensive Bay area to an expensive big Victorian in a nice neighborhood in San Francisco is considered downsizing. I think, again, that they’d all benefit from having friends they aren’t sleeping with whose last names are not and have never been “Braverman.”

But I understand their passionate devotion, how they have never loved anyone more than each other while considering each the burr under their collective saddles. I understand how hard it is to extricate yourself from your family, even if you wanted to, and how sometimes you get all tossed together like an artisanal cranberry and feta salad, bumping against each other, and don’t even realize how good you go together until the spinning stops.

And I know that in those moments, I would not dare tell someone not to crack on their sister’s presumed previous activities, or their hair, or Hoda’s hair, or what’s on the front of the paper, or whatever worms its way into the room. Because I have been in that room, and know this: The pain that might be coming? THAT IS WHAT IS INAPPROPRIATE. It’s evil. It’s the Devil. It’s inevitable, maybe, but it sucks and it just feels wrong. Pain is interrupting your walk of shame, and Gladys Knight, and life, not the other way around. So if being a little tacky gets you through? You get a pass.


Cohabitate-gate Part Two!: The blogger speaks! And is eventually half-way humbled!

by SweetMidlife

cropped-we-are-broke1

So yesterday I told you about this writer Hope Kumor, who wrote a not-cute column for XOJane about how she and her boyfriend were living with his folks to save money, and how this arrangement was harshing her sex life and ability to walk around someone else’s house half naked. Many readers on that site, on this one, and on our various Facebook pages, laughed at her.

As a person who gets paid to sometimes put my life out there for other people to judge, I do understand that it’s hard to see your personal choices judged, even though no one made you write about them. But if you’re in the mindframe to write something so…tone deaf, self-reflection might not be your superpower. So you won’t be surprised by her initial response on her blog. You can read the whole thing, but her take is that it was sarcasm and “a joke, but maybe you aren’t smart enough to decipher the difference.”

Wait, who what?

Hope goes on to write that her boyfriend not only pays rent but gives his folks so much money that “generally get mad at him because he spends so much money on them…It’s hilarious how you all think I’m an ungrateful bitch because if you actually met me in person, you’d see that I’m the sweetest and kindest gal.”

Well then.

Rather than just laugh at her utter lack of graciousness, I decided to post on her blog that her sarcasm wasn’t clear and that she shouldn’t blame the readers for her lack of clarity. And rather than delete me, she responded!

“Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. We do appreciate it.

Going back, yes I left some things out that I really should have added in, such as the rent, how much we help out around the house and underneath it all, how grateful we are for them.

Thanks for the advice! Truly. xo”

Wow! Graciousness! So far, Hope has yet to go on XOJane and respond and I hope she does. Do I believe that she was being sarcastic? Not completely. I think she misread how her story was going to play and then got defensive. I get it. But she needs to grow a thicker skin. I am pleased she responded, though.

And she should still save those pennies and move out. She and Brett’s parents will get along so much better if she does.

 


Black Jewish Chrismukkah Part Two: The tree-ing!

by SweetMidlife

jewish tree

Leslie here!

Here’s a quick one, because we’re in the last lap of our Holidaypalooza – this year kind of snuck up on me, which is ridiculous since no one in the world other than mail carriers and pre-school teachers who do crafts should be more attuned to the holiday schedule than a Features reporter for a newspaper. It’s been non-stop holiday stories and blogs and Tweets and whatnot since Thanksgiving, but when my husband suggested we both take the day off Friday to finish our shopping since it was the last weekend, I was like “No it’s not!….Wait…what?”

So on our trips around the greater South Florida area on the the holiday tip, we ran across the cutest thing – I think it was on “Shark Tank,” a show I am trying to create a fabulous invention just to get onto. Anyway it’s a Hanukkah tree topper, a Star of David instead of a traditional tree star. And it was a no-brainer. We also have the menorah (read of the road to finding it here) so this just adds to it! What do you think? The kid we live with likes it. And if our cat were still alive, she’d vow on her nine lives to get to it and destroy it because it makes us happy. Because annoying the humans is like cat Christmas.


The weird, friendly adventures of a black Christian lady looking for a Hanukkah menorah

by SweetMidlife
And behold, a menorah grows at Marshall's.

And behold, a menorah grows at Marshall’s.

“Happy Hanukkah!”

Over my shoulder as I (being Leslie) rush out of a fancy chain home decor store here in West Palm Beach, I hear the very sweet and apologetic clerk, who has just explained that her establishment is the latest on my crossed-off list of places that do not carry menorahs. This is my fifth Hanukkah season with my husband, who is Jewish, and the beautiful candle holder that his late mom got us for our wedding seems to have vanished in our last move, or in the ether, or with a tiny Jewish group of Borrowers who also seem to have stolen the mate to every one of his socks.

Because we already had one – or used to – I have never had to go shopping for a menorah before, and foolishly believed that in an area whose populace that no less an expert than Jason Alexander described as “a preponderance of Jews” would be a hotbed of menorah-hood. That it would be the Menorahhood.

Oh, foolish silly Goy.

I am not Jewish, but I am a wife, so in the last five years or so I have become our household’s procurer of most holiday and special-occasion paraphernalia and accoutrements, including wandering into Judaica stores looking for seder plates, making Passover reservations, ordering matzo ball soup en masse, hunting for High Holiday tickets and, as today, driving around the greater West Palm Beach area looking for a menorah. When I first began these errands years ago, I braced for the weird looks – and boy, did I get them! – at the red Afro’d black woman wandering, confused, through the Kosher cookbooks, looking like the loser in a very specific scavenger hunt.

But you know what always wound up happening, on those trips and today, on my menorah hunt? Everybody, pretty much to a number, was awesome. Welcoming. The guy in the Judaica store could not have been more helpful. The ladies in the various delis looked bemused but walked me through the rugelach and smoked fish dips with patience and kindness, because it was clear I was out of my depth.

And today, two separate clerks, the aforementioned lady at Restoration Hardware and the one at chi chi stationary store at Paper Goods, said “Happy Hanukkah” to me. And it made my heart grow a gazillion sizes. Understand that I am a Christian, and my celebration of Hanukkah is because of my husband, who in turn goes to Easter services with me. It’s also a nod to the Jewish roots of my own beliefs.

The ladies at those stores do not know this. I assume that I look different than the other people who have come in looking for menorahs and candles and stuff. But they listened to what I wanted and greeted me accordingly, and it was sublime.

Many of my Facebook friends of several religions have recently pondered the downright nasty response they have gotten from some strangers who have received their sincere “Happy Holidays” and spit it right back at the giver, to strike a blow for the War on Christmas. I can see standing up for your beliefs, but don’t be nasty about it. (Those people, no matter how fervent their Christian beliefs, are being bad citizens and, if you think about it, not exemplary Christians, because we all know the best way to interest people in your beliefs is to take their heads off when they say something nice to you and can’t tell if you’re Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, atheist, Druid or otherwise. But go on being outraged. That’s such a good look on you. Said no one ever.)

So I loved that these women wished me the happiest version of the holiday that corresponds with the thing I was looking for, because that makes sense, regardless of my appearance, or of fear of insulting me – it wouldn’t make sense for me to be insulted, but you’ve met humans, so you know they sometimes take operatic-level offense to the stupidest thing.

I wind up finding not one but three different menorahs in the most random of places – the stockroom at a nearby Marshall’s, where a nice clerk was about to discount them and put them on display. She, too, doesn’t blink an eye when I happily swoop in and grab one, because a sold menorah is a sold menorah. When I light the candles tonight, I’ll be grateful for my family, and the joining of two cultures, and for the resilience that the holiday celebrates, as well as for people who understand that what these holidays have in common is Divine love and the love we’re supposed to show to each other.

And that’s something to be happy about.


Amy Poehler and the myth of being nice

by SweetMidlife

yes please

This is Leslie, and I would like to talk to you about a four-letter word, one I have been sometimes proud to be called, and, at other times, wanted to slap people about the face in a vigorous fashion should it be tossed in my direction.

Nice.

I do not mean the, well, nice definition of nice, which is cordial, courteous and personable. I mean the kind of “nice” that really means “pushover” or “selfless to the point of martyrdom” or “always willing to acquiesce to the requests of others, no matter how last-minute, unreasonable or inconvenient, for fear of people thinking you’re not nice.”

This kind of nice – and if you’re human, and almost certainly if you are a woman, you may have had thrust upon you – is almost a dare, a velvet cudgel that in the most sweetly inescapable way says (always smiling) “Can you do me a favor?” or “I know this is last minute but” or “I hope I’m not putting you out but” and then proceeds to put you out, all the while making it almost impossible for you to say ‘no’ at risk of the asker and other people not liking you anymore.

Amy Poehler has no use for such idiocy, and that attitude is all over the refreshingly blunt “Yes Please,” a combination memoir/life manual where she covers everything from her discovery of improv comedy to her “comedy wife” Tina Fey to the joys of faking inappropriate behavior with Justin Timberlake. But a recurring theme of the book, which I’m almost done listening to on Audible.com, is that you don’t owe anybody your dignity, and if a request is intrusive, unreasonable, presumptive or just something you don’t want to do, you get to say “No” and move on. And screw ’em if that’s not OK.

Poehler is probably most famous for playing  Pawnee, Indiana’s sincere-to-a-fault, people-pleasing public servant Leslie Knope on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” and she’s clear that she’s just acting – “I’m not that nice,” she writes candidly. And she’s not talking about being purposely rude as a mission statement, but about not allowing other’s expectations to color her life, in a way that a lot of us – especially, I think, women – have been raised to believe trumps all, even our own plans. You’ve been there, every time you’re asked to be on a church committee you know you don’t have time for, or that sweet last-minute request for bake sale items when you’ve gotta make dinner, or that “quick” favor of an errand that’s really not that quick. And you want to say “No.”

But you’re so nice.

From not accepting screenplays rudely dropped in her lap while she’s sleeping on a train (“It’s called ‘I Don’t Know Because I Threw It Away'”) to just saying “No” when strangers approach her on the street to ask her a question (“Nobody needs to ask me a question”), Poehler writes of the sometimes painful road to realizing that the older you get, the less it matters what other people think of you. And if people thinking you are “nice” is more important than the stuff you gotta do, you’re a sucker.

Poehler doesn’t exonerate herself from her own idiocy and the importance of being nice, as in a good human being, when it’s about owning your own stuff: In a particularly painful passage she talks of inadvertently mocking a real-life disabled woman in a “Saturday Night Live” sketch that she assumed was fictional, because she was busy getting ready for the show and just never checked with her writers to find out. When she gets an emotionally charged letter from Oscar-winning actor Chris Cooper and his wife Marianne, who directed the movie the sketch mocks, that mentions that the young lady was actually watching the sketch live, she attempts to rationalize her behavior by deciding they’re overreacting, that it wasn’t her fault, and then throws the letter away. It’s not until five years later that she attempts to contact the Coopers through mutual friend and director Spike Jonze, and hears back that they were disappointed it took so long and don’t need an apology at this late date, but offer contact info for the young lady she hurt. (She receives a gracious note from her.)

In that case, Poehler needed to have been “nice,” as in be an adult, and she acknowledges it. She even admits that sometimes in her candor, she lets that “niceness” urge put her in unfair situations, like the “creepy guy” producer who, unable to talk her into re-recording an entire speech that the tech crew messed up, asks her for a hug to make him feel better about being wrong, she submits, even though she doesn’t hug back, because it’s easier than saying “No.”

A great man I know named Pastor Dave Pinckney once told me that it is Godly to say no sometimes, meaning that you can’t be of any use to anybody, heavenly or otherwise, if you’re too overbooked to do your job well. Being “nice” or making people think you are isn’t worth screwing it all up. I’ve been there. Amy Poeher’s been there. And we both know that sometimes, the nicest thing, to yourself, is to say “No, please.”


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