Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ice cream galore

How did I forget to mention "the mother of all ice-cream sundaes"? Ben kept talking about the local drugstore and their famous banana split. Finally, after fairly good behavior on the part of the munchkins, we ended our stay with a feast of gigantic proportions. A mountain of ice cream.

The kids were in ice-cream heaven and the waitress, a grandma herself, was thrilled to serve up two of these whoppers. Of course, the grownups joined in when the kids slowed down.

As you can see, there was some serious forethought on how to tackle the project. Everyone contemplated before diving in. Olivia and Sophie had a thing for the maraschino cherries while Ben and Hannah seemed to favor the whipped cream. Iris, true to her persistent little soul, was content to chip away with a spoon at whatever came her way.

The whole soda-fountain atmosphere made me feel like I had just stepped back in time to the nifty fifties - Elvis on the jukebox, syrupy cherry cokes, girlie gossip and pink-poodle skirts. The only anomaly was that my 13-year-old self was surrounded by five grandchildren!

Monday, August 25, 2008

I scream, you scream ...

We all scream for ice cream.

The summer is passing much too quickly.

School started today and I just returned from an education conference in Providence.

Providence. The protective care of God or of nature.

Our family reunion in Washington state this past summer brought strawberries and ice cream treats, simple delights made even more enjoyable by each other's company.

Sometimes, it's best to focus on the fleeting moments and trust that Providence will take care of the rest.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The happy hoofer

Oh yeah, I know I'm taking a risk with this title. I'll probably gain some new viewers who read it too quickly and are looking for something, er, more exotic. I hate to disappoint, but this is hoofing, as in dancing … as in tap dancing.

A colleague at work asked if I wanted to take a free dance lesson this weekend. "Yeah, it sounds like fun!" This popped out of my mouth quite spontaneously and must have been my inner child clamoring for attention, the child who took tap dancing lessons when she was about five or six-years old - at an Arthur Murray dance studio no less. Before I could control my inner Shirley Temple, my co-worker scribbled down the location and time and excitedly told me that she'd meet me there.

I was the first to show up. There were balloons outside and an open door but not many cars around. What the heck. I survived a ballroom-dancing session a couple years ago; how bad could this be?

The amazing answer is 'not bad at all'. I had a blast! About seven courageous souls showed up, including my friend. The teacher brought used tap shoes and, like Cinderella, the slippers fit. Once I started tapping and the Gene Kelly score started playing, I congratulated my inner child for making the right call.

The teacher showed us some basic steps and I just loved that my body and my brain were working in unison, actually allowing me to keep up with the group. In fact, as we tried more and more steps, my feet began to tap out patterns that I remembered from childhood. Holy Hannah! We danced for an hour and a half, almost non-stop. All that was missing was Gene Kelly’s umbrella and the lamppost from Singing in the Rain. It was great fun and there were times that I felt light as a feather, the incredible lightness of being in the moment and going with the flow.

The instructor taught us an entire routine to match the Kelly movie routine. She kept adding steps and told us that we had worked out at more than a beginner’s level. I realized that the trick was to put my brain on the back burner after it saw what to do and then trust my body to move with the music. Legs, don't fail me now.

I’m hooked. I’m hoofing this fall on Monday nights. I hate gyms and treadmills. This seems like a great alternative to wake up my body and get it moving.

What was so gratifying was the sense of rhythm that kept me tapping, reminding me that, long ago, in a city far away, there lived a little girl who learned how to tap dance well enough to be in a recital.

She’s just itching to get out again and strut her stuff.

Saturday, August 02, 2008


As I'm sifting through the hundreds of vacation pictures for suitable blog fodder, I come across this one and it stops me in my tracks ... just an unguarded moment of affection as Ben plays Nintendo while Sophie reaches out to stroke his ear.

Sophie and Ben are the firstborns of the family, first cousins destined to share that demanding role. They were told repeatedly by respective parents during our two-week stay to "set an example" for the younger ones. That's a hard ride when you're only seven and sometimes just want to have all the spotlight to yourself, going back to the way it was before those younger intruders cramped your style, space and toys. Even though I am an only child, I do get it. After all, only children are firstborns too. Based on my own experience, I think that being first cousins will let Ben and Sophie share a lot of ups and downs as they grow older.

I had the chance to visit some of my first cousins on my trip back to Philly in May. It was a journey of the heart. We are the vanguard now since the older generation of our parents, aunts and uncles have all passed on. We are in our sixties and eighties and beyond. We are the repositories of family history. Yet, when I hugged my cousins, I felt like I was in my twenties again, back home with the faces and voices which were such a big part of my childhood and youth.

Like Ben, John was the oldest of five cousins - the only boy and then four girls to follow on my mom's side of the family. Like Ben, he had the attention of his four girl cousins who secretly adored him. When we were kids, I remember us all kneeling on the sidewalk near our grandmother's house, watching as John tried to help an injured sparrow. I remember how he and I played accordion duets in his basement. I remember how he convinced me to strap on a set of his boxing gloves and then threw a few punches at me. He got away with it too because I was so in awe of him that I gladly took the punches. I also remember how handsome he looked in high-school and how proud I was to let the older girls know that he was my cousin. He married the girl he fell in love with during his Army tour of duty in Germany. I was in his wedding party and he and I were godparents for another cousin's child. Years later, I visited him after a disabling stroke and watched in amazement as he did the hard work of rehabilitation. He had to give up riding his prized motorcycle but, today, he is able to drive a car again. John, you rock!

And then there's cousin Frankie, my mom's first cousin and the oldest of the clan. He is now in his 90s and nursing his wife, Bernice, who has been fighting Parkinson's for years. He was a big part of my growing-up years and is still as sweet and funny as I recall from family vacations when I was about Hannah's age. Ben has some of Frankie in him too, always ready with the mischief and able to make me laugh. Just like my dad, Frank loved to hop in the car and travel all over. Sadly, he's no longer able to drive but he still gets himself out the door for his daily walk around the block. Frank, thanks for the memories. Sto lat.

This is the lady I admire most on my dad's side, cousin Alice. She is not only a grandmother, but a great and great-great gran as well. Alice is the matriarch of a clan which would put the Brady Bunch to shame. I grew up around her five kids but lose count after that. I just know that she has always been a part of my life. As a teenager, she sang at my christening. When she was a young wife and mother, her house was often our Sunday car-trip destination. She and hubby, Matt, have just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. She's a fantastic seamstress, found the time to make her own tailored suits when her kids were small. My mom loved to sew and Alice would watch her as a child. I am so pleased to see that Sophie is now showing quite an interest in sewing too. It's all in the family. Alice is tiny and perky and never looks her age.I should be so lucky in another twenty years. Alice, you are my role model.

There are other cousins as well, near and far. Some have drifted away from the family circle; others re-appear. It's like an infusion of joy to see them, share in the stories of our common past.

This was an unexpected diversion but it speaks to what I wish for Ben and Sophie - that they enjoy and cherish these special moments and tuck them away. They are the seeds of a lifelong friendship.