Monday, December 12, 2011

The Unbearable Rightness of Being

I recently attended a sporting event. I was with a friend and we both noticed a guy sitting on a folding chair in a half lotus position. We looked at each other and laughed. She asked, "Why the half lotus?" It seemed so absurd, but maybe I was envious because I don't bend like that. I tried yoga a couple times and thought I was going to snap in half. Sit however you want, yoga boy.  

The half lotus triggered a train of thought that's been brewing for weeks. It began when we were invited to a dinner. Several guests were vegetarians and they kept talking about their vegetarianism during the meal. It made me want to keep asking loudly for more meat, which was a bit childish. 

It took a while to identify my extreme reaction. I finally realized that the vegetarians think they're better than meat eaters. They can't just sit quietly and eat the salad. They have to proselytize the whole time. They aren't satisfied with their own choice. They have to try to make others uncomfortable about theirs. The truth is, they're not better because they don't eat meat. Yes, there are health benefits to eating less meat. Yes, there are environmental advantages. That doesn't mean you are bad if you're a meat eater. A lifetime battling anemia has taught me that red meat can sometimes be my friend. And I choose not to think about how the animals were killed. 

It's like having an abortion or wearing furs. If you don't believe in abortions, then don't have one. Don't make it so nobody else can. You're not better than someone who has an abortion. You're really not. You just disagree. If you don't want to wear animal furs, don't wear them, but get your red paint away from mine. I don't actually have any furs, but the girls have inherited some from their grandmother. The animals are already dead. Who is it helping to NOT wear them?

I'm as guilty as anybody about being on the soap box and I've spent way too much time trying to prove my rightness and that's just plain wrong. Someone once said I'd rather be right than happy. That isn't exactly true, but it's been true too often. If I believe in something it's such a temptation to try to have others follow along. It reinforces my rightness. Being right is a small "win" and let's face it - life is one big competition. Isn't it? Sometimes I just believe in my ideas and I feel obligated to spread them. After all, my great-grandparents were educational missionaries. If my relatives weren't ministers, they were teachers. Pontificating is kind of in the blood.

By definition, life is humbling. I have changed my mind about some grand concepts. God. Husbands. We marry with such certainty. Divorce brings much with it - including a fear of our own choices. How is it possible that what once seemed perfect can become unbearable?  I've believed in God, been an Atheist and been deeply uncertain. They can't all be right. It makes you understand the problem of the Arabs and Israelis better, doesn't it? Some people are never in doubt, but frequently wrong. Try not to confuse me with the facts.     

Our county is full of Prius-driving, liberal Democrats. A lot of us don't choose formal religion. I know people here who won't readily admit they're Republican or religious or God forbid, religious Republicans. Now that's liberal thinking. Although this might not be a stellar time to be a Republican, (think Cain, Bachman, Gingrich), freedom of religious and political expression is one of our national values. It's why my ancestor Captain John Partridge immigrated from England to Massachusetts in 1650. Over three hundred years later we're still fighting to maintain our freedoms. We live in a society that allows our choices. So have your abortion, wear your furs and get a burger and eat it, too. Use your rights while you still have them. I'm going to be practicing my yoga poses.       

Monday, December 5, 2011

PC Christmas

I know what it’s like to be a minority. I was six years old, in l964, when my parents were divorced. It took me until fourth grade to meet someone who would admit that they had parents who were not together. I was also a Unitarian. Through third grade my school was all Jewish except for one Catholic and me. When I changed districts, moving farther from New York City, the students were all Catholic except for one Jew (my friend whose parents were also divorced) and me, the sole Unitarian.

I always thought of Unitarianism as the non-religion or the religion for non-believers. My father was the Unitarian Minister in the local congregation. He’d been recruited from Michigan to build a church and a following. The congregants built the church with sweat equity - though simple and utilitarian, it still stands. It’s a gathering place for those who want to set aside the time for reflection and contemplation of spiritual matters. To meditate and think and to be inspired by the sermon. Unitarianism is like Buddhism in that you can get through an entire program without wincing over a reference to crucifixion, sinning or salvation. There is no extremism - it’s all moderates acting in moderation.

There could have been a bit more formality. I spent my entire childhood in Sunday school and never once read the Bible. My lack of religious education is appalling, but my civic awareness was magnificent. We hosted lefties and folkies and marched for civil rights and peace. Pete Seeger sang at our church and we kids sat cross-legged on the floor, enraptured.

My father built a following all right - of women. Handsome and charming, the deep voice and easy demeanor got them every time. He was a gifted thinker and writer and would compose his sermons in his head, often while in the shower. After the service, during coffee hour, the women would crowd around and hang on his every word. His libido and outsized ego were perfectly matched for the position of minister. Hurrying off to “counsel” a distressed congregant was just part of the job.

We celebrated Christmas at school and at home. We sang “Dreidel, Dreidel” for the Jewish kids and Christmas Carols for the rest of us, but there wasn’t the politically correct, hypersensitivity that we have today. We did not do anything for Kwanza. I hadn’t even heard of it until my kids were in elementary school and Christmas started being eroded in favor of fairness. When I was young we were allowed to celebrate what we wanted without feeling we were taking from someone else. I didn’t expect anyone to make me feel comfortable because I was a Unitarian or a child of divorce. We didn’t whine about things like that. There wasn’t the sense of entitlement-that others should make our lives better or easier.

My three daughters have the same muddled religious pedigree that I had. Sisters from different misters, one daughter is half Polish Jew and half WASP mix, although I’d have to say that, despite her penchant for bagels and lox, my half adhered more firmly. She recently met a slew of her Jewish relatives and became more aware of her inner WASP. Her sisters are first generation American on their father’s side (he was born in Sweden) and twelfth generation on mine. I took them to the Methodist Church for a little while, but backed out when they wanted to baptize the two younger girls one Sunday. Bar and Bat Mitzvah envy took hold and the youngest one decided to be Jewish. We had to have a Latke party and light the Menorah. Well, first we had to buy the Menorah. Fun for a while and good exposure for her older sister, the actual, non-official half Jew. Now they all refuse to go to church of any sort, which is fine, but they do love Christmas.

For the past few years I’ve really missed having people say “Merry Christmas” to me. They’ve been trained not to - it’s “Happy Holidays” up one side and down the other. I’m tired of it. Even when I am most obviously celebrating Christmas, people can’t or won’t say it. There is such a fear of offending. We do so much in our daily lives that’s offensive, yet this withholding of Merry Christmas has stuck. We were at the tree lot, paying for a Christmas tree, and the cashier wished us a Happy Holiday. It kind of got to me. I mean, really, if the folks where you buy your tree are afraid to wish you a Merry Christmas, then who will? I felt a little agitated about it and said something to Eric. We waited while a nice kid took the tree to the car and tied it on top, chatting away. Then he did the most amazing thing. He wished us Merry Christmas, and that was even before Eric gave him the tip.

Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas.

Originally posted in December 2009.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Partridge in a Pear Tree

The last few hours of the long Thanksgiving weekend were upon us. After an afternoon cleaning frenzy in which we scrubbed the oven (oh my), the bird cage and everything else in sight, the two of us sat down to a fantastic turkey soup. Sometimes our Sunday dinners are a big event with friends or children joining us. Sometimes they’re more like "supper" and this was one of those times. We had the iPad propped up on the table while listening to Pandora radio. We like reading the fascinating writeups on the bands. It reminds me of when I was a child and we all sat there reading the backs of our cereal boxes at breakfast.  An Eagles song came on which made me think of the move to Los Angeles from New York and my first Thanksgiving away from home.

I arrived in Hollywood at the tender age of seventeen. It was early November 1975. My boyfriend, the drummer, had preceded me to LA and become acquainted with Susie Cowsill of the Cowsills band. The same band that had been the inspiration for the television show The Partridge Family. Having the last name Partridge opened me up for considerable teasing in the 70's. Ah well. More character building. Susie lived with her much older, manager boyfriend and they invited Ben's band and all the girlfriends to Thanksgiving at their house in San Fernando Valley. The smell of marijuana was slightly more pervasive than the aroma of turkey, but it was a very nice time amongst many, very high strangers. 

By the following year we'd met some more local musicians and had Thanksgiving in a classic Hollywood bungalow with Bill and Kristine King. Bill played keyboards for the Pointer Sisters and Kris was their wardrobe mistress. They had an adorable son named Jesse. For me, this Thanksgiving was stranger than the stoned one the year before. I couldn't believe what happened. They left the television on during dinner! The guys watched football the whole time and barely paid any attention to the food Kris had spent hours cooking. I'm all for football on Thanksgiving, but during dinner? Blasphemy. 

Eric likes to talk about our strangest Thanksgiving memories. I don't remember this, but I've been  been told that when I was very young I only wanted to eat the olives and nothing else. Now I never eat olives. You would think that the LA dinners would have been be my strangest, but they weren't. Five years ago Eric and I ended up with no children and no plans. My girls had Thanksgiving with their Dad on Catalina Island and Caitlin was in school in Scotland. We decided to have an adventure and made plans to go to Mendocino. We'd have Thanksgiving dinner at the Mendocino Hotel. Never in my life had I had Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant and it will not happen again. So disappointing. 

I thought we'd be in the main dining room which is classy and romantic. They put us in the Garden Room. Fine for brunch, but this was not brunch. It had jangly acoustics and bright lighting. We were seated right by the entrance to the kitchen so it was far from relaxing. Even worse, (if anything CAN be worse than noisy, busy, overly lit non-ambience) was the dinner. They brought a plate of traditional Thanksgiving food and it was smothered with gravy. I don't eat gravy. Ever. I was near tears and Eric was trying to make the best of it for me, but there was nothing doing.

All I kept thinking about was how much nicer it would be at home. With my grandmother's napkins and our beautiful dishes, lovely goblets and candlelight. We had been afraid that it would be too sad with no children - just the two of us. In retrospect, I think we could have coped. It was being in the restaurant that made me sad. Though the rest of the trip was a pleasant getaway, that dinner, far and away, was my strangest Thanksgiving!

This year was blessed and uneventful. We shared meals with all four children at one point or another and were joined by several of the boyfriends. We had Thanksgiving Boxing Day on the 25th which was brilliant. We reset the table, shared leftovers and played games with our good friends from Napa. It's so much easier the next day when everything is already made. 

We've had some unfortunate holiday luck in the past. My step-father's mother came from Michigan for Thanksgiving, ended up in the hospital and never got out. My father visited from New York some years back and came down with pneumonia. I put the turkey in the oven and headed to the hospital to see him. It was a strange experience because my mother (they'd been divorced for forty years) showed up as well as several siblings and nieces and nephews. An odd family reunion in the emergency room. My ex-husband's father died on Christmas morning. Hence, we've got a pretty low bar for the holidays at our house. If everyone survives and the food's decent, it's a huge success.

We conquered Thanksgiving 2011 with no untoward events. It's on to Christmas. I don't know if this is true, but it seems like the worse the economy gets, the earlier and more brightly people seem to decorate for Christmas. It used to bother me when the decorations went up right after Thanksgiving. Now it makes me happy. Out with those pumpkins, in with the silver and gold, red and green. Go big, people. Go big. And if you really want to be over the top, you can order all the items mentioned in the Twelve Days of Christmas for about a hundred grand. However, if you choose to order them online, the price has risen considerably. A Partridge is fairly inexpensive to purchase, but the cost to ship it? Astronomical!

Love my review in the aladdinjaz newsletter:         

"Wendy Crowe, a most fun, clear and kicky writer in San Francisco, CA.

oh what fun to read her consciousness/mind/thought dreams. luv luv the way she writes. the one that started my fascination with her writing:

a lotta unpredictable streams and quirky kicky visions in the many little pieces thereafter,
but more important.... she's got some keen insight into this complex "world-Life-Movie" we run within...

among others take in "walking alone":

Thanks, Tony.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

T-High You Know

One red and one blue balloon fluttered against the chain link fence on a perfect fall afternoon. The local high school, Tamalpais, was hosting a tennis match. One set of a tennis match. The rest of the match, the finals of Division l, North Coast Sectionals, was all tied up. The last singles match had been called due to darkness, at a set a piece, two days earlier. Mia Anderson, playing for Tam, knew what was at stake. A chance to take her team further than they've ever gone. Her mom, Susan, one of my tennis teammates, was all nerves. No kidding. 

The only similar experience I've had as a mother was when Allie was the lead in the Sound of Music in eighth grade. The director kept calling me at home to insist that I keep Allie healthy, pointing out that there was no understudy. As if that didn't make me anxious enough, Allie refused to let me see any of the rehearsals. By opening night I was a wreck and had no idea what to expect. I knew she had a nice voice, but could she pull off Maria? I wasn't so sure. The curtain rose and Allie was amazing. Her voice was gorgeous and she could really act, but I was totally drained. 

The pressure on Mia wasn't lost on anyone. Her teammates, other students and parents chattered nervously during the warm up. When they started a cheer I was overcome with emotion. It's a call and response - the same cheer as when my three girls attended there. Someone says "T High" and the crowd answers, "You know". It repeats, getting louder. Simple, almost tribal, it's a tradition and brought back so many other sports and seasons sitting on cold, metal benches with hope and expectation and just plain happiness. 

If I'd been told long ago that some of the happiest moments of my life would be achieved by watching kids' sporting events, I never would have believed it. The times you think you should have fun, like parties or New Year's or whatever, often don't measure up. Seeing a child play their heart out, the suspense, the thrill of the competition - there is truly nothing like it. Sports can be so bastardized, but when they're done right even a loss can mean something, though we know everyone loves a winner. Get on the bandwagon.   

In 2000 Lucy was a senior at Tam High and Allie was ten years old. The school had an amazing boys' varsity basketball team. Allie loved basketball and I took her to every game, even on school nights. She and I went the night Lucy had her wisdom teeth removed. We left her home with Dad. We just couldn't miss a game. All through that season, with her friend, Scott, Allie cheered her little heart out. The guys never lost. They won MCALS, NCS and went on to the State Championship in Sacramento. Driving up there, we passed other cars decorated with red and blue - heading to the game. In Arco Arena, with a crowd of thousands, our guys played a team from Southern California. Tam won by a single point in a buzzer beating, heart stopping moment - a tip in.

Allie and Scott rode in the victory parade, with the star player, Jair. They read a poem they'd written about the team. Fast forward eleven years. Allie is a senior at UConn and Scott attends University of Oregon. Clearly, those early years were a formative influence on them. Basketball is in their blood. When UConn won NCAA last year, Allie and I "watched" the games together. She was at the campus bar and I was at home in California yelling for every three pointer. We sent each other messages whenever something exciting happened, which was constantly. Basketball is inherently exciting. 

I digress down memory lane. Back to Mia and her day in the sun. She came out strong and played solid tennis. The stands were packed and rowdy, but absolutely silent during the points. Some of the rallies were long and we just held our breath. Mia won the first two games, then lost the third. Soon she was up five one. Victory was so close. Then she lost a game and another. Five one became five four. The other team could taste it, too. Momentum was going their way. Anything can happen in tennis. You don't run out of time. Mia stayed tough and won the game. The team ran to the court and swarmed her in a pile. Hugging, crying, taking pictures, the parents were overwhelmed.

Everyone knew it was a team victory - not just Mia's. They wouldn't have gotten where they were if it weren't for all of their wins, all their talent and gritty determination. We also knew that a loss would feel like hers alone. She was very brave out there. These aren't just great players - they're an outstanding group of girls. Last year when we did a fund-raiser for the local, public courts, the team volunteered their time to model tennis clothes in a fashion show. Now it's on to Sacramento. T-high, you know, T-high, you know, T-high, you know.    

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Walking Alone

News from Pearls and Lemons
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In the past year readers have logged in from 22 countries and 39 states. From Albany, New York to Watsonville, California, we've got it covered. Thank you Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, Stoke Poges, England, Pelotas, Brazil, Oslo, Norway, San Francisco and most especially, Connecticut. 

Walking Alone

If we are very lucky we may have a happy place. It might be in our head, especially if we take drugs, but I'm talking about an actual place. A spot that's healing and therapeutic or just relaxing. I'm surrounded by ocean people. The beach is their place to rejuvenate. The ocean is fine, but I find it a bit noisy and jarring. I like to walk in the woods. It's where I can, as Allie used to say "think my thinks." Even as a child I liked to roam around amongst the trees. I had my favorite tree. Mr. Shag. Not every little girl bonds with a tree.

The best woods I've ever wandered through are in Maine. There is nothing like the smell of Maine woods. I haven't been there since I was a child visiting my aunt's cabin, but I remember it being dark and cool and squishy underfoot. Pine needles inches thick. We used to pick moss and ferns and make terrariums to take home. A miniature diorama of the habitat. We kept them moist with a spray bottle, but I doubt they lasted more than two weeks.     

Conveniently, we now live near an impressive mountain. In minutes you can be wandering through the woods. There's something so mystical  about the place I love to walk. The topography is varied. You get sun and shade, steep uphill and slippery downslope. At one point you look over a valley of green trees and it's dazzling. That spot, where you can first hear creek water in spring, is where I want my ashes scattered. Unless, of course, I change my mind and find some other even more extraordinary location in the future.   

For years I would walk and talk with friends about our marriages and families. That particular walk is like taking truth serum. At a certain point on the trail you just bare your soul. We'd grouse about our parents and children. Processing. Processing. It was so cathartic we sometimes said too much. Frequently one friend would call me right after our walk to make sure I didn't repeat what she had talked about. No. What's said on the mountain stays on the mountain. Just like Vegas. Now I'll walk there with my daughters or with Eric and, occasionally, alone.

Walking alone on Mt. Tam has always had an eery component. When I first moved to Mill Valley in 1980 there was a murderer on the loose. David Carpenter, also known as "The Trailside Killer", raped and killed several women on Mt. Tam, including two Mill Valley women. Kind of takes the fun out of the solitary nature walk. During that time I was working at a nightclub in San Francisco and another waitress insisted the artist's rendering of the suspect looked exactly like her next door neighbor. She said it gave her the creeps because he would come in her back gate looking for his little dog while she was sunbathing. We didn't believe her, but it WAS her next door neighbor! One day the police showed up and took him away. He's been on death row in San Quentin for years.      

I had a bit of an adventure when I was walking one day by myself. I came across a deer carcass  with its throat ripped out. The blood was fresh. Afraid the perpetrator was still in the area, I called Hanna the dog and ran back down the hill as fast as my little legs could carry me. When I reported it to the authorities they told me the deer had most likely been killed by a mountain lion. Oh my. Quite nerve-wracking. As time went by I began to hike alone again. Until the suicide. 

Several years ago a young woman was reported missing after a difficult break up. Family and friends spent weeks weeks searching for her. A gun was missing and the signs weren't good. One lovely Sunday morning Eric and I decided to walk my favorite trail on the mountain. There was unusual activity. Search and rescue crews passed us on the way up. Command central was located at the top. Helicopters hovered. Of course, they found her decayed body right on my sacred area of the mountain. It had to be when we were hiking there. Shudder. She was twenty-five years old and had worked as an IRS agent.   

That sad and gruesome scenario took a while to get out of my mind. Now I don't really think about it. The power of time is truly remarkable. There will always be little adventures, but I'm hoping for something a bit more benign. In fact, the last time we walked there was some industrious graffiti on the water tower. Along with the drawings was helpful advice: "Squat to poop." Now that made me laugh out loud.

In photo: Lana and Allie Lindkvist at the spot.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

On Serve

After eight days of watching top level tennis from the front row, I've developed an injury. My neck is sore. The balls go so fast. You can't help but track them with your head. Back and forth. Back and forth. I'm not complaining. Due to my job searching status, I've had plenty of free time to take in the sights at the men's Tiburon Peninsula Club Challenger. The one day I had to go to San Francisco for an interview it rained and the matches were cancelled. After the rain blew over it was warm and gorgeous all week. We housed one of the tournament officials so we got VIP treatment. Lucky me. 

The theme of this year's tourney was tall and more tall. It was truly a battle of the big guys. The singles final pitted Ivo Karlovic (6'10") against shorty Sam Querrey. Sam, who is a mere six foot six, beat Ryan Sweeting (6'5") in the semis. Steve Johnson, a shrimp at six foot two, teamed up with Querrey and went against lefties Cartsen Ball (6'6") and Chris Guccione (6'7") in the doubles finals. Both matches went the distance and were won by inches. At a combined thirteen feet, one inch, Ball and Guccione prevailed over the vertically challenged team of Querrey/Johnson who added up to only twelve feet eight inches. Dr. Ivo squeaked it out over Querrey, although Sam has local connections and we were all rooting for him.  

At five two I don't know why I even bother.  Some of these players are ranked around 400 in the world and they'd blow the best players we know off the courts. We all use racquets and yellow balls. That's where the similarities end. I could relate to Sam because in September I got to the finals in singles and doubles of the club championships and lost both in the same day. Just like Sam. At least we have that in common. 

Last year I wrote about the brat attack (Backhand Fronthand - November 2010) and how sportsmanlike Ryan Harrison was, even when he lost.  This year there was an ugly scene when Bobby Reynolds went on a tirade against an official in the earlier rounds. He didn't make it to the finals. Obviously too short. The rest of the guys were all so smiley and easy-going, even during their matches. Querrey signed autographs after he lost his singles and before he played the doubles. Ryan Sweeting is so cute with huge dimples and a twinkle in his eye. He was even unruffled when the guy staying at our house called him for a foot fault. We were so close you could hear the players chatting on the changeover, usually about food. It made me think of the first year TPC hosted the Challenger. Justin Gimelstob was playing and he kept talking to me in between points. Finally, I had to get a little motherly. I told him to concentrate on his tennis.   

This tall tournament was, obviously, all about the serve. It was practically impossible to break Karlovic. When he'd get down in a service game he'd unleash the hounds (Teke's expression) or as Eric would say, bring the big eraser. The serves were clocking in around one thirty-five, but seemed faster. Down love forty? Bring the heater. Get a high one? Splash ball. Over the fence and into the pool.  
Club play is a bit different. We think it's such an advantage to serve, but all this talk about holding serve is over-rated. Have you ever noticed that when the score favors an opponent the players with the lower score will say, "on serve" at the changeover? It's never the players who are up 3-2 and about to serve. It's the ones who are down. They may be down, but they're not down a break. And we all know it's not a break until you hold. In women's tennis it's often "on break" more than "on serve". Once you've neglected to ace your opponent, being the server loses its advantage. Anyway, in 3.5 women's tennis there is no such thing as an ace. A ball right down the tee - the most perfect serve ever? That'll be called out. Guaranteed. 

In mixed doubles it's a little easier to win cheap points on the serve. Men don't care for my serve that's low to the backhand. Women dislike that my doubles partner is looming at the net ready to take anything within ten feet of him. Everyone hates returning Eric's serve with its lefty kick. To be extra devious I like to throw in a soft serve when my opponent (especially the guys) least expects it. Watch that sucker hit the fence. Talk about a cheap point. 

I'm a very average, club level player, but I could use some work. I need to perfect my "divorce shot" which is hitting down the middle in doubles. Then I have to learn to keep the ball out of the triples alley. Playing singles, if it goes wide you end up in the doubles alley. In doubles, if the ball is wide it's in the triples alley. That's one big alley. After that I'll work on my overhead so I can hit a splash ball. That is, when my neck gets better and I grow eighteen inches. Until then, I'll keep enjoying from the sidelines.      

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ana and her Sisters

Every two weeks something amazing happens at our house. A blue van pulls up in front and people tumble out. Wonderful people who clean our house in a way we could NEVER do ourselves. They make it shine. I've seen it happen many times and I still don't know how they do it. To me, it really is magic. Obviously, we could clean the house ourselves and of course, we have. It's just not the same. No matter how hard I try, I can't get the whole place cleaned at once. I can scrub a bathroom or mop the kitchen floor and then I get distracted or interrupted. To have everything dusted, mopped and vacuumed plus all the sheets changed at one time is amazing. We've talked about it frequently and always come to the same conclusion. These people are consummate professionals and very good at what they do. They make it seem so easy. 

Ana is the brains of the operation. She speaks excellent English and has a wonderful sense of humor. I enjoy talking to her almost as much as I love having the house cleaned. Ana's attention to detail is so great that the first thing she does when she comes in is peel the extra, flaky parts off the garlic heads and throw them out. She Feng Shui's the garlic! And that's only the beginning.  

I have been keeping house since I moved out at seventeen. No moving back home. No dormitory. No leaving a mess for someone else. That's thirty-six years of dropped Cheerios and sticky maple syrup and dog hair in dust bunnies the size of tumbleweed. I've lived with musicians and I've lived with children. I'm here to tell you- there's not much difference. And there's something else I've learned. Children create garbage. Heavy recyclers, the two of us make virtually no trash. We empty our kitchen garbage on principal, not because it's full. In a week we don't fill half a trash can. When the kids were little we could barely squeeze it all in to one garbage can. 

We never had housecleaners when I was growing up. Not once. We kids took turns doing chores, but I'm sure my mother did most of it. The only domestic duty she couldn't master was the ironing. We had a huge ironing basket but it never really got done. In the sixties everything was cotton and wrinkled. I would outgrow clothes while they were waiting in the ironing basket. Once in a while we'd take a load to the "ironing lady". What a treat for my mother. I remember it being a big, old house with piles of laundry everywhere. 

Over the years I've had spurts of domestic help. One woman was sweet but she didn't like to use harsh chemicals so nothing got very clean. Another had immigration problems. I would always go back to thinking the expense wasn't justified and we could do it ourselves. After all, with three daughters to pitch in, how hard could it be? Suffice to say, it was almost always easier to do it myself than enlist the "help". The dishwasher could be unloaded in less time than it took for them to argue over whose turn it was. Calgon, take me away.  

Once I got so fed up with Lana and Allie and their messy room that I threatened to stop giving them an allowance until they cleaned it up. Stupid threat on my part. I stopped paying the allowance but they didn't care and they didn't clean up their room. Eventually they got little jobs and made their own pocket change. That was the end of allowance forever at our house. I have to admit I wasn't very different. Once, when Laura and I shared a room, it was such a pigsty that my mother left a note on my closet door that said, "Shame on you". I don't think that worked, either.

During one of the self-cleaning periods I decided to have a Christmas party. I knew I needed help and tried to hire my neighbor's cleaners. They refused the job. Said the house was too dirty. Talk about depressing! Too dirty for the housecleaners! We did not have the holiday party. A month later Eric had his accident. One of my friends from the tennis club gave us the greatest gift. She got the ladies to kick in and they hired someone to clean the whole house for us. It was incredible. Eric came home from the hospital with multiple open wounds and there was great risk for infection. Not to worry. The house was pristine. That's how we found Ana and her sisters, the miracle workers.    

I have taken care of people for so long. These people take care of me. They always do something extra like organize the linen closet or clean the microwave. Eric loves that they clean the grounds out of the coffee pot. When real estate slowed down I suggested we let them go. Eric wouldn't hear of it. He didn't want to add yet another layer to the economic misery. They still have the job and we get to benefit from it. Now that's a stimulus plan.  

Monday, October 3, 2011

Squirrel Nutkin

There's been a lot of interesting action in the animal kingdom recently. That is, our backyard. I don't know whether it's because the plantings have attracted the birds and the bees to the flowers and the trees, or if it's the moon up above or a thing called love. I may be thinking in song lyrics, but there's been a whole lot of fluttering in and out. I'm pretty sure there's been some bee sex. I'm all for nature, but let's not get too wild. 

Everyone seems to have an exciting animal story. If you tell someone about the time a mysterious creature made thumping noises in your bedroom, your friend Eliza will one-up you with her gruesome tale of sticking a bare foot into Uggs that were full of dead, baby mice. If you go on to explain that said animal was jammed between some furniture and the wall, and your extremely intelligent husband (who seems to know everything) was unable to identify it, Stacey will talk about the time she was at her friend's country house and there was a bird nest in the ceiling fan. The ceiling fan that they unwittingly turned on and feathers started flying. It kind of takes away from my story of jumping naked on the bed begging Eric to call the police about the creature.

After explaining that the thing had claws and feathers and looked prehistoric, Eric finally determined it was actually a very stupid (is there any other kind) dove who must have flown in earlier, hit the wall and fallen down a narrow space where it was then upside down. By then I'd had enough excitement for one night. I insisted we sleep downstairs and deal with the bird in the morning. The next day the dove appeared to be toes up, but when the bird rescuer got him into a plastic bag he started to flap his wings. By the time he was released outside he didn't look too bad and actually flew away. I guess he didn't get very far, because later on I noticed a lot of feathers on the driveway. I'm afraid a neighbor cat got him in the end. 

You really don't want to have the best animal story, because you most likely wouldn't be here to tell it. If you are eaten by a bear, it becomes someone else's story. We know a guy who had a massive chomp taken out of his leg by a shark while surfing. He lived to tell the tale and he's been riding that wave ever since. Even his mother wrote a book about it. I guess the moral is, get close, but not too close.
I don't understand why we're seeing such different species now. In twenty-seven years in this house I have never seen or heard a coyote. Now you can hear them howl in the distance every night. In the last couple years we've had a massive influx of nasty, black crows. Is there any other kind? They come around in flocks of fifty at a time. We have always had a wonderful mix of birds including shorebirds. Snowy egrets, seagulls, honking canada geese all fly over. Sweet, little hummingbirds feast on the lavender while I water in the evenings. And then, there are the blue jays. Territorial and striking, they're the same as ever. All this talk of birds- I've turned into my grandparents. 

What I didn't expect in the garden was the rodent-bird intersection. I can deal with a harmless, little snake, but I can't handle rats. Even outside rats. I recently saw one run behind the fountain near the back step. Time for somebody to get out the traps. Somebody who is not me. This is where I truly see the benefit of marriage. Some jobs take a real man. One rat quickly succumbed to our evil plan. The rat killer got rid of him and slyly placed another trap under the back step. He kept checking and every time he looked there was still no rat. Then there was no rat trap. Eric accused me of moving it. As if. So what DID happen to the rat trap? I have an image of a raccoon running around with it stuck to its snout.

Then came the mice. I was watering the tomatoes and a little mouse scurried out. Acch. I jumped a foot. Next time it happened again. That little sucker was fearless, sauntering all over in broad daylight. What to do now? Go play tennis - the answer to everything. When we returned our resident blue jay was under the chaise lounge. Eating a mouse. That answers that. Or so we thought. Then we saw another mouse. They say they're never really alone. Apparently so. The next afternoon I was reading in the garden when the jay swooped in right by the tomatoes and flew off with the mouse in its mouth. A carnivorous blue jay? The garden was becoming a killing field. One more eviscerated mouse carcass later and all was quiet on the rodent front. Until Squirrel Nutkin. 

Yet another new species to our garden, we now have a squirrel. I thought rats were taking all the bites out of the dropped pears, but I caught Squirrel Nutkin in the act. I know he's really a rat with a tail, but this guy is quite cute. I left the old sunflower heads for the birds to eat and who was out there, filling his little pouches? Like a character straight out of a Beatrix Potter children's story, he's a classic with his curly tail and bright, shiny eyes. I give up on the yard. Winter is coming. The critters can have it, but in spring, it's mine again

Monday, September 26, 2011

Worrier Mom

I admit it. I'm a worrier. Always have been. Always will be. It's part of who I am. I was a Worrier Child. One night, when I was about eight years old, I went back downstairs after being put to bed. I told my mother I couldn't go to sleep because I was afraid to die. Perplexed, she asked me to explain. I told her that even if I lived to be eighty it was going to seem very short because the first eight years had gone by so fast. Baffled, she tried to reassure me and then sent me back to bed.

As with all personality traits, we have to wonder. Were we born worriers or did our lives create the tendency? We'll never know how much losing my brother when I was two and a half changed my sense of security. His accident was proof that very bad things do happen and the world is not necessarily safe. How do you undo that? I don't think you can. You adapt. Now it's been discovered that negative thinkers are just as good at coping as positive thinkers.

My pessimistic style was studied by Julie Norem who wrote a book called The Positive Power of Negative Thinking. According to Norem, I'm a defensive pessimist and my coping strategies help me prepare for situations because I envision all sorts of outcomes. I expect the worst and work my way back from there. Usually reality ends up being better than I have been imagining. Such a pleasant surprise. Norem says that defensive pessimists cope just as well as optimists, sometimes with even better results.

Worrying is hard work. I'm glad there are benefits to it. Anyway, I can't stop now. I'm committed. Worrying has kept everyone safe so far. Worrying about your children is the most exhausting sort of worrying. Multiple children means even more worrying. Sometimes you can hardly keep it all straight. You have to put the kids in a rotation and prioritize their problems. Something might SEEM bad. Then something else happens. Lately we've heard a lot about Tiger Mom and Warrior Mom. Helicopter Mom is still hovering out there. I'm none of the above. I'm Worrier Mom.

I once heard an expression that a mother is only as happy as her saddest child. She's also only as well as her sickest child. In this relationship, perhaps the most symbiotic and intimate of them all - it's difficult to know where one of you stops and the other begins. Yes, most women (though these days certainly not all) who become mothers have had a man inside their bodies. But, let's face it, he wasn't in there for nine straight months.

When something has gone wrong with one of my kids I've had a silent mantra. Just let it be fixable. Even if it's REALLY bad, please, please let it be fixable. So far, everything has been and I feel so fortunate and grateful for that. With three daughters there have been enough illnesses and accidents to keep me on alert. Maybe not code red, but a lot of yellow and orange.

Recently Lucy took a hit in the head (from her surfboard) and sustained a concussion. It went from being diagnosed as mild to obviously more serious. Two weeks passed before she had any semblance of normal energy. Now, three weeks later, she's still VERY tired and gets headaches if she tries to do too much. Her battery is so drained that when I sit next to her I can literally feel her taking some of my energy. She's going to be fine. It's just going to take more time. And rest and food and loving care. As for me, when Lucy's completely well, I'll start recuperating.   

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Help Wanted

I recently did an interesting calculation. I figured out what I'd made selling real estate in the prior twelve months. I then determined what it cost me to operate. I made $90 a month and it cost $150 a month to be in business. I'm no mathematical genius, but I can crunch some simple numbers. When I was expected to fork over another $500 for association dues I'd had enough. After selling residential real estate for thirteen years it is time to face reality. 

Being in real estate lately has been like being on unemployment, but without the checks. It's not that I haven't been working this past year. I have. I just haven't gotten paid for it. I've showed lots of property to clients who were unable to purchase because their own property wouldn't sell, they couldn't get a loan, they lost their job, they changed their mind - what have you. The industry is a mess, as is the economy. Homeowners under water, short sales, foreclosures. It's ugly.

There's also a stunning lack of loyalty compared to when I first began in the business. We all have access to so much information. We can compare and contrast. We think so much about getting the best deal that the human element can be forgotten. Everything and everyone becomes interchangeable. I've been burned in the past by both clients and other agents. We all have. It's part of the territory, but this year something happened to me that is inexplicable. A good client and good friend bought a property with another agent while pretending to still look with me. I found out about it by happenstance when I ran into a mutual friend. I was working for her with no possibility of renumeration since she'd already purchased her place months before. Talk about working for free.   

I know it's rather selfish, but I've decided I'd like to be compensated for my time. Like other people who work. Isn't that the point? I'm still a broker so I can make money doing referrals, but now I want a real job. I could do ANY job and make more than I have been earning in real estate. Looking back, I've definitely missed some plum opportunities. I stupidly forgot to get a government job with an awesome pension.

Welcome to my new life on Craigslist. It's fascinating and an even bigger time suck than Facebook, if that's possible. My favorite category is "ETC".  I was too busy bearing and raising my children to become a surrogate mother, but the pay is quite good. And guys, there are many requests for sperm donors. 

The best job posts are for personal assistants. If you possessed all the qualities expected by these prospective employers, you could be the CEO of a major corporation. And what a bunch of weirdos. Youthful, successful author slash entrepreneur would like someone to cook healthful, vegetarian meals as well as do filing and run personal errands. Another one expects fifteen minute shoulder rubs. I love the busy Mom who wants someone to do pet care, grocery shopping and laundry in ten hours a week. For ten dollars an hour. Even my husband pays me a little better than that. Nobody seems to want to make their own travel arrangements and who can blame them? Booking flights and planning vacations is very time consuming.         

The kids are grown and I have a lot of flexibility. I also have a variety of work experience. I'm a Jill of all trades - master of some. Full or part-time, commute or work from home, but I've done enough evenings and weekends. Amusing myself by reading Craigslist is all well and good, but we know there's only one sure way to get a job. Nepotism. It's not what you know, but who you know. If you have any brilliant leads, feel free to send me an email. Writing jobs will take utmost priority, though being a personal assistant is awfully tempting. I'll be practicing my shoulder rubs and healthful cooking.     

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Limo Parking Only

Another gloomy Saturday, totally overcast, fifty-five degrees with a blustery wind. Happy Labor Day weekend. Enough with the oppressive fog. Time to escape to the Wine Country. Road trip. An hour later we pulled up to the legendary Oakville Grocery for picnic supplies. What a very pleasant change in scenery. Women were in summer dresses, guys in shorts. Eighty-five degrees and sunshine. Now we're talking.  

The plan was to do a tasting at Diamond Oaks Winery which has a grand view of the Napa Valley. Diamond Oaks is now closed. I've since discovered that it was bought in a bankruptcy sale by Bill Harlan, real estate developer turned vintner, who happens to live next door. Such a shame because it had wonderful wine and we have some fine memories from our picnics there. We went there shortly after Eric's accident, while he was still on crutches, as well as several other times. I guess Diamond Oaks was too low key and out of the way to survive in the Napa Valley of today. The Napa Valley that is beginning to resemble Disneyland. 

I am a reverse wine snob. An anti-snob. I've even been known to make fun of snooty wine people. I fall into the category of 90% of wine purchasers who consume their wine within hours of purchasing it. Seems fairly obvious. If I wanted to NOT drink the wine it would be easier to NOT buy it in the first place. This wine hoarding, I mean collecting, is for people with money. Serious money. The non-affluence of my childhood is too firmly ingrained to allow cases of wine to sit around waiting for the occasion that is deemed special enough for consumption. Besides, while I enjoy an expensive wine, I don't require it. Give me a great ten dollar bottle and I'm a happy camper.

It may not come as a surprise that, despite my proximity to the blessed vineyards, I'd never been wine tasting until I met Eric.  Now I'm a willing participant with several caveats.Famously, not a day drinker, there may be some tipsiness, and a nap will have to be factored into the schedule. I've been told I'm a short hitter when it comes to day drinking. I suppose there are worse things. I could be really, really good at it - in which case I'd probably be an alcoholic.  

I have my own, contrary method of wine tasting.  I don't swirl the wine and I don't sniff the bouquet after not swirling. I don't discuss the "nose". You won't find me tossing out fussy adjectives like "plummy" or " jammy" or whatever is currently in vogue as a wine descriptor. I most certainly do not spit the wine out. I just drink it. I enjoy the festive atmosphere and the skinny, salty bread sticks. Some of the tasting rooms are gorgeous and it's amusing to see groups pour themselves back into the limousine after several stops on the tour. A lot of the wineries have very impressive artwork and gardens as well.  

After we struck out at Diamond Oaks we ended up at Silver Oak which is on the valley floor. Same type of tree, only much fancier. For your twenty dollar tasting fee you get to keep the etched glass. We tasted three exquisite cabernets. The first was a 2007 Alexander Valley that goes for seventy bucks a bottle. Very drinkable. The second tasting, which I have to say was quite a generous pour, was a 2006 Napa Valley blend of something and something else. Really delicious and sells for only $75a bottle. Lastly, we tried the 2004 Napa Valley, my least favorite, which retails for $110. After I mentioned the 2007 was my favorite our glasses were refilled. Definitely time for lunch. 

The air in Napa this time of year is very special. It's harvest time and you can faintly smell the crush. The vines that haven't been harvested are hanging heavily. The light is indescribable, especially in the late afternoons when the shadows are long. After relaxing for a while it was time to head back home where, of course, it was still foggy but had warmed up to sixty-two degrees. Perfect temperature for a nap.        

Monday, September 5, 2011

Wine Tasting

Monday, August 29, 2011

Three First Names

I don't know about the rest of you, but Hurricane Irene has thoroughly exhausted me. There was the build up for days, then the non-stop pre-game show and like so many Superbowls that have come before, it ended up being a bit of a letdown. That's easy for me to say, being three thousand miles away, but frankly it just didn't live up to the hype. 

On Tuesday Allie was scheduled to fly back to Connecticut on a redeye. I was watching the coverage of the uprising in Tripoli when the breaking news of the Virginia earthquake cut in. Wow. How exciting and unexpected. And those cell phones being dead for twenty minutes. What's that all about? In California we're a little dismissive of quakes in other places, but I'm sure it was very scary.   

The airport delays in the East were temporary and Allie flew out on schedule. I explained that a hurricane would be arriving on Saturday so she needed to be prepared. Saturday afternoon she told me she and her roommates were at the store and there were no more batteries. Well, duh. We crossed our fingers the power wouldn't go out. 

Although Saturday was a  beautiful day here and I needed to be outside playing lots of tennis, I checked the news every chance I had. Those windblown reporters standing on the beach in their hooded jackets were hilarious. Kids, don't try this at home. During dinner Saturday night we watched Mayor Bloomberg give his press conference. I love him. He's so New York and straight shooting. One of the questions was about whether all the people who live in the subways had been taken to safety. Bloomberg says that first of all, people shouldn't be living in subways and that they would get the services they deserved.

Sunday was another very pretty day and we had to play lots more tennis. I sent messages to several people and they were doing fine. Of course, Allie has no power and Sally in New Jersey has no water. I carefully read over the list of deaths caused by the Cat Five downgraded to Cat One downgraded to Tropical Storm. Falling trees seem to be a major hazard in a hurricane. The advice about staying home really made some sense. One poor woman drowned in her car and many other had trees fall on their cars. There was so much warning. Why were they going anywhere? 

I'm not too fond of earthquakes, but at least there IS no warning. You dread them in a low grade, ongoing way. All the time. Whenever I'm in a tunnel or a tall building I think about earthquakes. There's a certain type of quiet anxiety, but we don't find out on a Tuesday that there will be an epic quake on Saturday. Now that would really be scary.      

So East Coast, settle down there. You're starting to fray my nerves. Also, we've had our own excitement recently. Our local universe was gridlocked and traffic ground to a halt when a guy fired a shot towards the freeway. Holed up in a hotel with his girlfriend as a hostage and plenty of ammo, this dead bang loser inconvenienced thousands. The hotel was evacuated, local businesses were affected and the freeway was shut down. We're talking epic traffic jams, like when the Bay Bridge was closed after the earthquake in 1989. 

After an extended standoff, the suspect was found dead, his girlfriend unharmed. How could such a freak even have a girlfriend? He was on the lam from being on the lam. Most recently sought for shoplifting and stabbing grocery store clerks, the guy had a lethal record. At thirty-eight, he'd been incarcerated in multiple locations. I told Allie I don't want her to ever go out with a guy like this. She promised to avoid men with guns. That's a relief. 

The man's name was released and it confirms my long held theory. I'm not sure why, but I've noticed that men with three first names often have a propensity for violent crime. This guy's name was Peter James Thomas. Like Brian David Mitchell (Elizabeth Smart's abductor), Richard Allen Davis (kidnapped and killed Polly Klaas) and James Earl Ray, he didn't have a chance. And Sirhan Sirhan. Is that two first names or two last names?  And what about Jack Ruby? Ruby is a first name and it's definitely not a man's name.        

There have been studies done that indicate a guy with an unusual first name is more likely to be part of the juvenile justice system. In 2009 Time magazine online published an interesting piece by John McCloud. He concluded that parents with less schooling were more likely to give their kids unusual names. Also, guys with common names like Michael or David are more likely to be successful. 

McCloud also gave an interesting fact about girl names. Women who don't finish high school rarely name their daughters Allison. It's reserved for offspring of women with seventeen or more years of education. I have a daughter named Allison, but how many years of education do I have? Hmm. Seventeen sounds like a lot. Counting on my fingers and including kindergarten and college, yes, I qualify. Her name can stand. I haven't read any studies that confirm my three first name theory, but guys, don't take any chances. You can't help it if your surname is say, Mason or Gordon, but if you have a son, be sensible. Give him a strong middle name like a family name. Or maybe Irene.   

Monday, August 15, 2011

Summer SAD

Complaining about the weather is one of my best traits. It's not the best thing about me. I'm just really good at it. I can deal with cold in the winter and hot in the summer. What I can't handle is cold in the summer. I grew up in New York. Part of the time we lived by a lake. Part of the time we had a sailboat and sailed across Long Island Sound.

To me, summer is waking up on the boat, sitting in the cockpit eating cereal in a bathing suit. It's not wearing real shoes all summer long - rarely wearing shoes at all. It's eating dinner outdoors every night and only closing windows if a rain storm is blowing sideways. It's the smell of raindrops on hot pavement. Swimming in the rain. Running around in the grass chasing fireflies. It's those nights that are so sweltering you keep standing in a cool shower and it's so humid you never dry off. I have never once lived with air conditioning, but somehow we managed.

Thirty six years in California and I still deeply miss East Coast summers. I miss not having to layer clothing throughout the day. It's on. It's off. In real summer you put something on and it stays the same until you go to bed. When I was in New York recently I left the apartment at eight a.m. in a summer dress which I was still wearing when we went out for a walk at ten p.m. I flashed on the trunk of my car at home. A blanket, a down vest, a jean jacket. All very much used in summer to keep me warm.

The problem is, we're quite close to the ocean. As the crow flies it's probably less than five miles, but driving there takes thirty minutes over a treacherous mountain road. The other problem is the ocean is the Pacific Ocean, which is bitter cold and not very user-friendly. Unless you're a surfer and want to wrap yourself in neoprene from head to toe, what's the point? On the rare warm day it is truly gorgeous to lie on Stinson beach. Just don't expect to go swimming. The water is 58 degrees.

Personally, I don't get much benefit from living near the ocean and there is a LOT of negative. It's called fog. Simply put, fog ruins my summer. It sometimes feels like its ruining my life. In the best case scenario is we'll we have a few "hot" days in a row, then the fog will barrel back in with a vengeance. To punish me. The more likely pattern is like this summer. For five weeks we did not have a single sunny morning. Gray, drizzly skies every damn day. Some days the fog would burn off by eleven or two, but it was back in every evening. It's probably just me, but I need a sunny morning once in a while, especially in "summer".

It's been well documented that in winter people can suffer from depression caused by a lack of light- Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. I recently decided I had summer SAD. My sister, Laura, who lives even closer to the ocean than I do, buys special ultra-violet lightbulbs to sit near in August. It's to ward off her depression due to a lack of sunlight. It's not just sun you don't get to see, it's also the moon and stars. We went through a whole phase of the moon and I never saw it. So there you go. It's the disgruntled rant that my family has lived with for so long. It's time to stop complaining and find a solution.

I've been hoping to inherit a cabin on a lake, but so far, none have been forthcoming. If I could just pick up our town and move it over the next range of hills, the situation would improve dramatically. Alas, that's just not practical. After much careful thought, I've concluded we need to change the calendar. We get our best weather in September and October. It's usually quite warm. Just when the kids go back to school. It's the closest we get to consistent beach weather. Of course, the water warms up a little and the sharks come out. We only personally know one guy who's been attacked by a shark, so the statistics are in our favor.

The calendar just needs to shift two months. July will now be September and August will be October. No more drizzly Memorial Days and weirdly warm Thanksgivings. The kids can have their vacation when the weather is best and I can have my summer. We won't expect the weather to be nice in June and July, because it will really be May and June. Everything will be so much better, but I haven't figured out what to do about the leaves changing on the Fourth of July. I can't really think anymore about it now. We're having a sunny morning. The second in a row, but who's counting? I even saw the moon last night.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Home Air

Air travel isn't what it used to be. Obviously. It's gotten even more confusing and unpleasant since September 11, 2001. The decade since then has brought one indignity after another, so, in a sense, terrorism has worked. Most people are happy to comply with airline security measures. If we can just figure out what's expected. Being in so many airports in different countries made for some special experiences. Very special.

When we left SFO I went through the all body scanner. After it was finished, I smiled at my scan worker and told her it was my first time. She laughed and agreed that I was no longer a virgin. So far, so good. I must not be very metallic, because I have NEVER set off the metal detector, even when wearing jewelry and a watch. This trip was no different, but I did get held up by an eyelash curler. On the way from Barcelona to JFK, there was a stopover in Dublin. My carryon bag got flagged, then searched. The technician kept putting it back into the x-Ray machine so he could identify the threatening object. Since I had five hours to wait, I wasn't concerned, but it was funny when he finally pulled the eyelash curler from my cosmetics case. It's not something I actually used on my trip, but who knew?

The most stressful part is adjusting to the local customs. Some airports want shoes off. Some want shoes off and in a bin. Some want shoes off and on the conveyer belt, not in the bin. Some security workers like to yell at passengers when they aren't doing it right. Passengers who are frazzled and rushed and have just had to pay a surcharge for their luggage and need to bring their own food along. Don't yell at us. We are not the bad guys. I loved it (not) when I got to JFK and had to go through customs. There were no declaration forms in English - just Spanish.

After switching from Pounds to Euros and back again, New York City was a piece of cake. I understand the language and the currency. And I also know when I'm being bullshitted which is most helpful anywhere. Efficient Allie had sent me explicit directions for the shuttle from the airport. She had to work that night so she left the key with her doorman. It was so good to be in a home rather than a hotel. After traveling, it's a luxury to just open a refrigerator. One doesn't think of Manhattan as the place to go for rest and relaxation, but it worked for me.

On the 4th of July we decided to have a little picnic in Sheep's Meadow in Central Park. We went to the Whole Foods near Allie which is in the basement of the Time-Warner building. My god. Talk about huge. There were thirty six check stands and employeees who kept the lines moving. The lines really did move and we were out of there in no time. A quick tour through the rooftop bar where Allie was hostessing part time and it was back to her apartment to watch the fireworks over the Hudson. Just spectacular. I love the 4th, especially the fireworks. I hadn't been in New York on the 4th of July since 1976, the Bicentennial, when the Tall Ships sailed up the river.

One day we took the train out to Long Beach, Long Island. It was fabulous to swim in the Atlantic and get burned to a crisp. No, that part wasn't so fabulous. It WAS entertaining to watch a group of guys next to us get busted for drinking on the beach. I couldn't believe it was illegal to have a beer, but they got a ticket. Ouch. When we walked by the boardwalk I remembered being there in third grade with a friend. We visited her grandmother for the weekend and I was SO homesick. My mother still talks about how they dropped me off on Sunday afternoon and I inhaled deeply and said, "Home air."

Even though I have many friends in the New York area, I kept a low profile on this trip so I could have some mother-daughter time with Allie, which was wonderful. One exception was a lunch date with an old friend I hadn't seen or spoken to since I left Hollywood thirty-three years ago. I had been nanny to her little two boys. Little boys who, at thirty-nine and forty-one, are fathers themselves. That makes me feel very old, but it was really fantastic to see Bibbe and catch up on all the years. It's strange that so much time can go by and you feel just the same on the inside.

I wasn't a bit homesick on this trip, but it was finally time to head back to California. The last night I took Allie and Sasha out to Tao New York. They'd both forgotten their ID's and couldn't be served, but we had fun anyway. I especially love the image of Allie walking on Central Park South in her high heels and pink dress, looking like a modern day Audrey Hepburn. This is the girl who was afraid to go on sleepovers for years. She grew up and kicked New York's ass. For me, it was time to go back to home air.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Central Park South

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fashions Across the Pond

Spotting trends, as well as noticing differences and similarities, is part of why I love to travel. We noticed a few trends in Europe. Burlap totes are in for both men and women. Lots of men in London seemed stuck in 1965. Suits that were just a bit too small with short, peg legs. What gives? Nothing is hotter than a guy in a great suit. Even a guy in a Speedo can't compete. (Just kidding! Women hate Speedos.) A lot is hotter than a man who looks like he's trying to fit into his eighth grade graduation outfit. Black, lacy stockings are popular. Happily, I only saw one pair of Uggs. The worst fashion mistake we saw on women and we saw it quite a bit, was black skinny pants of an undetermined fabric. Not leather, but shiny like plastic or nylon. They are most unforgiving. Almost as bad a fabric as satin, which doesn't look good on anyone. Think wiggle when you walk, but not in a good way.

Long summer dresses for women are either in still or back in, but at least people dressed for summer, even in London. Springy dresses, florals, bright colors. It was that way all through Spain and New York. People dressing like summer in summer. Imagine that. Fast forward to my first time back in downtown San Francisco. It could have been November in Chicago. Boots, scarves and lots of black clothing. I know it's foggy and chilly, but why so drab? Couldn't you at least break out a colorful sweater?

The oddest observation in England came from Eric. He began to notice a lot of tall men. Extremely tall. Once we began seeing them, they were everywhere. We saw loads of them at Wimbledon, then Oxford. I'm talking men well over six five, some obviously more than seven feet tall. I kept trying to find an explanation for such an anomaly. How did so many British men get to be so tall? Possibly there was some type of gathering or convention? No explanation was forthcoming. The photo above shows a couple walking down a side street in Oxford. A typical English couple with a gigantic English man.

Next stop: New York, where you can be ticketed for drinking on the beach.

Green Europe

London had several innovations in energy conservation that were new to me. They had a wonderful bike rental/borrowing system sponsored by Barclays Bank. There are bike docking stations all over certain areas of the city, and once you have registered you can just take a bike from one station (authorized bike rack) and return it to another. The first thirty minutes are free, so if you just need quick transport, grab a bike. Prices after that are extremely reasonable. "Barclays Bike Hire" has just celebrated its first anniversary and there are great plans for expansion with generous subsidies by Barclays. Such innovation.

Solar boats are available to rent in Hyde Park if you want to ride around the Serpentine. The solar shuttle runs every half hour and costs five pounds per adult. Twenty seven glass modules collect solar energy which is stored in panels and power silent electric engines. And this is in England which isn't known for abundant sunshine.

Our most personal experience with the greening of Europe started in the hotel near Gatwick where we stayed after missing our flight to Spain. You cannot use the electricity in the hotel room unless you insert the room key into a slot by the door. When you go out you remove your card and all the power goes off. When you return, you turn it back on again. We wanted to charge things while we were out so we asked for a second key. They gave it to us reluctantly. It was the same situation in the Spanish hotels. I've never see that in the United States, but I wouldn't be surprised if we do soon.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Valencia Si, Barcelona No - Part Two

We took a train along the coast from Valencia north to Barcelona. Public spaces can tend to blur together when you've seen enough of them. Valencia Estacia Du Nord (the new train station) is an exception. Renovated with mosaic tiles, decorated with stained glass panels featuring the iconic Valencia oranges, this train station was beautiful. The ride itself was also highly enjoyable. We were seated with an adorable nineteen month old Spanish cutie who charmed us throughout the three hour trip. Forget the fact that we were within sight of the Mediterranean Sea the entire journey. We couldn't keep our eyes off Scarlett. Scarlett knew how to wink and wasn't afraid to use it.

Our hotel in Barcelona exemplified the expression location, location, location. Not in a good way. I thought we were in the right location, but alas, it was too close to the beach and right on Las Ramblas. The rowdy part of Las Ramblas. There were thousands of tourists going nowhere, back and forth. The drinking, shouting and fighting went on all night long, the hotel itself was a dump, the management rude and arrogant and the air conditioning barely worked. It was also one of the more expensive hotels we stayed in. Breakfast not included.

Booking the trip to Europe reminded me of remodeling the house. It kind of fell apart at the end. There are only so many decisions you can make WELL without compromising quality. Decision making fatigue set in and the mind gave up. Planning all the destinations, factoring transportation, cost, sights and everything else can be a wear out. In Barcelona, I picked badly.

We did the requisite tour of Parc Guell with all the famous Antoni Gaudi sculptures, including the home where he lived for twenty years - now a museum. I have to say, I was underwhelmed. It was extremely crowded. I can't recall ever being someplace where so many people were taking photographs. The shapes were whimsical and avant-garde for the times, but really it was a bunch of broken tile slapped on concrete. I've done mosaics and it's not that difficult. It's dramatic and unusual, but the artistry doesn't compare to the cathedrals we'd seen. Eric said it reminded him of Santa Barbara's Madonna Inn.

After Parc Guell we took a wonderful walk all the way back to our hotel through the trendy Gracia and upscale Eixample neighborhoods, finally winding through the historic Ciutat Vella. It took all day. Anything to avoid going back to Las Ramblas. Passeig de Gracia, the main boulevard through the wealthy neighborhood that features numerous Gaudi buildings was very pretty, but the stores were mostly chains you'd find in any large city. And the graffiti. It was everywhere, even in the nicest neighborhoods.

On a side street near our hotel we found an Irish pub that was showing Wimbledon. We settled in to watch the Djokovic-Tsonga match with a bunch of rowdy Texans. Everyone in that bar, employees included, was rooting for Jo-Wilfried. We had to buy more drinks when he won a set so we could stay and watch. At that moment, it occurred to me that so much of traveling is about renting space. We were already paying a premium to live in our house in California. Then we were renting a hotel room we didn't like, so we spent the day escaping in cafes and bars. You don't even want to think about what each day is costing.

That night was our second and final night in Barcelona. We had a very good dinner in one of the charming, old squares. I LOVE warm evenings and eating outdoors in summer. It was romantic with the light fading (at 10:30 p.m.) and Flamenco dancers to entertain us. The next day Eric was off to Scotland to see Caitlin and I went to New York City to be with Allie.