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’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

 

 

 

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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

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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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i see london, i see france

If you listen to country music, you may know a song called Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off, about a woman who manages to lose pieces of her wardrobe (her shoes, an earring, her jacket, a contact lens) whenever she goes out with her friends and drinks tequila. I, alas, have no such excuse. It just so happens that my clothes fall off, too (most recently, at a not very opportune time and place).

If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you may remember a post from several years ago (Slip Service) in which I described my slip falling off as I crossed a busy New York street. I thought I’d handled the situation quite well; in fact, I think Carrie Bradshaw or Audrey Hepburn would have been proud of the dignity, grace, and “c’est la vie” attitude with which I proceeded. Also, I was in my 20s and looking quite chic in my little black dress at the time.

Not so this past weekend. So not so.

We were spending the weekend away at a house rental and, as is our routine, were at the supermarket, stocking up on breakfast essentials (okay and snack essentials) when it happened. And not just any supermarket. This was a très upscale store where money is no object (although we objected); we were there because it was the nearest market to our rental. Also in store — picture-perfect, Lululemon-ed lovelies; Maserati-driving men mired in a mid-life moment; trust-fund babies for whom a black Amex card was the norm.

In the midst of all this wealthy fabulousness, we gathered our provisions. I had on my very favorite pair of shorts — boyfriend-style, black faded to soft grey, loose, and comfy (the better to enjoy snack essentials, aka chocolate chip cookies). As we perused the aisles, I reached up, up, up on my tiptoes to grab a bag of pita chips while holding a container of milk in the other hand. But (uh-oh) reaching up caused me to stretch, causing some of my curves to flatten (I’ve always said that I don’t need to lose weight, I just need to grow a couple of inches), causing my shorts to have just a little bit less to hang on to, causing a Lucy moment worthy of its own episode.

I started walking cautiously toward B. who was only half an aisle away and trying to decide between two kinds of tortilla chips.

“Honey!” I called out nervously.

“Mmmm?” he responded absently.

“HONEY!” This time I shouted, alarm in my voice.

“Wha-” he started to say, then turned and saw me, as I tried to save my shorts by crouching down. Too late.

That’s when my knight in shining armor took action. Dropping what he was holding, he dashed to my rescue in seconds, shielding me from view as much as possible while pulling up my shorts.

Fortunately, only a couple of people saw. One was a teenage stock boy whom B. insisted would now think of me as Mrs. Robinson (only if he’s seen The Graduate on Turner Classic Movies). The other was a very proper, violet-haired, elderly lady with rhinestone-trimmed eyeglasses whom I swear let out a giggle before composing herself.

As for me, I managed to hold my head high (and my shorts up) long enough to get through checkout and into the car.

Thanks to the advice of every mom everywhere, I had on clean underwear. Fail safe. And thanks to the advice of fashionistas everywhere, I now have a belt.

Fall safe.

 

 

ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman

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an affair to remember

For those of us who grew up Jewish in New York during the ’60s and ’70s, the word “affair” had two meanings.

The first — that illicit thing going on between the very married Mr. Goldfarb and the divorcée who had moved in next door. (Apparently she called on him whenever she needed her refrigerator defrosted. That is, until the Sisterhood at the synagogue took the matter into its own hands, buying her a blow dryer and buying him and his wife a weekend away in the Catskills, where, hopefully, a few hours of dirty dancing lessons à la Johnny Castle and Baby would defrost their marriage. It worked — Mr. Goldfarb never looked at the divorcée again. And she, it turns out, began an affair with the refrigerator repairman. Also married but, thankfully, not a member of the synagogue. Oy.)

The other meaning of “affair” was a wedding reception held in one of the region’s numerous cookie-cutter catering halls. In the days when “destination wedding” meant you had to drive to get to the event, these venues offered “fabulous” (read formulaic) wedding packages — ceremony, cocktail hour, dinner, wedding cake — literally, everything from soup to nuts. To wit:

No sooner would the groom crush the glass to cries of “Mazel tov!” than guests joined the crush into the next room for a pre-dinner hour of tray-passed tidbits like cocktail franks, mini potato knishes, chopped liver on toast points, and “mock” shrimp canapés (the “mock” because Uncle Sol was kosher). Guests would mingle and boast about either their sons, the doctors, or their daughters, the beauties. (“My Melanie is getting her BA degree from Boston University, but, of course, she won’t be needing it because we hope she’ll have her MRS degree first!”) Keep in mind that this was a very different time. With a very different idea of what qualified as fine food.

Next, on to dinner in the ballroom, where each table was adorned with an impossible-to-see-over floral centerpiece (back then, more was more). And my favorite part: the bandleader (yes, there was always a band) would break the ice by asking for the oldest person at each table to stand (if they could — Great-Grandma Frieda was given a pass because she had arthritis in her knees). Each was then awarded that table’s centerpiece to take home. It happened every single time. At every single affair. And everyone always acted surprised.

There was a choice for dinner — usually prime rib, sole, or chicken (vegetarians didn’t exist back then). Each entrée was accompanied by “duchess potatoes” (do duchesses eat swirled mashed potatoes?) and stuffed derma (the latter being something you probably wouldn’t eat if you knew what it was — and no, I won’t tell you; trust me on this one).

As if all of that food wasn’t enough, there was dessert. Wedding cake, of course, but why stop there? It was time for the Viennese table, so called because it aspired to rival the legendary desserts of Vienna. (No, I am not making this up.) It was an enormous buffet of decadent desserts — cakes and pastries, parfaits and mousse, chocolate and more chocolate — with nary a piece of fresh fruit in sight. It was over indulgent and over the top — but everyone was over the moon about it.

That was the thing about those affairs. In traditional Jewish culture, food is love — and preparing, offering, and serving it is an expression of warmth and welcome.  From that very first little knish hors d’oeuvre to that last piece of seven-layer cake, these affairs were just that — a way to wrap everyone you knew in a big hug.

But not too tight. We just ate.

 

ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman

 

 

 

 

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a novel approach

Okay, I’m going to share something with you here. Something that I’ll mention this one time but will not mention again (at least not until I’ve accomplished it). It is a daunting but necessary task, something that has been gnawing at me for some time, and something that I now feel compelled to do.

I am writing a novel.

For someone who has spent her career writing advertising copy (and having a passion for print ads), a novel is a whole different animal. With the parameters for advertising copywriters having changed (where’s Don Draper when you need him?), now seems like the perfect time to jump on the challenge that has been following me for all of my professional life.

For years, family members would nag, usually at the Passover seder, “When are you going to write the Great American Novel?” “Oh, I don’t know,” I’d always felt like saying, “There seem to be some guys named Hemingway and Fitzgerald who’ve already clinched that deal. Matzoh, anyone?”

Or then there are those well-meaning folks who are sure they know what it is I should write about. “You should write about the way you and B. met and got together,” they say gleefully, sure they’ve hit pay dirt. It’s a great story, I’ll admit. It’s also been written before — ever hear of When Harry Met Sally? Thought so.

In that vein, there are those who think that writing a novel that mimics another is a way to go. “Why not write something like Gone with the Wind? People loved that book!” (You think?) “You know, John Grisham is really successful — why don’t you write a law novel like one of his?” (Oh, sure, no problem.)  “Have you read The Da Vinci Code? Something like that would be good, don’t you think?” (I do. As did author Dan Brown when he wrote a number of sequels featuring everyone’s favorite brilliant guy, Robert Langdon.)

Or then there are those who either a) have more confidence in me than I do, or b) are somewhat unaware of how things work. “How hard can it be?” they ask. (Right. Because coming up with an original plot, compelling characters, a voice that pulls readers in and leaves them wanting more — how long can that take?)

So. There you go. And here I am — with a very good start. I’ve got my characters (I think), my storyline (I’m pretty sure), and my bunny slippers (dress for success, after all). I’ve got my research materials, my trusty laptop, and my imagination (you can’t build a novel without the right tools). This novel has become my new shadow, my alter ego, my creative offering to the publishing gods.

It could take a year to finish. Or more. Or less. In its beginning stages alone, the experience is proving to be an exciting one; I love the power of controlling my little world and the people in it. But it has also been somewhat scary (like when the characters take over and lead me in directions I hadn’t planned).

Go ahead, ask. You know you want to. “So what’s it about?” I’d love to tell you … but then I’d have to … well, you know.

The plot thickens.

 

ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman

 

 

 

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