More Lessons from Lilli Diamond: good for what ails you.

I hear my grandmother’s voice almost daily. And some days multiple times.

This day I am standing at the kitchen counter on a winter Sunday, just past noon. She is not yet two months gone.

I’m in my bathrobe, showered, after my ritual Sunday cardio-funk dance class. Dance class is usually good medicine. I usually feel happy with the first bar of music blasting from the speakers, the first stretch, the beginning of movement, and downright exultant by the last breathless bow. But not today. Today it didn’t work. I am a little depressed.

I am at the kitchen counter, and I have just sliced a mango into a white bowl with a tiny chip at its rim. When did I get these? Post-engagement, pre-marriage? Twenty-plus years? I used to remember details like these. I have cut open a pomegranate and sprinkled pomegranate seeds onto the mango. It is beautiful, orange and red. I pierce the fruit with a silver-plated fork embossed with an elaborate script H. H for Heisen, for Selma & Aaron, my husband’s grandparents. I rescued them from a hidden box of silver last week, rather than let them continue to sit, tarnished and untouched.

I take a bite of my fruit, and it is a sweetness like no sugar, no cookie, no cake any human could make. A ripe mango is proof of divinity, if nothing else. The pomegranate seeds burst with juice, and yet more sweetness. I give gratitude for this deliciousness. I congratulate myself for buying them, for not forgetting about them until they are brown, for not being too lazy this time to cut into the pomegranate and confront its greedy, intricate design, trying to keep its seeds prisoner.

And I think, how can anyone be depressed eating mango and pomegranate, on a sunny winter afternoon, while wearing a bathrobe? It can’t be sustained.

And then, like a reward, I hear my grandmother’s voice. As I slip my fork again and again into the chipped white bowl, putting bite after bite of sweetness into my mouth, my redheaded guardian extols the health benefits of my snack in her distinctive style: “Pomegranates have lots of antioxidants, they are SO GOOD FOR YOU!” It’s a voice that could be saying, “You just won tickets to Disneyland!” This is a celebration.

I exhale, and try to release the dregs of whatever has its teeth in me. It’s always the little things that bring me back. I wrap my soft robe tightly around me. I appreciate the counters I’ve decluttered and wiped clean, my transparent effort to bring similar order to my mind and soul, and I nod to myself, thinking, “Grandma, you are so right.”


Lessons from my Grandmother: You Have to Breathe

I walk through the neighborhood in what for me is an uncommon pose – earbuds in, sunglasses on, shunning the world. I’m listening to a meditation app I purchased months ago. I programmed it to remind me every morning to meditate, and I ignore it every day. I decide to try it again. I choose from its menu: Stress-reduction, Sleep, Gratitude, Happiness. I pick the last. Everyone can use some more happiness.

It’s sort of cheating to walk while meditating, I think, as the lady’s calm voice tells me to sit straight and close my eyes, but it’s what I’ve decided to do. The meditation lady can’t judge me; today’s 12 minutes of happiness are about self-love, and learning to stop self-criticizing and comparing. So there will be no judgment of my walking-while-meditating. Besides, I once heard that “walking meditation” is a thing, so I have cover.

It’s also likely cheating that I’m carrying letters to the mailbox, but multi-tasking makes me happier, so good for me. Still, my fingers can’t release and relax entirely until I drop those off. Once I release them, I concentrate more on my breath, and not getting hit by a car when I cross the street.

“Feel any physical discomforts in your body. And rather than wish them away, acknowledge them, be aware of them, send kindness to them. Breathe into them.”

I forget to breathe and instead consider that I’m generally happy enough, so maybe this meditation on “happiness” might be wasted. Maybe I should have picked a different category. Patience. Forgiveness.

But as I turn the corner past a gorgeous house, bigger and newer and for sure cleaner than mine, I realize that I have been judging myself, thus decreasing my happiness. I’ve been judging my frustration over my writing not flowing lately. The app lady isn’t saying “don’t feel frustrated,” I think she’s telling me not to judge myself for being frustrated, not to judge my writing being stuck. Embrace or accept the frustration. Let it be.

Hmm, I think I feel happier?

My grandmother had radiation treatments for a tumor in her jaw earlier this year. They were not easy, but the tumor was painful and keeping her from eating, so the treatment was necessary for her comfort. The treatments were twice a day.

Just getting out of her building, into and out of a car, and back again, twice in one day was a herculean task. Her attitude could have been, “Forget it, I surrender.” But instead she chose to face it: “If that’s what I have to do, that’s what I have to do.” I accompanied her a few times.

The waiting room of a radiation treatment clinic can remind you of what you have to be grateful for. As I sat waiting for my grandmother to be called, a 17-year-old boy in Nikes and a forty-something man in a black suit and kipah asked each other how radiation was going for each of them – it was the exhaustion they agreed was most difficult.

For Lilli, the most difficult part might have been going from seated in her wheelchair to lying on the metal platform. At home, she was often scared just to go from her wheelchair to the couch. Courage. Here, she  had to lie down on the cold, hard metal, no cushion, no pillow – no guardrails. They placed a hard plastic mask shaped to her face over her, and she had to stay motionless while the platform ascended closer, closer to the source of the radiation that would hopefully give her more time, with less pain. She was allowed to drape over her a small, soft, blanket knitted by Marni.

I had more than once been in dark movie theaters with Lilli, when she was the only person in the audience to scream out in fear when a slightly startling event took place. Stillness, quietness, in the face of fear was not her natural state.

The two radiation technicians treated her respectfully and tenderly. She was no doubt afraid. Of falling off. Of being zapped with radiation. Of cancer. Of dying. But she did not complain or cry. She did not ask “why me.” She did what had to be done.

They called me back in when the treatment ended.  The two technicians were helping her into the wheelchair.

“The key is meditating,” she said to all of us. “You have to breathe.”

She would be back later that day. The tumor would shrink enough to give her more comfort, more time. To give us all more time. And maybe a few more lessons in happiness.


Ballroom Dancing circa 2002


Laughing with all 7 great-grandchildren, Oct 2015.





We Always Root for Overtime

The car clock says 7am as I turn right on PCH, Aaron in the passenger seat next to me, on our way to school. We are tired from sleeplessness related to this unconscionable heat wave, and to Grandma Lilli dying. … Continue reading

An Upbeat Playlist for Stressful Times

We entered singing. My sister and I had ascended the stairs into the “great room” of Belmont Village to visit our grandmother, and the joint was jumping. Residents had gathered to hear the musical stylings of a guest singer. It was impossible to refrain, so why try? We opened our voices and danced over to her. (It is easy to spot her, the redhead, from behind, or really from any direction.)

When she saw us, she bestowed her perennial gift, a contagious, nearly-crying smile that says better than words can, “I’m so happy to see you.”

I needed that. Then the singer said, “Remember, music is the best medicine.” I needed that, too. This past Sunday, at dance class, the music, the dancing, the singing along. I need it. You know you need it, too. These are trying times. Play your music loud and often.

Without further ado, a (starter) playlist for stressful times. Play loud.  Play often. Dance. Sing. Repeat.

  1. Michael Jackson (just about anything, but let’s go with Wanna Be Starting Something
  2. And another Michael Jackson, Black or White
  3. American Authors, Best Day of My Life
  4. Marvin Gaye, How sweet it is (to be loved by you)
  5. Stevie Wonder, Signed, Sealed, Delivered.
  6. Kinky Boots, Raise You Up

(And, for a change, try a nice quiet 10-12 minutes with the Calm App gratitude meditation. Be grateful for your lungs, and legs, and all the other parts needed for dancing your stress away.)




How I Found My Hakuna Matata


Going on a safari was on my mother-in-law Joyce’s bucket list, not mine. Still, we gratefully accepted the invitation to accompany her. (We’re givers, I know.)

For a year we received e-mails from Joyce admonishing us what to do to prepare for the trip to Tanzania (not the least of which was practicing taking a shower with our mouths closed). Care packages of DEET and rain ponchos arrived at our house. I stored them in a drawer and hoped I wouldn’t forget where I’d put them many months later when it came time to pack.

The safari loomed in the future for so long. Now we have been and returned. It is over in time, but not gone.


When you don’t know what to expect in an experience, you allow room for surprises. Sure, I expected that I would enjoy seeing a place on our planet unique in its preservation of land and animals. I expected that I would ooh and aah over elephants and giraffes and lions and baboons. I did not expect, however, that the pace of our journey, slow and in the moment, would linger quite so long when I returned to “real life.” Call it the Hakuna Matata Effect; it lasts.

I’m not speaking of the red dust that still clings to my suitcase. I’m speaking of the less tangible residue, like the first Swahili words we learned as we rushed to get everyone and six suitcases into a jeep on our way to the Arusha airstrip for a propeller flight to the Serengeti. “Pole pole,” he said (poh-lay poh-lay). “Slowly, slowly.” We’ll get there. Just breathe. It takes the same amount of time to move calmly as it does to feel rushed and to rush others.

I’m speaking of the melodious sound of Swahili, embodied in this ear worm of a song taught to us by our very patient driver/guide Ellison (and which essentially translates to, “What’s up, dude? Everything’s cool; no worries in Tanzania.”):


I’m speaking of my continued longing for the sound of only birds and animals and wind, instead of the sounds that fill my habitat: houses striving for perfection with incessant remodels; hammers and power saws; lawnmowers and leaf blowers; fire engine sirens; airplanes droning; electronic devices buzzing and dinging.



Mostly, I’m speaking of the perspective gained by traveling outside of my culture, which all-too-quickly fades upon reentry. For a week I was not constantly connected to cable “news.” For a week I watched animals who knew nothing of North Korea or Russia or the United States, who cared nothing about SAT Prep classes or Bar Mitzvah caterers or glitchy WiFi at the office. I am not saying I wish I were Maasai, or that I would like my world to constrict to hunting and gathering. I am saying I needed the reminder that some of my concerns are cuckoo creations of my cultural bubble. They have no intrinsic universal value, and I can choose which to ascribe to, and which to let go.

I cling to the residue of Tanzania. For a week, I was with my family, away from the push/pulls that animate our lives at home. For a week we lived a starkly different pace — on the go at 6 am, eating breakfast and lunch in the quiet of the bush, in bed at dark, falling asleep to those sounds of nature. For a week our eyes set upon the unfamiliar beauty of flat-topped acacias and rocky outcroppings that shelter lion cubs. And for a week we spent 8-10 hours bumping around in a jeep looking for glimpses of animal action, and peeing outside when Ellison decided the threat of lion or leopard attack was low. Joyce said it was the trip of a lifetime, and that she will never do it again.

Me? I’m ready to plan my return.




P.S. Bonus video: Watch an elephant multi-task, and listen to our amazed commentary. And finally, the words to “Jambo buana” song, written out for us by Ellison.



Stronger Together: Four Generations Cast Their Votes With Her

I am sitting in the “Bistro” area at my grandmother’s assisted living home this morning. Picture a grand but casual hotel, a deluxe joint I have told her is like an ideal college dorm, with exercise classes, lectures, parties and movies, staffed by the type of kind, warm folks you’d want caring for your grandmother.

“Really? A college dorm?” she responds with a smile, this woman who hopped a bus to Hollywood at 18 and never attended college.

The Bistro is laid out with tables set for four, with a small kitchen offering light breakfast of fruit, toast, juice and coffee. Some residents are watching CNN. It is 9:00 a.m., and with nine hours to go before “tip-off” for tonight’s Presidential Debate, the pundits are already discussing the potential pitfalls and highlights of tonight’s clash. I am on edge. I turn away. So much rides on this.

The Bistro is awakening with activity, as men and women who have fought in wars, raised children, created industries (and ask for no credit), arrive for breakfast and tune into the debate coverage.

My grandmother sits next to me, a vision. Her auburn hair is set off perfectly by her light green jacket and pants, and her sharp wit reminds you that you can take the girl out of Brooklyn, but you can’t take Brooklyn out of the girl.

Two of her favorite friends, Addie and Arlene, join us for breakfast and conversation. Turns out the four of us have a lot in common. We talk about our children, our increasing memory loss, and our strong feelings about the election.

I pull out my laptop to show them a campaign website I had described to my grandmother last night, the one that lets Hillary Clinton volunteers reach out to voters across the country. It’s astounding how easy it is for people to get involved and to connect. I wanted to show my grandmother how far technology has come.

This is a milestone election for our country. It is also special for my family, but not only because we will have four generations voting for President for the first time. (That itself is cool, but mostly a testament to longevity). What’s truly noteworthy is that in this election, my grandmother, born before women could vote, will cast her first ever General Election Presidential ballot for a woman, while her great-granddaughter will cast her first General Election Presidential vote ever, and it will be for a woman. (And it’s not just “a woman.” It’s this indefatigable, qualified, hard-working, smart, tough, compassionate, imperfect-as-humans-are, brilliant, problem-solving, dedicated-to-service woman.)

It shouldn’t have taken so long for my grandmother to get here. But here we finally are, in a world in which my nieces and my sons, and their cousins and friends, can believe that anyone — any-qualified-one — man or woman, can and should follow their dreams, unlimited by the invisible weighty burden that “no one has ever done that before.”

Our table’s conversation turns to voter registration. One woman isn’t sure if she is registered here, or in her home state of Michigan. We do a quick Google search (after she asks me to “Google her”), and get her registered. Two ladies at an adjacent table come over to confirm they are registered;, and they are. My grandmother calls over the activities director and tells him we have to set up another voter registration day. He agrees. She gets things done.

I’ve sat here an hour longer than I expected, and if I could I would stay all day. The activities are just getting started. And with every minute, I’m feeling less anxious about our country’s future.



This is Marriage. This is 18. This is Life.

We had planned a quiet anniversary celebration, since the school board transformed what used to be a summer night into a school night a few years ago.

Our first anniversary was a trip with friends to Hawaii.

Our third was a walk to a park with our baby in a stroller.

Our fourth through seventeenth…well, who can recall the details? A few dinners, a few nights with sick children, a few vacations, a search through my mind’s records would likely reveal.

But our eighteenth anniversary will be remembered as the day we got our first puppies. Two.


Officially I have lost my mind.

After years of saying no, I felt ready for a dog. A single dog. We discussed this in May, decided to wait until the end of summer, when travels were done. And then today our friend brought over four puppies for us to choose from.


The cuteness was the problem. How to choose? Add to that so many voices– the friend giving them away, my mother-in-law, my sons, my nieces, even my husband — insisting that a single dog would be lonely without a companion.

I tried using the rational mind: “Most people we know with dogs have just one dog.” And “My mental health is more important than the dog’s mental health.” But the rational mind does not always win. Because, remember, the cuteness.

When it was time for the woman with the puppies to go, pressure was applied. But it didn’t take that much. And now we have two dogs.

And so an 18th anniversary becomes trip to the pet store for supplies. Becomes friends coming over to see the new puppies. Becomes nieces coming back and back again to cradle the pups. Becomes an uncle coming to visit. Becomes my sons trying out names and playing with them and cleaning up after them, and feeding them and getting pillows for their bedtime crate. Become my incredulous parents popping by to wish us a happy anniversary. Becomes an impromptu barbeque, and opening a bottle of champagne and Martinelli’s cider, which had been cooling in the refrigerator since last year.

If ever there is a time to uncork some celebration, this is it. This is 18 years of marriage. Kids. Family. Friends. Blessings abounding. And, now, dogs.

This is life: Full and overflowing, throwing some caution to the wind, saying yes.



Watching Olympics is more fun in a group.


Let’s hope this lasts all night…?





How Trump Inspired Me to Teach My Children

“Did you hear what Trump said about keeping Muslims out of America?” I asked my son the other morning before school. He was looking at the L.A. Times Sports section while I made breakfast. It was the week after the mass murder in San Bernardino, and we hadn’t talked about it. Maybe because I’d been too anxious about all of it, or too busy with getting life taken care of — kids to school, work done, make dinner, repeat.

“Well, they do sort of want to kill us,” he answered softly. His face said, “isn’t that a reasonable move?”

My stomach dropped as I questioned my bona fides as a parent: Had I allowed my child to become a xenophobe? Where had I failed?

Actually, I understand how a young teenager could feel this way. If you read headlines that “Islamic terrorists” are killing people around the world and down the freeway, it is not irrational to agree with the simplistic sentiment “we should stop letting them in until we get to the bottom of this.”

Folks are scared. So the plain notion — keep ’em out, lock the doors — makes sense, unless you read beyond headlines. Unless you are aware of history. Unless you remember America turning away Jewish refugees, and interning Japanese Americans. Unless you know context. And as his mother, that’s where I come in.

I confess, we haven’t talked much about terrorism. His world view is based on many things, but he doesn’t know what I believe, and he needs to know. He may not know that while terrorists claim to be “Islamic” they do not represent Islam. It is not top of mind that targeting any religious group – creating registries, shutting down places of worship, banning refugees – is 100% contrary to American values, and our Jewish values.

I am ashamed of my omission. I grew up in a home where we debated politics, where my parents taught us about initiatives or candidates they supported or opposed, and why. I thought I’d recreated that home just by being myself, but clearly I hadn’t. Or not enough.

How did that happen? It dawns on me that, unlike my parents, I shield my kids from many aspects of my life rather than incorporate them. Where my mom schlepped me with her to the market or dry cleaner or political rally, I go to the market — and call my Congressman — while my kids are in school. It’s easier for me. But the consequence is I am not transmitting my values. We miss opportunities to talk. And in these times, it is more important than ever to talk about what we believe, what kind of world we want to live in.

Back in the kitchen, my heart raced as I envisioned my son slipping into the darkness of Trump-ism because I hadn’t taught him better. I had one minute to set him straight before sending him off to school. I trotted out everything I could think of, not sure what might pierce his focus on the NFL match-ups for the weekend:

“Islam is not a violent religion. Most Muslims are peaceful.”

“Muslims are just like Jews and Christians. We’re cousins!”

“If a bad guy was a Jew, that wouldn’t make all Jews bad, would it?”

“Remember when we visited Manzanar, the internment camp? That’s what happens when we scapegoat an entire group of people, when we act based on fear.”

“Even Dick Cheney thinks Trump is off his rocker!”

He puts the paper away, ties his shoes, and I take a breath.

“Did you hear anything I said?”

“It’s okay, Mom. I understand.”

There is so much more to say. I want to tell him that the world is a safe place, despite the headlines, and that we do not have to live in fear, or act out of fear.

I need to work on my speech, but the conversation has started.

“Not Everything Is About Parenting…”

“Not everything is about parenting,” a wise man told me recently, kindly, with a smile. It got me thinking, why for me does everything always get back to parenting? Am I stunted? Do I have tunnel vision?

Maybe because I learn the most from the people who call me Mom, and I’m trying to live up to the responsibility of passing good values to them.

Of all my vocations — including part-time lawyer and writer — Mom is what matters most to me. I don’t spend nearly as much time thinking about how to win a case, or how to craft a plot, as I do trying to be the best mom I can be. (Emphasis on trying.)

When my son’s bike went missing from the front of his elementary school, instead of rifling off, “That stinks. We’ll get you a new one,” the parenting questions rocketed across the sky, whistling “there’s a teachable moment here!” as they flew by.

I had told him that in our little town, it was okay not to lock his bike. I had taken joy and pride from the feeling that I was giving him a childhood free from fear and violation. When he lamented “why did this happen?” I had choices of how to answer. Should I teach him to cast blame — say, “maybe it was one of the homeless people who live here now, or one of those high school students who walks past every day?” Should I shrug and say  “I don’t know” and quietly commiserate? Or should I say, “I’m not saying it’s okay to take something that belongs to someone else, but maybe someone needed it more than you do”? Would that cushion the blow, give him gratitude for knowing that he can have a new one with the snap of his fingers? I don’t know if I’m right, but I chose the last two.

And what about replacing his bike? I recall how I felt when my beloved red Radio Flyer tricycle was stolen from our driveway when I was three years old. I was fatalistic: “Well, my friend, we had a good time together, but now you’re gone. It was good while it lasted.”

When my grandfather immediately replaced it with an identical red Radio Flyer tricycle, I wasn’t purely overjoyed. I remember feeling surprised, even confused. “You mean, you get more than one tricycle in this life?!?!” A quick replacement was my family’s way of making things all better. And while I’m sure I enjoyed riding the new one, in some ways it cheapened the beauty of my love affair with my first tricycle. It was replaceable.

So of course, being me, I thought about this when considering whether, how quickly, in what manner, to replace my son’s bike. On the one hand, he shouldn’t be bike-less forever because I had told him it was okay not to lock his bike. He wasn’t careless with it. And he rides it to school every day. But I paused before replacing it too quickly, remembering that feeling that if everything is replaceable, they lose their meaning.

Ultimately, my son quickly graduated from feeling hurt to, “The silver lining is I get my first new bike! Can I have one that is neon green with blue stripes?” I scoured the landscape to get him exactly what he wanted, which, as family tradition would have it, was gifted by his grandparents. The look on his face — and the spit-take — were priceless.

Do I overthink things? Yes! But is it the worst thing to consider what lessons I’m imparting with my actions and words? While raising children can be overwrought and over-thunk in this day and age (especially by yours truly), taking time to pause, to consider my response, is how I consider what kind of person I want to be. I don’t have all my answers yet.

The truth is, I’m figuring the world out right along with my kids. So if parenting is the effort to consider what are my values, and what values do I wish to pass to the next generation, then perhaps everything should be about parenting. I think this wise man would agree.


Afterlife, Ashes…and a Kickline for Al Diamond

Today as I stepped out of the shower, my mind turned, in that untraceable-to-first-thought, how-did-I-get-here way that minds work, to the subject of cremation.

If I could tell you why I was thinking about this, I would. But let’s just start here.

Would I be cremated? I asked myself. There are a couple considerations. First, there’s the afterlife. I mean, what if there is a there there, and what if we really do need all our parts — what happens if I’m all dust and gone? I wouldn’t have a hand or a forehead to smack it against, no mouth to say “Doh! Mistake!” I wonder, would I be able to get a loaner? Could pick a different body type? Could I be taller?

But if, as I suspect, there’s no need for the body once we’ve expired, what reason is there not to return to the cosmos all dust and ash? The only other reason I came up with was so that whoever’s left behind has a place to visit.

In my family, that kind of visiting does not happen. It’s not our thing. But boy do we remember. I think about my late grandparents often. I think about them when my son’s expression reminds me of my dad’s dad; or a word my mom says sounds just like her mom; or when a terrible joke with no punchline reminds me of my mom’s dad; I think of them at every Bar Mitzvah, Shabbat and Torah study when Kaddish is said.

And I think of them at anniversaries. Today is the fifteenth anniversary of my grandfather’s death, his Yartzheit. I was lucky to have him as long as I did. And though I do not visit the cemetery where he was buried, he visits me quite often.

Like today. I went to a dance class, and the teacher chose a campy, Vaudevillian routine. I thought, my grandfather would love this. Under the music, I said to myself and him, “This is for you, Grandpa.”

Then, I decided to say it louder. So often I live in my mind, not sharing the good thoughts I am having about others, whether it is how much I admire them, or how they have inspired me, or how beautiful or kind they are. Lately I’ve been trying not to keep those thoughts so private. Besides, since I’d already invoked his presence, I thought it would be polite to let my fellow dancers know someone was watching. So I shared what had been silently percolating in my brain, “Today is fifteen years since my grandfather died, and he would have loved this number.”

“What was his name?” a friend generously asked.

“Al Diamond.”

“This one’s for Al,” she said.

The teacher cued the music, turned up the volume, and shouted “Sell it!” It was stunningly easy to feel him there as we danced and hammed it up, with a kick line to bring it home.

I don’t have any answers about an afterlife, whether spirits roam or visit us, whether we will be able to come back and visit once we’re gone – believe what you want, I say – but I do know that for those 8 bars of 8, he was there with me.