We Are Your Neighbors.

I am Jewish.

People don’t often know that when they first meet me. I have blonde hair. My maiden name was changed a generation ago from something more “Jewish sounding,” and my married name, which is also Jewish, sounds Italian to many.

But my ancestry is just about 100% Eastern European Jewish. I had a bat mitzvah and a Jewish wedding, and my kids have been raised Jewish. I find comfort in my Jewishness – the matzo ball soup and potato pancakes, the loud family gatherings and the rituals we follow for birth, death and everything in between.

Because some people don’t necessarily “see me” as Jewish, I’ve been on the receiving end of comments that could be perceived as antisemitic. A co-worker once proudly told me they had “Jewed down” a vendor to a lower price, and I had to explain how offensive that was. 

I grew up in a town that was predominantly non-Jewish, and had few Jewish friends in college. When I started my first job after college at an advertising agency in New York, I sheepishly went to tell my boss that I’d need a day off for Rosh Hashanah, and she interrupted me by saying, “Jill, most of us are Jewish here. It’s totally fine.” Things changed for me after that. When I got married, we bought a house in a town that had a sizable Jewish population and a large temple in our neighborhood. 

We’ve been happy living here, raising our kids, and inviting our neighbors – Jewish and not – to celebrate holidays with us.

Recently, though, I feel a shift.

That large temple near us? For some time now, there’s been a near constant police presence outside. And in the last several weeks, they’ve erected cement posts around the perimeter. This literally means that the Jewish people in our neighborhood are so unsafe that it’s become necessary to build something to keep vehicles from trying to plow into us.

And in our town’s high school, they are now having students sign in and out to go to the bathroom, because they’ve recently  found multiple swastikas carved into the walls in the school bathrooms. Several months ago there was a swastika found on park playground equipment here.

I tried to explain to someone that a swastika – for me at least – evokes a visceral reaction. It’s representative of people who wanted Jews to die. I also understand that for some, it’s just a shape. I know this may be an unpopular opinion. I’m not asking anyone to feel a certain way about swastikas – or for that matter, flags, mascots, numbers or letters that are offensive to different groups of people. I’m asking you to look beyond yourself and understand that what’s okay to you might be deeply upsetting to someone else (and vice versa), and none of us are overreacting. 

Neighbors, friends, parents – I implore you to have these conversations with your children and each other. We are your neighbors. Our kids play sports together, sing in the choir, work on school projects at each other’s homes. Please make them understand that what is “just a symbol” to them can be representative of so much more to someone else. 

And let’s talk about it. Have a question? Ask us. After all, we are your neighbors.


The Five Stages of Coronavirus Quarantine.


Unless you’re good at estimating your potential toilet paper usage over the course of a quarantine of yet-to-be-determined length, you probably don’t have enough. Or you have too much. I don’t think anyone is in the in-between group.

The last time we picked up takeout, our 14-year-old grabbed about 10 packets of soy sauce. Why? “We might need them.” If anyone needs soy sauce, I’ve got you covered.

And for some reason, now that hoarding tendencies have subsided a bit and people are accepting this as their new normal, our local supermarkets have most things available now. Except for chicken. I’m still seeking an explanation.


Is it hot in here? Or cold? What was that cough?


I’ve been grocery shopping for myself and my family for more than 20 years. Yesterday was the first time I’d ever washed a banana.


Really??! Someone posted this morning in a mom’s Facebook group that she needs a photographer to capture her one-year-old’s “smash cake” session? That’s a frivolous request under the BEST circumstances.


Well, we’re probably in this for the long haul, so it’s time to get creative. We’ve been playing board games, cooking and going for walks with our two teenage sons. Under “normal” circumstances, this isn’t something that would likely be happening with any regularity. We’re taking our social distancing seriously, and I’ll take whatever good I can find in this situation.

Stay safe. Be well. Wash your hands.

parenting, Uncategorized

The Coronavirus Diaries: Part I

Welp. Coronavirus is officially a pandemic.

The university where I teach has moved to online classes for the remainder of the semester. My son, who goes to college in Virginia, is home for what’s now an extended spring break, and will resume classes online until at least early April.

The high school where my younger son is a freshman has closed “indefinitely” after today, which means once he gets home this afternoon, I’m guessing he won’t be putting pants back on for a while. I’m actually most worried about him, because he was already complaining yesterday that there are no sports on TV. And it was just the first of what I can only predict will be many days of college and pro sports being suspended.

And I’ve discovered that I have what some might call a hoarding tendency. My pantry is full and I’ve created an overflow area in a basement closet. I’ve bought toilet paper three times in the last week. And for some reason I came home with three tubes of toothpaste on Wednesday. I even went to the liquor store, because even though I’m not exactly a big drinker, I think the chances of becoming one will increase the longer this goes on.

I sent my husband to buy some of the cold medicine you have to show your driver’s license for. When he texted me from CVS to ask what size box to get, I told him the biggest. If we do get sick, we’re prepared. If we don’t get sick but we do get bored, we can potentially open a meth lab.

Stay tuned. Wash your hands.



We’re fighting about this?!

My husband Dave and I recently got into a pretty serious argument about our “Tupperware drawer.” Before you reach out to offer those big endorsement bucks, Tupperware, I should disclose that this drawer is filled with reusable takeout containers and lids, as well as a variety of other brands of plastic containers. But alas, no actual Tupperware.

We’ve had this same argument countless times over the course of our 20-year marriage. I have many wonderful qualities, but keeping this drawer looking neat just isn’t one of them. I can always find what I’m looking for, so it’s not a big deal to me. Dave, apparently, feels differently.


I should also note that Dave and I are both sensitive people who feel things deeply. And that includes our opinions on the Tupperware drawer, so when we argue about its (dis)organization, there may or may not be raised voices and swearing.

I was thinking about this a few weeks after our most recent “discussion” about the drawer. And I have no idea why, after 20 years, I never realized the complete ridiculousness of the majority of things we (and most married couples, I’m guessing) fight about.

This is the man I chose to spend my life with. We own a home and have two children together. Our names are on the same credit cards and checking accounts. I’m the one who drove Dave to the hospital after the Great Slip ‘N Slide Accident of ’07 (more on that another time). Dave saw my 8th grade class photo and chose to marry me anyway.

And THIS is what we choose to take issue with? How the plastic containers are (un)organized in a drawer?

I also came to the realization that there are things that other people do, I take issue with those things, and never say a word about them. I tried to use a coupon in the supermarket this morning, and when it wouldn’t scan, I stood there as minutes of my life went by, and the cashier literally stared at the coupon, trying to figure out what to do with it. Did I yell at HER? Of course not; I thanked her.

I once had a co-worker try to change a flat tire on my car in the parking lot. In the process, he stripped the screws on my spare tire, rendering it completely useless and necessitating a flat bed tow truck. Again, I said my thank-yous and didn’t call him any names.

But again, marry me and criticize how some plastic is arranged in a drawer? All bets are off, my friend.




Why I wear the shirt.

I am a grown woman who never played on a basketball team. I didn’t know much about basketball until my mid-20s, when I met my basketball-loving husband (in defense of my parents, I was not sports-deprived; I grew up watching football and … yawn … baseball). By now, I know how to shoot a basketball properly. But I still don’t do it well.


So, at this stage in my life, why did I recently spend money on a basketball tournament t-shirt (long-sleeved, oversized and super comfy, by the way), which has become my favorite thing to wear?

Obviously, I didn’t play in this tournament. It was not held in our town. I didn’t organize the tournament, nor did I volunteer to work at it. It wasn’t a big, well-known tournament in another state. I just went to watch my son’s team play. And while they did win some of their games, they didn’t win the tournament. My son was not the MVP, nor did he score a newsworthy number of points.

He just played.

And it was amazing.

You see, this was the first time Michael has been able to play in a tournament. He’s been on teams that have played before, but he’s always had to sit on the bench because of injuries resulting from a condition he has that causes hypermobile joints. But this year, Michael played. He got better. He scored his first tournament points. He was cheered on by his coach. He turned the ball over to the other team. He was yelled at by his coach. They won some, and they lost some. He celebrated with his team.

So this is why I wear the shirt from this tournament. To celebrate the kids who “just play.” The kids who persevere after injuries. The kids who play through everyday pain. The kids who didn’t make the team but continue playing anyway.

And for the parents, like us, who are happy to watch our kids “just play.”




Lessons from midlife.

I’ll be turning 50 soon. Looking back, I’ve learned a lot of things. Sadly, some things, like how to do long division, or a cartwheel on a balance beam, I’ve forgotten. Others, I know I’ve learned, but can’t for the life of me explain to someone else — like how to parallel park a car or successfully clean dog poop off a toddler.

That said, in almost 50 years, I’ve learned a lot of important things that I think I should share:


Some things are almost always worth investing your time in — studying for final exams, washing a new red shirt separately, flossing. Others, not so much: watching “very special episodes” of Disney Channel tween sitcoms, or standing in a long Black Friday line at Old Navy to save what’s probably $1.50 on a pair of khakis that you’ll spill something on by mid-January.

There are certain things worth splurging on. Eyeliner, ground cinnamon, toilet paper. And others you shouldn’t bother spending a lot of money on —  birthday cards, dish towels, kids’ dress shoes. Just trust me on these; I’ve done the research for you.

Eating gross things is probably not going to hurt you. The best example is the boy I knew growing up who regularly ate red crayons in kindergarten. We’ve lost touch, but last I heard, he was a professor at an Ivy League university.  I’ve also seen people eat dog food, lip balm and White Castle. They all survived.

You will probably never forget really embarrassing things. During college, I was once at a fraternity party talking to a cute guy. I don’t remember his name or what he looked like, which of my friends I was with, or what fraternity it was. What I do remember vividly is the sight of the piece of gum I was chewing flying out of my mouth and across the room mid-sentence. In my memory, the gum moved in slow motion, and the unnamed cute guy and I both watched it sail across the room and land on the floor. I don’t remember what happened after that, but suffice it to say I’m married now, and it’s not to that cute guy from the fraternity.

You’ll probably have a few regrets, but try and learn from them. I once stress ate almost a whole of a box of Honey Bunches of Oats in one sitting. Then I threw up. And many years ago, I hastily opened a bag of M&Ms for a party. You need to be careful with those things; the bag pretty much exploded all over the kitchen. It was when I was in high school, but I wouldn’t be surprised if my parents had found an orange M&M behind their refrigerator in the last few weeks.

And then there are a few pointers that I just can’t categorize:

  • A child under the age of one can’t properly digest a large amount of watermelon.
  • When dishwasher directions tell you not to use dish soap, they’re not kidding.
  • No matter how old you are, if the ice cream falls out of your cone onto the boardwalk, you’re going to want to cry.
  • Just because the dollar store sells steak doesn’t mean you should buy it. This is just common sense, not personal experience.

You’re welcome.







Update — 50 for 50.

A few months ago, I posted here about a project I planned to undertake — performing 50 acts of kindness in honor of my upcoming 50th birthday.

While I’m happy to report that I’m almost halfway to my goal (21 “acts” completed since October), I’m also happy to talk about the unexpected direction this project has taken me in.

I wrote about my first two acts of kindness – random placements of Post-it notes with cheerful messages, and an artificial rock with a message of peace left at the head of a hiking path. And then most of my acts of kindness turned more personal. Gestures for friends who could use something to smile about. Donations of time, money and goods to organizations close to my heart.

Writing about these less-than-random acts seemed self-serving. These were things I’d probably be doing anyway, and every time I sat to write about one of these acts, it felt as if telling people would take something away from it.

This got me thinking about people I’ve encountered in life who do feel the need to announce their acts of kindness. And how sometimes, these people live their everyday lives in a way that contradicts the good things they do while people are watching. I’m talking about the people who make large financial donations that are acknowledged publicly, while treating a grocery store clerk or restaurant host poorly. The people who post photos of their charity work on social media, and then park illegally in a handicapped spot or demean the staff at their child’s school.

I was thinking about this enough that I decided to meet with the rabbi at our temple to talk it over. He had recently announced a plan to get together with individual congregants to get to know them on a more personal level. I figured that taking him up on the offer might be a also be a good way to talk through this issue I was trying to reconcile with someone who had a different perspective and a strong moral compass.

The rabbi and I sat for an hour and talked about lots of things, including my project and the dilemma I was having about writing about my own acts of kindness, in light of things I’d seen and didn’t like.

He responded in a way that I didn’t expect, and that has shifted my perspective. The unfortunate truth is that there will always be people like this, and it’s likely that nothing you do is going to change that. But rather than focusing your attention and energy on these people, instead appreciate the people whose work aligns with their values and the way they live their everyday lives. And more importantly, let them know that you’ve noticed and that you appreciate it.

So I’ve been trying to doing that. Thanking the people who are kind to others when they think nobody is looking. Letting people know that I appreciate that they live in a way that doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not.

The best part of this is that by taking the rabbi’s advice, I’ve been noticing the good people more, and the others don’t bother me nearly as much. So, my plan is to continue quietly doing these “acts of kindness,” and less quietly letting others know how much I appreciate theirs.







Voted off the island.

My husband Dave has likened corporate America to the reality show Survivor. You’re in it until for whatever reason you’re not anymore, and then you hand Jeff Probst your torch and go home without the million dollars.

Dave was just voted off the island.

After 12 years at the same company, this one hurts. And I’m sharing not because we are looking for your pity. Because that’s the last thing we’re looking for. I CAN tell you, though, what you can do for us, or someone else who has lost their job:


  1. Please just listen. This is a hard thing for a family to go through. I want to talk about how this wasn’t Dave’s fault; he was just a pawn in a budget cut. And depending on what’s on Dave’s mind, there are a million different things he might want to vent about or talk through.
  2. While it might sound like an empty platitude, you can tell is it’s all going to be okay. We know it will, but I think it helps to keep hearing it.
  3. Feel free to make jokes. I think our sense of humor will help us get through this. Once our son Michael adjusted to the news, he asked what was for dinner the night Dave found out he was losing his job. Michael quickly stopped himself and said, “Oh, right, we’re poor. We’re having scraps from when we were rich.” We all need to keep laughing.
  4. If you know someone you think might be a good contact for someone in a job search, please tell us. Even if you think it could lead to a dead end, share it anyway. You never know.
  5. Don’t assume that we are embarrassed or ashamed. We’ve been explaining to our kids that this happens to people every day, because it does. There’s no reason for us to keep this to ourselves.
  6. Understand that this is kind of scary for us. Dave has been the primary wage earner for our family for almost 15 years. Yes, I work, but what I make teaching a few college courses and freelancing would be enough to cover our mortgage if we lived in our mailbox. So while we’ve got this covered, stepping into the financial unknown is uncomfortable.
  7. Remember that unemployment is not contagious. Please continue to check in with us. I’m sure we’re going to have down days, and once the first few weeks are over and Dave stops getting sweet, supportive calls and texts from colleagues and friends, we’re going to want to hear from you.

And seriously, Jeff Probst? Voted off the island right before the holidays??

Thanks for your support, friends.



50 For 50.

I’ll be turning 50 in seven months. To be honest, it’s the first “milestone” birthday that I haven’t felt great about. On my 30th birthday, I was planning my wedding and had a job I loved. When I turned 40, I was busy with 6- and 2-year-old sons, teaching part-time and freelance writing.

And here I am now, almost 50 — still teaching part-time, still writing. My boys are in high school and middle school; they still need me, but the job of parenting has changed and requires less of my time and more trips to the gas station. My husband and I have, in recent years, often been ships passing in the night, so to speak, as we juggle jobs and parenting.

I’ve been struggling with finding a way to make this birthday meaningful. What gift could someone possibly give me that I don’t already have (except for, let’s say, better vision and a good night’s sleep)?

After seeing several ideas online, I decided to make a commitment to what I’m calling my “50 for 50 Project” — 50 random acts of kindness to celebrate my 50th birthday. I asked friends to join me with their own acts in honor of their own milestone birthdays.

I started today; one down, 49 to go. And I started simple — a handful of post-it notes with cheerful messages, left in random places. I wrote out the notes, and after being sarcastically mocked, not necessarily unexpectedly, by my teenage and almost teen son, I took them with me on a few errands.


I started at the drive-through at the bank. I planned to leave one of my happy post-its on the drawer after I completed my transaction. But I finished up and took my receipt; the teller didn’t leave her post, and seemed to be challenging me to a staring contest. I chickened out and drove away.

Next stop – the ATM at a different bank. I drove through, took my cash and smiled as I stuck a post-it to the machine. But it immediately fell off and fluttered under my car. I was still determined to brighten someone’s damn day, so I drove up, got out of my car, walked back and stuck the corner of the note into the part of the machine where the cash is dispensed. As I got back into the car, it started making a weird noise, so it’s entirely possible that rather than making someone happy, I broke the ATM.

Off to the supermarket. On the way in, I stuck one of my notes on the seat of a shopping cart. I’d planned to put a few of them on items around the store, but it was jam packed, and I knew I’d feel weird if someone saw me sticking “have a great day” notes on their cereal, so I did my shopping and left. On the way back to the car, I saw that the cart I’d gotten to earlier had been taken, so I imagined someone smiling their way through their shopping. I loaded up my car, and put another happy post-it on my cart before returning it.

I’m going to count this as a successful start, even if it didn’t go exactly as planned. I hope that at least one person found one of my notes and smiled. I hope that each subsequent random act I do will feel a little less weird, but I’m glad I’m taking some steps outside of my comfort zone. And I REALLY hope I didn’t break the ATM.



Embracing the Dalmation.

When I was in my teens and early twenties, I had this sort of vision of what I thought my future life with a spouse was supposed to look like. Tall, smart, cultured husband with dark hair and a serious job. Nice dinners out. Nights at the theater.

And then I met Dave. Smart? Check. Dark hair? Check. But we were the same height, he had a job working in college sports, little interest in culture, and his idea of fine dining was anything a step above McDonald’s.

I loved him anyway, and he loved me, even though he was clearly disappointed that I didn’t fit the mold of his dream girl, who could challenge him on the basketball court and didn’t ask questions when he was watching sports on TV with her.

But rather than being joyful about finding someone who made me laugh, who let me be who I was without taking myself too seriously, who I could talk to for hours and really imagine making a life with, I worried that he couldn’t possibly be the right person for me, because he didn’t match my checklist.

I explained it to Dave this way — imagine you’ve spent 10 years dreaming of adopting a Golden Retriever. You’ve thought about your future with this beautiful creature by your side — taking walks, snuggling on the couch, brushing its long golden coat.

So you go to the animal shelter, still dreaming of your life with this Golden Retriever. When you walk in, before you can even find your Golden Retriever, you see a Dalmation. And for some reason, you’re drawn to him. You ask to meet him, he looks at you, and there’s some instant connection. For a moment, you forget about that Golden Retriever. You’re in love, and you know that you can’t leave this Dalmation at the shelter. He’s yours. You were meant to be together.


So you take the Dalmation home. Things aren’t perfect, but they’re pretty great. But every once in a while, you look at him and wonder how you ended up with this dog with the weird spots. And what about that Golden Retriever?

But with each day that you and the Dalmation are together, you somehow stop noticing the spots. The short hair that you thought was going to be golden and flowing. The long, brisk runs that you’d imagined would be ambling walks.

You realize that those aren’t the things that really matter.

Dave and I learned that he could teach me about sports, and I could teach him about the arts. That sometimes it was okay if we pursued those interests alone. And while he’s still quite content to eat a bowl of cereal for dinner (and still refers to too-fancy restaurants as “big plate, little food” places), we can enjoy nice dinners together.

We all have Dalmations in our lives — the husbands who came in packages different from what we expected for ourselves, the kids who aren’t the student or athlete we thought they’d be, and the friend who wants to meet for brunch instead of a late night out (okay, that one’s me).

But when we take the time to get to know the Dalmation, instead of focusing on that Golden Retriever we thought we wanted, there can be some pretty wonderful things in store.