The Hired Hand – Not just another blah-blah-blog

November 3, 2020

Pandemic writing prompt #2: intimacy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Darcy Grabenstein @ 9:55 pm

You’d think that being in close quarters for months on end would bring two people closer together. I’m not saying it took us further apart, but any expectations I had of a relationship epiphany were dashed within weeks, if not days.

Let’s start with mornings. He gets up early to go work out in the basement, or what he generously refers to as our home gym. I, on the other hand, stay cozily in bed and read a few more chapters of a book or, if I must admit, watch another episode of “Tiger King” or some other inane show to take my mind off all this craziness.

By the time I make it downstairs, he’s busy at his work station, dual big-screen monitors casting an eerie glow on his unshaven face. If he doesn’t have his headset on, a signal that he’s on a call (or at least says he’s on a call), I can sneak in a good-morning kiss. I grab some coffee, yogurt and fruit and eat at my desk, standing at attention, as I check dozens of emails in my inbox.

At lunchtime, if I’m lucky I make my way to the basement for some cardio. More likely, though, I make a salad and head back to my work area, scarfing it down until my next Zoom meeting.

After work, if I hadn’t made it to the basement for a workout at lunchtime, I often head downstairs to de-stress or sneak in a virtual Zumba class. When dinner rolls around, I’m often in scarf mode again as I prepare for a social justice meeting, a women’s nonprofit meeting, another board meeting, a writers’ meeting, a playwriting class or, my favorite pastime, online dancing with people from around the world. People except my husband, that is.

Occasionally, we’ll watch a movie on TV. He likes sci-fi. I like rom-coms. I didn’t say we watched it together.

When it’s time to turn in, one of us is usually sound asleep before the other. Then it’s wash, rinse repeat.

Where did all the hours, minutes, seconds go? What happened to bonding during the pandemic?

Pandemic writing prompt #1: On home

Filed under: Uncategorized — Darcy Grabenstein @ 9:47 pm

Before the pandemic, I worked full time from home 99.9 percent of the time. There’s a big difference between having the option of working from home and being forced to work from home. There’s also a difference having your husband work eight (nine? ten?) hours from home, too, even if it’s a couple rooms away. Add to the equation one stepson in his last semester of college. When he’s not busy working on class projects — and sometimes when he is — the sound of gaming screams can be heard from his room. Did I mention that his room looks like a bomb went off in it? But I digress.

During the pandemic, Zoom and I have become old friends. Zoom sees me at my best, all gussied up for a business event, and at my worst, after a day and night of Zoom meetings. On the positive side, I’ve had many reunions with friends across the country. Without the pandemic as an excuse, we probably would not have reconnected.

My pandemic-prompted work area consists of a makeshift stand-up desk. What once was a hospital-style bedside table, discarded on the sidewalk, has been resurrected as a stand-up desk. It’s perfect for the task: It can be adjusted up and down, and it even has a recess for a coffee cup or water bottle. Best of all, it was free.

After work, I need a change of venue. That’s when I move my laptop to our home bar, rows of martini glasses, shot glasses, and pint glasses tempting me to indulge. And indulge I have. A glass of wine with dinner, a shot of Fireball or swig of limoncello before bedtime to encourage a full night’s sleep.

My sleep patterns, too, have been a victim of the pandemic. Like many people, I’ve had bizarre dreams. And, now, with the election looming threateningly over us all, my dreams have morphed into nightmares. The question is: How different are they from reality?

September 6, 2020

The shortest blog post ever?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Darcy Grabenstein @ 10:43 am


June 9, 2020

Ponderings During a Pandemic: Depression vs. Dance

Filed under: Uncategorized — Darcy Grabenstein @ 7:21 am

As someone who worked from home 99.9 percent of the time prior to the pandemic, my daily routine hasn’t changed much in recent weeks. Wake up early (thanks to my husband). Get dressed (do T-shirt and leggings count?). Take vitamins. Use my neti pot (TMI?). Make coffee. Grab something to eat. Station myself at my standing desk.

Wait, did I brush my teeth? What day is it?

Wash, rinse, repeat.

However, having the option to work from home and being forced to stay at home are two different things. Those who know me know I’m not one to sit still.

So while my daytime routine remained—yawn—basically the same, my after-hours routine was “dance-us-interruptus.” So long, salsa. Bye-bye belly dancing. Farewell folk dancing. Zumba? Zilch.

Because my “day” job is tied to the pharmaceutical industry, my email inbox is inundated with COVID-19 references. Between this and the media onslaught, I face a constant barrage of coronavirus coverage. And, just like the virus itself, over-exposure is suffocating. Not to mention the numerous Zoom meetings, each of us trading our cubicle for a box onscreen. No wonder I feel so boxed in all the time.

This is when I came to the proverbial fork in the road. I could fall into a funk or get my funk on, so to speak. I chose the latter. After all, dancing is my antidote to depression. Dancing is my happy place. If I must shelter in place, that’s where I want to be.

While my work inbox overflows with COVID clinical trials, my personal inbox is filled with free trials and more. FREE trial subscription to [fill in the blank]! FREE shipping! FREE downloads! For someone confined to what amounts to house arrest, the term “free” taunted me cruelly.

Curiosity—and the desire to save a few bucks—got the better of me. I’ve always loved to learn new things, and the universe (or just the internet) was now serving up a smorgasbord of free online classes. I was like a kid in a cultural candy store, ready to taste a little of this, a little of that.

My calendar, which was as empty as shelves at the local supermarket, is now crammed with virtual activities. It all began with an offer I couldn’t refuse from Philly Dance Fitness.* A one-time fee through the end of march entitled you to unlimited online classes. Oh yeah. Like a junkie waiting for her  next fix, I eagerly signed up for Zumba, Afro-Caribbean, Bollywood. Much to my husband’s chagrin, I did not sign up for the striptease class. Given my interest in anything that’s got to do with dance, you’d never know I was a ballet school dropout.

I’ve also dabbled in some poetry, penning the soon-to-be-published “Answers During a PANDEMicONIUM”—not to be confused with “Ponderings During a Pandemonium.” Aspiring writers should take advantage of the free online write-ins held by Stockton University’s Murphy Writing program. Writers are given a prompt, about 40 minutes to write, then come together to share and critique.

Have I burned out yet? Au contraire! Here’s a look at a “typical” week for me. Maybe you’ll want to check out some of these classes yourself, or be inspired to pursue similar interests online.

Sundays start with a weekly study session, followed by free Facebook concerts and ending with a weekly Israeli folk dance session from North Jersey. Mondays include a weekly foreign-language class and free Zumba courtesy of Philly’s Dilworth Park, sponsored by Optimal Fitness and Rothman Orthopedic. Dwayne, the instructor, manages some impressive moves, despite the spatial limitations of his bedroom. Of course, I round out my evening with Israeli dance sessions from Boston and California.

Tuesdays often feature one of three book clubs I’m in (yes, I somehow find time to read, in between work, dancing, classes, and board meetings). The beauty of online courses, especially those on Facebook, is that one can choose to participate without being seen or heard. This especially comes in handy when I take the free voice class offered on Tuesdays by Lambertville’s Music Mountain Theater. Let’s just say I probably should focus on dancing, not singing. I’m not quitting my day job. I’ve also tried the theater’s tap and Broadway dance classes on Facebook. Tap dancing in rubber-soled dance sneakers on a tile floor leaves a lot to be desired, just sayin’. At 7 on Tuesdays, Trevor Algarin of The ZSpot offers a free online Zumba class. Algarin has enough energy to power half of Philly. Later in the evening, I’ve got my pick between Israeli dance sessions from the DC area and New York.

Wednesday mornings begin with a weekly meditation class. At some point during the day, I usually squeeze in a yoga class. My studio in South Jersey offers both livestream and on-demand classes with a paid membership. The management has committed to maintaining the online offerings even after the pandemic has passed. This news was as soothing to me as a long, drawn-out “ohhhmmm.” You see, I bask in anonymity, refusing to turn on my video for the Zoom yoga sessions. In the studio, the instructors remind us that yoga is a practice and we should not compare ourselves to our classmates. But when the student on the next mat over has manipulated her body into a Philly soft pretzel, I can’t help but be self-conscious as I strain to touch my all-too-distant toes. In the privacy of my own home, however, I can take comfort in the fact that no one sees me wobble in my standing tree pose, waiting for someone to yell “timberrrr!”

Later in the day, there’s a folk dance session run by friends of mine in Florida. But I must admit I’m a folk dance snob. Their session is international folk dancing, which to me borders on sleepwalking. My passion is Israeli dancing, a true melting pot, with music and steps influenced by Eastern European, Russian, Arabic, Greek, Latin American and other cultures. Circle dances, line dances, partner dances. I’ve even led a couple online classes myself locally. And so I wait until 9 p.m. Eastern time to join an online Israeli dance session from California.

The highlight of my week, dance-wise, is Thursday. Early in the evening, I sometimes catch an online session—you guessed it, Israeli dancing—from outside Boston. Later on is my Israeli dance trifecta: sessions from Chicago, North Jersey and the DC area. Unlike my shy yoga self, during the Israeli dance sessions I keep my video on, reconnecting with dance friends across the country. And I’ve got to admit that I bask in my 5 seconds of fame when the session administrator highlights me dancing.

Friday, it’s back to yoga so I can gear up for Zumba Saturday. If it’s Saturday, it must be Zumba. So many Zumba sessions, so little time. Marianne Martino-Giosa, owner of M’Fierce Fitness in Bucks County, offers a Zumba 20/20/20 class (Zumba, Zumba toning, plus a mat workout). Martino-Giosa, by the way, is also known for her Mummers Parade choreography. Mary Gagliardi, based in South Jersey, also offers a Saturday morning session. Ronnie Milbar, based in Montgomery County, offers a weekly paid Zoom Zumba session (Zoomba?).

Just as Philly’s Dilworth Park offers free online classes, the city of Fort Lauderdale offers free virtual line dancing and Zumba on Saturdays. The line dance class reminds me of my summertime visits to the VanillaSoul LineDancers Monday night session in Margate. However, throughout the three-hour class (yes, three hours), I did not see the instructor’s face. I only saw her seemingly disembodied feet. This made for excellent teaching but also a somewhat surreal experience as a student.

Did I mention I’m taking an online piano course? And, not missing a beat, I tried djembe technique and rhythms with Princeton’s Drum & Dance Learning Center. I did learn something: I need a bigger drum. I tried my hand (foot?) at dance classes on Instagram taught by The Rockettes and by Debbie Allen.

Proudly wearing my “We dance virtually anywhere” T-shirt, I am not alone in my obsession with Israeli folk dance. Case in point: I participated in a 24-hour global Israeli dance marathon online, mentioned in this article, with 26 instructors and up to 1,000 dancers at a time. For me, the icing on the cake was that the marathon benefited COVID-related charities worldwide. I found it deeply fulfilling to take something I love doing and turn it into doing good for others.

April 27, 2020

Our paths once crossed, and now his path has come to an abrupt end

Filed under: Uncategorized — Darcy Grabenstein @ 6:33 pm

This post originally was published Feb. 11, 2012

While the music world is mourning the loss of Whitney Houston, the literary world is mourning the loss of Jeff Zaslow.

Jeff Zaslow and I were mere acquaintances, but I can’t keep from getting choked up as I write this. The best-selling author was tragically killed Friday in a car accident on a snow-covered road in Michigan. He had just done a book signing and was headed home to his beloved family — TV news anchor Sherry Margolis and their three daughters, Jordan, Alex and Eden.

Jeff Zaslow and I both worked at The Orlando Sentinel  (then called the Sentinel Star) back in the ’80s. He was an up-and-coming writer. I was a just-out-of-college copy editor. We both were young, Jewish and determined. (OK, I’ll admit it. I had a bit of a crush on him. I think I was mostly awed by his raw talent. If I could’ve, I’d have bought Zaslow stock.)

That’s where our similarities ended — although I just found out that we both were born in the same month, in the same year. Jeff hailed from the Philly area, where I now call my home. I remember Jeff regaling us with stories of his younger days as a hot dog hawker at Phillies games. He sure came a long way.

Our career paths led us in different directions. Jeff worked for big-name newspapers — The Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Sun-Times and USA Weekend. He got the Chicago gig, by the way, when he entered a contest to replace columnist Ann Landers at the newspaper for a story he was doing for The Wall Street Journal and beat out 12,000 applicants. I, however, worked as an editor at a small community weekly and a Tribune company before defecting from the media world to the advertising and corporate world.

Jeff went on to write best-selling books, including The Last Lecture, The Girls from Ames and Highest Duty. His most recent books were Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope and The Magic Room.

I, on the other hand, have had a couple of short stories published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. (Hey, a gal’s gotta start somewhere, right?)

Our paths crossed again a couple years ago. Well, they crossed because I made them cross. When I found out that Jeff would be the keynote speaker at the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, I made reservations to hear him speak. That evening, I was afraid he’d be mobbed by adoring Zaslow wannabes after his speech, so I approached him before his keynote.

I wasn’t sure he’d remember me, but he genuinely appeared to recall our days at the Orlando Sentinel. I tried not to sound too much like a Zaslow groupie when I praised his latest literary contributions.

The thing is, while Jeff touched my life as a coworker in the trenches of a daily metropolitan newspaper, he touched my life even more as the author of books that dealt with love, loss and — yes — death. He touched millions of lives in this way.

He not only touched the lives of those who read his books, he touched the lives of those who were the subjects of his books. Jeff wrote about famous people as well as people like you and me, simply living our lives as best we can.

I’ve often compared Jeff’s writing style to that of author Mitch Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Have a Little Faith), another favorite of mine. Albom spoke highly of his friend: “Jeff was a master storyteller. … He always wrote with great sensitivity.”

The words of Capt. Sully Sullenberger, whom Jeff wrote about in Highest Duty, say it all: “Jeff was a beautiful writer, wonderful collaborator, loving husband, father and friend. Our whole family loved him dearly and he will be sorely missed.”

What I find ironic is that Jeff wrote about Carnegie-Mellon professor Randy Pausch and his courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. (Jeff graduated from Carnegie-Mellon.) He wrote about Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who cheated death, and her equally courageous battle following her near-fatal shooting in Arizona. And he wrote about Sully, who also heroically cheated death by piloting his US Airways plane to safety in New York’s Hudson River.

But, in the end, Jeff himself couldn’t cheat death. And we have all been cheated out of one of the most talented writers of our time.

Most importantly, his wife and daughters have been cheated out of a caring husband and father. Rabbi Jason Miller and others have called The Magic Room Jeff’s own last lecture. The book is subtitled “A story about the love we wish for our daughters.” 

Jeff had three daughters. I have two sons. And so I say this (having lost my own father when I was just 18) to Jeff’s daughters: Remember the good times. Know that he was so very proud of you and loved you with all his heart. And so I say this (following the advice of one very wise father named Jeff Zaslow) to my own two sons: Know that I am so very proud of you and love you with all my heart.

Rest in peace, Jeff. I’ve got a feeling that you and Randy are having one heck of a reunion up there.

May your memory be a blessing.


September 15, 2019

The Games We Play

Filed under: Uncategorized — Darcy Grabenstein @ 11:03 am

Bob-bob-bob. Hands outstretched like a zombie, tippy-toes barely touching the bottom, eyes squeezed tightly shut, I navigated the wide-open waters. Or at least the shallow end of the pool.

With a fierce determination, I became hyper-focused on my sense of hearing. I was like a dog, with an acute awareness of sounds echoing off the water’s surface. That is, unless my ears were filled with water, which happened more often than not. I even swam like a dog, if you consider the doggie paddle swimming. It was a poor imitation at best.

“MARCO!” I shouted for all my friends – and anyone unfortunate to be within earshot – to hear. I experienced a nanosecond of fear before I heard the familiar reply: “POLO!” It was a resounding chorus: Claire’s Southern drawl, Kathy’s mouse-like yelp, David’s I’m-too-cool-for-this monotone, Nancy’s cheerleader-like chant. Splash! Splaaash! Splaaasshhh! My playmates took their aim, giving me a false sense of their locations.

While others in my position may have squinted slightly, catching a brief, watery glimpse of their prey, I resolutely kept my eyes closed like a vise. After all, the Marco Polo police might catch me cheating.

Well, I must admit I wasn’t totally innocent. When the tables were turned and I was part of the chorus, I often became eerily silent. Not moving a muscle, I would truly become invisible to the one who was “it,” until my raucous laughter gave me away.

I wasn’t always so fond of the water. When I was younger and enrolled in swim lessons, I would scurry to the back of the line, delaying the inevitable. Did I really think I would avoid having to face my fears and take the plunge?

ZaydeFast forward about half a century. This time, I’m not a competitor but a spectator. And there’s a lot more riding on this game. I’m at the Senior Games in Albuquerque, cheering on my 85-year-young father-in-law, who’s swimming in five events. To say that I have a lively family is an understatement.

Interestingly, on our drive to the aquatic center we passed by a motel with the sign: “Pool. No Marco Polo.”

One might assume that if you make it to the Senior Games, you like participating in competitive sports. For some, that may be the case. For others, it’s more about challenging themselves. It’s not about limitation, but possibility.

Watching the Games was both inspiring and humbling. As someone decades younger than the swimmers, someone who got winded just walking up the bleachers (I blamed the high altitude in Albuquerque), I was awed by these older athletes. They came in all shapes and sizes, each approaching their race with a unique flair. Macho, muscular septuagarians in Speedos. Lithe, limber ladies in bathing caps. Bald-headed men with bravado. Former Olympians. Current heroes.

Each athlete entered the water in his or her own way and own time. Some crouched in a definitively competitive stance. Some precariously perched on the slippery starting blocks. Some with no-holds-barred, beer-bellied belly flops. Some standing gingerly on the pool’s ledge. Some who slid into the water, hanging onto the edge until the starting horn sounded. And all appeared to be in “the zone.”

We waited until it was time for my father-in-law Dan’s heat. Patience was definitely a virtue; many of the races were not exactly what you’d call fast-paced. That’s because minimum times were not necessarily required in the qualifying trials preceding the Games. In Dan’s case, he sent us a photo of himself after his qualifying rounds at the state level, with so many medals around his neck that he looked like an aging rapper. In his email, he referred to it as “my Michael Phelps moment.” You see, he came in first in all his events … because there were no other competitors in his age bracket.

As we waited, we witnessed people in wheelchairs, with canes, with walkers. We saw a blind woman. Did I mention that these were competitors, not spectators?

One race included a 100-year-old woman. Yes, 100. When she touched the wall at the end of her race, everyone in the bleachers rose to their feet, hooting and clapping. Yes, I cried.

As I waited, my mind drifted back to those games of Marco Polo. I couldn’t help but think how being “it” forced me to approach the situation from a different perspective. I could no longer rely on sight. I had to quickly adapt, using my senses of touch and hearing. On the flip side, when I was one of those being sought after, I soon discovered that my soft voice was an asset, making me less easily detected than the others. Years later, however, I realized that not only did I need to be a good listener in life, I needed to work hard to make myself heard.

Finally, Dan’s first race was about to start. Yes, we were one of those families. We all proudly wore our custom T-shirts with “GRABenstein THE GOLD” on the front (Grabenstein is our family name; yes, I’ll take credit for the slogan) and TEAM DAN on the back.

With cell phones, cameras and video cameras poised, we were like a pack of paparazzi. “GO ZAYDE!” yelled the grandkids, using the affectionate Yiddish word for “grandfather.”

At the awards ceremony, Zayde stood there in all his Zayde-ishness. Sporting a wide-brimmed cowboy hat and leather belt with oversized buckle, he beamed as he stepped up on the podium. Yes, he won several medals. Even if he had placed last, he’ll always be first in our hearts.

October 18, 2017

My Favorite Free Resources for Freelance Writers

Filed under: Writing — Darcy Grabenstein @ 9:59 pm
Tags: , , , ,

For more than 30 years, I’ve been a freelance writer. I’ll admit that I’ve also held down a full-time job for 99 percent of those years. I can’t afford to waste time searching for what I need to complete writing assignments. So I’m very discriminating when it comes to free online resources for writers. I want resources that are reputable, easy to navigate, and offer useful information.

Following are several of my go-to websites for everything from expert sources to stock images.


Purdue University’s OWL Writing Lab is a comprehensive resource on for more formal writing topics. You’ll find all the basics — grammar, punctuation, mechanics — plus subject-specific writing, research and citation, and more.


Let’s face it, when you’re optimizing copy for search engines, Google is the search engine to target. Industry statistics show that, in terms of global market share from July 2016 to July 2017, Google led with about 92 percent, followed by Bing and Yahoo! at 2.5 and 2.3 percent, respectively.

That said, the Google AdWords Keyword Planner is a helpful tool for researching which keywords and phrases to include in your copy. Granted, you need a Google AdWords account to access the tool, but you don’t need to spend any money to do so. One way around it is to create and pause an AdWords campaign. You may, however, need an active AdWords campaign in order to access the tool.


For marketing copywriters, the HubSpot blog is a treasure trove of information. The folks at Hubspot have content marketing down to a science. Admittedly, the categories are rather broad: marketing, sales, and customer success. However, the marketing blog posts cover many writing topics. A search on the word “writing” turns up dozens of related posts.

Seth Godin is synonymous with marketing. What I love about his blog is that it’s to the point. One blog post, for instance, is only 175 words. While this may go against SEO best practices for minimum word count, Godin’s posts are written with the reader in mind.


The Copyblogger blog offers useful insights, whether you’re a newbie writer or one with decades of experience. Topics run the gamut from conversion to eBooks to social media.


Many blogging sites require writers to supply their own images. One site that consistently shows relevant search results is Burst, powered by Shopify. When I entered the word “summer,” the site returned 141 matches, including these:

Summer images

Expert resources

If you’re looking for an expert resource for an article, Help A Reporter Out (HARO) is a great starting point. Founded by public relations guru Peter Shankman, HARO is now owned by Cision. HARO is used by both writers and expert sources. I also do public relations work, so I have used HARO for both finding sources and for making my clients available as expert sources.


The following site could also be categorized under “fun.” It’s easy to get distracted when you’re using the internet archive Wayback Machine. This nonprofit site is a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. It’s a great visual reference for a historical perspective of websites as well as now-defunct sites.

I have to give another shout-out to Google here. If you don’t already use Google alerts, now’s the time to start. Wearing my PR hat, I’ve got to say it’s a free way to monitor mentions on the web. For research, just plug in your keywords and you’ll stay up to date on news regarding that topic. And from a marketing standpoint, it’s an easy way to keep tabs on the competition.


Many freelance writers do not have the luxury of running contracts by a lawyer. The Freelancers Union has a contract creator that lets you specify details including late fees, cancellation fees and numbers of revisions.

Freelance gigs

I’m hesitant to share the following resource, since it will increase my competition for writing gigs. It’s the Morning Coffee eNewsletter. The free weekly email digest includes a variety of freelance writing jobs, some of which are exclusive to the newsletter. I have landed several projects using this resource.

My list is continually evolving, as I come across new resources all the time. Be sure to bookmark your own favorite sites, and watch as your list continues to grow, too.



April 21, 2017

The Job Search Dating Game

Filed under: Uncategorized — Darcy Grabenstein @ 4:45 pm

Here I am, nearly three years since the last time I was laid off from an ad agency. Layoffs are a fact of life in the advertising industry. They simply come with the territory.

PR at the Phillies game

In June 2014, I attended a Phillies game the same day I was laid off.

And so, as I dive head first into my job search, it struck me that looking for a job is a lot like online dating. Your cover letter is a bit like your online profile. With that in mind, I’ve rewritten my goals in a “friendlier” format:

Experienced copywriter ISO jobs with benefits.
Interested in long-term relationship with organization
in the Greater Philly/South Jersey area. Great SOH
and work ethic. Not willing to relocate. Will consider
remote work. Would like to meet F2F. I’ll show you
my resume if you show me salary range.

OK, that may be a little flippant for something as serious as a job search. But the comparison to online dating is a valid one. If the cover letter is similar to an online profile, the phone screen is just the professional version of the phone call interested parties make to decide whether to actually go on a first date.

The interview itself is the first date. If things go well, you’ll have a second or even third date. But questions remain: Do you divulge everything on the first date, or do you hold back? How soon do you contact the employer after that first meeting? If you reach out right away, does that make you look desperate? Can you afford to play hard to get?

Once you land a job, you’ve got to be careful that you don’t fall into the trap of complacency that’s common in long-term relationships. You’ve got to keep the relationship fresh. You’ve also got to keep your roving eye under control; your focus should be on the new relationship, not with moving on to the next opportunity.

In keeping with the dating theme, I have changed the lyrics to “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” from “Fiddler on the Roof” to reflect my current situation:

Recruiter, Recruiter
Make me a match,
Find me a gig,
a job I can snatch.

Recruiter, Recruiter
Look through your leads
And make me a perfect match.

Recruiter, Recruiter
I’ve done email
You know the ropes
Show the pay scale.

Get me an interview, I’m longing to be
employed — yes, I have a degree!

Yes, I have done it.
Blogs and PR,
It’s yes to those too.
Social media,
digital marketing,
My resume’s filled with all that I do!

Matchmaker, Matchmaker,
Make me a match,
Find me a gig,
A job I can snatch,

Day after day at home I’m alone
So find me job
of my own.

March 28, 2015

A lasting tribute to my mother, in cyberspace

Filed under: Uncategorized — Darcy Grabenstein @ 2:39 pm

I gave this tribute at a memorial service for my mother, who left this world on March 8, 2015.

For those of you who didn’t know my mom, Janet Landy, I’d like you to get to know her. And for those of you who did know my mom, I’d like to share a little bit about her that maybe you didn’t know.

I have to warn you that my husband, Micah, joked he’d be playing music before I got to the end of my tribute, like they do for the Oscar acceptance speeches. But please indulge me… I’ve got only a few minutes to sum up a lifetime of love.

My mom, born in 1930, grew up in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill and hadMy mother, Janet Landy many fond memories of her grandmother, Nana. Till the end, she was a huge Pirates fan (although she claimed to be a Phillies fan when she moved to the area, she was a Pirates fan at heart). She also lived in Atlanta for many years, and was a devoted Braves fan too.

Grams, as she was known by her grandsons, shared a love of baseball with Aaron and Dan. She loved them so very much and was as proud as a grandmother could be. And she knew that they, each in their own special way, loved her dearly. Or, as Aaron would say in his cards to her when he was little, “I love you with joy.”

Her parents ended up in Florida because her father, an insurance agent, was transferred there. She graduated from Miami Beach High, and years later they ended up in, of all places, Pensacola. Talk about a gefilte fish out of water!

That’s where she met my father, Alvin, and that’s where I grew up. Like her father, my dad became an insurance salesman, and built his own agency. While we weren’t overly religious, because the Jewish community was so small and close-knit, our lives centered around our synagogue, B’nai Israel. That’s why I’m so drawn to our synagogue, Temple Har Zion of Mount Holly. It’s truly an extended family for us.

Mom’s best friends were those she met at B’nai Israel. For years and years, my mother would play mah-jongg every week with four other women (I still see one of them every time we visit Dan at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where both my father and I also went to school). When the mah-jongg game was at our house, that meant there would always be goodies to snack on. I’d hear the click-clack of tiles and smell the incessant cigarette smoke. Those damn cigarettes stole my mother from me.

Mom was always there for me. As an adult, she gave me emotional support during my divorce and was never judgmental. That’s the beauty of a mother’s unconditional love.

She was there for me throughout my childhood, and was the ultimate chauffeur. I remember being driven from Hebrew school to ballet class (or was it the other way around?), and turning into a contortionist as I tried to slip on/off my leotard and tights in the car. She spent hours (probably years) of her life with me in the beauty salon as I had my hair relaxed, straightened, and reverse-permed. (As you can see, my hair won the battle.)

Those were the days. Of course, like all mothers and daughters, we had our moments. I still remember the time she chased me down the hall with a kitchen knife. OK, I thought it was a knife. It actually was a hairbrush. I probably deserved it.

All in all, life was good. That is, until my father required open-heart surgery. I was a freshman in high school. It was a very rare and serious procedure back then. My father was never the same after; turned out, he had a series of small strokes due to blood clots. My mother became his caretaker. It got to the point where he didn’t recognize us. He ended up in a nursing home and died when I was a freshman in college.

Mom and her parents ended up back in South Florida. As a testament to the love she had for my father, she never remarried (although I often wished she had, so that someone could’ve taken care of her for a change). After her father passed away, she again became caretaker for her mother, who had Alzheimer’s. After her mother passed away, she moved to Atlanta to care for her aunt, who had emphysema. This was after she herself had a small stroke that left her with a limp.

That pretty much describes my mom, a very selfless person. I called it the “martyr” syndrome, but she simply got joy out of helping others. I know that, when she was pregnant with me, she badly sprained her ankle. I’m sure it was because she was protecting me, as always. She’d tell me the story of how, when I was a baby, she severely burned her hand while making wild rice for dinner. My father wanted to take her to the hospital right away, but she insisted waiting until I finished eating. Oy. And when I was in my early teens, I had an accident that required oral surgery. My father was out of town having pre-heart surgery tests, and my mother had to handle the crisis herself. There also was a terrible car crash on the corner where we lived, and my mother (who kept an impeccable house), allowed an injured and bleeding man to come in and use the home phone while I contacted the ambulance on our office line.

Another example of her selflessness was at Daniel’s bar mitzvah. She tripped coming down the stairs after her aliyah and, although we didn’t know it at the time, fractured her arm. She must have been in a great deal of pain but, not wanting to ruin the event, never complained… through the service, the photo shoot outside the reception in the sweltering heat, through the candlelighting ceremony and entire reception. Upon the advice of a doctor friend who was there, immediately following the reception we took her directly to the ER. Afterward, she stayed at our home for several days where our dog Snowy, sensing something was amiss, faithfully stayed by her side.

When Mom ended up in the hospital in Atlanta, I was happy that I could bring her here to Abrams assisted living and finally help her. (I couldn’t have done it without both the physical and emotional support of my sons, Aaron and Dan.)

After Abrams, mom moved over to the nursing home at Greenwood House and, if you ask anyone here, they’ll tell you how loved she was. After her recent hospital stay, she said that she felt like a queen when she returned to here. She said her room was like Grand Central Station, with everyone parading in and out to say hello. I stayed in her room the last few days of her life, and it was true. If I had collected a toll, I’d be rich!

Ask anyone here and they’ll also tell you how well-dressed she was (did you know she once was asked to be a hand model?), and what a great Text Twist player she was. (Greenwood has my son Aaron to thank for the heads-up about that game, by the way.) Mom also had a great sense of humor, and was more open-minded than I gave her credit for. In fact, one of her last big laughs was when Dan showed her a photo of him and a couple of frat brothers “mooning” for the camera. (Sorry, Dan. Hey, she got a big kick out of it!)

She made such great friends at Greenwood, especially her friend Rose, who was the sister she never had. They would talk on the phone to each other every day, and dined together every night. Sunday afternoons were always fun, as Mom and I often enjoyed the entertainment with Rose and her daughter, Debbie. Connie, a volunteer at Greenwood, was an angel on earth to my mom. And Esther always made her laugh (she cracks me up too). I don’t think it was a coincidence that Mom passed on International Women’s Day. She so cherished her women friends.

Another person who became so much more than a friend to her is Margie Kopins. In fact, Margie was my mom’s “adopted” daughter, making her my adopted sister! I know they had a very special bond. You’ve heard of Tuesdays with Morrie? Well, this was Tuesdays with Margie. I am deeply touched, as Margie has made an unbelievably generous donation to Hadassah in my mother’s memory, which she will talk about in a minute. I’m so thankful that Rose, Connie, Margie, along with Millie and Rita, Emery (go Pirates!) and Therese, Marge, Janet, Helen and many others, all were a part of her life. I can’t list everyone, but you know who you are.

Over the years, we lived in different cities but would get together for special occasions, holidays and vacations. We had this running joke that every time we got together, some major event occurred. One year I think it was the tsunami, another year an earthquake. Well, wouldn’t you know it, Mom’s health took a turn for the worse on the day of our biggest snowstorm this year. Micah, my knight in shining armor, bravely drove through the snow and ice so I could be by her side. Earlier that day, before she took a turn for the worse, we had spoken, and I told her I’d be by after work the next day to see her. She was already a little foggy and asked, “Today?” I jokingly responded, “Are you crazy? I love you, but not THAT much!” Turns out I DID love her THAT much.

Another running joke we had was that nothing was ever easy for us. A simple trip to the grocery store, for instance, could be complicated by traffic jams, no parking spaces, out-of-stock items, long checkout lines, price checks, broken grocery bags. You name it. Again, Mom got the last laugh. Trying to arrange her burial in Pensacola was quite the challenge. Turns out that in New Jersey you need a permit for transport. But you need an official death certificate for the permit. And you need the doctor’s signature for the certificate. Then there’s the matter of a rabbi. You see, Pensacola only has a part-time rabbi and he was out of town the week of the burial. The other rabbi in town was only available for a few days. So we had to get a rabbi from Mobile, Alabama, an hour away. And the chevra kadisha only was available at night. Ah, the joys of being Jewish in a small town in the South.

We also found out after the fact that, after a journey via Texas (I joked that Mom traveled more after her death than before), the cargo airline officials at the Pensacola airport were not going to release her to the funeral home because they required pre-payment and weren’t going to accept on-site payment.

And then there was the matter of the photos for the PowerPoint slide show I created of Mom. I got a new laptop and had transferred all my data, but certain photos – including many of Mom – were inaccessible. I was on the phone with Apple Care support for over an hour and a half trying to fix the problem. I’m sure Mom was looking down and laughing about that, too.

My mom’s biggest disappointment was that, because all her finances were depleted, she could not give birthday gifts or Chanukah gelt to Aaron and Daniel, or to Julia, Josh and Lily, whom she loved like her own grandkids, or to Mara, whom she loved like a granddaughter. Mara was truly my lifeline during this whole ordeal. Mara, I’ll be forever grateful for your knowledge, your caring and your love. My mother also was sorry that gifts to staff were not allowed. And so she gave them the one thing that she could give: her heartfelt gratitude. She loved the staff here: Alma, Amber, Jasmine, Jodi, Gen, Jeff and too many others to name individually. It really hit me what an impact Mom made on those around her, when the aides, nurses and even Dr. Schwartz came in to pay their respects, and no one left with a dry eye.

I must admit that, when people would ask what my mother did, I’d answer, “She was a homemaker,” and secretly be a little embarrassed. I grew up in an era when feminism and women’s power were all the rage. Now, I realize that it’s not what you do in life that’s important. It’s how you treat others. And Mom did that so well. In fact, when you’re in doubt of what to do in a situation, ask yourself, WWJD? What would Janet do?

Mom’s biggest joy, however (besides the births of Aaron and Dan), was the fact that she knew I was happy. She loved Micah to pieces, and I know she’s resting in peace because she took comfort in the knowledge that we’ll always take care of each other.

You know, like many of my friends, I joke that I’ve “become my mother.” I’m a life member of Hadassah. I play mah-jongg (occasionally). I love shoes. I love a good bargain. And chocolate. I DON’T smoke. But I could only hope to be a fraction of the woman she was. Her heart was too big, and her beloved shoes are too big to fill.

We talked every single day on the phone. I will miss that the most. (Aaron and Dan, be prepared to take up the slack.)

Mom, I have just one request: When you see Daddy, give him a big hug and kiss for me.

July 15, 2014

Appily ever after

Filed under: Uncategorized — Darcy Grabenstein @ 8:18 am

by Darcy Grabenstein

The email subject line read: An invitation from Maeve and Karl for Darcy Grabenstein

Curiosity got the best of me, so I opened the email, which revealed:

Wedding invitation email

I consider myself fairly tech savvy, but this is my first wedding invitation via app. Of course, I could have gone to the website, but I wanted to get the full app experience. So I downloaded the app to my smartphone:

AppyCouple icon

And this is what I saw when I opened the app and logged in:


I’ve got to admit, it’s certainly a cost-saving (and tree-saving) alternative to a traditional printed invitation. If you haven’t already seen it, here’s a look at the app’s features:

Appy Couple Wedding RSVP

“Our Story” gives a pictorial view of the couple’s life together:

Appy Couple - our story

The couple can include all the romantic details of how they met. My advice? Just make sure it doesn’t fall into the “TMI” category. Maeve and Karl did a nice job on their “how we met” story:

Appy Couple - how we met

The Gallery allows the couple (and others!) to upload photos:

Appy Couple - photo gallery

Family and friends can sign the couple’s virtual guestbook. In the true spirit of social media, the app invites guests to “start the conversation”:


Appy Couple is a one-stop wedding app, as it also includes a registry and a cute countdown to the big day:


There’s a section for travel information, especially important for a destination wedding or one in a remote location such as Alaska:


Want to send a message to the couple? There’s an app (section) for that! You can either send a group or a private message:


And if you’d like to make a virtual toast (complete with bubbles), go right ahead. Just don’t spill champagne on your smartphone.


My take on this? As one who’s a traditionalist when it comes to life cycle events, I must admit that this app lets the couple create a truly personal experience.

So what’s next on the app horizon? An app for divorce? Of course!

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