Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Auld Lang Syne

Yep! That was us!
We got a Christmas card this year from my sister-in-law Jean Marie. In it, was a yellowed clipping she had saved—an interview Steve and I did with a Valdosta, Georgia newspaper when we were on our theatre tour waaaaaay back in 1979. It was pretty weird to read comments from my 23 year old self.  We told tales of crazy tour happenings (we performed in hundreds of schools in five states during 1 ½ years on the road—believe me, there were crazy stories aplenty). I showed the clipping to my kids, and they were predictably amused.  Julie looked at the photo and said, “Mom, you were pretty back then!” and, diplomat that she is, she immediately followed up with, “Not that you aren’t still pretty!” (Good try, Jules!) It was fun to go down memory lane, and got me thinking of all the years, and especially the New Years, that have transpired since then.

Long ago, we’d observe New Year’s Eve with our dear friend John Carter in Atlanta. John would prepare a fabulous dinner, we would have a champagne toast (we were never big NYE partiers) and call it a night. After our children started arriving, it was all we could do to stay conscious until the televised Times Square ball drop. But as the family grew, we still had some memorable midnights together. I recall the arrival of the new millennium, for example. Like so many others, we (mostly I) feared a massive computer crash as we hit the year 2000. To prepare, I had purchased several gallons of bottled water and, for some reason—a sale, perhaps?—an ungodly quantity of canned beets (never on our regular menu). We huddled anxiously in the family room, preparing for the worst (the worst being a future of canned beets). At 12:01 AM, we ascertained that all was well with the power grid, hit the hay, and the next week all the beets were donated to a food pantry.

Then my five were suddenly grown up, and usually not home to ring in the new year with us. But Steve and I remained exhausted homebodies. We’d take a stab at a romantic dinner à deux, and then conk out halfway through Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. Wild times!

And now here we are, on the verge of 2016, light years from that silly 1979 interview.  Our youngest will soon be the age I was when I gabbed with that Valdosta reporter. And then, in the blink of an eye, little Aiden will be 23 too.

It is rather unlikely I will see January 1, 2050 myself, but even before that, 2015 will seem like a yellowed clipping from far in the past.  That’s the way life goes. So may I try to live my remaining years to the fullest, and welcome 2016 with an open and optimistic heart.  For I truly believe there are still some wonderful adventures ahead for me…and for you, too.

Christmas 2015 (we managed to stay up past Aiden's bedtime!)

Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Very KonMari Christmas

This is what happens when you read Marie Kondo’s bestselling book on the Japanese art of tidying up, two weeks before Christmas…

Sheridan on Santa's lap 1987

Dear Santa,

I have been very good this year as I am sure you know. I have not gotten a speeding ticket, or a parking ticket, nor have I had a winning lottery ticket, but that’s beside the point.  I pick up my clothes (generally) and do the dishes (from time to time). I don’t take out the garbage, rake leaves or mow the lawn, of course, as that is men’s work. My language, while occasionally salty, is still rated PG for the most part. I haven’t coveted my neighbor’s oxen. No wait, that’s the Ten Commandments. But you get the idea.

I don’t wait in line to sit in your lap because that would be super creepy, but I still have a few requests for Christmas morning.

I would really love your sleigh to arrive at my door, to cart away everything that does not bring me joy. That would include my leather pants from 2004 (what WAS I thinking?), my collection of mismatched socks, and my winter jacket from a time when I was small enough for it to actually zip up (see 2004). I would love Rudolph to take a huge passel of books back to the North Pole, because, honestly, the odds of my re-reading The Thorn Birds are slim to none. I am ready to relinquish my juicer, my ice cream maker and three of my springform pans (I have been anticipating the call for a trio of cheesecakes, in vain). Do your reindeer operate in reverse, dear Santa? Because I have a dumpster full of unwanted stuff, and I’d much rather empty out than fill up at this point in my life.

What else does not bring me joy? Junk mail! Why, in the age of the internet, do people keep sending me flyers for their pizzerias and their car washes? In the spirit of KonMari, it’s all going straight to recycling anyway, so spirit it all away, Santa! Speaking of the world wide web, I’ve about had it with spam that eludes the folder. If “Brittany” wants to meet me for a good time, she can help me load up your sleigh.

As my home is decluttered and becomes pristine, I expect to attain an exhilaration I never knew when I was knee-deep in Lego blocks and Barbies. I’d tell you to deliver this bounty to other houses, but honestly? I’d be happier knowing that other people are living in vast, vacant spaces like me. Empty closets, empty shelves. No need for storage bins. Bliss!

But Santa, don’t expect me to part with the 350 drawings of a sunset by 3 year old Sheridan. Not gonna happen. Or Rose’s baby teeth. So if I’m keeping those, I may as well ask for a flat-screen TV. And, while you’re at it, a screened porch.

Thanks, big guy. You’re the best.

Love, Elise

Saturday, November 28, 2015

What Not To Wear

I know it was the 60s, but what the heck was I wearing?
Rose and Julie are home for Thanksgiving, which can mean only one thing: a marathon viewing of TLC’s epic “What Not to Wear.” For the uninitiated, WNTW style mavens Stacy and Clinton stage interventions involving hopelessly frumpy/sloppy/trashy-looking women. Their sad wardrobes are examined as S and C hold their collective nose, and, mostly, thrown away. Then the unfortunately attired subjects are handed $5000 and coached through a shopping spree. At the end of the show, after being more suitably clad, plus having hair and makeup transformations, the Lucky Ladies parade in front of their applauding friends.

 My favorite episode from yesterday starred Denise, a flight attendant given to wearing a big blonde bouffant hairdo, eensy-weensy skirts, most with sequins or frills, and enough makeup to stock a branch of Sephora. Denise thought she looked “super cute,” and wondered why she wasn’t attracting the right kind of attention. Denise almost burst into tears as her glitzy costumes were flung in the trash can, her hair extensions were discarded, and her huge globs of foundation and eye shadow were wiped off.  When she appeared as the “new” Denise, you could just tell that she would revert to spike heels and big bows in her hair within the week.

Which got me thinking. What kind of attention am I attracting with my appearance? My wardrobe is chock-full of items from LOFT, a relatively stylish store. My hair is regularly colored and cut. I am already a makeup minimalist (lipstick is reserved for special occasions). So why do I feel certain I would not pass muster with Stacy and Clinton?

I think it’s my laziness at play, for the most part. My hair only really looks good during the 24 hours immediately following my appointment, because flat ironing my tresses makes my arm hurt. My clothes only attract the attention of spots and stains, which leap onto me as soon as I exit my bedroom (a situation only made worse since the arrival of baby Aiden, who regularly baptizes me with smushed banana and goldfish cracker crumbs), and it’s too much bother to change. And speaking of change, I haven’t replaced my mascara since 2013 (I think you are supposed to pitch it every couple of months).  I like to think I exude insouciance and a certain bohemian flair, but I fear I most resemble someone who does not own a mirror.

It’s so easy to laugh at the hapless Denise and the other misfits on “What Not to Wear.” It’s harder to think of myself as one of their ilk. The odds of my snagging a reality TV show and five grand in mad money are slim to none, so I’m going to need to go DIY and stage my own intervention. Starting tonight. Out go the ancient blush and ink-spotted jeans.  I pledge to fuss with the hair again and wear lipstick on a more regular basis. No one may recognize me, but I will be proud of myself for a change.

Some of the more stylish Seyfrieds!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Playgroup Redux

CLC Playgroup makes pine cone birdfeeders
Yesterday morning, at age 58, I hosted a playgroup at church. My grandson Aiden accompanied me (which gave me a little street cred). We had five families with a total of seven kids under age five. To say it brought back memories would be an understatement. Why, I felt practically 28 again! Except for the part where I could hardly get up off the floor after building with blocks! And took a nap immediately afterward! 

For the uninitiated, “playgroup” is a lifeline for young parents who fear their vocabularies have shrunk to whatever is the letter of the week on Sesame Street. Ideally, the adults chat while the kiddos interact. Doesn’t always work out that way, but everyone tries.  I remember loving just getting out of the house, whose walls were, horror-movie style, rapidly closing  in on me.

Back in the day, we were mostly stay-at-home moms. Over coffee and calorie-laden pastries (a boon for those of us aspiring to lose those pesky extra pregnancy pounds), we swapped childrearing tips and generally solved the problems of the world. I made several lifelong friends from playgroup, and have enjoyed seeing their little ones become terrific young adults. But there were some challenging mornings in East Oreland for sure.

Alone, the kids were each a total delight. En masse, not always so much. Hair was pulled, dolls were swiped, and the tears would flow. There were a few sturdy toddlers we steered clear of (mine were on the small side), lest the wee Seyfrieds be mowed over on the quest for more Duplo blocks. The first-time mom tended to hover, and be totally distracted by any hint of unhappiness from her little precious. The fifth (or sixth) time mom tended to keep on gabbing through epic battles over Tonka trucks and My Little Ponies. I was somewhere in the middle, not 100% obsessive about playground dramas, but acutely aware of my kids’ behavior in public (not always stellar).
Rare PJ playgroup pic--"Driving" a tractor at Merrymead Farm

Random playgroup memories include Sheridan, who contentedly pushed a toy car around all morning, oblivious to the others. Then there was Evan my escape artist, who always added excitement to any field trip to pumpkin patch or zoo. Rose was notable for snubbing the other children altogether, in favor of sitting up at the mom’s table “chatting.” By the time PJ and Julie came along, I felt I was aging out of playgroup, and gravitating more towards the elementary school parents.  It was with a pang that I one day realized my playgroup days were over.

Until yesterday. It was a joy to return to playgroup after such a long absence. While their issues are different (many more moms work full time), we are at heart the same, trying to do our best to raise the next generation. I loved being with my younger counterparts, and felt very encouraged about the future. This new crop of youngsters is in great hands.

So bring on next month! Save me some coffeecake— and help me up!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Pulling it Off

In some areas of my life, I can pull things off well enough. The performance of Steve’s play “Science People”
Me as Marie Curie!
done on one rehearsal (I didn’t say I was good, I just said that I did it). The holiday party, held the day of a snowstorm when my five young kids were home from school, preventing me from any preparation until about 20 minutes before the guests were due to arrive. In this case, I spent the evening noticing the undusted furniture, the baby toys peeking from under the sofa, and the vague, unpleasant odor emanating from the kitchen trash can. But I “pulled it off.”

However, I don’t pull off surprises well, especially complicated ones. I have written elsewhere about Steve’s 40th birthday bash and the ruse to keep him out of the house (it backfired and he got home in record time, long before most of the guests got there). And even when I am just invited to someone else’s surprise party, it is all I can do to keep from blurting out the secret to the guest of honor-to-be (“What am I up to this weekend? Well, I’ll be with you, eating your birthday cake and…oops.")

So when Julie informed us that she was planning an elaborate surprise for Rose’s 27th this week in NYC, I immediately hearkened back to my less-than-stellar attempts at shock and awe. Surely the weather would be horrible that night (the plan involved lots of outdoor walking from spot to spot)! The expensive bakery cupcakes would be stale! None of her friends would be able to make it! We would be left, soaking wet, sitting alone in a karaoke bar eating bad cake. 
PJ and Rose karaoke

I shouldn’t have stressed. My kids, unlike me, have a remarkable ability to pull things off. From passing tough midterms to giving speeches in class, effortlessly parallel parking and successfully wearing scarves—it usually works out for them.  And, of all my children, Julie is tops at pulling off tricky things. She planned (and executed) Sheridan and Ya-Jhu’s wedding reception while she was still a teenager. I recall her checklist for the happy day, ending with something like “5:00 PM. Music off. Lights up. We did it!” And everything went off just as planned.

While I barely pulled off leaving work early so that we could get to New York on time, Julie sailed through
and hit every mark. PJ would greet Rose as she left her office (surprise #1). Dad and I would be waiting in a tavern across the street (surprise #2) We’d walk to Rosa Mexicano for a special dinner (#3). Meanwhile, a wide assortment of friends Julie had contacted from all parts of Rose’s life would assemble at Planet Rose Karaoke to await our 8:30 PM arrival (fourth and final surprise). Done, done, done and done! Rose was totally shocked and very awed. Oh, and the weather was lovely. And the cupcakes were delicious.

Way to pull it off, Jules. Thanks for an incredible evening.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Queen of Denial

I live in a perpetual state of denial, about almost everything. Just one example: I haven’t been to the dentist in several years because I know my gums are receding and he will tell me that and then I will have to do something about them, which will wind up being terribly painful both to mouth and pocketbook.  Instead, I brush often but gingerly, and try to smile in a way that does not betray a set of gums that is going out like the tide.

Smiling Carefully!

Similarly, I make a point of avoiding medical professionals in general. Whenever I accompany one of the kids to the doctor’s, I don’t touch any of the dog-eared issues of Yachting World and Highlights for Children lying around the waiting room. I just know they have recently been handled by sick people, such as the guy three chairs over who has been coughing up a lung for 15 minutes. Of course, I wouldn’t dream of getting a flu shot, but somehow feel that hands off the People magazines will keep me well.

I deny the irrefutable fact that I have regained the 20 pounds I lost when I started taking Wellbutrin nine years ago. Those size zero dresses and pants still occupy much of my closet, because I refuse to believe that I will never weigh 105 pounds again. I deny that I am getting older by dyeing my hair (that’ll fool ‘em!) and, in lieu of pricey anti-aging creams, I just look in the mirror without wearing my eyeglasses, which immediately erases my wrinkles. Btw, for many years I denied that my vision was getting worse and even now, the specs remain in their case for the most part.

I hate winter weather (which makes Philadelphia of course a perfect choice of residence). I therefore wear shorts and flip flops until the first snowfall, willing the temperature to climb back into the Swell 70s again. This clever wardrobe decision has been known to make me ill, which I also deny by never taking any cold remedies, even as my nose runs like the proverbial faucet.

Never took it. Never will.

Around the house, I refused to believe there was anything wrong with the refrigerator until the meat in there almost started to cook, and that the chimney was in desperate need of repair until bricks began falling into the yard. At work, my computer is in its dotage and while deep down I know it will go kaput any day now, I refuse to back up my files.  If I allowed myself to feel shame about the immense amount of clutter in my office I might have to clean up, so I pretend the teetering stacks of books and CDs look “artistic.”

In short, I deny more things than an accused criminal on the witness stand.  Reality, as the saying goes, bites.  So why face it until you absolutely have to? Mine is a dream world where gums heal themselves and laptops never break. You’re welcome to join me!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Too Many Hats

A rare hat photo
Clarification: this is not a post about millinery. I have owned a mere handful of hats in my lifetime, most worn before the age of 10 (my Nana was all about the Easter bonnets for little girls). After that, whenever I attended Mass, I affixed a Kleenex to my hair with a bobby pin. No joke, that’s what we all did, “to show respect in God’s house.” Never mind that we looked like a bunch of lunatics with tissue issues. When I wed Steve I wore, not a veil, but roses in my hair. Now, even on the most miserable wintry days, I would rather freeze than don a knitted cap and afterwards deal with the dreaded “hat head.”

So no, those are not the hats of which I speak. Instead, I’m talking about the phrase “wearing many hats” to describe someone who does several different things, either for a living or avocationally: the chef/painter, the doctor/cellist. It is assumed that the multiple hat-wearer does so with ease and skill.

I confess that I do enjoy hearing people introduce me at my speaking gigs (“she’s an author! She’s an actress! She’s a church worker! She’s a mom! ”) That is my cue to shrug humbly and smile. But you, dear blog readers, deserve to know the truth: I am no better at wearing many hats than I am at skydiving. My hats slide off at the drop of a…well, you know. I put them on in the wrong order. My hats are the wrong color, the wrong size. Many of them do not suit me at all.

Case in point: this past week.  I was called upon to be, among other things, a Spiritual Formation director, writer and grandma. The entire week I put off what I knew needed to be done, including final prep for the Confirmation retreat, a writing assignment for the Coldwell Banker Real Estate website, and reading  to, and cuddling with, Aiden.

Turned out to be WAY too many hats. I lost track of the weather forecast and was thrown for a loop when
Confirmation parents emailed with concerns about looming Hurricane Joachim.  I wrote my Coldwell Banker assignment, “Top 3 recipes this fall with Philly flavors!” about things like super-rich creamed mushrooms and was about to hit “send” when I finally read the mandatory keywords: Top 3 HEALTHY recipes. My recipe, featuring two cups of heavy cream and a stick of butter, might as well have been called The Widow Maker, so it was back to square one, just hours before the deadline to submit. And with all this, poor baby Aiden waited in vain for me to read him his favorite board books.

Please read to me!
So this week it’s no multiple hats for me. I will work at a pace I can deal with. I will aim to do one thing well instead of ten things poorly. And if my only achievement is reading Goodnight Moon to my little guy…it will be a very good week.

Friday, September 11, 2015

On the Transmigration of Souls

I remember I was watching the Today show when the first reports came in. It seemed a plane had flown into one of the twin towers. The next hours, along with the rest of the country, I watched, utterly horror-struck. Another tower hit. The Pentagon. Tower #1 collapses. Tower #2 collapses. Another crash in a field in western PA. So many planes falling from the sky to unspeakable destinies.

I remember that “end of the world” feeling. I remember driving to school to bring our children home. I remember that night, after it happened. The eerie silence in the skies as all the planes were grounded. It was as if we were all poised, listening for the next sound, and we heard nothing.

In the days to come, the how, the why were of course on everyone’s minds, but, pre-eminently: the who. Who happened to be at work early at the World Trade Center on September 11th? Who missed being killed because they missed a train, were sick that day? Who chose to jump from a 100 story height rather than face the inferno behind them? Who sacrificed themselves by plunging back into the crumbling buildings to save others? What were the stories behind the faces plastered on “missing” posters  throughout the financial district of New York City?

I was born on the lower east side of Manhattan. I know the area. I didn’t know a single victim, but still I mourned. My New York-based cousin Gerry went to far too many funerals in the days that followed, of friends who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald in the towers.

As it does, life went on. The families of the fallen did not readily recover, still have not, never really will. And now here we are, 14 years down the road. My Sheridan, who was 17, is now 31. Little 6 year old Julie will soon turn 21. They have their own memories of that terrible day, and as time passes, those will fade.

So what do we hold onto, as 9/11 recedes into the past? Not hatred, I hope. Not retribution, I pray. I think we need to hold onto the silence that followed the noise.  I believe in that silence, if we really listened, a loving God spoke to us. “I have caught them all in My arms,” He said. “They are safe with Me.”

We none of us know our last moment on this earth. It may be a momentous, hideous event. It may be a final gentle breath as we drift away at age 90. But I think we need to find peace with that knowledge, and remember that we are, all of us, caught in God’s arms, and that whatever comes after this is glorious. Glorious.

So bless the victims, the survivors. And as in the Middle East other precious people’s world continues to implode, we pray that we humans may finally learn, and say, and mean, never again.  In the end, please God, may love win,

John Adams' On the Transmigration of Souls


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Starting Strong

Stop me if you’ve heard this one (from me):

Aiden has been off-the-charts cute this month (what’s new?) Unlike all other babies on earth, he has learned to walk, and eat table food, and wave. Uniquely, he kisses us on request, “plays” piano with Yaj and Sher. No other baby who ever lived says “mama” the way he does (also “nana,” and I’m positive he means me). He does this thing where he points to ceiling fans with a dramatic intake of breath (“ooohhhh!!”) as if God created ceiling fans just for his enjoyment.  Can you name another tiny one who does that? Didn’t think so.

I HATE to rub it in, but Aiden is super special. We hit the infant lottery with this guy. Did I tell you he carries the TV remote with him everywhere, and knows how to use it? Well, at least to turn the TV on to the “static” channel? And also he puts random objects up to his ear (even pieces of paper) à la iPhone, whenever we say to him “Helloooo”?

I know, I know. Baby Einstein. But we’re waiting to apply to Harvard until he’s in kindergarten, because we want to be fair to everyone else.

Aiden is carried aloft, daily, on a magic carpet of love. His incredible parents have given him such a great foundation, teaching him that the world is a beautiful place of endless possibilities. Ya-Jhu reminds him that he is never far from her arms, her comfort. Sheridan teaches him that Daddy can be a goofball, making the MOST bizarre faces at him, crawling around with him as if he, too, (a 31 year old man), is still a toddler at heart. His aunts and uncles shower him with affection and attention. Grandpa Steve rates “pick me up” gestures (when said Grandpa is working on the tempting computer).

My heart breaks wide open when I hear of babies who are hurt, abused or neglected. These are the most vulnerable of all humans. But some parents just can’t do it. They are stretched beyond the breaking point with mental health issues, with severe financial woes. And so we hear of the tragedies. I’ve heard people say, “You need a license to drive, but not a license to be a parent.” And it’s true.

I can speak as the mother of five children, who for the first seven years of marriage didn’t want children. I waited until I was emotionally ready to nurture a child from conception to—well ,let’s face it, till forever. It’s a life sentence, this parenting thing, and not everyone can, or should, attempt it.

And so I rejoice that my little Mushroom (I know, I know, I am the queen of cringe-worthy nicknames) is here and is so loved by so many. And I pray that every baby coming into this crazy mixed up world is a wanted baby, a cherished baby. They deserve no less.

So happy 15 month birthday! Love you, Mushroom!

So much love!

Friday, August 14, 2015

To the Left, To the Left

Mirror image. That is my LEFT hand.
Well, true to form, I missed National Left-Handers Day (yesterday). We Leftys are too busy saving the world to be bothered by random celebration dates!!

Seriously, though, I am left-handed, and proud of it (though annoyed by the right-handed world in which I live and try to cut with scissors). It was pretty obvious from the start, and I was lucky enough to come into existence after the Great Lefty Purge of the early/mid 20th century. My mom Joanie was a victim in the 1930s, when her attempts to write were roundly chastised, then systematically broken by the Ursuline nuns (who, to be fair, were just following orders). As a result, Mom not only had atrocious right- handed penmanship, but I swear it affected her brain. You’ve heard of Left Brain and Right Brain functions? Well, there was also Joanie Brain, the woman who never forgot ANYONE’S birthday, but also left the burner hot on the stove with a glass pan of lasagna on top of it. Fourth of July fireworks had nothing on that explosion of pasta and sauce!

As a child, I noticed that it was impossible to execute a smudge-free thank you note. As an adult, I struggle with everything from coffeemakers to can openers. It was a small thing, this attempt to re-orient myself to What Everyone Else Can Do Easily, but it really bothered me. And of course, I gave birth to two Leftys out of five children (Evan and Rose). Sorry, kids!  I do notice that I do some things righthanded, like playing tennis (or would if I did, which I don’t). In my way, I have Joanie Brain, too!

Looking back at history was not a heartening endeavor. The Latin word “sinister” means “left-handed.” Left-handedness has been traditionally allied with bad luck and the wrong choices. It was no fun to go through life as a synonym for a horror movie, let me tell you! And now we have the political Left and Right. I’ll let you sort that out for yourselves, but I will admit to a preference for my handedness in this area.

There are so many famous leftys!! Barack Obama and Bill Clinton (surprise, surprise). And George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan (to be bipartisan). Albert Einstein and Jerry Seinfeld.  Paul Mc Cartney and Maurice Ravel . Strange bedfellows if ever there were some!   Google “leftys” and be amazed. We may be only 10% of the population but we are mighty!

I didn’t ask to be born left-handed. I can’t control that part of myself. The world seems to be oriented against me and my ilk. But I remain proud of who I am, and so should you, righty or lefty.

Does that sound familiar?

Maybe it’s time to finally admit that we are all different. And that different is OK. More than OK.  Part of the Divine Plan.

So the next time you see a lefty, slap him/her five (and let them dictate which five). It’s all good.

My favorite leftys

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Life is a Beach

There is nothing (and I mean nothing) like the silence when people you adore leave the house after a good visit, and you are left all alone. In a family our size, this happens with regularity, and I’m still not used to it.

As I write this, I am sitting on our eerily quiet porch in Lewes.  I cherish having morning coffee out here, but really? I love sharing this view, this experience, with the ones I love far more. On my own, I am forever turning to invisible companions and saying, “Would you look at that?” (luckily I have a hubby who knows not to dial 911 at these moments).
Our porch. How lucky are we??

I vividly remember my mom Joanie visiting us from Atlanta back in the 1980’s. She loved the beach almost as much as I do, and she treasured these summer weeks with us at the Delaware shore. Inevitably, her departure would trigger a full day of tears and melancholy. Same with my sister C. I always treated these goodbyes as final, and mourned as if I’d never see these people again.  It took the next wave of visitors to start to lift the fog of sorrow. `

Just said farewell to Rose and Evan, after a wonderful four-day reunion. Things could not have gone better, truly. No bickering, no tense moments. MUCH laughter. We ate Grotto Pizza and King’s Ice Cream and homemade crabcakes. We played a rousing game of Hearts one evening. We ran on the boardwalk in the early morning. One night, we checked out a Rehoboth club, and enjoyed hearing our talented friend Karen Murdock sing for the patrons. We even toured a local brewery! Add that to four days of perfect beach weather and what do you have? The glow of satisfaction? Nope! A weepy mom!! Not content to just savor the good times, I insist on adding a side dish of sad.

Rehoboth/Lewes is not only the source of present joys and sorrows: we have a 33 year history in this place. I trudge over the dunes at Park Ave. beach and am instantly transported back to holding tiny Sheridan’s hand on the same walk. I stroll past Funland on the boardwalk and the shrieks of joy bring me right back to my toddlers’ similar shrieks (usually of joy, but once, my over-stimulated offspring grappled for the wheel of the car ride and its exciting buzzer-horn. As I watched, aghast, four year old Sher leaned over and bit two year old Evan!)

Does anyone else have this weird reaction to the high points of life? Am I the only one who wastes the precious moments with dread that they will soon be over?

So here I am, watching the sun setting over the water. The sun doesn’t cry. The sun also rises. Tonight, I think I will have a glass of wine and relish the days just past, and try to be confident that other wonderful days are ahead for me and my loved ones.

At Aqua Restaurant, Rehoboth Beach

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Rose is a Rose is a Rosebud

Rosebud.  What a lovely place name!  You might look at the name on a map of South Dakota and imagine miles of colorful flower gardens. You would be wrong.

The real Rosebud is a Lakota reservation in the southeast corner of South Dakota. Last week, a group of high school youth and adults left Philadelphia to spend a week there. We went to serve, to help wherever we could. We lived at Tree of Life, a ministry that has been in Mission for 30 years. Some of us ran a Vacation Bible School in the town of White River. Some of us worked onsite, helping with the food distribution, doing some painting. Our days were full of activity, but also full of revelation. For you see, things on the reservation rarely go as planned.

Painting with Tree of Life

The Christ’s Lutheran folks at Tree of Life spent a large part of their time unloading pallets from semi trucks, donations from various corporations. And what was donated? Fresh fruits? Vegetables? No! The trucks were loaded with cast-off items that could not be sold. Hundreds of pairs of high heels. Thousands of bottles of Mountain Dew. The Mountain Dew will contribute to the rotting teeth and the diabetes that afflict 80% of the Rosebud population. There is nowhere to go that would warrant dressing up in high heels. Halfway through the week, the food distribution was shut down. Tree of Life had run out of food.

VBS in White River was not smooth sailing, either. We’d brought the same curriculum we’d used

home in Oreland. There, 50 little ones enjoyed our VBS. They were brought and picked up by attentive and loving parents. Here, the children either walked a distance or piled in to our van after a
free lunch at the community center. Some of the older ones were already hardened by life, and did nothing but cause trouble.  They mocked our planned activities. They pushed and shoved and cursed. We tried to keep a vision of their home lives in mind. Raised by teenage moms or overwhelmed grandparents. Beaten. Neglected. What would it be like to be Jeremiah First-in-Trouble? Anessa Little Boy? Aiden Yellow Eyes?

So now we are home, haunted by memories of the people we were trying to serve. Hoping that things will get better (even though I was there 11 years ago and nothing has changed). It was a humbling week, without the gratification of making an obvious difference.

This Rosebud is full of thorns.  There is little chance of it ever blooming. Still, where there is life, there is hope. Education is a key, as are access to health care and decent food. Jobs. Habitable houses.  It is a long road ahead for the Lakota people, and no magic wand (or magic group of volunteers) to make it shorter.

In the end, we prayed. And we continue to pray with and for the people of Rosebud.  And we invite you to keep them in your prayers, too. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Stepping Up My Game

Been quite awhile since I’ve had a dose of culture. I am known for buying books (especially in advance of summer beach time) that wrestle with Life’s Big Questions. Whether spiritual tomes or great literature, it always strikes me that I should be reading it all (and all at once), and I never have enough time during most of the year. Never mind that by late July my beach reads ALWAYS skew towards the lighter side of chick-lit —every year I resolve again to use the dog days to better myself!
Same goes for theatre, concerts, museums and the like. Prices are up, for sure, which often puts a damper on my plans, but why can’t I even make it to a good foreign film these days?  Instead, most evenings I find myself sprawled on the sofa watching  reruns of “Modern Family” or (worse)”The Real Housewives of New York City”.  The only “bettering myself” that occurs at these times is the vague sense that at least I am better than the Real Housewife who screams at everyone at that party in Aruba.

So when my girls invited me to visit them in Brooklyn earlier this month, I anticipated lots of gabbing, ordering in pizza and getting our nails done (all of which occurred, all of which was  
Manicure Girls!
wonderful). I steeled myself for multiple subway hops here and there (my blasé New Yorker daughters didn’t bat an eye when two energetic young men got on, cranked up a boom box and proceeded to break dance in the aisle as the train lurched down the track. I pretended to be unaffected by this spectacle, even as I clutched my purse, stared straight ahead, and willed them to get off at the next stop).

But I hadn’t figured that Julie had plans, cultural plans, for us. The second day of my trip, she announced that we were going to the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan, followed by dinner and the ballet at Lincoln Center. A native Manhattanite, I had never been to the Guggenheim, only knew it from the outside as an iconic Frank Lloyd Wright building. Ascending the spiral walkway through the museum, marveling at the incredible, thought provoking exhibits of modern art, I chided myself for avoiding this gem for so long. Later, we delighted in the sheer beauty of Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” danced by the American Ballet Theatre.  

I returned home to Oreland at least 10 IQ points smarter, I’m sure.  And the question is: will I lose ground from here on out? Will I revert to the path of least intellectual resistance and pick up the Real Housewives where I left off? Or, instead, will I pick up a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, or tickets to a mentally stimulating play? 

The choice is mine, I know that. 

So may this be the year of Mahler and Dostoyevski. May I exercise that long-neglected muscle called my brain much more, and give thanks for the intellect I do have.

Proof I was there!

Happy summer, everyone!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Writes Well With Others? Not Me!

Ellen and Joyce, The Word Mavens
My friends Ellen and Joyce write essays and blog as a team (The Word Mavens). They work together to create some really funny stuff about family, current events and trends, and their Jewish heritage. I have no idea how they manage, but manage they do. Their work appears frequently in various publications, most recently, The Writer magazine (topic? How to write together. Guess other people have no idea how either). Their friendship has withstood years of back-and-forth (as I imagine it: Here’s an idea! I don’t like that idea! But it’s a great idea! It actually stinks!)  and I just don’t think I could be nearly as collaborative as they are. 

My friends Robin and Lini get together regularly to write for several hours.  Lini is working on adult fiction; Robin, young adult fiction. When they meet, they work on their different projects, but enjoy sharing resources and holding each other accountable to finish what they began. Sounds like a wonderful idea, and it sure seems to work for them. I don’t know that I could write in the room with another writer either. I’m afraid the clack-clack of someone else’s computer keys would remind me of how slowly I was going.

Does this make me seem like a reclusive curmudgeon? I hope not! I don’t require special pens, lighting or music. No silence? No problem! I just can’t stand anyone else focusing on my writing while it’s in progress. It makes me too nervous. The kids can play catch over my head when I’m in the zone and it doesn’t phase me a bit, but let someone look over my shoulder with a comment, positive or negative, and I am most definitely phased.

It’s not that I can’t take criticism, I’ve had lots of that in my life (and not only about my writing either. After 31 years I think I retain the title of Meanest Mommy in the World).  I just want my manuscript to be between me and myself until at least a draft of it is finished.

Now my latest book, Everyday Matters has just been published and the first shipment of books has arrived. I am very excited to get my new paper-and-ink baby out into the world. And this one has been a kind of collaboration: Rose has formatted, designed the cover, etc. Sheridan has carefully proofread and edited. I am deeply indebted to both of them. But their input occurred after the book was completely written, and while they made suggestions, they didn’t actually write any of it themselves. Whether it’s good or bad, Everyday Matters is all me.

Sometimes I think it would be fun to have a writing buddy, someone to bounce ideas off of, someone to alternate paragraphs with. But I know myself too well. I have a style, and, alas, I’m not that adaptable to the styles of others.

So go teams! I cheer your joint efforts and the inspiration and support you give to one another. I’ll be over here in the corner, going it alone.

**Everyday Matters is available through www.eliseseyfried.com for $15. A portion of all proceeds benefits Lutheran World Relief.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Money Money Money Money

Payday at Nana's!
My first paid position came about when I was six years old. Every summer, my sister and I would spend two weeks down at the Jersey shore with my Nana. Nana was a total sweetheart, but rather set in her ways. Her favorite thing in the entire world was sleeping, and at six, that was my LEAST favorite thing to do. So, Nana paid Mo and myself $5 every single morning we stayed in bed until 9 AM. Great gig, huh? But at that age, money meant less than nothing to us, and it was even more uninteresting because Nana often wrote us checks! We would arrive back home in NYC, suitcases bulging with signed slips of paper with Five and 00/100 written on them. After months of inaction on our part, Nana would plaintively ask us to PLEASE cash the checks.  When we finally did, the bounty went for Archie comic books mostly, maybe a little gum.

When I was 12 and babysitting a lot, I spent every single dime I earned on the Columbia Record Club. Columbia sent you a record every month automatically, and charged you if you didn’t return it quickly. I never remembered to send the records I didn’t want back on time. As a result, my vast, expensive LP collection was filled with music I never listened to.

Things didn’t improve when I grew older and worked in restaurants. “Easy come, easy go” was the motto of me and many of my co-workers, as tips flowed to us and then, magically, away from us and towards things like after-work beers and pizzas. For Heaven’s sakes, I was 20 years old! Ever heard of a savings account, Elise? Apparently not!

When the kids were young, we had a change jar in the kitchen, (quite optimistically) labeled “London Fund,” as that was our lofty travel goal.  Alas, the jar’s proximity to the front door and our quickly exiting, hungry little students who needed cafeteria money, caused the fund to deplete to the point that we just gave up and relabeled it “Luncheon Fund.” So much for THAT plan!

What's on sale this week? Who cares!
Nowadays, although we are on a tight budget, I don’t clip coupons, and neglect to scour the sales circulars before I shop. Every time I get in line behind a dedicated couponer, I envy the low number on her receipt ( even as I am tremendously annoyed at the way she holds up the register).  Much better to zip through, paying top dollar!

It’s all about my short-sightedness, I’ve concluded. I simply fail to look ahead and plan accordingly. Oh, I’ve read the Rich Dad, Poor Dad book. I just don’t take any of it to heart. And so on I go, living paycheck to paycheck, doomed to keep working until I am at least 105. But maybe…

Maybe I’d better go on eBay and see what the market is for a mint-condition recording of “Sing Along with Mitch.” Who knows? It might be worth a fortune!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Why I Don't Hate Mother's Day

Nana, Yaj and Aiden Mother's Day 2015

 I’ve been reading all the pro- and anti-Mother’s Day comments on Facebook and in the news. Those against the day have a variety of reasons, writer Anne Lamott’s essay “Why I Hate Mother’s Day” being a prime example (Anne thinks the day touts moms as somehow superior to non-moms). Why, even Anna Jarvis, who founded the holiday in 1908, criticized it in the end. Those for it, see it as a nice chance to spotlight their moms, grandmoms, daughters-in-law—much as Father’s Day does for all dads, etc. etc.

How do I feel? Well, I certainly do NOT feel as if I am any better than childless women. Indeed, women who choose not to bear offspring are very often more successful in business, have a more clearly articulated life path, and have a bit more time, not only to develop their own interests and passions, but to selflessly volunteer in a wide variety of ways. My sister C is in this camp, and I am very proud of the wonderful, fulfilled life she has built for herself.

But I am pro-Mother’s Day, and here’s why.

It’s darned hard, this mothering thing, and no one thanks you, a lot of the time. Your kids are either too little to express gratitude, or (in the teen years) too moody. And then, if you’re lucky enough to have children with children of their own someday, they are so immersed in their own babies (who also don’t thank them) that the year can indeed go by without much in the way of recognition, for any of us.

Yeah, I know Mother’s Day is a cash-cow for Hallmark, but as I looked at the display of cards last week, I was struck by the wide variety of “mothers” being honored. Single moms, adoptive moms, mothers-in-law, women who are “like a mother to me.” Even thoughtful cards meant for moms who have, tragically, lost children. All deserving of a little pat on the back, a few words of acknowledgement, a bit of special treatment, at least in May, if not more often.

We may not all be mothers in the technical sense, but we all have, or had, mothers, and that is reason enough to celebrate them. Mother’s Day takes nothing away from non-moms, any more than Easter takes away from the observance of Passover. Lord knows there is not very much to be positive about in the world these days. So why not make a bit of a fuss about the special people in our lives, whoever they may be?

Yesterday, I thought of all the many mothers in my life: my mom Joanie (gone 10 years next September), two wonderful grandmas, many friends who are amazing moms, and now, my incredible daughter-in-law Ya-Jhu, who enjoyed her first Mother’s Day since precious Aiden was born last May 27th. Then I thought of my five beloved kids, and the unique joy they each have brought me. And then I opened my Hallmark cards. And gave thanks.

Mom and little me

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Butterfly Effect

One of my favorite sights of spring is the arrival of the butterflies. Butterflies, those amazing creatures who are utterly transformed from lowly caterpillars into colorful, winged beauties, are wonderful symbols of resurrection.  Their cocoons are the tombs from which they emerge into glorious new life. Butterflies remind me that death has been conquered, once and for all, and that someday we, too, will get our wings. And they remind me of something else as well…

Have you heard of the “butterfly effect”? The theory that the slightest flap of a butterfly’s wings ripples on and on and impacts the weather in a far distant location at a much later date? While the flap doesn’t directly cause, say, the tornado, it is one of the first conditions that set everything in motion, ending with the tornado. If the flap had not occurred, things would not have gone in the exact same direction. So even tiny things matter. They matter a lot.

The butterfly effect is an idea that reminds us that we are all connected, everything and everyone on earth, and that all of our actions have re-actions that extend far, far beyond us—for good or ill. Dropping trash on the ground matters, because too many people have done too much damage to our planet.  Hurting another person matters to every person, because the harm caused diminishes us all. We are so deeply interconnected, and most often we don’t even see it. So we go on acting as if what we do has no impact, when in fact the very opposite is true.

This week a dear friend of our family was dealt a crushing blow. The sister-in-law of Julie’s boyfriend Stephen, Cathy Montoya, was brutally murdered in a home invasion in Atlanta, GA. I never had the privilege of meeting Cathy, but she was by all accounts an extraordinary woman: political activist, totally committed to immigrant, LGBTQ, civil and human rights. At age 38, Cathy left the world in the middle of her life, with so very much left undone. And yet…

Just maybe her short time spent on earth will be like that flap of a butterfly’s wing, that will ripple on and on and affect many lives far down the road, in ways we can’t even imagine. And, as many will attest, Cathy’s affect will be like the flap of the wings of a kaleidoscope of butterflies, touching the world in myriad, wonderful ways for many decades to come. She will live on in the memory of her beloved wife Meredith, in the memory of all whose lives she touched.

So this season, when you catch a glimpse of a Monarch or a Swallowtail hovering over the flowers, please think of Cathy and remember this: Whatever we do, whatever we say, matters. It all matters. So let us be the flap of a butterfly’s wing. Let us set positive change in motion. We can do it. We can.

May God bless the Cabell and Montoya families.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Fiercely Dependent

I was walking with my friend Sherri yesterday morning, and a topic of conversation was the age difference between me and Steve (8 years). We commented on the arc of such a relationship: (ages 18
Us (ahem) several years ago
and 26? Issue! Ages 35 and 43? Non-issue! Ages 58 and 66? Issue again!) Although I will do my very best to die the same day he does (thus ensuring us a heartwarming feature on Action News), I have to face the fact that I will probably have some years alone down the road. And it got me thinking. What does Steve do for me that, someday, I will have to learn to do for myself?

Where do I begin?

Steve is the resident handyman, laying kitchen floors and installing light fixtures with aplomb. Sherri told me yesterday of a woman she knows who hires someone to hang pictures on her wall. I pretended to be shocked at this, while at the same time saying to myself, “So? What’s the problem?” Steve resurfaces the driveway in spring, shovels it in winter, and does any gardening (admittedly not much) that is done on the Seyfried property. 

Steve is the long (and even short) distance driver. When we were on the road on our children’s theatre tour of the Northeast (1979-80) he literally drove every mile. I was charged with being the (abysmally inept) navigator. But he didn’t really need me to give him directions as he ALWAYS knew how to get where we were going, even if we’d never been there before. Nowadays, I blame my (abysmal) eyesight as I lean on my sweet hubby to drive Julie or Rose to their NYC-bound trains in Trenton, to go out for groceries when there is ice and snow. What will become of me when I have to ferry myself around? Not ready to find out!

Steve pays the bills and balances the checkbook. Steve battles with Blue Cross on the phone when they won’t cover our college kids’ doctor visits away from home. Steve goes up into our scary attic to find this or that box of whatever that I suddenly decide I need to go through. Years ago I was able to navigate the rickety pull-down stairs myself, but one day as I climbed I was met by a squirrel, its mouth full of Sheridan’s kindergarten drawings, and I was so shocked I nearly fell backward. That was the end of my attic exploring. Haven’t had squirrels up there in a decade, but you never know!!!  Better safe than sorry!! Better depend on Steve!!
Us, a couple of years ago

We none of us know our last day on earth, so it behooves us to be prepared, and to be as independent as possible for as long as possible.  Clearly, I have a looong ways to go to be ready to be out on my own, and I fervently hope it will never happen. But just in case it does…

I wonder if Sherri knows the phone number of the picture hanger?