Monday, January 31, 2011

another failed kitchen experiment (lyn)

Someone at Weight Watchers tells me about a simple soup recipe that “everyone loves.”  Yesterday I was in a cooking mood so I decide to make it.

The prep work takes some time, as I have to peel and cut three large carrots, two-pounds worth of parsnip, three potatoes, and an onion.  The soup simmers for a couple of hours before the vegetables are soft enough to be emulsified (I love that gadget).  The end result is a thick, orange soup that looks exactly like a plate of mashed sweet potatoes (one of the foods I don’t like and never eat).

I have a cup and think it’s pretty good.  I try to coerce Alexander into trying “just a spoonful.” My unsuccessful attempt progresses to a big silly fight ending in my dropping a piece of his prized fresh mozzarella into the soup and his flipping out.  He refuses to accept the fact that the mozzarella is still good after it is fished out of the soup and rinsed off.  His comparison, which I think is more than a bit extreme, is this:  “What if I took your sheets, put them on the subway tracks and let a train run over them.  Then I take them home and wash them.  Would you still sleep in them?”

I have a few friends over yesterday afternoon to watch a movie (Biutiful with Javier Bardem) and offer the soup.  Only one is hungry enough to try it, and she comments that it is very good.  Another takes some home with her, at my insistence.

Today I sit down at lunch to a bowl of it.  I eat about half before deciding it’s tasteless; I don’t like the consistency; and even at three points, it’s not worth the calories.  So I use the remaining pot as a goodwill chip (I’m hoping my super, Roberto, will replace my bedroom air conditioner this spring).

I invite Roberto up to my apartment to look at something that needs repair, but tell him if he’d like, he can have some soup.  I let him try it first just to make sure he likes it.  He tastes it, smiles, and says yes, “I like very much.” I give him the contents of the entire pot.  He leaves my apartment with lunch for the week.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

a special birthday for a special friend (m)

My friend, V, is a trip.  I've never met anyone like her.  We first met at work several years ago.  We went to lunch one day and I remember sitting on a stone wall, eating a salad and she asked, "What is your philsophy on life?"

I did not have one.  What 25 year-old does?  She did.  Hers was (and I'll never forget it): "The most one can hope for in life is an absence from pain."

This is not the type of person who celebrates birthdays with abandon.

Last week, before I left for Greensboro, North Carolina, I held a surprise birthday party for my good friend, V.

The operative words were Surprise, Birthday and Party.  The emails from her/our friends were flying:

-"she'll hate it"
-"she'll kill you"
-"do you really think this is a good idea?"
-"you're brave"

and so forth.  But, really, when you have an important birthday, you need to celebrate it.  I had Lyn call her mother to get a picture of her from her past.  Lyn tells me that all her mother can come up with is her high school graduation photo.  Wait a minute, her brother is a professional photographer.  She just spent a day with him and her nephew.  Try them, Lyn.  Lyn calls me back to say the brother has no photo of his sister.  The whole family is like Howard Hughes.

On short notice, ten of V's friends eagerly agree to meet for lunch.  We go to a great new restaurant in Boston co-owned by two renowned chefs.  I got the high school graduation photo blown up to life size so we can use them as "masks" to hide behind when V enters the room.  My camera is ready.  She walks in and we all scream, "Surprise!"

I can tell by her body language that she desperately wants to cut and run, but Kathy grabs her and leads her to the table where her friends await to pay tribute to their wonderful friend.  Lyn was sick and did not make it.  Others were traveling on business, otherwise, we easily could have filled the room with people.

Lunch was great.  The food was exceptional and the renowned chef, a friend of Kathy's, joined us for lunch and talked to V much of the time and invited her to her home for dinner this Spring.  The big treat was a tower of home-made cupcakes with a chocolate V standing vertically on the tops.

To commemorate the moment, I took a picture but I won't tell you which one is the birthday girl.

After lunch, I drove her back to her home and she smiled and said, "Thank you".

I guess she didn't hate it.

mammogram (m)

They do mammograms on Saturdays at my health plan.   I went yesterday morning at 11:10.

The last time I went, a year ago in October, I had just started WW and had lost 15 pounds.  I don't know if you remember that blog but I proudly told the technician that I had lost 15 pounds when she asked, "Any significant weight changes in the past year?" and she looked at me and said, "Yeah, no, that's not significant." 

I remember I had just bought a 16 pound pumpkin (coincidentally) and wanted to run back and drop it on her toes to show her how significant 16 pounds really is.

So, yesterday, I fill out the form and it asks again for any weight changes since the prior mammogram.  I entered -55 pounds.  It felt really good to fill that out.  I thought I looked good in my royal blue scrubs, too.

I get in the room and the technician asks me a bunch of questions.  I just filled out the form; she has it in her hand and she's asking me the same questions: date of birth, date of last mammogram, etc.  What the hell did I just fill the form out for?  Then she asks me about weight change.  I tell her.  This one I don't mind repeating. 

Her reply: "Really?"

What did she mean by that?

month's mind (m)

I had never heard of a Month's Mind Mass.  It is a mass for those who have died the previous month.  Yesterday, Saturday, was the mass that commemorated my mother's passing in December. 

Everyone in the family who was in town went to the service.  My two brothers, their wives, me, my nephew and his girlfriend.  T and Harrison are in North Carolina, Sam is in New York and my nephew Michael is in China.  One niece has pneumonia and the other is out of town. 

My brothers decided we should invite the aunties and go out to dinner afterwards.  The task of picking up Aunts X and Y falls to me. 

En route to the health plan for my annual mammogram, I call Aunt X to tell her I will be at their home at 3:15 p.m.  "We're ready now" she says.  I look at the clock in my car: 10:52 a.m.  Shoot me when I get that old.

My nephew and his girlfriend are staying at my house (I'm afraid to stay alone) so they come with me to pick up the aunts.  Good thing.  It took 3 of us to load Aunt Y in the car given the snow on her driveway.  She apologizes for missing some teeth on the bottom of her mouth (she lost them).  Aunt X spent the morning trying to locate them to no avail.

The mass was lovely.  Really, truly peaceful.  Okay, I fell asleep at one point.  I awoke to one of my favorite songs (Prayer to St. Francis--Lord make me an instrument of your peace, etc) and, while I've heard this song a million times over the years, finally "got it" when the verse, "It is in dying that we are born to eternal life," was sung.  I started to cry right there in church in front of everyone.  It's a sad day when Aunt Y is bailing me out with Kleenex.

Dinner was surprisingly nice.  I ordered a steak and ate half.  On the way out, I heard someone call my name.  I looked up and saw a man whom I sort of recognized.  He said, "You don't know who I am, do you?'  I looked to his right and saw one of my best friends from high school.  I have seen her only once in the past 12 years and was just talking about her with our friend, Susan.  What a coincidence. 

Maureen, my friend, looks at the crowd of people with me and asks, "Is your mother here?"  I start to cry and tell her the news. 

What are the odds?

would you follow him if he jumped off a cliff? (m)

  Friday night.  Sam's team is in from New York playing a team in Maine.  My husband is in North Carolina with Harrison who went back to watch his friends and attend the big competitors' party.

I need a Sam fix, so I went by myself.  I am terrible with directions, even with a GPS system (my family would tell you that's because I don't listen to the GPS and sometimes argue with it thinking I know better).

Left Boston at 4 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game.  GPS says it should take just over 2 hours.  I stop in Kennebunkport for gas and a diet Coke.  I decide to sit at a table and read USA Today while drinking my diet Coke.  Realize I haven't had dinner, so I get a veggie burger at Burger King, without the roll.  The very overweight girl working behind the register asks if I want fries with that.  I look at her.  " fries".  Gee, I should keep that visual in mind whenever I'm tempted to eat something bad.  Go to the bathroom, re-apply lipstick and then leave.  5:30 p.m.  Plenty of time.

I'm doing well by my standards as I haven't gotten lost yet.  I'm not even nervous even though the sun has set and it's dark outside.  I get off the exit and, at a red light, glance at the paper directions (belt and suspenders...paper and GPS).  It says to follow Route 114 for almost the rest of the way, with one turn.  Route 114 winds.  At one point, it seemingly ends.  I start to break into a sweat.  No, wait, I just have to go left.  I start to memorize markers for the way back, i.e. turn at house with the broken tractor in the front yard.  GPS says I have just 2 more miles.  Straight shot.  Come to an intersection and I see a grocery store.  Look at the clock in the car.  6:15 p.m.  Plenty of time to stop and buy something for Sam and his team.  Go in the store and get a few bags of fresh oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  Long line at the register.  Only one clerk.  Go to self check-out.  Have lots of trouble with the self scanner.  Need assistance.  Press button for help.  Ten minutes later, a clerk with dead eyes saunters over.

Finish the transaction and head to the car.  Start out and forgot which street I was on.  How could I have screwed this up?  Guess wrong and head out in the opposite direction, realize my mistake and correct my course. 

6:58 p.m.  Just make it to the game on time.   Ridiculous.  I'm so bad.

I sit with the other parents whom I don't really know.  One mother eyes my Shaw's grocery bag with the store bought cookies.  "Oh, you bought some cookies?  How nice.  I made some peanut butter bars and some Toll House cookies.  The team (note: the entire team) loves them."

I debate whether or not to even bother giving the team my cookies.

Just then, my brother-in-law walks in and joins me.  He lives in New Hampshire and drove about 60 miles to see Sam which is nice.  We have been estranged from this brother for a while so I really make an effort to talk to him and thank him for coming to see Sam.

"S", my brother-in-law, knows I am bad with directions and offers to lead me out after the game.  I am relieved and say yes.

Sam's team wins the game.  Afterwards, Sam comes out to see his uncle and his mother.  He looks so handsome in his suit, freshly-showered.  I give him a kiss, the cookies and some clementines and leave.

My brother-in-law leads the way.  To tell you the truth, I think I could have done it on my own.  Everything I burned in my brain (left at the blue sign that says EAT HERE; right at the house with the broken tractor on the front lawn, left by the house with the red door and the ugly-ass wreath) was just where it was supposed to be.  So far, Uncle S is right on track.

And then it happened.  I see a sign for 95 South.  Uncle S, however, goes 295 North.  Wrong road? Wrong direction?  Two things cross my mind at this point:  1. Well, he lives in these parts; maybe it's a shortcut to 95 South and 2. I don't want to offend him by not following him.

The upshot?  We went 25 miles out of our way before he realized his mistake.

I got home after midnight and ate a bagel.

a week in greensboro, north carolina (m)

The good news:  Harrison made the cut to compete at the U.S. Championships.  The bad news: the host city was Greensboro, North Carolina.  Not a destination city for anyone for any reason.  I went with a full suitcase and a closed mind.

We took a chance weather-wise and opted to leave the day after a major snowstorm.  People said we got lucky with the weather as that Friday afternoon when we left was sunny and clear.  Honestly, if the venue had been in a nice city, I would have gone a day earlier but the very thought of an extra day in the middle of nothing was not a viable option.  I'd rather drive from Boston than sit there an extra day.

You think I'm being harsh?  Well, I ask you to picture a week in a mid-range hotel overlooking a highway.  The only "establishment" within view was Hooters.  There was a strip club around the corner from Hooters which one could see if one were to crane one's neck. 

The internet service was down more than it was up.  I had to get a few reports in for a project I'm working on so I had to choose between that and blogging.  

Here's what the week looked like.  Breakfast in the room.  Practice.   Lunch in the room.  Practice.  Competition one day, watch friends' competitions the next.  Dinner in the room.  Repeat.  We had no car because the shuttle buses to the arena were free and the brochure said we were adjacent to a mall.  Sears.  We were adjacent to Sears.  Oh, and a place you could go to have your ears pierced.

The days when he competed, I awoke with my stomach churning as if it were on the spin cycle of a washing machine.  I tried to remain calm but it was tough to do when I saw his foot swollen like a balloon.  The trainer iced it and taped it.  He competed with a large ganglion cyst on his foot.  Needless to say, it impacted his performance even though he placed in the top ten which was his goal.  His coach said he was never so proud of him as Harrison never once complained.  It was a test of his character more than anything else.

And me?  I tried to diet.  I bought yogurts at the local grocery store but they froze in the in-room refrigerator which apparently had two settings: off and freeze.  Even Harrrison's Lactaid milk solidified.  I snacked on bananas and clementines.  By the end of the week, however, I broke down and had lunch at the arena.  The healthiest thing I could find was a Chick-Fil-A franchise and, for $9, got four pieces of fried chicken tenders.  I tried to amuse my palette by sampling each of the four dressings: blue cheese, honey mustard, barbecue sauce and sweet and sour.  The blue cheese won, though I'm not sure it tasted anything like blue cheese.

By the sixth day, I found myself slipping into some awful habits....a box of Dots for lunch, for example.  I started eating like a refugee from a trailer park.  The only dinner out was at a Carrabas' chain restaurant which tasted like haute cuisine.  I had Chicken Byron and could only eat half as I had severe pains on my right side under my ribs.  Gallbladder? Gastritis?  Must get it checked out as this is the third episode I've had in the past four months.

Each night, in bed, I thought about my mother and cried myself to sleep.  I so wanted to talk to her and tell her how things were going.

Left the hotel at 4:30 a.m. on the last day to catch a plane at 5:50 a.m. for Washington, then Boston.

Arrived in Boston just in time for another massive snowstorm.

Not a good week.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

an easy exchange (lyn)

In early April of last year, I pooled together money I’d been given for my birthday and Chanukah and finally bought a winter coat by Postcard.  These coats are slimming, warm and stylish.   Here’s a picture:

 I had been looking at these coats for a couple of years.  It had even been on my Wish List, along with one carat diamond stud earrings that I’ll probably never own, a pastel-colored (or light beige) Balenciaga City bag that is also an unlikely purchase,  or three stretchy bangle bracelets at Judith Miller-- two in white gold and one in yellow (also very unlikely).  The Postcard coat even included the size and color, as I had previously tried it on.  Deep navy in a size 44, equivalent to a size 8. 

When I finally got around to buying the coat last April, the 44 no longer fit, but the size 42 (or 6) looked great.  I bought it, and put it in my closet for next season.

Well now it’s well into next season and yesterday I take my new coat out of the closet;  I’m finally ready to wear it.  I’m all dressed and ready to leave the house to meet Carl.  I cut off the tags and put it on.  I do a quick mirror check and see myself in a coat that would probably fit Oprah.  I don’t wear it.

Today, almost 10 months after purchasing the coat, I take it back to Searle (without a receipt) to return it for a smaller size.  I’m expecting a huge argument, even though this exact coat is still sold there. 

I get to the store and see a friendly-looking salesperson.  “Hi, may I see the manager please?”  “I’m the manager, how can I help?”  I explain the situation;  I show him the tags that I had cut off the coat.  “No problem;  let’s see if we have the coat you want.”  I'm convinced he's a Zappos employee working incognito at Searle.

I see the same kind saleswoman who helped me last year.  She agrees completely that I belong in the size 40 ( a size 4).  I find the exact same coat in navy.  It looks gorgeous.  I effortlessly return my old coat and leave with the new one.  I still can’t believe how easy it was.  

Friday, January 28, 2011

carl returns (lyn)

Carl is back in town for the weekend.  His son, daughter-in-law and grandkids are joining him tonight for a three-day stay in New York.  We meet for lunch at a famed breakfast place, Norma’s in the Parker Meridien.

I figure since we are meeting for lunch, at a place known for its breakfasts, dressing casually will be fine.  I wear black pants (the same ones I wore the first time we met though I’m sure he won’t notice the redundancy), a casual All Saints 3-button T with a black All Saints edgy sweater.  I get to the restaurant a couple of minutes late and he’s already there, dressed handsomely in a suit and tie.  Apparently he had a board meeting prior to my arrival. 

It’s nice to see him.  Comfortable.  Friendly.  No pressure.  He’s easy to be with.  I like him;  I just wished he lived closer.  But for someone who lives in Idaho, he does make it here regularly.

I had checked the menu before arriving and had already decided what to order…either the blueberry pancakes or brioche french toast…I figured I’d ask the waiter.  But because it’s restaurant week, there is a $25 option of three courses (and about 3 choices for each course).  The disappearing and unfriendly waiter assures us that each course is small, and if added together, “would probably be the size of one regular-sized serving.”  As it turns out, this is totally fabricated information. 

I choose eggs benedict for my first course.  When it finally arrives, it is a serving that would have satisfied me as an entire meal.  Only one egg, but on a sweet buttermilk pancake layered with Canadian bacon and grilled asparagus, with a side of mini-potatoes in red, black, purple and white (I initially mistake them for olives).  I am full after the first course.

Then the second course arrives.  I’d chosen an egg white frittata of shrimp with “oven roasted roma tomato and spinach.”  I only eat two of the shrimp and decide that I don’t like the bland taste of egg white anything.

The dessert course is called Chocolate Decadence French Toast and arrives covered in strawberries, pistachios and a chocolate sauce.  I have more than a few bites of this.

I’m sure Carl has many intriguing stories about his time as a prosecutor on Watergate, as Chief of Staff to Arlen Specter, or as Inspector General for Defense Intelligence.  But what intrigues me today is learning that he doesn’t like chocolate, doesn’t eat salads, heard (from people in the Maryland-area who would know) that Wallis Simpson might have been a man once, and “crams” for his annual exam by changing his diet (less sugar, less junk foods) and ramping up his weight training for the month prior to his exam.

I wonder what I’ll learn when he returns?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

something new for dinner (lyn)

No school again today.  The 4th time this month.  It snowed 15.3 inches overnight.  At 36 inches, this has been the snowiest January since the National Weather Service started keeping track in 1869.  56.5 inches have fallen to date, against a seasonal average of 22.  It’s the sixth major snowstorm since Thanksgiving.  This is my favorite weather.  Zelia thinks I’m just saying this to be different.  I’m not. 

By noon, the sun is out, the roads are cleared, and the sidewalks have no snow on them at all.  But cars are still buried and the piles of snow at the sidewalk’s edge are about three feet tall. 

Around 4, my Fresh Direct order arrives.  Since I discovered Costco, I’ve been ordering less from Fresh Direct, but needing a case of Coke (for Alexander) and Diet Coke (for me), I placed an order a couple of days ago.  I also bought a couple of 4-minute meals, created by Fresh Direct’s in-house chefs.  I chose from the category, Smart and Simple, under 500 calories.  I rarely eat pasta, but the $7.99 Portobello Mushroom Ravioli with Three-Tomato Sauce looks great.  Before buying it, I calculate the points at 11.  Not too bad.

When Alexander asks, “What’s for dinner?” I tell him.   He reacts as if I’d told him we were having pickled tongue with sauerkraut.  “I’m not having that.  I don’t trust you anymore in the kitchen,” he says.  He’s not kidding.  He goes on a mini-verbal rampage about how I used to be a good cook, but ever since I started caring about my weight, my cooking has gone downhill.  He then recalls some of my more recent catastrophes:  like the broccoli and mint mush thing;  the spaghetti-squash lasagna; and the overcooked brussel sprouts.  He kindly forgets the disastrous Indian chicken-dish that I bought at Costco and served to him and Robyn on New Year’s Eve.  He keeps insisting that he is not going to eat something “new” and adds, “I get really scared sometimes because I know what you are capable of in the kitchen.” 

Finally, Alexander agrees to eat what I serve, but only after he’s extracted the following promise from me: “If, after one bite,  I really hate it, then I can go out and get pizza instead.”

He never has the pizza.  The meal is spectacular.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

so many options (lyn)

If you like winter, this has been a good one.  Yesterday it snowed, this morning it snowed, and tonight another snowstorm is expected.  I have been cocooning lately, as it is a good way to keep warm, and a good way to not spend money.  But today I go out.

First stop is my weight watchers meeting.  I tracked all week and am expecting it to show when I weigh in this morning.  It doesn’t.  I am exactly the same as I was two weeks ago:  121.6.  I like seeing everyone, but I think my interest in the meetings is beginning to wane.  I am committed to staying thin, but not so committed to going each week to the meetings, or even, to tracking each week.  My newer smaller clothes are my best insurance of staying thin.

I run a few more errands, including a teeth cleaning at the most expensive dentist in town, I’m sure.  I’m home by two.

Alexander is sleeping at his grandparents’ tonight so I contemplate my options.  I could go to a free BAFTA screening of The Rite, but although the movie stars Anthony Hopkins, I’m not too excited about the devilish plot.  I find two plays I can go to, each costing only $4,  The first, Blood From A Stone,  stars Ethan Hawke, is three hours long, and as I’m told by Penny, is “relentlessly depressing.”  I decide I’m not up for a 3-hour play.  The other $4 play that is available tonight  is a light comedy, The Screenwriter, and is  performing at an Eastside theater.   But I’m not sure I want to trek outside again, especially if so much snow is predicted.

In the end, I stay in, eat my homemade leftover weight watcher-friendly chicken parmigiana that I made last night, read some of Damage by John Lescroart, and watch DVR’ed TV.  But I love knowing that a world of options is available just outside;  all I have to do is open my door.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

seeing an old friend (lyn)

In November of 2008, my friend Cynthia turned 50.  She gave herself a wonderful party, and I went. I probably weighed somewhere between 150 and 160 and she kindly said nothing.  Either that, or she didn’t notice.  It had probably been two years since we had seen each other last.

We used to get together regularly when Cynthia lived a few blocks away.  Her daughter Nicole is the same age as Alexander and they were classmates.  Cynthia is also a single mom, so we had a lot in common.

In 2004, Cynthia wanted more space.  She bought a house in NJ, and she and Nicole and Otis (their 2-year old Wheaton Terrier) moved.  In the beginning, we saw each other regularly, but as time passed, we got together less and less.  With no traffic, Cynthia’s only a 15-minute drive from the city, but it somehow feels a lot further, especially without a car.

In the past three years, we’ve seen each other only a couple of times, and talk maybe once a year.  But we never feel like strangers when we do connect.  Cynthia unexpectedly calls me today around five, tells me she is coming into the city, and asks if I’ll be around at  6 to get together for an hour or so.  “Of course, come over,” I say.  Then I change out of my comfy Horace Mann sweatpants and oversized sweater and into a pair of skinny jeans and a long beige T, both of which accentuate my new skinny self.

It’s great seeing Cynthia.  We talk about our kids, college, her four-year relationship with a man she probably won’t marry, her very large and crazy neighbors who live across the street, poor Otis who recently died, and city vs. country living.  She doesn’t mention a thing about my weight.  So under the topic of what’s new, I mention that I recently  lost 40 pounds.  “You’ve always been thin, so that’s how I think of you.”  She never noticed when I gained the weight so of course she doesn’t  notice now that I’ve taken it off. 

I hope I look the same when she sees me next, and I hope that is well short of two years from now. 

brrrrrrrr (lyn)

I love winter.  I love being outside in a warm coat.  I love staying in knowing it’s cold out.  I am invigorated in single-digit weather.  This has been a great winter.  Lots of snow.  Three snow days with no school already this month.  This morning I’m watching the news and see the little NBC bug indicating the outdoor temperature at 14 degrees.  I need to go out.

I find my once-a-year coat, a long black shearling that is beautiful but too warm for most days.  Next  I put on my shearling hat (I never wear a hat), shearling mittens (these too, I never wear), and a pair of Uggs.  I decide to walk over to the Saturday Farmer’s Market.  It’s only three blocks a way.

I leave the house and feel insulated and warm.  I turn the corner and the wind hits me and suddenly I’m cold.  I give up on my three-block walk and stop instead at a little bakery that I used to go to daily, but now haven’t visited for maybe a year.  I start quizzing the owner’s son on the calorie count of various items. I ask him about the chocolate croissants and the apple turnovers but those he doesn’t know (and probably thinks I’m ridiculous for asking).  I'm about to leave empty-handed but then he surprises me and tells me that  the no-fat, no-sugar blueberry banana muffin is 80 calories and counts for two servings.  I buy one.

I take it home, cut it in half, and heat it up.  I make some tea and take out the book I’m reading and loving, Just Kids by Patti Smith.  I assign three points to my half muffin and settle in for a cozy afternoon with Patti, Robert Mapplethorpe, Sam Shepherd, and other interesting characters of the 70’s.

Friday, January 21, 2011

a new favorite toy (lyn)

Zelia is home from the hospital and feeling almost normal.  She went in at 114 pounds and came out a day later, having eaten no solid foods, at 121.7 (a lot of fluids were pumped into her tiny body).  It’s the first time she’s weighed more than I do, although that won’t be for long, I'm sure.

Before going to see Zelia, I stop by Robyn’s who has just had a laser peel.  She hands me the brochure.  It’s called Contour TRL, “safe and effective deep skin resurfacing.”  I’m sure in a week that Robyn will look gorgeous with her beautiful brand new baby-soft skin.  But today she looks scary.  Her face is red and blistering and she has Vaseline all over it to seal in the moisture.  Robyn appears to be as bubbly as ever and seems to be in no pain, despite looking like she should be in agony.

Robyn is one of the most thoughtful people I know.  She is incapable of going anywhere without bringing something.  Here are just a few of the things she’s given me in the past couple of months:
  • ricotta homemade ice cream from Agata that is amazing, really
  • little pink panties from her office (she sells lingerie)
  • multi-colored fuzzy socks because she knows I have no heat (by choice);  I rarely take them off
  • age defying wrinkle defense serum from Borghese because she bought extra bottles at a sample sale
She is the consummate shopper and I benefit from this.
  • “Hi, I’m at Morton Williams and they are having a sale on Fage yogurt, should I pick you up some?”
  • “I’m at Bendels and I can get any makeup there for 20% off, do you need anything?”
  • “I’m at Loehmann’s and they just got in a shipment of Hanro.”
Robyn is amazingly generous.  Today I discover that not only can Robyn not visit without bringing something, but she also can’t be visited without giving something.

Before I leave Robyn’s, she insists on my taking her monthly Metrocard since she can’t leave the house for the next few days.  Then she hands me some cream horns that someone gave her but she can’t eat, as each is 300 calories.  She hands me a package of four to give to the only person we both know who can eat all four, Alexander.  Then she gives me about five new magazines that she’s already gone through.  I later give these to Zelia.  And then she says, “Oh, and here, you’ve got to take this,” and she hands me a box which says on it, “Mia Sonic Skin Cleansing.”  “Try it.  I can’t use it for the next six weeks.  Just buy a new brush at Sephora for $25, and trust me, you’ll want to buy your own.  It’s amazing.”

I buy the brush and take it home.  My typical face-washing regime is this:  splash some water on my face; towel dry; done.  The Mia takes more effort but it feels so good, and my skin afterwards looks like I just came from an expensive facial. 

I think I’m going to love this.  

weather or not (m)

Thursday.  Snowstorm in the forecast for Friday.  We're supposed to leave at 5 p.m. on Friday to head to Greensboro, North Carolina for the National Championships in ice skating.

Big decision to make.  Do we leave on Thursday, risk H missing a day of school, try to find practice ice down there, go without a coach, extend the hotel reservation,  pack a day earlier, pay the $200 change fee in airplane tickets...etc, etc.  My head is spinning.

I've become expert in reading weather reports on  Hourly graphs of temperature, probability of precipitation, weather patterns, flight patterns of our plane (is it coming from the west where the bad weather is coming from or the south, which is clear).

In the midst of this meshugas, my husband and son want to know what's for dinner.

Really?  Really, people?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

drama in the ER (lyn)

I am supposed to be in Boston today with M to celebrate V’s big surprise birthday luncheon, but I’ve been in bed since Saturday, so I cannot go.  Today is the first day in five that I’ve woken up without a sore throat.  I’m finally ready to stop being sick.

I get a call from Shari around 11 that Zelia is in the Emergency Room at Mt. Sinai.  Apparently she got there last night in excruciating pain from a kidney stone.  Shari arrives around noon and I get there about a half hour later. 

Behind the doors of the ER, it looks like a third world country.  Cots with moaning patients crisscross the large room in every direction.  Apparently there aren’t enough available beds in the hospital, so patients waiting to be admitted are overflowing in the ER.  We are told that no guests are allowed.  Shari tells the guard that we have to go in.  “I’m her sister-in-law (she isn’t) and she needs me to interpret for her as she doesn’t speak any English (she does).”  The guard buys this logic, but then points at me and says, “What about her?  You don’t need two to translate do you?”  Shari and I continue to walk with an arrogance that suggests, “Of course you do.”  The guard gives up. 

You really need an advocate in these situations.  Poor Zelia is in no condition to fight for herself.  But she is lucky; Shari is born for this role.  Shari wins extra favors from Robert, the surly nurse, by totally winning him over with her charm.  She knows exactly what to ask for, when to ask for it, and how to use whatever it is that is being asked for.  She is the person you want in an emergency.  One of the nurses asks me if Shari is a nurse.  She could easily be mistaken for one, despite her non-nurse attire.

By late afternoon, I realize I haven’t eaten all day.  I am glad I’d grabbed a Fiber One Bar before leaving the house.  It is all the nourishment I need.  Hospitals are pretty good appetite-suppressors. 

Around six, Zelia is moved to a room, and soon after, her two kids come by.  She’ll spend the night in the hospital, but should be home tomorrow.  Last night Zelia went to bed feeling fine.  She awakes with extreme stomach pain, and the next 36 hours are spent in a hospital.  This story will end happily, but still, it scares me how quickly life can change.

back on track (lyn)

Yesterday I’m starting to feel a little better, finally.  I even wash my hair.  First time in a week and it looks it.  Scary.  I step on the scale and I think I gained two pounds being sick.  Even scarier.  I decide I’m going to track this week.  Something I haven’t done faithfully for so long I can’t remember.  This morning I get on the scale and I’m down a pound since yesterday.  Can tracking really be that good?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

the pick lady (m)

When my two sons were young boys, they would often ask where I was going any time I left the house. I would try to explain in the simplest possible terms. A business trip to London would get distilled to "I'm going to London to see the Queen." Then I would show them a picture of the Queen, Buckingham Palace, etc so they would get the picture. This need to know extended to local places and people. The electrologist was known as The Pinch Lady ( I even brought them to a couple of appointments with me) and the woman who did my facials was known as The Pick Lady (they were horrified when they realized what goes on in a facial).

I used to get a facial once every 4-6 weeks. My skin looked amazing. People even commented on it. Clear, smooth, radiant. I went regularly for about 4 years and then stopped abruptly in 2008 when I had my dental implants. The thought of someone touching my face on the upper left quadrant where I had the 5 implants was more than I could bear. Even after I healed, I didn't resume treatments just because I fell out of the habit.

Today, I went back for the first time in almost 3 years. My friend, V, inspired me to go back as her skin looks fabulous and she sees this woman every month. That, plus the fact that Yelena (The Pick Lady) sent me the nicest sympathy card, spurred me to action.

This morning, when I showed up for my appointment, Yelena was waiting by the door of the salon. She beamed when she saw me and I was happy to see her, too.

I got into the salon and before I took my down coat off (I look like the Michelin Man in it), Yelena shrieked, "You look like a totally different person from 3 years ago. Your face is a totally different shape."

I believe I will be coming back on a regular basis.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

then and now (m)

I've become a landlord since my mother died.  I have inherited her two elderly female tenants.  Two sisters who resemble the characters in Arsenic and Old Lace.  J is the younger, sickly sister who looks and acts 20 years older than her 68 years.  E is the stout older sister with the constant snarl on her face.  Add a dash of female pattern baldness(for both) and you have the picture.

J and E have lived in my mother's house longer than I ever did.  They moved in 44 years ago with their mother and stepfather whom they disliked and tortured with their snide remarks.  When the stepfather died, my father commented, "Lucky bastard."

The sisters hate snow.  It immobilizes them literally and figuratively. 

During the Blizzard of '78, I got off the train from Boston and saw my mother's tenant, E, in the train station with a look of sheer horror on her face.  "How are we going to get home?," she asked.  "The buses aren't running!  We're trapped!  There's no food here!"  Our house was 3 miles from the train station.  "We'll walk," I said.  I was 23 years old and in the prime of my life, fitness-wise.  E was 46 and stout. 

The "walk" turned into me in the front, E holding onto the belt of my coat for 2 miles, dragging me down with her 215-lb bulk.  I felt like an Alaskan sled dog in an iditarod race.

 At the 2-mile mark, I saw a cab stuck in the snow, wheels spinning.  I was desperate to get E off my back.  I told the cab driver we would push him out of the snow and he would give us a ride to the bottom of our street.  The macho jerk said, "No way a girl can push me out of this."  I turned to tell E the plan and wasn't she already sitting in the back seat of the cab?  I pulled her out and told her we had to push the cab together.   She grumbled a bit when I told her the alternative was to walk another mile in the blizzard.  Having had a taste of the inside of the warm cab, she snapped into action and pushed like a woman in labor.

The cab left us off at the bottom of our street, a medium-sized hill.  I pulled E up and dropped her off at the front door where her mother stood ready to greet her 46 year-old "baby."  Meanwhile, my reward from my own mother was a 30-minute nap followed by intervals of snow-shoveling to, as my mother said, "stay ahead of the storm."

Over the years, the job of shoveling the front steps, front sidewalk and two sets of back stairs used to fall on my mother....and by extension, me.  My mother would threaten to go outside and shovel and I'd get in my car and drive the 30 minutes to her house to do it before she did.  When you did a job for my mother, you had to get an "A".  We had the best-shoveled sidewalks on the street. Ditto, the steps.  Couldn't use salt because that would stain the bricks.

My mother would never let us hire anyone to do the work.  Now that she is gone, my brothers and I decided to get someone to help.  Cousin Patty found a kid named Nick who advertised his services on the Dairy Maid sign in our town.  Nick and I negotiated a price and he started the day after the storm this week.

On Thursday, I drove to my mother's house to inspect Nick's work. Front steps looked good (A-), sidewalk (A+ ... he has a snowblower).  So far, so good.  I pulled into the driveway to get to the back of the house. Uh oh.   The tenants' stairs were okay (B+) but my mother's stairs were completely blocked and E's car was buried under a huge pile of snow.  Apparently, the cousins, whom we hired to plow the large driveway, came after Nick shoveled and undid some of his fine work.

I got my shovel out of my car and began shoveling my mother's steps.  I could have stopped there, but E heard me and came to the window of her second floor apartment, a damsel in distress, wondering how on earth she was going to get her car out.  "I'll have to leave the car there until Spring! How will I get around?"

Shades of 1978.

It took me two hours to do both jobs.  My face was red from exertion.  I had to stop a couple of times because my right shoulder was sore.  My knees were throbbing.

When I was done, E, thanked me profusely and said: "Good thing we didn't have to walk from the station today.  Neither one of us would make it!"

And with that remark, I vowed to get in better shape this year.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

feed a cold? (lyn)

Feel miserable.  My head feels like it’s been run over by a steamroller.  Runny eyes.  Bad sore throat.  Stuffy nose.  Sneezing. Total lack of energy.  And the only thing that makes me feel better is eating or sleeping, so I do a lot of both all day.  I begin eating healthy:  bowl of strawberries, blueberries, a couple of tablespoons of Fage yogurt, and a teaspoon of honey, then sprinkled with granola.  Later I make some popcorn.  Then I eat three smallish cookies, a Fiber One bar, have a bowl of miso soup, and suck on some Cold-Eeze (my mother's recommendation).  In between I drink lots of hot tea, one even filled with Thera-Flu that Robyn swears is better than the DayQuil I’ve been taking.  Alexander invites three friends over to watch some football playoff games and I stay in my room, mostly sleeping.  I awake around 8, and Alexander generously offers to go over to Agata to get me dinner.  He comes home with a sushi tuna and salmon plate.  I eat that with a chocolate and raspberry Godiva bar for dessert.  I’ve eaten so much that I go on the internet to check out the adage, “Feed a cold; starve a fever.” It’s more a myth than fact.  Too bad.  Otherwise given what I’ve been eating, I should wake up tomorrow symptom-free.  If only.

Friday, January 14, 2011

theater with Penny (lyn)

I get up thinking that today is going to be one of those nice days when I don’t leave the house.  I shower, put on some hang-around comfy clothes, and sit down at the computer.  I spend the morning answering emails, looking for a job, and working on the summer internship program for Horace Mann.

In late morning, I get an email from Penny.  She has $4 tickets to an off-Broadway play that I told her I wanted to see, Gruesome Playground Injuries at Second Stage.  I want to go but I don’t want to leave my house and venture outside in the dark sub-freezing weather with an annoying cold and sore throat I feel creeping into me.  I wish I could do both:  stay at home and see a play.  I’ve managed that with first-run movies, but obviously that’s not possible with theater.  I usually have to fight with Alexander for use of the living room when I have friends over to see a movie. I try to imagine the conversation if I were to say, “Listen, tonight I’m having the cast of Hamlet over to perform in the living room.  You might want to make plans to go out.”

So now I have to put on makeup.  Eat an early dinner.  And put on some less lounge-y looking clothes.  In an effort to save both money and points, last night I sliced my large turkey burger down the middle so I could have the other half tonight.  Before Penny arrives at 7, I eat what mostly tastes like a lettuce and honey-mustard sandwich.

We get to the theater and all I want is hot tea.  There’s a sweet little café there, with an equally sweet waiter.  I order tea and love the feel of it gliding down my throat.   But when I try to bring it into the theater, I’m stopped.  “No hot drinks allowed.  I’m sorry, we can’t take the risk of it spilling on someone.”  I figure the risk is minimal and contemplate sneaking in with my dangerous tea anyway, but I don’t want to get thrown out.  Five years ago I was at this same theater with Penny (she had invited me to usher with her).  The officious house manager (who is still here and on duty tonight) made us stand during the entire first act despite there being plenty of available seats.  I challenged him, which resulted in his later saying to Penny, “Your friend is never allowed to usher here again.”  So in fairness to Penny, I behave.

The play has promise but doesn’t deliver.  And the abrupt end falls flat.  I get home and plop into bed, happy to be in again.  

some things I will never tire of hearing (lyn)

I’m running out to go to the bank.  I’m wearing a big down jacket and my Ugg slippers.  At least I have on jeans and not flannel pajama bottoms that I’ve actually seen worn by kids at Alexander’s school.  I have on no makeup and my hair is pulled back into a messy ponytail.  My sister Valerie would be appalled.  I can hear her saying, “How do you expect to ever meet anyone running around like that?”  On the way back from the bank this older woman who lives in my building is walking by.  I know her by face only, despite my having lived in the building for over 18 years.  She stops me.  “Excuse me,” she says, “But I just have to tell you.  I can see you are keeping the weight off and you look so young.  I’m not kidding, you’ve lost 20 years.  I remember what you looked like when you moved into this building, and you look exactly the same now.  And believe me, I’m not the type of person who just gives out compliments.”

I wanted to hug her, right there on the street.  Maybe then I could have asked for her name!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

paper or plastic? (m)

When I worked full time and traveled a lot for my job, T pitched in and did the grocery shopping most weekends.  I would write the list and he would execute.  We even automated our list and had columns for stock items and weekly specials and special occasion listings.  The system worked fairly well.

When Stop & Shop offered its online ordering and home delivery service called Peapod, we thought we had it made.  Imagine, a simple click of the button on the computer and then the items got delivered to your door.  Perfect.  In theory.

The reality was not so good.  Black tea came back as Black Currant Tea.  Whipped Cream was Cool Whip.  Bread crumbs were bread stuffing.  One of us always had to go to the store, return the wrong items and get the correct ones.

The next step in the evolution of our family grocery shopping saga was the combination of my mother and T doing the shopping.  This came about after we cancelled Peapod and my mother started coming to our home to help out on weekends. 

T would come home from his expedition with my mother, slam the bags on the counter and say "never again."  My mother would enter the house after him, wait for him to leave the room, and then shake her head and say "never again."  T's version of the story was that she "shadowed" him the entire time and edited his shopping cart.  He was insulted.  My mother's version of the story was that he "didn't know what he was doing in a store."  Apparently, they fought over Cheerios.  He put a box in the cart...she pointed out the sign said "Buy One Get One Free" and he responded saying, "I only want one box.  I don't like to waste."

The system that worked best was the combination of my mother and me.  She did the prep work, taking inventory of what we needed, researching sales, clipping coupons.  Only after I stopped working full time did I have the patience for this.  I viewed it as a way to spend time with her that she enjoyed.  I also learned how to be a better shopper.

After a protracted process in the store, we would end up in the check-out in the front loading the items onto the belt, my mother behind my cart, watching the cashier like a hawk.  She caught many mistakes.   The clerks knew that, even though I had my wallet out to pay, my mother was the one in charge.  She even directed them as to which kind of bag to put which items in. 

Today, I went to the grocery store.  I kept looking for her in the aisles. 

At check-out, the young kid behind the register asked me a simple question: "Paper or Plastic?"

I turned to look behind me but there was no one there to answer for me.

I turned back to the clerk, a lump in my throat, and said, "Doesn't matter."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

a perfect dinner date (lyn)

This is how I meet Gail.

It is June, 1981.  The first day of my real first job in product management at Gillette.  I have just graduated from Northwestern’s Business School.  I have reluctantly moved back to Boston.  I miss my so-called boyfriend who probably hasn’t noticed yet that I’ve even moved.  I am  excited, nervous, and at 30, feel old as a newly minted MBA.  My first day is not even at Gillette’s offices in the mini-Pru, about two blocks from my apartment in Back Bay.  No, my first day is on a plane to New York (alone) to meet my new boss and join in the excitement of a new product launch for Mink Difference Hair Spray.  I feel so important.  I don’t remember much about the event, but I do remember what I wear ( a red and white silk dress) and I do remember meeting Gail.  She is younger than I am by three years, also a graduate of Northwestern, and bubbling with enthusiasm.  It is the beginning of a great relationship.

Gail teaches me how to write.  I have always considered myself a strong writer, but business writing is not the same as blog-writing.  She shows me how to structure written arguments so that the reader is always left nodding his/her head in agreement.  What I learn at Gillette I learn largely through Gail.  She focuses on the big picture.  I remember being grateful for having Gail as my boss.  By contrast, M’s first boss at Gillette is a guy who loves the minutia of life.  After laboring for weeks on our first Marketing Plan, M is chastised by her boss because the “bullets on page 143 did not line up exactly with the bullets on page 144.” He actually holds the pages up to the light to point out this egregious error. 

I love working with Gail.  She is smart, supportive, loyal, and a lot of fun.  We share stories of life as much as work.  And for no reason at all, when I leave Gillette and move to NY in January 1984, we lose touch.

A year or so ago we re-connect via LinkedIn, and then Gail starts reading the blog.  I’m not sure what takes so long, but finally, in late December, we decide that since we both live in New York, we really should get together.  Gail emails me and says she wants to take me to dinner.  She picks one of the premiere French restaurants in New York, La Grenouille. Tonight is our date.  And truly, it is one of my best dates ever.

I arrive at the restaurant and Gail is already there.  Her effusive personality hasn’t changed.   She looks exactly the same (not one wrinkle can be found on her face-she says it’s the light but I don’t think so), and her hair is a glorious blond.   She is tall and glamorous and commands attention.  I find her in a corner table in this elegant restaurant and already she is on a first name basis with the charming French waiters.  It really is exciting to see her after all this time.

Gail orders champagne to start the night, as this really is a celebration.  We have so much to say and so much to catch up on.  27 years is a long time.  We talk about husbands and kids, illness and health, aging parents, careers, new adventures, our past together, loves and losses, and so much more.  A three-hour dinner is not enough time.  The amazing food (which will go uncounted as, really, how many points are there in a small starter of – I have no idea what, as it was just put in front of me and I ate it; a potato blini with salmon tartare and caviar; lamb chops with a spinach and nut mini soufflé; a sorbet palate cleanser; small madeleine cookies; a chocolate soufflé with a dollop of whipped cream, and cappuccino?  Too many to count and impossible to calculate). 

We are still in mid-conversation when the plates have been cleared and it’s time to leave.  Gail insists on taking one cab home despite her living south of the restaurant and my living north of it.  By the time the cab is in front of my apartment, we are again in the middle of a compelling story.  We’ll have to get together again soon, so I can hear how the story ends.  And also because it was, just like it’s always been, so nice being with her.

one month anniversary (m)

I woke up at 4 a.m. to the sound of thunder.  "Thundersnow" to be precise.  I am not sleeping well these days as I am haunted by the last three days of my mother's life....the hospital, the doctor's, the noises, the end.  By 6 a.m. I got out of bed to escape the dreams.

I went downstairs and put a laundry in and began ironing the clothes I put aside earlier in the week.  My mother used to do all my ironing as that was her favorite activity.  I know I could send it out to be done professionally, but how could I justify doing that when my 85 year-old mother used to do it herself?  I began with the easy stuff and gradually worked my way up to the 108" linen tablecloth from Christmas.  The hard part was keeping the ironed part off the floor as I rolled the fabric on the ironing board to reveal the wrinkled part.  I asked Harrison to hold the smooth part "like a bride's train."  He looked perplexed and said, "That means nothing to me."   Then he added, "Nana used to do this all by herself."

Somewhere in the second hour of ironing, I felt guided by her hand and the job went more smoothly.  I felt her presence so powerfully.  I had a burst of energy and decided to cook.  I put a ham in the oven for T (Cousin Patty gave me an uncooked ham "to have on hand") and made pulled pork in the crock pot for Harrison.  I made a batch of cookies and gave some to the snow plow guy who was having a beast of a time with our steep driveway.

I made beds, took all remaining Christmas decorations down and put them away.  I went out and shoveled the snow by the garage doors which the plow can't access. 

I made a salad for me and then began writing thank you notes.  My share of the thank you notes totals 150.  I can't just sign my name when people took the time to write, cook, send flowers, attend services, or visit me.  I stopped when my handwriting degenerated to that resembling a stroke victim.

At 4 p.m., I was looking for more work to do. T and Harrison, who heretofore relished the thought of a cozy snow day, said I was "exhausting them" and encouraged me to relax.

I couldn't.  I still felt my mother's presence.  She never stopped doing things until she fell asleep at night. 

To be honest with you, I didn't understand it myself.  Normally, I would have loved to break open a new book or take a nap.  Not today.  I wondered why.

I organized my bills, and took out my checkbook.  It was when I had to date the first check....January 12th that I realized my mother has been gone  exactly one month. 

I put the checkbook away and took to my bed.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

service additions and update (lyn)

So in my imagined role of consumer response evaluator, I've added a couple more.

The Problem
Sometime in the last two years I purchased a small Oxo salad spinner from Bed, Bath and Beyond..  I love this little gadget.  It’s a much better design than the one I owned years ago where you had to pull a string to get your lettuce to spin.  So the other day I was making a salad and the push mechanism on the spinner broke.  I thought I’d call Oxo to see if they offered a new top.  I considered just ordering one from Amazon.  But then I thought, why not try BBB?

The Solution
  • I call BBB and explain the problem:  I have a broken salad spinner that I bought sometime in the past two years from them, and I don’t have a receipt or any other documentation to confirm this and of course I have no idea what I paid for it.
  • They tell me I can bring it in and they will give me a store credit or I can replace it.
  • I go to the store with my unboxed salad spinner.
  • The Customer Service rep replaces it with the ease of  someone who handles this kind of problem many times daily.  No questions, No explanations.  No lengthy rationales.  No arguments. Nothing!
The Rating
Highest possible.  They must have trained with Zappos.

The Problem
A few weeks ago I bought Colgate Pro-Clinical Daily Whitening Gel.  I am pretty loyal to Crest, but Colgate was on sale for $2.99, so I bought four tubes. I bring them home and open one with difficulty.  The cap is impossible to get off, and when I finally do, the turquoise gel squirts all over the sink and onto my clothes.  Four times a day the cap comes off and four times a day more toothpaste oozes onto the counter and sink.  It’s always a mess in my bathroom.  After going through one and half tubes, I finally decide to toss the remaining two.  Or better, I’ll try returning them.  I know it’ll be a big battle, but figure it’s worth a try.

The Solution
  • I go to Duane Reade, without a sales receipt or any other proof of purchase.
  • I begin to explain my problem to the cashier manager when he cuts me off by holding up his hand (palm facing out) to indicate STOP and says, “Ma’am, if for any reason you are not satisfied with a product here, we’ll take it back.”
  • I buy four cans of gel shaving cream for Alexander and end up getting $2.16 back.

The Rating
Maybe it was Duane Reade who trained Zappos?

So, was it worth:
  • the $38.40 to return the pieces (on December 8tth) ?
  • the wait (almost 6 weeks to get the replacements, not the 2 to 4 weeks as originally promised)?
  • the difficulty reaching Le Creuset to follow up on the status (at least five unanswered calls and emails over the course of two weeks)?

My two new Le Creuset pieces arrive today.  Brand spanking new.  The third piece is on backorder and will ship when available. 

Was it worth it?  Absolutely!