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Grandparents Day

nana beach copyIn honor of Grandparents Day today (Sept 8), I’ve decided to post my two chapters from the new anthology Grandmas & Grandkids. As many of you know, I’ve got a deep connection to all of my grandparents. My first book “What Papa Told Me” is about my maternal grandfather, and earlier this year I published a book called “A Father’s Advice,” which is a letter written by my paternal grandfather to my dad. So I was excited to have the opportunity to write about my grandmothers. I actually had three. A step-grandmother, who was every bit my grandmother, I featured in a blog years ago, so I was happy to write about my other two grandmothers. The chapters from the book are below.

Wishing a happy Grandparents Day to all the grandparents out there, and to all the grandkids who bring smiles to their grandparents’ faces.

1. NANA BEACH

My paternal grandmother lived in a 13-room house on Nantasket Beach, just south of Boston. Because of this, my cousins and I called her Nana Beach. Nana Beach was tall, slender, with long fingers that always had a cigarette tucked between two of them. Her nails were long too, and peach color, and matched her toes. Summer months she lived in a bathing suit and even at sixty, with a full head of white hair, she watched her “figure.”

Nana Beach made us popsicles in the shape of cones, which we’d lick on the wrap-around porch watching waves crash onto the shore. We swam in the ocean and searched for clamshells for Nana Beach to use as ashtrays. At dusk, hose in one hand, cigarette in another, Nana Beach rinsed us off, then, placing the cigarette between her lips and tilting her face away so the smoke wouldn’t get in our eyes, she’d wrap us in towels that said  Holiday Inn on them.

Days were spent sitting on the seashore listening to Nana Beach regale us with tales from “the day one.” Tales about growing up in the 1920s as the youngest of four daughters. She was born and raised in Boston and lived in the area until she and my grandfather hopped on the retired train to Florida. At one point she worked three jobs—salesgirl at Jordan Marsh, secretary to a police chief, and hot dog seller at night—to put her four children through college.

I was eight when my grandfather died. Nana Beach sold her house and spent summers with our family on Cape Cod. She taught me to play Rummy Q and we played for hours on the deck, flicking away gypsy moths that dropped onto our heads. During those summers I went to camp and missed Nana terribly. She encouraged me to write letters, which she kept in a white three-ring binder.

Nana Beach knit rugs for my dollhouse and crocheted dozens of yarmulkes for my bat mitzvah. Over the years she knit sweaters for me and in return I painted fish on her white slip-on sneakers, which she wore until the soles ran out and I’d paint another pair.

From college until my late thirties, I spent a week every winter with her in Florida. Mornings began with homemade waffles, then Rummy Q until her friends “The Girls” called, asking of our plans. At noon we’d head to the pool. I loved listening to Nana and the Girls give practical advice like using body aches to figure the weather. Afternoons we’d venture to a flea market where Nana taught me how to haggle and when to walk away.

After dinner we watched Jeopardy and Wheel-of-fortune, her “programs,” while Nana knit afghans or booties for the newest great-grandchild, me by her side, untangling yarn and rolling it into balls. Many evenings were spent rummaging through a closet, a treasure trove from every decade of her life filled with silver thimbles, yellowed greeting cards, and wire-rimmed eyeglasses that were my grandfather’s. But as much as she had (and she had a lot) everything had a home, either inside a box, a coffee can or a suitcase.

I learned from Nana Beach that every sock should have a mate, that Tupperware should be stored in stacks, and that “like things” fit better together. My home now reflects her same discipline of organization. It’s no surprise I became a professional organizer.

When Nana Beach moved into an assisted living facility, her entire collection of stuff was whittled into four drawers. On every visit, I arrived with a strawberry milkshake which she’d eagerly accept and as she sipped, I removed the contents of those drawers, mostly sweatpants and sweaters, and ask, “Still wear this, Nana?” She’d respond with a nod or a shake, her mouth occupied by the thirsty straw. Once done, I put the “like things” away, bagging the rest for donation. Then I sat on her bed and showed her copies of my latest publications, which she’d add to that same white binder. She’d ask who I was dating, what books I was reading and if I was happy. Whenever a nurse entered Nana Beach would say, “This is my granddaughter, she’s a writer, read this,” and shove the binder at them.

When Nana Beach died peacefully in her sleep at age 90, the family gathered to sit Shiva. In her honor we played Rummy Q. My aunt told me Nana’s belongings were downstairs and I followed her to the basement. On an old ping-pong table was a cardboard box the size of a toaster. Inside were pictures of her four children, 11 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren. There was a clown doll, an empty jewelry box, a purple sweatshirt, and a worn three-ring binder. I reached for the binder, lips quivering, and leafed through the plastic protective sheets, reading everything I had ever written, from my childhood letters to my opinion columns in a New York City newspaper.

“Nana was your biggest fan,” my aunt said.

I wasn’t surprised, not really. The feeling was mutual.

2. FELA

Fela was a mystery, a woman in the photos
Though there aren’t many
She is smiling in them
But something is missing
You can see it in her eyes
Emptiness, sadness
They don’t glow like a woman in love
Like a mother of three
In their absence are memories, haunts, fears
All I know of her is that she was my mother’s mother
My maternal grandmother
And her name
Fela
It means lucky, which she was
Kind of
Fela was once a singer
But never nana or grandma or granny
She never made it that far
She died two years before her first grandchild arrived
In truth, she died before that
Way before
She died over and over and over
In the ghetto, the camps, the March
They took her youth, her hope, and her voice
A voice like an angel
She had dreamed of becoming a singer
But that dream was taken, broken, shattered
She came to America for freedom
But could not forget the past
Could not shake the images, the guilt, the burden
She tried, she worked, she birthed
But the memories remained
She had therapy, shock treatments
Nothing worked
On a sunny spring day, she cleaned the house
Cooked supper and washed laundry
Then took out a rope
She tied one end to her son’s chin-up bar
The other end she placed around vocal chords that once sung sweetly
And stepped onto a chair
And looked around at her home
At pictures of her beautiful family
Perhaps she blew them a kiss
Perhaps she prayed
Perhaps she did none of that
Before stepping off
And away
To somewhere else
Five years later they gave her name away
Gave it to her granddaughter
Felice they called her, happy it means
Something Fela had once been
Long, long ago

My maternal grandmother, Fela, was born in 1924 in Lodz, Poland, the youngest of eleven children. At sixteen, the Nazis turned her hometown into a ghetto. Barricaded inside the walls of her once beautiful town, she watched her father die from starvation, saw her mother and siblings beaten and taken away. One day as she hid in a room with her oldest sister and the sister’s twin boys, toddlers, two Nazis stormed in. They grabbed Fela’s sister and dragged her away, leaving Fela with the boys who were crying for their mother. The sister screamed, “Take care of my boys! Promise nothing should happen to them!” In that melee, my grandmother promised.

The next day the Nazis returned. They wanted the boys. My grandmother, weak and emaciated, tried to stop the men, but she was no match. She was left feeling guilty for not saving them. But what could she have done?

The Nazis returned one more time. They took my grandmother to Auschwitz. There she learned the fate of her nephews, for in Auschwitz they tortured little kids, split them apart in tugs-of-war, tossed them into pits of fire, and smashed them against walls. My grandmother’s guilt grew, but she realized the only way to survive was to put that guilt in the back of her mind. And somehow she survived that hell and the Death March to Bergen Belsen and liberation. In the Displaced Persons camp she met my grandfather. As they recovered, they planned a life together. Once healthy, they married, had a little girl, my mother, and started a new life.

A few years later someone threw a rock and broke their window, glass shattering to the floor. They feared what had happened would happen again. They didn’t want to chance it and applied for visas to America.

In New York City they settled in Brooklyn and got jobs. Their hard work paid off and in time bought their own grocery store. Two more children would come, both boys. Years later, Fela would get a visitor, her oldest sister. The sister had survived, had gone to Paris. During that visit the sister asked, “Why didn’t you save my boys?” In that split second, the guilt my grandmother had stuck in the back of her mind came rushing back. Fela was never the same. The guilt, the memories, it was too much. Therapy didn’t help. Shock treatments didn’t work. Only one thing would stop the depression.

Exactly twenty years after surviving the Holocaust, my grandmother took her own life; it was her only way out. She left behind a husband, and three children ages eighteen, twelve and six. A few years later a little girl would be born, a third generation, and they would give her Fela’s name: Felice, which means happy. And this little girl would grow up happy thanks to a woman she would never meet, a woman who survived incredible odds, who herself was once happy.

Advice That Never Gets Old

BOOK COVER FINAL A Father's AdviceDiscarding sentimental is the toughest challenge when it comes to eliminating clutter. Key is asking: Are these items displayed in your home or in a box in your basement? If these items are in a box, how sentimental can they be? Cherished items should be seen and admired. Better yet, used.

My dad doesn’t have many sentimental items from his past. There is his navy pea coat, his lieutenant shoulder boards, and a letter from his father full of life advice written when my dad was a sophomore at Clark University.

I came upon this letter last year when helping my mom declutter family files. What initially caught my attention was my paternal grandfather’s elegant handwriting. No one writes anymore, let alone legibly. I read the four-page letter and was hooked at “Dear Rick.” Turns out his steady script matched his solid advice, but even more astounding is how relevant that advice remains.

“Impatience, in its way, is a virtue to goad the world forward and hopefully should be tempered with the wisdom of maturity and experience.”

“You want to be a psych major? Go ahead. A teaching career is good if you are so disposed in that direction.”

“If you feel really, but really bad, try these two foolish things…Sing out loud! Laugh out loud!”

“I have found it necessary to be flexible mentally. Believe and know there is a good and right answer to every problem…Turn these minus items into plus items…”

On finding this treasure, I had an idea. I typed up his words, added family photos, and created a book for my dad for Father’s Day. Everyone who has read it said they wished they had received such advice when entering adulthood. That’s when I decided to share his advice with everyone.

It’s not lost on me I’ve now published a book about each of my grandfathers. They were special men. My maternal grandfather Murray I knew well, but my paternal grandfather Manny, the author of the letter, died when I was eight. I wish I had known him better. Fortunately for me I got to receive good advice growing up from his son, the most important of which Manny gave in the opening line of his letter:

“Advice to give is so easy. But, it’s hard to give good advice.”

A Father’s Advice is now available as an ebook. Paperback coming soon!

Can’t Sleep? Grab A Pen and Paper.

to do list imageWhat do Ambien, counting sheep, and making to-do lists have in common? Turns out, they can all help you fall asleep faster.

A study at Baylor University asked two groups of volunteers to write out lists before going to bed. Group One was asked to write a to-do list of things they needed to do over the next few days, and Group Two was asked to write a list of tasks already completed. End result? Those in Group One who wrote out to-do lists fell asleep nine minutes faster; an effect similar to some sleeping aids.

I’ve been doing this for years. Who knew it was helping me fall asleep.

My day always ends with writing out my next day’s to-do list. Not only does this create an agenda for me to follow when I wake, but it frees my mind of trying to remember all the stuff I need to do. And there’s a lot of stuff. Work deadlines, food shopping, scheduling appointments, posting pictures of gloves—the list is endless and relentless, and unless I write it down it follows me to bed.

For many of us, a good night’s sleep is often a thing of our dreams. We may shut off our cell phones, turn on our sound machines, and climb into satiny sheets, but sleep remains out of reach. Which is where the pen and paper come in. Writing down tasks or thoughts bouncing around in our heads eliminates the worry of not forgetting, makes big issues seem minor and allows our brains to sign off for the day and fall asleep.

But those extra nine minutes of sleep isn’t the only benefit. The more well rested you are, the more productive you can be at tackling that to-do list. It’s a win-win.

Sweet Dreams.

Count on it

pointsYears ago I was a collector of stuff. Stamps, Smurfs, anything with fish on it. But now, as a well-known minimalist, my collecting days are over.

Kind of.

I’m now into collecting something that takes up no room and reaps huge benefits. From the moment I wake up until I rest my head back on the pillow, I am accruing, calculating and tallying—often without even being aware I’m doing it—points. Lots and lots of points.

It starts with my first step. Literally. Counted by my watch and watched over by my health insurance, every day that I reach 10,000 steps I receive one dollar towards an Amazon gift card. I also get points at my gym. Each revolution of my spinning legs at Flywheel gains me points, which are added up and can be redeemed for prizes. (Note: the prizes and gift cards aren’t my goal, but they do add motivation.)

I also get points for shopping online (eBates), drinking (Starbucks), traveling (Jetblue) and paying bills (Visa). And I’m not the only collector. How many people just started off the New Year counting calories? Or days since their last cigarette? Points have always been used as a way to gauge progress. School grades, social security credits, even canines are judged at dog shows.

Collecting points is improving my health and helping my savings, but best of all, points don’t require dusting or reorganizing. Now that’s something worth collecting.

Happy New You!

Unsubscribe for More Time

unsubscribeFor me, organizing is about one thing: having more time to do what you love to do. Which is why removing clutter from your surroundings is key. Spending time looking for what you need (car keys, wallet, passport) is time you could otherwise spend doing what you enjoy.

But it’s not just tangible stuff eating up our time.

I’ve spent countless (and precious) seconds each day “weeding out” and deleting my inbox of unwanted emails (a.k.a. electronic clutter). It’s easier to simply hit “delete” as I go scroll through my phone than it is to search for the word “unsubscribe” in the smallest font possible. Also, I reasoned, I didn’t want to miss out on a sale from (fill in the blank: The Gap, Starbucks, Target, etc.).

However, the same way saving pennies adds up, this also true with seconds. That time I was taking out of my day (after day, after day) deleting emails, added up significantly. And forget those moments I actually took the bait and clicked on an email.

“Oh, a sale a JCrew? Let me look for a second.” And off I would go, pulled from my work, to scour the pages of a website whose goods already filled my closet.

Not anymore.

Last week, instead of deleting each unwelcome email I began “unsubscribing.” After the fifteenth one, I decided to keep track. So far I have unsubscribed from 48. That’s 48 emails coming in on a regular basis, redirecting me from my regularly scheduled day, and derailing my productivity. But with just click, I’m taking back my time.

One of the reasons I haven’t written a blog in a while is because I’ve been busy working on my next book, which, I’m happy to say, is almost done. I wonder though, had I not been spending so much time deleting superfluous emails on a daily basis would I have completed the book by now? Hard to say for sure, though what I do know is I need to “unsubscribe” from that type of thinking.

On a Whim

 

on a whimTechnology has made these days unlike any we’ve experienced before. Almost anything we want we can have within seconds. Years ago (okay, decades) if there was a song you wanted to hear that you didn’t own on (take your pick) 8-track, record album, cassette, or CD, you had to turn on the (gasp!) radio and wait. But if it wasn’t a Top 40 or a classic tune you were out of luck. Nowadays, if you want to listen to a song, any song, you simply go to YouTube and in an instant, you can be humming along.

Ever hanker for that candy you ate as a kid? Red Hot Dollars? A Marathon candy bar? Well, after a quick visit to Amazon, a bag of that nostalgic sweetness can be delivered to your front step within days. I know. My dentist knows.

Or maybe you read a review of a book you want to read. No longer do you have to schlep over to your local bookstore or library. In less time than it takes to heat up a cup of chai to sip while reading, the book can be uploaded from Barnes & Noble or your library right to your tablet. It’s as simple as that.

Then there are our memories. It used to be when we’d get together with friends someone would ask, “What was the name of that movie where the soup bowls had hands come out?” And then someone would add, “Didn’t it have that actress in it from that new show with all those kids?” Then you and your friends would rattle your brains trying to remember the title until eventually someone shouted, “Beetlejuice!” and everyone would sigh a collective, “Oh, yeah.”

Today we don’t do that. When we can’t remember something we just hold up our phones and ask, “Google, what was that movie…?”

Will immediate gratification override the need for longing and thinking? Will our memories slowly be erased by this new technology or will it enhance our lives? Good questions that I’m not entirely sure of the answers too. Guess the only way to find out is to Google it.

 

 

Focus, Focus, Focus

distractionsFor a while I thought it was just me. Simple mistakes—a misspelled word in an email, a forgotten attachment, the wrong name on a document. Each time it happens I feel queasy. I’m always so meticulous, what’s going on? Turns out, I’m not alone. Not by a long shot. In the last few months I’ve noticed others’ simple errors.

  • Inverted numbers on a mailing address and the mail came back
  • Misspelled speaker’s name on a flier mailed out to hundreds of people
  • Forgetting an important conference call
  • Signing up for a spin class at the wrong studio
  • Putting the wrong year on an invoice (this from my accountant!)

The list goes on.

What’s with all the blunders? Are we trying to get stuff done rather than done right?Perhaps. Are we too busy? Maybe. Are we being rushed by others? Could be. Are we too distracted? Bingo. Many of us have lost our ability to focus, to sharpen our senses on what we’re working on because of the beeping sounds from cell phones, tablets, computers and telephones vying for our attention. And guess what, they’re winning. Turns out, keeping one eye on incoming emojis is not good, whether you’re sitting behind a wheel or behind a desk.

I was interviewed last week for Moneyish.com on how to be more productive at work. Removing distractions, like excess paper or items not useful to your job is a must. But so is shutting off notifications. Even for just thirty-minute intervals, you’ll be amazed how much more productive you can be, not to mention the fewer mistakes you’ll make. When writing I shut off all notifications because it’s hard enough to get my tush in the seat, I’m not going to waste the time when I’m in it.

Our plates are overflowing like someone piling on more than they can eat at a buffet. But in the end you can only eat one thing at a time. At least you should if you don’t want to be sick.

This New Year’s Cold Comfort

fridgeThere is a Japanese custom close to my heart. It’s called o-souji. It’s the process of cleaning and organizing your home and office during the last week of the year, while at the same time giving thanks to the previous one. For me, it’s less about organizing and more about starting the year with a clean slate. A workspace muddled and messy will only stand in your way of New Year’s resolutions.

fridge3With o-souji in mind, I’ve been tweaking areas of my parents’ home on Cape Cod this past week, however there was one area I wasn’t planning on attacking.

“Why is the ice cream soft?” My dad said removing it from the freezer. I reopened the freezer door and felt a container of soup. It was soup. We realized the fridge was on the fritz. What to do? We decided to put all the food in our backup fridge: the garage. Mom called Sears, Dad removed the contents, and I put “salvageables” into the 400-square-foot 9-degree Fahrenheit fridge.

fridge2Next I grabbed a roll of paper towels, some cleaner and got down on my knees and wiped up the puddle of purple liquid on the bottom of the freezer, a mixture of melted ice and frozen berries. O-souji? More like o-save-us.

Our menu plan is now simple: since the weather is predicted to remain around zero for the next straight week on Cape Cod, we’ve decided to either select our meals from the garage menu or eat out a lot in Japanese restaurants.

Whether you want to follow an ancient custom or just want a neat environment, one thing is for sure: when your living space is clean and orderly, your disposition has no choice but to be boosted, which is a great way to approach the new year.

Happy 2018!

 

Come Fly with Me

spinningAfter 15 years I recently said “Buh bye” to my gym. No more sweating on elliptical machines next to people scrolling through their Facebook posts on cellphones. There’s a new playground in town.

Flywheel Sports is, at heart, a spinning class, something I’ve been doing for years at my old gym, but this one has something else: competition.

What makes Flywheel unique is the TorqBoard, a large screen posted in class where you can measure your performance against others. Of course you can opt out of having your name listed, but for me that’s the whole point. Seeing “90SQFT” (my spin name) move up the TorqBoard is just what the doctor ordered.

I no longer wake up thinking “I have to workout today.” Instead I think something I haven’t thought in decades: Game Day. An hour before class I get that same tingly feeling in my stomach I got in high school before a big match. I can’t eat. I can’t sit still. I love every second of it. And when I enter the spin room, I look at my fellow riders, sizing up the competition like I’m about to challenge them to an actual race. But the 47 other spinners in class aren’t my adversaries, not really. The one real opponent is myself. Sure, I want to see my name in first place when class ends, but I’m striving to do better than I did in the previous class. Flywheel pushes me. It pushes me to work harder than I’ve ever done in my life. And I was captain of three varsity high school teams and briefly played two Division I college sports.

Thirty years later however, I’m digging deeper, finding that resolve, and pushing my legs to the limit. It’s now about believing I can still do it. I gotta say, sweating never felt so good.

Organizing 101

VSC group“He who can, does,” said George Bernard Shaw. “He who cannot, teaches.”  I beg to differ. Not only can I organize spaces, apparently I can teach how to do it too.

Last month I was a guest lecturer at New York University. Being the city’s unofficial spokesperson for small spaces, I was all too happy to give the 25 students, mostly retirees, tips on what and how to toss what you have a hard time parting with.

Recently, I also began teaching a virtual online class to seniors about organizing. I wasn’t sure this segment of the population would be interested. At this point in their lives, was getting rid of stuff even on their radar?

Turns out, it was. Smiling faces began popping up on my laptop and before I knew it, there were 37 students. A record I was told.

I started by discussing sentimental items (Check out MakeSpace’s great tips on what to do with these items) and this proved a popular topic. Participants had furniture, dishes, even tablecloths from relatives long gone that they couldn’t part with, even though they no longer wanted these items and needed the space. I helped them see that objects aren’t necessarily sentimental, it’s the memory behind them.

After class the Director of the program sent me comments from participants. Here are a few:

“The best class EVER since I have been a member. The adrenalin is coursing through my veins. I am so excited. This class WILL (not may) change my life for the better MORE THAN any other class you offer.”

“Best class yet! Took an overwhelming subject and made it less threatening. You hooked me.”

“She’s so supportive + nice, but still tells it ‘like it IS’. She can help me do something very important for myself in my own home, my llfe-long problem w/ papers. Organizing + discarding would make me more comfortable. Thank you for her great class!”

No matter our age, deep down we want to be happy and stuff proves time and time again that it can be a barrier to happiness. Conquer your stuff now so you can enjoy your golden years without clutter.

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