Phabulous Philly!

We have returned from our Phourth Phabulous Mama-Jonah Trip to Philadelphia! The first of these adventures (which I documented in a post called Philadelphia Freedom) happened back in July of 2011, when the little guy was four. We skipped the annual tradition last summer, when the three of us travelled to England for three weeks, but last Monday, off to one of our favorite cities went the lad and I.

phillyducktourjune2015Traveling with the little guy gets easier as he gets older, of course. He’s always been headstrong, and while that quality hasn’t diminished, he now, at eight years old, has far more rational reasons for wanting to do what he wants to do. This time we paid a visit to Battleship New Jersey, in which I had only a mild interest (and do still, even after having toured it). But that’s cool; I’m down with his enthusiasm for this kind of “boy thang,” despite not sharing it.

I went along cheerfully, hoping we didn’t have to endure any attempted campaign opps on the part of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, as it occurred to me that he could make an appearance for the Delaware River’s Tall Ships Festival. It didn’t happen, thank goodness and, in retrospect, I think Guv Christie’s too savvy to attempt a tour of this ship: there are far too many passageways that are so tight a human half Christie’s girth would risk getting stuck. Just as Winnie-the-Pooh found when he became lodged in Rabbit’s doorway, Christie would be forced to stay put until he lost some poundage and could be wrenched free. That’d play serious havoc with his Presidential campaign plans.

(Christie probably hates this ship—I can imagine him taking the name of the ship as a personal affront: “Battleship New Jersey?! I’m the fucking battleship in this state!”)

No Christie appearance meant even the rain didn’t dampen our spirits. We got a lot of walking in, loads of climbing up and down steep stairways; overall, it was a a wee workout with a somewhat interesting tour of a huge hunk of metal, and the boy was happy.

We mamas aim to please.

espAnother new experience on this trip (this one my idea) was a visit to the Eastern State Penitentiary, which claims the title of the world’s first “penitentiary,” designed expressly to encourage regret and reflection among its inmates. (The prison was originally conceived in the late 18th century but didn’t open until 1829.) The place has largely fallen to ruin, but it’s an excellent, sobering, thought-provoking museum. The recommended minimum age is 8 and that makes sense to me; I saw families with kids old enough to be disturbed, yet not old enough to make sense of it all. The little guy and I were both intrigued by the place; Jonah wondered afterwards if it is truly haunted and seemed to think it likely. (I’m on the fence about that one.)

citytavernEDITWe also loved our lunch at City Tavern (originally established in 1773 and called by John Adams “the most genteel tavern in America”). Okay, it’s not the original building, but the National Park Service rebuilt it in the 1970s to exacting specifications, the staff dresses in colonial garb, and the chef, Walter Staib, is a culinary historian and the host of the PBS program “A Taste of History.” The food was delicious, our waiter and the other staff were lovely, and the child loved his fish and chips as well as drinking his cider out of a metal goblet. Good times!

We did so much more that I can’t include here, and didn’t have a chance to get to many other things. We haven’t yet made it to the Barnes Foundation or the Rodin Museum, and I’d also like to visit the National Museum of American Jewish History and the African American Museum. Philadelphia has so much and just doesn’t get the credit for being a tourist destination, despite being named by the New York Times as third in its list of 52 destinations to visit in 2015. I guess the New Yorker I was standing behind in line to board our Amtrak train never saw that article. She visits Philadelphia every several months to get her hair done (“My sister turned me on to this great place, but I usually don’t see her when I come”) but attested that you can’t spend more than a few days in Philly because “you’d run out of things to do.” She was one of those charming people who is always right and, when you point out a mistake or inconsistency, changes the subject to the next thing they can be right about. To be honest, I’m torn between my desires to sing the praises of this gem of a city and to keep quiet about my enthusiasm. Because—shhhh, don’t tell anyone—you can still get a relative bargain on a hotel, making Philly an affordable, educational, fun vacation city for families.

Happy summer!

Photos, from top to bottom: Ride the Ducks Philadelphia; Eastern State Penitentary; City Tavern. (All photos by Aviva Luria, 2015)

Ruminations, Post-Mother’s Day

mamanoah mamaday 5-10-15As May dawns, I become vaguely aware that Mother’s Day is approaching, begin thinking about me for a change (ha ha!), and wonder about gifts I can bestow upon… myself. Expensive jewelry? An indulgent day at a spa, complete with massage, rose-scented oils, and exfoliation? A dozen (or more) red roses? As so many ads remind me, I deserve to “have it all”!

Self, you are worth it!

It then occurs to me that there are things more important than gifts of that ilk. It also occurs to me that I’d really rather see Wolf Hall on Broadway, but that’s neither here nor there. What is here and there is forgiveness. Kindness. Self-acceptance. Things I’ve been rather stingy with when it comes to myself.

So this Mama’s Day, I decided that the most valuable gift to myself was a shift in messaging. This was especially clear to me after taking part in our capoeira “batizado” on Saturday. My initial feeling about the batizado, where students are awarded new cords (or belts), was that I wasn’t ready and shouldn’t participate. I’m old, I’m out of shape, I need to train more, I told myself. I am not astute when it comes to the music side of things. There’s so, so much I need to learn and catch up on.

I then learned that our mestre (capoeira master) planned to present me with a cord and, even more important, that the teacher of the adult classes my husband and I attend, as well as the kids’ classes my son attends, was being awarded his “professor” cord. Africano has been such an incredible teacher to all of us and such an awesome human that I wanted to be there to support and cheer him on. So I decided to go.

papa jan 2015 croppedNext I learned that I wasn’t receiving the very first cord, as I’d assumed, but the third cord. This is still a beginner-level cord, mind you, but it was more advanced than I thought I deserved. So, being the dweeb I am, I sent our mestre a message, letting him know I was fine with a lower-level cord, and reassuring him that he shouldn’t feel he had to give the hub-sand and me the same cord. (My husband is in great shape and is much stronger than I. He is also my hero, but that is the subject for another post.) My mestre very politely told me that it wasn’t my decision.

The batizado was a three-day affair, with workshops on Thursday and Friday evenings and all day on Saturday, culminating with the cord presentation. I had planned to go on Friday but alas, menopausal me was faced with the surprise return of a friend who rarely visits these days. And despite my obvious animosity, she insisted on going to bed with me early Friday evening.

Saturday’s schedule began at 10 am. We had two intense, sweaty workshops back to back, a lunch break, a samba lesson, and then open rodas (games). This was followed by a series of performances (another break for most of us capoeira students). By the time the awarding of the cords began, it was 6 or 6:30 pm, and I was well beyond worn out. As I sat next to the hub-sand, I whispered in his ear, “My butt is so sweaty, it itches when I sit.”

So when I got in the roda to play for my cord, I felt like an ancient, three-hundred-pound wreck. It wasn’t until the next day, Mother’s Day, when a kind capoeista friend sent me a video of myself (which I didn’t realize he’d taken), that I realized I hadn’t entirely sucked. (View the video yourself below.)

mamas day flowers enhancedIt does seem that my messaging really needs to change. Perhaps it’s okay to occasionally tell myself, “You rock, Sistah!” Maybe it’s all right to once in a while let myself feel proud for returning to capoeira at age 50. (The hub-sand and I met studying capoeira in San Francisco in the early 1990s.) And it might just be forgivable not to be 100% perfect, to have room to grow, to have lots to learn.

Here’s something I really do like about myself: I don’t hesitate to say I don’t know something; I don’t shy away from things just because I’ll start out looking like a silly beginner. Here’s something I can improve on: I undervalue myself. Majorly.

I’ll bet lots of us moms are similar. It may be a day late, but you won’t be a dollar short if you take a bit of time and space to be kind to yourself, to be your own cheering section, to say, “Self, you are okay,” and think about all the good stuff you do and are. Try it and you may find, as I have, that there are many people around you who’ll join in, cheer you on, and show you the love.

Now you, too, can watch the video. (It is 50 seconds long.) Axé!


Photos, top to bottom: Mama and her bestie on Mother’s Day; Handsome hub-sand; Mama’s Day flowers from my mom!


“Naps” : A Poem for Mother’s Day

great sleeping kitty foto


Naps are amazing
I happen to know
Though my kid was just two when he quit them


noah nap 2013


Naps help you think.

Doctors say this is so
And it’s not a good thing to omit them



resting kitties


It’s almost like magic,
The power of naps.
They must have restorative charms.



But the most certain thing
About naps that I know:
They’re not really for kids. They’re for moms.

~ Aviva Luria


This Kickass Old Mom

A Stain is Vanquished

Today I am basking in my new (undoubtedly short-lived) status as Domestic Goddess. After spending the entirety of my Sunday cleaning and organizing—including going through all the little guy’s clothes and sorting it into stuff he can wear, stuff he’ll grow into (by season), stuff to put away for next winter, stuff to give to friends, and stuff to donate—I was monumentally exhausted. How, I asked myself, as I have so many times before, do moms with more than one child manage to get these things done? It might help, of course, if I were better at involving my child in these tasks, but merely getting him to try on a pair of pants to see if they fit requires patience, skill, and loads of coaxing.

laundryOne pair of his pants had been set aside some time ago after he managed to cover one of the legs with a perplexing amount of glue. Said glue was thick and plastic-y and clung to the fabric tenaciously; spray stain remover was wholly ineffective. The pants are from Gap Kids, where I rarely shop because of its priciness, and I wasn’t keen to relegate them to the rag pile. So this morning I searched for tips on removing glue from clothing.

An amalgam of online advice worked: I used a cheap serrated knife to scrape away as much glue as possible, figuring the teeth would help dig into and under the glue. I then stuck the offending pants leg in the bathroom sink and soaked it in warm water. The plan was to let it soak for 15 minutes or so and then apply rubbing alcohol, but I saw immediately that the glue was softening. So I grabbed my knife, scraped away, and—holy sheet!—the glue peeled right off. Los pantalones are now in the washer and soon will be ready, once again, for the child to destroy them.

Yeeha! It doesn’t take much for me to feel useful and effective.

Fuck Mindfulness

Chill, readers. I am all for awareness, when appropriate. It’s a good thing to, say, be mindful while eating in order to wholly enjoy your food, be thankful for it, and get the sense that you’re full before you eat six portions. My child, incidentally, has this appalling habit of drinking so much milk with his meal that he becomes uncomfortably full. He then groans miserably about it while others are still eating. Not a fun time. I’m trying to get across the idea of self-regulation, e.g., being aware as you’re becoming full so you don’t overeat (or overdrink) and end up with a horrible stomach ache.

stuffSo anyway, mindfulness is a good thing under many circumstances. When a friend is confiding in you, for instance, it’s nice to actually listen, rather than make a mental list of chores you need to do when you get home. When doing yoga, it’s recommended to put aside all the ills of the world that normally plague you and focus on your body and what you’re doing with it. You get my drift. Yet there are times when I’m actually grateful for the human ability to mentally transcend everyday experiences. Yesterday, for instance, during my frenzied cleaning/organizing spree, I completely emptied and cleaned the cat box, something I try to do semi-regularly. It occurred to me, while scraping cat shit from the bottom of the pan, how nice it was, this human ability to focus on things other than the task at hand. Sure, I could be mindful of the smells emanating from the levered-off poo, the particular grating sound the sifter makes against the smooth plastic of the kitty pan, but strangely enough, I didn’t want to. Call me crazy, but it was far more pleasant to contemplate other things, and my methods of self-distraction seemed to make the task go faster.

This is also why I put on music while cleaning. It takes my mind off sweeping up tracked litter, picking the nasties out of the kitchen drain filter, or scrubbing the toilet. I suppose I’d get higher and better Zen credentials if I were mindful of everything I did at each moment of every day, but by drawing a distinction between things to be conscious of and those from which I’d prefer to distract myself, I believe I’ve come closer to the true meaning of what it is to be human.

Admit it: This old mom seriously kicks ass.

How I (Don’t) Cope with Aging

One thing I hate with a passion is seeing myself on my laptop camera. Does anyone else have this issue? What is there about looking at yourself in a mirror that allows you to deceive yourself as to your wrinkly-ness and imperfections, while a laptop camera depicts you in all your aging glory?

Or is it just me?

Photo on 3-2-15 at 11.00 AMI’ve been fortunate in appearing younger than my age for much of my life. I like to tell the story (because it’s true) that when I started working at the University of California at Davis, at the age of 31, people took me for an undergraduate. Even other undergraduates did. But now, at 50, I’m thinking my age has maybe caught up with me, because much of the time, when I tell people I’m 50, they often just nod or carry on the conversation, rather than stopping and saying, “Fifty? Seriously? I thought you were [insert way lower number here]. You look great.” (Occasionally something like this does happen, but because of its infrequency, I figure the person is either very kind hearted or legally blind.)

Aging is tough, but being a woman and aging is tougher. Tougher than that is being a woman who was once pretty and aging. I count my lucky stars that I wasn’t super-model gorgeous—I’d probably be close to suicidal at this stage.

Years ago, when I was in graduate school, a friend suggested we make a promise to talk each other out of facelifts when we got older. I had no idea how to respond to that, so I said nothing, and I wonder now how much my expression revealed of my thoughts. She was from Southern California and her grandmother was a wealthy Beverly Hills lady who was on maybe her fourth marriage, had skin stretched as tight as Saran wrap over a bowl of leftover tuna salad, and likely had a tab at her plastic surgeon’s. I knew that no one was going to have to talk me out of a facelift because it wasn’t ever going to be on my agenda. It’s the sort of thing that’s simply outside my scope of possibilities, for a whole host of reasons.

Photo on 3-2-15 at 11.06 AM #3Before I clumsily segue into my next point, I want to make something clear: I am not someone who revels in schadenfreude over celebrity plastic surgery gone wrong. I’ve seen links to those articles when I’ve succumbed to click bait on Facebook and the accompanying (Photoshopped, distorted) photos make me cringe. I do admit, however, to being a bit disconcerted by Renée Zellweger’s transformation, and I found the online discussion of it to be revealing of attitudes toward women.

First off, I know there are differing takes on this (it’s kind of like #TheDress), but I’m adamant: Renée Zellweger now looks like an entirely different person. If I had run into Renée Zellweger before her surgery, I would have recognized her as Renée Zellweger. Now, she looks vaguely like someone I might have gone to high school with. When I wrote in response to a friend’s Facebook post that Ms. Zellweger looked like someone else, I was told (not by her, but by a Facebook friend of hers), “You wish you looked half as good!” Really, friend’s friend on Facebook? Do I know you? Um, maybe I do look half as good. Or maybe I look even worse: like a sea lamprey, even, and yet still don’t give a flying rat’s ass. Methinks you’re missing the point.

Photo on 3-2-15 at 11.06 AM #2But that’s just it, isn’t it? As a woman in our mind-numbing, beauty-obsessed culture, you can’t even say you’re sad that Renée Zellweger no longer looks like Renée Zellweger without being attacked on your own appearance. Because obviously, if you’re a little disturbed about movie stars going to such extremes to “fix” their looks that they end up looking vaguely like that girl you think you went to high school with, it’s because you’re jealous and bitter and your life sucks. And of course it sucks: you’re not drop-dead gorgeous.

Don’t forget that no matter what your age, if you’re not movie-star beautiful, it’s your own damn fault. After all, there’s liposuction, botox, plastic surgery, laser surgery, electrolysis, eyelash and eyebrow tinting, and shall I go on for another hour or so? Sure, these things cost money, lots of money, but we already know that if you don’t have money, that’s your own damn fault, too. After all, you’re worth it. So if you don’t go into extreme debt making yourself look as good as possible, aren’t you simply saying you’re not worth it? Talk about low self-esteem!

So what am I saying? Well, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t care at all about our appearance. But I do suspect that focusing too much time and energy on the superficial makes us pretty… well… superficial. So, once again, I guess balance is the key, as it seems to be to pretty much everything. I’m working on it and, in the meanwhile, trying my best not to turn on my laptop camera.

Photos taken on my laptop camera, sans makeup, with/without Thing Two, on 3.2.15.


Snow Envy

Having lived in Northern California for twelve pretty awesome years, I do understand the lure of living largely without snow and frigid temperatures. And I’ll admit that, during the time I lived there, when friends and family would suggest “going to the snow” as an ostensibly brilliant idea for an outing, I would nearly always decline. “I grew up around snow,” I’d say. “It’s not exotic for me. It’s not fun. It’s something to be avoided. No freakin’ thanks.”

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Yet now that I am older and sager, I realize how sadly I was in denial. How much, deep down, I missed the plummet-ing temps, the bitter wind brutalizing my skin, the nagging sting of toes in need of an extra layer of sock. The weight of a shovel piled high with snow and nowhere to put it because the piles surrounding you are so tall and so steep that your dump will merely slide down again, burying your boots and necessitating another useless haul. Your growing antipathy for that shovel: the sturdier and more reliable, the heavier.

It’s at times like these that my sister- and brother-in-law, who live in Northern California, delight in sharing tales about their wandering outside in t-shirts and shorts. But although they certainly seem to be bragging—even attempting provoke me, teasing out feelings of jealousy, of regret at ever having left that “golden state”—I see right through their sad little charade. I do. I hear the strain in their voices, the deeply buried but clearly discernible envy. It’s so obvious to me now that what they desire deep down is to be here on the east coast, wondering whether the latest dire weather report is accurate or ignore-able; whether a rush to the grocery store is really worth fighting all the other panicking people making their way there; whether your child’s school will be closed yet again and how you’re going to make that work; whether this time you’ll be snowed in for days and will the power go out?, will you set fire to your abode with a candle?, will you run out of food? Let’s be real: this is adventure. In this “information age,” which gives us the false sense that everything is know-able before it happens and that we have the power to control the uncontrollable, it’s exciting to wonder what’s coming around the corner… or whether your roof can withstand yet another massive snow dump.

IMG_0137Oh, sure—California gets earthquakes. Listen, in my twelve years of living there I only ever felt one. Admittedly, it was the 1989 Loma Prieta biggie, but despite what many east-coasters think, these things just don’t happen all the time. There were others during the time I lived there, sure, but they were relatively small and for one reason or another, I never actually felt them.

Anyway, the point isn’t that California is without environmental or natural issues (take, for instance, the drought it’s experiencing, one of the worst on record). The point is snow envy… and the fact that while most warm-climate dwellers may be unlikely to admit it, they most certainly have it.

Four season dwellers, we are rugged. We are freakin’ tough. We understand the back-breaking exhilaration of shoveling mounds of snow… and we get that it’s an incomparably awesome workout. We may gripe and whine throughout the long-ass winter, but let’s acknowledge that we also appreciate it, not only for its pristine, sparkling beauty, but for the undeniable and unparalleled appreciation it gives us for all the other seasons. We earn that beautiful weather, people, and that’s just one aspect of the awesomeness (and righteousness) of living somewhere with four real seasons.

So let’s not continue to buy into those tired old fantasies about escaping to warmer climes. Instead, it’s time to embrace and celebrate the sturdy stuff we’re made of. Working toward something—even if it’s an inevitable something like warm weather—makes it sweeter once it comes.

Photos: Top: Urban Snow © Jorgeantonio |; Bottom: New Haven Street @ Aviva Luria


Peace Out

You may have heard about an incident that occurred on the Yale University campus last weekend: After a robbery was reported in a dorm, a campus police officer pointed his gun at a student—who was on his way home from the library—and ordered him to the ground. If you’re unfamiliar with this story, I encourage you to read this column by Charles M. Blow in the New York Times. Mr. Blow happens to be the father of that student.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????If you’re a parent, surely you can relate to Mr. Blow’s distress. Imagine sending your kid to college—any college, but especially one that’s widely considered one of the world’s most prestigious—and discovering that he was not merely stopped by the police as he left the library, but ordered to the ground at gunpoint. What parent wouldn’t be outraged? Aren’t the campus police there to protect my child? How is this going to affect his feelings about the rest of his time there as a student? His feelings of belonging? His trust of campus authorities?

The response to Mr. Blow’s column is nearly as distressing as the fact that this happened in the first place. First, the public outrage, all revolving around this one sentence in Mr. Blow’s article:

In these moments, what you’ve done matters less than how you look.

Oh, yes, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Blow and his son, the young Mr. Blow, are African American.

Omigod! Is Charles Blow actually accusing the Yale Police Department—and thus Yale University—of racial profiling?

Cue the storm of indignation from those who defend police no matter what, tromping out old, moldy tropes on their heroism, the risks of their jobs, and the myriad justifications for holding undergraduates at gunpoint. Anyone who expresses concern is berated for “jumping to conclusions.” There are calls for restraint before “lynching” the African American officer who pulled his gun on the student.

Because this can’t possibly be racially motivated if the police officer is black. Um, right?

Sadly, the job of attacking Mr. Blow has not been left solely to the Fox News devotees: Yale officials have allowed their responses to devolve into an argument between themselves and the student’s father. This, from the message sent by Yale President Peter Salovey to the “Yale community,” would have been better left unsaid:

What happened on Cross Campus on Saturday is not a replay of what happened in Ferguson; Staten Island; Cleveland; or so many other places in our time and over time in the United States. The officer, who himself is African American, was responding to a specific description relayed by individuals who had reported a crime in progress.

It is not helpful—it does not ameliorate anger, hurt, and distress—to imply that, because the young man at the other end of that gun was not killed, and because the officer was not white, this cannot be a case of racial profiling, so please stop implying as such, Dad.

I call that a fail, Yale.

Perhaps worse—and less nuanced—was the assertion by Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway (who was otherwise sensitive and thoughtful in his public response) that (as told to the Yale Daily News) “Charles Blow’s statement that his son was ‘accosted’ was ‘deeply inaccurate.'”

This is odd coming from an academic, as the Merriam-Webster definition of “accost” is “to approach and speak to someone… in an angry, aggressive, or unwanted way.” If pointing a gun at an innocent student on his way home from the library is not angry, aggressive, and unwanted, then I confess I misunderstand the term just as egregiously as did Mr. Blow.

Here’s a reminder: Charles Blow is not the issue. Charles Blow called attention to the issue.

This is your deal, Yale. Let’s hope, for the sake of all your students, you leave the defensiveness behind and address this in a meaningful and effective way.

Photo © Nikitu |