I was living somewhere called Hazerswoude-Rijndijk. No, I'm not making that up. It's a small, extremely quaint village in The Netherlands about five miles from Leiden, where my oldest daughter, Natasha, was born 23 years ago. In fact, her birthday was just two days ago, which made me reminisce about so many things, including how my sister scared the living daylights out of her when she was only three weeks old.
Now, you need to know that my sister doesn't "do" travel unless it's relatively short flights (six hours or less), so traveling from Houston to Amsterdam was a big deal for her. Of course, staying at The Amstel Hotel, one of the world's greatest hotels, made the "sacrifice" a bit more bearable. At the time, we weren't close, although we were always there for each other if needed. And I never had a single doubt, ever, that she'd be the most amazing aunt when the day came.
So, only weeks after Natasha was born, there she was at the door of our idyllic farmhouse along the Rijndijk River about 40 minutes, and countless miles of tulips fields, outside of Amsterdam. And how did she get acquainted with her niece? By gently tossing her up in the air, almost non-stop, for over six hours. Natasha was my first child, and as any first-time mom will tell you, we're overly cautious with the first one. So, how did I handle this? First, with horror, then when I saw she was being extremely careful and really not "tossing" her very much at all, although it just seemed like it, with some trepidation. (The fact she told me Natasha weighed far less than the weights she lifted daily might've helped.) But mostly, with appreciation as Natasha literally wouldn't stop crying, except for when her aunt gently "threw" her up in the air.
The following day Black invited Natasha and me to spend the day with her at the Amstel. She had arranged for what turned out to be one of the best days I'd ever have with her and Natasha – a private cruise along the Amstel River in a classic wooden Dutch boat, in and out of seemingly all of Amsterdam's beautiful canals, with a gourmet lunch prepared onboard. It was magical, memorable, and something only my sister would do. And Natasha, showing her first indication that she very much liked her aunt's "lifestyle", was a picture-perfect infant for the entire day. Well, almost, as the day didn't start well,
Black had left her room unlocked, and I walked into the most beautiful hotel suite I've ever seen, something out of a 1950s Fred Astaire movie. Natasha's blissful in her carry seat having slept quietly in the car, while I'm admiring the panoramic views of the Amstel River, lost in thought of how this is a perfect moment in time. Until my sister walks in from the bathroom, having just got out of a hot bath, and picks up Natasha. Who instantly starts to scream! But a scream I had never heard before – or since. A scream you'd expect if you saw an ax murderer coming toward you. And then I … laughed, uncontrollably. Because my sister had the biggest mascara "raccoon eyes" that I've ever seen in my life and was probably the scariest thing Natasha had ever seen in her (three weeks old) life.
‘Tis the season for joyous celebrations – of whatever holiday you may celebrate. And fond memories. Even though Red wasn’t born when this happened, it’s still one of her holiday favorites (yes, she initially thought Black must have been on the “naughty list”) and a reminder of what the holidays are truly all about.
BLACK: I do not know at what age my Christmas memories began, but I do remember being very young and in awe of a very large – and very well decorated – Christmas tree in our family room. I even remember peeking down the stairs late one evening and seeing my mother standing extremely close to Santa Claus. OK, you might not find that an unusual memory, except my family is Jewish.
Apparently, my parents thought it was easier to decorate and give gifts for both Chanukah and Christmas than to try and explain why religiously they only celebrated the "smaller" holiday, although I must have sensed that. (Children usually do.)
And, I remember exactly when I came to the realization that Santa was not real. I was five years old and in the hospital with pneumonia and in the middle of the night, a Santa came by giving out Christmas gifts. I must have sensed his presence because when he arrived at the foot of my bed, I sat up and immediately told him that I could not have any Christmas gifts. He questioned why not (maybe thinking I was going to state I had not been good all year, which probably would have been an accurate statement), and I told him it was because I was Jewish.
He leaned over my bed, pulled away his fake beard, and whispered in my ear, "It's ok – so am I." And, without his beard, I immediately recognized him as one of the doctors who had checked on me several times during my stay. We smiled at each other, knowing that we had a special bond, and he left me a gift.
Now, older and wiser, I have come to the conclusion … Santa does exist. You just have to believe …
For those of you who have followed us for years, you know what’s coming … a naked turkey story. Because as soon as Black wrote it, it became a Thanksgiving tradition.
Black typically doesn’t reminisce, so her memories of a perfect turkey that made for a perfect Thanksgiving (for her) have become the perfect way for us to wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving. May your day be filled with family and friends and create memories that will last a lifetime.
Today is Thanksgiving, and I cannot help but wonder why we are online. However, everyone has their own way of celebrating. I know that Red is in the kitchen cooking – and watching a marathon of "The Godfather" movies. Which is perfect as turkeys take such a long time to cook and patience is important when you want it perfectly browned. So inviting, so appetizing, so … naked?
Growing up, our house used to be where everyone congregated for the holidays. Not because my mother was a good cook, or even liked to entertain, but because my parents bought a house on Long Island while the rest of her family continued to live in apartments in Brooklyn and the Bronx. In other words, they had the most room.
Thanksgiving was always a house full of people and everyone always gathered in the kitchen, which made food preparation a challenge. Especially as everyone loved to nibble on ingredients during the process. For the most part, Mom was a good sport about it. But, the closer we got to the turkey being ready, the more food she would move into the dining room, hoping we would follow the food.
I remember one year when the turkey cooling on the counter looked like something from a magazine – it was perfectly browned. Normally, it was splotchy, although you never knew it once my father was done carving it. (Although an engineer, he had dreamed of being a surgeon and every year as I watched him carve the turkey, I would think he missed his true calling.) Anyway, my mother was so proud of this perfectly browned turkey that she would not let anyone near it, and was delaying the inevitable carving.
However, she made the mistake of taking the balance of the side dishes into the dining room and my father must have been helping as my cousin and I snuck back into the kitchen. In a matter of seconds, we had striped that turkey naked. Enjoying the crispy skin (ok, this was well before the days we were told it was "bad" for you) and laughing until my parents returned to see what was causing the commotion.
Mom was less than pleased, while Daddy tried to hide his amusement. My cousin ran to the safety of his parents, while I stood there defiantly asking if could have a wing. To this day, I cannot see a perfectly browned turkey without remembering that Thanksgiving. And, I venture to guess it has become a favorite memory of my Mom's, as well.
So today, at the risk of being warm and fuzzy (which is Red's area of responsibility),
I want to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving … filled with memories that will last a lifetime.
It was one of those mindless questions, “What was your favorite childhood book?” And although I couldn’t answer the question, it brought back wonderful memories of my favorite book while I was still living at home. Which recently turned into a new tradition … and maybe the highlight of my summer …
I can remember it as if it was yesterday – I’d be sitting up in bed late at night, reading (well, more like devouring) a biography of Winston Churchill by William Manchester. At almost 1,000 pages (and weighing in at over three pounds), you’d have thought it a college reading assignment, not something for pleasure.
Although more of a Tudor history fan, I found the biography of Churchill (a larger-than-life, literally and figuratively, character, but I won’t bore you with the details) difficult to put down. And it had my complete attention right up to the last word. But then, I felt disappointed. And a little cheated.Because not only was I going to miss my nightly “date” with Winston, but the book left off in 1932. Now, anyone who knows Winston Churchill knows he’s most famous for his extraordinary role in World War II (1939-1945). But then I was relieved to learn,
I had read the first book in what was a planned trilogy. I couldn’t wait for the second one to be released, and five years later, I devoured that book, too (it was a mere 750 pages), and couldn’t wait for the third and final book. But then the author died. And I thought, well, that’s it.
Fast forward decades later. When Black asked her question, I couldn’t remember the book title, which drove me crazy. Rather than go upstairs and find the books, I got online and discovered the most unexpected, but great, news …
William Manchester had started the third book and, knowing he was going to die before being able to complete it, asked author Paul Reid to finish it. Apparently, it was released in 2012, when I was in the midst of being a single mom with two young children and working on Red & Black, so no time for reading. I immediately ordered it, but I wasn’t prepared for what happened,
Even before “Defender of the Realm” arrived (this one’s over 1,000 pages), I decided this would be my summer project. I’d start over Memorial Day weekend with the goal of finishing by Labor Day. But once I curled up on the couch, after office hours and on weekends, often with a Dunkin’ iced coffee beside me, I was transported back almost forty years. Once again, I couldn’t put it down. But this time, I had a companion. As Moo, my beloved labradoodle, decided that she loved having this “quiet time” with me.
I finished the book shortly after July 4 and realized it would be far more than a wonderful summer memory. It was the beginning of a new “tradition” … making time to get back to being a bookworm. It reminded me of the importance of escaping and recharging my batteries. And spending time with Moo. And based on Moo’s excitement the minute I’d pick up the book, including immediately jumping on the couch to join me, I think it might have been the highlight of Moo’s summer too.