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

September 15, 2019

Epithalamion (a poem in honor of a wedding – in this case, a wedding doomed from the start)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Darcy Grabenstein @ 11:12 am

It’s my horror – I mean honor – to share a poem I’ve written in celebration of Bonnie and Clyde’s wedding. So let’s all raise our glasses in toast to these two crazy lovebirds.

Today we raise our glasses
in a celebration of wedded bliss
But is our glass half full
or is it half empty?

On this special day
our thoughts turn to those of love
But as a true friend
I think tough love is called for here.

Just because we’re in AC
is it worth the gamble?
The statistics are rather bleak;
half of all marriages end in – dare I say it? – the “D” word.

As the poet Oscar Wilde wrote:
“One should always be in love.
That’s the reason
one should never marry.”

In the Jewish tradition, we break a glass
to commemorate the destruction of the Temple.
Or is it merely a foreshadowing
of broken vows and broken hearts?

It’s no wonder in our wedding vows
we say “’Til death do us part.”
Think about it:
How often do you want to kill your spouse?

I speak from experience, dear friends
For my first marriage (yes, I took the plunge twice)
ended after 23 years,
two amazing sons… and too little joy.

Don’t take it from me.
Tom and Katie. Brad and Jen (or should I say Bennifer)…
And what about those who stuck it out?
Bill and Hilary, Donald and Melania – you get the idea.

A word of advice:
The issue of finances
is certainly one
that can tear a couple asunder.

If you ask me, marriage is a crime.
You say “I do.” I say, “Don’t.”
Save yourself the lawyers’ fees
And get thee an annulment, post-haste.

On that note,
let’s go ahead and enjoy the reception.
Eat, drink, and be married
… while it lasts.

The first time I saw the ocean

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

When you’re a young child, everything looks much bigger than it really is. So imagine my wonderment the first time I saw the ocean. OK, it was a gulf (the Gulf of Mexico) and not an ocean. But let’s not get bogged down with details. To be honest, it was the sound, which is an inlet.

My parents took me to the sound because it didn’t have the waves that could knock over a small child who wasn’t so surefooted even on solid ground. The beach became my summertime playground. The white sand felt like confectioner’s sugar in my hands, and looked like it, too.

The sand, however, couldn’t compete with the water, which was clear as could be. I spent hours upon hours chasing minnows. I don’t think I ever really caught one, but that wasn’t the point. It was the thrill of the chase.

I’ve always been one who tanned quite easily, especially when I was younger. Growing up in the South, this made for some interesting interactions with others. Did I mention the fact that I had an Afro-style haircut? The humidity did a number on my curls. I’ll never forget the day that another kid came up to me and asked me, point-blank, “Are you black or colored or something?” My hazel eyes were obviously not a dead giveaway. I confusedly answered, “Um, no.”

Probably my favorite part wasn’t going to the beach but going back home. We would always stop at the Tastee-Freeze for a hand-dipped ice cream cone. Ah, summer.

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.

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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