Thursday, December 27, 2007

Just 17, you know what I mean

This Christmas Eve my youngest son, Thomas turned 17 which means, after a year of driving with a permit, he can now go for the driving test. His test was for 8 AM, we were there at 7. The fourth car in a line of anxious teenagers waiting for their turn to strike the first cord of emancipation from their parents. I knew what was going through his head. "Always use blinkers, don't go too fast, why does parallel parking have to be part of this anyway. How will I bear the humiliation if I fail". I failed my first time taking the test. Fortunately, I was out of high school so my friends didn't know. Truthfully, I didn't care much for driving. I did know I had to do this because my father was getting too old to drive and my mother never did get a license. The car my father owned, and that I was to drive, was his 1949 Buick Dynaflow. It looked like a tank, had no power steering and I needed a large pillow to see over the steering wheel. See why I didn't want to drive. When the two older kids needed a car, they would complain if they had to drive my mini-van. Ask me how much sympathy I had for them. But isn't driving what you had boyfriends for. Back then, boys drove and girls were passengers. Oh wait, things haven't changed in 30 years have they. My husband always drives. In the last 25 years, I can count on one hand how many times my husband has been a passenger with me driving and never for longer than a couple of miles. He can have this driving thing anyway, put me on the bus. Back to my son. It is 8 AM. His turn came. This nice gray-haired woman officer approached the car and got in. I went to wait in the building with all the other parents. We talked about how we felt. Some saw it with mixed emotion. I didn't. I saw it as another stage. Joy to the World - he passed. We went home, he called his friend. It is no longer, "Mom, can you drive me.... It is replaced by Mom, can I have the car." It starts today, and goes on from here - another rite of passage.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Traditions

In my house, Christmas was the holiday. On Christmas Eve,we just prepared for Christmas. Then I met this guy who eventually became my husband. He is 100% Italian and is quite proud of it. He has good values and very old fashion traditions some of which I had to get use to. For instance, he insisted on having macaroni (never called it pasta) every Sunday with homemade sauce. When we first started dating, he had me sit with his mother so I would learn how to make "the Sunday sauce". I should have guessed from that that that I was a keeper. My husband is Mr. Christmas. He loves all of this stuff. The food, the gifts, Frank Sinatra. The day after Christmas, he is always depressed that it is all over. After we married, he expected it to be my responsibility to make Christmas Eve dinner. I resisted. We went to his mother's. Then, my son Thomas was born, 8 weeks early - on Christmas Eve. All of a sudden, I am making Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day dinner. I did this for about 12 years and finally decided, it is too much. I stopped doing Christmas Eve about 3 years ago, much to the chagrin of my family (see posts from Christmas comes but once a year). Christmas Eve dinner, the Italian way, should be delegated to a grandmother or grandmother-in-law. A mother with 3 kids, a full time job and a blog should be exempt. The holiday requires making a marinara sauce, frying a lot of fish, soaking this fish that looks like cardboard (baccala) into a edible delicacy, all resulting in a huge mess. Number 1, who invented this and number 2, why would anyone want to do this? I protest. This year, however, we will have some tradition on Christmas Eve. Tony's mother has moved up and we will visit early on Christmas Eve . I am taking her food shopping Saturday so she can get her fish, her pasta and cook for her children and grandchildren. It is nice. Merry Christmas to me and to all a Good Night.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas in the City

It's coming, it's practically here. No not Christmas, or New Year's, it's my weekend in NY city. Tony and I are leaving early Friday morning. We're staying at this hotel. We are taking the train layout tour of New York starting here, going there, and here. Oh, some non-train stuff of course like this place. I hear it is going to snow - good! I may never come home. If anyone has recommendations on dinner or drink places, please send me a comment. Will let you know how it goes.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Christmas comes but once a year

Christmas traditions I have given up:
  1. Cutting down the Christmas Tree. We no longer pack the family into the van the day after Thanksgiving and head north to cut down the tree. The kids have great memories of my arguing with my husband about which tree to cut (he was always right - it was too big). We have a fake tree now - it fits.
  2. Decorations that were more kid oriented.  The Santa and the Snowman on the lawn are replaced by lots of lights on the trees and garland on the deck that may stay up until a warm thaw.
  3. No more cooking dinner on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Love cooking Christmas Day, hate cooking Christmas Eve.  Too much frying of fish that makes a mess.  Invite me and I will come bearing gifts.
Here is the agenda for the rest of the December:
Saturday, 12/1 Christmas Dance
Saturday, 12/8 Progressive dinner
Tuesday, 12/11 Foodfest at work
Wednesday, 12/12 Department Christmas party
Friday, Dec 14 company party 
Friday and Saturday, 12/14 and 15 - Weekend in NY with Tony (can't wait)
Wednesday, 12/19 - another department Christmas luncheon Friday, 12/21 - the start of cooking for Christmas. Monday, 12/24 - Christmas Eve (I refuse to cook - see above) Tuesday, 12/25 - Christmas - bring appetite and stay all day.  Food starts being served from 2 PM with spinach pies and grapeleaves, goes to pasta and antipasti and then to the roast beef and turkey (can't wait) with lots of sides.  The day ends with everyone tired, and a little drunk, watching "Stalag 17" (I'm told it is a Christmas movie and at this point, anything is believable). Wednesday, 12/26 - no after sales for me.  I am so done.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


I never watch TV except for Project Runway and sometimes Desperate Housewives. But I give thanks to the Thanksgiving sitcom episodes from shows that were great to begin with. Some of my favorites: Cheers the gang gathers at Carla's house where Norm is cooking a huge turkey that won't cook. Diane shows up in a pilgrim outfit trying to bestow her sophisticated version of the holiday on the motley crew. As empty stomachs take over good manners and Carla's special brand of hospitality comes out, a food fight earnestly begins. Mad About You - The cute couple (I forget their names) invite their parents to Thanksgiving dinner. They go through 6 turkeys each one being ruined in one comic way after another. The last turkey gets flung out the open window in a panic by Helen Hunt. Will and Grace - Will, Grace, Jack and Karen commit to visit their individual families before sitting down to a meal together in Grace and Will's apartment. In order to get all the obligations in and over with in record time, they embark on a road trip using a kitchen timer set for one hour at each home. It starts with Karen visiting her husband in jail, and goes on. Each visit is funnier than the other. Grace's visit with her mother leads to her mother doing a "I told you so" dance and just when Jack was going to confront his father about accepting his homosexuality, the timer goes off and with a "Got Go", they all bolt to the next house. The Bob Newhart Show (the series where he is a psychologist with Suzanne Pleshette as his wife, Emily) - goes down as the best Thanksgiving episode ever. Bob's wife goes out of town for the holiday and leaves him and his friends to fend for themselves on Thanksgiving. While watching the football game, they attempt to cook the turkey dinner, getting drunker and drunker as the day goes on. The episode ends with a typical Bob Newhart skit with him on the phone trying to order Chinese food, slurring to the order taker "I want moo, goo, goo, goo". I could throw in the Thanksgiving movie, Scent of A Woman where Pacino takes Chris O'Donnell to New York for Thanksgiving weekend where, among other events, Pacino visits his brother who he hasn't spoken to in years. Sitting at the holiday table, Pacino tells off color jokes and dirty stories while his family tries desperately to get through dinner. The scene ends with Pacino lunging at his nephew, administering a choke hold that nearly kills him. I'm happy to say, my Thanksgivings were never as violent or as funny as any of these shows. So today, after watching the parade, listening to Alice's Restaurant and stuffing my face, I'll probably watch my DVD of King Kong, the original. Not very eventful, but I'll leave the drama to the TV writers.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Aunt Alice

Every kid should have an Aunt Alice. This is the aunt who assumes the role of the surrogate mother. When your own mother is too busy being the mom, there is Aunt Alice. My parents were both from Europe and very much not hip. But Aunt Alice understood hip and sometimes even stood up for me against my parent's wishes so that I could be a typical kid. She was a little younger than my own mother, dressed in suits and business dresses and worked in a New York City office. At 12 years old, I considered that the utmost in hip. Alice loved New York. Every few months, she would take my brother and I on sightseeing trips to New York City. She introduced us to museums, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and, her favorite, the Radio City Christmas Show. One of the best parts of the day was when Alice would give my brother and me a couple of nickels and turned us loose at the Horn and Hardart's Automat. She took me to my first performance of the New York City Ballet and my brother to his first Yankee game. She even took me to see the Beatles in Shea Stadium - twice! Always reading, Alice was a wealth of knowledge and interest. She was one of the original bobby soxers who waited on line to see Frank Sinatra in the Paramount. She could discuss current events, argue politics and reminisce about the war years in a way that made you feel so close to the era. It was factual, and fascinating. On Monday morning, Aunt Alice died at the age of 86. She had been in a nursing home for the last three years. At the time I put her there, she had fallen several times and I didn't know what else to do to keep her safe. Although it wasn't easy for her to give up her apartment, she agreed to go because it was best for everyone. During those three years, she never once complained about being there. In fact, she would tell me she was happy there. I believe she was. She enjoyed the company of her friends who visited her, the other residents, and of me. All she wanted was someone to converse with and I know she got that. She had her few minutes of fame when she worked for Dover Publication and they were looking for a grandmother type to appear on the cover of a booklet on family trees. It didn't take much for her to look the part. It came natural. Although she didn't have children, she had surrogates. She had me, my brother and about 10 other "children" who she adopted or adopted her. That was Alice and I am going to miss her terribly.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Mom in the Kitchen

Last week, my mother-in-law came up from Florida to relocate to New Jersey to be near her family. She is 83 years old, and in her life, starting with the Bronx, she has lived in 4 places in New York, 5 in New Jersey and 7 in Florida. Obviously, she is not one to hold sentiments about any one place for any reason. I admire my mother-in-law for not having the fear of moving. Nothing stopped her from selling her home when the market was right or if she tired of the neighborhood. In comparison, I have lived in 4 homes and expect to die in this one (unless I can convince my husband to get an apartment in Manhattan - highly unlikely). So mother-in-law sold her house in Florida, and drove up with my husband. It's interesting how things change when you are the adult. Mom is very respectful of the son who she once pranced onto his baseball field, loudly ordering him home for dinner. Mom doesn't touch the food I have in the refrigerator for fear that I intended it for something other than eating (??). And mom buys toilet paper to use in my bathroom because she doesn't want to use mine up (??). I have forgotten what it is like to have someone cook those meals that only a mom/grandmother cooks. I come home and the comfort food I love is there. I haven't slaved over a stove all day being the mom. Mother-in-law is the mom in the kitchen. Sunday dinners are a little more special because she made them. Although my sauce is good, her sauce is awesome as are her meatballs. Maybe only because it is different from mine. Sunday dinners are the day we all try and be together as a family but when Grandma is cooking, the sauce is a little more special and worth being home for. I am enjoying my new found freedom from kids but for this short time, I am the kid again. Someone is cooking and food shopping for me. She loves it and so do it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trick or Treat

There isn't a lot I miss about the early days of my children's childhood, mainly because many of the things you do with them then grow with you or you grow tired of. But I so miss the Trick or Treating part of Halloween. Every year, I would take off early from work to enjoy seeing them in the costume we struggled over either picking out or making for the last 3 weeks. First there was the Halloween Parade at elementary school where all the classes would walk around the school to the theme song from Ghostbusters and the great Halloween song, Monster Mash . My attempt to video tape the parade only succeed in getting a half hour tape of their feet. (I wasn't very technically savvy then.) Then it was off to "the" block in my neighborhood where the street was flat and wide and the kids would run amok from house to house getting candy and treats. It was the in block to be on for Halloween night. Then, somewhere around 6 PM, we would gather at a friend's house for the pizza and wine (just for the adults, of course). The kids would be eating their candy for dinner. The fathers would take over the night shift of trick or treating taking the kids to whatever neighborhood they still needed to go for more candy. So being grown up, we did some new things this year. Tony and I went to the Nyack Halloween Parade. A bit tamer than the Greenwich Village Parade but very worth seeing. I can see this as being a solid competitor to those who don't want to venture into the madness of the Village. The annual Halloween party at Ronnie's was great fun. His costumes are always great (see last week's post) but his wife is no slacker on this either. Here she is looking mighty fine: Then there is the house on pumpkin hill. A friend of mine told me about this house in Hillsdale where the owner would carve about a hundred pumpkins and light them every night starting the weekend before Halloween. It is awesome looking! If you click on the picture you can see some closeups of the great works. So I guess I have been reduced to just the pizza and wine today. But before coming home this evening, I drove to "the block". It was packed with kids who ranged in age from middle school and up. It is still the in place to be tonight. Tonight, I'll just have pizza, wine and remember.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Ronnie and Halloween

According to my husband, Halloween is the start of the Christmas Season. According to his brother Ronnie, it is a sacred, religious holiday. From the moment Halloween ends to Halloween of the next year, Ronnie plans his costume. I too love Halloween and getting into costume. But my costumes are nothing like Ronnie's. One year, I was at my friend’s mother’s garage sale where I found my perfect versatile costume. She was selling a bride maid’s gown that my friend wore in the late 70s (typical puff sleeves and gathered Cinderella skirt). That gown turned me into a debutant one year, a 1890s whore (to Tony’s Jack the Ripper) another year and finally, a Can Can Dancer (by shortening the skirt) before the dress fell apart. My favorite was the year I was pregnant and became the Statue of Liberty (I didn't give birth to the State of Liberty, just dressed the part). My husband, on the other hand, loves the holiday but absolutely hates dressing up. Every year, Ronnie has us to his house and the rule is we must dress up. Other than the year he was Jack the Ripper, Tony has never felt comfortable in a costume. No problem, I made my husband a monk robe. Every year he would slip the robe over his head, tied a rope around his waist, sandals, and done. For a change, I think one year he took Thomas’ lightsaber and went as Obi-Wan Kenobi – for about 10 seconds. But it is Ronnie’s costume that is the highlight of the season. You would not believe the effort he makes so I had to show you. Here is a collage of Ronnie’s Halloween costumes:
A inspiration from a vacation at Plymouth Rock
The Devil Wore Prada
The year he went to Gettysburg Still don't know how he drank wine with that face
The Wall Street Devil and the Monk
I can't wait to see what this year's will be. Comment on your favorite. And yes, Jen and Robert (aka Stephanie), the small white pumpkin was Jaws.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Great Pumpkins

My husband is the king of pumpkin painting. Every year the family would go to the pumpkin patch where each kid would pick their perfect pumpkin and a bushel of apples (which no one ate). The best part was coming home to paint the pumpkins.
So to brag a little about Tony, I decided to blog his pumpkin art on this week's post. Although the pumpkin face ideas were generated by both the kids and him, Tony did the majority of the painting with the kids flocking around him at the table. I, with my untalented, inartistic abilities, would be relegated to the kitchen, searching recipes to use up a bushel of apples. Here is a retrospective of some of our finest pumpkin art. Please post a vote for which one you like the best and see if you can guess what the white pumpkin face of of 1998 represented. 1996 - traditional but
I think each pumpkin was like the kid it represented
The year of Tweety Bird. Can anyone guess what
the little pumpkin with the white face was? (Hint: Kept on swimming.)
No caption necessary. Who's the pumpkins here, huh
Not too old yet.
And this year's pumpkin patch. Carved by me and Tony.
But what the heck, we have pumpkins!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Columbus Day Weekend

It was Columbus Day weekend when the fall colors are usually at their peak. In previous years, Tony and I would try and use that weekend as our fall getaway. When the kids were little, I would ship them off to my mom’s. This mini-vacation relieved us for a short time from parenthood while it was a few days relief from parents for the kids. My mother, brother and his wife would treat the kids to everything that their ever-trying-to-be-the-perfect-mom did not do for them. Their weekend would include a visit to McDonald, as much TV as they wanted, and a trip to the toy store where they would come home with some noneducational toy. I think we all made out.
Typically, Tony and I would go to some B&B either in the Berkshires or upstate NY. This Columbus Day weekend, given we had just went away and could only do a day trip, we decided to drive up to Dutchess County NY. I had heard about a winery up in Millbrook where there were great photo opportunities and good wine. So with camera in hand, and the top down on the Miata, we left home.
I can say the reports were accurate. The winery was very picturesque and the wine was surprisingly good. We attended a tasting where we picked up a couple of bottles each of a white Chardonnay and a red table wine, both under the winery's label for under $20/bottle and delicious. If the Miata didn’t have such a little trunk, I would have purchased a case but, little did I know, that little trunk would be the reason our day’s plans took a nose dive. After leaving Millbrook, we headed on Route 301 to Cold Spring. Shortly after getting off the Taconic, Tony, of course, picked up the vibration while I was still contently looking at the countryside. Before I knew it, we were pulled over on this two lane country road with nothing but trees as a landmark, and a large hole in the left rear tire. Oh yes, that little trunk, that did not have room for a case of wine, it did not have room for a spare either. We tried fixing the hole with tire repair fluid which leaked out as fast as it was pumped in.
Trying to be calm, I called AAA getting an operator who didn't want to be bothered. I gave her my coordinates but she kept asking me for an intersection. I should have told her we were between Maple and Elm. Then, of course, I got disconnected. We then called Mazda roadside assistance who first said courteously they would help only to called back five minutes later to say we were on a restricted road (??) and to call 911. I later found out that most auto company use AAA as their roadside assistance centers. Figures. Our lovely day was quickly melting. If I had a corkscrew, Tony and I would have had a better time.
So I now I feel that if I don’t get out of here alive, I am going down bestowing a verbal tirade on some deserving AAA person. I called AAA back three times before I got someone who didn't hang up on me and actually knew how to read a map. He found the road we were on and dispatched a tow truck.
In response to the 911 call, the local police came and so did Casey’s Towing for AAA. We headed back home in the cab of Casey’s tow where we made conversation by complementing his truck. Never mind that the cab was air conditioned by a small fan powered by the cigarette lighter. An hour and a half later, cranky, tired and eating hot dogs for dinner, we were home.
I'm determined to try again to see the fall colors, so this weekend, we are going up to Vernon, NJ. Its only 40 minutes from home and this time, I'm taking the Jeep and a corkscrew. I'll let you know.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Weekend in Rhode Island and the French chef

As I mentioned before, I love this time of year and can't get enough of the fall festivals. This past weekend, Tony and I went to Newport, RI where they were having a Wine and Food Festival. So with the weather being predicted as perfect and good friends who welcomed us in their Newport home, we were set to do nothing but eat and drink wine all weekend - nice idea if you ask me. On Friday night, we attended a dinner at one of those elegant mansions in Newport, the Rosecliff. I have to say, I'm a sucker for a good night out in a elegant mansion reminiscent of the Gatsby era. I act like I do this all the time. The setting was beautiful particularly in the back of the house where 2 Bentleys were parking in front of the water's edge with a moon whose light spotlighted the cars as if they were sculptures of art. It wasn't until the end of the night that I realized the famous French chef, Jacques Pepin was there signing autographs of his books. Being an avid but amateur cook, I was excited to meet this great artist of food. By the time I arrived at the table, a woman behind the counter said he had finished autographing books for the evening. As he got up to walk away he started to walk towards me. I asked him if he would sign my book. "Of course", he said in that wonderful French accent and asked me my name. I felt like a teenage girl in a new school where the most popular football player asked me to dance. He proceeded to sign the book I selected which was his autobiographical, "The Apprentice: My Life In The Kitchen". I am reading his book which starts with his early beginnings in the outskirts of Lyons, the capital of the French cuisine. His father is a member of the French underground and his mother bicycled to markets to buy the best foods every week. If I was alive then, I would probably have done the same. He was 10 when he stated he wanted to be a chef. It wasn't until the next day that I looked at the inscription in my book. He wrote, "To Virgine, Cook with Love, Jacques Pepin. I think I love cooking even more.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Autumn and Christine

September and October are my favorite months. There's fall festivals, pumpkins to paint and great clothes to buy in rich fall colors. Schedules get crammed with school, soccer and dance classes, but when the kids were little, I added one more thing to the busy autumn months that I actually enjoyed. That was to have their birthday parties in the Fall. Planning kid birthday party is a mother's rite of passage. You either love doing it or just want to get through it. The entertainment involved either spending hundreds of dollars at Chucky Cheese or a Fun Time Junction, or having the party at your house where you struggled to entertain 10 or more kids so they wouldn't tear the place apart. Some families had pools which made having the party during the summer easy. Serve pizza, everybody jump in. Given I did not have that option, I came up with my own solution. Being the old-fashion sensible mother I think I am, I preferred to take the home route. It would have helped if I had some artistic talents to get the kids involved in a craft or if I had a sophomoric sense of humor where I would not have felt ridiculous dressed in some costume telling funny stories. But, without those attributes, those parties could become the longest two hours of life. So, my decision to have the parties at home came under my terms. Those terms were that regardless of when their actual birthday was, the kids had to have their party in September or October. There were more ways to entertain in the fall. Hayrides, picking and painting pumpkins or watching scary movies with a sleepover were more fun than Chucky Cheese anyway. At least, I could relate to those activities. So as it went, Thomas’ December birthday was celebrate in September with a camp out in the back yard on the first Friday after the new school year started. Anthony’s August birthday was in October usually starting with a haunted hayride and then the sleepover and scary movie. But where I really lucked out was with my daughter Christine. Although her due date was in November, she got it right by arriving three weeks early to be born October 22. Although she did have her kid parties where we made candy apples, painted the pumpkins and had the sleep overs, we always used her birthday to get the family together too. She was very close to my mother who loved her only granddaughter in a very special way. If she was alive today, she would have been proud to see how strong and beautiful Christine is. Christine looks like a mini-me, but she is my husband. She has a love for NY and clothes both of which she got from me and my mother and has a kind sense of caring for people. From my husband, she has this strong focus on her work along with his creativity and sense of humor. When she was little, Tony would read these little girl books to her about “Rainbow Brite” and “Star Sprinkles”. She never speaks of them now but what she does remember are the movies he introduced her to. She knew all the classics; original King Kong, The Thing and Bride of Frankenstein and still speaks in movie dialog quoting mostly from her favorites, Jaws, Finding Nemo and the original King Kong. A sampling of a conversation goes something like this: Me: Christine did you pack for the trip Christine: Yes, I brought the gas bombs (King Kong). Me: I’m so mad I can't fix this computer and don’t know what to do? Christine (melodiously): Keep on swimming, keep on swimming (Finding Nemo) Me: Do you want fish or chicken for dinner? Christine: I want to be sure it’s the fish. It probably is Martin, it probably is. (Jaws) And so it goes. You get use to it. This October, my daughter will turn 21. If you ask her, it's just another day. She really was never big on the kid parties and sleepovers made her very cranky. I don't miss those parties. As I said, it is a rite of passage. But this year, I think we will paint pumpkins and have family over.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Me and Bobby K

I am reading a book called "Robert Kennedy and His Times" that I started a year ago. It was suggested reading by a police officer who was part of a support group meeting I was attending on September 11 of 2006. The reason, he said, was that Bobby suffered from "survival guilt" and he thought I could relate Bobby was Attorney General at the time of his brother's assassination. He was described as "serious in purpose, a hard worker and devoted to his family (particularly to John). As committed to upholding the law as he was to his brother, when John was assassinated, Bobby was shattered. Dedicating his life to his brother's career and to upholding the law of the United States, his world was demolished. His brother was killed, and he could do nothing to stop it. He questioned his faith and asked "Why God"1. On September 11, 2001, I was in the World Trade Center complex when the first plane hit. My co-workers were leaving the building going in different directions. I left my office watching bodies falling from burning buildings. Boarding the ferry to Hoboken, I watched the first tower collapse as the ferry pulled away from the dock. I questioned what I was seeing. It made no sense. I always felt I was the kind of person who would know what to do in an emergency, could handle most anything and be there to help others. But this day, I did nothing to help anyone other than myself. I felt alone, scared and somewhat embarrassed that I was so safe while so many died. I spent the remaining days of that week home wanting to be with my family. It made me feel safe and in control of my world. I had nervous energy so for the next 3 days, I washed every window in the house and organized all our pictures into several photo albums making an album for each of the 3 kids. I was nesting and trying to feel in charge again. That Sunday, I went to church. I was a Sunday School teacher for the 6th grade. As I drove to church, I thought that the kids would want me to explain Why God did this. Until I got there, I didn't know what I was going to say. So I said just that, There is no answer. Why it happened, is a mystery to us in life that cannot be explained. But one thing I can say is that God didn't do this, man did.
Reference: 1: Robert Kennedy and His Times by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., copyright 1978

Friday, August 31, 2007

To The Dogs

I find it interesting that within the same week we have news that Michael Vick is being suspended from football for staging dog fights, Leona Helmsley leaves $12 million dollars to her dog "Trouble". Are we all over the spectrum on this or what. On one side, a football hero is convicted of a federal felony whereas on the other hand a woman worth billions of dollars, known for her nasty temper and abrasive nature, leaves a fortune to her dog. Quite honestly, I'm not sure which is a bigger crime or who is the bigger idiot. Admittedly, I'm not a dog lover. I'm not a dog hater either. After spending the last 21 years worrying about children and how to take care of them, the last thing I would consider is entering into a responsible relationship with a dog. I do have a cat and have for many years. They are self-sufficient and I like that about them. My first cat was JB. I found him at a vegetable market on Ninth Avenue in NY. I stopped in to buy produce and this little kitten was being kicked around by the shop owner. The poor kitten was holding its paw up as if it was injured. I went home and thought about the kitten all night. The next day, I went back to save the cat from a life of rotten fruit. We took him to the vet and after a few weeks with his paw in a cast, he was as good as new. JB turned out to be a great cat. He would go out and when he wanted to come home, would stand on the mailbox and ring the doorbell. He was very protective of me too. When a stranger would come to the house, he would plant himself at the door and hiss as if he was a mean furious tiger. When he came home hurt from a cat fight, I would heal his wounds. When he died, I cried. Putting all these events in perspective, I wonder if the Vick's case was over publicized. He did a hateful thing to a living being. I wonder if Leona's grandchildren who she excluded from her will felt the same way about her.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Football and the Summer of Content

Every year I dreaded summer. While most are planning vacations, lazy days at the pool or beach, I was struggling trying to find a full time babysitter and activities that would entertain my kids and keep them out of trouble. My budget would be in the red paying for day camps, summer clinics, trips to the movies, or whatever. It seemed to be forever that this would be going on until the two older kids were in high school which led to a worse set of issues about who was coming in and out of the house with who and doing what! I hated summer - until this year. This year, with the two older kids having full time jobs, there was only my youngest, Thomas to deal with. He is 16. Up until the age of 10, Thomas was the type of kid that would come down stairs sliding on the banister, yell out "boring" at a display at the Smithsonian and wind up in the principal's office in grammar school for hitting the girl who hit his friend (who got even the next week by pushed him into a pile of mulch). I loved Thomas but was convinced I had a lunatic on my hands. Somewhere along the line, though he settled down. He always made good choices of friends which led to my having close relationships with their parents. In spite of his antics, teachers and parents liked him. And then he chose to play football. In 8th grade, the high school coaches come to the middle school to talk to the boys about football. He was interested and signed up for freshman football. Little by little, it became an obsession. Instead of that 70s Show, he is watching ESPN - constantly. Star Wars posters are replaced by Tiki Barber and whoever else in a football uniform. I find him bidding on Ebay for football jerseys that he must have. But here's where the contentment lies. Training starts before the school year ends in May and continues all through the summer. Every day he is at the school with team and coaches and safe (exclusive of the tackling part). When he's not practicing, he's too tired to do much else except play Madden (like I said, obsession). We never went to the beach this year except for some time in Newport where he came for only a few days and hurried back to practice. It's what he wants and what makes him happy. He made his summer and made mine too. Ah contentment.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Peak

Almost everyone I knew that grew up in the 60s and 70s listening religiously to radio station WNEW-FM, 102.7. The station born in the era of Vietnam and antiestablishment sentiment, the station delivered progressive rock that was under the radar of the mainstream AM stations delivered by disc jockeys free to offer their individual preferences without restrictions. Among the first of the DJs were Rosko whose husky but smooth deep voice recited antiwar poems against hypnotic music that made you feel - well never mind. His show started with a “mind excursion” and ended with “I sure love you” – hmm. Then there was Jonathan Schwartz who had more affection for playing Sinatra than he did for playing Layla. Sunday morning, he played nothing but Sinatra but I remember one show where he admitted that Sinatra's version of “Downtown” (originally by Petula Clark), was just awful. Mr. Cup-of-Coffee, Dave Herman woke me up in the morning with his “Bruce Juice” set. I remember the day Dave Herman discovered Springstein. He discuss with his listeners how he went to the Springstein concert with an "okay, show me what you got" attitude that quickly changed to wow. To end the day, I would go to sleep to Alison Steele the Nightbird. She opened her set with her standard soliloquy “The flutter of wings, the shadow across the moon, the sounds of the night, as the Night bird spreads her wings and soars, above the earth, into another level of comprehension, where we exist only to feel…” before playing something like the, Moody Blues or if it was a stormy night, Riders on the Storm by The Doors. It has been close to 20 years since I listened to radio that way. Every DJ today is a woose. Those early voices played music that embodied the feeling of the time. Their playlists related to news events, their personal feelings or the world as it was that day. I felt connected to the music world. I knew the members of the band without having to look them up. And I don't get this satellite radio thing. It requires me to stick to a genre and search within it's choices like I am googling - while I am driving. I just want to turn on the radio to a DJ that plays good music from many genres, talks about music and tells me what they just played.
Recently, I found a station that is as close as I can get to the old WNEW. It’s called The Peak and is out of Peekskill, NY. Not accessible everywhere but I can get it from the car and on one radio at home. An example of a playlist has Suzanne Vega, Dire Straits, Church (?), and Bonnie Raitt. A disc jockey from a competitive NY station 95.5 WPLJ, Jimmy Fink is the afternoon jock who I listen to on the way home from work. He’s pretty good and offers playlists with old but obscure music from the 60s and 70s such as Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” together with the latest release from artists such as Mark Knopfler (formerly of Dire Straits). He's got some interesting dialogue too that doesn't center around a commercial.
At 10 AM and again at 10 PM they do something called 10 @ 10. For that hour, they pick a year and play the music and news clippings from the then. Today’s year was 1968. The set started with the Foundations singing “Build Me Up Buttercup”, continuing with Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing” and somewhere in the middle, I am listening to “Combination Of The Two” by Big Brother and the Holding Co.
Now that’s music!

Recommended reading: The Rise and Fall of Rock Radio by Richard Neer

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Woodstock 1969

In 1969, I was 17 years old. I graduated high school and that summer, went to the Woodstock festival. Going to the concert seemed to be a cool thing to do (or as I would say at the time, it was “far out”). A few weeks before, my friends and I went to a Greenwich Village record store and purchased our tickets. We drove to the site with a guy who owned a VW van and the four of us, with him at the wheel, took off that August 15th weekend to Woodstock. To this day, it is a mystery to me as to why my mother and father let me go. I am from a very strict, Armenian family. My mother was a hard working dressmaker and my father, retired, had very little to do but to tell me what I couldn’t do. He was the stricter of my parents and the only reason I think he let me go was that he must have thought I was going to an Armenian event – or he was drunk. Since, he never drank, I can only guess, he was very misinformed. Being it was August, I assumed that it would be very warm in upstate NY. My mother kept telling me to take a sweater. I refused. She insisted. I still refused. My friends picked me up and we arrived somewhere near the concert on Friday, parked the van and walked to the site. We heard a few acts and then went back to the van. That first night, traffic wasn’t going anywhere and we realized we weren’t going to sleep in that comfortable hotel room we booked. All of us slept in the van. The temperature in upstate NY really plunges at night and I was freezing and uncomfortable. I hated being cold and regretting coming. I wanted my mother or someone to save me. Before completely breaking down, I went through my suitcase to see if there was anything else I could put on. And there it was – my mother got her way. The sweater we argued about was stuck into my bag. I was saved. It was cold but I had my sweater - my wonderful sweater. As everyone knows, it poured 75% of the time that weekend but it didn't matter; I had my sweater. I didn't know it then but I was one of thousands that were part of an inspirational, monumental experience. Thirty-eight years later, I still have the sweater. It is safe, in my daughter’s closet. In her room, is the Woodstock poster framed with my tickets. It is what makes me "cool" to my kids and their friends.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Midsummer's Night Dream

You must have felt like this. Something you see in a store attracts you, you ponder it, walk out of the store without it and spend the next week or more obsessed with wishing you had it. I’ve done this a lot but this summer I became obsessed with getting the free tickets for the Shakespeare in the Park play in Central Park. Every year, the Public Theatre in NYC puts on 2 of Shakespeare’s plays in the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. The only way to get tickets is to stand on line until the tickets are distributed at 1 PM. There are 2 tickets per person and only for the performance that same night. I had to go and devised a plan to get my tickets. Last Saturday morning, I woke up, at 5:30 AM, packed a blanket, a book and some food and left for Central Park. I found a great on-the-street parking spot, near the 77th Street entrance of the park and got on line at 6:30 AM. Am I any crazier than those who stood on a line at midnight for the latest Harry Potter book, the latest Madden video game or an IPhone. No, I didn’t think so. There I was in Central Park at 6:30 on a beautiful Saturday morning looking, like everone else, like a homeless person. There was a women sitting in one of those folding green chairs with a blanket wrapped around her, with a hooded sweatshirt that said "Harvard" on the front and big Jackie O sunglasses. Others were asleep in their aero beds. Many past the time with cards, scrabble or some other game. One group, obviously experienced in line sitting, played games and ate on their portable table with a slatted top where the legs screwed off and the top rolled up into a bag. It’s one of those things you buy at Crate and Barrel and then find a use for it. After getting tickets, all would go home and dress for the performance. Although they still didn’t look like they were going to gala night at the opera, we all looked much cleaner. At 1 PM, I got my tickets. I didn’t savor the moment too long as my next challenge was to get my husband to go to the play – without a puss on his face. The play was A Midsummer's Night Dream - a little daunting to follow for your first exposure to Shakespeare, but I assured him he would have a good time and it would cost him virtually nothing. He agreed. I packed a picnic to eat in the park and we drove in. AGAIN we found street parking within one block from 77th Street. Truly, this was my lucky day. The play was good and, as promised, we did have fun afterwards at a bar on Columbus Ave. The night ended without getting stuck in traffic, paying a fortune for parking, or eating at some mediocre restaurant. For me, it’s not about the play; it’s about NYC. You’ve got to know me to understand.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Anthony's Birthday

I knew when I was a teenage that I wanted to have a family first and a career of some kind after that. As fate is, I started a career in Facilities Management at The New Yorker magazine and met my husband through work. We married when I was 30 and had my first child at 32. Tuesday, August 14th, is my first-born child, Anthony's birthday. He is 22 years old. If you have more than one, the oldest child is who you make your mistakes on. By the time I had the third, I felt I finally got this baby-sleeping thing under control but I never understood what they meant when they said a mother could recognize what’s wrong with a baby by its cry. I am freely admitting those deafening cries all sounded the same to me. But even with my inexperience, if you look at Anthony, he doesn’t look wrong.
This semester, Anthony is starting his final year at Fordham. He will be the first in my family to graduate college. He works as a waiter and bartender on Friday and Saturdays. He goes out with friends that he has had since middle school and one since he was 1 year old. I think he does too much but I wasn’t any better. I’m very proud of him. Many of my friends have kids that are much younger than mine. They sometimes wish they had the freedom I have. I’ve waited 20 years to be able to take off on a Saturday morning to NYC without having a soccer practice or something I signed up for get in the way. Now when I go to the city, I’m usually back home before any of the kids actually wake up. It’s great having some freedom again, but I would kill to have all of the kids over for Sunday dinner each week This year, my husband, Tony and I celebrated 25 years of marriage. To commemorate the event, we booked a weekend alone where we vacationed in our earlier years with and without kids, Cape May. It was just great, just great. Then the following weekend, we headed to Newport, RI where a year ago, I booked a one week vacation expecting some of the family would join us if not all. Anthony and Thomas, my youngest, came for the first few days. Christine had to work. The days the boys were up were great fun for them and us. Then they left to go home to their own responsibilities. My husband and I were alone together again – uh oh. Now I’m thinking “can we actually find more things to talk about for another week?” We did and even went to a blues club where I didn’t feel like the oldest hippie there. We started to find the things we left behind when we had Anthony. So today, I celebrate Anthony – who started the best part of my life.