Little Ole Ladies In Pasadena: Advice From Professionals

Magpie TV, devoted to bringing viewers the very best in practical information, is pleased to bring you travel tips from two very special little old ladies: The Magpie herself, and her stalwart companion Readmegirl. Hey, there’s precedent:

She's such a copycat! Source:

She’s such a copycat!

Martha Stewart appears on her own network. Tune in today to learn how to make sure YOUR trip feels as smooth as the zipper in your properly sized and packed suitcase  from start to finish!

Commercial Break: Planning a trip to Pasadena? We’d love to help, but we’ve only seen a few sights  there: Huntington Gardens, a famous bridge, and the Rose Bowl. What we can recommend is walking the neighborhoods and admiring people’s yards. If you happen to see inside their homes, so much the better. Here are a few neighborhood highlights:DSC_0382

DSC_0401DSC_0416Part One: The ladies, recently returned from visiting Krug The Thinker in Pasadena California, were not available to appear live, which is fine because this is not a live show anyway. Nor is it taped ahead of time. Our unique no audio/no video format made it oh so possible for our guest stars to compile some dos and don’ts from their most recent peregrination.We are also privileged to have some of their photos for our commercial breaks! ( We suggest some music now, but all we can think of is “Leaving’ On a Jet Plane.” Lame.)

1) Trip Planning: Arranging conveyance by airplane is more complicated than ever, warns  the Magpie.The fares, the routes, the service – all have become so unpredictable and frankly, unsuitable for civilized beings. What one wants and what is available often do not mesh conveniently. However, if possible, when arranging a trip, depart the morning AFTER the clock springs forward, depriving you of the one hour during which you sleep most deeply. You’ll be in such a daze you won’t even notice the delays or the bad breath of  the man behind you in the TSA line.

2) Airport Transportation: Never make assumptions about ground transportation. The wise traveler learns ahead of time what is available and makes arrangements accordingly. The alternative is to stand at the exit with one’s mouth open, inviting native insects in for a visit. IF one arranges a pickup by limousine service as the little ole ladies did, it is helpful upon landing  to respond immediately to the driver’s text announcing his arrival at the airport. But don’t call the one who most recently texted you. Ignore THAT text and call the one who picked you up last December!! That will really surprise him on his day off, and make for a zany good time leaving the airport!

Little Ole Ladies in Limo

Little Ole Ladies in Limo

3) Footwear:  Magpie makes it a point to have comfortable walking shoes. Last year the Magpie had occasion to own two identical pair of walking shoes, the first pair having rudely hidden themselves in the closet until after the second pair was purchased. Magpie’s response was to immediately put one pair inside her suitcase so she would always have a pair of walking shoes. Upon arrival at the Saga Court Motor Hotel, congratulating herself on her forethought, Magpie whipped both of those left footed babies right out of the suitcase.



4) Packing Light: Be creative! The Magpie never checks bags, so she tries to use multi purpose garments. For example, a bathing suit cover up can double as a nightgown. If, as happened to Magpie, you underestimate how cool it gets at night, especially with a roommate who wants the air conditioner running,  and you have to add a couple of shirts on top and a pair of jeans on the bottom so you won’t freeze, that bathing suit cover up will tuck right down in your jeans so that you barely have any bulges when you appear in the lobby in  your two left footed shoes and an ice bucket in which you plan to stack three or four cups of coffee to take  back to your room. Decorum is everything, Readmegirl reminds us.

This is a very nice look for the hotel lobby.

This is a very nice look for the hotel lobby.

5) Be Courteous! Some travel companions have odd proclivities, such as announcing that they cannot sleep while being serenaded with the combination of honking, sawing and gurgling that makes up snoring. If  you are awakened by a nudge in the middle of the night, and  are surprised to find a frowning yet familiar face hovering above you, demanding that you cease and desist, simply say “Thank you,” and go back to sleep. That’s how the Magpie handled it , and she’s convinced that the gentle approach to the nudger made all the difference.

Commercial Break: ( We recommend narration in a calm dignified tone.But you do what you want.)  Today we feature the Saga Court Motor Hotel  of Pasadena.

View from the second floor. Source: Saga Motor Hotel

View from the second floor. Source: Saga Motor Hotel

This 1960s gem, located on Route 66, offers palm trees, a heated pool, and 1980s bedspreads. (Now  a little suspenseful music.) In addition, the  Saga’s peach colored stucco walls, retro atmosphere including jalousied windows, will make you sure that a noir mystery is occurring on the premises. We can’t be sure one did NOT take place, as we had a mysterious call from someone asking for “Marcia.”Who calls anymore on your room phone?? Keep the Saga in mind when you visit Pasadena. It’s reasonably priced, has an air of mystery about it, AND has a few books to read in each room.IMG_2664

And now we return to our show: We’re learning so much about how the smart set travels. But there’s more!

6) Don’t Avoid Responsibility: When you have been invited into town to see someone, don’t make THEM do all the heavy lifting. Specifically, Readmegirl tells us, when your hostess announces that her one of her sweetest friends who is also an incredibly talented chef is in town and wants to cook for all of you, insist on supervising! You may look as though you are only snapping peas, lounging on the couch, and drinking a purple drink called an Aviation, but in fact you are making sure those kids don’t burn the house down. In the name of safety, search your heart for the humility needed to complete this noble task. You won’t be sorry!

Stealth  Supervision

Stealth Supervision

Can you trust a man who makes beautiful crusts with his bare hands?

Can you trust a man who makes beautiful crusts with his bare hands?

And makes you a beautiful purple drink in the middle of the afternoon????

And makes you a beautiful purple drink in the middle of the afternoon????

Supervision has its own rewards.

Supervision has its own rewards.

7) Clarify, clarify, clarify: Readmegirl reminds us of the importance of communication. Here’s the kind of ubiquitous situation to which she refers: When you are  enjoying a glass of wine at an Italian restaurant where the decor is reminiscent of the Ratpack days  and your sister returns from the restroom and announces, “We’re all going to have to go on a field trip to the bar after dinner. It’s got gold wallpaper with black stripes with  machine guns on the walls”, DO NOT JUST ASSUME THAT THE SHOTGUNS ARE REAL!!!!!! You will be so, so disappointed!

When they get so disappointed you have to let them sit in the special chairs for a few minutes.

When they get so disappointed you have to let them sit in the special chairs for a few minutes. I won’t say who thought the machine guns were real, only that between these two there are 78 years of formal education.

8 ) Don’t be territorial: You don’t have to be the center of attention at all times. Allow your travel companions to get ahead of you on walks and have their own conversations. After all it’s not THEIR fault you can’t keep up because you are having to wear someone else’s too large shoes that squeak so loudly that you have no chance to practice your favorite pastime of eavesdropping. Try not to take it personally when they get ahead of you while you lag behind to take pictures because after all, life is art, and that while ahead of you THEY witness a woman  watering her flowers clad only in a shirt and some shiny underpants. It won’t be easy, but in time you will get over it.

You can't be talking every moment when there is such beauty to capture...

You can’t be talking every moment when there is such beauty to capture…

Ahey're probably NOT talking about you.

And they’re probably NOT talking about you anyway. Right??

9) Use your Southern hospitality! Expect to be included in your hosts’ lives and activities. When invited to drink celebratory beers with a group of Cal Tech astrophysicists and assorted other left brain specimens, accept happily and chances are they’ll never dream you know nothing about science. Instead, choose a topic of universal interest, such as your own wedding 35 years ago, and how your seventeen year old sister had to drive home the car that your male guests had adorned with inappropriate sayings. That’s something everyone can relate to!

Nonmembers cannot make purchases at the Athaneum Club. So all we could do was amuse the geniuses with our wedding stories. It seemed an even trade.

Nonmembers cannot make purchases at the Athaneum Club. So all we could do was amuse the geniuses with our wedding stories. It seemed an even trade.

10) Getting Home: All good things must come to an end. If you are reluctant to end your voyage, chances are you will be packing, inexpertly, at the last minute. Some of the inexpertness could be due to the lateness of the hour, to the wine you are drinking to assuage your sadness, or to the knowledge  that the new suitcase you just  bought at the thrift store because luggage was 40 percent off does not unzip all the way around. Though Readmegirl is a very efficient little cuss, she could not make headway with her suitcase situation and was forced to avail herself of her sister’s help. Magpie’s expertise at least got all items packed, but put Readmegirl over the line for  carryons. Should this happen to you, advises Readmegirl, decide what you will give up if challenged at the airport. Should you decide to let go of the  red duffel bag you brought, as was Readmegirl’s choice, only leave your ignition key in the bag if you think it would be funny to call your husband and ask him to come pick you up at the airport one hour away from home at midnight. That joke never fails to get a response!

Readmegirl struggles with her unzippable bag. Note the expendable duffel on the floor. Who knew it contained one tiny loose ignition key?

Readmegirl struggles with her unzippable bag. Note the expendable duffel on the floor. Who knew it contained one tiny loose ignition key?

Well everyone, that’s all the time we have for today. We hope we’ve left you with some useful tips from this peripatetic duo. Viewers, as always, if you have tips to share, or simply want to validate the ladies’ experiences, we welcome your comments!DSC_0372 DSC_0407

Living Memories

Today’s post is inspired by this bloghop prompt: Write about your earliest memories.

Emily at the waiting spends all the livelong day in tasks large and small relating to the health and wellbeing of her precious tot Cee. One day, when Cee is an accomplished young lady, will she remember the times when her Mama cut her peanut butter and jelly sandwiches just so, the days when Cee climbed the slide and went down over and over, or any of the other daily routines that once made up her teeny tiny world? It would seem only fitting that the child be able to recall something of those most important years during which Emily will have worked harder than she has ever worked before.

In her blog hop prompt Emily referred to the term “childhood amnesia”, meaning  the inability of many adults to access early memories. I don’t really like that term. To me it sounds as though someone took our  babies over to some Scientology place and vacuumed out their  brains. Whatever this amnesia may be, do  mothers really need one more unfair situation to contend with, after all the parenting challenges  we already face?

It seems as though   mothers  are saddled with the knowledge that although we guide our  children through every single day of their formative years, that most of that fun and laughter will live on only in our own minds. In the end, some number of former children will just have to take our word that their younger days were filled with all the magic we grownups were  able to summon. But take heart, mothers; not every child reaches maturity with no remembrances of their younger days. Take me, for example. IMG_2667

From the time of my birth until the time I was and two and a half, I lived with my parents and older brother in a small house in East Memphis. It was my parents’ first house. In a marriage typical of the 1950s, my father went to work each day in the only car while my mother kept the house and the children. In the afternoons we napped  and our mother  polished our white leather shoes and bleached the shoestrings a pristine white. I don’t remember my father at that house, but that is not a criticism; I believe that like many fathers of his day, he left the hands- on work of parenting to my mother.IMG_2673

My memories from that house come to me in snippets. They don’t make a complete narrative, but here they are, in no particular order:  My Mother had  beautiful, intriguing hat boxes in her bedroom. Inside each box was a delightful, colorful array of feathers and textures. I don’t know if I knew they were hats.  I coveted them but they were off limits to me. I recall seeing the large figure of our maid, Lucinda, blocking my way to the desired stack of round boxes. Our house was on a small hill that seemed giant from my viewpoint.The thought of traversing the hill filled me with terror.  How would my short legs get me up or down that steep driveway? I remember lying on the floor in the morning,  giggling  in the galley kitchen while my mother pretended she didn’t see me. “What’s that on the floor?” she asked as she poked me gently with her bare foot which was attached to a slender, shapely leg.IMG_2674

In the afternoons my mother would close the  brown wooden shutters in the combination living room and dining room to signal that it was nap time. I would watch as with each closing louver the sun went out in the room.I didn’t mind seeing the sunlight fade, but I did mind the idea of a nap. Finally, I recall sitting perched  on  our living room  couch that was piled so high with things that there was barely room for me,  listening to a recording of “The Bear Went Over the Mountain”. I  believe that was the day we were moving to our new house.

This I do not recall!

This I do not recall!

For each of these vignettes I have a corresponding feeling of “rightness” in my body, a knowing that I was there. Here are other facts  that I have been told but do not remember: that my brother and I rose early one morning, leaving a trail of bread crumbs for my mother to find us, and she followed them, locating us  us around the block on someone else’s swing set. That must have been my brother’s idea. Another of his ideas was to wash my hair with Elmer’s glue. My mother told  me we played out in the backyard every morning, and that each  afternoon all the mothers and children gathered to play in someone’s  fenced back yard, but I  don’t remember that either. I wish I could.

Now there is no one alive to verify or add to those early experiences, unless my brother remembers things I don’t.  I am left with only my memories  and my own truth to connect me to the time in my life when I was learning to navigate the world and myself.  My memories are few, but the way they resonate in my body tells me  I was the center of my parents’ world. That awareness seems to me to be the most sustaining memory  of all.

I take such comfort in being  able to remember even a little from  such an innocent time of life when my parents were so young and vibrant. They were still in their 20s, and they thought they had the world by the tail. It was the height of my parents’ physical and emotional intimacy with me. My parents were fallible, but I had no knowledge of that as yet.  I’m not sure if they knew it yet either. It was not until later that I would see their imperfections and learn the important life lessons of acceptance and cooperation.

No one grows to adulthood without some wounds or disappointments. Though as parents we know this intellectually, we hope life will be smooth for our children. We do all we can to pave the way, and tend to let go only reluctantly, often only after our fingers have been forcefully removed from whatever corner of control we believed we had. Maybe it’s not fair, but that’s the way it is.

For those of us who have become parents and devoted our best efforts to our children, perhaps we can console ourselves with the idea that later in their lives, our children might retain some grain of remembrance of what to us was our most significant life’s achievement. If they can only remember one Christmas tree, one trip to the zoo or one sunny afternoon in the front yard, we hope that it contains the knowledge that they were loved and cherished beyond compare. And for those who have no specific recollections, let us hope that all of our hard work has crystallized inside our children’s beings as a preverbal sense that trustworthy adults were on the scene when they were needed the most. If our children can internalize, consciously or unconsciously, the love laced into each daily interaction, no matter how mundane,  we  can rest assured we will live on in their


Dear Pen Pal

It’s March in Memphis, as evidenced by temperatures in the high 60s yesterday followed by predictions of a quarter inch of ice tonight. I’ve learned not to get too excited over predictions of winter weather here, especially this year when seemingly all our snow predictions have dwindled into just more swirling brown leaves at the curb. Luckily I have the March 2014 30 Days of Lists to keep me company. I completed this challenge once before in 2013 and found, to my surprise, that I was able to complete the entire month. My success inspired me so  that I decided that I could probably also complete NaNoWriMo in 30 days, and I did.

So when I saw the 30 Days of Lists announced  again of course I accepted, for who knows where it may lead me? I’ve done it for the two days of March, and so far it has led me  right to… the fourth grade! Today’s list prompt was to describe yourself to a pen pal. I like to follow these prompts as soon as I read them, writing the first thing that comes to mind. Here is what came to mind:

Does anyone else my age remember entering contests as a child? As I recall there were often contests involving prizes or giveaways. One contest was the Happy Hal Secret Toy Contest, in which you sent in your name and address, and Happy Hal, on his show, would draw the name of some lucky boy or girl to win the  toy of the week. And once a year he had the BIG giveaway, in which a child got to go in his toy warehouse for some predetermined amount of time and CHOOSE WHATEVER HE WANTED!!!!!!!

 The Happy Hal Show Source:

The Happy Hal Show Source:

I am sure I begged my mother to enter me, her most suitable child, in the contest, but whether she did  or not I do not know. The truth is that by  the time I was in elementary school I was starting to notice a disturbing pattern in my mother’s behavior. More and more it seemed, she was  willfully not following my directions. Clearly, with nothing more to do than all the cooking , cleaning, shopping, sewing, laundry, ironing, and child care in our home, she could easily have complied with my wishes.   I felt it necessary to remind her repeatedly of what I expected her to do, a strategy which did not always yield positive results, but that I was willing to proceed with if it meant I would eventually win the Secret Toy Contest.

On one occasion, my hounding must have paid off, for  when I was in the second grade she sent in my letter and picture to the Memphis Commercial Appeal to the Pen Pal of The Week Column. Oh, I was  the smug one at school for a time, for one of these days, all my classmates and teachers would open the paper and there I’d be, a celebrity from one end of the Mid South to the other. But when week after week passed without my picture in the paper,  I concluded the Commercial Appeal choosers were not going to select  me for Pen Pal of the Week.

The second grade passed, and the the third. I began to lobby my Mother for more sophisticated favors, such as having her take  me to see The Beatles. Sharon, a girl on my street whose father played the drums, got to see them, but I did not. I would have had a better chance at winning the Secret Toy Contest, now that I think about it.

Before I knew it I was in the fourth grade, writing flowery poetry modeled after ideas I’d read about in Little Women.   I argued my case with my teacher that I be given the lead part in a play about  a Christmas tree. After school most days I rode my bicycle  over to a vacant wooded strip of land in our neighborhood where my friends and I swung on hanging vines. I was confident that I could achieve the fame I wanted on my own, without depending upon my mother to sign me up for contests.

I was sophisticated, all right.

I was sophisticated, all right.

And then. THEN. Out of nowhere, with no warning, the Commercial Appeal published my second grade letter and picture in The Pen Pal of the Week. I had to go to school to be greeted by jeering fourth and fifth graders calling, “Hey, Pen Pal of the Week!” ” Tell us about your pets and pretty clothes!!!” What an intolerable humiliation! The paper might as well have published a picture of me as a baby, naked in a bathtub!

The damning evidence!

The damning evidence!

Not only was the picture out of date, although they had adjusted my age which just made me look even more babyish, but so was the two year old letter which stated among other things that my favorite subject was Math! What had I been thinking in the second grade? By now I had established myself as such a mediocre math student that Mary Ellen Somebody had to quiz me on my multiplication tables before school. Whoever I had been in the second grade, I was someone else now.

This was all my Mother’s fault for letting the paper do this. But my mother did not have to wait for the school bus after school, nor did she have to ride it. No, she was at home playing innocent! Once again the butt of jokes by these insufferable boys, including my own sixth grade brother, I took matters into my own hands one at a time, whacking them repeatedly with my purse.

Reenactment. Do not attempt this at home!

Reenactment. Do not attempt this at home!

Somehow I made it home on the bus, and home from the bus stop. Getting home from the bus stop could be tricky, in that it was a long run home if one were being pursued by one’s sixth grade brother. But I did get home, and maybe not that day, but in a few days there were letters – I don’t remember how many in all  – from second graders!

I wish I had kept or could even remember the letters. Away from nasty, sweaty, fourth grade boys with crew cuts with their derisive comments, in the partial privacy of the room I shared with my sister, I was FAMOUS. I had the letters to prove it. But I was conflicted. I loved receiving the letters, but public opinion was against me now. What did I want with letters from second graders who loved arithmetic? I had enough to deal with having to share a room with a first grader! I know I did answer one letter from a girl in Rosedale Mississippi, because I remember writing, “Rosedale Mississippi reminds me of Rosedale peaches in cling syrup.”  ( A brand we ate regularly)  I think I thought that if I sounded sarcastic and rude the younger child would realize I was out of her league  and buzz off. I wonder if my Mother mailed that letter?

Fifteen Days In

One of the reasons I started this blog was to push myself out of my comfort zone. Committing to doing something regularly was part of the challenge. In my previous years I did manage to stick with a few things, like marriage, child rearing and graduate school, but the details of other activities were too overwhelming for me. I’m talking about not just writing a bill or letter, but actually buying a stamp for it and putting it in the mail. I’m talking about not just cutting out the fabric and sewing up an a-line shift , but actually hemming it instead of throwing it on the sewing table for “later”. My past is littered with pieces and parts of projects begun with enthusiasm and high hopes, but eventually abandoned under the crushing weight of too many steps, lack of skills, lack of remembering I had even started such a thing.

But now, with fewer responsibilities, I can cultivate the consistency I lacked in earlier years. For example, ( applause here) I’ve written this blog for over a year now. I’ve picked up a few other good habits as well, such as regular exercise. A couple of months ago I noticed my daughter’s post on Facebook, asking who wanted to do Thirty Days of Lists with her. Without knowing what it was, I agreed to do it. Then I sort of forgot about it until I saw her posted pictures of her newly decorated journal for the 30 Days.

Yikes! Turns out the 30 Days only takes place twice a year. I only had a day or so to sign up and to rush to Tuesday Morning for a blank journal. I didn’t even try to decorate mine. Just the opportunity to illustrate the blank pages with some of my best friends, words, would be enough for me.IMG_2272

The 30 Day format is simple: Every day there is a list topic. Period. Then people, lots of people, post their completed lists.IMG_2271

I am now 15 days into  a 30 day commitment. I would like to congratulate  the geniuses  who conceived this brilliant idea! The premise is simple, but the rewards are great. Who among us couldn’t use a few minutes more a day to ourselves? Or any minutes at all? The lists can be as short or as long as the author likes.  I love that there is absolutely no pressure to make your lists any way  other then what you choose. A commitment with no rules is just the right commitment for me.

I think I must have expected the list topics to be, well, easier than they have been. Simple the topics may be, but the thinking and feeling involved is quite complex. Some days i have not wanted to write the list, because I didn’t want to go where the answers would take me. IMG_2284Things My Family Taught Me was one  such topic. My family has clearly been very generous to me, but how generous have I been in return?That question caused some uncomfortable soul searching. Some days the list has taken me to  unexpected places. What’s New This Year made me see I have done a lot more than I thought. IMG_2269

And some entries are silly!

And some entries are silly!

And What Would The Young You Like About The Older You was an absolute confidence builder. IMG_2286Reading over what I had written, I had such an experience of the richness of my life, of having come full circle. Words have power. Taking the time to write them is the ultimate act of self respect.

I guess that’s all I have to say about The 30 Days right now. I’m going to rock right through until the end. Maybe I CAN do something 30 days in a row. Perhaps NaNoWriMo is in my future?

O! Solitude!

Solitude is for  me a gift of midlife. Growing up, I went from  busy house to  crowded dorm, to  apartments overflowing with visitors, to career, marriage and children. The only place I could go without someone else was to the inside of a book. I don’t think I knew what solitude was, but I got my first taste of it when I went to graduate school at age 36.

Early in graduate school, before having to complete internships, I would have one day a week when I had no classes. After the children went to school I would make my way to the medical school library we were allowed to use. Once inside I would take up residence in an isolated study carrel. Surreptitiously I would remove a forbidden thermos of coffee and a bagel from my school bag. For at least four hours I was in a place where no one knew me or expected anything from me. With books, pen and paper, coffee, bagel, and privacy I had everything I needed for productive reverie.

School did get busier, so the luxurious library days did not last. In time, however, my parenting duties became less hands on. I graduated from school and eventually was able to go into  private practice. It would probably be important to say here that for my work I am required to focus intently on encouraging my clients to be aware of their own thoughts and feelings and to follow their dreams. To do my work I must be aware of myself, yet the work is not about me. My own self actualizing must take place outside of the office.

I have been fortunate enough to be able to limit my practice  to  three days a week. The purpose is of course  is to give me time to recharge myself – essentially, to take the advice I so often give to my own clients. Having two work days to myself ,though,  often seems  to exist only on paper. The time gets taken up. Obligations intervene. And sometimes I just don’t use the time well.

Nonetheless, having these two  work-free days has changed me. I know now that I must have time alone in order to feel connected to myself. I have “things to do” which take me deeply inside myself and lead to a sense of peace and well being. Without my solitude I am vulnerable to professional burnout, to becoming numb to the world around me, or to being just plain cranky.

I didn’t want to mention it but since the holidays I’ve noticed all three manifestations listed above. I was feeling  little enthusiasm for the activities I usually enjoyed. Wanting to want to do something but not having the energy to do so is very melancholy.  Since I now had this blog, my lack of magpie-ness was disconcerting. How long would this last?

Clearly I would have to take some action. I started by having a nice heart to heart with myself. I was feeling out of balance because, with all the festivities, I had gotten out of the habit of finding daily solitude. Then I got sick, but had to carry on anyway. Then my husband got sick and did not carry on anyway. He stayed home for several days. I was finding it hard, post holiday, to return to the routines which keep me in sync.

So on my  most recent  day off,  Friday, I made as few plans as possible. I closed the computer and the Ipad, reached for my trusty composition notebook, and wrote and wrote. What did I write? Nothing of significance to anyone but myself. I whined, I felt sorry for myself, I prattled, and vented my frustrations about feeling so stuck.

My angst began to clear. I found myself flipping back through my notebook to where I had left off in my most recent letter to my sister. I had abandoned it earlier in the week because it was so deadly boring. Upon rereading I decided it wasn’t so bad after all. So I added a few pages before turning to my knitting and adding to the poor pitiful sock I’ve been working on for some time. I stopped in time to whip up some chorizo and brussels sprouts for the book club. It was a new recipe, so I wasn’t too sure of it, but almost all of it was eaten.

A sock is born.

A sock is born.

Saturday dawned damp and chilly. I contemplated a photo shoot, but the weather was most unwelcoming. I still had my unfinished letter and sock to work on in the morning. But what would I  to do in the afternoon? Draw, I told myself. I got to work on a sketch of my niece Mary Hannah, who has waited patiently for me to paint her portrait. My fingers were delighted to once again feel the circular needles and the pencil.

The portrait begins.

The portrait begins.

As the sun went down my husband and I contemplated our plans for the evening. We opted to go to a local coffee shop and hear an acoustic music group The Stray Birds. As we settled in at the standing room only event, I marveled that only one week earlier I probably would have talked myself out of going. Knowing that just made the fiddles, banjoes, bass, guitars and elegant harmonies all the  more sweet.

The Stray Birds

The Stray Birds

Now it is Monday. Part of my day to myself has been taken up with two routine medical tests, but I’ve rallied. Except for this blog post, I’m not wasting time on the computer. In a few hours I  will have to leave for yoga. I am savoring the fact that after just a short time of solitude my creative energies  returned to the point that I could write, knit, draw, cook, and listen to live music. It’s a miracle!

My preference is long stretches of uninterrupted solitude. In my perfect world I would be free to stay in my pajamas for days, sipping coffee as I moved from one activity to the next. Read awhile. Write awhile. Check out the sewing machine. Document everything by taking a few photos. But if I can’t have my perfect world, I will take the world I have. I can still connect  with myself in a shorter length of time as long as I am consistent. I can add a few sock rows while watching The Battle Of Britain. The sock may not be finished today, but knowing I did one thing gives me the energy to go to the next.

Of course the real gifts of solitude are not any finished projects that may come from it. No, the important parts are the self knowledge, the being with self, and the life affirming energy,  all seemingly emerging at once. The time invested in solitude repays itself many times over. To quote May Sarton:

“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.”

Here’s wishing you a week full of richness.

The Way It Is In The Big Apple

About a year ago our oldest son and his lovely bride moved to New York City. His move made the distance between my oldest two children into a sort of extended yoga pose with one long arm stretched from the Southeast United States to Pasadena, California, and the other lengthening just as hard to New York, New York. The third child lives about twenty minutes away from me , so I can just bend my knee behind me  as I balance  on one leg  to symbolize his distance. Try that pose for a minute. Don’t forget to breathe!

It may sound silly to think of contorting one’s body to demonstrate the whereabouts of one’s children, but being a parent  is nothing if not a contorting experience. As time goes by I adjust more to the idea that my children’s adult statuses are permanent, and no clever bargaining I  do will  ever change that. In the transition I have hopefully  been able to  form close adult relationships with them, and share in the joys and travails of their lives. I am enormously proud of all three of them, and of the new son and daughter I have acquired through marriage. And I’ve taken quite well to the empty nester experience.  So all is well except that I can’t see them whenever I want to. And I do want to.

Therefore when my husband  recently announced that he had a business trip to the Newark, New Jersey area, I immediately made plans to meet him  there at the end of his business  so that we could spend the weekend with our son and daughter in law in The Big Apple. We arranged to stay through the weekend so we could have all day Saturday and Sunday with the busy couple, and fly back Monday. I was thrilled to get to see my darlings, but also to see the city without having to make any of the plans. Past history has shown that when we visit our children they do all the leg work. It’s nice having them do some of the contorting. By the way, you can come out of that pose now.

We arrived Friday afternoon and checked into The MAve Hotel.  We couldn’t both fit into our children’s postage stamp sized  Manhattan digs,  so I  chose this hotel because of its   proximity to my son’s home. In case anyone cares, I expect to  stay there again. It is in a narrow building on Madison Avenue. The room size is reasonable by New York standards, the beds comfy, and the furnishings new and clean.  Another plus was the  good overhead  light and bed side reading light, which one does not often find in hotels. The employees were polite and attentive. There is a free grab and go breakfast, but we didn’t need it.

The MAve Hotel.

I liked the staircase in the building. I think we were on the eleventh floor.

After checking into the hotel  we went to a neighborhood craft beer establishment , The Rattle and Hum to wait for our companions to arrive after  work. We were happy to relax at the bar and sample new brews while reflecting that yes, once again we were the oldest people in the building. Then of course once our son arrived with his wife I had the chance to  embarrass them both with my effusive welcome.Once we greeted one another we capped off the evening with dinner at  Southern Spice  Chettinad  Indian restaurant.  I was tired by then and didn’t get pictures but just trust me; it was all delicious.

In the morning  our son took us to their new apartment, a four story walkup. While small in size it is large in character with  an exposed brick wall, a fireplace and lovely wooden ceiling beams. So what if there is not much closet space? They always have the roof of the building to stretch out in. It didn’t seem too much smaller than their previous apartment in Brooklyn, plus it is much closer to all the things they want to do.

At the doorway.

On the rooftop.

Our next stop was  to Kalustayan’s, an enormous Indian and ethnic grocery store on Lexington,  where I nosed around for as long a time as I thought my companions could wait for me.  This store really requires its own separate blog post.  Pictures and words simply cannot do it justice.   There  are rows and rows of spices, salts, teas, flours, cooking utensils and so many other goodies. Could I have stayed longer? Yes, but I also wanted to go to the The Tenement Museum.

I love all this stuff.

Fresh tumeric.

The deli on the top floor.

Newly made halvah.

We arrived at the Museum to learn that we would need to sign up for a tour which would not begin  for over an hour. So we amused ourselves watching the neighborhood sights, sometimes from inside this establishment, Top Hops. From a sweet window seat we munched on a cheese plate and tasted beers.

The Tenement Museum.

Refreshments before the Museum tour.

Top Hops.

Photography inside the Museum is prohibited, and they mean that. So I will just tell you that we took a tour called “Irish Outsiders”, which talked about the crowded and sordid living conditions of the area in the 1800s and the many trials the immigrants faced trying to succeed in their new land. We were able to see an unrestored and a restored tenement apartment, each containing 325 square feet.  Walking through the apartments, viewing the stripped back layers of paint, it was evident that many many stories remain to be told of those who once lived there.

Our tour guide seemed to want us to discuss tolerance and bigotry in today’s world, but our group was not forthcoming. Speaking ,though, of how public perceptions have changed  I did share that my grandmother used to sing, with no sense she was degrading anyone,  a song with the following lyrics: “I come from Hong Hong China, Me workie  for the Mellican (American) man, catch rats all day in the laundry, Me catch ’em just the best  me can.” So I feel I added to the canon of information on the subject.

Following our leaders from the Museum, we hopped in a cab and headed for the open rooftop bar atop The Pod  39 Hotel. I had read about this ultramodern hotel/hostel and here I was,  right on the cutting edge! Oh, if I could have stayed all night I would have! The patio bar gave no hint of the hipster haven below. Rather, the arched bricks, plantings and fountains evoked a scene from days gone by. I bobbed from one side of the patio to the other, madly taking pictures as the sun sunk lower in the sky. My companions eventually but  gently nudged me toward the elevator after several hours. Really. I would have stayed there all night!

The Pod 39 Hotel.

A lovely setting.

The view from the patio.

Empire State Building.

Night was falling but I still wanted to take more pictures.

It was getting cold up there so we had to leave.

Our young guides had decided upon a sushi place for dinner, for the wait was too long at their first choice, so we went to another spot across the street. Like the night before, I was tired. I don’t remember what all this was, but it was the chef’s specialty that night. And it was absolutely fabulous.

A lovely dinner.

Too soon it was Sunday. We met for brunch at Resto, a Belgian Restaurant. The place was hopping, with some soulful Al Green in the background. I had a frittata with ham, gruyere and avocado that filled me up for the REST of the day. So it was good that we did a lot of walking.

Our first stop after brunch was the Marianne Boesky Gallery  where there was an ongoing exhibit by Lucie Fontaine and her employees. But if I have my facts straight, Lucie Fontaine herself is a creation of  the three artists who work for her. During the exhibit, work by the “four” of them, plus other artists is on display in the space they have designed to be Lucie Fontaine’s home. The “employees” live there and play the parts of servants in the home.

When we arrived, no one answered the door for a long time. Just as we were about to leave, a young woman came to the door and said that the gallery was not really open, but that we could come in. Was this part of the original conceit?   We didn’t know. She allowed us to see the first floor, Lucie’s living room, and the second floor with her office, bedroom and bath. We looked and puzzled around until we had seen it all. On our way out, we thanked the young lady for letting us in. I asked her to please tell Lucie Fontaine we were sorry to have missed her. On the stoop we asked ourselves again if the place had really  been closed.  Had we participated  in a play within a play?  We didn’t know. And in my opinion, leaving an art exhibit in a state of not knowing fulfills the purpose of an exhibit.

Ms. Fontaine’s dining table.

The living room.

Fruit Pits.

In Ms. Fontaine’s bedroom.

In Ms. Fontaine’s office.

From there as it was a lovely day we went on to Central Park. My husband and I had only been to Central Park before in cold weather, so it was quite a treat to roam through parts of the park we hadn’t seen, with no particular destination in mind. There were lots of people in the park, but not so many that we felt crowded. It was after 5:00 by the time we emerged from the park. A confab on a concrete bench at the park’s gate resulted in the decision to eat that evening at Otto Enoteca Pizzeria,  one of Mario Batali’s restaurants.

A wedding in Central Park.

The whole park seemed romantic.

Once again we hopped a cab to whatever the right neighborhood was. On our way to the restaurant I saw what looked like a tiny little lady pushing a shopping cart. But a closer inspection revealed her to be a sculpture. And beside her, in the stoop of a building. was a grouping a magazines and other items which apparently was part of the exhibit. After I started taking pictures the artist, a homeless woman, came out from somewhere demanding that I give a donation. I gave her one, but she discombobulated me so much that I didn’t stick around for more photos. At dinner we had an interesting conversation about the ways of big city life, and whether I should have donated. But as my son said, her work was intriguing. . So I didn’t mind the donation.

And what to say about Otto? Homey and welcoming, it is  modeled after an Italian train station.  I can guarantee that once you eat there you will beg to return. The wine list is three pages long. My husband had to seek the services of the sommolier who kindly helped him choose an appropriate wine for the evening. Why can’t I eat there for every meal?  Do you see how I am already begging? I had a cucumber and watermelon salad with mint and shaved cheese that was so good it brought tears to me eyes.  And I think I did cry when I tried my arugula and prosciutto pizza. I don’t have any Mario Batali cookbooks but it is clear that I need one. I love the simple dishes with big big flavors. May I please go back?

In the “waiting room” of Otto.


Clam Pizza

Arugula and prosciutto pizza.

After dinner we took what was for me a sad taxi ride back to the hotel, where we would go our separate ways. My son and his wife were no doubt eager to return to their own apartment and prepare for their respective weeks ahead. After they left and while I packed my suitcase. I reflected on how not once did this young couple  seem resentful to be giving up their whole weekend for us. Never once did they show impatience at my endless picture taking and dropping of my lens cap on the busy sidewalks. Never once did they show embarrassment at our touristy ways. In my youth, would I have behaved with such grace and maturity? I can’t say.

In stages I realize that my children are adults. In stages I realize I am no longer in charge of things. That’s just how life is right now. I can remember back to days when I never could have dreamed that my grown children would delight me so,  or that they would be the most interesting people I know.  Well, I’ve earned it, and so have they. And I’m going to enjoy things just the way they are.

On Feminism and Fashion

Readers, I come to you today dressed in what ladies used to call a ‘duster”, or a ‘house dress”.  Please don’t tell my Mother. She wouldn’t understand.  I know she’s deceased, but Mothers have their ways of finding things out. Here’s a little background:

When I was growing up,  housewives  frequently wore these  unattractive sleeveless cotton garments, which seemed to be a cross between a bathrobe and a dress. They often had garish patterns of watermelons or gingham.  While these were never to be worn outside the home, they were deemed  to be suitable  inside daytime attire by some ladies for  times when one should be dressed but due to the heat, one could not allow said clothes to touch one’s body.


On our street in the 1960s, virtually every mother was at home during the day. I was used to being greeted at the doors of my friend’s homes by ladies in house dresses, sporting helmet  hairdos, smelling of cigarette  smoke, Final Net hairspray and starch,  Yes, I think some of the house dresses were starched and ironed.

My Mother on the other hand, never sunk so low as to don a house dress. She didn’t ever say they were tacky; I just knew.  As I recall she wore what were called ‘shorts sets”, consisting of say, solid  color shorts with a striped or printed blouse, with a Peter Pan collar and loafers.  Unlike some of the other neighborhood ladies, she had what was deemed a “cute figure”, with slim, not jangly upper arms and evenly proportioned hips and bust. She watched her weight, sometimes announcing she was “reducing”, then eating  garden style cottage cheese at lunch for a week.

She reinforced her helmet hairdo by wrapping it in toilet paper at  bedtime, just like the other ladies alright, but  her daytime appearance was tidy and tailored. She never seemed to get dirty, but every afternoon without fail, I suppose after she had cooked dinner, she disappeared into her bathroom to “freshen up” for my Father. By the time he came home  she had on another crisply  ironed blouse, and had applied new lipstick, Revlon face powder and  black Maybelline  cake mascara.

My Mother and I were of the same mind regarding fashion right up until I was about six years old and began to have my own preferences. After that all bets were off.  I did not want to wear all those slips and things that were called “petti pants.” I wanted to wear my white shorts with a white shirt, which my Mother would not allow because she said it didn’t match.  How could they not match if they were both the same color? I did not want to wear a dress identical to that of my four year old sister. And I certainly did not want to wear a dress patterned after one that Julie Andrews wore in the Sound of Music. Anyone could see it had a very scratchy built in petticoat.

Cut to high school. Whenever we shopped together my Mother was sure to whisk a preppy little  top from a hanging rack and exclaim, “Isn’t this darling?” Uh, no.  I was going to wear men’s overalls from Sears and high topped tennis shoes,  and I did.  My Mother was mortified.

Eventually the pitched battles ended, but we remained at opposite ends of the fashion spectrum right up to the last years  of her life, when I was often the one to choose her clothes. I always knew what she would like: little white sandals, straw purses, pants sets that matched and had to be ironed, dainty feminine nightgowns.

If my Mother were to see me today in a duster, ( And actually it’s a little loose sleeveless dress  with a muted neutral print from the thrift store. But I USE it as a duster) she would only be baffled and disappointed at my choice. But we have led different lives. My Mother stayed in the house to protect her hairdo. I go outside in a pony tail, climb a six foot ladder and pick figs for an hour. My Mother did all the housework in our home, except on the days  the maid came, but seemed to stay clean. I can’t walk from the bedroom to the kitchen without spilling something down my shirt. If my Mother did perspire a little during the day there would be no trace of it by the time her man came home. I make no attempt to disguise whatever condition I may be in when my husband comes home, and he has never objected.

Despite our differences, as I look back I have respect for what my Mother was trying to do. In the rigid world inhabited by housewives in the 1960s, with the paucity of choices available, my Mother was trying to find her own way to have a sense of self. She would rise above the tyranny of the housedress and instead clothe herself in an array of snappy, sassy outfits which emphasized her youthful figure. She might iron and cook all day but she would always find the time for the feeling of luxury that came with the application of her makeup. She might be only a housewife, but she would remind herself daily with her careful attention to her person that she was capable of so much more.

I think she wanted those same things for me, and tried to achieve her goals for me through the lens of choices she could see as acceptable for girls and women at the time. But I saw so many more options, having grown up in a time when women were becoming  empowered, that I saw her ideas as constricting, unimaginative and hopelessly old fashioned.

Well Mother, you succeeded. I have managed to find my own sense of self, and follow it, though I may be the only one I know who sees what I see or wants to do what I want to do. I have raised a family but do not see my own dreams as subordinate to theirs. When I return home from a day in the professional world, my home is a haven where I can nurture my own interests and relationships, and suit only myself. And if it suits me to wear my improvised duster, because it is 102 degrees outside, then I wear it proudly.