Tea for Two and Two for Tea

There is no better place in the world to enjoy a cup of real English tea than in England.

The thing about tea is that when it’s good, it’s very very good – heavenly actually – and when it’s bad, it’s horrid. And we don’t get very good tea in America. We get Lipton. And Lipton is horrid.

I’m not talking about herbal tea. The U.S. has fabulous herbal teas, many even locally produced like Oakland’s very own Numi Tea, and I love me a cup of organic mint or chamomile tea after a meal as much as the next guy.

But that’s not the tea I adore. My tea is real English breakfast tea, milk two sugars (although now I’m trying to eliminate sugar because I live in California where everyone is eliminating something from her diet and I had FOMO). So real English breakfast tea for me, with milk. And by real I mean not a U.S. brand. This is the Starbucks nation after all. I mean a brand from England. Or anywhere in the U.K. Or South Africa. Australia. I guess a brand from anywhere they play cricket. Because tea and cricket go together like Laverne and Shirley, Danny and Sandy, E.T. and Elliott (all of whom are American and would probably never drink tea, but rather double espressos. Sandy is Australian though – she definitely drinks tea).

Tea makes my day. It starts my day. Often ends my day. Calms the chaos (all that caffeine) and enhances the calm (more caffeine). It has moved me through moments of terrible sadness and despair, and held me happier in the happy. Weekend afternoons are always about tea, whether rain or shine, soccer or swimming (no cricket in my very American family) because that’s how our parents do it in South Africa, and that’s how their parents did it too. One of my favorite memories is slurping tea from my grandmother’s saucer, like a cat.

And last week I did get to enjoy tea in England. And it was delicious. It wasn’t even a special brand – just regular PG Tips, but the English kind. And it tasted so much better. I didn’t pay attention to it while I was drinking copious cuppas in England. Rather, I noticed it when I came home. Because when I made a cup of tea on Saturday morning – real English tea – in my own kitchen, it tasted different.

And it could’ve been because it was rainy and damp in London all week, or because the water tastes different over there (the big story last week was that traces of cocaine have been found in Britain’s drinking water), or that I was using brown sugar instead of white sugar (or no sugar).

It could have been because of all those, or none of those or some of those. But it was definitely because of who I was drinking those cups of tea with in London.

A friend so dear and special. A friend who has known me 35 of my 40 years. Who wanted to clear the slate on a little dispute we had in high school. Who loves “Mad Men” as much as I do and for all the same reasons, Don Draper being only one of them. Who remembers things I have forgotten and who can’t believe the things I have remembered. Who took me to see the fantastical cut-outs of Henri Matisse and then schlepped the banks of the Thames with me in search of tea and scones. We came up empty-handed – can you imagine? No traditional tea and scones on the south banks of the Thames?!

We made tea for each other every single day, many times a day, during my week-long stay in London. We sat together at the beautifully distressed wooden table in her kitchen, while her slightly unruly English garden steps away on the other side of the glass door soaked up the gentle rain. She thought I made the best cup of tea, and I thought she did.

Because a lot of love and decades of friendship, book reviews, gossip and chitchat, fashion do’s and don’ts and movie synopses, big decisions, hard conversations, silly stories, and so many tears and hysterical laughter and comfortable silences were poured into every cup of tea, made each one stronger, taste better, last longer.

I missed her on Saturday morning when I drank my suddenly strange-tasting tea without her. And it may well be there is no better place than England to drink real English tea – or it may just be that I miss my forever friend.

Because the thing about finally being together after a long time apart, about spending wonderful time with that special someone I haven’t seen for a while, is that I miss them more than ever after.

And the tea tastes a little less satisfying… but only until next time.

Quarter of a Cent-Cherry

Great conversation, loud laughter, fun stories. Inside jokes and quick-witted comments and the type of easy, comfortable banter that comes from many years together, from shared experiences and milestones, difficult times, tears, proud moments, pure elation and happiness. From close friendship.

The air is dry, and the trees are tall, and it’s rustic and gorgeous.

Tahoe, California. Spring. 2014.

South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe

Was it really twenty five years ago that I was half a world away, breathing air as dry, amongst trees as tall, hanging out in somebody’s rustic bunk, cocooned by esoteric jokes and hysterical laughter and the closest of friends?

Lapalala Wilderness, South Africa. Fall. 1989.

Fifteen years old, on a week-long wilderness program in the Limpopo Province with my tenth grade class, it was the very best of times. I loved all those school retreats to simple, woodsy places in the Highveld, where it was very, very cold in the early morning and at night, sweltering hot in between. When we were woken at the crack of dawn, and saw the mist rising with the African sun. Ate cornflakes and toast with thick peanut butter and bananas for breakfast, and then packed it all up for a long hike to learn about the Toothbrush Plant, and how to belay down a mountainside. Walking in smaller groups of twos and threes, paired off with my crush of the moment, or sharing wild hopes and dreams with my BFF while the hadedas called to each other in the broiling heat.

Lapalala Wilderness

Lapalala Wilderness

Mixed tapes played Men at Work and Phil Collins, Roxette and Milli Vanilli on portable boom boxes. We dismissed every rule late into the night, breaking curfew the very least of it. The girls snuck into the boys’ bunks (never the other way around), and we told secrets and broke promises and huddled together to keep warm.

My 25-year-old memories haunt me lately. I keep coming back to that year, 1989, when life just worked. For me. It wasn’t always like that before, and almost never again, but that year the music was right, and school was okay, and my siblings were fun and my parents understood (or they pretended to) and, most important of all at 15, my friends were perfect in every way.

Twenty five years later many of those friends are still perfect to me in every way. As I gaze out at the impossibly tall Tahoe pine trees, I ache to have them closer to me – we are scattered all over the Earth – to share inside jokes, and laugh at nothing, and sing Land Down Under out of tune at the top of our lungs.

A burst of laughter pulls me away from 1989 – I focus on the faces around me. They are warm and happy, smiling and talking. Faces I know and love. Here I am, twenty five years later, half a world up and away, with friends that are perfect to me… in every way.

Quarter of a Cent-Cherry by OPI

Quarter of a Cent-Cherry by OPI

This post was written as part of the April A to Z Challenge. To read more of my A to Z posts click here.

Our Song

We don’t have a song. When it came to choosing one for our first wedding dance, he didn’t really care, and I did but I changed it three times. We ended up with Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” (Titanic was released a few months before we got married). Cringe, I know.

It’s a beautiful sentiment, haunting melody, Celine’s voice is magnificent… but so what? There’s nothing especially meaningful in that song for either of us – we didn’t hear it at a special time in our relationship, it wasn’t playing the first time we kissed or the second or indeed ever when we were together except when we saw the movie. It was just a cliché love song playing on every radio station in 1998.

I’m kinda surprised at myself. At us. That we don’t really have a song. And that I didn’t pay more attention in choosing the Just Right Song for our wedding. Music lives large in my life. There’s always something playing – in the car, in the kitchen, while I’m writing. New alt rock, latest hits, classic rock, sixties and disco and country, country, country. My greatest discovery last week was the Billy Joel channel on satellite radio – #knoweverysong!

billy joel

I “have” songs with other people – “Come On Eileen” and “Just Can’t Get Enough” are always high school BFFs, “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel is Israel 1987, “Eternal Flame” and Richard Marx are first boyfriend. Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” is my son and so is Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler”. Even my little guy and I sing The Wanted’s “Glad You Came” together.

The family movie last Friday was Three Men and a Baby (that’s a fun trip down bad 1980s hair and fashion!) – once the chaotic, slapstick hilarity of three goofy guys taking care of a crying, pooping, giggling, hungry baby girl simmers down, they sing Sha Na Na’s version of “Goodnight Sweetheart” as a bedtime lullaby. Ryan and I looked at each other.

And somehow my brain skipped from Sha Na Na to Grease to Buddy Holly, to the Garth Brooks concert he took me to in Vegas two years ago, to every Les Mis song we know by heart because we’ve seen it six times, to the first Elton John concert we went to at Sun City and the next time we saw him with Billy Joel in Oakland…

We don’t have one song, it’s true. We have hundreds. And now that I think about, we should’ve gone with Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” at our wedding!


Our Song by OPI

This post was written as part of the April A to Z Challenge. To read more of my A to Z posts click here.

This is 40?

I was always the youngest. Not at home, at home I was the oldest. But everywhere else I was usually the youngest. The youngest in my grade. The youngest in my ballet or drama class. Because I have the southern hemisphere equivalent of a fall birthday – mid-May.

jasmine1And half a world and many decades away, where the seasons are turned upside down, and where my birthday is now in the spring, I am still the youngest.

My 40th birthday is two months away. Thanks to a severe drought and global warming, spring has already sprung in Northern California. So it’ll be early summer by then. The fragrant jasmine will have wilted on their stems, leaving little more than the faintest heady whiff in the breeze.

For a while I was “never turning 40.” As friend after friend – some with two to four kids of their own, and companies to run, with aging parents and mortgages and expiring car leases – made it ‘over the hill’, turned 41 or 43 or 47, I was still in my thirties. In the same pick-up line as they were, rushing kids to ERs just like they were, signing tax returns and home loans and sometimes feeling older than even my older friends whose kids were a few years younger than mine, or who didn’t want to get married just yet.

Almost 40. With responsibilities and people, both big and little, and deadlines and obligations and appointments and a full life of color behind me, and a big blue something ahead… but I’m not excited. I’m scared. Confused. So unsure. So not confident. I wish I was 24. When I knew myself better.

Of course, hindsight is always crisply clear – the view of myself as the self-confident, sure-of-herself young woman starting her life on the foggy hills of San Francisco as Mrs Gilbert is vivid and bright, while the vision of ageing, graying me finally moving to Israel once all my kids are grown is hazy and almost impossible to see. Not just because it’s the future, and who knows what the future holds, but because… is that what I really want to do? Do I want to leave all my kids behind and move to another country without them? Yes. No. Maybe. I don’t know. If I stop being a stay-at-home mom now, will I regret it in ten years when they’ve all left (actually it’s 13 years, but who’s counting)? Do I want to write, or act, or teach, or own a boutique or work in a bookstore or WHAT?

I am 60-something days away from the fabulous-not-so-fabulous four oh. Confused. Confuzzled (my mother’s word). Just mixed up.

On a rare rainy day in Sonoma last week, after I declared to my best girlfriends that I knew myself better when I was in my twenties than I do now, I realized that’s not quite true. Or rather, they helped me realize it’s not true. That what I was in my seemingly cool, calm and collected twenties was blissfully oblivious… to me. And I started thinking about the things I do know:

  • I know that I don’t know. I know that I am confuzzled. I may be less self-assured, less self-confident than ever before – but I have heaps of self-awareness. And then some. Enough to drive me even crazier than I am now, before I make it to 50. Or even 45. Gulp.
  • I know that it’s more than okay to say “no”. Not to alcohol. Or to cupcakes. But to commitments. To volunteering. To having someone else’s kid over. To attending an event. To anything that is something I do not want to do. Or that will take me away from doing something I really do want to do. People understand. In fact, I think they wish they had said no too.
  • That sometimes my “greatest accomplishment of the day is making my bed.” This is something my close friend L always says – she is five years calmer, wiser and older than me. She reminds me that I don’t have to do it all – actually, I don’t have to do any. That the all or the nothing is overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be that way. And damn, she’s right about the bed: it does feel all kinds of good to yank those sheets straight, and tuck the loose ends under.
  • I know that I love meat. And marrow bones.
  • To cry is to feel. And that is wonderful. I used to keep my tears in, because I didn’t want to face the emotional hot mess they left in their wake. But I’ve discovered how awesome tears are – the relief and release to not have to keep it all together. To feel whenever I want. Even wherever I want. Like in my workout class. Or in the car. Sadness and joy and love and fear and songs and memories.
  • I don’t get hangovers. Obviously I’m not drinking enough. Goal for my forties: wake up with a hangover.
  • There’s never an excuse for bad manners. Say hello. Say goodbye. Say please and thank you. Always. Whether you’re four, or 14 or 57. Do not get out my car and slam the door without saying, “Thanks for the ride.” Wish the barmitzvah boy and his parents mazal tov, and if you want something from me, please say please! Manners make people nice people, manners maketh the mensch.
  • Accept apologies – they are heartfelt, even if they don’t sound like they are.
  • Skinny jeans can ruin my day as I lie on the floor or wriggle my hips trying to zip them up – they did fit last week. But my sister, and sometimes my brother, saves the day (and this is true for much in my life):


  • Finally, no matter what artistic brilliance, technologically advanced special effects, incredible animation, outstanding acting, writing or directing we have enjoyed over the last three decades the very best movies are, and always will be, Eighties Movies: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Moonstruck, Indiana Jones, Say Anything. Don’t you order what she’s having? Do you ever put Baby in a corner? Who doesn’t love to cut loose with Kevin and Kenny? Best. Movies. Ever.

I am the last of my friends to turn 40. I’m the youngest. And I feel more confused now than at any other time in my life. Blissfully oblivious, like I was in my twenties, sounds kinda appealing, I admit. But oblivious is really just oblivious – I’m not sure it’s blissful at all.

I’ll take marrow bones, Maverick and no hangover for now.


Don’t miss your Jon Lovitz moment

“Jon Lovitz.”

This is the text I woke up to on Friday morning.

I love that guy. I don’t have a lot of celebrity crushes – Jon Hamm is my numero uno (although I’m not sure if it’s him or Don Draper that I adore), Channing Tatum and Bradley Cooper (good ol’ all-American heartthrobs), Jason Bateman, Jimmy Fallon, Reese Witherspoon… and Jon Lovitz.

He’s definitely no Jon Hamm. Shortish, slightly balding, but with a friendly, open face and a great smile. And funny! Deadpan, straight-to-the-gut, perfectly-delivered-every-time hilarious. That’s what I love about him. His best roles were on Saturday Night Live, but he’s been in movies like The Wedding SingerGrown Ups 2Three AmigosBig, and shown up in dozens of TV shows from Friends to New Girl. Always awesome.


Sadly, it wasn’t him texting me on Friday morning! And even though I hadn’t thought about Jon Lovitz since his last appearance on SNL in 2012, just seeing his name made me laugh out loud. Because he’s one of my best comedic crushes, but for a bunch of other reasons too.

It was my childhood friend Sharon texting me before sunrise on Friday morning. She’d been trying to remember his name all night, and it finally came to her (or she spent less than ten minutes on Google, although she didn’t have much to go on). Because my California family and her New York family reunited on the beach in Miami, and we got to reminiscing about well all of it. Life before kids, before marriage, when we were teenagers in Israel together, and took the 29 bus to the beach, and saw Dirty Dancing in Herzliya (nobody puts Baby in a corner), and made up dances to Samantha Fox’s song Naughty Girls, complete with British accents. Does anyone remember Samantha Fox besides the two of us?

And Sharon remembered when I was in New York about 14 years ago, and she had taken Ryan and me for the “best cheesecake in the world” to Juniors in Brooklyn. We still talk about that cheesecake. She dropped us back at our hotel in Manhattan and, according to her, waved goodbye to me, and Jon Lovitz waved back at her! But I had already turned away, and there was traffic, and she had no way of letting me know that Jon Lovitz was standing next to me and had just waved at her (no smartphones in 1999). And I never knew any of it. Or if I did, I had forgotten it. All I remember was the cheesecake pilgrimage to Brooklyn.

So when I woke up to “Jon Lovitz” on Friday morning, I was delighted. To think about funny Jon Lovitz again. And that Sharon remembered who the celebrity was that waved at her. Delighted that Sharon and I had been friends for almost 30 years, and still had memories like this that we got to share with each other.

But really? Jon Lovitz had been standing next to me at a hotel in New York in 1999 and I had had no idea… How many other opportunities had passed by me unnoticed, unknown, unrealized? I’m a “everything happens for a reason” kinda gal, but I can’t shake this feeling that sometimes if you just turn your head a fraction, or look up instead of straight ahead, or linger in the moment for one more second, something you might have missed will present itself. And it might not be life-changing, but it could make your day a little brighter or be the start of a great story… “One time, we’d gone to Brooklyn for this to-die-for cheesecake, and then I met Jon Lovitz – you know that guy from SNL with the best sense of humor – standing in the lobby of my hotel…”