Sunday, November 22, 2015

Hey Joan Lunden

As many of you know, I have been living with metastatic breast cancer since 2009--6 and a half years of being in constant treatment, being scanned every 3 months, having 2 courses of radiation.  Amazingly I have done very well with the cancer confined to my bones for a long time, although it is now on the move. I have indeed been fortunate.

And yet, all this time I have never had the defining cancer moment of losing your hair. It is still the mark of cancer for the general public and one more misconception that there are a lot of chemotherapies and treatments where hair loss does not happen, but the cancer is just as serious.

So, hey Joan Lunden. Add me to the list!

Getting Wiggy
Great gobs of hair!
Keep the noggin warm

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Mr. Busy

Just spent a delightful week down the shore with my 1 and a half year old grandson, his parents and my brother. It's amazing to watch a toddler at this age. They are just busy all the time.

Alex loved the beach and sat quite contentedly playing in the sand, filling cups, pouring them out, filling the pail, pouring it out, rearranging cups, filling some with shells, deciding which ones went in the cupholder on the beach chair. We actually stayed on the beach till 6 o'clock because it was so relaxing and enjoyable.
 (Compare that to the day before: 10 minutes in the pool and then constantly following Alex around the pool, as he picked the flowers, examined the hose refilling the pool and stared at 2 chatty 4 year old twins who told us their life story!) I tried to demonstrate just smelling the pretty flowers instead of picking them, but got a big-eyed look in return where he was clearly wondering what was wrong with Grandma's nose.

Grandpa made a brief appearance Thursday night for the kiddie rides, and despite how serious they both look here, the rides were great fun. I think Alex liked the Carousel the best. He had been on one before--familiar territory and by then had grown accustomed to the lights, noise and crowds.

My favorite Alex-watching was at home. He would wake up happy, big grin on his face, ready to start the day. After breakfast his work began. We had jerry-rigged most of the kitchen cabinets shut with rubber bands, but left him one which contained big 1 liter bottles of seltzer water. Alex would peer in each morning, perhaps a little surprised that the bottles he had so patiently distributed around the house yesterday were now back in the cabinet. He gave me the old "time to make the donuts look" and started once again moving around his seltzer. (I have to say the first night I went to bed and found a bottle on my night stand, I thought, "What a thoughtful host--a bottle of seltzer in case I get thirsty during the night." Then I remembered it was my house!)

Time to mow the carpets!
Once the bottles were taken care of, he could move on to running his walker over every inch of carpet, as if it were a vacuum cleaner. Next, he'd pull out some of his toys.
Ahh, Grandma getting a drink of that well shaken seltzer while  Alex points out some local coupons!
 I sat on the lazy boy rocker and when he needed a rest we'd rock and read a book or two. Maybe sing a song like- "Rock, rock, rock, rock and roll high school" or "Rock-a-bye your baby with a Dixie melody." He had favorite pages in the books that he liked to go to immediately.  I don't know who conceived of this idea but one of his books takes the familiar nursery rhymes and substitutes construction words--Builder Goose. Alex loves it. After a few reads he remembers that just like the little pigs and dogs marching in to pick up bricks and lay them straight, he has more work to do.

I imagine him thinking:
"Oh, yeah, first I have to indulge Grandma with the Where's Alex game. I disappear behind the chair, then stick my head out the other side. She cracks up everytime.  I mean---everytime--- so of course, I do too. Well, she is getting on in years..."

When Alex gets very excited, he clenches his fists and arms and gives a big, shaking laugh that can turn into a pleasurable yell. As in: Yippee, Mom and Dad are back!

And guess what, after a few days, even Grandma got that reception!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Art Weekend

Art pals for many years!
I had so much fun this weekend, exploring the Whitney Museum in its new location in the 
meatpacking district on Saturday and then on Sunday participating  in the Art Walk in Paterson's Historic District in the old silk mill buildings. Having absolutely no artistic ability myself, I appreciate how others are able to view the world in fascinating new ways. Not that I always "get it", but I especially like the whimsical side of modern art. And, yes, sometimes I can't help but think the artist is trying to pull one over on us. (The minimalism of a painting of one or two solid colors brings out my cynical side)

Jersey City in the background
It was a beautiful day and the best part of the Whitney experience is the interplay between inside and outside. You start out taking a huge elevator to the 8th floor (looked like it could easily fit a few cars) and then proceed downward floor by floor. On the top 4 floors there is access to outdoor areas with different views of the city than you are used to. Is that the Empire State Building popping up in the background? Wow, the Highline begins right here at Gansevoort Street.

Installation of chairs called 'Sunset" as seen from above.
The exhibit was called "America is Hard to See" and was drawn exclusively from the museum's own collection. You proceed in chronological order from favorites like Georgia O'Keefe and her vagina flowers to the chillingly lonely streetscapes of Edward Hopper, to the soft plastic 'sculptures' of Claes Oldensburg. We saw his FagEnds- otherwise known as cigarette butts.  Alexander Calder's circus which was previously tucked away in the basement of the Madison Ave Whitney has a lovely open setting. The Circus is paired with a video of someone actually playing with the figures- moving the bike rider along, fluffing the lion's mane, giving the tightrope walker a push. Andy Warhol weighed in with a coke silk screen and then there were many unfamiliar artists like Marisol's Women and Dog wooden scuplture and some angry AIDS and antiVietnam works.

Since the "108 who die every day from breast cancer in the US alone" is never far from my mind, I spent a little time watching the video of Viet Nam military deaths accompanied by a picture of each soldier and background music of the pop song Bye, bye, love...Bye bye happiness. Moving and poignant.

Looking down on the lower end of the Highline as seen from the Whitney

Lunch was a New York classic - eating a Sabrett with sauerkraut and mustard, while sitting in the area with fluorescent green chairs actually under the Highline. We were tired, but took a short walk on the Highline. I don't remember the trees at that end of the walk being so tall!

Photo of the mural at Alexander's
Sunday, I decided on the spur of the moment to
hop in the car and go the Paterson Historic District near the Great Falls.The Sunday paper had run an article that the iconic mural which graced Alexander's Department Store at the intersection of routes 4 and 17 from 1961- 1992 had most of the 280 separate panels available for viewing. Each abstract panel seemed like it could stand alone, but together they told a story. I remember as a kid coming down to visit my grandmother and thinking it was just so cool to have what looked to me like a stylized map of the world in a shopping center. We didn't have that in upstate New York!

Parking for the Art Walk was free at the Paterson Museum and I was blown away with how big the
show was. My friend Lydia's son was exhibiting and I naively thought I would just run through a few rooms and easily find him. Not so! The art factory occupies several of the old mill warehouses and buildings and there was art around every corner and up each narrow staircase. One sign directed weary visitors to use the freight elevator, but I had visions of spending the very warm afternoon trapped.
One of the many factory buildings

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
A Will Brady Original
Luckily, just as I was ready to leave, I ran into Lydia and family on the stairs as they were going up and I was slowly descending. It was hot!  Will's work was displayed all the way at the end of a big room on the top floor. Talented guy and I hope he keeps at it!

Friday, June 5, 2015

That B & B feeling

I'm trying to make my vacation last by replicating a bed 'n breakfast. It doesn't take much really. I bought some shelled walnuts, grapefruit spoons and flowers.  Voila! My favorite meal of the day (which is sometimes eaten twice a day) was immediately upgraded.

I have to admit I am rethinking the grapefruit spoons. I remember my grandmother having one for her half grapefruit served on the summer bungalow porch, always with a maraschino cherry or at least red jello in the center.

Are my grapefruits just juicier? Everytime I poke the serrated edge of the spoon into a grapefruit section, I get squirted in the face or chest. So I still use a knife to loosen the sections, but daintily use my special spoon to get every single morsel out.

Gary may be enjoying the new additions to his coffee mug and tshirt collections, but I am perfectly happy with my breakfast. It does seem that the pastry chef is missing. Perhaps she'll show up next week.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Cape

We spent the week before Memorial Day visiting Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard and loving it--even though it was sweatshirt weather. I had never been to either place, so that's one more item checked off my non-existent bucket list. 
Marconi Beach
I was prepared not to be too easily seduced by "The Cape," since that might imply some disloyalty to my own Jersey Shore. I remember standing on a jetty in Ireland years ago with my Aunt Eleanor at an inlet reminiscent of Manasquan and my aunt simply stating: 'It's nice, but it's not Point Pleasant." But the Cape's combination of dunes and beaches, marshes and great sunrises and sunsets, the charm of New England villages and the slow, peaceful pace was very appealing. Part of it had to be that we were pre-season and didn't have to cope with crowds or excessive traffic on Route 6. The Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, we both commented on the oddity of finally seeing non-senior citizens. Look, young people, families, kids!

I decided there's never been a beach I didn't like whether it was the Outer Banks or Florida, Capetown or St.Maarten. They each have their appeal and sometimes a downside. But there's nothing like being near the water and a lobster dinner never hurts! Growing up every summer on the Jersey shore has special memories for me and these easily translate whenever I see an ocean view.

Is this guy famous?
We saw no one famous on Martha's Vineyard, although I had sworn beforehand that I was going to capture a celebrity's photo in a baseball cap, oversized sunglasses or a gray hoodie.  It rained on and off most of the day we were there, so that may have been  a reason for celebrity hibernation.

We stayed at the Oak Bluffs Inn and went there immediately from the ferry. Our host greeted us and I commented that my son's name was also Eric. "With a C or a K?"  "C", I replied. "Wrong," he said. "It should always be a K.". Quirky guy, our Erik with a K, but we loved the insider map he gave us with scribbled notations on what not to miss while touring the island.
Gingerbread houses in Oak Bluffs

At one point on Chappaquiddick Island we were turning up an unmarked sandy, gravel road that Erik had assured us would lead to an impressive overlook of both sides of the bay without having to go the long way around and have a beach driving permit. We were skeptical at first, and a little nervous when a truck coming the other direction asked if we lived on the North Neck, but in the end Erik proved to be right.

Of course, we had to view the fateful Chappaquiddick Bridge and google the events of 1969. I clearly remembered my father back in the day, harping about it every night at the dinner table, but I had forgotten many of the details. The bridge now has guard rails and the water seemed too shallow to swallow a car, but it was eerie to be there.

Another highlight for us was the Province Lands area of the National Seashore. Gary biked through the dunes and scrub pines on one of the best bike trails he'd ever been on. I enjoyed Race Point Beach and the fact that the dune shacks from Eugene O'Neill's day still exist and are rented out to artists and writers who crave the wildness and solitude of the dunes for creative inspiration. There are still 19 shacks with no electricity or running water, locations not generally known, in order to maintain privacy. A few are visible via jeep tour or hiking, but I preferred my imagination's version to the real thing. Little known fact, but Eugene O'Neill had spent the winter of 1918-1919 in West Point Pleasant at his in-laws house and described the Jersey shore as flat and boring, compared to his beloved Cape Cod. I could appreciate the wildness O'Neill described.

We stayed in Provincetown at the Lands End Inn in the tower bay room which had magnificent views in every direction.
I was the Princess of the Tower, enjoying the late afternoon and a well deserved nap while Gary golfed after we had risen at dawn to see sunrise over the bay.

I'll end with my first BobbyPin map which will show you the highlights of our itinerary. (Bobby Pin is an offshoot of everyone's favorite scavenger/tour

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Back to the sixties!

Two recent weekends reminded me of the good old days. Back to the Sixties! I attended college from 1968-1972, which still ranks among the most controversial campus years -- with Vietnam demonstrations, black student protests and radical organizations staging sit-ins in administration buildings. It's interesting to speculate on how that has shaped my world view and political opinions.

Anne, Ginny, Roseanne.  Where's Barbara?
This past weekend I had a mini reunion with 3 of my college roommates. One legacy of a late 60's college education is a continued and acute interest in social and political issues. We covered most of them, along with a little reminiscing and catching up on the present -- kids, grandkids, husbands, careers and retirement. On Sunday, Gary remarked: I can't believe you are still talking!" "Not just talking," I said, "fixing the problems of the world!" 

If only it were so easy. I suppose now we have a more measured view of what can be accomplished and perhaps even a more cynical one. How have our life choices supported our early views and how much have they instead reflected the pressures of conforming and being successful? Racial discrimination and a permanent underclass seem as bad as ever. How have we helped solve that problem?  But I do love how we easily slipped back into our college roles. We sat around on deck chairs sipping mimosas, but could have easily been sprawled out on each other's narrow twin beds in Mary Donlon Hall, as we did 40 years ago.

A few weeks before, I attended the Metastatic Breast Cancer Conference in Philly, sponsored by an organization called Living Beyond Breast Cancer. They do a great job presenting topics of interest to patients with mbc and their caregivers. One new aspect of the conference this year was Hear My Voice Advocacy training held on Friday before the sessions started. The program presented factual information on mbc's biology, treatment and research as well as the needs of the mbc community as presented in the 2014 Landscape Report of the MBC Alliance. There were many young women attending and they were inspired to action. Some cited Metastatic Breast Cancer Network's President Shirley Mertz who spoke and compared the mbc statistics to those of the early days of the AIDS movement. Shirley cited the figure that 108 people die every day from breast cancer and asked why no one was making the media stand up and take notice.

108 die today and everyday from metastatic breast cancer
So the young advocates decided to stage a "Die-In" in the lobby of the Philadelphia Loew's Hotel. 108 women would lie down on the floor, while a eulogy was read to emphasize the lack of progress in this part of the breast cancer campaign. Yes, there are more treatments and early detection, but the fact remains that 40,000 women and men still die every year from mbc--breast cancer that has spread or metastasized to other parts of the body--and this number has not changed in the last two decades. No one knows what causes breast cancer or what causes it to spread.

I was just claiming my car from the parking garage, planning to detour to the shore before coming home, when I got the text from Shirley. Whoa! Back to the 60's! If there was a protest march on an issue I firmly believe in, I was all in. The die-in was moved to the third floor hallways where the conference was being held, but it was moving and emotional.

I was pumped."Back to the sixties!" I yelled and then realized that I was surrounded by some who had not even been born then. One young woman next to me said she had protested when she was in college, too. They were raising the drinking age from 18 to 21! "Oh," was all I could muster.  We may not have accomplished much, but at least my generation aimed higher.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Hoosier Holiday

Just back from a relaxing, enjoyable week in the Heartland, visiting son Eric at IU. Great meals, fun entertainment, sightseeing and re-exploring the college life with afternoon naps included! We did everything from a student Soul Revue to the museums and sights of Indianapolis and Bloomington and an afternoon in Nashville (alas, Indiana, not Tennessee!). We visited a few local parks and lakes and walked the beautiful IU campus, just coming into full springtime bloom, with redbud trees and ornamental cherry and plum.

Mario Andretti
A highlight definitely for Gary and Eric: the Indianapolis Motor Speedway tour.  I poked fun at the exciting brochure description: see the Media Room, the luxury boxes, Gasoline Alley and.....the garages! Ride in a bus around the world famous track.  Really? I could hardly contain myself, having never even seen the race on TV and being unfamiliar with its history or traditions. And there are quite a few traditions. The winner kneels and kisses the bricks at the finish line, a narrow strip of Indiana brick, the last remnants of a now asphalt covered track that started out as a cinder track and evolved into a completely brick covered one. (That had to be a bumpy ride.) The winner also drinks milk on the victory platform-- a wise marketing move by the Dairy Council from the early days when a farmboy winner was caught on film drinking buttermilk. Mother knows best and she had impressed on her son the restorative value of a long drink of milk after an exhausting day at the race course. Today they keep on hand the milk preference of each of the 33 entrants, be it almond, buttermilk, skim or whole. The only requirement is it must be white--no strawberry flavored or chocolate allowed.

There's a speed demon hidden in all of us!

Our tour guide urged us to return some day to experience the 3 hour race, to feel the rumble of the sleek cars, the roar of the jet engines and bring your own picnic cooler lunch and drinks. All I could conjure up was an image of me slathered in suntan lotion, ear plugs in place, sitting uncomfortably on backless bleachers next to drunken fans. But, I will be tuning in Sunday May 24 to see what that media room looks like live and confirm that bricks are indeed kissed.

Another interesting site was Benjamin Harrison's house--a beautiful 3 story home that belonged to the 23rd president, the only one elected from Indiana. I dare you to name something he did during his 1 term from 1889-1893, sandwiched between the two Grover Cleveland terms. Are you stumped? His wife, Caroline Scott Harrison, actually seemed more accomplished--a water color  artist, first DAR president, only First Lady to create her own china pattern and personally resposible for rescuing other presidents' china from the basement of the White House to a place of honor. She was the Jackie Kennedy of the 19th Century.

Beautiful house and we managed to avoid the school groups!
Benjamin, grandson of President William Henry Harrison (who served exactly one month before dying from pneumonia), lost his 2nd election bid. His beautiful Caroline was dying of tuberculosis and the president restricted his campaigning. He returned to a law practice in Indianapolis and developed a close friendship with his deceased wife's devoted niece, who had been her White House social secretary. You guessed it-- after a few years, their friendship turned to love despite the 25 year age difference and the fact that it seems a bit creepy to marry your wife's niece.

Our two portly docents provided one on one attention to us--an hour and a half tour. They were lovely and well informed, and I felt guilty as they wheezed and groaned ascending to the 3rd floor ballroom. We saw it all!

I have to say my favorite part of the trip was seeing Eric teaching two classes and meeting his friends and professors at the departmental dinner. It's hard to believe that the little boy who was too shy to ring doorbells at Halloween now commands his student audience, mike in hand, regaling them with questions, stories and funny comments.

Gary and I slipped into comparing today's college students to our own experiences with perhaps a few too many sentences that began "Now back in my day..."  In today's lecture hall there wasn't a notebook in sight. Laptops and phones dominated the landscape and, of course, the ever present water bottle. I don't know how our generation managed to evade severe dehydration...back in the day.

OK there are 2 things!
Eric's teaching techniques were incredible.  He was able to get and hold their attention and stimulate some spirited discussion even though the lecture hall held over 170 students (not all present this late in the semester). I particularly liked how he exhorted them to hold up their phones over their heads and then put them away in their pockets, followed by a dramatic closing of the laptops. It works! I think we all know the addictive pull of our technological toys and I liked the discussion on this effect on communication, relationships and wellness.

It's so much fun to be a parent and see your child thriving in his own environment. Two years at IU have flown by quickly. I made reservations for graduation next May. Who else wants to come? The Heartland is calling!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cookie Contest

You may point to the chirping of birds in your backyard, the emergence of a brownish-green lawn or the budding of forsythia as sure signs of spring, but for me it's the arrival of my Girl Scout cookie order.  I'm a traditionalist and stick to the two best cookies: Thin Mints and Samoas.

Fun fact: Not all Girl Scout cookies are the same. There are two authorized bakers: ABC Bakers in Richmond, Virginia and Little Brownie Bakers in Louisville, Kentucky. The Mississippi River may be the dividing line: Little Brownie Bakers distributed in the east and ABC Bakers in the west. At least that's my conclusion based on a story from heartland TV station KFVS in the greater St. Louis area. Such a dilemma there, where traveling across the river can get you a totally different cookie. Here in Bergen County NJ, east of the Mississippi, we get Little Brownie Bakers.

Not only are there differences in appearance, taste and ingredients, but also the names of the cookies. Samoas can be called Caramel deLites; Tagalongs know as Peanut Butter Patties. Is it Trefoils or Shortbread, Do-si-dos or Peanut Butter Sandwiches? It all depends on where you live. As for the 3 new varieties offered this year, I'm not sure my neighborhood sales girl had them. I certainly got no sales pitch for Rah Rah Raisin (oatmeal raisin) or the gluten free Toffee-tastic (toffee bits in a butter cookie) or Trios (chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal). She also didn't mention that my beloved Thin Mints are now vegan - smart little salesgirl, knowing my preference over the years. I may have hesitated if I'd known. Vegan cookie is right up there with favorite oxymorons like Military Intelligence and Jumbo Shrimp--impossible, contradictory combinations. If I'd known, I may have just resorted to the Stop and Shop imitations, which are actually quite good.

When I got my order, I immediately examined the "nutrition" information on the box and confirmed that whey had been removed. Yippee - my first vegan cookie! The taste test was next. The thin mints box suggests a serving size of 4 cookies (160 calories), but everyone knows the actual thin mint serving size is one sleeve. Yes, folks, that's 16 cookies at a whopping 640 calories! Yum.

The thin mints passed my test, but I decided I will hold a cookie tasting contest this Saturday to get wider input. Contenders will be the Little Brownie Bakers vs Stop and Shop. If someone could express ship me some ABC cookies, I'd greatly appreciate it!  The strictest guidelines will be followed including blindfolds, milk to cleanse the palate and a detailed questionnaire. 
Stay tuned for results. Wishing you a very Happy Easter or Passover!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Florida Respite

Happy Spring! View from my kitchen window.
Just realized when I was confronted with this lovely scene on the first day of Spring on Friday that I had never written about my winter weariness relief trip to Florida 2 weeks ago. Seems like ages ago now, but here goes.

I've been to Florida many times over the years, especially to the Tampa area, since Gary's parents had retired and lived just south of there for 20+ years.  But, this trip on March 7-10 was particularly sweet. Gary had a course to attend over the weekend and I was happy to absorb the Florida sunshine and amuse myself.

On the first day I checked out the Tampa Museum (a Norman Rockwell exhibit), had lunch on the museum patio overlooking the Hillsborough River and the Harry B. Plant Museum and enjoyed listening to some rock music drifting up from the park's music festival.

I knew I had to get myself to the beach and I tried out a delightful state park called Honeymoon Island, just north of Clearwater. Ah, the restorative waters of the gulf! I waded along the shoreline, splashing up the water, looking for shells and admiring the few hardy souls who had plunged in for a full swim (mostly kids). Although temps on all 4 days were in the 70's and 80's, they were still springtime 80's with a cool breeze coming off the water and even whipping around the hotel pool.

Cool breezes did not stop my favorite couple from their morning exercises in the pool. He walked back and forth, while she chose an up and down route. They'd exchange a few words as they passed each other. I realized when I saw them on dry land that she walked with a cane and needed the security of the pool's edge to be always within easy grasp.  He had a limp, but they were at the pool every morning and afternoon.  Not that the conveniently located Embassy Suites-
Airport was an ideal resort. To the left of those palm trees came the steady hum of Rt. 275 traffic, although plane noise was minimal.

Speaking of 275 and old age, we inadvertently drove onto 275 heading west instead of east not once but twice! When you realize your mistake, there's not much you can do, as you cross over the wide Tampa Bay to St Pete's, except look at the waves on the bay and worry about the slow eastbound traffic that we would soon have to face. There was a lot of construction and detoured entrances, so the first time we just laughed and altered our route to head north to Clearwater. The second time we were running late to get to the airport, so it was a bit more hectic.

Me: This reminds me of the time about 25 years ago when we were waiting for each other on opposite ends of the monorail at Tampa Airport. We also were running late and I dropped the rental car, while you took the luggage and the kids.
Gary: I don't remember that.
Me: You don't remember me using the white airport phones to frantically page you?
Gary: No.
Me: They almost gave our seats away. I was furious.
Gary: I seem to have blotted that out from the old memory banks.
Me: You don't remember running through the airport with the kids?
Gary: Negative.

I wonder how many other things we don't remember the same way or at all? Should I feel good that Gary erased a memory where I was being a tad shrewish or is this the ultimate rebuke-wife talking-blah, blah, blah. Of course he doesn't remember it.

Well, don't worry. I'm sure to bring it up again. Wouldn't it be sweet, if it was when we were both strolling a pool for a little aquacize many, many years from now?
At Clearwater Beach

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

She Loves Me

Our family ventured into the world of community theatre on Saturday night, supporting my talented brother Peter. Yes, he was only in the ensemble, but the review by OnStage critic Kathleen Mosel was effusive and even included this tip of the hat:
The ensemble, made up from Rachel Strazza, Ann Alford, Barbara Stolarik, Peter Haynes, Frank Gaffney and Stephen DiRocco, is one of the better collection of actors I’ve seen this season. Their “Twelve Days Till Christmas” is by itself, award worthy.

Not bad for a newby whose last role was as Joseph in the kindergarten nativity play in Schenectady, NY!

The ensemble adds depth and interest to a play, my brother explained to me, when he first started rehearsals. It's not as easy as it looks to do a walk-on stage right, exit stage left, fake conversation, sing, dance and provide crowd noise. Was it just me or could everyone pick out Peter's voice in the spirited 12 Days Till Christmas song and his exhortation to "Dance, Dance, Dance" in the madcap cafe scene

Oh, and as for the rest of the actors and the musical itself? She Loves Me is a 1964 musical, set in a Hungarian perfume shop. Boy meets girl and they hate each other, savoring instead their true love pen pals. You'd recognize the plot which was later adapted to the movies, The Shop around the Corner with James Stewart and You've Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

Part of the cast
I was surprised at the professional  level of talent and the elaborate staging. Community theatre is very popular in Connecticut and there is obviously a pool of talent. The lead, Betsy Simpson, had a gorgeous soprano voice and good acting skills. The rest of the cast was equally talented and included the affable male lead (who reminded me of  David Schwimmer), the philanderer, the dutiful clerk, the rejected lover who ultimately finds love at the library, the ambitious young delivery boy who perilously rides his bike on the narrow stage, and the crotchety store owner. Multiple scene changes slowed the pace a bit, but it's a fun play.

Our excursion to Connecticut in two cars started off with a few bad omens. Good thing we aren't superstitious theatre people! Besides getting lost and needing 3 phone calls to actually find the restaurant, we had to skip dessert to arrive on time at the Wilton Playshop. (The profiteroles looked so yummy, too)

On the ride home, one of our party, who shall remain anonymous, said, "Check that off the bucket list." I reminded him that auditions for the next play are coming soon and a certain ensemble player may be contemplating a role with a line or two. And who knows what will happen in June when the OnStage awards are given, including one for Best Ensemble. I wonder if there's a red carpet?
His own head shot!
After the show
My brother the actor gives the thumbs up!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Walking with George

I've been sedentary for so long that I decided this past week to begin taking a daily walk---and not just to the mailbox! My timing may have been a bit off, since we had zero temperatures most days. It made for an interesting perspective on the world, as I trudged along in a burka-like getup, my eyes peering out from a double wrap of scarves.

One advantage of living in a neatly defined housing development is that you can easily set your  goals. This week I went as far as George Place.  George and I had a nice chat. Next week's goal  is Barbara Ave; followed by Florence, Ellis, Victor and eventually all the way to Calvin! That will take about two months if I keep progressing. I haven't decided yet if non participation should result in back slippage to the previous week's goal.

I've also loosely defined "daily", allowing for substitutions if I've been on my feet a lot shopping or if my leg starts acting up again.

Silly as it sounds, I felt quite accomplished this week and energized with my modest walk and peaceful time just breathing, enjoying the neighborhood and having an imaginary chat with George. Now granted, I am no way near the Fit Bit crew out there. I know I would be severely embarrassed to see how many steps I log daily. But, just putting it in writing here does add a little motivation.

"Isn't it wonderful?" I keep reminding myself.  I try to emulate a little guy who laughs from the sheer joy of movement. And he doesn't even know yet that someday he'll be walking unassisted and then running, jumping, skipping....

Monday, February 9, 2015

Tuesday Movie Day Revisited

A friend asked if I still did Tuesday Movie Day. No, I replied. Every day can be Tuesday Movie Day now--right from my own family room couch. That's good and bad.

I miss the sense of adventure and the pleasant anticipation of sitting in a theatre and watching the big screen either alone or with a friend. I don't think I've seen as many foreign and independent films as I used to at Claridge Cinema in Montclair. But I do have so many options now.

We get HBO and Showtime as part of our Silver Cable package. I still get Netflix DVD's in the mail twice a month. Many of the foreign and independent films only appear on DVD and not on streaming. My son was amazed when he was home one vacation to see the bright red envelope and he promptly ordered Netflix online with a few clicks of the remote. Did he pay for that? Not likely. I was also informed by Amazon that I had access to their Amazon Flicks, since I became an Amazon Prime customer for the free shipping. There's also Public Television. What would we do without our British imports? And the always popular Saturday night at the movies with a classic film followed by an independent film and then a short (if you can stay up past midnight) 

I dont' want to add up the price of all these services, but presumably they might be less than the steep movie tickets, even for us seniors at the matinee discount.

And it's so easy...I have to plan my day, so that I don't succumb to full time TV watching. I just digested Amazon's 10 episode season of Transparent in the course of one week. (but in fairness they were only half hour shows) Another friend had recommended the BBC's Sherlock Holmes with Benedict Cumberbatch which had been on Public TV. We found it on Netflix and yes, I have become a Cumberbitch.

It's hard to replicate the delicious abandon of sneaking out of work early, when Tuesday Movie Day first started. I was still working then, but had already been told we would be merged out of existence within the year, so it was the perfect way to add a little excitement to a job in a holding pattern. Today I try to do all my non profit work now in the morning and early afternoon so I'm ready by 3 pm to indulge--not every day, of course. Well, let's say, not every day in the good weather.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

One Line a Day

Last year I bought the blue One Line a Day 5 year Memory Book, like the one my son has. For some reason I started on February 1, not January 1, a delayed New Year's resolution. The format of the book is simple. There is one page for each day and space for 5 entries(years) per date. The advantage of the one line a day is that it’s not too burdensome to maintain. Even if you wait a few days, you can remember what happened during the week and log some thoughts (usually!). It’s not intimidating because it’s hard to get really serious or philosophical in a few lines. My mother-in-law used to write in a notebook and her posts consisted pretty much of the weather report. I try to be a little more creative than that. I suppose the modern equivalent is posting a status everyday on FaceBook or Twitter, but then they disappear.

And the fun really begins in the second year, when you can bore everyone with entries from last year. Do you know what happened on this day last year? It’s my own little "This Day in History." A few observations:

  • It puts things in perspective- what we worried about a year ago may have worked out or some concerns may now seem trivial. For example, on February 4 last year Beth was admitted to the hospital with premature labor. My entry: “Calm down, little Atticus, you have 7 weeks to go!” Atticus was renamed Alex at birth and he has proven to be a little man on the go even now, cruising the furniture and almost ready to take his first steps.
  • A lot of things stay the same--like this entry from last February 9 “Never got dressed today- relaxing.” Hmm…that seems to occur quite often, although this year I have dubbed it “hibernating.” Need a new word to describe it when spring comes. Also, last year: "Trying to re-establish my exercise routine." LOL.
  • I had thought this would be a stepping stone to a more complete diary, but I am content with the one line a day. I would invite everyone to try it. You can take it as a challenge to dress up your mundane life in 20 words or less. (That's a lot more leeway than 140 characters.) Or, you can just record events so you can figure out what you did this past week or month. I like to think that writing things down is a memory booster. Now when people say, “Did you have a good week?”, you can do a quick check and have something to say other than “Same old, same old“.
Anybody want to join me this year?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Obsolete Activities

As we get older, we expect to fall back a bit in keeping up with the latest changes. Maybe we don't really care about celebrity gossip or the latest i-Phone app, but I do believe that being current keeps you young. So I was surprised the other day when my son remarked that a large part of my day was spent in doing "obsolete activities." Wow! I'm not an early adapter, but I certainly don't view myself as the old curmudgeon in the corner who says "Bah, Humbug" to every new technological advance.  Gee, I pay my bills online and follow Facebook and twitter. Some of my routine activities revolve around tasks done for the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network, but here's the list:

1. My weekly trip to the post Office to mail packages or buy stamps. OBSOLETE!  You can buy stamps online if you must send things snail mail and packages can be picked up from your house.

2. My trip to the bank to deposit checks. OBSOLETE! I did ask the Chase teller if I could just take a picture of the check and send it to my account but he happily replied that it wasnt available yet for business accounts. After all, he added, soon we'll have to start selling milk here to get people to come in (and to keep him in a job!)

3. Buying said milk and groceries from an actual trip to the store. OBSOLETE! have I never heard of Pea Pod or Fresh Direct?

4. Watching TV for either movies or tv shows OBSOLETE!  When I could easily see the same shows on my computer.

5. Going to an actual movie theatre! OBSOLETE! See #4

6. Being one of the few remaining Netflix customers who waits for and anticipates the delivery of the red envelope. OBSOLETE! (But I do have the Netflix streaming option, too!)

6. Having the newspaper delivered each morning and reading the paper version. OBSOLETE! So much more eco-friendly to read your digital subscription on your iPAD or laptop.

7. Listening to books on CD in the car. OBSOLETE! I recently saw an ad for a new car that offered no CD player at all.

8. Printing out pictures and putting them in a picture frame. OBSOLETE! Get digital, lady.

9. Still loving email. OBSOLETE! Too slow and old school. Message me for goodness sakes.

10. Actually going to the library to browse and pick books. OBSOLETE! I have a kindle and I use the library website, but sometimes it's just nice to go there.

11. Going shopping. OBSOLETE! Tell that to all the other shoppers that crowd Route 17. Amazon may rule and online shopping is easy, but nothing beats seeing and touching the merchandise before you buy.

While the modern improvements make things easier, sometimes you wonder if the intent is to get us all to the point where we don't need to ever speak to another human being. (Good and bad there!) Can you add any Obsolete Activities of your own?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

I think it's called winter

Warning! State of Emergency! Stay Home! No unofficial travel recommended! Polar vortex! Wintry Mix! Black ice! Wind Chill below freezing! Single digits! Frigid!

To listen to the weather reports, you would think it was the end of the world, instead of just normal winter weather. It's supposed to be snowy, icy and cold. It's winter. Or, as the American Indians would say more poetically, it is the Moon of the Strong Cold or the Moon When the Snow Drifts into Teepees.

Growing up in upstate New York, I always loved winter. It meant sleigh riding down Devil's Hill, ice skating on Central Park Lake and building snow forts, with discarded Christmas trees as the roof. My mother always invoked the "We are pioneers" refrain, when the snow dump was heavy and we all were enlisted to help with shovelling, even though my father had various snow blowers over the years. He had a small electric "snow thrower" once where the cord would inadvertently get in the way and then you wondered how safe it was to have small cuts all along the cord. The biggest snow blower was an orange gasoline-powered behemoth from Sears that Dad kept on the landing going into the cellar. He would start the motor up inside and the whole house would shake. I never got involved in "raking the roof" which my youngest brother has fond memories of, but I do remember knocking down icicles that lined the roof all along our long driveway.

Today, because of black ice, Gary had to park his car and walk the last 2 miles to the hospital. Perhaps he was seized by that pioneering upstate spirit from his youth.  I, on the other hand, decided not to venture outside and felt imprisoned, looking out the windows and wondering when the icy rain would stop.  I guess I've lost some of that childhood excitement about winter and am just waiting for the Moon of Popping Trees and the Moon of the Red Grass Appearing. It's only mid January, but can the Moon When the Ponies Shed be that far away?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

52 Places to Go in 2015

I enjoyed reading this week’s special travel section in the New York Times: 52 Places to go in 2015. "Untrammeled oases beckon, once-avoided destinations become must-sees and familiar cities offer new reasons to visit.” Despite the author’s predilection for hyphenated words, I scanned the list and read the descriptions of places that interested me because they were among my favorites or had just come up in conversation or would have made my never-to-go there list.

As in previous years, the list was compiled by soliciting travel writers’ opinions and then debated and narrowed down by the Times staff. One of the main criteria is a change or event particular to the upcoming year which makes the destination more interesting. So Milan topped the list as host for the 2015 World Expo, followed by Cuba, for obvious reasons. The same logic applied for Tulsa (Yes, Tulsa, OK) because of the opening of several new art museums in the downtown Art Deco district including an Experience Route 66 interpretive center. I'm pretty sure we won't be traveling to Oklahoma to see a new art museum, but it does raise the question of museums in your own backyard. When was the last time we visited MOMA?  I’m assuming Schenectady, my old hometown, didn’t make the list because its year will be 2016 with the opening of the Rivers Casino and the continued improvement to the downtown area.

Gary, who had begun formulating his own Rust Belt driving tour including Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit, was pleased to see Cleveland on the list (# 21) because of the LeBron James effect and some new restaurants. See it before the 2016 Republican Convention descends. I’ve already been to Cleveland, with the highlight the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a pizza place that a homeless man swore was the best pizza in the US. Antarctica, another of Gary’s favorite new places, did not make the list, presumably because shrinking glaciers are not that much of a change since last year.

On the National Park front, Yellowstone made the list because of $70 million redesign of the Canyons Lodge and Cabins and new sustainably built lodges along the river as well as new paths linking the village to the North Rim Drive. The bigger the pricetag, it seems, the more likely to make the list.

Two US ski resorts were included: Taos, NM, renovated with new owner’s hedgefund money, yet still retaining its alpine charm and Steamboat Springs, CO at 100 years old—the oldest continually operating ski resort.

Close to home, we have the gentrifying Catskills (Williamsburg in the mountains); Philadelphia (riverfront and bike share), and Lower Manhattan (9-11 Museum), which I could see making the K list.

European spots are always interesting. Old standbys of Rome and Paris cozied up next to surprising choices such as industrial Manchester, England, and out of the way spots in Portugal and Spain. Greenland is in; Iceland not so much.

Then my favorite category-international destinations to impress your well traveled friends:

Medellin, Columbia -- Not just a drug capital anymore.

Elqui Valley, Chile --Stargazing now before the inevitable light pollution intrudes.

Faroe Islands -- Admit it. You don’t know where they are, do you? A quick plane ride from Copenhagen for foodies only—fresh fish and local cheese.

Baku, Azerbaijan -- oil rich historic Caspian Sea city with modern architecture and luxury hotels including a Trump International Hotel. I believe my brother visited there on business 25 years ago in dicier times.

Kas, Turkey -- #52 on the list as an alternative to the still expensive Greek islands.

We had brunch today with my trendsetting son and his girlfriend who just returned from Durban, South Africa (#7) and Zimbabwe (#14), already getting a jump on the 2015 list.

So many places, so little time. I don’t think anyone other than travel writers will have 52 destinations this year, but looking forward to some interesting trips!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Happy New Year!

I’m starting the New Year with new blood, a new medication and a new outlook. I’m hoping for more energy and less self pity! Thoroughly enjoyed the holidays and spent my 64th birthday out for dinner with Gary and son Eric. Eric posed the three birthday questions:

1. What are you most proud of that you did in the last year?

I could say climbing the Notch Trail in the Badlands of South Dakota in August.

Or I could say standing for 4 hours outside the Good Morning America broadcast in Times Square to be acknowledged by Rob the weatherman on October 13 National Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day with my other cancer buddies.

But, I think I’ll go with a more serious role. On October 13, the MBC Alliance released its year long report on Changing the Landscape for Those Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer". Supported by over 30 organizations and led by a dynamic team, the Alliance is poised to make a difference and I’m so happy that I’m part of that effort.

2. What are you glad you never have to do again?

I’m not allowed to say Fantasy Football, even though I came in last in the Jersey Bowl league and had a frustrating year. I just want to win without having to learn too much about football-- is that asking too much?

So I am going with never having to go to another cave! I ended my speleology career with Wind Cave and Jewel Cave in South Dakota. Jewel Cave was pitifully bereft of ‘jewels’ as far as I could see and the fact that Gary’s great grandparents were part of the townspeople who clamored to protect the caves, just wasn’t enough of a thrill for me. I knew we were in trouble when the Park Ranger kept referencing other caves he had been to which were obviously more awesome to the point where I was ready to yell, “Well, we’re stuck in this stupid cave, so tell us something neat about it!”

I started as a kid going to Howe Caverns in upstate NY which even featured a spooky boat ride and it’s been hard to beat that formative experience. I’ve seen more than my share of caves- National Parks and private:

Luray Caverns (VA)--still remember the tour guide with the cute Southern accent comparing stalactites to Bugs Bunny’s carrots.

Oregon Caves (OR)–located south of Crater Lake.

Mammouth Cave (KY) – like entering a 3 story, rock hewn parking garage (no formations).

Great Basin (NV) -story of discoverer collapsing through to the cave while on his horse was the best part.

Wind Cave (SD)--discovered when unsuspecting hiker put down his hat and had it sucked into an opening of the cave—very strong draft.

Jewel Cave (SD) --no jewels.

So I’m hoping to pass on any trips to New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns. (Are you reading this, Gary?)

3. What are your goals for the upcoming year? 

It’s nice my birthday coincides with New Year's Day, so I only have to make resolutions once. It cuts in half the guilt of breaking resolutions, which according to reliable internet sources, occurs within the first month for 90% of the public. After much thought, I have resolved to:

· give up my Y membership (it’s become only a charitable deduction);

· refrain from joining any more book groups (although I love them and the 4th one is a facebook group, so does that really count?);

· and pay attention again to my sorely neglected blog.

Happy New Year to all!