To clean, or not to clean?

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‘The best way to get ready for house guests’

I remember vividly the time I was chatting happily away on the phone with my Middle Younger Brother Roger when I caught myself and said, “Darn. I’ve gotta go. Wayne’s sister and her squeeze are coming for the weekend, and I have to clean.” At which my wise brother said, “No, no. You’ve got that backwards. You don’t clean before guests come — you clean after they go.

Major crumb-producing loaf. When The Dude’s Bro visits, we go through one of these puppies each day

Well. How smart is my Middle Younger Brother? He was absolutely right. Guests — even beloved, dear, wonderful guests — make messes. Where I am, here on gorgeous Eastern Long Island (the land some folk call “The Hamptons”), guests produce not only crumbs on the countertops and hair in the showers but also sand on the floor. (And often there is sand in those showers too.)

Whattaya gonna do? It’s a sandy place

If you clean before guests come, you’re in that awful Hostess Place where you’re following your guests around with, like, a sponge or a cloth, trying to deal with crumbs and sand and whatnot, thinking “Oooooo…I just vacuumed that floor!” instead of relaxing and enjoying yourself — and them.

Big ole messy family birthday celebration. Trust me, I wasn’t thinking about crumbs

Whereas, if you clean after the guests go, you’re not only less stressed, but you’re — voila! — instantly ready for your next guests. If you’re like me, and own a house in a location that’s House Guest Bait, and actually enjoy having (most) house guests (see my piece “The House Guest Hall of Fame” for some notable exceptions) — your house won’t have time to get dirty before the next batch arrives.

Why, in a two week period in June alone, I was hostess to a bunch of bridge buddies, my chocolate-factory-owning nephew and niece and their three adorable spawn, and The Child’s gorgeous girlfriends. Whew.

Girls just wanna have bread. A new loaf is back in crumb-producing action

So. Thanks to my brother, I’ve developed this system where I clean after my guests go. And I mean immediately after they go. Sometimes the sound of tires crunching on the gravel driveway mingles with the sound of my vacuum cleaner, I’m so eager to get cleaning.

I’m hot to get going with the vacuum and the Soft Scrub because that way I can erase any traces of their visit. See, the older I get, the more nostalgic and sad I feel when guests leave. If I have to pass by an open guest-room door and see a rumpled bed, I catch myself getting all weepy while thinking, “She was just sleeping there a few hours ago, and now I don’t know when I’ll get to see her again. *Sniff*”

A batch of beauties (AKA house guests) after I dropped them at the jitney stop. I raced home and immediately started cleaning

Why, the last time The Child was here, I had her room all spic and span and ready for her next visit before she’d reached the LIE. Probably even before they’d passed out the granola bars and itty-bitty bottles of Evian.

So, in hostessy summery summary, if you’re expecting house guests, don’t waste time cleaning. Save your energy for what’s much much more important — grocery shopping.

Amagansett, New York. July 2019

Paging ‘Arry O’Nassis

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‘Never make fun of people who mispronounce a word. It means they learned it by reading.’

My mother is “getting up there”, as they say, but she remembers like it was just yesterday being traumatized by an incident of mispronunciation that occurred when she was a mere slip of a schoolgirl.

Mom was maybe six or so, and it was her turn to stand up by her desk and read aloud from a story. She got to a line that said “the train pulled into the depot”, and pronounced it “dee-pot” (which I’m thinking any reasonable first-grader would do), and everyone started laughing at her. Bless her heart, she lived on a farm in Northern Illinois and had probably not encountered a train, much less a dee-poh.

Mom as a schoolgirl. The “incident” I describe happened when she was much younger, but this is the earliest school photo I could find. It’s also seriously cute, so I’m using it

She never forgot that incident. (She didn’t forget how to pronounce “depot” either.) Which brings me to my topic of the day, that quote (by Anonymous, who else) about not making fun of people who mispronounce words. Why, just the other day a good (and well-read) friend of mine referred to “Prowst”, and honest-to-Marcel I did not giggle — or even smirk.

I must admit to having had a hard time keeping a straight face, though, one time when The Dude’s Mom was telling me about an astronomer friend of hers. (Yes, The Dude’s Mom was into astronomy; she even built her own telescope. It’s up in the attic somewhere.) The astronomer buddy happened to be Jewish and “wore a ‘yar-mul-kee'”, reported Dude’s Mom.

The Dude’s family. It’s no wonder his Mom had trouble with “yarmulke”

As for me, I love opera, but have a heck of a time with opera names. I have no idea how to pronounce some of these. Like “Orfeo ed Euridice” (which spell-check just changed to Eurydice, but it’s on my ticket as Euridice, so there) or a real tongue-twister from last season, “Mefistofele”. It was insanely good, but I just called it “the one with the devil dancing on the table and the people in the fake-nude costumes writhing in hell”. My friends knew what I meant. And they didn’t laugh. Well, not too loud. It’s opera, after all.

Anna Netrebko (whom I usually refer to as just plain “Anna”) in “Tosca.” Which is my favorite opera, and not only because I can pronounce it

Sometimes you can get in conversational trouble not by mispronouncing, but by mishearing a word. The title of this piece comes from a story that went around years ago. Someone apparently asked what on earth Jackie Kennedy was getting herself into by marrying “that really rich Irish guy, ‘Arry O’Nassis.”

And you readers can probably think of a few among your own acquaintance who refer to one of those long low couches as a “chaise lounge”, when in fact it is a “chaise longues”, which literally means “long chair.” Which isn’t nearly as funny as hearing a certain traditional Spanish activity referred to as a “Flamingo Dance” by more than one person I know. (And no, I didn’t laugh, though I wanted to.)

Dad deck-testing a “chaise longue”. And no, that’s not a Flamingo (or a Flamenco) on his lap

But, speaking of laughing, even I had to laugh (at myself this time) when this next example of reading-a-word-but-not-knowing-how-to-pronounce-it happened. The Dude and I were at some sort of lecture not long after the awful events of September 11, 2001. The speaker was talking about the global impact of 9/11; how the whole world would be changing because of threats to our security.

Well, I was feeling properly warned and thoroughly frightened when I turned to The Dude and whispered, “Who the heck is this Al Kydah he keeps talking about?”

The Child reading. And quite possibly smirking ’cause she knows who the heck Al-Qaeda is — and how to pronounce it

Amagansett, New York. June 2019

 

 

 

 

“What are you saving it for, the Maypole Dance?”

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‘If you’re not going to lose it, then go ahead and use it’

I remember one time back when I was young and single here in New York City. I was just sitting down to dinner, blissfully alone in my apartment up on 93rd Street. (There’s a great story about how I got this apartment, called “Horowitz Plays the Bedroom”, that you might want to read, but not just yet.)

Anyway. My buzzer rang, and, since I had no doorman, I stuck my head out the window to check out who was down there. Seeing that it was a friend, I put my key in a sock and threw it out the window so he could let himself in and come on up. He comes in and I offer him a glass of wine. Whereupon he looks at my table, where there is a placemat, cloth napkin, pretty plate, nice wineglass, the whole nine yards — and asks (panting; it was five steep flights up), “Oh. Sorry. Are you expecting company?”

A table loaded with joy-producing items, including Child and Friend. I make use of all of these, and not just on special occasions

When I explained that, no, dinner was just me, and yes, I did in fact do this sort of thing every night — every night I wasn’t out, that is — he looked baffled. “All this — just for you?!?” Continue reading

“While we’re still young”

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‘When it comes to age, everything is relative.’

My Favorite Younger Sister Laura (at left above, smiling and be-hatted) has a lot going on and is often in a hurry. When someone dawdles, say, at a traffic light that has just turned green — or spends too much time chatting up the checkout girl at Costco, she is wont to mutter “while we’re still young”.

She does this so often that when her adorable daughter Natalie was only about two, she would parrot her, much to our amusement.

But, amusement aside, “while we’re still young” has begun to resonate with me, and not just at traffic lights.

See, we helped The Child celebrate her birthday last week. And I realized that she is now the same age I was when I pulled up my socks and moved myself to New York City. This was a pretty brave thing for me to do at the time. (And yes, there’s a story, called “Take a Letter, Miss Henry”.) I didn’t know a soul here, but I decided I needed to get my Ad Career into gear before I got too old.  Continue reading

“Life is short. Eat dessert first.”

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‘Words of Wisdom from One Who Is Older Than Dirt’

Yesterday I was with some super-swell women friends at a really nice Christmas lunch — the kind of Christmas lunch where your plate has a festive little foil-wrapped treat placed right there next to your fork by your thoughtful holiday hostess.

Well. The oh-so-elegant and beautifully-dressed woman seated next to me reached right for her shiny red-and-green-befoiled peppermint bark, unwrapped it, and ate it — not only before eating her lunch, but before she’d even ordered.

I must say that I was very impressed.

See, I’m the kind of person who promised myself when I was young that when I finally grew up I would eat dessert first and have sex every chance I got.

Needless to say, I haven’t kept either promise. Not very well, anyway.

The not-eating-dessert-first part had to do with wanting to maintain a svelte silhouette, something that mattered to me more as a matter of economics than vanity. I reasoned that, if I didn’t change size, then I wouldn’t have to go shopping. (I hate to shop, not having inherited the Shopping Gene from my loves-to-shop mother.) This worked pretty well for years and years. It got so that people recognized me from party to party not because they remembered my name or even my face — but because they remembered my dress. Continue reading

“Open mouth, insert foot”

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‘Questions my mother taught me just not to ask’

Back when I was an Advertising Upstart in Kansas City, I was appointed one of a panel of judges for a creative show. A “creative show”, for those of you not familiar with the Ad Biz, is where Ad People get together to award each other prizes for their work; the “work” being the ads that they come up with for their clients.

Now, I don’t know if agencies still do this sort of thing, but back then these were not only occasions for self-congratulation, they were opportunities for a whole hell of a lot of partying. Sigh. Those were the days.

Me, back when I was judging creative shows and sampling my own feet

Anyway. There I was, a freshly-minted Advertising Judge, on my way to the judging venue, which was some hotel in, I think, Omaha. I get on the elevator where I see a woman about my age dressed in slacks and a sort of tent-shaped top. So I say to her (just being polite, you know), “When is your baby due?” Well. If looks could kill, I’d have been dead for more than thirty years now. “I am not pregnant,” she spit through clenched teeth, then swirled her tent-topped self and turned to face the elevator doors. I swear I could see smoke coming out of her ears. Continue reading

I have never bought a couch

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‘Does this mean that I am no longer The Grownup?’

It’s bad enough when your Child ends up being six inches taller than you. (Stern maternal finger-wagging somehow loses its force when directed upward.) But then said Child ends up making way more money than you. (Granted, I am no longer employed. So there’s that.) And ends up collecting way more stamps in her passport. (The kid has been to Mongolia, for pete’s sakes.) 

But no matter. That tall, employed, well-traveled woman is a person whose nose (not to mention other body parts) I have wiped. I could be in the same room with her and still look myself in the eye and say “Hey, I’m the Grownup.”

But then she bought a couch.

And it’s not just a couch. It’s a sleeper sofa, for heaven’s sakes

And I, a much older person — and her mother — have never bought a couch. 

[Quick note here. Last night I read the beginning of this piece to The Dude, and he totally doesn’t get my point. Maybe you don’t either. Which means you can stop reading if you want. (But then you’d miss some cool couch pictures.) But I had always heard that the true mark of GrownupHood was to buy a couch. And, no, I’m not the only person who thinks so.] Continue reading

When mothers turn grand

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‘What to call that lady who happens to be your mom’s mom’

I have several friends who are grandmothers now, and they all pretty much agree that it’s a pretty sweet gig. They get to read stories, sing silly songs, play ‘Sorry’ and ‘Go Fish’ — all with cute little kids that they then get to give back to their parents who just ten minutes ago were little kids themselves.

My Gramma with my Mom — before she turned into a Gramma herself

The one thing they can’t agree on, though, is what to be called. I know a Nonna, a Nanna, a Nanny, a Mimi and a Gigi. And I’ve heard tell of MomMom and G-Ma. (Hmmm, that last one sounds a tad X-rated, if you ask me. But maybe that’s why it’s popular.)

Now, perhaps there were let’s-call-ourselves-something-else trailblazers back then, but when I was a kid, grammas were mostly called “Gramma”. It was actually spelled “Grandma” if it was written down, like when we wrote letters to them. But when we said it, it came out “Gramma.” (Yes, we wrote letters. When my Gramma Peterson died, I got a big envelope in the mail; it was every single letter I’d ever written to her — she had saved them all, including the first when I was about six and a multi-page tome I’d written her from my honeymoon.)

My two Grammas, inhabiting the same space at the same time, flanked by some daughters (my aunts). The Gramma on the right is the one who saved my letters

And, again like most kids, I had two grandmothers — just two. Come to think of it, maybe the reason grandmothers today search for unique Gramma Names is because their grandkids would have a hard time calling them anything what with multiple marriages — and multiple grandmas — being so common and all. I personally know a “Gramma Carol”, who is The Dude’s Older Brother’s Wife’s moniker because the grandkids already have another “Gramma” on his side of the family. Who is his ex-first-wife and the mother of the kid’s dad. Whew! (But at least she’s “Gramma-Plus-First-Name”; I don’t think I could look her in the eye and call her, say, “MeeMaw”.) Continue reading

Don’t call me “Madam”.

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“I much prefer “Miss”. Or even “Hey You”.’

I was going to write a post about weddings. About how they’re the Best Parties On The Planet. About how, in my opinion, even George Plimpton’s last Hamptons Bastille Day bash couldn’t hold a Roman Candle to a wedding. After all, weddings are where you get to dress up and dance and drink to ecstatic excess. And all for the price of a toaster. Or, these days, if The Dude and I are invited to a nuptial shindig, a round brass Tiffany clock.

Two wedding belles and a beau. Me with two New Best Friends at a wedding in June. (No, I have no idea who they are, and it was only a month ago. Great wedding)

Then I realized I already wrote that wedding/party piece. (See “I do, I do. I really do like weddings” for senior-moment proof.) Repeating my stories means it’s either time to wrap up writing this blog or for everyone to start calling me “Madam”. Or possibly “Ma’am” if we’re buddies as well as (old) friends. Continue reading

At least it’s not a dead-squirrel stole

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‘On knowing when it’s time to let go’

Now, I haven’t gone so far as to embrace ‘Swedish Death Cleaning’, which, if you caught my post from a couple of weeks ago (“Out with the old year, but not out with the old stuff. Yet.”) you know is this thing where Swedes give away their stuff so that their kids don’t have to go through it after they die. Honest.

But lately I have been going through my clothes and offering what I consider choice items to The Child and her pals. They are, after all, in their mid-twenties, which is how old I was when I acquired, say, those paisley corduroy pants. Or the orange-and-white striped cashmere sweater. Or the fancy black dress shown in these photos:

I’m not what you’d call a Clothes Horse, but if you’ve been a grown woman as long as I have you tend to have a pretty packed closet. When an Event comes up, I don’t go shopping, I just dig around in there and find something that’ll ‘do’.

For a recent rather fancy wedding: dress I wore to Niece Ella’s christening in 2000, jacket I got in London when I was working there in the 90s, plus sunglasses scored on an LA shoot in the 80s

Continue reading