Wednesday, December 6, 2017

IWSG: The Defiant One


It's time for another edition of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Be sure to visit Alex J. Cavanaugh and the rest of the talented writers who are always willing to lend a helping hand.

The following is a repost from May 2014 when my mischievous Mom was in rare form.

(The Defiant One) 
Before we boarded our flight home from Israel, we made a quick stop at the duty-free shop at Ben Gurion Airport. We picked up some Ahava Lotion for my mom. She likes the special formula of Dead Sea minerals, and the convenient travel size tubes. When I told my husband that we needed to get a few extra he said, "She probably uses them like cartons of cigarettes in the joint." Then we rushed to catch our flight.

After our son graduated, I prepared myself for the worst. Though I knew he would be eating better at home, anything could happen once he stepped out of our house. All it took was a matter of minutes for him to get lost, robbed, or kidnapped by a gang of raccoons.

It didn't matter that he lived on his own for four years at college, now he was on my turf, and I felt entirely helpless. I've heard many stories about sneaky twenty-something kids who've gotten into all kinds of trouble. Little did I know, that he wasn't the one I needed to worry about.

I usually talk to my mom on the phone at least twice a day. This rule still applies on days that we spend together. The other night, I reminded my mom that I had an early dental appointment in the morning, and that I would talk to her afterward. She wished me luck, and said that she also had to get up early. When I asked where she was going at the crack of dawn, she replied, "Downstairs."

This struck me odd, as she usually doesn't go to early morning activities at her retirement home, but she said goodnight before I could get anymore information.

The following day I tried calling my mom, but there was no answer. She finally called me back later in the afternoon. I asked her if she was feeling okay, and she said that she was fine. Then I asked  if she went to the doctor. She said, "No, why? What have you heard? Who told you?"

I told her that her story didn't make any sense, and if she was only downstairs then she would've returned my call earlier. Then I asked what was wrong with her, and why she had to keep it a secret. She gave me her standard line, "I didn't want to worry you."

I dove deeper by asking how she got to her appointment. "My nurse took me."

She has a visiting nurse that is set up through her insurance. I didn't realize they were that close. I asked why she asked the nurse to drive her, when I could've taken her. My mom said that her nurse doesn't drive, so her husband took her to the hospital.

My Novocain was beginning to wear off, but I tried to remain calm.

"So her husband drove you?"

"No, he met us at the hospital. Her boss drove me."

"Let me get this straight. So the nurse, her boss at the agency, and the nurse's husband were all at the doctor's office with you, because you were suffering from chronic constipation? It was okay to bother all of them, but you didn't want to bother your own daughter?"

"That's right."

"Did anyone in the group bring you a box lunch?"

"No, but no one gave me any lip either."

"I'm sure your doctor referred you to a gastroenterologist. Did you make an appointment?"

"No, I need to see a spine specialist first."

"Makes perfect sense. I'm sure he'll do wonders for your constipation. And I suppose you gave your nurse a nice present for taking you."

"As a matter of fact, I did."

"The Ahava Lotion?"

"It's the least I could do."

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

IWSG: Blowing Smoke


It's time for another edition of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Be sure to visit Alex J.  Cavanaugh and the rest of the talented writers who are always willing to lend a helping hand.

                                                           Blowing Smoke

It was 12;30 a.m. Monday morning, and I just finished my nighttime ritual of brushing, flossing, and looking for unsightly facial hairs, before slipping under the covers when a loud piercing sound emanated through the apartment.

No, it wasn't my husband's snoring. It was the fire alarm. I immediately sprang into action, put on my shoes, grabbed my cell phone, keys, a jacket and my husband and proceeded out of our fifth floor apartment.

My husband thought this would be a good time to start tying his gym shoes when he had perfectly fine topsiders to slip into, but I remained calm. After all, I was house manager of my sorority in 1981, so I could handle anything.

Our front door does not lock automatically, so I asked him to lock the door, in case this was some kind of distraction tactic for burglars to lure us out of our apartments.

En route to the stairwell, we noticed that many of the neighbors were huddled across the hallway. We headed down the nearest stairwell, but only a handful of neighbors had the same idea. It was raining, so one of the neighbors held the door open and we waited for the fire department to arrive.

We were waiting and waiting and wondering why it was taking the fire department so long to get there when they were only two blocks away.

A few minutes later, my husband and I cut through the garage to  see if the fire department had arrived. While we waiting to hear their report, we saw neighbors stepping off of the elevators. I wanted to make citizen arrests for not following fire safety rules, especially to one of the young tenants who had to take the elevator down from the second floor.

Afterward, the fire department said it was a false alarm and we returned to our apartments.

The next day, my husband learned that the alarm had not gone directly to the fire department, and they only responded because they received 911 calls from the tenants in the building. This was surprising, as it's a brand new building that was completed this year.

My husband notified the building manager and also alerted the leasing agent. The agent suggested sending an email explaining all of the events including that many of the neighbors didn't know how to safely respond in the event of an actual fire. She added that my husband was articulate and since I'm a writer that we should have no trouble crafting a letter.

This happened over a week ago, and there still hasn't been a response from our building. Even a note pasted in the elevator or the entryway addressing safety rules would be helpful.

Often times my husband will proofread my stories before I send them off to the editor, and in this case, he took the lead, and I proofread his letter. He did a fine job conveying the importance of safety for the tenants and how the building has to do their part to make sure the alarm company sends a signal to the fire department.

Sadly, the management company is still blowing smoke.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

IWSG: Memories of "Boy on a Swing"


It's time for another edition of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Be sure to visit Alex J.  Cavanaugh and the rest of the talented writers who are always willing to lend a helping hand.

This summer I wrote about a local poetry contest where participants were encouraged to write a poem about one of the 28 sculptures in our community. Keeping in the spirit of the story, my editor asked me to join in the fun, so I unofficially waxed poetic.

Mary Block's "Boy on a Swing"

This poem was inspired by Mary Block’s “Boy on a Swing” and was written about a month before we moved from the home where we raised our two boys.

Memories of “Boy on a Swing
Swing, swing, see the boy swing,
Not one boy, but memories of two it brings.
Afternoons spent frolicking in Sunset Park,
Boys pleading to run and play until dark.
First the baby swing, how quickly time flies,
Push me higher mom up to the sky.
Swings are for babies, parks are for sports,
First T-ball, then soccer, and basketball courts.
Touch football becomes tackle, your nerves are frayed,
‘Til you’re the one who’s being played.
Sleepless nights where can they be?
Soon they’re miles away pledging a fraternity.
Swing, swing, see the boy swing,
Savor the moments and the joy that it brings.
-Julie Kemp Pick
This poem was published July 5, 2017 in

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

IWSG: Sidestepping Into Fall


It's time for another edition of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Be sure to visit Alex J.  Cavanaugh and the rest of the talented writers who are always willing to lend a helping hand.

As the Jewish New Year is approaching, I thought I'd repost a 2014 Rosh Hashanah story.
                                                      Sidestepping into Fall

Fall is the time for new beginnings, and Rosh Hashanah symbolizes the Jewish New Year. We celebrated by filling up on the traditional holiday dinner which featured everything from matzo ball soup to brisket. The evening was pleasant but relatively uneventful until our guests said their goodbyes.

The front door is no longer an option for some of our family members who walk with aids. Hence, there are fewer steps to the car through the garage. My aunt and uncle were the first to leave, before the pile-up began. With breaking speed, Mom was about to pass-up my cousin. I told her to stop showing off with her walker, and let our cousin head to the front of the line. My brother helped her down the first step. Then she broke free, and kept walking with her cane. Seconds later, I heard my brother call out for help. Unfortunately, my cousin hadn't seen the second step, and was lying face down on the garage floor.

Apparently, this was the second time she had fallen in two days, and her face was pretty beaten up. After not taking no for an answer, our cousin agreed to let us drive her to the emergency room. My brother met us at the hospital, and we kept her company in between tests. The hours passed quickly, as she told us stories about growing up with our dad.

They were first cousins, and though he was five years older, he treated her like a sister. They even took separate trains to meet at the Cubs games when she was only ten. She enjoyed going to the games with our dad, because he told her everything he knew about baseball. Years later, Dad introduced our cousin to his fraternity brother who became her husband.

After her tests were over, they stitched up the inside of her cheek, and were ready to send her home. My brother and I both pleaded with the doctor to keep her overnight, as she lived alone, and was at risk to fall again. We were also hoping a physical therapist would assist her in using a walker. My cousin kept apologizing for ruining our evening, and told us to go home. She didn't realize how relieved we were that she wasn't seriously injured, and how much we enjoyed learning more about our dad. My cousin couldn't have been more appreciative that I stayed with her until she was safe in her hospital room, and promised to call her children first thing in the morning.

It was almost 3 a.m. when I got home. I expected to find all of the dishes piled up, but my husband and sons washed all of the wine and water glasses by hand, and set off the dishwasher. I was so grateful for their wonderful surprise.

At the end of Yom Kippur, I had my immediate family over for a casual break the fast. After dinner my mom seemed anxious to go home. She suggested my brother take his dessert to go. We couldn't figure out why she was in such a hurry. Finally, she admitted she wanted my brother to drive her home before the storm hit. None of us could figure out what storm she was talking about. The sky was completely clear when we walked her to my brother's car.

A few days later, the subject came up again. I thought my mom made up the whole story, because she was mad at me for something.  She swore she heard about the storm on TV, while I was preparing dinner. Then it hit me. She had been watching a previously recorded program from the week before. It must have been interrupted due to a severe storm watch. When I told her she exclaimed. "How was I supposed to know that? And by the way, you gave me indigestion."

I'm so glad my aunt has offered to host Thanksgiving.

Wishing those who celebrate, a very happy and healthy New Year!


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

IWSG: A Sentimental Journey


It's time for another edition of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Be sure to visit Alex J.  Cavanaugh and the rest of the talented writers who are always willing to lend a helping hand.

This has been a very bittersweet summer, as we are moving from our family home of 28 years. Our boys fled the nest a few years ago, and in a few weeks we'll be downsizing to a new apartment in the downtown area of our North Shore suburb.

The good news is that we'll be conveniently located just steps away from the grocery store, restaurants, shops and movie theaters. The bad news is that I'll probably be sneaking off to Dairy Queen every day.

It will also be an adjustment fitting everything from our home into a two-bedroom apartment. We've had some luck selling our furniture on Craig's List and a garage sale site on Facebook. We've also given away bags and bags of clothes, and small household items, but some of the most unlikely objects suddenly have sentimental value.

I decided to go to my mom the hoarder for advice:

"How can you throw out that ashtray collection that I bought you when you first got married?"

"Mom, you were the only person who ever smoked in our house, and we don't have room for them."

"Well, you never know. Smoking might come back in style."

Our boys' new condo has more space, so we gave them our old dining room table that seats up to 12 guests. My mom helped cheer me up when I showed her our new dining table that seats four.

"I guess this means that you won't ever be able to have your own kids over for dinner."

My mom didn't want to hear about having a lack of storage space.

"You will have daughters-in-law one day, so you need to save everything for them. By the way, don't even think about giving away any of my clothes. You never know when I'm going to wear them again."

As I look around my home, I see the large, green wooden coffee table where both of my boys learned to table walk. It's the same table that my son turned into a stage and performed one-man shows with props and costumes, while his baby brother looked on.

The boys a few years later

My husband, mom, brother and I would cheer after every performance, and my three-year-old star would always ask, "Are there any questions from the audience?"

Without missing a beat, I would raise my hand and say, "Are you married?'

He'd act mad, but he always called on me.

Currently, we've been trying to sell that table online, as it won't fit with the other furniture in the new apartment. We found an interested buyer who likes the table so much that he's willing to send us a certified check, sight unseen, and a mover will be happy to pick it up. He's even willing to sweeten the deal by adding $30 for our trouble.

I think I'll offer him my mom's ashtray collection instead, because you never know.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

IWSG: Before - The Real Matchmakers


It's time for another edition of the Insecure Writer's Support Group.  Be sure to visit Alex J. Cavanaugh and the rest of the talented writers who are always willing to lend a helping hand.

                                       Before - The Real Matchmakers

June 28, 1987

As our 30th anniversary is approaching, it seems only fitting to tell the story of how we met. It all began when my dear friend Lily called to tell me about an upcoming dating show on cable. She said that her client was a Jewish matchmaker who offered to fix her up. When she told her that she was engaged, she asked her if she knew of anyone who might be interested. She knew that I would enjoy being on a dating show, so I thanked her for thinking of me.  A few minutes later, the matchmaker called me at work.

She started firing off personal questions, as I trembled in my cubicle.  I finally cut her off when the subject of weight came up, though I would give anything to trade my 1986 stats right now. The next step was to set up a meeting in person, and afterward she would collect her generous fee. When I asked about the cable dating show, she said that she was still working on it.  I told her to call me back when she had more information.

A few weeks later, I received another call at work. The matchmaker told me that she had several new clients who would love to meet me,  and she "desperately" needed women in my age group. I was a tall, twenty-four-year-old Jewish blond, with good child bearing hips. What's not to like?  I asked again about the dating show which was probably never going to happen in the first place. So there was no TV offer, and she admitted that she was "desperate." This was a true Seinfeld moment when I had "hand."

I offered to meet her if she sent me on a free trial date. The matchmaker said it was out of the question. Then I replied, "Since you told me that you were 'desperate,' I don't see why I should have to pay you." At the time I worked in the advertising department at a magazine, so she suggested I help her with advertising instead. Hence, we set up a meeting for the following week.

The matchmaker looked like Dr. Ruth, and was a compact powerhouse. Since many of her clients were older religious men from New York, she immediately started asking me questions about how observant I was. When she asked me if I ever ate bread during Passover, I answered her honestly.

She sternly replied, "Do you know what the bible said about what happened to people who ate bread on Passover?  It said that they were stoned." Suddenly, I wasn't so excited about my trial date. Then she took my picture to share with her partner, and sent me on my way.  

Her partner must have liked the terrified expression on my face, because I got a call a few days later. We went to a nice Chinese restaurant for dinner. He didn't laugh or try to sneak out when I started choking on the hot n sour soup. It turned out that he lived down the street from her younger partner who had been trying to fix him up for years. She bent the rules by showing him my picture, and he decided to call me. I fell in love with my trial date, and we were engaged six months later.

My friend Lily stood up in our wedding, and later ran into the matchmaker. She always came to see her during the clothing shows in search of sample sales. Though she had only met my husband briefly when she crashed our wedding she told my friend, "You know, he was much too good for her." 

Note: This is a repost from 2012, shortly before our 25th anniversary

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

IWSG: The Maniacal Miserable Tour


It's time for another edition of the  Insecure Writer's Support Group. Be sure to visit Alex J. Cavanaugh and the rest of the talented writers.

The following is a repost from October, 2013 in honor of Mother's Day:

Mom (in  practical off- the-shoulder hiking attire) with our dear girlfriends and tour guide at Masada

Last week my husband's cousins from Israel came to visit. They had shown us such a wonderful time when we were out there, and we thoroughly enjoyed seeing them again. This brought back memories of my first trip to Israel with my mom in 1984.

It all began when one of my mom's oldest and dearest friends and her husband asked her to join them on a tour of Israel. My mom invited me, and then another close friend decided to share a room with us. I loved her friend dearly, but sometimes they would just get too rowdy late at night when I was trying to sleep. Neither of them knew how to whisper, and I remember curling up with my pillow in the hallway one night until my mom dragged me back in. Yes, I was clearly not the fun one in the group.

Mornings were like boot camp with the three of us sharing one bathroom. My mom woke up two hours before we did to get a head start. She put on her makeup and teased her hair for an hour and a half before it was my turn. I had to take a quick shower while my mom got dressed. Next our friend moved at the speed of light. She was showered and completely ready in about seven minutes flat. Everything was precisely planned out so that there wasn't even a hint of humidity in the air while my mom ignited herself with hairspray. Between the hairspray and cigarette smoke, it was refreshing to go on a tour bus through the smoldering hot desert.

We traveled to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and the resort city of Eilat. A highlight was when an eighty year old woman in our group grabbed my arm, and we climbed Masada together. I started screaming for back up when my mom came up behind me. She was sporting an off the shoulder mountain climbing number when she said through clenched teeth, "Shut up Julie. You're embarrassing yourself."

My reward was sitting in the death seat on the bus ride back to the hotel. We all took turns up front next to the fan, and everyone who sat there caught a terrible cold. Everyone that is, except my mom.

In Tel Aviv, I took a day off to go to the beach. There I met a tall, skinny young man who was quite chatty. At first I thought he was being friendly until he turned into a bit of a stalker. After he followed me to my hotel across the street, I politely sat with him by the pool. Then he asked me for a glass of water. I told him to get one at the bar, but he thought it would taste better in my room. I asked him if he thought all Americans were easy, and he said yes. Needless to say, I finally ditched him, and double bolted my door.

Another hotel had a beautiful jewelry store. The owner's son was very cute and flirty, so my mom kept nudging me to flirt back. The next day he called to ask me out. He was very busy, and could only meet at midnight. After I didn't accept his invitation, my mom was disappointed. She couldn't believe that I turned down a nice Jewish boy who was the son of a jeweler. What could possibly happen with a stranger in a foreign country at midnight when odds were good we could get a discount on jewelry cleaner?

Based on those experiences, I would've never dreamed of marrying an Israeli. Though after twenty six years of marriage, my husband would be the first to tell you his wife is a shining example that not all American women are easy.

Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Joke's On Me


Welcome to the April edition of the IWSG, Be sure to visit Alex J. Cavanaugh, and all of the other talented writers.

The IWSG and the blogging community have always held a special place in my heart, because the writers welcome all writing styles, and are always quick to laugh at each other and themselves. Unfortunately, the real world isn't always as understanding.

My first experience with disgruntled readers occurred in a most unlikely news story. I was writing about a talented sculptor and writer who penned his first book at 90. He was an entertaining interview who led an incredible life that filled at least two or three books. Then the conversation shifted when I asked him about his love life. He jokingly said, "I run around with a few crazy old women." I laughed, our photographer laughed and even his publicist laughed. Unfortunately, one of the "crazy old women" had a different reaction when she read about it.

The story made the front page, so it received a lot of coverage in our community. What started as a joke from a charming 90-year-old-man was seen as a vicious attack on his lady friend. Her daughter wrote letters saying how this man had ruined her reputation and her life. I decided to act upon receipt of the second letter.

I thought long and hard about my response. She assured me that her mother was a well-educated  pillar of the community that deserved to be treated with the utmost respect. The mother and daughter seemed to be more concerned about being labeled as "crazy" than the fact that there was at least one other woman in the picture. I couldn't say that the man was joking, because that would've only added insult to injury. I also couldn't try to reach the daughter by phone, because I doubted the dispute could be settled in one phone call.

The only logical step was to write a letter from one doting daughter to another. I thought about how protective I was of my mom and commended her for being such a wonderful daughter. Of course, if she only knew that my mom and I battled wits on my blog, she would've never forgiven me.

I tossed and turned all night wondering how the mother and daughter would react. Fortunately,
she sent an email the next morning saying that they appreciated my thoughtful response. They decided to stay clear of this narcissistic nonagenarian, and move on with their lives.

Little did they know the context of our conversation was that his lady friends enjoyed going to the opera and other events and he just wanted to have someone to spontaneously go out for dinner with now and then. I never had the opportunity to explain that in the article, as I was adhering to the word count, and had a difficult time paring down his life story. However, I never professionally wrote that anyone was "crazy" again, as it's no joking matter at any age.

Of course my mom didn't understand what the big deal was, because she loves being spontaneous as long as she has plenty of notice.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Mom's Powers of Persuasion

Welcome to the March edition of The Insecure Writer's Support Group. Be sure to visit Alex J. Cavanaugh and all of the talented writers who are always willing to offer their support.

Positivity, Confidence, Empathy, Active Listening, Conscientiousness, Willingness To Compromise, Comfort With Silence, Authenticity and Flexibility, are "9 Personality Traits of the Most Persuasive People," according to a Feb. 13 article in Inc. Magazine.

When it comes to my mom, we can definitely scratch Compromise and Flexibility off the list. Once when a neighbor in the nursing home dropped by, my mom wouldn't see her, because she didn't have an appointment.

While on the outside my perfectly coiffed mom looks almost docile at first glance, inside lurks the mind of a hunter out to tame even the wildest beast in the habitat. But in her case the habitat is comprised of a temperamental hairdresser, disagreeable tablemates, and over-worked nurse's aides.

My brother is constantly testing my mom's memory by asking her about current events and TV actors. If she stumbles on a name of a character from one of her favorite old movies, he immediately starts to panic. Sadly, he doesn't realize that she has more important things on her mind.

One night after dinner my mom called one of the nurse's aides over to her table. The only thing that I remembered about this woman was that she always looked like she'd rather be anywhere else. But on this particular night not only was this woman smiling, but when my mom asked her to sing, she sang a happy little tune for the whole table.

Later when we were back in the "privacy" of my mom's room: "What's wrong with you? They don't give you any privacy here. There aren't even locks on the doors."

"Mom, that's for your own protection. What if there's an emergency and they need to get into your room quickly?"

"Well, I don't care about that."

Meanwhile back at the ranch, I was dying to know my mom's secret for turning that crabby nurse's aide into a Stepford Wife.

She just looked at me innocently and explained that she had a little talk with her.

Last weekend my husband and I saw the movie Get Out, and the mother in the movie is able to hypnotize her daughter's boyfriend by stirring a spoon in a tea cup. I will no longer drink hot tea with my mom.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

For The Sake of Arguing


Welcome to the February edition of  The Insecure Writer's Support Group. Be sure to visit our host Alex J. Cavanaugh, as well as the other talented and supportive writers.
                                                     For The Sake of Arguing

The phone rang just as I was about to leave the house.
Mom: It's raining hard now, so you don't have to take me to physical therapy.
Me: But it was raining earlier.
Mom: Yes, but I'll just cancel my appointment. That way you won't get wet.
Me: You weren't worried about that before. I told you I don't mind. Besides, I made you lunch, and didn't you want to go shopping first?
Mom: Yes, but it's too much trouble going back and forth in the rain.
Me: It's not coming down as hard now, and don't you think you need the therapy to get stronger?
Mom: Well if it's not too much trouble.

Later that afternoon my mom told me that I really should be more patient.

This made me think about other ridiculous arguments I've had throughout the years. Shortly after I started driver's ed, my dad suggested that I drive to work. As I was pulling out of the driveway, my mom came home. She hopped in the back seat, while my dad sat by my side. All was calm, until I had to make a left turn without an arrow. My dad was telling me to be assertive and speed up before the light changed, while my mom was telling me to slow down. Instead, I got so nervous that I backed out of the intersection and waited for the next light. Needless to say, neither of my parents volunteered to take me driving again. 

The summer my younger son turned thirteen was during travel baseball season, so we decided to have a little celebration after the game. We ordered pizzas, and brought a cooler filled with soft drinks for the team. Earlier that evening I asked my husband to pick up a few bags of ice for the cooler at McDonald's. He asked me how much it would cost. I told him 99 cents a bag. Then he wanted to know how much other places in the area were charging to make sure that was the best price. I assured him that 99 cents was the best rate in the Chicagoland area, and that if he wanted to miss his son's birthday to scout for 97 cent bags of ice in Wisconsin, I'm sure he would understand. Of course, he still had to make some calls just in case there was a fire sale on ice at the end of July.  It took me a long time to thaw out from that whole experience.

After all these years, my mother still puts her foot on the imaginary passenger side brake whenever I make a left turn. As for my purchasing power, I'm in charge of finding the best deals on cars and the occasional travel destination, but I never go further than my freezer for ice.

*Note: This is a re-post from November 2011.