The Tradition Contradiction

The whole tradition thing is a blessing and a curse. You know it and I know it. Oh sure, it sounds wonderful.

“I make my special ______ cookies every year. Everyone loves them!”

“We always put up 120 strings of Xmas lights on the house.”

“It’s not the holidays without Nanna’s/Granny’s/Bubby’s/Poppy’s homemade ________”

“We have always exchanged gifts with every single member of the extended family, now numbering 159”

“So when are you and the new-born twins arriving? It so stinks that you have to switch planes twice and then take a bus to the house. But, you know, we always get together at ____’s for Christmas morning. It’s not Christmas unless we are all doing the same thing, in the same place, at the exact same moment every year”

Let me toss this idea out there: Yes, it IS still Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza/New Year’s Eve without _________. The only thing which makes a holiday a holiday is the date on the calendar and people in agreement that the date coincides with the chosen event. Everything else is voluntary.  

I used to make fudge. Batches and batches for family and friends. It was really good fudge, if I do say so myself. I mean, really, it was awesome fudge. I would spend all day in the kitchen, stirring, chilling, cutting and wrapping. And, since I couldn’t successfully double-or-triple the recipe, I made each batch one at a time. Which means I would have multiple options to TASTE each batch…just to be sure it was up to snuff. Finally, one year, my waistline couldn’t take it anymore. So I didn’t. I didn’t make my fudge.  And my family and friends still seemed to like me. Hanukkah and Christmas still came and went, filled with fun, love, and plenty of sweets.

So, YES, there might be family or friends who moan “But you always make Nanna’s strudel!” The strudel which takes 10 hours, two rooms, freshly ground spices, and dozens of peeled apples. If it brings you joy to make it…make it. But if this year it just feels like a burden, propose a NEW TRADITION= They Can Make It!

Per the 120 lights put up outside? If you love doing it, have at it. If one year, you just don’t want to…don’t. Just don’t do it. Let your house be the black hole of lightlessness in the sea of sparkle on your block. NO ONE is keeping track (and if they are, they need to get a life, dontchaya think?) It’s okay. You can stop. If you resume the following year, lovely. Everyone will appreciate it even more. If not, the tradition ends. Some things come to an end. And that’s alright because that’s where warm memories begin.

We just need each other. That’s all. And some years, not even that. If a person wants to take a break, forgive them…or forgive yourself. Traditions are bookmarks in the novel of life. Give yourself permission to lose your place occasionally.

Because, if people really want it, they can buy their own fudge!  




July, 2015. That’s when I started my weight loss journey. Since then I’ve lost 50 lbs (yea, me) and am now in the trenches of keeping it off. It’s tricky but I’m figuring it out. Every meal is a navigation, going off the rails for a few meals still leads to that sinking feeling of dread that I’m a failure, it’s all going to pile back on in a month. But I’m cautiously optimistic that just perhaps, this time, I’ve got a system I can live with. Thusly as an act of self-love, belief, and commitment, I am giving clothes away.

Back story first: I have a local consignment shop I adore, Repeat Street. This boutique has kept me clothed and looking as polished as one can on a middle class budget, especially through my weight fluctuations.  So, this fall, as I do the seasonal wardrobe switch, I am taking my good “fat” clothes to Repeat Street. Yes, I can say “fat” clothes because they are mine. It was my fat.

But it is hard, letting some pieces go, even if they clothed the body I struggled with. Because these pieces have been good friends to me. Well made, my style, these jackets, slacks, and dresses have been with me through opening nights, weddings, parties, celebrations and birthdays. They joined me, literally had my back, at too many events to name. In the threads are memories of inspiring conversations, time spent with beloved friends and family, good food and drink, late evenings, hugs, and much love.

Many of the pieces were participants in the Clockwise journey. The bronze jacket with the high collar. The black trench with red embroidery. Both statement pieces with style and big pockets, perfect for opening nights. And oh-so-forgiving in their drape….

But it is time. If I keep these friends in my life, they crowd my closet, taking up physical and emotional room. I need to carve space for the new journey of Contemporary Tarot and (hoped-for) playwright + theatre work. Sure, I could get them altered but this isn’t couture, Armani, or Donna Karan. And as I evolve, I want to bring “new” into my life.

Although I am grateful for having those clothes on my back, it is time to send my old friends out into the world to find another gal. I hope they bring her the confidence they brought me. 

My mom Nancy is living in a lovely assisted living facility about a mile from my house. Aside from its proximity to my home, it is also smack in the middle of my route to the Jewel/Target/Office Max, as well as a 1/8 mile side trip from my route to the high school.


This means hanging with Nancy is easy. I can drop in for 20 minutes, chatting with Mom as well as hitting Sunrise Living up for a cup of coffee (dreadful brew, made extremely weak for the residents), and then proceed on with my day. So we talk. Lots about the kids, how my garden is doing, funny things I’ve read, existential musings, the gambit.

We also chat about theatre.

Mom was an actor. We’ve hung her show posters in her apartment and I recently dug out opening night cards to read to her (Editor’s Note: Save those, people! Someday, you too will be 87 and a briefest of notes will bring back a flood of wonderful memories)

Ages ago, Mom was in a Victory Gardens production The Long Awaited. Written by Claudia Allen, featuring Meg Thalken, directed by Sandy Shinner, she had a small yet pivotal role. I produced The Long Awaited at Clockwise Theatre a few years ago. Claudia, Sandy and Meg graciously came to the opening night. After the Clockwise performance, Meg said a nice thing to Mom. She praised Mom’s work in their production of the play all those years ago.

Mom still talks about that one compliment.

An acknowledgement from a respected peer and colleague, to this day it resonates for Nancy. A confirmation that, yes, her work as a theatre artist (the most ephemeral of the arts) was good. Seen. Remembered.

Our theatre tribe is a verbally generous bunch. We hug and praise, tossing out love because we know how hard it is, this demanding business. At times, the compliments feel rushed, unimportant, too slight for how hard the path can be. But we give them anyway, knowing they will be forgotten by morning.


The kindnesses are not forgotten. The hugs, the words, the cheerleading and praise linger long after a moment has passed, an experience has been filed away.

So I want to speak up for saying the nice thing

Writing the meaningful note

Giving the hug

Noticing and commenting on a hard job, done with expertise

I’ll go first: “Meg, you showed up and your kind words made my mom very happy. You are a positive force for good in our community and thusly, in the larger world. Your actions creating well-crafted work on stage and film, supporting others, cheering and praising, make a profound difference. Thank you”

“It’s foolproof”

This past year, I’ve attempted to spare my virtual friends from updates on my choice to lose weight and gain better health. But now that I’m close to “goal” weight (which is 50 lbs. lost, I’m at 45 lost today) I’m going to dump all my thoughts into one essay.

The Why

It was time. The photos told the tale. The mirror. The closet full of lovely clothes, only a 1/3 of which I was able to wear. So what was the tipping point? A cluster of events, really.

  • I stepped down as artistic director of Clockwise. My in-box quieted and I could breathe deeply, no more daily fires to put out distracting me from me.
  • A couple of close relatives had health crises (everyone’s fine now, thank god). Time spent in hospital rooms and hallways got me thinking about what I could do right now to avoid medications, stroke, heart attack and more, down the line.
  • I had my yearly check-up and it came down to this: I was healthy but fat.

That last part was the final kicker. If all I had to do to become a healthy Madelyn specimen was to lose weight, well, damn it, I could do that. I had to do it. So I marched home and brainstormed with the smartest person I’ve ever met, my hubby David, and he said that THING, that one thing that lodged in my brain as truth. Something I would hang on to throughout the coming year-long process.

“It’s foolproof”

More specifically: “If you consume 1,200 calories a day and work out, you will lose weight. It’s foolproof”

I’ve been a yo-yo dieter all my life. As the metabolism slowed, weight crept on and then stayed put. I felt others knew the secret, that I had somehow missed the How To Do It meeting. I’d diet, exercise, but in a slapdash manner. But David’s observation sounded like a guarantee. And that’s what I needed. It answered that question of “What did I really need to do exactly to achieve success at this one aspect of my life which I’ve wrestled with for over thirty years”?

So I dove in. Wanting to model healthy choices versus shallow choices, feminist Madelyn emphasized to teenage daughter Izzy that I was doing it “For health, NOT weight.” This mantra also proved to be a powerful reminder for me. But with all that actualized self-acceptance going on, I also decided to allow myself shallow-joy for looking better. So sue me.

I downloaded a David-recommended calorie-counter app onto my iPhone (My Fitness Pal) and started counting everything I consumed. Boy, is that an ugly wake up call. Can I tell you, 4 ounces or a ½ cup is not much.

And while exercising was always part of the picture, the ante was upped.

It’s been a year. A year to lose 45 lbs. And many emotions. Determination. Frustration. Impatience. Pride. Hope. Enthusiasm. And shame. When I look at pictures of myself in happy times but fat, there is a twinge of regret and frustration with that Madelyn. But she is me. I think I need to make peace with the fact that most memories are bittersweet.

Everyone’s weight loss/healthy life process is different and we all believe that our method is THE best. Go to a party and start the conversation and of the 20 people you ask, you will get 20 different answers. So understand I realize the following are just Madelyn’s Answers. But I’m a sharer. It’s just what I do…

The Food

  • I was hungry the first ten days. YES. Hungry. The only way through this part was to stick it out. It did get better. I knew it would. Like I said, a life-long yo-yo dieter.
  • No one notices when you lose the first 10 pounds.
  • You only will begin to get praise and positive feedback at -15 lbs. And those will be “Did you change your hair?”
  • I got an accurate scale and weighed myself every day or every other day. I decided that even losing ounces WAS progress!
  • I got a food scale and used it. Eventually, I was able to estimate portions but not at first.
  • Cheat meals had to happen for sanity. I will admit to anticipating for DAYS about a planned cheat meal.
  • I became a plate-guarder. When you are only consuming 1,200 a day, not even the love of your life gets a bite off your plate. “Get your own damn grapes! These are MINE!”
  • Everyone working on losing weight has to make peace with the broiled chicken breast. So did I. It does fill you up and fuel you. I now purchase a large package of chicken breasts, cut them into 4 ounce portions, and put them all on a large container (from Pampered Chef, consultant Sara Hoffman) in the fridge to use all week.
  • Lean protein and fruits & veggies. These are the food ballgame for me.
  • I discovered you can scramble eggs with no milk and they are still good and satisfying. Who knew?
  • Alcohol and carbs could only be involved in my life if they became strategic choices. So they did.
  • 80% of weight loss is the food, 20% exercise. Yes, those stats blow but they are true. A furious workout does not make up for a bacon cheese burger and sweet potato fries. The odd thing is that what drives a person (me) to comfort food is also the same thing which leads a person (me) to blowing off the workout. So not fair, right?
  • I had to throttle back on socializing for a while. Eating out as well.
  • If invited to someone’s home and I was to bring something, I’d bring a dessert I could resist! Baker’s Square French Silk pie being the best option for me. I just don’t like it…
  • The money ended up being a wash. Eating fresh & better but less volume & less processed kept the grocery bill about the same. So I now do not hesitate to spring for the fresh blueberries.
  • Some evenings, when I had consumed all allowed 1,200 calories, I would actually just go to bed to avoid eating.

I know my triggers and my saviors

Triggers: Pizza, especially Lou Malnatti’s deep dish sausage, fruit pie, specifically my sister’s blueberry crumb pie, generally any fruit & dough & sugar combination. Jam. Jelly. Salt & vinegar anything. Wine. Bread. Socializing. Weekends

Saviors: Yoplait Greek lemon yogurt (100 calories), broiled salmon & chicken, Wasa flaxseed crackers (60 calories for 2), reduced fat Craisins (on salad & cereal), eggs, tomato & onion & balsamic vinegar salad. Berries, raspberry, blueberries, strawberries. Tomatoes, onions. A broiled chicken & fruit & lettuce salad I make with Kraft lite raspberry vinaigrette dressing,

The Exercise

I start the exercise part of this plan with treadmill power walking and free weights at home. I hammered away for a couple of months. I thought, “Hey, I’m getting into good shape.” Then a friend loaned me P90X, the 30 minute Tony Horton workout DVDs. I was certain I could blast through one. I mean, they were only 30 minutes. I can power through anything for a measly 30 minutes. And I was strong now, right? Not right.

They kicked my ass. In a totally good way.

I became obsessed. After about 2 months of P90X, I purchased Insanity with Shaun T. It also kicked my ass. After months and months of these two programs, treadmill, and free weights, I started to get leaner. I did decide though, that as a 54 year old woman, I could and should make some modifications. I still can’t do those damn “sprawls.”

The Outcome

Finally, I feel like I look like ME again. That my insides and outsides match (yes, I stole that line from a Sandra Bullock movie). I believe my health is in a very good place. I’m hoping the string on the yo-yo dieting has been permanent severed. But I know a thirty year history of habitual behavior is hard to shed. I am taking comfort that I am closing in on a year of positive progress. But the fear sits in my gut that I will slip back, pound by pound. That a year from now, I’ll be avoiding the camera, ducking mirrors, living in only a portion of my wardrobe. So this is to remind myself of my hard-won insights. Admit my weaknesses. Acknowledge to this personal minefield. I know my physical state has no impact on my innate worth as a person. I understand and accept my frailties, strengths and shortcomings are hardwired for this lifetime; my baggage will always be my baggage.

Just these days, that baggage feels just a teeny-tiny bit lighter.

So last night, my 17 year old son Lucas and I head down to the upscale & fancy Renaissance Cinema in Highland Park to see the documentary Above and Beyond.

In 1948, just three years after the liberation of Nazi death camps, a group of Jewish American pilots answered a call for help. In secret and at great personal risk, they smuggled planes out of the U.S., trained behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia and flew for Israel in its War of Independence. As members of Machal – “volunteers from abroad” – this ragtag band of brothers not only turned the tide of the war; they also embarked on personal journeys of discovery and renewed Jewish pride.

My 15 year old daughter Izzy bailed, choosing to spend the night at a friend’s house.

Whatever….Lucas and I are stoked. This will be great. Military stuff. History. Jewish. America. It hits all of Lucas’ sweet spots! And I’m taking my teenager to a DOCUMENTARY on a Saturday night. Huge Good-Mom points.

And I’m smuggling in cookies-in-lieu of pricey concessions, so huge thrifty points too. (I try not to think about the minor infraction of movie theatre policy although I suspect honor and integrity might be themes I’ll soon be reflecting on)

We get parking right down the street. This is AWESOME! We’re even 10 minutes early so we can fit in the obligatory pre-show bathroom visit. God, I’m good.

We stride in, mother and son, together.

The 4:50 showing of Above and Beyond is sold out.

Are you sh*tting me?

Movies don’t sell out.

Especially documentaries.  

Then I start working the numbers.

  • This is Highland Park. A large senior population. And this is a 4:50PM show on a Saturday night. Prime date night & time for the AARP set. Some dude is planning to get lucky tonight.
  • Also, yes, a large Jewish population as well.
  • And the Renaissance…it’s no multi-screen Cineplex. No fancy (and generous) stadium seating and 12+ screens. Property values in Highland Park being what they are, each footprint of real estate costs more…so no sprawling Cineplexes.

But, being the undauntable movie-lovers we are, we quickly regroup. We were going to a movie and by god, we are GOING TO A MOVIE! 25 minutes later, we are standing in line to purchase tickets to Paul Blart, Mall Cop 2.

From insightful documentary to slapstick comedy. I feel my Good Mom crown beginning to slip.

When we get to the front of the line, we are informed the 5:20PM show is on the Ultrascreen. Yup. Kevin James 70 foot screen wide. In Hi-Def. But tixs are $13. There goes the Thrifty Mom Award.

Lucas, on the other hand, is thrilled. When hearing the showing of Paul Blart, Mall Cop 2 we are attending is also on the Ultrascreen, he says something along the lines, “Alright! When God closes a door, he opens a window!”

So we go into the Ultrascreen auditorium. Wow. No worries about selling this show out.

Were my intellect and emotional selves’ equally engaged by the riveting story arc and dramatic nuances in Paul Blart, Mall Cop 2?


Did we both have fun?

Hell YEAH!

It was a timely reminder. Sometimes the cosmic awards are in the doing, not the “stuff” of the doing. Because I had a really good time hanging out with my son. I was proud that he took the minor disappointment completely in stride, not berating the universe over a minor SNAFU, and even celebrating God’s opening a window (to the Ultrascreen, no less!)

FYI, The Avengers is opening May 1st. Yes, on the Ultrascreen. We will be sure to pre-purchase our tickets to that so we will all be winners.


  • Superheroes in Hi-Def + concessions galore for Lucas
  • 70 foot wide Chris Evans & Chris Hemsworth for me.


Good times.