Monthly Archives: March 2014

Freezin’ for a Reason



I had always been intrigued by stories and pictures of polar plunges, where hundreds of smiling people clad in only their bathing suits head into a body of water in the middle of the winter. They say they are having fun. I never got it until I found myself diving into Lake George, water temperature around 50 degrees, on November 16. Crazy? Yes! Glad I did it? Double yes. Because I was “freezin’ for a reason.” I was raising money for Special Olympics Capital District.

Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The Special Olympics Capital District region provides year-round training and competitions to more than sixteen hundred athletes from twelve counties in fourteen different sports. For a number of years, Larry and I have been involved as Special Olympics track and field and bowling coaches.

We have also participated in Special Olympic fundraisers. One of the most popular and well known in the Capital District is the Polar Plunge, where hundreds of people plunge into Lake George on the third Saturday of November. In a moment of insanity, I had signed up and participated in the plunge in 2011. Within minutes of coming out of the water, I swore to anyone with ear shot that I would never do it again.

I am no scientist, but to me this is definite proof that humans have very short memories. Our schedule in 2012 prevented my doing it, and I was thinking of finding another excuse for 2013 until…..

In a second moment of insanity, I committed to rejoining Freezin’ Friends, a team of plungers headed by Joni Rhodes from Schuylerville. Her son Nick participates in several Special Olympic events, including our track and field program, and I again wanted to raise money to support athletes like Nick. In the middle of September, I began a fundraising blitz, mostly through emails and Facebook. The response was amazing. I had pledges from family and friends across the country and even from England. Most pledged on line, but many others handed me checks or cash, commenting “Better you than me!” and Boy, you are brave!” By the day of the plunge, our team had raised close to $5000, and the region total was approaching $77,000.

By this time, you would think that I would be mentally and physically ready to dive back into Lake George. I hadn’t died the first time; my heart had held out; I didn’t even catch a cold. But in the days before the plunge, I had nightmares about going into a freezing lake. In addition, this year I was going to finish what I had started in 2011. In my first year, most of my supporters congratulated me and praised my bravery for plunging up to my neck. However, a few people kiddingly questioned as if I had ever gone in the lake, as my hair was still dry and the water droplets on my body didn’t show well on the photos. This time, I was going to make sure that pictures showed a soaked bathing suit and a wet head so that no one would doubt my commitment.

We were very fortunate with the weather. The morning of the plunge was a beautiful, sunny, calm day, with air temperatures in the fifties. Larry and I stopped at the registration desk and then headed down to Shepard’s Park Beach. Over my bathing suit, I had flannel pants, a thermal shirt, my Polar Plunge sweatshirt, and a warm terry bathrobe. Under my water shoes were heavy woolen socks. I located our team by finding Joni in her traditional Dr. Seuss hat she has worn for each of the seven plunges in which she has participated. I recognized most of my teammates from 2011, a mix of Nick’s family, friends, and Special Olympics coaches. Om addition, a large group of students from Schuylerville High School had signed up for the fundraiser, bringing our team up to over thirty people. Joni provided all of the members of the team with a choice of colors in Santa hats.

Several other teams of plungers were also on the beach, including Max’s Buddies, Freeze Duchenne, and Brian’s Bashers, and the Siena men’s baseball team. We spent the next couple of hours munching on bagels, sipping hot coffee, taking pictures, and connecting with members of our team and the other plungers. Several were in costume: capes, polar bear hats, boas, and, in the case of one man, a skimpy beige bikini bathing suit. My Miley Cyrus look,” he explained.

At ten minutes before noon, all the plungers stripped down to their bathing suits and, shivering despite the warm sun, lined up to wait for the signal to hit the water. At exactly twelve noon, led by three athletes holding the Special Olympics torch, over five hundred and fifty crazies streamed into Lake George.

As my ankles hit the water, I faced my first obstacle. As our team was near the end of the line, we were going into the lake when the members of the Siena men’s baseball team were coming out. Fast. Blindly, with no concern for who was in their way, I darted through their hurling bodies until I found a clear spot in the water, took a deep breath, and dove in, orange Santa hat and all.

OH MY GOD! Why didn’t I remember it was this cold! I immediately thought of those poor people on the Titanic and had visions of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack clinging onto the edge of the makeshift raft that held Kate Winslet’s Rose. I could not get out of the water fast enough. I ran onto the sand, hair and body dripping, searching desperately for Larry and, more importantly, my bathrobe and towel. As soon as I found him, I asked, “Did you get a picture?” Larry said yes, but there must have been ice in my ears, as I didn’t hear him and headed back into the water for a second totally unnecessary photo opportunity.

I have to say that it wasn’t as bad as the first time. Maybe the sun had warmed my body. Or I was so numb I couldn’t tell the difference. Larry took a couple of more pictures, and I was finally able to head for the women’s warming tent, where I quickly changed into dry clothes. We drove back to Clifton Park with the car’s heater going full blast.

Later that afternoon, Larry and I talked about the plunge over large bowls of steaming chicken and rice noodle soup at a local Chinese restaurant. “Next year, I need to wear a different bathing suit and a pair of shorts as those pictures I posted on Facebook are just too embarrassing,” I said. “And maybe if I start earlier, I can raise more money.”

Larry nodded, “Let’s just see what happens with our schedule next year.”

A final note: Larry has yet to sign up to plunge, citing several reasons why it should not be a joint effort: He needs to be on the shore to hold my bathrobe and towel. He needs to take pictures. He needs to drive me home as I will be too cold to drive myself. He doesn’t want to take away from “my” event. Maybe he has more common sense than the rest of us, or maybe he just doesn’t know how to have fun.

First published in Jewish World, 11/21/2013

Love in the Time of Retirement

Larry and I enjoying our retirement in  Mission San Juan Capistrano, California.

Larry and I enjoying our retirement in Mission San Juan Capistrano, California.

Ah! Young love! This is the time in life where two individuals cannot get enough of each other! Each moment away from one another is agony, and even when they are together in the same room, there is a desperate need to touch and hold and talk. Their wish is to share every waking moment together.

Yes, my husband and I were like that once. We met, we courted, we married, and we spent the next thirty-six years of our lives juggling our relationship with children, jobs, and outside commitments.

Then, Larry and I retired, and we got our wish. We were together twenty-four/seven, but we weren’t young anymore. As a matter of fact, living under the same roof resulted in a period of major adjustment.

Please don’t get me wrong. I love my husband dearly, and I am so grateful that we have had the opportunity to retire in good health. It is just that—well — love in the time of retirement may test even the closest relationship.

Our first battle took place soon after Larry retired. We were in the kitchen, cleaning up after dinner. As was our usual routine, Larry was putting away the leftovers while I was putting the dirty plates in the dishwasher. He looked over while he was closing the refrigerator door and offered, “Here, Marilyn, let me show you how to load a dishwasher.”

I stopped mid-dish, and stared at him. “What do you mean by that?”

“You’re not doing it right. I can show you how to do it properly.”

“So you mean to tell me I have been loading this thing WRONG for the last three decades?”

“Yes, my way is much more efficient!” We had a brief, spirited discussion as to whether he wanted to accept my tried and true way of doing it or if he wanted to wash dishes on his own for the rest of our married life. Thankfully, he saw it my way.

The second conflict occurred six months later when I retired. I planned to set up my calendar and some files in our home office. When I tried to find room on our computer desk, not an inch was available. “Larry,” I said, “do you think you can organize all those piles on the desk so that we can share the space?”

“I retired first” was his response. “I already claimed the desk. You will need to find another spot.”

Initially, I managed to carve out a few inches of blank oak, but it wasn’t worth the fights that ensued when I moved any of his piles, which he referred to as his “filing system.” I eked out a two-inch crevice between the computer and the printer that allowed me to prop up a few folders. It took three years to have the sense to get my own lap top so I could have the flexibility to work on any surface in the house.

Over the next few months, we played an uneasy game of adjusting. Larry spent a great deal of time following me around closing cabinet doors and drawers I continually left open, a bad habit I had had my entire life. I learned to accept the fact that he was king of the television clicker. He could watch several television shows simultaneously, including a couple of basketball games, reruns of The Big Bang Theory, and a showing of a favorite movie. I found this tolerable as long as I was multi-tasking on the couch —doing a crossword puzzle, checking emails, reading a book, and cutting coupons—while he ruled the remote. My annoying habit cancelled out his.

I know that I am not the only person who has experienced post-retirement angst. One friend, whose son had been in a playgroup with Adam over thirty years earlier, told me that her husband had acquired this overwhelming need to be with her wherever she went. Grocery shopping, dropping off mail at the post office, running to the drug store for a prescription, was now regarded by Steve as a two-person outing. “If Larry isn’t busy,” Fern suggested, “maybe we can arrange a weekly playdate between our two husbands. Then I can get out of the house by myself for a couple of hours.”

My friend Judy commented that only after they were both retired did she realize how ‘uber-organized’ her husband was. A week before they left for their two-month stay in Florida, Judy was haphazardly stacking clothing on her bed and throwing cosmetics and toiletries into a bin. Charlie strolled into the bedroom and opened up a file marked “Florida.” It included a detailed list of everything he needed to pack, including the number of pairs of socks, shirts, and shoes he was bringing. Another list included restaurants in Naples, with notes on ratings and menus. He even planned their drive down to Florida in minute detail: He had researched hotels and restaurants en route on Trip Advisor, printed out weather forecasts from, and created a chart of estimated travel times between stops from Google maps. “He researches every single detail and isn’t willing to leave anything to chance,” Judy said. “It’s driving me nuts!”

Quite a few of my friends have commented that their retired husbands, who managed people all their working life, feel the need to manage their wives. “Mark loves to come up with projects,” Melody shared with me over coffee. “He suggests these projects on a weekly basis, pointing out, for example, that the linen closet needs to be reorganized or the bookshelves in the fourth bedroom need to be cleaned out. Of course, Mark is the idea person. I am the person who is expected to implement his projects.”

When I talk to couples about adjusting to retirement, I find that the wives are much more forthcoming about their experiences. The men I spoke to, for the most part, were oblivious.

This is not just part of our generation. Joan, a friend from North Dakota, remembered mediating a fight between her in-laws. After many years of farming acres of wheat and soy, the husband had decided to help his wife with her vegetable garden. While they were cutting up potatoes for planting, he insisted that each potato mound have five eyes. The wife explained that she had always limited the mounds to three eyes. When he tried to drag his daughter-in-law into the discussion, Joan demurred, saying, “I am sure it all depends on the year.” She said, in the end, they decided on four eyes, a nice compromise.

Compromise—the bottom line as two people learn to live their dream, to spend most of their time together. Maybe love is relearning give-and-take and embracing each other’s quirks.

My favorite piece of advice came from a man who held a high position in the federal government for many years before he and his wife retired. “I get to make the big decisions,” he explained. “Who should run for president of the United States. Whether or not we should go to war with Syria. And she makes the less important decisions, such as where we live, what we eat, with whom we spend our time, when and where we are going on vacation. It works out really well for us.”As I hope it works out for all the retired love birds I know and love.

Some enchanted evening….

2014-02-20 Purim 2 300 reolution

I am a true believer in love at first sight. It happened to me at on March 18, 1973.

The Jewish Singles group in Albany was having a Purim party at Herbie’s Restaurant in Albany. A group of my girlfriends was going, and it seemed like a fun way to spend a Sunday evening. The notice recommended costumes, and I dragged along a long flowered dress I had purchased in New York City eight months before.

The event was taking place on the banquet room on the second floor of the restaurant. When I got to the top of the stairs, one of the organizers handed me a pink slip of paper. “It’s for skits we’re doing,” he explained. “You’re assigned to the pink group.” I thanked him and scanned the room for my friends, who had arrived separately.

As I looked for them, I noticed a man standing across the room. I don’t know what it was about him, but I immediately felt an attraction. Like the Rodgers and Hammerstein song from South Pacific, I felt as if that stranger across that crowded room was destined to be in my future. I noticed that he was holding a blue strip of paper.

When I located my friends, I noticed that Debbie had a blue strip. “Debbie, change colors with me.”

“Why?” she said.

“I don’t have time to explain,” I said. “Just trade with me.” She complied, and I changed into my “costume” and waited for instructions.

Steve, the party organizer, soon told us to find our groups by color and to plan a short skit with a Purim theme. The ‘blue slip’ group got together. We made quick introductions, and I formally met Larry Shapiro. The five of us decided to do a dating game, with the three women playing Queen Vashti, a gum snapping trollop, and Queen Esther. Larry was chosen to play King Ahasuerus, and the remaining member of our group played the host. The other groups also quickly arranged their skits, and each one performed. I had been taking pictures of the groups. Just before our group was “on,” I asked Debbie to take a couple of pictures. The skit— as corny and as silly as the rest of the ones performed —went well. The king, played by Larry, chose the lovely Esther, played by me.

Forty years later, I am not sure if what followed was part chance, but I am sure that I had a hand in making sure of the outcome. After the last of the groups performed, Larry said, “Well, since I ‘won’ you in the Dating Game, would you like to share a hamantashen with me?”

That probably was one of the corniest pick-up lines in history, but it worked. Of course, by that point, I was willing to fall for anything he was going to offer. Over an apricot hamantashen and some punch, Larry and I got to know a little about each other. He had never been to a Jewish singles event before. He and a friend were playing chess that afternoon and decided on a whim to head down from Saratoga Springs to Albany for the night. I learned about his background: he had gone to undergraduate college in Boston and had just completed his master’s degree at Syracuse University. While looking for a job, he was working at his parents’ store in Schuylerville and living with them in Saratoga Springs.

What impressed me was how much we had in common. Both of us had grown up in fairly small towns and belonged to small synagogues. Both of our parents operated small, family run department stores in upstate New York. Both of us were one of four children, with the same birth order: a girl, a boy, a girl (coincidentally both named Marilyn), and an unexpected girl a few years later. The more we talked, the more I was smitten with his warm smile, his intelligence, and his pleasant demeanor. My first impression was correct: I knew I wanted to see him again. However, he didn’t seem to be getting any closer to asking for my phone number. My devious mind started working again. I had noticed that there was a sign-up sheet for a Jewish Singles event at the beginning of May. Although I knew that I would be visiting my parents in upstate New York that weekend, I put down my contact information in bold letters. Hopefully, he would take the bait.

As the evening drew to a close, Larry and I said our goodbyes, and I reconnected with my friends. Debbie gave me back my camera, and I was surprised to see that she had taken ten pictures of our Dating Game skit. “Why did you take so many?” I asked. “I don’t know. I just kept snapping away,” she explained.

The next night, I called my mother. “Last night I met the man I am going to marry,” I announced.

I filled her in on the Purim party, and she asked, “Did this man ask you out?”

“Not yet,” I said.

“So he asked for your number?”

“No, not exactly,” I said. “But I put it on a sign-up sheet for another event, and he will call.”

My mother was not as confident as I was. But,sure enough, the next night, Larry called to ask me out to a movie for the following weekend. The sign-up ruse had worked! We saw Man of La Mancha at the Hellman, and then we went to Friendly’s restaurant for a chocolate Fribble for Larry and a hot fudge sundae with vanilla ice cream for me.

The rest, as it is said, was history. We dated over the next few months, Larry proposed to me on our walk home from Rosh Hashanah services on September 28, and we announced it to our families after Yom Kippur was over on October 6. The road to the wedding was not as smooth as the first six months of our relationship, but that is another story.

And those pictures Debbie had snapped? When I developed the Kodak roll a month later, I realized she had captured the hour Larry and I first met. In my favorite, I am sitting in a chair with the other potential wives of Ahasuerus looking up at my future husband with stars in my eyes.

In this day of dating websites, social networking, and speed dating, it is a little embarrassing to relate our own meet-up. Larry’s reaction is always the same. “You’re not telling that story again! It’s too dorky!”

He’s right. But I know that ‘dorky’ meeting, with its blue slips of paper, the long flowered dress (which I kept in my closet for thirty-six years), and apricot hamantashen was B’Shert, meant to be. And as Larry and I work our way through our fifth decade of marriage, that tale of that enchanted evening will always be one of my favorite love stories.