winging it

If you live in southern California, you’ve probably noticed something amazing over the past several days. We are currently being treated to the spectacle of millions of Painted Lady butterflies on their annual migration up from the deserts of Mexico to the Pacific Northwest. About the size of a half-dollar, Painted Ladies look like miniature versions of Monarch butterflies with their orange, black, and white coloration. This winter’s inordinate amount of rainfall has led to particularly abundant vegetation and, as a result, a deluge of butterflies.

I am absolutely in awe at the fact that all of these creatures — every last multi-million-and-one of them — is bred to know where they are going and how to get there.  No stopping for directions, no asking Siri, no GPS, not even a road map. (Remember when road maps were free at gas stations? Sorry, I digress.)

In watching the incredible flutter-by, I can’t help but imagine a conversation between a Painted Lady couple traveling their route. To wit:

A sunny morning in LA 

He:   Are you ready yet, honey? Spring isn’t going to last forever.

She:  I’m here, I’m here, keep your wings on.

He:   Funny. Here comes a tailwind — let’s put the pedal to the flutter.

She:  Look, there’s Sid and Gwen, Marty and Linda, and the whole rest of the swarm.

He:   Yup. Traffic’s building up. Air space over the 101 and the 5 is getting tight. Lucky for us, I know a shortcut.

She:  But everyone’s going this way.

He:   And if everyone were flying off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you do that too?

She:  I don’t even know what the Brooklyn Bridge is, but we’ve got to stay with the group.

He:   Why?

She:  I don’t know why, I just know it’s the way we’ve been bred.

He:   Come on, let’s blow this popsicle stand.

She:  Popsicle stand? What?

A while later, after taking the so-called shortcut

She:  We’re lost, aren’t we?

He:   Uh … nope.

She:  Well, where are we?

He:   Uh … we’re going in the right direction.

She:  Maybe we should stop and ask for directions.

He:   I don’t need no stinking directions.

She:  Why do you always have to be so stubborn about asking for directions?

He:   I like to figure things out for myself.

She:  And I like to arrive on time.

He:   No problem. We’ll be flitting our wings in Portland before they even cross the state line. We’ll be circling the Space Needle before they even —

She:  Vegas.

He:   Before they even Vegas?

She:  No, genius. Las Vegas. We just passed the sign that says Welcome to Las Vegas. I told you we were going the wrong way.

He:   No, no, I was planning this all along.

She:  I’m not speaking to you.

He:   (pivots) Aw, that’s too bad. Because I just figured …

She:  What?

He:   Why don’t we check out that Chapel of Love?

She:  You mean –?

He:   Sure, baby. We’ll get hitched and then hitch a ride on the bumper of a limo headed north. We’ll make up the time and meet the others right on schedule. Just like I planned.

She:  You did, did you?

He:   Cross my wings and hope to fly.

She:  (forgiving him) Maybe we can even catch a show or two?

He:   Just watch out for the neon lights — moth to the flame and all that. I don’t want you to singe your pretty painted wings.

She:  Aw, you smooth flutterer, you.

Fadeout on lights of the Vegas Strip under the stars

Butterfly me to the moon.




ⓒ 2019 Claudia Grossman



how to open doors with just a smile

It’s funny the kinds of things that change as we age. When I was in my 20s, I remember being able to do exactly what Glenn Frey and Don Henley wrote about vis-à-vis city girls in Lyin’ Eyes — I knew “how to open doors with just a smile.” And they were right.

In those days, working in Manhattan and having not much more to worry about than how to avoid getting my high heels caught in subway gratings (or in the slats of the old escalator in Macy’s Herald Square), I had that power. It seemed like a mere smile at a well-dressed man would result in a door literally being held open, a subway seat being vacated, and eyes following as I walked along, feeling good about being young, being in New York, and being able to attract that kind of attention.

Okay, now fast forward nearly four decades (and yes, it does go fast). Doors are still opened by young men, although more because I remind them of their mothers (who, by the way, raised them well if they’re opening doors) or, OMG say it isn’t so, their grandmothers. And, as I’ve written previously, young men seem to leap out of their subway seats if I’m standing (although I am happy enough to remain vertical). And a smile in their direction? It brings a smile back. But the power isn’t the same. In my 20s, it was the power of pretty in the present tense. These days, it’s the power of pretty past perfect.

The last time I wore heels high enough to worry about their getting caught was years ago; it’s too uncomfortable now to walk more than a few  blocks in them. Of course, no one really walks in LA, so that’s kind of beside the point. And it’s not that it didn’t hurt back then — it’s just that now I’m not as willing to sacrifice happy feet for stiletto feet.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. It’s more fun now. It’s more fun to be at an age when not every man I might smile at or comment to while I’m out and about thinks I want him. It’s more fun to be at an age where flirting with the cute waiter does not mean I want him to swipe right — it means I want him to get my order right. And it’s more fun to be at an age where asking the college guy in aisle #3 if he can reach something for me on the top shelf is neither a come-on in his eyes nor nervous-making in mine.

Would I prefer fewer lines on my face? Of course. Do I wish that dropping that annoying “it’s back again” ten pounds were as easy as it used to be? Sure. And do I miss being eye-catching as I stride along? I suppose.

But the trade-off, in my eyes at least, is that the age I am right now is exactly where I’m supposed to be. I’m more comfortable with myself, more outgoing, more creative, funnier, smarter, and (or so I’ve been told) sexier than ever. And that’s not nothing.

No lie.




ⓒ 2019 Claudia Grossman


braided together

I am so happy for my friends who have had their fathers with them over the years to share in their adult lives. Although I have lived so much more of my life without my dad than with him (he passed away when I was only 19), my memories of him are sweet. One of the most vivid is that of our Saturday mornings together.

Although my dad worked long hours, he was always home for dinner on Friday nights and through the weekend. Saturday mornings were our time together. Maybe my mom had a list of errands for him to run — I rode shotgun. Other times we went to the hardware store — no, not one of the huge home-improvement chain stores we all go to now but a genuine hardware and garden store run by locals, two men named Ralph and Pat, who became fixtures of my childhood. Although my dad was a film editor, in his younger years he had done the kinds of jobs that had left his hands callused and roughened. He was no stranger to manual labor, and sometimes I think that the time we spent at the hardware store shooting the breeze with the men who had grown up in the Bronx as he had were some of the most satisfying moments for him.

More often than not, our Saturday morning jaunts around town included lunch — just my dad and me. Maybe it was the local Jewish deli, maybe the burger place where the hamburgers always were wider than the buns, maybe it was the lunch special at the Chinese place. (Because I was such a fussy eater, he had convinced me that the water chestnuts in my beef chop suey were really potatoes; it worked for me.) What mattered was that I was with my dad and that I had all of his attention. Ours was a mutual admiration society — he was my hero and I could do no wrong (or very little) in his eyes.

One of the most tender memories I have of my dad is of Saturday mornings when we would attend Sabbath services at the synagogue, probably a couple of times a month. Two things I remember about those mornings: 1) that my dad would revert from his regular glasses to his sunglasses during the sermon so that he could grab a nap while the rabbi was speaking, and 2) that I would sit next to him braiding and unbraiding the tassels on his tallit (prayer shawl). Sometimes I wove the strands between my fingers, sometimes I tied them into loose knots before untangling them. It was my way of staying awake during the sermon; it was also my way of feeling even more attached to my dad.

Although I now consider myself a cultural, non-religious Jew, my memories of those Saturday mornings at the synagogue are no less special. The plush seats, the beautiful melodies, the whispered jokes, the slices of sponge cake afterward — it all came together to create an experience with my dad that I will always, always remember.

Funny the things that connect us to our pasts and tie us to the people we love.

Heartstrings, I call them.


ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman



’twas the plight before christmas …

… and all through the house there was panic because someone had sent out online invitations with the wrong info. “Join us for cocktails and dinner on New Year’s Eve,” the invites should have read. But no. Whoever sent them out (you know who you are) made one teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy error. Instead of New Year’s Eve (for which we would have been totally prepared), the invitations mistakenly read, “Christmas Eve.” Worse, the mistake wasn’t realized until one of our friends asked, a couple of days before the party, if he could dress up as Santa (don’t ask, it’s a thing with him).

Pulling all the details together for a party for 40 adults 48 hours before Christmas Eve would be a miracle — nothing short of an immaculate reception, if you will. Here’s how it all went down.

The tastefully sophisticated jazz trio I had originally booked to play softly in the background was, of course, not available. The good news? The musicians I did find came at a pretty good rate. The bad news? Having 12 drummers drumming along with 11 pipers piping their hearts out does not a jazz trio make. What it does make is too much noise to hear Santa’s reindeer hoofing it up on the roof.

The professional ballroom dancers I had hired were, of course, now scheduled elsewhere. But for the rate I would have paid them, I got the deal of the century — or so I thought. Ten lords a-leaping and nine ladies dancing fill up a dance floor quite well. But when there’s no partner for one of the lords, he might choose to ask one of the guests to dance. Which is fine. Except when it’s 90-year old Great-aunt Shirley whose leaping days are far behind her (if she ever leapt at all) and whose jeté over the buffet landed her in the ER.

Speaking of food, the caterers I had reserved for New Year’s only laughed at me when I asked about their availability for Christmas Eve. What to do? Even though my menu of filet mignon, lobster tails, and chocolate mousse was no longer possible, the evening was saved by a — uh, unique — last-minute catering company. They brought eight maids a-milking their cows (yay! ice cream for everyone except the lactose-intolerant). The caterer’s seven swans a-swimming distracted everyone long enough for the six geese a-laying to lay their eggs (perfect for the omelette station). And, because I paid fully in cash, they gave me five golden rings of coffee cake for free (something to put the ice cream on).

Instead of New Year’s Eve noisemakers, I went with the vocal stylings of four calling birds. The only problem was that no one could hear over the bird calls to make calls on their cell phones, resulting in lots of shouting and some cursing, leading to the calling birds getting upset and, well, leaving their “calling cards” all over the dance floor.

The problem of replacing the white-gloved, French-serving-style waiters I had signed for our elegant New Year’s Eve gala was solved, I thought, by a suspiciously not-busy party planner. Unfortunately, while I requested three French-style-trained men in black tie with white gloves to serve, what showed up instead were three French hens and a pair of white turtle doves. I’ve got to tell you, getting the little white gloves on those hens was no walk in the park. And, FYI, French hens and white turtle doves do not like sharing the spotlight.

Lastly, the gift bags. The gorgeous, gift-filled, New-Year’s-Eve-themed bags I had ordered wouldn’t be ready for several days, so I had to punt. Scouring our home, I found one pear left from a gift basket someone had sent to us (regifting, anyone?), plus a brand-new, unopened, four-color printer cartridge. Am I resourceful or what? Everyone got a raffle ticket, and we held a prize drawing at the end of the evening. One lucky guest won the Grand (and only) prize.

“Wow!” she said, “A cartridge and a pear. Gee.”

Fa-la-la-la-rim shot.


ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman





with friends like these

There’s an old joke that goes, “You can pick your friends. You can pick your nose. But you can’t pick your friend’s nose.” Okay, I know, it’s gross (but that doesn’t mean it’s not also funny). Then there’s the adage that says, “You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family.” And at this time of year, when family gatherings are everywhere you look (at least on the Hallmark Channel and your favorite retailer’s website), I believe it’s important to remember that, sure, blood may be thicker than water — but it can also be, well, bloody.

With details left aside, when it comes to friends or family, I’ll choose friends all the time (except, of course, for B., who is both best friend and “best family”). Not every family belongs in a Norman Rockwell painting; not every family relationship is supportive; not every family dynamic is a positive one. Sure, the Waltons were all about the love, the loyalty, and the lifelong bonds that — yes, it’s true — some families are fortunate enough to share. But that’s not the case for everyone. The sweet, simple “Good night, John-Boy — Good night, Elizabeth” may have echoed through the decades on Walton Mountain but may not resonate on the plane where the rest of us live. And that can make you feel as if you’ve failed. But you haven’t. Just because someone shares your DNA doesn’t mean that he or she shares your sensitivities and sensibilities. Your sense of right and wrong. Your sense of humor (okay, that one isn’t a requirement but it helps).

The good news is that owning that truth and being okay with it (and, yay me, I’m almost there), goes a long way to soothing the disappointments and healing the heart’s wounds. That, and good friends.

So on this Thanksgiving Eve, I need to share how grateful I am for my dear, dear friends (the “water” in my life) who love me, nurture me, and care about me. Who boost my confidence and believe in me. Who celebrate when I bloom and bring sunshine when I start to wilt. From the East Coast to the West; from Santa Barbara to Santa Fe; from LA to New York City to the length of Long Island; from San Francisco to Chicago — consider this my love letter to you. I love you all. Thank you for picking me.

But no, you can’t pick my nose.


ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman


written in the stars

If you’re hesitant to see the newest incarnation of A Star Is Born — because “Hey, I saw the 1976 version with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson and that was enough for me. Besides, who can do that story better than those two?” — I’m here to allay your doubts. Go see it. Go now. Really — stop reading and go now.

I should probably preface all this by acknowledging that the first movie of this title was made in 1937; it was then adapted in 1954 to a film starring Judy Garland (who plays an up-and-coming singer / actress) and James Mason (playing a movie star whose brilliance is fading). Many consider this classic to be the “Star” by which all others are judged, particularly given Garland’s wonderful performance (come on, it’s Judy Garland, what did you expect?).

Fast forward to 1976 when the aforementioned Streisand / Kristofferson remake appeared. This version updated the classic with Kris as a rock star whose brilliance is dimming (sense a theme here?) and Barbra as a singer (what else?) who is about to become a sensation. The movie was good (come on, it’s Barbra Streisand, what did you expect?), if a bit stagy for my tastes.

Okay, here’s the news. This latest version of A Star Is Born — starring Bradley Cooper (who also directed, produced, and co-wrote) and Lady Gaga — is a revelation. First of all, who knew that Cooper could sing? Boy, can he. In fact, he lowered the register of his speaking voice to suit the character and maintains that sound in his singing. In his portrayal of fading rock star Jackson Maine, he is vulnerable, intense, sexy, and sad. This movie gives him the arena to show off how incredibly talented he is and why he has previously been nominated for multiple Academy Awards.

Even more so than the surprise of Cooper’s singing abilities is the acting achievement of Lady Gaga in this, her first motion picture. As singer / songwriter Ally, who up until now cannot catch a break but is about to break through big time, she delivers a performance that is emotionally powerful, musically breathtaking, and just flat out achingly soulful. Three words: she is phenomenal.

And one more word for you: chemistry. The chemistry between Cooper and Gaga is palpable. Theirs isn’t a spark; it’s a full-on inferno of passion for the music and for each other. All of which is to say that the story feels real, the characters sound real, and the need for a hanky afterward is all too real.

This newest incarnation of A Star Is Born should be the last. It’s that exceptional.

Simply stellar.


ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman

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bleating hearts

In my ongoing quest for inner peace — because the outside world is so not peaceful — I’ve found something new. Baby goats. Sure, puppies and kittens are undeniably adorable, but baby goats have their own personality.  Sweet and mischievous, these pint-size pickpockets will eat anything they can get their teeth on, including cash, your driver’s license, or any other kind of paper you’ve got on you. I have no data on what they think of cell phones, but let’s assume that everything is fair game.

Our most recent baby-goat adventure occurred when we stayed up in the hills above Santa Barbara. The property had two baby goats that we visited every morning. Who can stay stressed when greeted by the “where have you been?” bleat-bleat followed by the “no, don’t leave me” bleats when it’s time to move on with the day. The smaller goat was a girl with green eyes; the larger, a boy with blue eyes. They loved our company — or maybe it was the pats and the hay — and we loved their baby-goat vibe.

Victoria, British Columbia (one of our favorite places on the planet), offers a baby-goat stampede. The city’s gorgeous Beacon Hill Park has a petting zoo, and, just before the zoo closes for the evening, all of the baby goats, after having spent the day outdoors enjoying the attention of tons of little kids, are led out of their area and into their overnight accommodations. But “led out” is tame; at the signal, the gate is opened and a crowd of baby goats tears down the pathway, lined on both sides by spectators, and into the barn. It’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen (and way calmer than Pamplona, even with all the joyful bleating and tiny hoofbeats).

One more baby-goat experience. Maybe it’s because we live in LA, but goat yoga is really big out here (I have yet to try it). Watching baby goats wander through a yoga class, occasionally climbing on people’s backs or shoulders through Plank Pose and Downward-Facing Dog, Child Pose and Warrior Pose — it’s a combination of community, communication, and compassion between living things. The perfect dose of namaste, even from the sidelines.

Who knew that something as small and endearing as a baby goat could pack so much peace into an encounter? Kind of gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “get your goat.”

No kid-ding.


ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman

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