alexandra alger


Archive for the category “Life”

The Tooth Fairy’s Wad of Cash


Look whaI found—

I can’t remember what happened to her tooth…was it the one she swallowed? We told her the Tooth Fairy was just as happy with a picture as the real tooth. Oh, the magic of it all! Going to sleep with a tiny blood-crusted tooth under your pillow (or a picture thereof) and waking up to find one or two shiny quarters in its place. The Tooth Fairy never left much more than that, maybe a dollar at the most.

This was a while back, a decade or so. How much do kids get now, I wondered. It didn’t take long for me to discover that the Tooth Fairy’s is quite a bit more generous these days. In 2014, a writer named Michael Hingston, citing Visa research in, wrote that the kids were waking up to an average of $3.70, up 40% from 2011. That’s some serious tooth inflation.
Is the Tooth Fairy some kind of fat cat now, sporting rolls of bills that she peels out at the bedside? I did a quick check on recent picture books on the Tooth Fairy, just to see if she’s being imagined any differently. I didn’t find much, to my surprise. One book caught my eye: The Berenstain Bears and the Tooth Fairy, published in 2012. I love the B. Bears! And guess what, it’s all about what a tooth’s worth.

Sister Bear gets a quarter for her tooth, and she’s happy until she learns her friend Lizzy got a whole dollar for hers. Sister’s indignant (naturally): How come the Tooth Fairy gave her so much less? “Sometimes the price of things goes up, like gas,” Papa muses. “Maybe the same thing happens with teeth.” Sister hopes so. Sure enough, the next time she loses a tooth, the TF leaves a crisp dollar bill under her pillow. Papa, the price of gas may go up and down, but the price for a tooth? It’s only going one way.

Harvesting the Kids



I’ve been trying to think of a replacement for the term “empty nester.” Which I now am, with my youngest recently off to college. I have nothing against “Empty Nest Syndrome.” It’s a catchy name for a real condition.

But people are using “empty nester” simply to describe someone whose kids are grown.
“How do you like being an empty nester?” Neighbors and friends ask me, in the same cheery way they might say, “How was your weekend?” I say that all’s well—of course, I miss Vanessa, and yes, the house does seem quiet—and incredibly neat—without any children around, etc. etc. The conversation moves on, just as it would if we were talking about the weekend, unless the other person is an empty nester, too, in which case I’ll get comforting words about how must fun empty nesting is.

OMG, it’s a verb, too!

The image of the mama bird sitting morosely in her sad egg-less nest. That’s not me.

There has to be a cooler metaphor, involving—animals. But I’ve been mentally flipping through animal lairs, and…hmm. Bear caves? Do bears actually live in caves? Rabbit burrows? Dens? “Den’s empty” definitely makes sense, and it’s even true. No teenagers are slobbing up the place. I was starting to see why “nest” was the obvious choice for whomever coined the syndrome decades ago. We all know what a nest is, and can picture it.

I thought I had an epiphany in August, when I spent four days biking through the vineyards of Chianti and Montalcino in Italy. “The grapes have been harvested,” I thought—our kids started out as grapes, and now they’re on their way to becoming a velvety wine. I’m not an empty nester, I’m a harvester.

Harvester! To the question “How are the kids?” I’d say, “They been harvested.” People could ask, “So how did the harvest go?” And I could say, “Good. It’s all done.”

Back in New York, amid the concrete and asphalt, it all sounded a bit out of keeping. A bit too …agricultural. My sister liked it, but her kids are in middle school—what does she know?

Then I had it—free agent. Free agent! “The feminists might take issue with that,” said my mom, a ’70s feminist (sort of). If Gloria Steinem ever talked about free agency, it didn’t ring a bell. But then I suddenly remembered there was a very common sports meaning for “free agent.”

I’ll do some “harvester” polling among my ED friends. And I’ll keep brainstorming. My younger friends will thank me.

Harry Potter!

Harry Potter’s back! Behold the window display in my local independent bookstore for a midnight release party for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.


A release party! Just like the good old days, when J.K. Rowling produced her seven Harry books ever year or so, starting in 1998 (stunning, given how long and complex the later books were). My bookstore, Bookcourt, has clearly been missing those years. “Costumes welcome!” the handwritten sign (so Mugglish) reads. “Butterbeer! Get sorted into your Hogwarts house! Make your own wand at Ollivander’s!”

I have to admit I hadn’t been paying too much attention to the news about a Harry Potter play opening in London. I’d gotten the Amazon emails, trumpeting my chance to pre-order the script. “Why would I want to read a play script,” I grumbled to myself. I’m as big a Harry fan as the next person—which is to say big—but this just seemed like a massive, cynical marketing ploy Why would Rowling write a play when she could write a novel? The play couldn’t be any good. Well. it’s rave review in today’s New York Times changed my mind about that. The review tried not to give too much away—in keeping with the level of secrecy that Rowling always insists on prelaunch, quite rightly—and I know just enough to know I’m going to have to buy this damn thing, a “rehearsal edition script,” whatever that is. After all, I won’t be getting over to London anytime soon. (The play is reportedly sold out until next May.) When’s that release party again?

I have fond memories of going to a midnight bookstore party for the seventh and last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. My husband and I were in Hanover, N.H.,  spending the night before picking our son up from camp the next day. It was the night be before  would be released–and of course, we didn’t know the title then, we didn’t know anything. The Hanover book store was having a release party at midnight. We went with another couple, friends who were  picking up their son at the same camp. The bookstore was packed, of course. I remember being pushed backward by the crowd. I was resigned to waiting many hours before being able to buy a book, when all of a sudden our friends–tall and determined–pushed their way to the front of the line and bought a book for all of us. Heroes!  I remember reading late into to night, and having trouble rousing myself for the trip to camp. When we got there, our son took possession of the book, and for days afterward, I waited impatiently for him to go to sleep at night. There was no other time for me to read, except when he was in bed. My longing to get on with the book drove me to distraction. But we did end up sharing the book,  the three of us, Dan, my son and I. For some reason, it never occurred to us to buy more than one book. No, there was one, and it was precious.

How nice it would to have that feeling again! And maybe I will.





L.A. Story

In Los Angeles for two days, there was time for only the highlights of the sprawling city–food, art and beach. Heavenly fare at Gjelina, not too far from the Getty Center (and we glimpsed Christoph Walz, of Quentin Tarantino’s must-see films, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, having lunch with his wife and a son ). Also tasty: Norah, in West Hollywood (I feel kind of cool being able to throw around “West Hollywood,” as if I know what I’m talking about) and Otium, next to The Broad museum. You’re now starting to get a sense of our schedule: Museum in the morning, then satisfying lunch with some kind of alcoholic elixir. Brilliant combo, which leaves the rest of the day pleasantly open to aimless wandering. The distance between areas of interest are usually enough to discourage concentrated site seeing.

A few things I love about L.A.:


That you can find a exterior museum view as breathtaking as anything inside. This is from the Getty Center.


This, too. And:





At The Broad, Robert Therrien’s big table and chairs!


Without warning: beautiful cacti.


Paparazzi! They look like something…out of a movie! Here hanging outside of Craig’s restaurant on Melrose Ave. in West Hollywood. They shrugged when we asked who they were waiting for. “David Spade’s inside,” one offered. David Spade…who knew he was still famous?


An End and a Beginning

My daughter has graduated from high school. It’s been two weeks but I’m still up to my chest in emotion, all the stronger this time around because she’s my youngest child.

There’s no holding back the swelling pride and wonder that comes along with seeing your child, in the long black robe, walking down the aisle as you look on, in this case under the vast vaulted nave of St. John the Divine in northern Manhattan.

It was a joyful, celebratory day, but—underneath it all, for me, the sadness of knowing that life as I know it—the parenting life—is coming to an end. Do I have to say I’m empty nester? The bird analogy is so cheesy.

Do people who are empty nesters actually call themselves empty nesters? I’m starting to think only people who are about to be empty nesters—and are dreading it, like I am—use that term. Sort of like people who are about to turn forty or fifty can’t stop talking about how awful it is to be turning forty or fifty. Once you’re actually there, once the condition is real instead of speculative, then you don’t need to label it. You’re simply in it. It’s once again your life, but a new way of living in which the kids are in college. Once they are out of college, they are officially grown up. “Our children are grown.” I’m going to feel so old when I have to start saying that. That’s a whole other issue: How old I’m going to feel without kids in the house. There’s no getting around it. Once you have to say your kids are in college, people know pretty much how old you are. They know you’re at least in your 40s, and probably older. Which is fine, I’m not at all trying to hide my age, but it’s just unsettling, that the math is so obvious. It’s less so when you’re in your 40s and have toddlers. People may suspect you had kids late, but no one’s going to ask; it’s info that’s yours to share or not.

It’s weird to think of the free time awaiting us. Granted, Vanessa doesn’t take up a ton of time at this point; long gone are the crazy days of 6 am-9pm parenting. I’ll miss what little I do do, though. Making sure we have Vanessa-only foods—almond milk and almond butter, sweet potatoes and cartloads of bananas and those amazing dark-chocolate-covered pretzels from the fancy market around the corner. Come to think of it, keeping her fed is the main thing. I love that role. I’ll miss having coffee with her in the morning before school, one of the day’s few quiet moments. I’d commiserate about tests coming up, with any luck get a snatch of high-school gossip. Only a few moments, ten, fifteen minutes. Then a few words maybe after school, but then then we convene again at dinnertime. We mostly love the same foods and on weekends we cook together. It’s usually just the two of us, because Dan travels frequently and is often home late. Throughout the kids’ childhood, he’s rarely been home when the kids ate at 6:30 pm. Vanessa and I still generally eat around then. When she leaves, so will the dinner routine of twenty years. That’s an odd thing to contemplate. I’m likely going to have many nights when I’m on my own for dinner. Will I go European and have something like soup or bread and cheese? Will I drag empty-nester friends out to hip Bklyn eateries? I could become a regular at a cool but low-key local joint (there are some definite possibilities in my ‘hood). “I’ll have my usual, Louie.”

I have to concentrate on how absolutely great it’ll be to have all this new time—for writing, for one thing—and not on why I have all this free time. I get all weepy when I think about all that is coming to an end—not just child-rearing but a twenty-year period that looking back, were the bounty years. The years of being young but with responsibilities, years of energy and ambition, when the future was still vast.

I know I’ll shake off this melancholy and come to terms with the next stage. I figure by mid-fall—a month or two after Vanessa’s gone. With my first-born, Davison, I moped for three months, but everything’s faster the second time around. I’ll shoot for one month, because I have a terrible feeling Vanessa will has some kind of school break come October, and I’ll need to be on solid emotional footing by then. Wish me luck.

I Feel Bad About My Eyebrows

Have you read Nora Ephron’s funny lament on necks? Her dermatologist told her the neck started to go around age forty-three, and sure enough, as she approached forty-three her neck started to go. She wrote, “One of my biggest regrets—bigger even than not buying the apartment on East Seventy-fifth Street, bigger even than my worst romantic catastrophe—is that I didn’t spend my youth staring lovingly at my neck. It never crossed my mind to be grateful for it.”

That’s how I feel about my eyebrows. For years they existed in a zone of my face, the above-the-eyes-area, that I never paid a whit of attention to. The forehead section. Who thinks about her forehead when she’s young and unlined? They were nothing special; regular, light-brown eyebrows that made sense with my reddish hair. I didn’t even pluck them, that’s how little I cared about them. Around forty, I started plucking them. I have to admit, I saw how eyebrows could give a bit of definition to the face. My eyebrows and I discovered one another. I took care of them, and how do they thank me? They disappear on me, like guests who slip out of a party without saying goodbye to the host.

It’s my right brow in particular. There’s a piece of it that’s gone missing, right smack in the middle. If an eyebrow is something like a comma, I’m talking about the mid-point of my comma’s tail. I use a pencil to make the bridge, but I can’t believe I’m at this point: penciling in an eyebrow! I used to think I wasn’t going to have to do that until I was eighty.

Here’s something interesting: My twin sister Hilary doesn’t have this problem. Her eyebrows are fine, How is that even possible, since we’re genetically identical? Environment must be to blame—living in New York instead of Philly, where Hilary is. Her hair—on her head—is thicker, too. Twin researchers: Does where you live determine how much hair you lose as you age? Get on this!

All things considered, I’m lucky. I know that. I’m not facing baldness, like so many men I know. My teeth aren’t falling out (yet). I won’t even go into the countless other more serious conditions that an aging human faces. Then there’s the sagging flesh issue. Oh, let’s not go there.

The Lure of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch


This is my 21-year-old son Davison, reading during spring break from college.

Reading! Proof that college students still read books when they’re not in school. And he happened to be reading a book I gave him, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I can’t even express how happy this makes me. I gave it to him for Christmas, thinking, He has to read this book—everyone has to read this book, even as I doubted whether he’d get to it anytime soon. It’s 771 pages long, after all, and he was about to embark on another term of challenging classes. But he took it back to school with him, and lo and behold, he was in the thick of it by the time I saw him in March. I asked him what he thought, and he said he wanted to see Theo, Tartt’s protagonist, catch a break, just one. I knew exactly what he meant. Tartt sucks you into a world that is so vividly rendered and so painful for Theo that you feel like you are suffering alongside him, an invisible companion who can’t do anything but watch and worry and hope that happiness is just around the bend. Then Tartt turns around and challenges our assumptions about what constitutes a meaningful life. At the end, Theo tells us, “We can’t choose what we want and don’t want and that’s the hard lonely truth. Sometimes we want what we want even if we know it’s going to kill us. We can’t escape who we are.” It’s not an uplifting book, but it’s an unforgettable one.

I feel lucky that Davison’s formative years came before technology seeped into every crevice of of everyday life. When he was six or eight, computer games were new, and we had maybe one or two. (I remember the Freddy the Fish game—pretty cute, as I recall. Freddy helps you on a deep-sea treasure hunt.) He didn’t have a cell phone until he was thirteen—one of those flip phones. There was no texting or apps. I can’t make any statements of fact here, but I believe that he read more in his free time than he might’ve had he had access to social media, the Internet and the vast array of computer-based games that exist today.

Studies on kids and reading are troubling. Only about half of kids ages six to eight are reading daily; that number falls to a quarter by age fifteen. According to one study, the percentage of seventeen-year-olds who never or hardly ever read has gone from 7% to 27% in the last thirty years. (I’m assuming the study is referring to reading for fun. Schools may have eliminated art, music and physical activity—at least in New York City—but they’ve hung onto the three Rs. For now.) How do we keep reading books a part of the picture? It’s up to parents. We need to read to our kids when they’re young—from the time they are babies for as long as they’ll let us. It’s the only way to instill a love of reading and stories (which I can’t believe aren’t innate in kids). And then we have to encourage them as they learn how to read. We need to help them choose books and bring them books and make reading a family activity.

This is pretty obvious stuff, I know. Also, it doesn’t always work. My sister says her two boys, 10 and 12, are off books. Period. Nothing to be done. If it were me, I’d keep trying. Just like you don’t give up trying to get your kids to eat vegetables, you have to keep trying with books.

Instead of Hay, Make Gravlax

Here we are, in the second week of January, and even as I have now cleared out the tree, put away the decorations, chunked the left-over chocolate roll and candy-canes, I’m still stuck in holiday mode. All I can think about are recipes and online shopping. I’ve now scanned resort wear on the Bergdorf Goodman site at least twice. This is a disturbing trend for someone who doesn’t ordinarily like to shop. I’ve also bought things that are easy to put off, because they’re boring and no one really cares about them.Wash clothes, for instance. I found time to buy two white wash clothes (on sale!). And a pillow, for my side of the bed, because my current one’s been deflating for a while.

I know what I’m really doing. You do, too, I’m sure. Procrastinating. Putting off getting back to finishing the first draft of my new MG book. (Only first draft, and I’m deep into second- and third-draft-quality procrastination.)

By now I’m getting so annoyed with myself that I know I will (soon, very) get back to work. After I make gravlax.

Homemade gravlax. The preparing of it is a sort of antidote to procrastination; your energy goes into looking forward, into anticipation, because gravlax needs three days to cure in the fridge. I made it for Christmas lunch; couldn’t believe how easy and utterly delicious it was.


I made this batch from a recipe in the December issue of Food and Wine: Pink Peppercorn and Fennel Gravlax (I’d type it out here if it weren’t readily available on

Whoa, Nelly—my eyes did a double take. Pink Peppercorns? Well, doesn’t that sound pretty, I thought. I know, I’m showing my less-than-foodie-level knowledge of spices. I also needed fennel pollen. In the pre-internet days, I would’ve had to search far and wide for such exotic items, but no longer. Within two days, thanks to amazon, I had them.

The basics: You buy a nice piece of salmon fillet, envelope it in spices, salt, sugar and sprigs of dill, wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap, and let it cure in the fridge, weighted down, for three days. There a few other steps, tiny ones; and that’s it. Those Scandinavians are brilliant! And you will be, too. Find the recipe, if you can get all the ingredients together by Wednesday, you can be gorging on gravlax this weekend. Let me know if you are anything but delighted by the results.

Oil & Vinegar, Anyone?

IMG_2487.JPGMy twenty-year-old son Davison gave this clever oil-and-vinegar vessel to me for Christmas.

I told him about two books he could get me; I wanted to make things easy for him, and I really do always love a book. But he went off and found me something that I didn’t even know I wanted! I’ll be eating more salad now, for sure, which I’ve been meaning to do for quite a while. It’s one of those vague New Year’s resolutions that barely survives the first week of January. But guess what, I’ve had two salads already this week, and it’s only Wednesday! Thank you, dear Davison, for thinking about my pleasure and my health!

Here he is, wearing my reading glasses and a new scarf. He’s affecting the Brooklyn writer look. (He writes well but is not, in fact, interested in writing. He likes problem sets. Multi-variable calculus. Statistical analysis. There’s more but I don’t know how to describe it. Literally, I don’t understand it enough to describe it.)


It’s interesting how some people are naturally good at finding gifts that please those who receive them. I say “naturally,” because I do think it’s a trait that one is born with. I remember when Davison was in sixth grade and had to find a Secret-Santa present for girl in his class, but nothing that cost more than ten bucks. I went with him to a local shop, and he picked out a set of dangly earrings on sale for exactly ten dollars. They were cute! I thought he’d nailed this Secret Santa thing; this girl was going to be totally wowed. It didn’t sound like she was, in the end—I don’t know why, I only heard part of the story—but the point is, he showed early promise in the gift-giving department.

( All right, yes, I’m still a bit irked at the girl for not being wild about the earrings, even after all these years. The Secret Santa tradition, it seems to me, promotes more ill will more good will. Parents get drawn into finding a present for a kid who may well not like it; their own child may be just as disappointed; and the whole notion of giving as a gesture of the holiday spirit goes by the wayside. I thought maybe Secret Santa had been junked, but I just came across a posting by someone who goes by Crappy Christmas Letter on Be Like Water Production’s blog, whose daughter just had a bad S.S. experience. Crappy Christmas (interesting name there) wrote about having a fun time picking out a pretty box and necklace and chocolates with her fifth-grade daughter, Elizabeth. Surprise, surprise: The recipient didn’t like her offering and had no trouble telling Elizabeth as much. By the end of the post Crappy Xmas was plotting some kind of public humiliation for the girl.)

Back to Davison. He’s going to be put to the test in the next few months: He’s confronting, in quick succession, his girlfriend Sidney’s birthday, Valentine’s Day and the one-year anniversary of being with Sidney. What a terrible trifecta! I never had to face that kind of pressure. Good thing, because I’m not sure I could’ve handled it. I would’ve ended up buying, I don’t know… what might have I gotten one of those guys I dated in college? I’m straining to think of an idea, but I’m blank; completely blank. Ah, well, that was a long time ago. But Davison’s go this thing in hand, he has assured me. Of course he does. He’s a natural. He’s just going to get better and better at giving presents. I can’t wait to see what he gets me next Christmas.

Here’s to 2016

I love the holiday season. How festive the city is, ablaze with Christmas lights, both ethereal and gaudy, Balsams greening up street corners, shops bright and busy. I thrive on the chaos the season brings. It’s a delicious kind of stress, the only good kind I can think of it—the mad scramble to find gifts and get the holiday cards out and plan the Christmas lunch. Every year I wonder how it all gets done, and it always does. This year, for the first time in memory, I got all the presents wrapped before Christmas Eve. It was fantastic to not be up at midnight, blearily trying to masquerade the ends of a Lego set with what’s left of the wrapping paper. And the years of trying not to slip up and wrap Santa’s gifts in the same paper as Mom and Dad’s! (Nothing got by those kids— they were quick to point out if Santa had the same wrapping paper, challenging me to admit something I never would and never will. You’ll never heard me say I don’t believe in Santa!) This probably sounds either pathetic or crazy to those of you who get your holiday shopping done byThanksgiving. I have met a few of your number, so I know you actually exist. I can never hope to be in your company, O otherworldly ones!

And now it’s coming to end, once again, and 2015 is nearly over. Oddly, I feel as if 2016 is already here. I’m lacking my usual, roll-up-the-sleeves, I’m-gonna-do-it-all sense of resolve when facing a new year. Is it age? Am I just at the point at which time, as meted out in human-ordered increments, has no meaning? Is it just that the number six doesn’t look so different from the number five?

Partly to blame, now that I’m thinking about it, is the state of the world. It’s hard to look ahead with optimism when there is so much to worry about. When and where terrorists will strike. The plight of Syrian and other refugees, short and long term (Germany alone has taken in nearly a million so far and pledges an open door—but can it house and find jobs for so many? Can and will they all assimilate?) At home the appalling slate of Republican candidates. If any one were elected, we wouldn’t be living in a country I recognize (Kasich would be okay, but he doesn’t seem to gaining any traction). Hillary better win. She’s going to, she’s got to. She must.

The world’s problems are taking some of the fizz out of my champagne, but not all. I’ve got resolutions, I’ve got ‘em. Some of the usual suspects are on the list, of course (i.e. reduce ice-cream, red wine consumption; get an agent, get published, etc.) Here’s a new one: I want this latest novel I’m working to be really good—objectively, no-doubt-about-it good. I tend to like my own writing, but I know when things aren’t entirely right—the plot’s going limp, a subplot isn’t jelling, voice is off. So self: Let’s pull it all together this year! And here’s to excellence in your work, fellow writers!

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