You Need a Light Touch:Hitting the High Notes with Thomas Edison

I’ve told you how I’m battling the winter blues trying to finish a book.  I’m hoping that a light bulb will go on in my head.

American Inventor Thomas Alva Edison in 1922

My grandfather New York composer Joseph Ferraro on his wedding day in NYC in 1925.  He was 29 years old. He lost the love of his life Ermelinda to brain cancer when she was 50.

Program from Carnegie Hall May 25, 1947. My grandfather’s Neapolitan Rhapsody, a 100-piece orchestral work, was played at Carnegie “Pops” Concert.

Some of my grandfather’s compositions for piano

My grandfather in NYC at his West 46th Street office in the 1930s. He was conductor and musical arranger in charge of live orchestra programming for WOR-WOV radio stations. This was the Golden Era of live classical music programming.

My grandfather in NYC at his West 46th Street office in the 1930s. He was conductor and musical arranger in charge of live orchestra programming for WOR-WOV radio stations. This was the Golden Era of live classical music programming.

Inventor Thomas Alva Edison in 1878

American inventor Thomas  Edison said:”Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Maybe I need to use more deodorant to finish my book.  My late grandfather Maestro Joseph Ferraro, a composer who in his early career was recruited from Italy to work as the First Viola player at the Metropolitan Opera, met Edison when the inventor made recordings of his music.  In the 1920s and 1930s when classical music was in it’s heyday, my grandfather’s music topped the American musical charts. As a child he took me to musical soirees with the opera stars and conductors he knew in New York City.  He would play the piano and tell me about the Golden Era of classical music. I think parents really need to encourage their children to listen to the stories grandparents have to tell. It’s such a link to the past.  My grandfather said Edison was a pleasant, lovely man who personally came to record him and did everything himself. Grandpa said he thanked Edison for giving the world light remembering how as a young man growing up at The Royal Conservatory of Naples, Italy he struggled to compose at night holding a candle close to his ink and paper. He told me how exciting it was the night he saw the city of Naples light up as the street lamps suddenly illuminated.  One night when my grandfather was performing at the Metropolitan Opera,  the manager stopped the performance and announced that Edison had died.  My grandfather said he was very touched when the manager shut off the chandeliers.   My grandfather said a hush fell over the audience as people sat in the dark, as if no one was even breathing. My grandfather quoting the manager said: “This is the darkness that Edison moved us away from.”  Ironically, this friend to the music community, would put most live orchestras out of business with his invention of the phonograph and records people  listened to at home. Progress has a price.

Perhaps it’s time for me to follow Edison’s advice and sweat out writing my book.  I’ve rewritten it dozens of times.  I would hope that I am nearing a conclusion  but “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.” I have no idea who the fat lady was or what she was singing.

Some people think she was singing “America the Beautiful” at a baseball game.  Others think she was an opera singer my grandfather might have coached.  I’m thinking  that she was singing the blues.

Brain Freeze:How to Battle the Winter Blues and Writer’s Block

As the holiday decorations come down, the winter doldrums set in.  If your mood is falling faster than the cold temperatures outside, an article written by  Brigitt Hauck for the monthly women’s magazine Real Simple has some good ideas to beat the winter blues. I actually hate “winter.”  My hands always rip open and crack in the cold.  I think the short days and lack of sunlight really get me down.  Just call me Debbie Downer.  It’s hard to do anything well when you’re feeling this way.  It’a a slow time.

I keep trying to finish a holiday book for children but just keep monkeying around.   There are a lot of well meaning people in my life who distract me, like my husband, who always wants me to watch a TV show or see a movie when I should be writing.  Right now he’s cupping his hand and calling up the steps saying, “Lady Gaga’s halftime Super Bowl show is starting and it’s great.” Who can resist.

With a husband, three kids, a broadcast career and now this blog, the book always winds up on the back-burner.  I’ve probably rewritten the story 500 times.   I talked about the frustration of  feeling like this unfinished work is a monkey on my back  over a steaming cup of coffee with an old friend this week at our favorite cozy cafe.

“Maybe you have it this time,” she said trying to be optimistic.

I’ve had so many false starts.  I know I don’t.  One thing as a writer I never do is lie to myself. I’ve very consciously put my family first as a mother, but I want this book to be the one thing I’ve done just for me.  I want it to be a mark I leave on the world.  Another friend who joined us who has a job as a manager encouraged me to set aside two morning a week to write.

“Just sit there until it’s done,” she said, “schedule it like you’re going to the office.”

Okay then.  Suuuure…that’s it.  As the pathological liar, created by comedian Jon Lovitz, on Saturday Night Live in the 1980s would say:


I’ll just sit at my desk and schedule the time to write two mornings a week. I’ll schedule in three hours for each session. I’ll listen to the birds outside the window, sharpen my pencil a few times and stare at a blank notebook.  Then I’ll  meet my friends for coffee to talk about how I can’t write the book.

Hidden Figures:Legendary Astronaut and Unsung Hero Mothers Rock Space Race

The new movie Hidden Figures follows the path of three unsung heroes who were part of one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) into orbit. The three mathematicians, all African-American mothers  — Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) — work at NASA in the early 1960s in Virginia when America was segregated.  It was a time when women and minorities had an uphill battle.  This powerfully enlightening movie is based on the true stories of all three mathematicians who faced discrimination at work.  These highly ambitious mothers also struggled to find a work-life balance.  Glenn, who later served as a U.S. Senator from Ohio, was the first American to orbit the earth.

In the movie, he is depicted as a witty, upbeat and incredibly nice guy who is able to look beyond the segregated society he lived in to show respect for the African-American women at NASA known as “human computers.” They calculated and verified the travel trajectories that took the first Americans to space. Before the launch of his Friendship 7 vessel, even after NASA began using new electronic computers, Glenn personally requested that one of the women recheck the calculations.  In the film Glenn says, “Let’s get the girl to check the numbers.” When asked, “Which one?” by a NASA manager Glenn says: “The smart one.” He’s referring to mathematician Katherine Johnson, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 at the age of 97.  A building is named for her at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia.

As a lowly student at Northwestern’s Medill graduate school of Journalism, I landed an internship as a Washington, D.C. correspondent for WTOL-TV in Toledo, Ohio, during my final semester in 1983. I worked out of the college’s Washington bureau.  It was my mission to get an interview with Senator Glenn.  Rumors were swirling that he would seek the Democratic nomination for President.  I couldn’t believe it when I got the thumbs-up.  I remember feeling as anxious as an astronaut during shuttle launch countdown sitting in his waiting room at the Capitol thinking how I would be “over the moon” if I got this interview on my resume tape.  But prior to liftoff, the mission was aborted. The students taped each other’s interviews and the two who were supposed to record this one got into a car accident and the camera was smashed to smithereens.  I can remember the horror I felt when they gave me the bad news.  To my shock,  Senator Glenn himself came out to comfort me.  He was worried about the students and wanted to make sure they were okay.  I remember him telling me that he couldn’t hold this against me saying, “You’ve done nothing wrong.” He rescheduled the interview for the very next day even though he was heavily booked.  In the interview, he confirmed that he was considering a run for President.  He was an American icon and owed me nothing.  Being cynical, one would say that he wanted the media attention for his constituents back home.  I don’t think he needed it.  Every major media outlet in the country wanted an interview.   I felt he simply wanted to give a young woman a break.   Only two students from my class had job offers before they graduated.  I was one of them.  Glenn failed in his 1984 bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination.  I watched later as he became the oldest man to fly in space as a crew member of the Discovery space shuttle at the age of 77.   He died this past December at the age of 95.  While many remember him for his groundbreaking space missions and work on Capitol Hill, I think of the “nice guy” who launched my resume reel into orbit.

Managing Marriage With a Meddling Mother-in-Law is no Slam Dunk

They come in all shapes and sizes.

But they share one thing in common.  A meddling mother-in-law thinks she rules the roost.  If you have an interfering hen-pecker she can be a nuisance.

My mother-in-law was a bit meddlesome. “Your  marriage will never last unless you learn to love basketball,” she’d say trying to explain the game and forcing me to watch it.  My husband is a basketball fanatic.  He was captain of  the number one ranked basketball team in his state his senior year in high school.  My husband loves to joke that when he took me to watch our first Duke basketball game together at the Meadowlands, rain was forecast and I asked if it was an indoor or outdoor game to know whether to bring an umbrella.   Sports was never my thing.  My family is very artsy.  I thought opposites attract. Managing marriage with a meddling mother-in-law is no slam dunk.  You just have to try and give it your best shot.

I was thinking of my mother-in-law today as I packed up the ornaments she left me.  From trying to teach me to cook Southern meals, to arm-twisting me to move down South, she was always a nudge.  She passed a decade ago, but when she was alive I found relief laughing at the TV sitcom Everyone Loves Raymond. In the show a daughter-in-law with my name “Debra”  was always trying to fend off the unwanted advice of her mother-in-law who lived next door.

Like the actress Doris Roberts  who plays comic Ray Romano’s mother Marie on the show,  my mother-in-law was well-meaning but intrusive.  The constant meddling got to a point where I decided I needed marriage counseling.  It was affecting my family.

I resented the fact that my husband never put his foot down.  Research shows that women who feel supported by their spouses in their in-law conflicts have better marriages.  I told the therapist that every time his mother crossed the line and pushed me to a  meltdown I feared I’d release more radioactive steam than the reactor at Chernobyl.  The therapist told me that I couldn’t change the people around me.  He said that I could only change how I reacted to them.   He had some sage advice. He said that “going nuclear” is never the way. “Don’t ever go to bed angry,” he told me, ” just stay up and argue until you win.”

Do Only Weenies Wear Turtlenecks?

“You have no style Mom,” my youngest remarked teasing as we stepped out of  an elevator in the mall, “only weenies where turtlenecks.” christmas-234105_640-3 I stopped and stared in the nearest mirror.  I was wearing an oversized gray sweater, bland, white cotton turtleneck, stretchy pants, and sneakers.   My hair was pulled back in a ponytail. No makeup.  As I studied myself in the mirror I said, “I’ve become a frumpy housewife.”

shopping-mall-1316787__340My attire was in stark contrast to the trim mannequins in the store windows.  They were decked out in skimpy dresses and pants that I probably only would have fit into in second grade.

My problem isn’t that I don’t know what to wear.  It’s that nothing fits.  I discussed this distressing situation with my son who is about to fly home for the holidays.  “Mom you started wearing stretchy pants in your 30s,” he told me.  “Whatever happened to jeans?” Jeans just don’t seem to fit me well with my middle-age belly bulge. “You gave up too early,” my son said, suggesting a vegetarian diet.

An older woman who overheard my daughter sassing me in the elevator tried to console me.  “It’s a phase she’ll outgrow,” the woman said thinking she was talking to a novice. People always assume that my youngest is my first and only child because I had her in my forties.   I actually don’t mind when my daughter pokes fun.  christmas-cookies-1042541_640Children are innocent and tell us the truth that no one else will except maybe our mothers.

I hate having to watch my weight. I’ve had to do it my entire adult life.   I find that I gain the most at the holidays.  I’m cold, cooped up, and temptation is everywhere.  Every Christmas cookie, piece of cake, or glass of wine has my name on it.  My husband certainly doesn’t help matters.  He has his own small business and clients always bring him sweets that he takes home. “Oh go ahead,” he says encouraging me to eat, “it’s the holidays.” Just for the record, he considers National Potato Chip Day, National Elephant Appreciation Day,  and Festivus holidays.

I also get very anxious at the Christmas holidays and I overeat.  biscuit-83807__340The stress comes from all of the errands and worry.  I fret over whether I’ve  sent enough cards, bought enough gifts, prepared enough meals.   I worry that even though my reverend tells us to pray for peace, parishioners are praying for presents. I worry that the Elf on the Shelf told Santa that I regifted the waffle iron my mother-in-law gave me. broken-216728_640I’m worried that when my mother-in-law visits she’ll ask for a waffle.

Mother Who Can Name All Nine Reindeer Prefers Sugar Plums Over Shopping

In a few short weeks Christmas 2016 will pass into holiday history leaving you with more bills to pay than there are days in December.  You might as well be a contestant on the old Shop ’til You Drop show.  The Christmas countdown is here.  Millions of  bargain-hungry shoppers jumped up from the Thanksgiving table to tackle each other in the stores rather than watch football players do it on the field.  The shoppers racking up more yards and touchdowns than the Steelers on fire in Indy.christmas-1100723_640

I look forward to shopping as much as I do bagging dog poop, having a drunk teenager barf in my car, or getting a Tetanus shot. I’ve decided that I won’t take the clickbait this year or wait in long lines at stores searching for gifts when I have no clue what anyone wants.  At least Santa has a list.  This whole holiday shopping is crazy. Who can deny that the frenzy was concocted by Madison Avenue. It’s all so a hard-drinking, chain-smoking ad man like Don Draper from the Mad Men show can afford a hotel room to cheat on his wife.

 

christmas-314377_640We are spoiling an entire generation of kids who think  life is over if they don’t find a Nerf N-Strike  Remote Control Drone Blaster under the tree.

We need to focus on family and holiday traditions.  Why doesn’t everyone carol in the neighborhood and sing  Fa-La-La-La,  or how about reading books to the kids?  My mom read me so many holiday stories that I can name all nine reindeer.  I have fond memories  listening to my mom read  The Night Before Christmas.  It speaks to the wonder of childhood with children “nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.”  In this magical story Santa’s strange fleet of reindeer are called:Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen.

christmas-eve-1846481_640 “I thought there were nine reindeer?” I asked my mom when she first read me the story.

“You mean poor Rudolph?” she said, “he came later.”

It was a copywriter named Robert May who worked for the Montgomery Ward department store in Chicago who came up with the idea of  Rudolph in 1939 for a Christmas book the store gave out. Leave it to an ad man to come up with a reindeer with a glowing nose so Santa can deliver toys even when it’s foggy.  Maybe May should have had Santa wear a London Fog trench coat.  I think it’s time I wrote a story about Santa growing weary of packing his sleigh.  He sets his reindeer free and hobbles along with a little knapsack filled with nothing but a few stocking stuffers.

So next time Don Draper saunters over to his bar and pours a Rye Whiskey as he works on his next holiday pitch, you can tell him to put a stock in it.

 

 

 

How to Throw a Sleepover Without Singing the Slumber Party Blues

 

Ever wonder why they call it a slumber party when no one gets any sleep? My daughter just talked me into having a slumber party with middle school girls.  The last time I threw one for her she was in elementary school.

We had too many girls – 14 to be exact.  The girls looked adorable when they first arrived all huddling together in fluffy PJ’s, with matching slippers.

After they got jacked up on soda, candy and cake, they started running amok,  jumping on beds and having pillow fights.

You might as well be watching a scene from the movie Where the Wild Things Are with the kids ready to let the rumpus begin!  One child was giving my daughter’s favorite American Girl doll a crewcut fit for a marine, and another was hiding in my linen closet  smearing more chocolate on my sheets than you’d find at Hersey Park, whining, “I’m starving, there’s NOTHING to EAT!”  She’s the redhead with pigtails who already left a snow cone melting on my den rug.

At 1am when the girls wouldn’t go down, I started cursing the inventor of the sleeping bag.  Then my husband yelled, “There’s a mouse in the house!” seeing a rodent scampering behind the tv cabinet, moving faster than Bo Jackson in his heyday making a 40-yard dash.

hamster-birthday-hatMy husband didn’t  realize that the girls let my daughter’s hamster out of the cage.  By that point, I was  actually thinking of calling  parents in the middle of the night.

Blogger Lori Lite of  Stress Free Kids  has some great tips for a birthday party. She tells me that her post Stress Free Birthday Party  was inspired by a middle school party.  She talks about the need to limit choices, manage technology, and set boundaries.  I obviously didn’t do this.  The girls at my daughter’s party spent hours arguing over  which Movies On Demand to rent  and kept sending messages to each other on cell phones. Lite suggests limiting movie choices with the birthday girl deciding ahead of  time and collecting cell phones at a certain time.birthday-947438_640

I would also advise you to avoid slumber parties before kids reach middle school age. The little kids are way too young for group overnights.  Have  the younger kids come to a  “pajama party” instead where they dress for bed and watch movies and eat pizza but leave by 9:30pm.  This way you won’t end up with more bags under your eyes than you’ll find in a box of Lipton Tea.

Girl Drama 101:How to Survive the Middle School Years

Our girls enter middle school playing with American Girl dolls, and leave flirting with boys.  Some even have boyfriends and are dating by the time they head to high school.  In middle school our girls are trying to grow up, but still have a lot of “kid” left in them.

It’s a lot of change in a short time. Raging hormones, painfully awkward social interactions, and academic pressure lead to stress.   The stress usually winds up dumped on our doorstep.  Between the ages of 10 and 13, tempers flare and conflicts with parents increase. So does the backbiting directed at other girls.  Any mother of a middle school girl would be lying if she didn’t tell you that this stage comes with  drama.  One moment they act like angels, and the next the fangs come out.  You may  need more wearwolf hunters than you’ll find on an episode of  Teen Wolf.

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When the cliques form in middle school, there is always one girl in the group who deserves an Oscar for Best Tween Drama Queen.

Some girls  thrive on the negative attention.  girls-914823_640They  gossip, betray confidences, and pit one friend against another to remain center stage.   You need to stop it while you can still mold them like a piece of clay, or they’ll be the type of toxic adults you avoid at high school reunions. The rapid physical and emotional changes can put almost any  middle school child on edge as they struggle to find their identity.  Are they a nerd, a jock, a goth?  They worry that they won’t fit in.  One minute they are deliriously happy, and the next miserable.

Any little thing can set them off and trigger back talk or a meltdown worse than any toddler you’ve seen.

Experts say that arguments with parents are normal as they separate  and assert independence. The key as a mother is to keep calm. Do not take the bait and resort to sarcasm,  name-call or fly off the handle and yell. I find yelling doesn’t work.  The “loudmouths” may have gotten high ratings on Morton Downey Jr.’s old “trash” TV show, but your child turns it around and asks, “Why do you yell?” If they yell, the best way to get them to stop is to tell them that they don’t want to sound that way.  You also need to pick your battles or kids will rebel if  you are too rigid.   Middle school meltdown triggers can include:

  • Not being able to find a hair tie
  • Their favorite pants are in the wash
  • They are forced to admit you are their mother publicly
  • You turned off their computer before they caught a Pokémon
  • Jimmy Kimmel has you tell them that you ate all of their Halloween candy and plan to eat their Christmas stocking stuffers too, down to the last peppermint pattie

A recent study found that having a child in middle school is the most stressful time in a mother’s life.  It’s just such a roller coaster.  But look at the bright side, at least they’re potty-trained and share their feelings.

Jennifer Aniston Pushes Back: She’s Not a “Sad, Childless Human”

Hollywood superstar Jennifer Aniston opens up about her life in the latest issue of Marie Claire.  In an intimate interview, the actress calls out the notion that a woman who doesn’t have kids should be pitied.

In the Marie Claire article in the December issue out on newsstands November 15, the 47-year-old actress says:

“I HAVE WORKED TOO HARD IN THIS LIFE AND THIS CAREER TO BE WHITTLED DOWN TO A SAD, CHILDLESS HUMAN.”

In the  interview, the former Friend’s star explains why she fought back against the harsh judgment women feel for not getting married or having children in her powerful Huffington Post op-ed she wrote in July. In that piece she said:

“The sheer amount of resources being spent right now by press trying to simply uncover whether or not I am pregnant (for the bajillionth time… but who’s counting) points to the perpetuation of this notion that women are somehow incomplete, unsuccessful, or unhappy if they’re not married with children.”

She now tells Marie Claire that she wants to change the critical lens through which we look at women.   You can get a sneak peak at the article here.

I feel there is also harsh judgement doled out on mothers.  When I worked in TV news, people who hardly knew me would come up in the supermarket and start shaming me about the long hours that I worked at a demanding  job away from my kids.  “Why did you have kids if you didn’t want to raise them?” one ballsy neighbor asked after word spread that I was late for my own daughter’s birthday party.  I was covering a political convention.

Interviewing former Lieutenant Governor of New York Betsy McCaughey at the Democratic State Convention in NYC, 1998. Seated next to McCaughey is RNN Talk Show Host Richard French. He and I provided live convention coverage together throughout this event.

Interviewing former Lieutenant Governor of New York Betsy McCaughey at the Democratic State Convention in NYC, 1998. Seated next to McCaughey is RNN Talk Show Host Richard French. He and I provided live convention coverage together throughout this event.

It didn’t matter that I had called my husband, who had left work early to back me up. The MOTHER wasn’t there.  “Liar, liar, pants on fire,” my daughter said when I arrived late quoting from the phrase kids use when they think someone is lying.  I had promised her that I would be there. I let her down. She ran into the house sobbing.  Having other people pile on only made it worse. “What kind of a mother are you?” said another woman lashing out.  Her daughter was a party guest and she had stayed to help my husband.   I felt  belittled. I felt condemned.  No one cared that I had just scooped the competition.

It’s sad that a beloved megastar like Aniston, who has brought so much joy to our lives, feels she’s been shamed too.

You have to wonder how many women feel this way who try to achieve.  In the Marie Claire interview,  Aniston candidly says her love life has been “shamed” throughout her career, including her 2005 divorce from Brad Pitt.  Aniston is now happily married to actor Justin Theroux.

Aniston is so right that we need to stop “picking” women apart. One size does not fit all, unless you are a teenager shopping at Brandy Melville.

Halloween and the Giant Skull Head Mushroom Monster Mash

This Halloween too much sugar and a graveyard bash with Dracula could be a pain in the neck at my house. What really irks me about Halloween is all of the sugar we let our kids eat.  Teachers give kids candy at school. helloween-1021366_640 They get it at Halloween parades and carnivals.  candy-corn-1726481_640 In our neighborhood, we even pre-game with parties where  kids load up on the candy and cupcakes  before they even start trick-or-treating.  I’m a dentist’s daughter and Dad always said nothing good comes of eating candy.

The tell-tale signs of too much candy consumption aren’t hard to miss. By now, you’ve probably all seen the anti gravity video for the song “Upside Down & Inside Out” by the rock band OK Go.  It was a single released on their fourth studio album, Hungry Ghosts.  You can watch it here.

This year Halloween falls on a school night.  I think that stinks too.pumpkin-958251_640 A lawmaker in  Connecticut tried to get Halloween moved to the last Saturday in October when it would be more convenient but people thought he would upset tradition.  dog-714861_640Many believe Halloween is rooted in a holiday started by the Celts.  I’m not talking about the Boston Celtics basketball team.  I’m referring to Celtic tribes 2,000 years ago in what is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France. They would  light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off the dead they believed  returned to earth on  Samhain,  a Pagan festival celebrated on October 31.  img_0970I’m beginning to wonder if they might have been on to something  thinking about the skull head mushroom that is haunting my backyard.

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Universal Studios, Hollywood, CA 2016.  Pictured are Frankenstein’s Monster, left, Dracula, my husband, and The Mummy.

It’s very creepy  and emerged from the ground  just in time for Halloween.   I’m beginning to fear that the skull will do the  “Monster Mash” on my lawn with other ghosts, ghouls and goblins.img_1097  My husband, who loves hanging out with monsters,  says he’s stocking up on  Killer Bloody Marys with a Skull garnish  for the graveyard bash.  He’s having trouble though figuring out how many guests to prepare for since there is no guest list.img_0995

His toast for all the uninvited guests will be:”Rest in pieces.”