MY NEW ADDICTION

by Kate on June 6, 2012

scramble-with-friendsHow addictive is my personality? Very. Forget my daily need for chocolate or my new-found love of romantic time travel novels (yes, of course, I, a lover of great literature am embarrassed to admit this) or my compulsion to have the room in perfect order and the dishes put away before I can even begin to work. These are minor blips compared to the attraction I have to Scramble with Friends. Blame it on my daughter Annie, who beats me every time. She started it…We used to often sit down at the breakfast table and play Boggle, but Boggle has gone the way of the VCR. Plus, once you get the speedy gratification of touch that the iPhone or the iPad allow, you can’t go back. We tried once and were so bored we could barely control ourselves.

I play when I wake up and sit with my morning coffee, I play to reward myself after doing some arduous bit of work, I play while I am waiting for my children at dance at sporting events, at half time, outside of school. I play while the pasta is boiling. My goal is that some day I will give Annie a game. It hasn’t happened yet, but we love playing each other anyway. When she’s in school I have found strangers on the internet who I play. There are some that I stick with—”ClassyinCali,” and “Tony Camaro,” (who could not love a guy with that name?) and the “old football coach”— because we give each other a good game. Sometimes I win, sometimes they do, but we’re always competitive. I don’t continue play with folks who are really low scoring or really high scoring, although I’m amused by those who suck for two rounds and then come up with a ridiculously high score on the third and last round. I am like a teenager with text when it comes to this game and it is driving my youngest teenager crazy. Payback, baby, is what I’m thinking. But she’s like, ‘Mom I need you to pay attention to ME. Mom I need you to listen to me!’”

She has little experience with being ignored. Not surprisingly, she has no patience for it either. Combine that with the fact that I am often playing with her sister and we are both ignoring her and it’s escalates her ire to mad levels. Her frustration has even inspired a new title for our game…she’ll come home and see us both looking down at our screens and say, “Are you two playing Scramble with Assholes, again!?”

So that’s our new name for it. And the addiction list goes like this: morning coffee,
tidy up, Scramble with Assholes, dark chocolate.

{ 1 comment }

EVERY COOKIE COUNTS

by Kate on February 29, 2012

The Great Cookie Experiment: Annie Liston, Noel, Annie & Chloe Vincent, Maddi Hogan,Bailey Wristen Emmy Strongwater, Katherine Johnson, Annie Strongwater, Julianna Burton, Hannah Davinroy and Thayer Hubbard

The Great Cookie Experiment: Annie Liston, Noel, Annie & Chloe Vincent, Maddi Hogan,Bailey Wristen Emmy Strongwater, Katherine Johnson, Annie Strongwater, Julianna Burton, Hannah Davinroy and Thayer Hubbard


My friend Paula Pesmen, who runs There With Care, a nonprofit that helps families with critically ill children, and my friend Ashley Devery, who continues to raise money and has helped build a girls school in Tanzania, have taught me two things by example. Sometimes you just have to put it out there and trust the universe….I tried that on a small scale this year when I started my first annual valentine bake sale/cookie exchange for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, a nonprofit that takes money from bakes sales and other events across the country and donates it to pediatric cancer research. I chose Valentine’s Day because it is the birthday of Sam Johnson, a wonderful loving guy who was diagnosed with a brain tumor at about five months and lived until he was five. His mother Kate is one of my closest friends. I have always wanted to honor Sam and when I interviewed the amazing Gretchen Holt (yet another working mom who puts her heart out to the universe) and heard about Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, the organization she started as a way to give back after her son Liam was doing well with his battle, I felt compelled to try. In a horrible twist, Liam died last year at age five. His memorial service was on Valentine’s Day. The organization Gretchen started has already raised over four million dollars.
So here’s what I say: “Every f’in cookie counts!!”

I reached out to a bunch of very busy moms and daughters as well as distant friends and family and was treated to an outpouring of help, baked goods and checks. My idea was for everyone to bake (and sell) ten dozen cookies ahead of time to distribute to loved ones, teachers, colleagues, etc on Valentine’s Day. We suggested a ten dollar donation per dozen. We would all meet at my house for a party the Sunday before Valentine’s Day and created cookie bags from a mixture of everyone’s baking.

Here’s what happened… About ten days before the cookie exchange a mom I don’t know all that well sent me a note saying she was sorry she couldn’t make it and enclosed a check for $100. I started crying. From then on, I knew that everything was going to be okay and even if my cookie math sucked we were starting something wonderful. A few other moms who were too overscheduled come also handed me checks— as did my husband, my ex-husband, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and sisters-in- law. On the day of our cookie exchange, the lovely Tammy Selby had her monster cookies (I admit, I stole one and they were amazing!) and her cash dropped off by her adorable son, Adam, because she was at a volleyball tournament with her daughter Kennedy in Colorado Springs. Terri Szeto came by with two huge tupperware cases of gorgeous iced Valentine cookie hearts she and Sierra had baked and a large check as well as a matching one from her company, Oracle. Traci Hoops stopped by with a variety of cookies as she too would be spending the afternoon at a kid related sporting event. Our beloved art teacher Lori Llerandi sent in a donation as she was away at a board meeting with the above-mentioned Ashley Devery for the girls school in Africa Ashley helped to make a reality. Ashley sent money as well.

The gals who could make it began to assemble. Jenny Burton outdid Martha Stewart with her linzer tortes and Kristen Brynestad and Katie Johnson helped tie ribbon around every bag as the kids did an assembly line collection of cookies. Thankfully my friend and neighbor Katie Hubbard brought her youngest daughter (and our youngest volunteer) , Thayer, 8, who filled the biggest amount of bags. Sue Wristen baked on last minute notice. Dana Baccardi, who taught me everything I know about cookie exchanges, drove from Boulder even though her daughter was sick and she knew no one at the party. M.C. Vincent brought her constant good cheer, her extra tables, her many beautiful daughters and baked and donated with her massive heart. And the amazing Jaimi Hogan helped with math, spread sheets, encouragement, photography and cookies. In true Jaimi style she sold the most bags and created a thank you note photo collage for all of her donors. I could go on, but I think you get the embarassment of riches that surround me when it comes to people who make the effort with their time and giving spirit. I told them all about Sam and what an amazing guy he was. I was humbled by the whole thing. And I am proud to report that output of hearts and ovens raised $1995.!

I am already thinking about next year and expanding to a few more cities. My sister-in- law Michelle has volunteered for Pittsburgh and my friend Julie Grimes has volunteered to corral a Birmingham contingent with maybe some Texas recruits. So if any of you reading this are up for doing a Valentine Bake Sale for next year–we’d be thrilled to have you join our ranks. It was a great event and fantastic way to share the love we are all blessed to have on a day that celebrates love in general. Love, cookies, friendship, a little red candy for good measure and an important cause—a pretty perfect equation.

{ 5 comments }

BEN’S RULES

by Kate on February 15, 2012

DSC_0160I have been friends with Ben Baron for more than thirty years. We met at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and we’ve been hanging—give or take–ever since. There were several years at school when we would gather in Ben’s room on Thursday nights and watch Hill St. Blues. It was Ben, Chuck Welsh, Jim Kachadoorian, Joe Gamache and me. I liked the odds. Four incredibly sweet football players and me. It was the only club I belonged to in college and I haven’t joined one since. We all went our separate ways and for some reason, unknown to all of us, or maybe known to all of us but NEVER acknowledged, Ben was accepted to Harvard Business School. Fast forward thirty years, a very successful career at Kaplan Test Prep and now Ben lives less than an hour away from me in Colorado. He owns and runs driving schools and college prep test centers. We meet for lunch every couple of months to catch up, discuss sports, politics, books and our children. He always peruses the menu and ends up ordering a cheeseburger and fries. I always peruse the menu and end up ordering some kind of salad. He constantly makes me laugh.

Last week he made me laugh harder than usual. He told me that he had been thinking a lot about life and that for him, after much experience and pondering, it had come down to two basic rules:Don’t Be An Idiot and Don’t Be An Asshole. I loved the simple truth of it. And then I said, “Ben, I think you’re right, but I also think it’s amazing how many people have a hard time with just those two.”

In the 51 years I’ve been on this planet, I’d say that I’ve been good on Ben’s rules for about 49.5 of them. There was a short period in my forties when I pretty much botched them both and consequently went through a very difficult time. I am happy to report that I’m back to being impeccable when it comes to Ben’s criteria. In the week since we had our lunch, I find his rules a useful self-check as well as a reasonable standard to hold others by. It offers both levity (always a good thing when people are behaving badly) and clarity. Case in point: A prospective architect wrote me a snarky email when I requested a second viewing of a house she had designed. Instead of getting angry or firing off a nasty reply, I simply considered Ben’s rules. Which made me a) laugh at the idiocy of such a note and b) come to the decision that she could not be hired. After all, it was only the courting process and she had already broken BOTH Ben’s rules. I also offer up Ben’s theory as a useful life tool for my teenage daughters who are figuring out their place in the world and the people they choose as friends and boyfriends and I just kind of suggest that if those in the running can’t pass this test, they should be voted OFF the island.

Of course we all—like me— have had our moments, but history will show where people consistently fall in relation to Ben’s Rules. It’s not necessarily a high bar, but it’s a beautiful indicator.

{ 2 comments }

ODE TO EMMY LOU

by Kate on November 15, 2011

_MG_emreadingMy second daughter, Emmy Lou, was Bat MItzvahed on June 25th of this year. I wrote the following tribute to her and wanted to share it this month as a celebration of her 14th birthday.

Emmy Lou Strongwater was born ready. At 4:30 I felt a contraction, at 6:30, we had a baby. The doctor’s words, and I quote, were this: “ I was lucky to catch her. “ And as Coach Oscar and Ernie and Brett and her teammates can attest, people have been trying hard to do just that ever since. Emmy’s middle name “Lou” is in memory of my father, Louis “Doc” Meyers, who she would have melted like butter and whose grounded wisdom she possesses. But Emmy brought many amazing qualities of her own to the dance, and the one most abundant from arrival was EXUBERANCE. Em is so full of joy and energy for life that often she has trouble staying upright. We like to think of her as vertically challenged. We laughed when going through many of her early pictures because as often as we could, Lee and I had her in a helmet. When Mr. McCarthy her fourth grade teacher called to inform me that Emmy had been to the nurses office 19 times due to falling-related episodes I know he thought I was a bad mother when I laughed and said: “That’s just Emmy.”

And while I remember waiting for Annie to say her first words, I honestly don’t remember when Emmy DIDN’T talk. I feel like she was born chatting and almost everything she said was smart or funny, even if she didn’t get the words quite right. If I ever dared to interrupt one of her monologues she would give me this exasperated look and say. “Mom you’re ERUPTING me! Stop ERUPTING me!” In grade school when Em would get frustrated with the boys she liked and their teasing and age-appropriate boy behavior she’d say, “Mom, I’m exponentially more mature…” And trust me, that’s the word she used.

Beyond the exponential maturity. Emmy has a unique in-your-face directness that has been both amazing and hilarious to watch. She was about four when we were dressing in the Louisville Rec Center locker room after a swim and she observed her first pair of thong underwear. In her raspy, no-volume control voice she announced to all within earshot: “Mom—her butt’s sticking out of her underwear!”

Beyond the shocked woman in the locker room, no one has been spared her acute, to-the-point observations. When she first met Scott she looked him up and down and said two things. “Are you mom’s boyfriend?” And when he said yes, she replied, “You look like Elvis Costello.” She was seven. Three or four years later I heard her arguing with her dad and mid-tirade she scolded, “Dad, you’re off topic. Stay on topic!”

So what do you do with a kid like that? Listen mostly, and try and stay out of the way. And that’s what we’ve done. We’ve marveled at her on the soccer field, the track, the basketball court, and the classroom. We’ve witnessed her hustle, her diligence, her kindness, her humor and most especially her tremendous heart. My favorite soccer moment—and it’s a very telling one— happened a few years ago when Jamie Turcotte made an unbelievably beautiful pass that allowed Emmy to score. Jamie got hammered on the play and she was still on the ground crying a little bit when I saw Em go up to her, hug her and whisper something in her ear. After the game I asked Emmy what she said to Jaime and she said she told her it was HER goal. Last month, a middle school mom came over during a track meet to tell me that she heard the girls in her car talking about how Emmy was nice to everyone and how she was the kid who would stick up for whoever was being teased. I was proud, but not surprised. Emmy knows how to make everyone feel good, including her parents. When I am having a down day, she will pat my back or start imitating Kristen Wiig from Saturday Night Live or suddenly there will be a note on my desk telling me I’m doing a good job.

So all I can think of to say at this point is: WHAT A KID…..

I look around this room and feel so lucky and so grateful that Emmy has such wonderful people in her life and I thank all of you for being here and sharing your love with Emmy. You are the village that it takes. In the meantime, as Emmy makes this leap into adulthood I would like to say: I love you, I am so proud of you and my hope and my wish is that you keep rocking the free world and that you PLEASE, PLEASE, try and stay upright while doing it.

{ 2 comments }

REST IN PEACE BIG MAN

by Kate on September 16, 2011

imagesI didn’t cry when I read that Clarence Clemons had died. Instead, I watched a video clip sent via email from my friend Alan with the headline: “Best Rosalita Ever?” It was an old bootleg of Bruce and Clarence doing their thing in black and white. I shared it with my daughter Annie. I also read part of a eulogy Bruce had written, and there was a phrase in it that hit me: “Too Big To Die.” But it wasn’t until yesterday, more than a month after the fact that the tears came.

The emotion was prompted when my friend George Lange, someone who I’ve shared a love for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band with for 37 years (I was 14 the first time I saw Bruce in concert), showed me a video of Bruce and Clarence in Buffalo for what turned out to be their last performance together. In the clip Bruce told yet another highly dramatic version of the magical, night-I-met-the-Big-Man story (scary, dark, Asbury Park) that all Springsteen fans have come to know and love. They reenacted the Born to Run cover pose and then went on into the music.

I was watching while sitting on an old couch my late father had built in a house at the Jersey Shore my parents bought when I was twelve. This is the place where I listened to Springsteen non-stop throughout my teenage summers. I’d lay on an old mattress next to the speakers hooked up in our garage and before or after I worked scooping ice cream or waitressing, or on rainy days or any time I needed company, I’d take in the music. It comforted me. It gave voice to my angst and fueled my dreams. So it seemed fitting this would be the place where it hit me that Clarence was really gone. This was also the place that my dad told me, the summer before he died of cancer, “You reach points in your life when you realize the time to do that thing in your life is over.”

I haven’t seen Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band in a while though I’ve attended about 25 of their concerts over the last four decades. So with the loss of Clarence, I realized with a very tangible sense of finality, that a certain time in my life was over. The end of the POSSIBILITY of that experience and all that came with it, truly hit me. It was more than great music they shared with anyone lucky enough to see them on stage. They shared a love story—with each other and with all of us watching— and it will be shared in the same way no longer.

There are people who think it’s funny that I refer to Bruce Springsteen as Bruce and to Clarence Clemons as Clarence. I get that in the real world they are not my friends, but what they gave me makes them so. And in saying so long to this icon with a saxophone I know I am closing a chapter in my life I was lucky to have. And in a way, I think Bruce was right about Clarence being too big to die. He made himself big to me through the music and the performances and I will carry them with me in memory.

Tonight I am hoping to ride my one speed up the island to have a beer with my friend Joe. We met when he was a line cook and I was a waitress at the Mooring restaurant in Beach Haven, N.J. in 1978 and we’ve been friends ever since. When I was in college, Joe kept in touch by sending “Greetings from Asbury Park” postcards. I am planning to propose a toast to the Big Man and to giving it your all until the time to do that in your life is over.

(written July 2011)

{ 1 comment }

THEY WERE JUST NOT THAT INTO ME

by Kate on June 7, 2011

heartI was doing some research on relationships recently and I picked up a copy of he’s just not that into you.I know I’m very late on this purchase, but time did not affect the ongoing glee I experienced as I read it cover to cover, laughing all the way. If you hated the movie or liked the movie, it matters not. This is a true work of genius that every young woman should be gifted upon her high school graduation. After reading it I looked up and announced to my girls: “I wish this book existed 30 years ago, it would have saved a lot of time, energy and heartache in my life.”

The book is mostly written from the point of view a guy, Greg Behrendt. He’s caring, insighful and hilarious and he totally gets women—how we behave, how we act and the ridiculous excuses we go out of our way to concoct when men are either a) not interested or b) behaving like jag offs.

It’s a very simple, go-to bible for gals. If you have a question about a guy you know and maybe like or wonder if he maybe likes you, just read this book and you will know what’s what and with great clarity forever more. Sometimes the brutal truth, as it says in the Old Testament sets you free. Of course it doesn’t say this in the Old Testament—heaven forbid there would be something directly applicable in there that didn’t involve sheep. The truth will still hurt, but it will hurt a lot less if you cut your losses early and have someone else’s wise perspective to dust you off.

Anyway, as I look back at my history which contains …well lets’ s see, a drunk, two gay men —my brother Muzz was so right, by the way, when he told me I was a slow learner—and a serial cheater. (These things alone are covered in the following chapters: “He’s Just Not That Into You If He Only Wants To See You When He’s Drunk”; “He’s Just Not That Into You If He’s Not Sleeping With You”; “He’s Just Not That Into You If He’s Having Sex With Someone Else.”) Even more pathetic about that summation is that for me, those men were at one time the A-list.

My inability (until the fortuitous purchase of this book) to really get it when it comes to men is tremendously surprising because I grew up in a home filled with them. I have three brothers and we spent our formative years in a house with a lighted outdoor basketball court. My brothers and many of their friends were all ways around, bouncing the round ball when it was warm enough, playing backyard street hockey during the colder months, and occasionally throwing the football at intervals in between. The toilet seat was always up.

The result was that I grew up in a locker room. I could hang with guys, I could talk sports with the guys, I could have fun with the guys and I could hold my own on a basketball court, but it’s clear now that I was clueless to their true inner workings. I think I walked around for almost the entirety of my dating life with a “DUH” sign over my head.

There are many clear and sad-but-true messages in this book. Peppered throughout are “incredibly unscientific polls,” that I’m sure offer the same information that incredibly scientific ones would. This one stood out: “We polled 20 of our male friends (ranging in ages from 26-45) who are in serious long-term relationships. Not one of their relationships started with the woman asking them out first.” Times have so NOT changed. Of course, this lack of change is not easy to swallow if you’re a gal who likes to take the law into your own hands—if you’re strong, assertive, otherwise intelligent and well, sometimes feel like you need only push fate a tad in your direction. But alas, we cannot overcome biology. We need to read the writing on the scoreboard. We women are like the field of dreams, if they want us, they will show.

Sometimes you will be thrilled at what shows up, sometimes not. Sometimes you will be saved from a train wreck you didn’t see coming. The point is if they’re into you, they will make it clear. No need for interpretations, excuses, or phone machine message playbacks. If they’re not, go dancing with your girlfriends, watch an episode of Friday Night Lights or Modern Family or take a walk in the sun and crank up the Nicki Minaj. If you really pay attention to this book you will accept the signs fast enough NOT to be crushed. Not everyone is smart enough or wonderful enough or DESERVING enough to get the amazing person you are. And if they aren’t, you don’t want them in the first place. Life is not to be spent waiting. My friend Kate Ross and I often quote from the movie version of Neil Simon’s “Chapter Two,” (okay I’m embarrassed that we quote from this because it dates us, but never mind): A Girl Who Sits Waiting By The Phone Sits Waiting By The Phone.

If they want us they will work for it and we need to let them. I knew all this on some level, but until I read this book and felt like someone was holding——with great compassion, humor and no bull shit— a mirror to womanhood, I didn’t get it. We women explain and analyze and rationalize and oh honey, it’s all for naught.

A few years ago, I was out with a friend whose daughter was in her late teens and who, my friend suspected, was beginning to have sex. We talked about at what age we really thought we were ready to have sex. I said, “46.” The sad thing is, I meant it. Physically I was ready in my late teens, but emotionally— 46. Did I mention: SLOW LEARNER? I’m glad I didn’t wait until 46, though I should have held out longer than I did. I will say that growing up in that locker room of boys made me curious to know what the fuss was all about. Unfortunately, while I saw myself as one of the boys and could curse with the best of them, I also thought I was tough like one of the boys and that sex meant the same thing to me as it did to them. It didn’t. I’m also so glad I didn’t wait until 46 to actually have sex because I have two amazing daughters who—thank god—are so much smarter than their mother. My gift to them very, very soon will be this priceless book.

{ 3 comments }