Snow Job


Maybe I’m crazy, but each winter I plan a family vacation that is fraught with danger. To reach our destination, we must drive up a perilous mountain road studded with hairpin turns. Oddly, during our ascent, this NASCAR-approved artery is usually choked with fog or hail.

But this is only the hors d’oeuvre: The entrée is when everyone except for me straps themselves to bulky planks of wood before hurtling at 50 mph down icy slopes with names like “Surrender Isle.” I drop everyone off at the ski resort and then hightail it back to the cabin, where Ken waits for me, wagging his tail.

Like me, Ken is risk-averse and agrees that skiing is sheer madness and folly. We cuddle on the couch, I pop in a DVD and wrap my cold hands around a cup of hot cocoa.

This is not laziness. It is a necessary mental health exercise to banish images of my next of kin putting themselves in harm’s way on triple-black diamond slopes. Oh sure, I tried skiing — once. It was a disaster.

My husband had summoned every ounce of perseverance and patience in his DNA to try to teach me this skill, but we were not on speaking terms by the end of the lesson. Falling down repeatedly like a rag doll and getting tangled in skis is not my idea of fun, and I concluded that only fools or suicidal thrill seekers could embrace skiing as a sport.

By my reckoning, a Boggle tournament with serious players ought to be enough excitement for anyone. It is a tacit understanding between my husband and me that he is never to attempt to teach me any other athletic skill ever again.

Our mountain jaunts usually last for three days, but for the life of me, I can’t manage to prepare for them in under a week. I need at least a day to dig up mismatched gloves, hats and mufflers, which otherwise have no purpose in Southern California; two days to shop and cook; and at least three days to closely study the available accommodations advertised on the Internet.

Cabins in our price range are kindly referred to as “rustic.” Last year, we agreed that Casa de Pine Cone, equipped with a miniature pool table and dusty dining room lamp etched with the Budweiser logo, was a touch too rustic for our taste.

This year, I carefully avoided any cabin with the word “Kozy” in the name, because anyone who thinks it’s cute to further degrade our language won’t get a dime out of me. Besides, “cozy” (no matter how you spell it) is code for “so tiny even short people will have to bend over when taking a shower.” I also learned to be wary of cabins with French names, since a “chateau” where we once stayed should really have been called “La Hovel.”

But this year, I succumbed to temptation and booked Bear’s Détente, hoping that the kids might fight less around a dining table where the grizzlies and the black bears finally signed a truce. Bear’s Détente didn’t really do much to engender greater sibling love, but it was definitely a classier joint than Casa de Pine Cone. It had a thick stack of Family Circle magazines dating from 1999 and, in keeping with the European theme, a table lamp etched with the Heinekin logo.

Unfortunately, these trips are working vacations for me. As shlepper-in-chief, I am forced to tramp around in the snow half the day delivering snacks at 10:30 a.m., lunch at 1 p.m. and hand lotion and dry socks at 3 p.m.

For some reason, our designated meeting place is always on the top level of the slope’s multitiered eating areas. Believe me, trudging up all those stairs at an altitude of 6,500 feet should be more exercise than anyone seemingly on vacation should have to endure.

At the end of the day, I collect the entire freezing crew and shuttle them back to our cabin, while the kids clamor for dinner immediately. Despite the multiple snack deliveries, everyone is starving.

All this personal valet service I provide cuts pretty deeply into my DVD watching and hot chocolate sipping time, but I am the mother, and this is my job. In fact, my life on vacation is pretty much just like my life at home, only with pine trees.

One night by popular demand, my husband kindled a fire. This seemed like the perfect cozy finish to a tiring day.

“I’ll just make sure the flue is open,” he said, fiddling around in the fire pit.

“Why is it so smoky in here?” coughed one of the kids, as a haze quickly billowed through the room and the smoke detector beeped in alarm. They say where there’s smoke, there’s fire but not at Bear’s Détente.

By the time my husband found the flue opening, we had smoked out every last bear left in those mountains, while also failing to stoke any meaningful flames. On a happier note, I discovered that one can avoid deadly smoke inhalation by flinging open the front and back cabin doors and allowing the bracing, 20 degree air to clear the place out. I promise you that after an hour and a half, the smoke will be gone and so will the kids, who will be huddled in the car with the heater on.

Still, I consider the trip a success. Even though one son went missing one day, no one ended up in the resort’s mini-hospital, either from skiing accidents or too much family togetherness. Two trips to the local supermarket assured that we had enough to eat, the dog only got sick once and I finally got to finish my movie after only six sittings.

We left in the evening, and I drove us down that harrowing road, trying to think of safer destinations for next year. But I think I am too late. All the kids consider themselves ski bums. But with this designation, they can rent their own locker for snacks and dry socks during the day. There’s only so many times a woman can be asked to interrupt her movie marathon and hot chocolate sipping.

Isn’t that what vacations are all about?

Judy Gruen is the author of two award-winning humor books. Read more of her columns on www.judygruen.com.

 

Catskills Memories


 

For Rita Lakin, memories of the 1950s at Grossinger’s, the famed Catskills resort, bring up thoughts of three five-course kosher meals per day, plus a runway-length buffet for guests who missed breakfast — served one hour before lunch. Then there were the Saturday night shows that featured a Hollywood headliner, a dance team and a comic.

Her new musical, “Saturday Night at Grossinger’s,” fetes the businesswoman behind the food and the entertainment, Jennie Grossinger (1882-1972). As the show opens, it’s a Saturday night in the 1960s, and Grossinger (Barbara Minkus) must entertain her own guests when headliners Judy Garland, Alan King and Red Buttons are detained by a blizzard. She and her family spontaneously decide to put on their own play, outlining the history of the hotel, which was “Las Vegas before there was Vegas,” Lakin said.

We learn how Grossinger and her parents turned their failing Catskills farm into a summer boarding house, circa 1920, for Jews seeking refuge from sweltering New York City; how the hotel blossomed into an American institution, largely because of Jennie Grossinger’s talent for booking top entertainers; and how stars such as Garland played the hotel, as did numerous comics who got their big break there.

The character of Sheldon, an amalgam of these comics, spouts shtick as thick as a deli sandwich.

“A woman came up to me today and said, ‘How do I lose weight at Grossinger’s,'” he says. “I said, ‘Go home!'”

“Saturday Night” was conceived in the 1980s when television writer-producer Lakin (“Dynasty”) and the late Doris Silverton unsuccessfully pitched a TV series set in the Catskills.

“We felt that onstage we’d have a much better chance of doing something so Jewish,” Lakin said. So they visited the by-then-closed resort, interviewed Grossinger’s children and signed on composer Claibe Richardson and lyricists Ronny Graham and Stephen Cole.

Cole, who also wrote the book, incorporated Grossinger’s lore: how waiters danced with the single women; how the owners once smuggled a dead patron out of the resort (in the musical she’s danced out in a conga line); and how the workaholic Grossinger was “married to the store.”

The character is loosely based on the real businesswoman, and her daughter, Elaine Grossinger Etess, said she recognizes the “spirit” of her mother in the play.

$15-$30. Opens March 26 at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Hollywood. For tickets, call (323) 851-7977.

 

Pesach, Matzah, Maror and Massage


 

Thanks to an increasing number of spas offering Passover packages, a Pesach getaway doesn’t necessarily have to lead to weight gain. There is no shortage of luxury resorts where you can nourish your spirituality, pamper your psyche and get a workout. In fact, several highly rated wellness centers are hosting seders this year for the first time, including the Caribe Hilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Here is a sampling of top spas where you can escape kosher l’Pesach style. Although Passover doesn’t begin until Saturday night, April 23, these packages accommodate religious travelers by including Shabbat the night before.

All pricing is per person, double occupancy, plus tax and gratuities and most programs offer a third-in-the-room price as well as children’s pricing. To experience a massage or another treatment during your stay, schedule it well in advance by contacting spas directly at the earliest date possible. Otherwise, by the time you arrive, the choicest appointments will most likely be taken. The same is true for any spa visit — year-round or at Passover.

Back to the Desert

The Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa (” target=”_blank”>www.VIPPassover.com.

By the Sea

The spa and fitness and wellness center at The Mauna Lani Hotel & Bungalows Resort & Spa (” target=”_blank”>www.passoverresorts.com.

Packages are also available at the Coronado Island Marriott Resort & Spa in San Diego (marriott.com/property/propertypage/SANCI), starting at $3,000; the Ritz-Carlton Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa (” target=”_blank”>www.ranchobernardoinn.com) features 12 tennis courts, two PGA-rated championship golf courses and two swimming pools. Its Passover package includes access to whirlpools, steam rooms and more. The spa’s menu of additional-fee treatments includes a wide array of spa services.

Prices begin at $3,000, plus 25 percent tax and tips. The early-bird special features 12.5 percent tax and tips for bookings through mid-February. The cost includes three gourmet glatt kosher, cholov yisroel meals daily, a 24-hour tea room, shiurim and entertainment for kids and adults. Children’s programs draw kids 12 and under and teens 13 and up. Contact Moshe Wein at Kosher Travels Unlimited (800) 832-6676 or visit ” target=”_blank”>desbains.hotelinvenice.com/) features an expansive pool and lawn area, three clay tennis courts and free shuttle boat service to St. Mark’s Square and the city of Doges. Windsurfing, horseback riding and golf are all nearby. The scholar-in-residence is Rabbi Laibl Wolf and the cantor is Shimon Farkas. Prices start at $3,110 per person, double occupancy plus 24 percent tax and tips, and includes all meals, which are glatt kosher, cholov yisroel Italian cuisine, as well as the 24-hour tea room, entertainment, kids’ day camp and more.

The Other Coast

New for 2005 is the Passover program at San Juan’s Caribe Hilton (” target=”_blank”>www.bocaresort.com), starting at $3,370; the Wyndham Miami Beach Resort (” target=”_blank”>www.totallyjewishtravel.com.

Lisa Alcalay Klug, a former staff writer for the Associated Press and Los Angeles Times, writes for The Jerusalem Post, The New York Times and other publications.