Month: March 2013 (page 1 of 7)

Peeps, ducklings, and a rocking seder

Dear Readers,

This week, we get to celebrate two, two, two holidays in one—a bit like those old Certs commercials from our youth, remember?

Ahem. Yes. Anyway, some of us will spend this weekend finding new and exciting uses for matzoh and eggs, while others will be gorging on chocolate and marshmallow Peeps. About which, perhaps the less said the better.

To help get you in a properly celebratory mood, we bring you three videos.

In this one, a team of pioneering surgeons show us the controversial techniques they used to help conjoined quintuplets lead happy, productive lives:

On a no less dramatic note, watch as this mallard mother copes with her little flock during a windstorm:

And for those of us who rocked out to the Ramones, we give you this energetic take on the Passover seder:

And that’s pretty much dayenu* for this week…

Karen and Wendy

*Dayenu = “it would have been sufficient”

Weight loss after 50: What’s wrong with “Wheat Belly”?

Trading one dietary enemy for another

Continue reading

Confession time: What Harlequin Romances taught me about love

Dear Karen,

It’s confession time again.  Dear god, when will I stop telling you unpleasant facts about myself?

Never, I fear.

Last time, I confessed to killing my vacuum cleaner.  The time before, I confessed to holding Michael’s toys hostage.

This time, it’s serious.  No, really.

Ever since I first laid eyes on books, I was hooked. I was an early reader and once I’d mastered the Dick and Jane stories, the world was my oyster. I read everything I could get my mitts on and have a fond memory of reading the paper with Dad one Sunday afternoon in 1967.  I was 6, he was a little bit older.

Wendy:  Hey, Dad, what’re you reading?

Dad:  The papers. You want to look?

Wendy: Okay (leans over Dad’s shoulder to read paper)  Hey, Dad, what’s that picture?
(picture of woman sitting on bench, in silhouette, to protect her identity)

Dad: Well, why don’t you read it for yourself?
(hands paper to Wendy)

Wendy, reading quietly and slowly: It says here that she’s a pros…prosti…prostitute? Is that right?  Hey, Dad, what’s a prostitute?

Dad, pausing for a very long time:  It’s a woman—

Wendy, eagerly:  Yeah…a woman…

Dad: …A lady of the night…

Wendy:  Lady of the night?

Dad:  “Prostitute” is another way of saying Lady of the Night. It’s a woman who…does things for men.


Say what?

And that, dear sister, is how I found out that a prostitute is a maid who works evenings. I imagined her, in the shadows cleaning clothes, washing floors and making dinners for male employers.

I remember being hauled out of bed in the middle of Mum and Dad’s wild parties, to read the paper to their guests. Unfortunately, they censored what I was allowed to read before waking me, and I was stuck informing my audience on the stock market or the crisis in Egypt. No more prostitutes for me.

Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. I discovered Trixie Belden and read every one of her adventures. I loved Trixie and desperately wanted to move in with her.  She had the best family ever.


Trixie could have punched Nancy Drew’s lights out.

As I got older, I started leaning towards the classics, but when I was 13, Nana threw a spanner in the works and sent me a Harlequin Romance. I remember the cover had a nurse looking demurely downward while a doctor stood in the background, looking all handsome and manly. They were obviously going to become a couple at some point in the book and I thought it was revolting.


Staff Nurse on what??? Was it really called this?

The whole idea of romance was off-putting, especially between these two. After all, they had to be in their 20s, which (and it’s a medical fact of science, as you know) is far too old to be engaged in romance.


I read the book in one sitting and didn’t even bother keeping it once I’d finished. The next day, having nothing to read, I trotted off to the local shop to buy something intellectually stimulating for a 13-year-old girl.

I came home with another Harlequin.

This one was better, no nurse or doctor, just a woman who was taking care of her employer’s children. I’d already read Jane Eyre by this point, so the plot was familiar but a lot racier than Jane and Mr Rochester in the Yorkshire moors.

I bought another Harlequin. And then, like junk food, I’d buy two at a time, knowing I’d finish one and still be hungry for a second. Nana fed my addiction by posting them to me, 3 and sometimes 4 at a time. I started hinting at her to send my favourite author—I can still remember her name, Anne Mather.

Her books sizzled. Oh my, the one where the woman (let’s call her Annette) who’s been hired as a housekeeper for an angry recluse (Manuel de Cordoba y Siesta Tapas Mañana) who lost his sight in a car accident which killed his wife? Yowzers MacTavish, that was intense! Annette is caught downstairs admiring the rehabilitation equipment in his gym, but because Manuel is blind, he assumes she’s actually Alfred, his faithful manservant/masseuse/chef.  Through a series of cringe-worthy but thrilling plot devices, Annette is forced to give him a massage… Oh my god, I can still feel myself blushing.


Well. This is more like it.

After all that sexual tension, the kicker was, he wasn’t blind at all! So he knew she wasn’t Alfred the whole time. Oh, the mortification!  I believe Anne included a leopard in the story, which just proves what a classy author she was.

Harlequins messed with my brain in a very unfortunate way and led me to believe a man only wants you if you’re a) beautiful beyond all words, b) incredibly stupid, c) a virgin, d) powerless, e) clumsy and f) hate him.

What a depressing message to pass on to a teenage girl.

I wasn’t beautiful beyond all words, I refused to act stupid, didn’t feel all that powerless, wasn’t about to start tripping over my feet, and really didn’t want to be with a boy I didn’t like.

I saw girls who did act that way, and they certainly were busy little bees at school, but that just wasn’t for me.

One book, with a Latin Lover, ¡aye caramba!, used a word I’d never come across before: sardonic. I asked you what it meant and you replied, “Look it up.”  So I did. Now I had to add this to my list of traits for my perfect man:

  • Handsome beyond all measure
  • Rude
  • Insensitive
  • Rich
  • In possession of studly car
  • Great kisser
  • Aggressive
  • Sardonic

Where would I find a man like this?  Other than the “great kisser” and “handsome beyond all measure” requirements, I can see now that I was looking for Donald Trump.

The latest in road-kill-inspired hairpieces.

I stopped reading Harlequins when I was 15 or so, but we had 2 years of passionate, ill-advised romantic affairs, those books and I. I don’t miss them, am somehow pleased I can remember the plots so vividly (just proves I wasn’t reading them just for the sexy parts), and am very happy I graduated to proper grown-up books.

Like Wuthering Heights, where Heathcliff was an angry, sardonic, handsome beyond all measure young man, passionately obsessed with a rude, insensitive, beautiful beyond all words young woman named Cathy…but neither of them owned a studly car.




Getting off the crazy train: Resilience and adult children of alcoholics

Dear Wendy,

I’ve taken some time to think about your letter on Monday—the one where you painted such a vivid image of life with our alcoholic parents. Continue reading

What is this “aging gracefully” of which you speak?

Dear Wendy,


Have you given much thought to the idea of “aging gracefully”? Apparently it’s one of those things women our age are supposed to do, or at least strive for, but honestly, I’m kind of stumped. I get the “aging” part—I’m not that delusional—but gracefully?


Does it mean “accepting that we’re getting older”?


Because I think I’m down with that—I mean, it’s not as if I’ve been given a choice in the matter. I’ll get old whether I want to or not, and I don’t think anyone’s asked my permission. Or if they did, I was asleep at the time. We older ladies need our rest, you know.


Does “aging gracefully” mean not dyeing my hair when I catch sight of the grey bits?


This is a bit dicey. I did recently dye my hair…but not because I want to hide the grey. It’s because my hairdresser convinced me that I would look totally groovalicious with screaming red hair with a platinum blonde streak at the front. What can I say? I’m easily persuaded.



Is this graceful? I can’t tell.


Or maybe “aging gracefully” means reappraising my wardrobe and makeup choices in light of my new-found maturity, and making the appropriate adjustments so I’ll look like one of those models from More magazine?


Nah, screw it. Way too much trouble.


Plus, I’m a notorious coffee-dribbler and food-spiller. I need a seriously low-maintenance wardrobe to accommodate my innate inability to get food from my plate to my mouth without a mishap.


I recently heard someone say “aging gracefully” means giving up trying to sound cool and hip with my youthful lingo. Fail. Apparently they’ve never listened in on any of our conversations. Because, like, we are totes magotes hep to the jive, dude. Just sayin’.


Nonetheless, I did try to make a list of words to avoid…



My handy-dandy list of words to avoid. A failed experiment.


That didn’t go so well. Also, I won’t speak for you, but I swear like a sailor. If aging gracefully means I have to give that up…well, let’s just say that won’t work for me. My family would think I’d been abducted by aliens, for one thing.


So…I’m puzzled.


And this just occurred to me: do men our age have to think about this too? Do they dissect their responses to aging to determine whether they’re doing it “gracefully”? Do they discuss it over a pint with their dude friends? Do they agonize over their manly wardrobes, trying to decide whether that shirt and tie combo send the message that they’re trying too hard to be youthful?


I did a small but meaningful survey (okay, I asked Mitchell), and he looked kind of blank.


I think that counts as an answer, don’t you?







Dear Karen,


Like you, I have a quarrel with the expression “aging gracefully.”


I think it means different things to different people and to be honest, I’m the type of person who doesn’t care about whether I get older gracefully or otherwise. I’m just glad to be aging at all.


I read a book by Nora Ephron a few years ago, titled I Feel Bad About My Neck. She laments her slide into old age, in one chapter paying particular attention to unwanted, unloved, wrinkles on her neck.


Cover of "I Feel Bad About My Neck"


I found it hard to understand. To me, Nora Ephron was never about beauty or vanity. She was a very smart, erudite woman, with an average face and above-average intellect. She was famous because of that intellect, and for her to be sad about how aging was affecting her looks…well, it annoyed me.


I wanted her to be above all that.


Everywhere I turn, I see articles about how celebrities are staving off old age.


The stalwarts are trotted out and displayed before us: Susan Sarandon, Jane Fonda, Hallie Barry, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, ad nauseam. We average citizens who haven’t made beauty our livelihood get bashed in the ego by their perfection, forced to admit that they look fabuloso while we, who have always been average, look, well, average. And older.


Well, sure, they look fabuloso. For a start, they were born that way.  None of these women are anything close to plain or average in their looks.


Just because these particular women were born with exquisite bone structure and ideal body types, does that mean they’re aging gracefully?


I don’t think so.


I think they’re simply aging as their body type decrees.


Also, they have the time, the pressure to look good in public, and the money to make it happen. Face it—if you soaked me in oil all day, injected me with a year’s worth of goat’s bladder, and made me live with a strict food nanny and a personal trainer to oversee my life 24/7, I’d probably look pretty okay as well.



I think Nurse Ratched would be a good Food Nanny.


I could easily imagine Helen Mirren, living on a farm, babushka on her head, standing beside a tractor, and I think she’d still look beautiful. Effort has not been put into her aging. She’s just got better access to clothes, hairdressers, jewellery, and stylists than I do.



Of course, being a movie nerd, I’d prefer to age—and die—as they do in the movies. I have long imagined my death scene as something very similar to Greta Garbo in Camille.  I’d cough a few times, raise my hand to my forehead and with one long, delicate sigh, expire out of the picture and into the end titles.



That’s the fantasy, anyway. But really—of all the things in the world to worry about, why focus on something that’s going to happen, with or without our permission? Live a little. Live a lot.


Let’s get rid of the grace and concentrate on the aging.  That’s the part I want to do well.


And that’s a wrap.











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