out of focus

Everyone’s favorite bumbling TV spy, Maxwell Smart (from the 1960s hit spoof Get Smart), had an expression he used when he messed things up – “missed by that much.” That would be an apt description of my latest kitchen bumblings. In short, it seems that I really need to focus more on focusing more (daydreaming and imagining need to be put on the proverbial back burner). To wit:

The off-the-rails journey began a few weeks ago when I was finally in the mood to bake banana bread again (everyone made so much of it during the pandemic that I’d grown tired of even hearing about it). There I was, back with a brand-new recipe I’d found that had a surprising secret ingredient (you’ll have to contact me to find out what it is – that also gives us a chance to chat and say hi. Hi.)

Thinking I’d done everything right, I couldn’t wait to taste the results. When the oven timer rang, I could see that the bread looked fully baked on the outside; for some unknown reason, though, it had risen very little (unlike a previous mishap, this time the oven was working fine). The bread passed the clean-toothpick-doneness test, so I removed it from the oven, let it cool, and then cut into it.

Not only did the banana bread resemble a brick, it cut like one too. It was hard, it was heavy, it was inordinately chewy, and it tasted way off. B.’s expression when he tried it was like a little kid’s when he learns that Santa isn’t real. The bread was not unbaked. It was, however, unappealing. Unappetizing. Unacceptable. Uh-oh.

I checked to be sure I hadn’t used baking soda instead of baking powder. Nope. Got that right. B. suggested that I check the date on the baking powder. “No,” I insisted, rolling my eyes at him, “that can’t be it.” Turning the container over, I showed it to him to prove he was wrong. He wasn’t. There it was. The baking powder was indeed six months past its expiration date. Okay. Mystery solved (one would think). The unsalvageable bread met its demise and baking powder went on my shopping list (if B. rolled his eyes, he at least had the grace to do it when I wasn’t looking).

The next day, as we passed Trader Joe’s on our morning walk, I pulled B. inside. At first, he went reluctantly because he hates shopping, but he cheered up considerably when I bribed him with one of their one-pound Belgian Milk Chocolate Bars. (If you haven’t tried those, they are the best. Don’t worry, one bar lasts us for a couple of weeks – almost. Wink wink.) Baking powder and chocolate purchased, we were homeward bound.

Once the new bread was in the oven, I threw out the old baking powder. I was just about to toss its large yellow plastic box with blue lid (the label had fallen off at some point in the past) into the recycling bin when I realized what was wrong. Any baking powder I’ve ever purchased has come in a small can, including the one I’d bought that morning. This container was an imposter. Although it was not labeled, I’d always recognized it by its yellow color. What I’d missed the previous day, though, was that it was not – and never had been – baking powder. In a flash of hindsight, I realized that I had tried to bake my banana bread using corn starch. Corn starch. Not used for rising. Used for thickening. For densifying. For crying out loud. Missed by that much.

My next misstep was more recent. The other night, while B. was at a school function, I thought I’d surprise him with homemade chocolate-chip cookies. Nestlé Tollhouse cookies, specifically, which I’ve been baking for decades and can practically make with my eyes closed (which they may as well have been, as you’ll soon see). Even with all that experience, I still make sure to check the recipe on the chocolate-chip package as I go. And so I did – 2 1/4 cups flour, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 3/4 cup brown sugar, etcetera, etcetera. Except.

The cookies didn’t come out exactly right. They were a bit too chewy (again with the chewiness?) and much, much too sweet (sweet enough to make the aforementioned chocolate bar seem tasteless). Interestingly, B. didn’t have any complaints. I think he was so delighted to have fresh-baked cookies waiting for him that he actually devoured several without even realizing something was amiss.

“Amiss” is a good word to use here because it seemed that a miss on my part was exactly what had transpired. While I was washing the measuring cups, I realized what it was. Instead of using the 1/4 cup measure for the flour and sugars, I had used the 1/3 cup. (And I had been so good in fractions when we learned them in grade school.) That resulted in a little bit more flour in the cookies (everyone knows that baking, unlike cooking, is a lesson in chemistry, and that even a fraction off can make a difference) and a whopping 1/2 cup extra of the combined sugars. Missed by that much more.

Do not ask for whom the cookie tolls.

©2023 Claudia Grossman


a fine pickle

With pickleball sweeping the nation – and the world – as the newest fitness sensation, it’s hard not to have read about it, seen it, or maybe even tried your hand at it. For me, probably the least sports-playing person out there, I’ve only watched from a distance. Admittedly, it looks enjoyable, but I’ve heard both the positive and the not-so-much. To wit:

It’s a wonderful workout; it’s easier on the body than something like tennis, let’s say; it’s great for those who might not want to run on a court as much; it’s lots of fun; and the paddles and perforated balls are just so cute (okay, that last comment is my personal observation).

I do know of a few people who have been injured playing the game, though, including a dear friend who is one of the most active and most fit people I know. There she was, playing pickleball one moment, then down on the ground with a torn Achilles tendon the next (arguably, an injury that can happen in any sport – NBA basketball comes to mind, although that’s not exactly the same thing). To be fair, while I have yet to hear of pickleball elbow (sounds like a recipe for macaroni salad), it probably does exist.

Either way, the non-athletic me has chosen to cheer from the sidelines. Given my ongoing propensity to get into trouble because of my impressively high klutziness factor (adorable, I know, but you’ve got to know your limits), walking seems to remain my safest bet (hopefully).

Not surprisingly, pickleball became a focal point of a discussion one morning as we waited on line for bagels. An older gentleman ahead of us was talking about his workout regimen at a very ritzy (this was the point of his talking about it) athletic club, where he indulged regularly in a round of golf followed by a game of tennis followed by a sauna, then an ice bath, and then a massage accompanied by a glass or two or three of the finest, private-reserve, single-malt Scotch. Didn’t we all love to do that? he asked the group of several people within earshot.

I managed a non-response response while B., trying to be friendly, mentioned that his own game used to be tennis until he injured himself several years ago (if you’ve never heard or felt a calf muscle snap, consider yourself lucky). Mr. I-Could-Buy-this-Bagel-Place-with-the-Money-in-My-Wallet nodded knowingly and then moved on to more feats of his own greatness including his driving a Mercedes S-Class to get to and from his club (apparently his Jag XF was being shipped to the south of France for his summer in Nice) and wasn’t the cost of valet parking just outrageous? You get my drift here. Fortunately, his everything bagel (the perfect order for the man who apparently has it all) was now toasted and cream-cheesed and ready to go.

But then a new voice emerged on the scene, a guy who had come in for a refill on his latte and had cut to the front of the line to get it. I recognized him immediately or, should I say, his type. I went to college with lots of guys who could be his father – a full-of-himself, entitled, trust-fund baby who was raised to believe that every word out of his mouth was a jewel. Apparently, he had overheard B.’s tennis story and felt compelled to jump in with his assessment of the situation:

“You know,” he said, “what you need to do is play is pickleball. It’s really easy to pick up and would be ideal for the both of you.” We thanked him but told him that, while it was probably a great pastime for lots of people, we had our concerns. “That’s ridiculous,” he said dismissively. “It’s the perfect game for older folks like you who probably haven’t been very active recently and who probably want to get back in shape.”

Nice, very nice.

“In fact,” he continued to pontificate, “you’d have to be an idiot to hurt yourself playing pickleball. It’s easier to hurt yourself by falling out of bed.” Even nicer. Seriously, dude?

But then, in one of those perfect moments that seemingly only happens in movies, the universe handled things on its own. While young Mr. Who-Knows-More-Than-Me-About-Anything began to walk out the door, busy laughing to himself at the inane idea of someone getting hurt playing pickleball, he took a wrong step and and bumped – hard – into the side of the doorway.

In a difficult-to-watch domino effect, he rebounded over a couple of potted floor plants, did a twirl or two, and then careened into another patron – and that person’s bagel – before teetering precariously on one foot and finally ending up flat on his butt. His newly refilled decaf latte with extra foam spilled all over his spotless (until then) designer athleisure ensemble, and a blob of cream cheese from the bagel collision decorated his forehead (attracting the attention of a tiny Yorkie who scampered over for a lick). Rudely brushing off anyone’s help (“I’m fine – leave me alone!”), he hurried off to his Porsche (conveniently parked nearby in a no-parking spot) and sped away. Any injuries? A major bruise to his oversized ego.

“Didn’t that look harder than falling out of bed?” I asked B. “Because I kind of think it did.”


©2023 Claudia Grossman


commence & sensibility

With the commencement of commencement season, I turn again to this blog post that I wrote and posted for the first time several years ago. It is still as true today as it was then – and as it was when I, myself, graduated from college decades ago (although I, of course, didn’t have the life experience to give this advice at that point). I offer it now to this year’s crop of graduates – and to all of us who can use a reminder of how we got to where we are and, perhaps, as a gentle guide to how to get to where we still want to go. The adventure and the learning continue.

While I don’t suppose I’ll ever have the chance to deliver a commencement address, that doesn’t mean I don’t have something to say (rarely do I not have something to say). But, should that invitation ever arrive in the mail, here are some of the things I’d like to pass on. Devices off, please. Just listen.

Following your passion is priceless. Once you discover it, nurture it, protect it, feed it. It will help you believe in yourself – the most valuable commodity you have. Following the crowd? Not so much.

Sometimes you may need to settle. For a not-perfect job. For a too-small apartment. For just being friends. Sometimes you should never settle. For less than self-respect. For less than a partner who believes in you. For less than your right to that last French fry or slice of pizza. (Only kidding. About the fry, not the slice.)

Don’t tell the world that it’s been waiting for you. Show it.

Never lose your sense of curiosity. Always find a way to share.

Don’t smoke. It’s stupid and you’re not.

Keep your friends close and your close friends closer. As far as your enemies, life is too short.

It’s never too early to start saving for retirement. No, I’m not kidding. Yes, you’ll thank me later. Seriously.

Think with your head. Lead with your heart. Nourish your soul.

There is so much waiting out there in the real, often surreal, world. Things you’d never expect that will change your life for the better – and things you don’t see coming that will break your heart. It’s scary and it’s magnificent. And it’s time to begin.

Don’t forget your ruby slippers. Or your courage.

©2023 Claudia Grossman

1 Comment

objects may be closer

Like nearly everywhere else this spring, southern California has had weather that can only be described as odd, to say the least. Weeks at much colder temps than we’re used to, deluges of rain, massive amounts of snow in some areas, and then, when the sun finally came back, no real warm-up. Very, very strange.

(Sidebar: As a former New Yorker, I never knew how much I craved sun 24/7 until I moved to LA – which makes it the perfect place for me.)

Unsurprisingly, it seems that the timing of spring blooms here has been kind of mixed up as well. The public garden we visit nearly every weekend offered its bouquets on a later-than-usual schedule – masses of tulips with many still unopened; near-peak cherry blossoms and calla lilies; a budding lilac grove. And while we usually see lots of flowers and flowering trees on our neighborhood walks in mid- to late March, those home gardens seemed a bit forlorn and without much in the way of color well into April.

One nearby city street ordinarily provides an extraordinary show of floral fabulousness by early April. Amid all the stores and pavement, offices and pavement, schools and restaurants and pavement, there are tons of sidewalk trees, normally crowned in pink. But they, too, seemed to miss the “flower now!” memo – they started out twiggy, then turned green and twiggy, then went mostly green. While I love spring green as much as the next girl, I missed the blossoms. And, given that it was a bit later in the season than usual, I just assumed the blooms were not going to show up this year. Poof.

The first sign that I might be wrong was while on our road trip up to the Bay Area for a few days last week. Mile upon mile upon mile of mountainsides and grassy areas bordering the freeways were absolutely carpeted with orange and yellow poppies, so many that it looked like a giant hand had splashed paint over everything. Then, the beach town up north that we have visited nearly every year for more than 20 years – sometimes more than once a year – was filled with purples and pinks, the likes of which we’ve never seen before. These were enough, I told myself. So what if spring didn’t deliver on its promise back home? Mother Nature seems to be working overtime up here.

But that’s where I had misjudged. It wasn’t that spring wasn’t coming to where we live; it just was taking its time before delivering its remarkable showcase of beauty. In the three days we were gone, the paintbrushes came out, and all of a sudden our neighborhood’s yards went from mostly green to an abundance of color that would make any gardener green with envy.

Richly fragrant roses as big as fists in luscious shades of deep red, pink, yellow, and orange; geraniums popping in brilliant vermilion and magenta; bougainvillea bursting in bright purple and pink with azaleas alongside; bunches of elegant, periwinkle-shaded irises and sweet-scented magnolias; and all manner of snowy white blossoms showering petals over lawns. A spectacle well worth the wait. And, just as the rainbow of blossoms came out, so did the warmth of the sun.

Maybe it’s just me, but I truly believe that each place has its own kind of signature sunlight – the clear, colorful beams in San Francisco; the watercolor, lit-from-within wash of radiance in Santa Fe; the crisp, cool clarity of autumn light in New York; the windswept, lakeside luster that polishes Chicago; the candy-bright blaze of Miami; the dazzling blue-white of a wintry late afternoon in New England. And LA? LA’s is a gentle, lemon-yellow light, reflecting the golden glow of this place bordered by beaches and mountains and (on clear days) soft blue skies. Perfect lighting for this late-but-perfect display.

So with spring firmly in place (in my mind and in our neighborhood), I set out yesterday for my round of errands, sure that those pavement-planted sidewalk trees, usually so full of pink blossoms, were well past that stage and that I had missed it while away. Imagine my surprise when I made a right turn and – wait for it – there, brilliant against that soft blue sky, was tree after tree topped in rosy blooms. An entire palette of pinks graced the branches in an absolutely stunning exhibit of petal passion. I hadn’t missed the flowering after all – it was waiting for me. I drove the entire length of the street with an enormous, silly smile on my face. Absolute, unexpected joy.

When I came to the end, I had to take one more look to be sure I hadn’t imagined the entire sight. But no, there they were – thousands of blossoms in my rear-view mirror. I guess that spring was closer than it had appeared.


©2023 Claudia Grossman

1 Comment

prom-ises, promises

Ah, that rite of passage, the high school prom. Back in the 1970s, when I was a senior in high school, the prom (still known as “the” prom back then) was a very big deal, and not having been asked was an equally big deal, at least in my mind.

Seventeen magazine filled its pages with pictures of prom dresses, prom makeup, prom accessories, and tips for a wonderful prom night. The girls who were invited (this was a time before girls invited boys – oh my), were all abuzz about what they’d be wearing and when the limo was picking them up and how their dates’ tuxes (yes, boys still wore tuxes to the prom then) would match their gowns (and girls still wore gowns). Whispers and giggles about post-prom activities – midnight parties at the beach and the like – abounded.

I quickly learned that being voted Most Intellectual, while perhaps a nod to my academic prowess, certainly was not prom bait, and so, regretfully, I didn’t get to attend. I did go out that evening, though, with a bunch of other girls – all lovely, all smart, all more than perfectly acceptable prom picks – and I do remember us having a good time. But going to the prom is something I (still) wish I had done, another hopefully fond memory to have added to the bank.

To those of you familiar with the story of B. and me, yes, we had met by then, and yes, we went to neighboring high schools, but no, we weren’t dating at that time, and yes, he went to his prom. I’ve even seen the official prom picture – he in his powder-blue tux (hey, it was the ’70s), his date in a matching gown with corsage, of course. And even though he has admitted to me that he wishes now that he had asked me, I still flip past that photo pretty quickly in the photo album (remember those?).

He: “It would have been amazing if we’d gone to the prom together.”

Me: “Undoubtedly.”

He: “I just don’t get how no one asked you.”

Me: (shrugging) “Too shy, too bookish, too quiet.”

He: “But adorable.”

Me: (playfully dramatic sigh) “But not enough for you to ask me.”

He: (having the grace to blush a little) “We weren’t in touch very much then.”

Me: “That’s true. You’re off the hook.” (pause) “Besides, I’m not sure I would have wanted to be seen with you in that baby-blue tuxedo.”

He: “Maybe you didn’t get asked because you were too much of a smart ass?”

Me: (grinning) “Yeah, that too.”

One Saturday a few weeks ago, I arrived home after running some errands only to hear 1970s music playing the instant I opened the door – the band Chicago, specifically.

And there, of course, was my always-meant-to-be-if-things-had-been-different prom date. No baby-blue tux, thankfully, but looking irresistible in his sweats and Nikes with a huge smile on his face. “Want to dance?” he asked as Color My World (a song I probably hadn’t heard for decades) began. “I know it’s not the same as going to the prom but – ” His words were cut off by my running into his arms and giving him a huge hug.

I guess at some point I’d mentioned missing the prom, and B. had realized that, despite everything, I really, really needed – somewhere inside – to have been invited. His asking me to dance at that moment – to a song that evoked the prom in both of our minds – was the perfect touch.

“You know, I think I might still have my old high-school ring around here somewhere – if I can find it, do you want to wear it?” he joked.

I laughed so hard – the same way he’s been making me laugh since the day we met.

“Let’s dance, Prom Queen.”

After 25+ years of marriage, we were officially going steady.

Prom-ises kept.

©2023 Claudia Grossman

1 Comment

hits and missus

There used to be a saying that some girls would go to college seeking a very specific, very important degree – their MRS. That’s right. The entire goal of achieving a higher education was to achieve a husband. And not just any husband, but a doctor, a lawyer, a banker – in short, a professional man who would be a good provider. Thankfully, those days are done (hopefully) and the reasons for women seeking to learn more is to enrich their minds, enrich their lives, and enrich society as a whole.

When choosing a major became much more important than choosing a china pattern, the world rocked a tiny bit on its axis in the direction of the better. And now, whether a woman opts to change her last name (I did); opts to use the Mrs. title (I didn’t – Ms. is more my style); or even opts to get married at all is beside the point as to what women can and do make of their lives. Check, check, and check.

But there are some women who, after adding the Mrs. to their name, have become cultural icons – big hits in their own right. Characters whose Mrs.-ness is so much a part of who they are that we have come to know them because of it and to love them despite the seemingly old-fashioned-ness of their use of the title. To wit:

You can’t talk about Mrs. in the movies without talking about Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate. The ultimate seductress, with her 1960s frosted hair, worldly air, and dangling cigarette, Mrs. Robinson is such a force of nature that new college graduate Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) never stood a chance. The fact that she was a friend of his parents only added to her forbidden allure. Of course, after educating him in the ways of her world, Mrs. Robinson is soon replaced in his amorous pursuits by her stunning daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross), who then leaves her good-provider fiancé at the altar for hapless Benjamin. But it’s Mrs. Robinson whom we all think of when the movie comes to mind. Here’s to you, ma’am.

Then there’s the opposite of Mrs. Robinson in the strong, brave, and nurturing Mrs. Miniver, played by Greer Garson in the movie of the same name (her Oscar-winning role). A wonderful woman who loves her family dearly, Mrs. Miniver is the essence of courage as she helps guide them through the ravages of World War II England. Despite the terrible hardships (including her son being called to serve and the loss of her daughter-in-law to an air raid); despite having to manage by herself when her husband is called to Dunkirk; despite having to face a fallen enemy pilot alone in her own home – she survives it all and shines, for her family and her country. Given that the movie came out in 1942, while the war still raged on, the name Mrs. Miniver became a badge of courage at a time when it was much needed. Best performance, indeed.

And finally, there’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, starring Rachel Brosnahan as the indefatigable Midge Maisel. Beginning as a much pampered Upper West Side wife and mother, Mrs. M. soon comes to realize (after her husband’s failed attempts at stand-up comedy) that she, herself, is the comic genius in the family. When they split up because of his cheating, she takes to the stage unexpectedly (keeping the Mrs. Maisel name), earning the laughs and audience appreciation that he never could. Her rise to success doing stand-up in a world where women in that field were incredibly few and far between is beyond impressive. Her cutting-edge humor – irreverent enough to land her in jail for both subject matter and language – is smart, original, and the key to her success. In a world where Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl broke through with the thinking-person’s style of stand-up, Mrs. Maisel’s talent and determination, her quick mind, and her ability to make a place for herself in the same spotlight is nothing short of, well, marvelous.

Can’t miss.

©2023 Claudia Grossman


gidget goes birthday

As another birthday is here (and this one is certainly a milestone – how did 65 happen?), I find myself remembering birthdays from the past. The ones at college, celebrating with friends and pizza. The ones as a working person in New York City, marked by shared-March-birthday lunches with co-workers and evening cocktails with confidants. The one where B. and I reconnected long-distance after years of having not seen each other (he got so many points for remembering the date).

Today, though, a childhood birthday comes to mind. Like many of my birthday parties as a little girl, this one – for my fifth or sixth birthday, I don’t recall – took place in the finished basement of my childhood home. All the little kids from my kindergarten or first-grade class were invited. My mother, a hostess extraordinaire when it came to planning parties, and my dad, who just loved entertaining, often planned a themed birthday party for me. This one was no exception – this one was themed around Hawaii.

Visiting Hawaii back then was still uncommon; it was still seen as a paradise most grown-ups in my New York suburban neighborhood only daydreamed about. And my parents were two of them. So Hawaii it was.

They spent hours decorating the basement, turning it into a vision of the islands. My dad procured 1960s now-vintage, then-current airline posters promoting Hawaii as a vacation destination – big, bold, stylized graphics of surfers riding enormous waves, of volcanoes, of Waikiki Beach, of hula dancers, of beautiful, then-called stewardesses wearing smart, now-retro uniforms accessorized with leis. There were beach balls placed around the big room, some hula hoops, lots of balloons, and a Happy Birthday wall banner. My dad wore a Hawaiian shirt and had his always-present Brownie camera around his neck, ready to capture the big moments.

My mom went all out with food and table décor. There were plastic leis and party hats at each place setting and a tablecloth, plates, and cups all designed with images of hula dancers and palm trees. She baked a cake in the shape of a tropical flower (to this day, I still cannot figure out how she did it – I think it was a round cake surrounded by rows of cupcakes cut in half, the halves forming petals around the center) covered with sweet pink frosting and a hand-lettered Happy Birthday with my name in darker pink icing.

There were tiny, kid-sized ukuleles for the boys and tie-on grass skirts – made of bright green “grass” streamers – for the girls. (Remember, this was the early 1960s, when boys’ and girls’ toys often differed.)

And the food! “Pigs in blankets” (mini hot dogs in pastry dough) replaced the traditional luau roast pig, with ketchup subbing in for poi. There were pineapple chunks and mini marshmallows on tropical-colored plastic skewers; potato chips in Hawaiian print bowls; and soda in bottles festooned with tiny leis. There were goodie bags too, each holding a wealth of treasures – a postcard of Hawaii, shell necklaces for the girls, baseball cards for the boys (okay, the Hawaii theme fell apart there), a handful of wrapped candies, a small box of crayons. But that wasn’t all.

The pièce de résistance was a movie. After the requisite party games (“Pin the coconut on the palm tree!”) but before the requisite blowing-out-the-candles and unwrapping-the-presents ceremonies, there was a real movie on a real projector shown on a real stand-up screen. My dad, a film editor, had connections in the industry who lent him movies (on reels!) from time to time, usually films that were a couple of years old. And this time, the movie was – wait for it – Gidget Goes Hawaiian, a 1961 film about the beach-blanket-bingo adventures of teenage surfer girl Gidget, her main crush, Moondoggie, and all their friends on the beaches of Hawaii. The plot, such as it was, didn’t matter to a bunch of little kids – we all loved watching Gidget and company as they rode the waves and danced on the beach (the falling-in-love part was lost on us).

And me. I got to wear a crown on my head that said Birthday Girl. I got to open presents and be sung to and be served the first piece of cake (the one with my name on it).

On that one day, I was the girl whose daddy had brought home a movie (a movie! at home!) and whose mom had made the most beautiful cake in the world. I was the girl who hung out with Gidget (she was on the screen, sure, but still). I was the birthday princess.

Aloha indeed.

©2023 Claudia Grossman

Leave a comment

who scent you?

When it comes to the power of our memories, it seems that our sense of scent is a sure way to find our way home, so to speak. Music can take us there; old photos, certainly; even the taste of a once-forgotten, now-remembered food. But scent seems to surprise us more, perhaps because it wafts our way from virtually nowhere, leaving an indelible impression and stirring up moments from our past in one brilliant instant.

To wit:

The scent of cedar chips always evokes a memory of mine of college. In the spring, specifically; just before graduation. The small New England school I went to was laid out with an upper and lower campus, the requisite ivy-covered buildings, a quad (of course), and a series of lawns and hills dotted with trees that displayed all the colors of fall and offered various shades of pink and white petals in the spring. After the long, cold, windy winters (don’t let anyone tell you that Boston is not windy), the landscaping crew would fill the beds of these trees with sweet-smelling cedar chips. What makes that spring stand out in my mind is that there was a completely unseasonable, unreasonable snow shower in May during finals week. Huge, cottony snowflakes that looked as if they’d been cut from paper, falling amid the blossoms and covering the ground with a delicate but fluffy blanket that was gone in a few hours.

I guess it was that unexplainable event on such a spring day that made the scent of those cedar chips so wonderfully memorable. These days, whenever I walk through the cedar ground cover at a local public garden, the scent brings me right back to that campus. In my mind’s eye, I see the preparations being made for graduation and the students rushing to and from final exams; I hear the exclamations of surprise and delight at the opportunity to dance in the snowflakes at this unaccustomed time; and I see myself looking toward the future, both intimidated and eager.

Or the aromas of a Jewish deli. If you’re someone who grew up going to such a deli, you’re very familiar with the tantalizing scents that greet you from the moment you walk in. Hot pastrami and corned beef; golden potato knishes; homemade matzoh ball soup; fresh rye bread. While all of this always makes me hungry, there’s a deeper reaction, too. All I need to do is get a whiff, and I’m whisked back to a small deli near where I grew up, where my father would take me every so often on a Saturday for lunch. It was his time to share just with me, when he would turn all of his attention to what I was feeling. To helping me to get past my shyness; to encouraging me to dream about becoming a writer; to making me laugh away my fears about life with silly jokes or song lyrics he’d make up for the two of us to sing; to letting me know how loved and cherished I was. He’d order the pastrami; I’d order the matzoh ball soup. Those aromas always transport me back to those Saturday mornings, no matter where the present deli may be.

And then there’s the scent of perfume. I remember a mirrored tray on my mom’s dresser holding beautiful bottles of classic perfumes. No matter how ordinary the day or her plans for it, she always dabbed or sprayed on fragrance before she got started. Over the years, her collection grew and her tastes changed but there was always a bottle or two of perfume or eau de toilette at her fingertips. For the last 20 years or so of her life, she only wore White Diamonds (the fragrance inspired by Elizabeth Taylor) and it became her signature. To this day, on the rare occasions when a hint of White Diamonds crosses my path, I immediately feel my mom’s presence. I remember our hugs, and the scent surrounding me, as if it were part of her. In my mind – and heart – the two are inseparable.


©2023 Claudia Grossman


i scream, you scream

It’s not unusual for two born-and-bred New Yorkers to go out of their way for the perfect slice of pizza; when you live in New York City, that can be as close as the next block. Any block. In LA, however, it’s not as simple – or as close. And when you find it – the pizza and the place – you’re willing to brave the traffic to get there. After all, it’s pizza we’re talking about here.

Such is the case with B. and me. We’ve found our idea of pizza heaven (that is, pizza that tastes exactly the way it does in NY) – the only catch being that the place is about a 45-minute drive in LA traffic. (There is a place just a few blocks away with pizza good enough for a quick takeout or delivery, but, if we’re talking world class, we’ve gotta get in the car and drive). This past Saturday at lunchtime was one of those times when we happily – and hungrily – went to grab some slices.

This pizza place is low key, opened by two New Yorkers decades ago, and proud of its no-fuss atmosphere. With subway tiles on the floor; a handwritten, hard-to-read specials board out on the sidewalk; and the best hot pizza slices brought over on paper plates, it is worth the trip. You place your order at the counter and you pay before you leave. And somehow the guys working there manage to remember everything everyone orders. Spaghetti and meatballs is a frequent daily special (garlic bread or knots included) and cans of soda fill the cold case. There’s always a TV on playing baseball or basketball and there’s always a bunch of customers seated at the assortment of small mismatched tables or at the counter. It’s absolutely nothing fancy but the pizza is absolutely nothing short of amazing.

So. There we were on Saturday, coming in from the drizzle to all the mouthwatering aromas that only a great pizza place can offer. We placed our order, grabbed our favorite table (vintage white painted metal top with a red floral pattern) and got ready to enjoy. Until.

Like a tornado bursting through the front door came eight boys, probably around 11 years old, six dads (old enough to know better), and one mom, looking ready to take on the task of managing everyone. The thing that struck me first about the kids, aside from their matching soccer shirts, was the magnitude of sound that accompanied them. Pure, unadulterated screaming at each other at the top of their lungs. Not speaking loudly. Not talking over each other to be heard. Just outright screaming their conversations. And their demands.

They screamed that they wanted cheese pizza; they changed their minds and wanted pepperoni; they changed their minds again and wanted both. They screamed for spaghetti and meatballs, for wings, for soda, soda, soda. They screamed at the counterman to change the TV to soccer (he did not); they screamed at the mother to hurry up and bring over the plate of fries. (She did – no saying “no” to these little princes. And, apparently, no saying “please” on their part. “Thank you” was a completely unknown concept.) Once the fries arrived, the boys caused it to snow with the parmesan-cheese shaker and the salt shaker, covering the potatoes and the table with a mountain of both. Not to eat. Just because. It was enough to make you, well, you know.

They found the New York Post on the counter (part of the genuine New York experience, I guess) and pounced on it. Literally. I was about to give them credit for expressing interest in an actual newspaper until they threw the pages all over the place just for fun. One kid who looked like he wanted to read the sports section had it taken away by two other little darlings who then wadded it up for an impromptu game of fungo, using their fork handles (whose idea was it to give tween age boys metal silverware?) as impromptu bats.

Through all the noise, B. and I could barely hear each other speak. In an effort at humor, he traced four letters (no, not those four) on the table top with his fingertip – T-I-V-E. When I shook my head, not understanding, he gave me the first word: This. I got it and the sarcasm immediately – This Is Very Enjoyable. Not really.

And then – silence. Absolute quiet. It seemed that the food had arrived and the mob was too busy eating to scream. Or even utter a sound. For just the eight small boys at their own table, there were four extra-large pizzas, four gigantic platters of wings (each one enough to serve eight people, according to the menu), four overflowing plates piled high with garlic bread. Plenty of cans of full-sugar soda dotted the table to wash it all down.

I’m not sure what surprised me most – the sudden silence after the tumult or the amount of food on their table. “They just finished playing two games of soccer,” the mom explained as she walked past after checking on the horde. “They expended a lot of energy.”

I guess so. I get that not being parents means that B. and I haven’t dealt with the post-Saturday-morning-sports feeding frenzy. Although B. played weekend sports as a kid, I’m pretty confident that he and his buddies didn’t cause the unmitigated uproar that these kids did. Or that his parents would have been okay with it.

But it wasn’t the enthusiasm, the excitement, or the uncontained joy of being a kid that bothered me. Nor was it the overflowing energy that made sitting quietly impossible. I get that kids are kids and that if you want to eat your pizza in a quiet room you need to order in. It was the spoiled brattiness that got to me. The ordering the servers around. The screaming for what they wanted and demanding it “right now!” The tearing up of the New York Post (not that I don’t think it’s a rag, but it’s not your property to destroy).

Fortunately, our pizza saved the day (as only good pizza can). That and the fact that the hungry monsters had calmed down considerably.

As we got up to pay and leave, I noticed a small sign leaning against the window sill adjacent to our table: “Please keep your kids from screaming,” it read. Seriously. Seems like that one was neither seen nor heard.

Lesson learned? If you want a side of peace with your pizza, show up a couple of hours after practice is over.

Sign of the times.

©2023 Claudia Grossman


celebrating celadon

For some of us (the very lucky ones, I like to think), colors exert a unique energy on our lives, moving us in ways and directions both unexpected and gratifying. A yellow umbrella on a grey day, a ruby-colored wall in an otherwise bland room, the signature blue of a robin’s egg in its plain-colored nest – all are examples of how color can exude a jolt of joy into our existence.

For me, celadon has always been one such hue. The color of new leaves, of sea glass, of mother-of-pearl lit by moonlight, celadon carries with it a soothing power. Tranquil, nuanced, and healing, it is like shade on a hot summer’s day or the promise of spring in the midst of winter.

In a world made ever more busy, complex, and cluttered, a glimpse of celadon offers an oasis, soothing in its gentleness on the eyes and its promise of peace and clarity. It is a quiet sigh of contentment that speaks volumes to those who are sensitive to the language of color.

Celadon lives in the same color family as jade and laurel, sage and green tea.  Whether it appears in the underside of a tulip leaf or the softened, silvered hue of a whispering cottonwood tree, celadon signals both renewal and respite.

In my life, celadon has also become the color of friendship and caring.

A very dear friend of mine has given me small gifts from time to time, mostly just to celebrate the day or to share her joy at our having become friends later in life. Each of those gifts, treasured for the thought that went into it, is celadon in color.

A porcelain keepsake box; a pair of delicate earrings; a smooth, glossy bangle in shades ranging from celadon to jade; a bracelet strung with intricately carved beads; a box of handmade soaps, each pale green cake bearing the imprint and scent of lily of the valley – each piece was painstakingly chosen with me in mind, selected to nourish and pamper my uniqueness.

Even more than these gifts being beautiful, they are pieces of my friend’s heart and soul. She, herself, is elegance personified – dignified, gentle, and fully present. And while these celadon objects are certainly lovely, her inner gifts – her aura of healing, her warmth that seems to touch each person with whom she connects, her true happiness in the little things – these are what make her so precious.

If I had to choose two words to describe this extraordinary woman, the first I would choose is “grace” – in her movements, her way of welcoming others into her home, her inspired sense of design. And the second word I would offer is “brave,” marking her courage in standing up to some of life’s most difficult physical and emotional challenges and emerging renewed in strength.

Her anchors are faith, balance, and the beauty around her; her North Star guides her on a path of calm. If I were to take out my ever-present box of crayons (it’s never far from where I write), I would color her path a peaceful celadon green.

So many colors make me happy – bright candy pink, buttery daffodil yellow, sea-washed aquamarine, violet-blue periwinkle (even the name makes me smile). But celadon goes a step further – it makes me happy and hopeful. It instills in me a sense of well-being, even if for just one moment. In my heart, celadon is the color of life-affirming friendship. It is the color of exhaling.


©2023 Claudia Grossman

%d bloggers like this: