Wednesday, August 31, 2011

elaine (lyn)

Elaine was big in every way.  Big physically, big in personality, and in possession of a very big heart. 

My parents have always had a lot of friends.  But their two closest were Elaine and Eddie.  My mom grew up with them, and when she married my dad at age 19, they readily accepted him.

My sisters and I called them “Aunt Elaine” and “Uncle Eddie’” until we were in our teens.  That’s when we were told that we were not blood relatives, though the truth did not alter the relationships.  Elaine and Eddie and their three daughters (all close in age to me and my sisters) were family.  They lived about twenty miles from us, but we saw them often.

In July of 1965, our families rented a house together in Dennisport (on the Cape and right on the ocean).  It was a big old house and perfect for the ten of us.  It didn’t matter that the weather that summer was horrid.  I don’t think we had one sunny day.  But Linda (the oldest among the six girls) introduced me to John Demeo, and it was instant love on my part.  During the day we would all drive down to Marconi Beach where I would watch John surf, and attempt it myself.  At night, we'd all pile into Linda’s Volkswagen Bug, and I would beg her to drive by the Howard Johnson's in Yarmouth so I could see if John was working that night.  Such were the activities of youth back then.  I don't think I wore shoes or sandals once the entire month.  It was a magical time for a 15-year old.

 My parents bought their house on the Cape in 1978, and soon after, Elaine and Eddie bought a house on the Cape too.  While the two houses were about ten miles apart, they used the same builder and the houses were mirror images of each other.  Later, Elaine and Eddie moved to another house directly across the street from my parents, and for a few years, they were neighbors.

My dad is an expert with his hands, and while Eddie had many talents, fixing things was not one of them.  My dad built a cedar closet in his basement.  Eddie had someone build his.  When Eddie’s closet cost five times as much and was embarrassingly big, he hid it from my father, knowing the endless ribbing he would get (and later of course did get) when my father saw it.  I never saw my father laugh harder than he did when Eddie was around.

Elaine was the person I’d go to when I couldn’t talk to my parents.  In 1988, when my younger sister was getting married, and I was living in New York feeling unloved and poor, it was Elaine I confided in.  I was lucky to have Elaine and Eddie as my second set of parents.

Eddie died of lung cancer in 1992, a few days before Sally was born.  Soon after, Elaine moved to Florida where two of her daughters were living.  I don’t think I saw her after that.  But my mom talked to her daily, and their friendship remained unchanged.

Early today, my mom called to tell me that Elaine died last night.   It was not unexpected as she’d been sick for a long time.  She was 82.

Now she can be with her beloved Eddie.  But the world has lost a warm and wonderful person, and my mom has lost her best friend.  

a one-day vacation (lyn)

Valerie calls.  “Hey, do you want to come out and go to the beach?”  Since Irene passed through, the weather has been magnificent.

My sister belongs to a beach club in Long Island.  I’ve been many times; it’s a great place with a good snack bar and a perfect view of the Atlantic.  I remember going a few years ago and feeling like the plumpest person on the beach.  I was embarrassed to leave my beach chair, once I settled in.  Not to mention how hard it was to get out of my beach chair.

I wear a tiny denim, size 6 Theory skirt.  I remember buying it at a small west side boutique, many years ago.  I also remember almost giving the skirt away during one of my closet binges, as I thought I’d never fit into it again.  But I liked it too much.  Today I wear it over my bathing suit, and head to the train.  It may be a little short, but it’s summer after all.

The aftermath of Irene is apparent as we drive through my sister’s beautiful neighborhood.  Trees lay slumped on many sidewalks.  Many of the beach clubs are closed.  My sister’s club is one of the few that are open.

We set up a few feet from the water.  Or more precisely, we are set up a few feet from the water.  Cabana boys are the best things about beach clubs.  "Here will be fine, Jared, and you can set up the umbrellas behind us though I doubt we'll be using them."  And then when we are ready to leave, we need only grab our beach bags; everything else stays behind.  The chairs and umbrellas are lifted, carried, and put away by the cabana boys.  It's a lovely system.

The beach to our right and left is unpopulated.  A rare sight on this typically crowded landscape.  

For the first time in years, my sister and I look similar in size, even in bathing suits.  Maybe not quite as toned as in 1972, but not bad considering our ages.



I take out my book, The Quest for Anna Klein, and get lost in it.  I walk the beach.  We eat a big lunch (described as a healthy chicken salad wrap, though I doubt there is anything healthy about it).

Around five, we leave.  I go back to my sister’s where we later meet my brother-in-law.  Dinner is at a local restaurant called The Fishery; it too is on the water, casual, and excellent.

I arrive home around 10:30, feeling like I’ve been gone for a week.

I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

temptation (lyn)

I’m asked to participate in a Focus Group for a new credit card.  I pass the two screening criteria easily:  own multiple credit cards and use them regularly.  It pays $175 for 90 minutes.

I walk the two miles there and back, but it’s a dangerous walk.  No muggers or gangs or bad neighborhoods.  In fact, just the opposite.  Expensive stores and stylishly dressed people.

I pass Betsey Bunky Nini’s (not exactly by accident), a boutique on Lexington.  I try on a size small cashmere skirt (somewhat reasonably priced), and decide that maybe I'll get it someday if it ever goes on sale.  Then I see a spectacular pair of jeans-like navy cord pants, but at $290, I have to pass, though they fit perfectly.  I feel guilty leaving without them but would feel guiltier leaving with them.

I visit the Ugg store and try on a pair of short Ugg boots.  They’re cute and comfortable, but I don’t need them.  I leave empty-handed.

I then go to my Focus Group.  It brings back nice memories of working on the other side of the two-way mirror.

I leave there and go to Fendi where for a short period of time, one can customize the leather color, stitching, hardware and straps on their gorgeous sellaria line of handbags.  And, I have a $500 credit.  I look at the swatches and am leaning toward a dark grape messenger bag with silver stitching, hardware and a leather strap. Prettier than it sounds.  I’ll think about it.

I stroll through Bergdorf’s shoe department and ogle the Gravati boots.  I don’t even try them on.  I know I’ll have to have them if I do.

Wolford’s is just around the corner and on my walk home.  I try on two, size small black skirts that are very tight and look great.  I remember all my other black skirts and my lack of income and walk out buying nothing.

Lululemon is also on the walk back.  Good; they don’t have a size 6 in the grey Studio Crop.

Four miles and $175 richer, I arrive home having made only a single purchase, despite many more stops than those itemized here.

$5.99 on a package of Tate chocolate chip cookies.  The one thing I just could not resist.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

an angel gets her wings (m)

My friend, A, passed from this life on Saturday morning. 

T, Harrison and I were driving to New York to visit Sam at college and have Harrison tour the school when my cell phone beeped.  It was a text from A's husband telling me what I already felt in my bones. 

I met Sam and his friend Sam P (who also knew A) at a spot on the top of a hill overlooking a beautiful vista of  blue skies, trees and rolling green lawns.  It was a sunny day and I thought the spot was a good place to break the news to the boys.  It just felt closer to the heavens. 

The boys and I had a good cry and a group hug.

It was decided the boys would drive to Boston that evening to be there to support A's eldest son who is their good friend.  His birthday is the next day.

Got home and made food for the aunties who said they were all set with crackers (really...where are my cousins?) for the storm.

At 8 p.m., I drove 25 miles to their home and loaded them up with salad, pasta e fagioli, stuffed shells and homemade cookies.  Grief makes me crave carbs so that's what I made.

Got back to my house at 10 p.m. and started a laundry. 

Fell asleep at 3 a.m.

irene arrives (lyn)

Saturday Night
All Broadway theaters are closed.
Times Square is empty.
Grand Central Station is a ghost town.
There is tape on the lobby windows on all the buildings on my street.
The elevator service in this building, and those around it, stopped at 10pm, just in case.
Zelia and her son are staying with me tonight; their home is being renovated.
I brave the rain and find a pizza place that has remained open.  One of the few places that is.
We stay in and watch a movie, Win Win.
My neighbor asks if we should remove things near our windows in case the glass is blown out.  I worry about my TV crashing to the floor, but not enough to move it.
The city is at a standstill while we wait.
News coverage is non-stop. 
A tornado warning for this area is announced.
Irene is predicted to hit around two tomorrow afternoon.
The mayor, who looks exhausted, has a final press conference around 10:45pm.  He says, "The time to evacuate has passed.  Stay put, and do not leave your homes.  Flying debris (he mentions terrace furniture) can be dangerous."

Sunday Morning
Wake up around 8:30.  Zelia is already up and smiling.  It’s over.  The  historic storm has come and gone and we got some rain that has now stopped.  It may be sunny later today. 

This must be the most hyped non-event of the century.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

it would have been my anniversary today (lyn)

34 years ago today I got married.  The only thing I remember is that during the ceremony, when it was my turn to say, “I do,” I had a coughing fit and couldn’t get the words out.  That should have been an omen.

A lot of things have changed since my marriage and divorce a short time later.  I went to business school and got an MBA.  I moved from Chicago to Boston and later to New York.   I had many jobs.  I had two different careers:  one in packaged goods and the other in television.  I made new best friends.  I loved other men.  I had a child.  

But looking at this picture, the one thing that is back to where it was 34 years ago is my size.   I'm hoping that won't change again.

first attempt not successful (lyn)

It’s rainy and dark and obviously a good day to stay in.  I am finally ready to set up my new coffee maker.  I follow the directions for first time use.  “Fill the reservoir with cold water and follow directions for Brewing Coffee.”  I do this.

When the carafe is full, I empty it in the sink and go to move the coffee maker.  There is still boiling water in the filter and it comes splashing through the coffee maker onto my hand.  The pain is searing.  I rush to the internet and look up “burn from boiling water.”  I run my hand under cold water for a very long time.

Apparently, you are supposed to leave the cover on the carafe while the water is filtering through.  How is one to know this?  It is not intuitive since the cover on the carafe looks solid.  And, the instruction manual offers no warning.

I put off making coffee for a while as I tend to my burned right hand.  It’s painful but the cold water helps; it doesn’t blister.

Around four, I make coffee.  End result?  Too hot and too strong.  Next time I’ll do better. 

wish she'd hurry up and get here already (lyn)

So I get up early and begin three loads of laundry.  I go to the Farmer’s Market already tasting the cinnamon swirl roll.  They are closed.  Irene again.

There is non-stop coverage on TV.  I turn it off to watch a movie.

I go to Agata to get some food.  Tape covers their windows.  They too have closed in anticipation of Irene.

I call several restaurants to get a reservation for tonight.  No answer.  Closed, probably.

I can't even get a manicure.

Good I have no clothes for the dry cleaners;  they are also closed.

Out of curiosity, I call Bloomingdales.  Closed all-day Saturday, says the recording.

For the city that never sleeps, it's certainly doing a lot of napping.

Friday, August 26, 2011

shopping for mourning clothes (m)

As I'm leaving A's house, I heard her mother ask A's sister if the kids had appropriate things to wear to their mom's funeral.  Then A's mother said she needed to get to the beauty parlor and take care of herself.

I realize then that I haven't wanted to face the obvious fact that A would leave us very soon.  It's as if I didn't want to jinx it by planning for the inevitable.

I get in my car, bleary-eyed, and head towards my home.  I do a mental inventory of my closet.  You would think with all the black garments in there that I would have something to wear to the services for A but all I could think of was a nice black dress with a lightweight, buttonless cardigan.  The one I bought a few months ago turned out to be almost transparent and, after seeing my arms in the photo taken of me the night of my brother's anniversary party at my home, I decided I do not have the right to bare arms.

I head to the Eileen Fisher store near my house.  Get there and the store is quiet as most of the well-heeled townspeople are still summering elsewhere.  I walk in intent on buying a sweater.  First, a skirt catches my eye--long, narrow, slimming.  I ask if they have it in a plus size.  As a matter of fact, they do, they almost shriek.  Another woman bought a 2x and a 1x online and kept the 2x.  I try on the 1x.  Too big.  They give me an XL (isn't an XL the same as a 1x?).  Too big.  A regular-size Large?  Perfect. 

I buy a silk tank top to go with the skirt.  They convince me to buy a crimson-colored sweater to complete the ensemble.  I buy that.  Then a scarf.  Then another scarf.  Then two more sweaters (the last item is the one I came to buy and almost forgot all about it).

I leave the store and go to the shoe store.  I buy a pair of Dana Davis leather sandals in a chestnut color.  Even on sale, they cost more than the montly rent for my first apartment.  I buy a pair of black heels.  They are ugly, but comfortable.  The drastic markdown makes them less ugly and more comfortable.

At 3 p.m., my stomach grumbles.  I head to Pinkberry for a frozen yogurt parfait (250 calories).  I pass a boutique where I buy a bracelet I don't need to go with the newly-purchased blue sweater I also don't need.

I get home at 4 p.m. and dump my purchases on my bed.  I survey the scene.

None of this stuff makes me feel any better.

saying goodbye to A (m)

My friend A's sister called me on last night to invite me to say goodbye to A.  She is slipping fast.

I arrive at A's house around 1 p.m. and go into her bedroom.  She is alone in the bed and barely conscious. I hold her hand and thank her for her friendship and tell her I love her.  I remind her that she has left a wonderful legacy in her three great kids.  I ask her to tell my mother I said hello.

A little while later, another friend and A's mother join me.  Her mother gets in the bed and snuggles with her.  Her friend Liz, another cancer patient, holds her hand and tells her how much she loves her.  I stand at A's feet and warm them with my hands.  I want to hold onto her for as long as I can.

When I am driving home I realize what a privilege it was to be able to share in such an intimate moment.   I am grateful to A's family for giving me the chance to say goodbye.

I pray for a safe journey and a "soft landing" for A.

more on irene (lyn)

                                   Mass Transit to Shut Saturday at Noon

                                   By JAMES BARRON 2 minutes ago
              With Hurricane Irene pushing toward the East Coast, officials made plans to shut      down the city’s mass transit system on Saturday, and the mayor ordered a mandatory evacuation of certain coastal areas.

That's from  These are unprecedented moves by Mayor Bloomberg.  Tomorrow at noon, train, bus and subway service will stop.  And people in lower Manhattan have been told they must evacuate.  I'll need to stay close to home, unless I plan on walking.

In NJ, Governor Christie is shutting down major sections of the Garden State Parkway tonight at 8.

I go to Agata to buy some food for tonight’s dinner; the lines are so long I leave.  I’ll grab some pizza instead.

The storm is supposed to last 7 hours, basically all day Sunday.  My mother calls and is worried about trees falling on her house.  Otherwise, she’s prepared. 

The news is all about Irene.  My conversations today, with East Coast friends, are not.

But I do get calls, texts, and emails from friends in Chicago, LA and Ireland.  The media makes it sound so frightening that those outside this area are more worried than those who live here.

waiting for irene (lyn)

A storm of “historic” proportions is being forecast for the East Coast, including New York and Boston.

Irene, as this hurricane is being called, is on her way, and is expected to hit New York on Sunday.  Already the mayor has formed a command center.  He says mass transit may be closed down.  Certain areas of Manhattan are being considered for evacuation.  Amtrak has already cancelled its trains from NY to Boston.  Airlines and Amtrak have begun cancellations.  Last night the national news was delayed an hour so that local news could tell us what to fear and how to be prepared.  The media is reporting the supplies we should purchase (canned foods, batteries in case of electricity loss, etc.).  I even get an email from a friend saying that she has a camp stove, plenty of flashlights, and has stocked up on water, batteries and wine.  She invites everyone to come over if we lose power. 

I should be scared; instead I am excited.  While I certainly don’t wish hardship for anyone, there is something thrilling about nature's violence and unpredictability.

I have plenty of water, berries, fiber one bars, and some leftover strawberry rhubarb pie from Tates.  Losing my AC is my only fear.

The Wall Street Journal says, “Irene will be a once-in-a-lifetime storm for most New Yorkers.” My guess?  We’ll end up with some heavy rain and that'll be it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

last day in southampton (lyn)

Another glorious day is end-capped with another fattening but satisfying dinner. I usually won’t eat meat more than once a week.  Tonight we decide to barbecue steak again, remembering how good it was two nights ago.  I overbuy the vegetables to appease the guilt.

I buy more pie at Tates to supplement what is left over from two nights ago.  We all eat lots.

The sky is aglow with stars everywhere.  It’s a beautiful last night.

standby (m)

A was sent home from the hospital yesterday and put on hospice care.   This is the part where we wait.  My phone rings throughout the day with calls from her other close friends who visited her Sunday and Monday.  Lots and lots of tears. 

I go through my day like a zombie.  I find myself in stores forgetting why I am there and what I'm supposed to buy for dinner.  Food is the furthest thing from my mind.

I am numb.

Yesterday, at 2:02 p.m., there was an earthquake on the east coast whose tremors reached from Virginia to Boston.  Everyone was talking about it. 

I didn't feel it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

the life of riley (lyn)

An earthquake hits Virginia and is felt in New York City.
My dad is still in rehab and is getting better at a snail's pace.
M's friend is losing her battle with an ugly disease.
My mom is coping with a more confined existence.
But here at the beach, the realities of life are on hold.
The days are lazy and relaxed.
The weather is summer-perfect.
Get up.  Eat a healthy breakfast of berries.
Sit by the pool and finish a book, FAITH by Jennifer Haigh.
Cool off with a quick swim.
Have a cream cheese-lox sandwich for lunch.
Talk to Alexander several times.  He is very happy.
Eat a lobster dinner outside at Oaklands, a waterside restaurant. 
Watch the sun set with a good friend and her entertaining kids.
Summer is a good time to escape...even if it's only for three days.

Monday, August 22, 2011

visiting zelia (lyn)

Zelia has rented a house in Southampton for a month, and today I leave town to visit her for a few days.  It's a gorgeous summer day (sunny, not too hot, no humidity), and that's the forecast for the next three days.

Zelia is a healthy eater, so I know not to worry about a plethora of fattening foods.  

We spend the day lounging, reading and talking by the pool.  I love the beach and had thought that's where we should go, but now having spent an afternoon on a heavily cushioned chair, next to a bathroom and kitchen, I doubt I'll see the ocean while here.  There is a lot to be said for comfort.

Alexander calls twice with questions about buying books and setting up an Amazon account.  None of his calls are because he misses home.  Despite that, Zelia and her kids tease me relentlessly about "all the calls."

Dinner is excellent.  Barbecued  steak, chicken, vegetables and a salad.  Then I ruin it with two pies from Tates:  an apple crumb and a strawberry rhubarb.  Both excellent.  

While fall and winter are definitely my favorite seasons, I do like the casualness of summer.  Packing up to go away is easy-clothes are small and light and I don't need make-up (a tan takes care of that).  Hanging out with good friends, out of the city, is relaxed and pressure-free.  It's easy to forget the stresses that live at home (no job, no money).

We go to bed early.  There's no AC, but we don't need it.  The window stays open, a sweet summer breeze blows in.  Before I lost my job, it had always been my dream to have a little home out here.  At one point, I even had the money for a down payment.  Now I know that will never happen, and it does make me sad.  But it doesn't lessen the enjoyment of being in a beautiful place with good friends.

too depressed to write (m)

Went to the hospital yesterday to see A.   I brought the pants but I don't think she'll ever wear them.  We talked about life and death for about three hours while I rubbed her feet with hospital-issue Keri lotion.

I left when she fell asleep (someone else was there).

I am depressed.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

trust (lyn)

Ithaca is known for its natural beauty, vineyards, and farms.   I want to stop and pick up some local vegetables on my drive home.  Along route 79E, I see a little farm stand, cast from a Norman Rockwell painting.  I pull off the road and walk over.

Everything is gorgeous, as are the prices.  My favorite pint of small yellow tomatoes are $2.50; I pay $4 at the Saturday Farmer’s Market near my home. I also get some corn, heirloom tomatoes (only $2/pound), and something I’ve never seen, a small yellow watermelon.  It’s only $1.  After I select my produce, I look around for someone to pay.  Instead of a person, I see only a sign:

Unbelievable.  It's self serve.  I’m expected to choose what I want, weigh it, figure out what to pay, and slip my money into a little lock box on the shelf.  Exact change is required.  It’s good that the staff from 16 Handles isn’t running this stand or they’d be a tip jar!

I think of the child I just left.  Will he hear my voice urging him on to do the right thing?  To not drink too much at parties?  To not get upset if the grade he gets on his first paper is disappointing?  To choose his friends carefully?  To take the initiative in making things happen?  To not wait until the last minute to do his work?  To read his emails every day and respond when he gets them?  To take advantage of all that Cornell offers?  To explore?  To take academic risks? To appreciate the bigger things in life and let go of the smaller ones?  To be careful and stay safe? 

Alexander is 18.  He is a good person.  He no longer needs someone watching over him every step of the way.  I believe he will make good decisions.  It's time to let go and trust the wonderful child I raised.

and I don't even cry (lyn)

I drive back to Cornell for the convocation.  It’s a short ceremony where the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences officially accepts the class of 2015.  Like the other attendees, I am proud and honored to be a part of this tradition.

Alexander confesses that last night, he and 15 other freshman were on the way to their first dorm meeting.  The elevator stopped on another floor and 8 more freshmen rushed in.  Half a floor later and the elevator stopped.  The kids pushed the emergency button but nothing happened.  They called 911 and explained the problem.  “What are 23 kids doing in one elevator?” asked the 911 operator who is probably accustomed to calls like this.  They were rescued about thirty minutes later.  As he is telling me this, I think back to the Dean’s speech about the intelligence of the kids admitted here.  Apparently that intelligence does not extend to common sense.

Alexander is already embracing his independence and making new friends ( the elevator fiasco must have been a good bonding experience).  He is ready for this big adventure.

Around 11 or so, Alexander walks me to the car and we hug good-bye.  The tears I had expected to fall, don’t.  It’s hard to be sad when your child is so happy.

Friday, August 19, 2011

move-in day (lyn)

Everything goes smoothly. We arrive at 11.  The campus is swarming with red-T-shirted people directing us every step of the way. It is all very organized and comforting.

With the help of some Cornell volunteers, our entire car is unloaded in minutes.  Someone asks Alexander if he has a single, double or triple.  When he says he has a double he’s told, “Man, you lucked out.  The doubles in Jameson are the best.  They’re the same size as the triples.”  He’s right.  Alexander’s room is huge.  Dirty, but huge. 

The blind is broken, and sits at an angle. We take it down.  Some boys nearby tell us the shower doesn’t work.  And the windows look like they haven’t been cleaned since 1972 when the dorm was first built.  I’m sure everything will get fixed in time. 

We borrow someone’s Pine Sol and start cleaning.

While we are unpacking, Alexander’s roommate, Benjamin,  comes in.  He seems great.  Neat.  Well-mannered.  And fun.  He also gets up early which is a plus, given Alexander's sleeping habits.  Benjamin is unpacked and gone hours before me and Alexander.  Other kids and their parents pop their heads in to say hi, and they all comment on the size of Alexander and Benjamin's room.   Everyone is friendly, and warm, and an undercurrent of excitement is everywhere.

After a few hours of unpacking and organizing, Alexander and I walk from his dorm in North Campus (where all the freshman live) to College Town where we have lunch at College Town Bagels.  Everywhere we go seems to be a 15-20 minute walk.  It starts to rain on the way.  But even the dreary weather doesn’t diminish the wonder of the day.

I am not thinking too much about my food consumption, as I eat my second bagel of the day.  The first was topped with cream cheese; this one is covered in egg salad, tomatoes, and bacon.  Even yesterday’s healthy lunch won't compensate for my atrocious eating today.

The rain is gone by the time we finish lunch. We make a few more stops on our walk back to North Campus, and I wish I hadn’t worn my Naot sandals.  They’re fine for casual walking, but not for walking miles and miles, up and down hills. I wonder if I could have done this two years ago?

Around seven, I head off to a lecture about being a Cornell parent.  It’s a good talk but a long walk.  Around nine, I’m ready to leave.

My hotel is about twenty minutes from campus, and my GPS lady takes me through dark, winding streets, not the way I came.  Maybe it’s less miles, but it's also less direct.  It’s a harrowing ride to be making alone.

On the way, I pass a Bed, Bath and Beyond, and an all-night Wal-Mart.  I stop in both and make some fill-in purchases. I see some other parents I'd met during the day, doing the same thing.

I am now completely exhausted.  It’s 10:45, and I haven’t eaten since two.  I don’t want to have a big meal, but I want something to eat, so I pull into a Friendly’s.  I order the hot dog, despite its warning:  this hot dog contains milk.  I ask the waitress what that means, and she hasn’t a clue, though she agrees it’s a strange warning. 

I arrive at the hotel around 11:30, too tired to feel emotion.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

arriving in ithaca (lyn)

I was hoping to leave by 9; instead we leave at noon.

It is shocking to both Alexander and me that everything fits in the car.  Now we just have to hope that it’ll all fit in his room.

Before taking off, I ask the doorman to take one last picture.

It’s a long drive, but we make good time and arrive in Ithaca in just under four hours.  We are both famished, and decide to drive straight into town for something quick to eat.  As soon as we exit the car, I am transported back to my college days in the early 70’s.

Ithaca Commons is filled with long-haired guys, and women with unshaven arm pits.  It is a very crunchy place, where barefoot walkers can be seen everywhere. The shops cater to another era.  Here’s a partial list of the stores we pass:
  • Diaspora:  Specializes in “African-African American” merchandise.
  • Ithaca Hemp Company
  • Headdies:  Carries “American-made pipe art.”
  • Jabberwork:  Carries “an extensive assortment of beads.”
  • The Bodhi Tree
  • Tibet Store
  • Home Green Home:  “Offers a wide variety of healthy and eco-conscious home furnishings and lifestyle gear.”
  • Angry Mom Records: “Specializes in new, used, rare & weird records & CDs.”
  • Rumble Seat Music:  Has one of the “largest selections of vintage guitars in the world.”
  • Immaculate Conception Gifts
  • Sew Green
  • State Smoke Shop
I am not even tempted to spend money.

We have lunch at Greenstar’s Oasis Natural Grocery.  Alexander chooses the sushi and I opt for a sandwich that looks like chicken salad although the sign next to it says it’s “non-chicken.”  I have no idea what is in it, but it tastes great and is probably good for me.

A band plays in the middle of the Commons and people of all ages dance.  A beautiful little blond boy sways to the music, along with his hippy-esque parents.  We ask two long-haired unkempt looking guys for directions out of the parking lot.  They look to be in their mid 40’s, and are smoking hand-rolled cigarettes of some kind.  The directions they give us are incomprehensible.

Welcome to Ithaca.  

a text from my friend, A (m)

Alone in the kitchen, doing the dishes.  I hear a beep-beep from my cell phone across the room.  My hands are full of soap.  I rinse off and walk across the kitchen.  Who is texting me at 11 p.m.?  My family is home and in bed.

It's from my friend, A, the one with cancer.  I have her Vineyard Vines corduroys that I picked up in Freeport, Maine and we arranged to meet this week for me to give them to her and she has a duffel bag she bought me. 

Would she be texting me now about this?

I look at the text.  It's bad news.  She is in the hospital. 

I won't divulge the details but I'm sick to my stomach when I get this text.

I know this has nothing to do with Weight Watchers.  I am telling you this because I need a favor from each of you.


is this the one? (m)

Diane was our babysitter for 12 years.  She supplemented my aunt who lived with us and took care of the kids.  At one point, Auntie El no longer drove the kids and I needed someone to pick them up, take them to afternoon sports and back home.

Enter Diane.  My neighbor, S, recommended her to us.  She found Diane through the recreation center in our town where Diane taught classes to kids (fun science, fun cooking, fun painting).

Diane was 26 years old when we first met her.  She was mature beyond her years, very responsible.  I was comfortable immediately.  More important, Auntie El -who disliked most people- loved Diane. Phew.

Diane stopped helping out a few years ago when I stopped working.  Every now and then she'd call, saying she needed a "fix" of the kids.  They love her and she loves them.  Diane would pop in on her way home from work and eat whatever I was making for the kids.  We all sat at the kitchen counter.

While Diane seems perfect to us, it's men she has a problem with.  She's had a few serious boyfriends but they never get to the altar which Diane badly wants.  She also would be the world's best mother.  It breaks my heart.  This is a quality person of the highest order.

Diane called last week and said she wanted to see the kids before they go off to school.  She has their Christmas gifts!  Because of my mother's death, we postponed Christmas with Diane.  Has it really been that long since we've seen her? 

Diane tells us she has a new boyfriend, someone she met at her high school reunion.  She likes him very, very much.  Would we like to meet him?

We set tonight as the date.  The day after the neighborhood dinner party.  I have a meeting with the Mayor of Boston's office that runs over by two hours.  I jump in a cab in Boston and race home.  Breathless, I set the table and chop up vegetables for salad and for stir-fry chicken, Diane's favorite.  I buy a couple of steaks in case her boyfriend doesn't like the stir-fry.

Diane and Dave arrive at 7.  She looks amazing.  Her medium brown chin-length hair is longer and blonder.  She's lost a few pounds and is dressed all in white.  Her skin looks tanned (lightly) and she is wearing plain gold hoop earrings.  She is beaming.  A woman transformed by love.

Dave is wonderful.  Even Harrison and Sam like him (they say kids and dogs are most perceptive about whom to like).

At 11 p.m., they leave.  I'm exhausted and I have a kitchen-full of stuff to clean and put away.  Sam's shirt for work needs ironing.  Harrison's lunch needs to be made.  We have to get up at 5:30 to leave for Harrison's competition on the Cape.  Was I crazy taking all this on tonight?

Then I remember something Dave said.  He said something about waiting his whole life to meet the right person and her being under his nose for a very long time.  Then he looked at Diane and gave a loving smile.

Knowing Diane may be on the path she's long awaited lightens my load.  I zip through the cleaning feeling happy for her.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

don't put off to tomorrow (m)

My mother's favorite expression: "Don't put off 'till tomorrow what you can do today."

My neighbors and I have been talking about getting together for dinner for some time.  Okay, 12 years to be exact.  Oh, we visit at each other's homes, the women have had lunch together, people drop in and out of homes to borrow/return things.  When we have big occasion parties such as graduations, 50th birthdays, they are invited along with all the relatives.  But a dinner at our home with just them and their families and us and our family...well, it's been 12 years.

We talk about it often.  "We should get together for dinner.  Just our families.  Before summer ends.  Before school starts."

What was my excuse?  I can't even remember.  Probably something lame like the house wasn't clean, the family room wasn't decorated enough (not that they'd care).  The outside needed paint.

Last week, I looked at the calendar.  Sam is leaving to go back to college in a few days. S's daughter C is going to college for the first time.  J's son T is recovering from hip surgery and is home from the hospital.  S's son K is headed to New York.  Harrison is in between competitions.  I seized the window of opportunity and invited everyone for an impromptu gathering.

The response was overwhelming.  Everyone dropped everything and made it their top priority to come.

There were fourteen of us tonight at my home.  My husband cooks tenderloin and chicken on the grill.  I make a tomato and mozzarella salad and an appetizer and fruit salad.  J brings veggies and dip and dessert.  S brings corn on the cob, a green salad and a cake for J's 20th wedding anniversary which is tonight.  Nothing fancy, nothing ambitious. 

The outside of my house looks great because of the recent 40th wedding anniversary party for my brother.  The inside is another story with the ever-present ironing board in the kitchen and bills on the family room table.  I'm not sure I even made the beds today. 

Who cares?

We talk, share stories over the years (the time S's daughter picked up the phone extension when I was on with my uptight boss and whispered, "Shut up.").  We laugh.  We add a table to the big long table so the kids could join the conversation.  We learn something about each kid as well as the parents.

Everyone helps set up and clean up.  For fourteen people, it is the easiest dinner party I've ever thrown.

I'm glad we did it.  I learned not to wait to seize opportunities to be with the people in our lives who mean something to us.

The biggest surprise?  The food is incidental to the evening.

I think I'm evolving as a human being.

last day (lyn)

So here’s what it looks like.

We begin with laundry.  Lots and lots of laundry, all Alexander’s.  He drags it to the basement to sort and throw in the washers.

While he’s doing that, I do a thorough inside-out cleaning of my toaster oven.  I get carried away and ask Alexander to clean the metal trays on the Griller that he uses for his grilled cheese sandwiches.  He ignores the request and instead asks,  “What’s for breakfast?”  Can you make eggs?”  I tell him I don’t have any but if he wants to go over to Agata to get them, I’ll make them.  Or, I suggest, just take some cereal.  His response?  “I’m over-worked and under-fed.”  He eats the cereal.  I eat raspberries in some yogurt.

I ask him to pour from the gigantic sized bottle of Tide into a smaller one to make it easier for me to carry.  “I bet you’re going to miss having me around to do all your chores.”  And before I have a chance to answer he adds, “And I’m gong to miss being able to order you around.”  I will miss his humor.  There are few people who can make me laugh out loud.  He’s one of them.

10am to noon
I open a big chest in my room and pull out Alexander’s winter clothes for him to go through.  “Here, I want you to decide what you want to take.  Make a pile of things you’ll never wear, pack what you want, and put the rest in your drawers.”  His response?  “I read a study that nagging can make you gain weight.”

Alexander slowly packs up, while watching endless episodes of South Park.  Seems like he’s packing everything.  “Hey, mom,” he shouts at one point.  “I think I have enough clothes to last me through the semester without having to do a laundry.”  I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s his goal.

In the middle of it all, he says, for maybe the first time, “I’m excited.”  Strangely, I’m really not sad yet; it’s such a great time for Alexander.

I run out to get a manicure/pedicure and pick up some eggs.  Alexander gets his much-needed haircut.  I come home and make Alexander an egg-onion omelet and I have some amazing tomato/vegetable soup from Fairway.  I’m saving my appetite for tonight.

The living room looks similar to the way it did at 11.  Clothes everywhere, nothing in bags (we’re using big trash packs for packing…they take up little room).  “C’mon, I’ll help you put these things in the bags.”  “No, that’s okay,” Alexander says.  He’d rather I stay in my room so he can work at his leisurely-in-no-rush pace.  I take a picture and then retreat to my room.

The Griller is still unwashed.  "I'll do it in a sec," Alexander said this morning.  If I remind him, I'll be accused of nagging.  If I do it for him, I'm teaching him a bad lesson.  What's a mother to do?  Wait, I guess, and hope it gets done.

Unbelievable.  Alexander has packed up everything.  He leaves himself 10 minutes to jump in the shower and get ready for dinner.  We meet Shari and Sam (her son and Alexander's friend) for dinner at T-Bar.  Before even getting to the restaurant, we know what we are having:  the tuna tartare appetizer, a hamburger, and fries.  We've had this exact meal before and it's something to look forward to, and certainly worth the splurge.  

I'm home.  Alexander is at Sam's.  It feels like any night.  But it's not.  My penny jar is empty.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

countdown (lyn)

We leave for Cornell in just two days.  Yesterday Alexander finishes the required reading (one book, Homer and Langley; you’d of thought it was Ulysses, the way he complained through every one of its 207 pages).  Still left for him to do:
  • Pack (not done stitch of clothing has been put in a suitcase), although all the other stuff that I’ve accumulated (storage boxes, comforter, sheets, big quantities of laundry detergent, shampoo, etc.) are scattered throughout the apartment.
  • Write a one-page paper on the book he just finished (he’s only had all summer to do this).
  • Apply for several Cornell jobs he’s identified (he’s been promising to do this since they were posted on August1).
  • Do a major laundry.
  • Get a haircut (he's looking more and more like a Hasidic Jew with his long and curling sideburns).
And he still:
  • Wants to see friends before leaving.
  • Have dinner with his grandparents.
  • Have a promised burger with me.
  • Have sushi from Ging’s, with me.
  • Watch the most recent episode of Curb, with me.
I walk in the living room to see if Alexander's made any progress on his paper.  He's stretched out on the sofa, under a blanket, casually reading through old emails that should have been answered weeks ago.  I’m stressed;  he’s not.  This I might not miss.

Monday, August 15, 2011

an andy rooney rant (lyn)

When I was on the Cape, my sister and I go to a local ice-cream place one night.  It’s staffed by college students, and they all do a great job.  First, they are nice.  Smiling, helpful, willing to let you sample as many different flavors as you like.  Then, they overstuff the cups, so a small order looks like what would be a large order anywhere else.  When you see the unadorned glass tip jar sitting on the counter, you want to put money in it.  These kids have earned it.

Today, Alexander and I go to my new favorite spot, Sixteen Handles.  We walk in and:
  • We go to the cup section where we choose small cups.
  • We select the yogurts we want.
  • We choose the quantity of each yogurt.
  • We pull the levers and fill our cups.
  • We then go to the topping section, and choose among an array of fruits and chocolates and little candy bits.
When we are done, we hand our cups to the cashier who then tells us what we owe.  We pay.  The end.

But then I see a colorful ceramic jar, hand-painted with the word TIPS on it.  I can’t help but wonder what it’s for.  Since when should I tip someone for figuring out what I owe?
  • I don’t give my cleaners a tip when I bring in Alexander’s shirts.
  • I don’t tip at Agata when they weigh the vegetables I buy.
  • I don’t tip at Duane Reade when I buy toiletries.
  • I don't tip the saleswoman at Bergdorf's when she helps me choose a dress to buy. 
  • I don’t tip the pharmacist who measures out the prescriptions I purchase.
I don’t get it.  Why should I tip someone who tells me what I owe?  Will I soon be getting bills from Con Ed and Verizon with a section to add in my tip?  And what about my landlord who has to figure out my yearly rate increases?  Now that’s far more complicated than weighing a cup of yogurt!

farewell in Maine (m)

I wake up on the second day in Maine to a fog-filled landscape.  The ocean air comes in through the window and clears my sinuses.

The service for Abby's mom is at 11 a.m.  I decide to go for a long walk.

My host, E, tells me that the beach is a 15-minute walk from the house.  I head in that direction.  As I walk along the road, I breathe in salt air and pine, a heady combination.  If I lived in Maine, or at least vacationed here, I think I would be healthier. 

The beach is rocky and rustic.  Red lobster shells form a line where someone had a picnic the day before.  Seeing this triggers a long-forgotten memory of the bridesmaids' luncheon for Abby.  Her mother took us out on a cruise of the island, looking very chic in her straw hat at the helm of her beautiful boat.  We stopped at a spot and had cold lobsters with bernaise sauce (I had never had it before) and homemade blueberry muffins served out of a wicker picnic basket.  I am surprised at how vivid the memory is.  I can almost smell the muffins.

I continue walking for about an hour.  I arrive back at E's house and she greets me with a cup of hot coffee, canteloupe and a ginger scone.  I share half my scone with her adorable grandson, Sammy.

Abby instructed me (in her very kind, subtle way) not to wear black for the memorial service.  I promised her I would not look like I just stepped off the Andrea Doria.. I wear a white skirt, white blouse and light silver-gray sweater with a gray and white patterned scarf. 

E and I head to the church with her two older daughters.  E did a magnificent job decorating the outside railings with all-white flowers.  Beautiful.  Parked outside the church is Abby's mom's golf cart with a bouquet of flowers on her seat.  I start to choke up.

As I head up the stairs, I am greeted by my godson, Abby's eldest, dressed in his Marine officer's uniform.  I lose it.  How did the chubby blue-eyed baby I held at his Christening turn into a 6'4" lean Marine?  He looks so handsome.

The service is, music, eulogy.  The guests are dressed as if for a wedding.  Lots of hats, one even wears a fascinator.  Her mother would have been very pleased.  I sit with Abby to give her support but I think I cry as much as she does.  Oh, well.

The reception after at the golf club is a spectacular party.  It is a true celebration of a life well-lived.  At one point, Abby's sister L (one of my all-time favorite people) says her mom gave instructions not to "skimp" on the reception.  No paper goods.  Lots of food and drink.  The girls and their brother deliver big-time. 

Salmon, coconut shrimp, duck rolls, scallops wrapped in bacon, veggies and dip, sandwiches with their crusts cut off, lots of desserts.  It is a feast.

I take some pictures of the gorgeous setting and of Abby's family as W is still in his Marine uniform.

I visit with Abby's family and extended family who have been coming to this island for generations and I see the closeness of the cousins and know that the tradition will continue.

By 3 p.m. it is time to leave to get ready to board the ferry.

As I watch the island recede behind me, I say my farewells to a very special place and some very special people in my life.

I leave feeling full.

weekend in Maine (m)

When Abby's mother died in March, it was decided that there would be a memorial service in Maine on the island that was the location of her final home.  The island has some year-long residents but is known as a  beautiful summer resort.

I first went to the island during winter break back in 1974.  While the newly-built house itself was gorgeous, it was the setting that captivated me.  Ocean views and lush gardens.    Abby's mother was an award-winning gardener who collected plants from all over the world.  She had rock gardens and a trout pond among many other features. 

It was in this magical setting that my roommate cultivated me.  During winter breaks, we would skate on the trout pond and then sit by the fire, listening to show tunes (Pippin was my favorite), sipping Earl Grey tea (the bergamot flavor was the most exotic thing I had ever tasted).  I felt so sophisticated (in contrast to our White Trash phase when Abby and I took up smoking for a week.  We smoked Marlboros while watching Name that Tune).

It has been 19 years since my last visit here.  Kids, job, life have filled the space in between. 

Sunday morning, I head up to Maine.  The trip takes about 5 hours, including the ferry. I stop at Dunkin' Donuts for coffee to make sure I am fully alert for the drive alone.  I plan a stop at LL Bean in Freeport.  I pick up something for Abby and peruse the sporty clothes.  If I were tall and thin and not so ethnic-looking, I would buy several things there.

My cell phone goes off while in LL Bean.  It's my friend, A, the one with cancer.  When she learns where I am, she asks if I would stop across the street at Vineyard Vines and pick up a pair of size 8 corduroys on sale for half price.  They are for her.  I am so excited that she is feeling so optimistic as to buy new clothes that I jump at the chance to get them for her.  When I tell the saleswoman what I'm looking for, she gives me the once-over and has an expression on her face as if to say, "Honey, I hate to break it to you, but you're no size 8."

It takes longer than I thought to get the pants.  I so want one of Linda Bean's ( a descendant of LL Bean) fresh Maine lobster rolls but the line is long and I am afraid I am cutting it close for the ferry.

When I arrive on the island, Abby meers me and escorts me to a friend's house where I will be staying.  We arrive at the home (over 100 years old, second-oldest on the island), the friend is not there as she is doing the flowers at the church.  I am greeted by two dogs, one ferocious one.  The dog hates me.  Abby leaves me at the house.  I go outside to say goodbye to her.

When I go back inside, the dog rushes me.  I go back outside and sit on the porch, waiting for the homeowner/host.  I notice a tomato plant.  Lots and lots of cherry tomatoes.  I eat some.  They are excellent.  I don't mind the wait as long as I have food. 

That evening, a cousin of Abby's hosts a barbecue beginning at 6:30 p.m.  In typical WASP fashion, there is plenty to drink and not much to eat for the first hour.  I am famished.  When the (very generous) dinner is served, I stuff myself with a hamburger, a hot dog,  and potato salad.  And a chocolate chip cookie.  I haven't eaten like this in ages.

Get back to the house I am staying at and am relieved that the dog is nowhere in sight.  Read my book for awhile and go to bed.

With my belly full and the window open to the ocean, I sleep like a baby.