Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I Remember Nora Ephron

Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim. – Nora Ephron

Last night I was watching some trivial TV show, computer on my lap, reading e-mails and checking the news. My eyes immediately caught a headline that stunned me – Nora Ephron died.

Nora was only 71. It is interesting that I write ‘only’ – at one time that would have seemed old. But nowadays people live into their 80s, 90s, and there are more and more centenarians. As I age and close in on my 70s, although still several years away, 70+ does not seem so old at all.

I loved Nora’s books and essays. She had a wonderful way of instilling humor into the most mundane activities. I laughed out loud at many of the experiences described in two of her books, I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing. Not exactly making light of aging, she had a knack for finding the comedy and absurdity in the everyday, ordinary adventures of living as well as life’s trials, troubles and joys.

Nora wrote about a difficult time in her life, her divorce from Carl Bernstein, in her book Heartburn. She wrote and later directed several movies. She eventually turned Heartburn into a movie. Among her screenplays was Silkwood, which she co-wrote with Alice Arlen, about a worker at a plutonium plant who died under mysterious circumstances. She wrote When Harry Met Sally, and wrote and directed two of my favorite lightweight but endearing romantic chick flicks, You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle. Her last film was Julie & Julia, which I also thoroughly enjoyed.
One of the most famous movie quotes of all time is from When Harry Met Sally. After Sally fakes an orgasm the woman at the table next to Harry and Sally says, "I'll have what she's having."
I was eagerly awaiting Nora’s new book, which I am sure she was writing, about her witty insights on aging. I did not know she was ill and fighting a type of leukemia for years. 

I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance.  –Nora Ephron

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Cravings of a Foodie

Let me begin by defining foodie.  Apparently people have somewhat different ideas on exactly what the word means. Various dictionaries define the word as follows:

Epicure: a person devoted to refined sensuous enjoyment (especially food and drink) (Merriam-Webster)

A person that spends a keen amount of attention and energy on knowing the ingredients of food, the proper preparation of food, and finds great enjoyment in top-notch ingredients and exemplary preparation. A foodie is not necessarily a food snob…  (Urban dictionary)

A person keenly interested in food, especially in eating or cooking (

A person having an enthusiastic interest in the preparation and consumption of good food (the free dictionary)

You get the idea. I am definitely not the epicure variety of foodie or into exemplary food preparation. My kitchen will never be featured in Architectural Digest or House Beautiful. Even the neighborhood cleaning lady is not impressed with my kitchen.

I own a variety of kitchen gadgets, most of which I never use. I have some I do not even know what they are for. I did not waste money and buy them, but inherited the items from relatives. They are fun to have and I keep thinking one day, someday, I may put aside time to research, find out what each gadget is used for, and try them out. Meanwhile they sit in a drawer or on a shelf collecting dust.

I enjoy cooking, but I am a basic cook. If I look at a recipe and there are too many ingredients, my eyes glaze over and I turn the page.  If the ingredients are not in my kitchen, which often happens when unusual spices or certain ethnic foods are listed, I skip the recipe.

Should someone attempt to label my cooking ability according to skills, I would probably be considered an intermediate-level cook at best. Not bad, but far from epicurean or foodie-in-a-snobbish-way numbers.  

But I love food and love to eat. All you have to do is look at me to know that. I have my limits (not a sushi fan) and favorites (salad and wings are a favorite meal) but in the debate of eat to live or live to eat, I am still unsure of my answer.

My great interest in food probably dates from childhood, but I am not sure why or how that happened. My mother did not spend hours in the kitchen laboring over gourmet meals.

I am thinking it may have something to do with my cultural/ethnic/religious heritage and upbringing. For example bagels and lox were a must for Sunday morning breakfast. Nobody cooked – there was not enough room in our small kitchen for a bagel oven – but the local bagel store, still in business, was and is one of the best on Long Island and probably in the world. No one fished seriously in my family, although my Dad occasionally went out with buddies off Long Island. But they never caught any lox.

My grandmother, my Dad’s Mom, lived in Manhattan and would take the train out to the Island to visit. She always came laden with pink and white boxes, tied together with thin white string, filled with wonders from the city bakery. My Dad’s favorite was seven layer cake. We counted and there actually were more than seven very thin layers of yellow cake, creamy filling, and chocolate frosting. She would also bring a variety of luscious cookies. I am not sure what the real name of my favorite cookie was, but call them rainbows, three layers of different colored cake with a thin layer of jam in between and chocolate icing on the top, bottom and sides.

My sister and I spent summers with my grandparents at their cottage in the mountains. My grandfather ate the same treat every night – a frozen Milky Way bar. We usually had ice cream.

Many Sunday afternoons we drove forty-five minutes to my grandparents’ home (my Mom’s parents) for dinner. There would be soup – loved the chicken soup, but not the borscht (cold beet soup). There might be chicken, or Hungarian goulash (Grandma emigrated from Hungary), or pot roast, occasionally tongue. What we nowadays call comfort food. Never could eat tongue.

I am not sure where I am going with this. The point is I love food and love to eat. I enjoy sitting at my workstation, a.k.a. kitchen counter, with my Starbucks Frappuccino (they are supposed to be low cal) or coffee (hot in winter, iced in summer), reading my e-mail, catching up on the day’s news, and writing. I realize I could do all that without my crutch, my drink, but it would not be the same. I believe I could survive without my Frappucinos, but I wonder…
The blogger in her natural habitat.
Am I an addict? Should I look for an FA group? (Frappuccinics Anonymous)

On the other hand I do not drink alcohol (at least not much - white wine or Sangria occasionally) or smoke (never did) or do drugs (except for my blood pressure meds).

So I think I will continue to enjoy Frappuccino and other favorite foods, although as I get older realize when I indulge too much the goodies settle on my butt, hips and waist. No amount of exercise seems to help. Maybe if I ran marathons or other crazy stuff I could afford to eat anything, but would probably hurt myself and land in the hospital, on my butt, in traction – and then would really be in trouble as intake (food) skyrockets above outgo (calories expended).

There must be a mathematical formula to figure all this out. Something like food and Frappuccino intake minus Zumba outgo equals…

Forget it. At my age the mind cannot concentrate on abstract numbers. Only the food on my plate and the drink in my glass.

Here’s a thought. Do you think I can make up for all the eating and drinking on my one day of fasting a year?...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful: One Year in a Friend’s Life

To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. This is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking.       –Agnes de Mille

One Year Ago

My girlfriend left a message and told me to call her back when I had the chance. Busy with an assorted number of inconsequential matters, it was a few hours later when I finally sat down to return her call. Usually there was nothing important to discuss, just matters of what was happening that weekend, when we would get together, maybe some local gossip.

“Hi, Nancy, what’s up?”

“ I am going to have brain surgery.”

The out-of-the-blue nature of the sentence and my total unpreparedness for what I heard left me speechless. I sat there for several seconds, holding the phone, trying to comprehend, not knowing what to say.

Nancy had been having headaches and minor seizures occasionally over the past few years. Her doctor told her to keep track of them. She had one in the presence of a cousin, a medical professional. Her cousin told her to see her doctor – now.

The result, after visits to specialists and tests, was the discovery of the tumor. Surgery was scheduled quickly.

The result was the best it could be. The surgeon removed the tumor. It was benign. No brain damage.

Recovery was fairly quick. No driving for several weeks, rest, take it easy and limit activity, then slowly resume a normal schedule. She missed an out of town wedding and some other summer events, but by fall resumed normal activities.

One Year Later

The dance recital was Saturday night. Several of Nancy’s friends, her husband and two sons attended. She loves ballet, attends professional performances whenever possible, and a few years ago began ballet lessons abandoned decades ago.

Every year the director of the dance academy produces a ballet performed by her students. Usually dance school recitals are one class after another coming onstage, performing for a few minutes, leaving the stage, followed by another class, continuing until all classes perform. This was different. The director choreographed and directed an entire ballet presented by academy students.

Nancy had not participated in the show in previous years. This was her first recital. She spent hours in classes over the years and additional hours weeks before practicing and rehearsing. Learning the choreography, rehearsing with the other dancers, preparing her solo – required huge amounts of time, dedication, effort and willpower. Willpower to carefully watch her diet – ballet costumes reveal a lot of what most 60-somethings prefer to cover up.

The recital went off without a hitch. The story, “La Fille Mal Gardee,” (The Wayward Daughter), a comic ballet, proved ideal for the dance students.

Nancy is the dancer on the left.
Nancy performed beautifully. She smiled broadly most of her time on stage. It was obvious she knew her routine and relished her performance time. It was a joy to see her hard work result in such a wonderful accomplishment.

Her family and friends convened at her home after the performance, congratulating her. We sat around, drank and ate and talked until after midnight –celebrating Nancy’s accomplishment not only that evening, but marveling how far she had come over the past year. It was a celebration of life. 
Nancy and me.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel: The Movie

I rarely go to the movies, as in really going to a theater and paying an exorbitant sum of money to sit for an hour and a half or two hours. The movies I want to see are eventually available on Demand or at Red Box kiosks and rental stores.

But I wanted to see The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel. Hub came with me; I did not tell him beforehand what the movie was all about.

We approached the ticket kiosk and after asking for two tickets and told the price, hub almost turned around and walked out. Each ticket was $7.50, a special pre-5:00 p.m. price. But I firmly took his hand and maneuvered us through the lobby and into the theater.

The movie’s premise sounded interesting, and people who saw it (my Mom, my sister and one girlfriend) liked it. The one exception was my brother-in-law, who hated it, but we do not have the same taste in movies. He likes lots of action, as in bang-bang-shoot-em-ups or blow-em-ups. I am bored after a few minutes of cowboys or car chases or alien spaceship invasions.

The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel stars seniors – not the high school or college kind, but the mature kind. Seven senior citizens, mainly for financial reasons, relocate from their native England to a rundown hotel in the city of Jaipur, India. The individuals (except for one couple) do not initially know each other, but bond with a common living experience.

I liked the movie and my hub did not not like it, but it will not make his favorites list. It is not exactly a chick flick, but I think more women will enjoy the movie. It is at times slow-paced and deep – meaning people actually talk to each other for more than a nanosecond – and many men and some women will find it boring, not patient enough to just sit and relish the moment. I doubt many young folks will find the movie captivating, either.

The Most Exotic… runs two hours (and four minutes, but who is counting) and stars the following actors and actresses: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Penelope Wilton, and Ronald Pickup. An amusing performance by Dev Patel as the young Indian hotel manager adds a humorous, light-hearted note to the movie.

Check it out; most baby boomers and older folks will probably appreciate and like the movie (unless they are more inclined, like my BIL, to action-packed flicks). It probably should be required viewing for all college gerontology majors and those working with the ‘elderly’.

On a personal note, the idea of retiring overseas intrigues me, but for many reasons will not happen. If I were to move, however, India would not be my first (or second or third or fourth…) choice. My preference would be a place less crowded. I like some city and town amenities, but do not want to maneuver through crowds, traffic, long lines and pollution in my old age. And I am not a fan of oppressive heat.

I will have to give the idea some careful thought and consideration. I won’t be moving abroad, but hope to visit places for maybe one, two or even three months at a time. Perhaps it is time to start a wish list…

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pomp and Pageantry Post-60

Before last week I had never been to a beauty pageant. I watched numerous Miss America broadcasts over the years, but could never really relate. I am not – and never was – tall, slim and talented in a public performance way. I do not sing (I am tone deaf) or play a musical instrument, and my dancing is for fun and definitely not up to public appearance standards.

I witnessed the Ms. New Jersey Senior America Pageant on Thursday, June 7th. My zumba instructor was one of the contestants. Several zumba aficionados, including me, from her classes attended, cheering her on. We were excited for Carol and anticipated an interesting afternoon as we descended on Harrah’s casino in Atlantic City with signs and cameras in hand.

The pageant booklet explains the purpose of the event is to honor women reaching the “Age of Elegance.” Judging criteria include the interview (completed before the show), evening gown, inner beauty and talent.

Fifteen contestants from throughout the state vied for the crown. I have no idea what causes someone to enter this kind of competition. The women in Carol’s Seniorcize class prompted her to enter the pageant. Quite frankly I had never heard of the event. Whatever each woman’s motivation, they deserve a lot of credit for spending considerable time (and probably money) preparing for the event.

The show began with an introduction to all contestants. As the announcer related their name, occupation or current activities and family data, the women slowly walked across the stage.

The second event was the evening gown presentation. Each contestant, escorted onto the stage by young military personnel, stepped up to the microphone and gave a short monologue on their philosophy of life. A couple of women indicated why they were participating in the pageant. One woman announced she was celebrating five years breast cancer-free; another wanted to show her grandchildren they could accomplish anything they set their mind to in life.

Many of the women worked, while others were retired. They included an award-winning professional photographer, a lawyer, educators and teachers, a nurse and other health care professionals, financial planner, and of course our own personal trainer and zumba instructor. The program listed the numerous volunteer organizations the women supported.

The show included a choreographed musical number comprising all contestants, and musical numbers by previous contestants and contest winners.

I found the talent portion of the event the most entertaining. Contestants exhibited their talent as singers, piano players and dancers. Some spotlighted dual talents as singers and dancers, and one individual as a singer and piano player. It was obvious some had stage experience and professional training. Others organized a number and practiced just for the pageant. They all deserved credit for hard work and the courage to perform before an audience.

The key qualification for Ms. Senior America is age. Competitors must be at least 60 years old. I guessed most were in their 60s. One beautiful, feisty woman with a magnificent voice was probably 80-ish. Some were short, most of average height and there were a couple of tall candidates. A minority was slim, most carried a few extra pounds and a couple were quite plump. All had wisdom lines etched on their faces. Most died their hair, but there were a couple of silver-haired beauties (Most likely they also had some help from their hairdresser).

Our crew of enthusiastic spectators was not objective, but there was no question our favorite, homegrown participant would be among the top finishers. We felt strongly she was in contention to win following the gown, the group number, and the talent competition. We knew our contestant performed brilliantly.

There were a couple of musical numbers by past contestants to pass the time as the judges completed their task, and then the finale began.

Each contestant was once again introduced. They stood in line across the stage, awaiting the judges’ decision.

The announcements began with the fourth runner up. As the names were proclaimed, we (Carol’s cheering section) got more and more excited. Carol was not called. 

There was a long pause before the winner was announced. It was probably only a few seconds, but seemed a long time to us and doubtless like an eternity to Carol, standing quietly, hopefully on stage. My camera was focused on her, and we all held our breath. Then the announcement:

Ms. New Jersey Senior America 2012….

Carol Dugan.

And we all yelled and clapped and jumped for joy.

Carol now prepares for the national pageant. And she has obligations that will keep her busy throughout the year.

Our next group get together will be at the same place - Harrah’s casino, Atlantic City - in October for the national competition. Stay tuned…