Cheers to Us–and the Drinking Diaries

Recently, I wrote a post about the origins of the Drinking Diaries for a new website, Better After 50. When the founder and editor asked me to write an essay about how the Drinking Diaries got started, it provoked me to think about the evolution of this blog and how it morphed from a seed of an idea into a gratifying partnership and a forthcoming book–due out in October 2012!

Here’s the piece that originally ran on Better After 50–a site worth checking out even if you’re not yet the big 5-0 (which I’m not, but will be in a few years…).

Cheers to Us–and the Drinking Diaries

by Caren Osten Gerszberg

Leah & Caren, Drinking Diaries co-editors
Leah & Caren, Drinking Diaries co-editors

Do you really need to check your blackberry again?” I ask repeatedly.

“Any new sales you need to vet on Gilt today?” Leah retorts.

On any given day, sitting and working at my round kitchen table—our computers lined up side by side—these are the kinds of quips that pass between me and my co-editor, friend and neighbor. Minutes later, the bickering behind us, we giggle proudly over our triumphant reworking of a long, twisted phrase we’ve teamed up to unwind.

Together, since June 2008, Leah Odze Epstein and I have been co-editing a blog called the Drinking Diaries—a website covering anything and everything related to women and drinking. From celebration to revelation we like to say. A place where there is no judgment, where the stories we and other women share range from comical and celebratory to sexy and despairing. Where we offer news, profiles, research and opinions—all about women and their relationship with alcohol.

Drinking Diaries was conceived, sadly, as a result of my own mother’s drinking. Well into her sixties, my mother’s wine habit went from socially acceptable and culturally expected (she’s French) to deeply problematic. A child survivor of the Holocaust, my mother began using alcohol to numb her pain. I watched in fear and bewilderment as her dependence on alcohol—something I’d never before been faced with—accelerated with warp speed.

Leah, also the child of an alcoholic, whose mother has been sober for over 35 years, was the person I turned to. In my spiraling confusion, I would sit on Leah’s front porch, lamenting about my mother’s drinking which worsened when my father was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. Then, over a Friday night dinner with our husbands, Leah and I decided that there was no place for women to share their stories—the sad, happy and everything in between—of drinking and the effect it has on their lives. We would provide that place.

In an effort to discover who the readers—of the future book we hoped to publish—would be, we started the Drinking Diaries blog. We queried women authors to do Q&A interviews, and let out shrieks of jubilation when we got a “yes” from accomplished writers like Joyce Maynard, Jackie Mitchard and Julie Powell. They all had tales to contribute. We went to blogging conferences and writing workshops, asking women along the way to share their stories. Sex and drinking. Parenting and drinking. Work and drinking. Family and drinking. Culture and drinking. Health and drinking. Nearly three years later, it’s all there.

Somewhere along the way, Leah and I were deemed “experts” on the subject of women and drinking. We’ve been interviewed for radio shows and TV-news programs, and featured on various blogs. Recently, I was asked to write an article, “The Art of Mindful Drinking,” and do a related podcast for a national magazine.

Last March, our efforts continued to pay off. We got a book deal from Seal Press (Perseus) and the anthology of essays we are currently working on, Drinking Diaries: Women Serve their Stories Straight Up, will be published in Fall 2012. Our list of writers is impressive, but more importantly covers a fascinating array of experiences, ages, backgrounds, perspectives and cultures.

Both mothers of three children each, Leah and I start our twice-weekly work sessions with a catch-up walk through a beautiful Long Island Sound-lined park before returning to our office—my kitchen. Over mugs of tea and handfuls of almonds, we bicker like an old married couple over grammar, her blackberry addiction, and my roving attention toward shopping websites. Some stories make us laugh hysterically like two teenage girls. Others hit very close to home. And when we “score” an interview or get a response from a high-profile person we never expected to get, we high-five like football players.

When we’re not working together on the forthcoming anthology, we are working independently from home on new posts for the blog, which we update every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We touch base via email and phone several times a day, basking in glory on a day when the blog has a high number of hits, and sharing frustration when a writer fails to turn in a piece that she swore was coming yesterday.

This journey has grown from seed on Leah’s porch, to stalk with our blog, to blossoming flower next Fall, when the book hits the shelves—both virtual and in bookstores. Leah and my partnership is a labor of love more than a business venture. The stories are there. We are just asking women to scratch the surface and let them out.

 

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Drinking at the Hair Salon?

Sharon Stone drinking at hair salon

I’ve heard about offering tea, coffee, and bottled water to clients at hair salons. But a glass of wine?

Apparently, regardless of New York City liquor laws, many a salon serves booze to women spending their afternoons getting a cut and color. I’d read about “Girls Nights Out” at Dashing Divas and their complimentary Cosmos during a Thursday and Friday evening mani/pedi, but never knew about the post 3 pm coctkail offerings at hair salons.

After reading “A Blowout Made Me Blotto! The Illegal Scourge of Salon Drinking” on the New York Observer website, I’m wondering if I’ve been getting my hair cut at the wrong salon for all these years. And on the flip side, what if you’d rather not be faced with a drink offer when going to have your hair done. Do the salons keep it discreet?

 

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The High School Party Scene: Then & Now

by Caren Osten Gerszberg

When I was a sophomore in high school, my brother—then a high school senior—planned a big party at our house. Not only did he have my parents’ blessing, but they even went out to dinner while he was setting things up in our basement. It must’ve been winter, because I remember my brother making a fire just before the guests began to arrive, when a spark flew and lit one of the couch pillows on fire.

I guess the quickest way to deal with the pillow was to toss it outside, presuming the flames had been put to their rest. Within a couple of hours, only when numerous firefighters and their big red engine pulled into our driveway, did any of us realize that the pillow had been smoldering outside the basement door. The neighbors evidently called 911 when the odor wafted their way.

The friendly firefighters tended to the pillow and most definitely noticed the scene—harmless high school beer-drinking revelers hanging out, listening to music, and playing pool. Once the pillow was extinguished for real, they smiled and took off.

Fast-forward 30 years and note a number of significant facts:

  1. I’m the parent of the high school senior now.
  2. The drinking age is 21, while it was 18 when I was in high school.
  3. I live down the street from the local police station.
  4. High school kids in our community routinely attempt, often successfully, to smuggle beer and booze into a house party.

Last Saturday night, it was my child’s turn to host the party. While we were glad to let our daughter invite friends and other students from her school’s performing arts program–in celebration of four days of play performances–my husband and I had no intention of going out while the festivities took place. In fact, we had a plan in place, which was to ask each and every teen who walked through our front door to leave their coat and any bag on the table by the front door. This seemed a reasonable request, especially since we know people who have hired off-duty police officers to stand outside and monitor any potential contraband being smuggled into their kid’s party.

Once the shindig began, hordes of kids began to pour through our front door. These days, it takes only seconds to text your posse and tell them where the fun is. My husband stood guard at the door, while I took to the stairs. Within 30 minutes, the police had arrived.

The two officers stood on our front lawn, amid the small groups of kids who’d most likely exited to get high or drink outside of our house. When word traveled to the basement that the police were on site, my daughter ran upstairs and asked us to stall for a few minutes–she needed to clean up the beer cans she’d already discovered in the guest bedroom downstairs. We told her we would try, but I couldn’t help but wonder: “How is possible that kids have the nerve to stick bottles and cans down their pants and in their shirts right in the face of two adults who are asking them not to?”

Well, live and learn. My husband eventually let one of the officers take a walk inside and around the house–despite my hesitation–and the officer concluded that all was well and we were “doing a great job.” We were asked to lower the music (oh, did I mention two of the kids brought their professional DJ equipment?) and the party rocked on.

Kids came and left, and though we continued to eye each one of them, more beer and a bottle of vodka made it passed our parental checkpoint. The fire alarm eventually went off–thanks to the DJ’s fog machine–but the party lasted until about 1:00 am. My daughter came up afterwards to thank us for the party, and told us she had a great time.

The following morning, while cleaning up, I found a water bottle with the words “Cousins’ Reunion” splashed across the front–with just a little water left in it. “Smell it,” my daughter said. “Oh yeah,” I instantly realized. “Pure vodka.” My husband, meanwhile, was outside busily picking up empty beer cans and bottles around our front yard and our neighbors’.

I couldn’t help but feel badly for these kids. They are growing up in an environment that has made alcohol so forbidden, so undeniably dangerous in nearly every way, that they feel the need to sneak it at every turn. While the dangers are obvious–and we’ve been clear to discuss them with our daughter in addition to what she’s learned in school–there seems to be such a focus on controlling our children that they are bursting at the seams to get their hands on the stuff.

I wish things were a bit more relaxed, like when we were in high school. If the authorities showed up, rather than ask you to search your house, they’d survey the scene, see the responsible parents on hand, and go merrily on their way.

Caren Osten Gerszberg is a co-editor of the Drinking Diaries.

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Dogs & Wine


by Caren Osten Gerszberg

The text goes out or comes in each and every weekday some time between 12 and 5. It typically reads: “Dogs and wine today?”

That would be one of the loveliest texts I send or receive on a typical day (other than declarations of love from my children or husband). On as many afternoons as possible, in between carpools, dinner prep and homework assistance, my friend and neighbor, Michele, and I convene with our dogs and a glass of wine.

Sometimes, the meeting takes place on her front steps, and we sip as our two 75-plus pound dogs run, tumble, bark or just lie resting nearby. On other days, the scene moves to either the front of my house, or the back patio, depending on how destroyed the grass is by the dogs from a previous day. The backyard allows us to lounge under the shade of our pergola on a hot day, or soak up the sun on a double chaise lounge while again, the dogs frolick on their own.

On certain days, the decision of where to meet depends on who has a bottle of wine open. Or if Michele’s young daughter is home and can’t be left alone, but she’s got no wine on-hand, I’ll just bring some from my house. It’s simply part of the ritual, on any day but Monday (that’s a whole separate story, but I don’t drink on Mondays).

Depending on the day, kids from either home will come out and visit us, or just say hi to the dogs. Invariably, though, it’s just my friend and I. Over wine and dogs, we talk about everything. It could be kids, husbands, friendships, plans, yoga, aging mothers, travels or gardening. It can touch the surface of anything and everything, but at times goes very deep.

Ginger and Obie at play

I remember a time when my husband and I weren’t getting along, and those regular sessions on Michele’s stoop were as good as any therapy I’d pay for. I’d recount, and sometimes cry. She’d listen and listen some more, comfort and advise.

When Michele’s mother had a tragic bicycle accident resulting in a brain injury, I tried to keep our stoop and patio get togethers as regular as possible, so I could commiserate about the loss of the mother she knew, and provide whatever solace I could. It was my turn to be there for her to lean on.

While the dogs sniff, chew and wrestle, we’ve discussed our career struggles in great length. Her desire to balance a creative career with family and motherhood. Mine to do the same. We share our travel plans, suggesting destinations, restaurants and sites if we are able, and eventually at a later date listen to the aftermath of the trips with anticipation.

What we drink is secondary to our conversation, but the wine has simply become part of the ritual. We’ve drunk in everything from stemless to juice glasses, paper cups to goblets. It all depends on what’s closest at hand, or for me, what my mood is that day.

The weather may determine the color we drink—I’m partial to rose wine on a warm spring or summer day. Red is good any time of year. Interestingly, Michele and her family are partial to French wines, so that’s what we consume chez elle. My husband and I circle the globe in our wine tastes and tend to go for American, Italian and South American wines.

The variety of wine matches the variety of topics from which we can choose. Our friendship stands alone, but is greatly enhanced by our end of the day tradition of dogs and wine. It makes 5:30 pm very appealing.

Caren Osten Gerszberg is a co-founder/editor of the Drinking Diaries. You can see a selection of her work at www.carenosten.com, and follow her on twitter: @carenosten

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We Want to Know: Has drinking ever brought you closer to a friend, or torn you apart?

I’m not sure if it’s a good thing, but I can certainly remember a time or twenty when I was at a bar or a party, and got so deep in discussion with a friend that tears began to flow. The next time I’d see that friend, we’d embrace tightly, our friendship strengthened by that intoxicated night when we spilled our guts to one another.

After a few glasses of wine or cups of beer, my emotions tend to heighten and my inhibitions diminsh. So the words just pour out. I’ve seen the opposite happen too, when close friends drink and become belligerent, and suddenly aren’t friends anymore.

So we want to know: Has drinking ever brought you closer to a friend, or torn you apart?

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