Tuesday, Jun 25th

eljamesWhen I heard that the author of 50 Shades of Gray was going to be speaking at Willow Ridge Country Club in Harrison, NY, I immediately emailed my friend, writer Annabel Monaghan. “You’ve got to come with me to hear E.L. James,” I begged.

Annabel and I met in a novel writing workshop at Sarah Lawrence College about a year and a half ago. On the first day of class, we went around the table and introduced ourselves. It was instant kinship. In the oft-recycled words from the film Jerry Maguire, she had me at “I wrote a YA novel about a math genius that falls in love with the CIA operative hired to protect her from terrorists,” and I had her at “my main character is a teacher and mom who lies to her family and her employer and takes off for a much-needed vacation.”

Who else to sit next to at a 50 Shades luncheon than one another?

“I’m going to have to think about it,” she wrote back. “On the one hand I want to attend, and on the other, I fear it 50ShadesofGreymight suck out my soul.”

Understood. The phenomenon created by the 50 Shades of Gray trilogy here in the suburbs – and, now, nationwide – is a bit overwhelming, especially to writers like Annabel and me who scratch our heads at a success story like James who, by her own admission, has no formal training as a writer. But, then again, we did read the books and we are suburban moms who fit the E.L. James demographic quite exactly. So, while I waited for Annabel to struggle with the moral, social, and political implications of her decision, I went ahead and bought us tickets at $85 apiece.

I knew I had to be there, and I knew, eventually, Annabel would agree to accompany me. Which, of course, she did.

“85 dollars?” Another friend chafed. “Is it a fundraiser?”

Yes, I said. A fundraiser for E.L. James.

This may surprise you, but I was not really going to see E.L. It was the other women in attendance at this luncheon that had my interest piqued. Who were they? What were their stories?

The event was hosted by Lyss Stern, whose company, Divalysscious Moms, “is New York City’s premier socializing network for fabulous moms…think Sex and the City meets Mommy and Me.” The company has been hosting parties of all sorts since 2003, but recently started sponsoring book club events.

Lyss had me at “Divalysscious.”

According to Urban Dictionary, the adjective “divalicious” describes “the epitome of a diva, in a positive manner. A female that is independent, confident, worldly, stylish, and all around fabulous.” One look at Lyss in a neon and lace dress, with superhigh heels and hair and make-up done, being followed around by a photographer and flanked by her two event planners, and I knew that adjective had her name written all over it.

“She really is the hostess with the mostest,” one of the women at our table said, looking around the ballroom with awe. This woman was plus-sized and big-breasted, wearing a full-on diva outfit of a low-cut, body-clinging satin dress. Her hair was short and spiky. Her friend, sitting beside her, owns a romance publishing company and suggested that Annabel and I write for her.

These two were kind of the stand-outs in the crowd. We were lucky to have sat with them.

Who else…came? There were skinny moms and average moms, moms with hair straightened by keratin and moms with curls. There were even moms with their 20-something year-old daughters by their side, both boasting about their love for the books. “I was reading my Kindle while driving to work!” the mom of the duo at our table said. “I haven’t read a book in years and yet I read this trilogy in two weeks!”

All while driving, I wondered?

“I miss it,” she sighed.

Another woman at our table had arranged for her husband to watch their two-year-old so she could attend, while another declared to E.L. over a microphone that, “this is the best Mother’s Day gift I’ve ever gotten!”

“Unlike our heroine, Ana, these women like to eat!” Annabel said as we snaked our way down the lunch buffet line, watching as women piled up their plates with decadent salads.

And that’s why I brought Annabel.

While we were chowing down, Lyss raffled off some items, including a painting, a diet book (won by a very thin woman, natch) and a vibrator. I won a 5-pack of fancy, chocolate-covered pretzels. I ate one on the ride home and it was pretzelicious.

Next came Lyss’s enjoyable introduction to E.L. James. She recounted how the 50 Shades trilogy “tied women together…and you, the women, were the rope.” She described our “evolution from the sandbox to the red room of pain,” and said that E.L. James’ writing was “putting women everywhere into a breathless, orgasmic coma.” She told us that these books had let us realize that “it’s okay to admit that we want our needs satisfied.” Ultimately, she thanked James for “writing a book that was a community service to women…and men!”

That may have been the soul-sucking part. Because, as Annabel said after (and texted to me during), “I don’t want to offend this group, but it was funny how they were billing it as the new women’s movement, like this book had not only converted the illiterate but had also given women this long dormant ability to communicate with each other. It’s like E.L. James is Gloria Steinem walking around in Super Nanny’s body.”

That’s also why I brought Annabel.

E.L. James spoke next. She is not a very dynamic speaker, to put it kindly. This is probably why she isn’t doing much public speaking. E.L. shied away from questions about the books’ sexual content, saying only that she did have one “inappropriate relationship” when she was young, although she would not elaborate on the nature of the impropriety. Was he much older than she? Married? Kinkalicious? We’ll never know.

What struck a chord with me and other attendees at the luncheon was that Brit E.L. did not boast and did not seem to take her fame too…oh, what’s the word…Americanly. She was “stunned” by the reaction of American women to both her and the books, although “it’s beginning to sink in a bit.”

Secondly, we noticed that the emphasis of these books for her is about the power of reading. James said several times during the Q & A portion of the talk that her goal was to write books that people would read and enjoy, “because that’s all I set out to do – write a hopefully entertaining love story.” In particular, getting emails and letters from women who haven’t read in years and who thanked her for her books has been “gobsmackingly amazing.”

In short, while Lyss Stern and many others are more than happy to discuss the sexual and social implications of her books, James is not comfortable doing so. After all, the 50 Shades of Gray trilogy has sparked tremendous controversy, ranging from comments made by Dr. Drew Pinsky on the Today Show to recent banning of the books in a public library in Florida. Under such criticism, James would be insane to open her mouth about anything other than the fact that she is pleased that women are reading the book and talking about sex more than they used to. But, c’mon…is the book counter-productive to the women’s movement, or does its popularity somehow embody the evolution of a new phase of women’s sexual liberation? Do women’s fantasies of domination translate into anything other than fantasies?

Perhaps the answer isn’t black or white, but rather filled with at least 50 shades of gray.

So, here’s my takeaway from the event last week: I liked 50 Shades of Gray. It made me randy for a while and spiced up my sex life with my husband of 13 years. I thought it was awfully written and yet I couldn’t put it down. I had fun at the Divalyssious event, even if, afterward, I felt like describing everything with an “icious.” But I don’t want E.L. James to be the poster child for my personal understanding of sexuality or for woman’s sexual empowerment in a general sense.

And the good news is, neither does E.L. James.

Laters, baby.
gerstenblattColumnist and blogger Julie Gerstenblatt writes with humor and candor about her life in Scarsdale, her friends and family, and the particular demands of motherhood and wifedom in modern-day suburbia.

bouquetMy friend and I were walking around Pamela Robbins the other day after lunch, wandering aimlessly, touching pretty things, chatting with the sales help and the other customers. Amy was interested in a ring from the jewelry case and I, not surprisingly, had found another scarf I liked in the window.

Amy tried on the ring. “What do you think?” she asked, extending her arm to arm’s length and moving her head back and forth. A group huddled around her hand and decided that the ring was fab. We immediately agreed that she must have it. Now.

(“We” might be enablers of sorts, but that’s not for today’s article.)

“Do you think I can buy it and then have my husband give it to me for Mother’s Day?” Amy asked.

Of course, we all agreed. Doing that takes the pressure off him and it guarantees that you’ll get a nice little something that you’ll truly enjoy…since you picked it out yourself!

There are people who would disagree with me about this. In fact, at one time in my life – like, 5 years ago – I would have even disagreed with me about this. The old romantic in me used to think, presents are gifts from the heart. They are meant to be surprises. Whatever I get will be wonderful, because my husband chose it with care, and he knows me so well. And then Brett got me a bracelet that I really didn’t like. Should I wear it and pretend? Should I smile and put it on and just suck it up and be gracious? I was nervous to approach him and not sure what to say that wouldn’t make me sound spoiled.

So I kept it and wore it occasionally. But now, a few years later, that bracelet is in the back of a drawer and I don’t wear it at all. It’s not comfortable in a heavy/dangly sort of way and it’s just not “me.” And so I have decided, that in a lifetime of marriage, it’s okay to tell your husband that while you love the gesture and the thought, it would be more fun to go together next time to pick out something that fits both your style and your wrist.

I know that Mother’s Day is about spending time with family, and it is not about getting stuff. On Mother’s Day, I enjoy eating brunch with my family and spending some time relaxing and connecting with everyone. Maybe you like to take a family bike ride on the Bronx River Parkway or plant impatiens around the border of your lawn. Whatever it is you chose to do, I hope you find meaningful experiences that help shape a special 2012 Mother’s Day.

That being said, a little “stuff” on a Hallmark holiday is not unheard of.

My mom and I exchange presents, but the thing I like best is that we always get tickets to a Broadway show and have a fun day in the city together, two moms treating each other to a shared memory in honor of Mother’s Day.

Maybe this is the year to embrace tradition, and maybe it’s time to break out of that mold. And, to help you (or your husband or family) do that, I’ve come up with a list of fun ideas.

For the sporty-fit-healthy mom:

Gift her 5 classes at the new Scarsdale Yoga or Soul Cycle, a Free City Hoodie (sold at Neiman Marcus and Scoop), and/or a yogamassage at Bliss.

Take a mother/daughter yoga class at Yoga Station on Mother’s Day and bring your mom for free! There is a slow and steady hatha class from 8:00-9:30 am and a sweaty vinyasa from 5:00-6:30. Althleta is offering a free mom and kids yoga class as well, from 10-11 am, suitable for kids 8 and up.

Treat her to a mountain bike and then take a ride together through some trails. (Don’t ask me where these trails might be and don’t get me this gift, Brett.)

A Vitamix mixer – great for making soups, juices, frozen dessert treats, and more! (I just watched the infomercial – can you tell? Now I really want one!) https://secure.vitamix.com

For the mom who loves to decorate:

Greenlight a small project that she’s been itching to do around the house, like get custom window treatments for her home office where she spends all day writing and looking out the window (hint, hint, Brett).

Tell her you think it’s time for some new bedding/pillows/chachkies in your bedroom/family room/living room and you’d love to spend a day with her at ABC Carpet and Home before having a nice meal at ABC Kitchen.

Buy a piece of art together.

For the socially-conscious/environmentally-aware/politically-involved/continuing education mom:

Make a donation in her name to her favorite charity.

Help her plan an event in your home to benefit a group that she cares about.

Plant a garden together in front of a children’s hospital, a shelter, or a school in need.

Give her a dog or cat from a rescues shelter. (Note: this really should be planned ahead of time, so that the mom doesn’t say, “I have to take care of all of you and now I also have to take care of this sad-looking dog?!” That’s not the reaction you’re going for.)

Give her an e-card to the Scarsdale Adult School to use towards the purchase of an interesting class of her choice.

For the mom who says, “All I want is time with my family:”

Purchase a session with a family photographer, like local mom Sarah Silverton, to capture special images of this exact moment in time. Gift certificates available. http://sarahjanesilvertonphotography.com/

Buy her a Wallpaper guide to any city (Brett and I love the New York one) and have her pick a hotel, restaurant, and some attractions and then plan a weekend trip for the family.

charmbraceletBuy her jewelry from Jewels by Joanne with her birthstone and/or your children’s birthstones that she can wear whenever she goes out with her family (or even just when she goes out with pictures of them on her iPhone). Or build a charm bracelet filled with meaningful charms, adding a new one each year.

For the 50 Shades of Gray mom:

To help her connect with her “inner goddess,” buy her some pole dancing lessons at NY Pole in White Plains.

Try lingerie and a Kindle Fire.

Toys in Babeland (babeland.com) sells all the items used in EL James’ novels, even creating a 50 Shades product page to help you find the perfect accessories. (No, I’m not being serious. Just get her a gift certificate to any store in town and some beautiful flowers from the Scarsdale Flower Shop and she’ll be really happy.)

Forget the gift. For me, Mother’s Day is really about kissing my kids and smothering them with motherly love, since they’ll still let me do that for a little while longer. It’s also about torturing them slightly by making them dress up a bit for brunch somewhere way overpriced. Which is why last year, we had a barbeque at home. We ate off my melamine plates and sat in the sunny backyard for hours. It was the best Mother’s Day yet.

How will you spend your Mother’s Day this year? Share ideas for unique experiences and fun gifts below.


Columnist and blogger Julie Gerstenblatt writes with humor and candor about her life in Scarsdale, her friends and family, and the particular demands of motherhood and wifedom in modern-day suburbia.

beginnings“Brett,” I ask my husband, “What’s the weather like today?” He has just come in from a brisk run and is panting a bit. “It’s nice,” he says, a slight hesitation to his voice. He knows what’s coming next. “Nice cool or nice warm?” I ask. “Should I wear a jacket? A sweater? Just a scarf over my t-shirt? Or, like, a scarf and a sweater?”

Brett ignores my questions and walks past me. “I’m going to take a shower.”

“Maybe my leather jacket?!” I call up the stairs after him, but he does not reply.

My husband of 13 years does not reply because he knows me too well. He knows that I am hardly ever satisfied with my preparations for the weather and that, somehow, this is his fault. If he tells me I don’t need a jacket when we are walking from our house into town for lunch, I invariably complain the whole way about how freezing this 60 degree weather is. If we are headed for a Date Day in the city and I end up broiling in the 60 degree weather, it’s his fault for telling me to bring my wool pea coat “just in case.” Well, that coat is now slung over my arm, and it’s weighing me down uptown.

This is the story of my life in seasons. Fall and spring are the worst; it’s 80 degrees one day and 58 the next. Is it a break-

Scarves with shorts from Pamela Robbins, Scarsdale
out-the-new-flatforms day or layer-a-cashmere-wrap-over-your-t-shirt day? Or both? The changing seasons, coupled with the effects of global warming, are enough to drive a fashionista insane.

Which brings me to my long-time best friend – no, not Brett –the scarf.

You heard that right. A scarf is my true life’s companion. Too hot? Take it off. Too cold? Put it back on. Winter? I opt for a soft cashmere-and-silk blend. Spring requires something a bit stiffer, like crisp cotton. And an airplane ride, in any season at all, requires at least one of each type.

I’m like a magician with my scarves: one minute there is one around my neck and the next, poof! It has disappeared into the depths of my pocketbook. But then I may notice that a movie theater is a bit chilly, or that the table we have been seated at in a restaurant is located directly under a drafty vent. Poof! Scarf magically appears again.

Colorful summer scarves at Great Stuff Scarsdale
My husband helps keep me centered when the world feels off, boosting my emotional thermostat whenever it dips into single digits. But I have come to understand that he does not also need to be in charge of determining how best to regulate my external barometer. Which is why I can happily share with women readers at least one of the secrets to a happy marriage. At all times, keep your husband wrapped tightly around your finger and a scarf wrapped jauntily around your neck.

Update your look with a new scarf (or, perhaps, a new husband?) today. For scarves, head to local retailers pictured above, including Beginnings, Pamela Robbins, and Great Stuff. For a husband? Try J-Date.

(Pictured at top: t-Shirt dress and scarf from Beginnings in the Golden Horseshoe, Scarsdale)

gerstenblattColumnist and blogger Julie Gerstenblatt writes with humor and candor about her life in Scarsdale, her friends and family, and the particular demands of motherhood and wifedom in modern-day suburbia.



PlasticWishWhen I was growing up, my parents did a lot of summer entertaining, before they divorced and ruined all the fun. Our house in Edgemont had a pretty backyard with a pool. Since my birthday is on July 3rd, we often hosted outdoor birthday parties, end-of-the-year school class parties, and elaborate Independence weekend fetes back-to-back for the first part of the summer season.

In fact, I recall the time between Memorial Day and July 4th as one big party.

My now long-deceased Bichon Frise, Ellie, would agree, having spent much of that time sipping margaritas from the half-filled cups left next to people’s lounge chairs and then falling asleep in the shade.

Of note, there was the bat mitzvah outdoor brunch with an omelet station, the Sweet Sixteen party to which I wore a rockin’ white, Oscar de la Renta bathing suit, and a Club Med party, during which my father burned his exposed stomach by grilling without a shirt.

For my mother, these parties were all about setting the table. Both she and my aunt had huge collections of Hellerware, that brightly-colored, stackable, midcentury mod plastic dinnerware originally designed by Massimo Vignelli. Remember Hellerware? You can still find it in museum collections, on Etsy and Ebay, as well as in my aunt’s kitchen. She now hosts us every Memorial Day, using the same iconic, blue and white Heller as always.

Mid-Century Hellerware
(She’s divorced, too, but got to keep all 48 pieces of Hellerware in the split.)

Over the years, melamine resin – or, high quality plastic – has become as integral a part of my summer as apple pie, SPF 60, and broken homes.

Plastic is fantastic!

Now that I have a home and a family of my own (intact), I, too, like to entertain outdoors. It’s summertime, after all, where the living is easy. My husband, Brett, mans the grill and I woman the cocktails.

Which brings me to outdoor table setting. This isn’t the 1970’s anymore, Farrah. There are now so many different, stylish innovations with melamine that it’s not necessary to pick just one pattern and stick with it for 40 years. What I like most about melamine is that it invites me to be more daring with my color and pattern choices than when picking a china pattern, since I can embrace the fun and not think, won’t this rainbow-striped platter look weird with a turkey carved on it? No, it won’t, because the only food going on this melamine tray is grilled hot dogs, hamburgers, and a marinated flank steak with my name on it. Because melamine is relatively inexpensive, as compared with real, breakable dinnerware, the fear of commitment is also low. In a few years, I can always replace that $2.99 green plastic wine goblet from Crate and Barrel. The Bacarrat crystal? Not so much. (Especially since I don’t own any Baccarat. That makes it truly irreplaceable.)

Whether you favor clean, modern design or French Country chic, there is plastic with your name on it. In fact, there may even be some with your

Stylish Melamine at A&MTable on Weaver Street
mother’s name on it. A few years ago, when trying to find the perfect Mother’s Day gift for my outdoor-entertaining, French-Country-loving mom, I stumbled upon beautiful, Le Cadeaux plastic dishes sold at La Dentelliere and The Paper Tree and went a little nuts with the credit card. Last year, my mom returned the favor and bought me Le Cadeaux dinner plates, salad plates, and bowls for eight. I like them so much I make my kids eat off them year round.


Melamine at Target
If you favor contemporary designs, try A&M Table at 1495 Weaver Street. They carry Jonathan Adler melamine as well as other stylish plastic and acrylic pieces, great for indoors or out. I never walk out of that store without buying myself (or my mom) a little (or medium-sized) something.

For a fun, mix-and-match color palate, head to Wish at 3 Purdy Avenue in Rye. Their windows currently show off delicious, candy-colored designs by French Bull, which are all dishwasher safe and range in price from $10-36.

And, because I can’t help but flaunt my high-low recessionista side, there’s always Target. My kids had to drag me away from “Tarshay’s” plastic dinnerware section a few weeks ago. “Mom!” They said. “We’ve got to get food and paper towels and toilet paper and snacks for school!” To which I replied, “But, kids, plastic is so fantastic! Let me just snap a few pictures.” And an idea for an article was born.

Cheers to dining al fresco!

(pictured at top: Melamine from Wish in Rye)

Columnist and blogger Julie Gerstenblatt writes with humor and candor about her life in Scarsdale, her friends and family, and the particular demands of motherhood and wifedom in modern-day suburbia.



chocolategodivaLet’s agree to agree: chocolate is delicious, and it’s also good for you. But, like all great love stories, this one has a twist: in order to reap any health benefits, the chocolate you eat has to be dark, dark, dark.

Here are some Real Facts paired with some Julie Facts about dark chocolate.

- Dark chocolate contains antioxidants and helps to lower blood pressure…but only in people of a certain age who already have mild to high blood pressure. I have pretty low blood pressure, and I like to think that’s because I have been eating chocolate all my life. I find that eating dark chocolate relaxes me and that’s why I always have some on my person. I also like to think that I am not “of a certain age” yet.

- If you eat the recommended 100-gram, 450 calorie chocolate bar

a day, you could significantly lower your blood pressure…and/or you could gain a lot of weight. Gaining weight might make you stressed out and, therefore, elevate your blood pressure. So don’t eat a whole chocolate bar every day, please, unless you are under medical supervision or unless you for some reason want to get chubby to fit back into your pregnancy jeans.

- Did you know that you cannot eat that dark chocolate with a glass of milk, because the milk actually counteracts the benefits? This is why I try to wash down my dark chocolate with a glass of red wine, thereby doubling my antioxidant intake and maximizing my chances of clean living. Not to brag, but I’m super healthy like that.

Chocolate makers read the science section of the New York Times just like we do, and so they know that we know that dark is the way to go. Ever since hearing that the average chocolate-eating public might start buying dark, these modern-day Willy Wonkas have been hard at work perfecting the taste of high performing, high-cocoa-percentage chocolates. If you’ve ever paid for items at a gourmet deli or Barnes and Noble, your eye has probably passed over the point-of-purchase displays of chocolate bars that whisper, “Buy me” and “Eat me.” You can even buy a chocolate bar while paying for your bras at Lord & Taylor, though I’m not sure why you’d want to. But you can! I bet you are a discriminating consumer like me, noting evidence of the artisanal chocolate bar craze, and wondering how the different brands stack up. Maybe you’ve even sampled a few.

If you don’t mind me asking, how fierce is your chocolate bar? Can you withstand 72% pure cacao? Do you like “intense dark chocolate,” as one chocolatebalduccisBalducci’s bar says, or “really intense dark chocolate,” like another bar reads? What’s next after that, I wonder…holy hell chocolate? Crazy f*&%ing strong chocolate? We-dare-you-to-eat-this-and-talk-straight-afterwards chocolate? Some of these bars are downright scary.

So, to take the fear and the sting out of the morass of options, I would like to bring you the best of the bunch, in a very unscientific taste test. I have been conducting this hard work over the past few weeks, just in time for bathing suit season.

Godiva offers 3 dark options, a 72% plain, a 72% with almonds, and a 50% with sea salt, each $5.00. I’m a sucker for sea salt, so while I was buying some books at Barnes & Noble (a store loving re-named Nook & Godiva by my friend, comedienne/writer Karen Bergreen) I grabbed a bar. It was superyum. I now carry Godiva dark chocolate pearls in my handbag. (25 calories for 8 pieces!)

Vosges Haut Chocolate wishes you peace, love and chocolate with every bar and actually comes with instructions for “How to enjoy an exotic candy bar,” on the back label. The steps include “breathe, see, smell, snap,” and, finally, they let you “taste.” Still being a sucker for salt, I went for the Black Salt Caramel Bar. This bar should come with instructions saying not to eat it while driving a car because I ended up with caramel all over my hands and on the steering wheel. Weighing in at 70% cacao, this bar did have a “glossy shine,” to it, as the instructions suggest a good bar should, with a smooth and silky texture. Vosges has the most creative combinations out there. It would be fun to try a bunch of them with friends as an after dinner treat, instead of a more traditional dessert at a dinner party or BBQ. Break apart some bars!

Balducci’s makes several options that try to psyche you out with their sheer intensity. I found the 54% dark chocolate with salt to be a bit too salty, although the more I ate of it, the better it tasted. The “really intense” bars also come with pomegranate and raspberry flavoring. Balducci’s carries about 400 kinds of chocolate bars, though, so you can go nuts…or nut-free.

There are also several of what I’d call “Feel Good, Do Good” brands out there, including Sweetriot and Prestat. Both brands are committed to fair trade, helping farmers in Latin America and West Africa. The Prestat 71% Dark Chocolate English Mint Crunch has what I’d call a “grown up” flavor that I imagine British royalty enjoy. Sweetriot’s Pure 60% Dark Chocolate with Crunchy Nibs had a strong, earthy, bitter flavor that I can’t honestly say I liked, but maybe you will. Three stars. I had to wash that one down with some Godiva. Sweetriot also makes an 85% dark chocolate that I was too afraid to try.

chocolatebrooksideMy favorite dark chocolate treats are the Brookside fruit and dark chocolate pieces, which can be found at most health food markets. There are several flavors, from Gogi with Raspberry to Pomegranate and Acai. They are all delicious and they make me feel like I am eating fruit when I am definitely not. They come in a handy re-sealable baggie for snacking on-the-go.

So…where do you stand on The Chocolate Wars?

gerstenblattColumnist and blogger Julie Gerstenblatt writes with humor and candor about her life in Scarsdale, her friends and family, and the particular demands of motherhood and wifedom in modern-day suburbia.



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