End of an era…

On Friday, October 11, 2019, Mr. Smith’s mother took her last breath.  She leaves behind eight children, 13 grandchildren, 11 greatgrandchildren, and many loving friends.  Pat was 91 years old and managed to live on her own until the last week of her life when she moved in with one of her sons and his wife.

Pat at her 90th birthday party.

She was my mother-in-law for forty-one years.  Although Pat could be intimidating and always to the point, I learned a great deal from her through the years.  She was great at answering cooking questions, worked on sewing projects with me, and was an inspiring example of choosing your own life. Her passing has left me a bit unsettled and introspective.  

While raising her family, she worked tirelessly to take care of her children.  My husband remembers waking up to the sound of the sewing machine and falling asleep to its hum.  She was a marvelous seamstress, providing her and her children with many remarkable outfits. She baked countless loaves of bread and pies and prepared more family dinners than you could count.  She may not have hovered over her children as many parents do today, but she kept them safe, fed and clothed.

Pat and my Mr. Smith at our wedding, August 19, 1978.

And she was an artist.  Her first love has been art since the painting class she took at the Detroit Institute of Arts at age 14.  While marriage and motherhood consumed her for many years, she was always able to insert creativity into her life.  Finally, in her forties she was able to return to college, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of Michigan.  While some middle-age women may have been intimidated by competing with the younger students Pat found herself surrounded by at University of Michigan, she was quoted as saying “You just have to put your foot out and go.  All it takes is a little bit of courage and a little bit of stamina.”

Pat exemplified courage and stamina throughout her life.  After losing her husband of 67 years, she bought herself a loom and learned to weave, adding another accomplishment to her long list of talents.  For many years she made all her grandchildren Christmas ornaments that she had designed and in the more recent past her greatgrandchildren became the recipients of her creativity.  And in her usual pragmatic way, concerned she might not live until Christmas, this year’s ornaments are all completed, wrapped and ready to be sent off in December.

Pat never lost the little girl inside.

I will remember Pat for many reasons, but foremost in my mind today are the two things I believe were her greatest strengths.  She never stopped looking forward and living life, painting until her last week.  And she never lost the little girl inside her, the one who loved playing in a patch of brown-eyed susans and who gloried in a new box of crayons.  She was a good woman and I will miss her.

C’est la vie.

In a New York minute…

I’m not a morning person, but when Mr. Smith nudged me last Saturday morning at 6:00 a.m. and said “hey, you’re the one who wanted to get into the city early”, I popped right up and headed for the shower. By 8:00 a.m., Mr Smith, Jeanne and I were headed into the Big Apple.

We had a crisp, clear, sunny fall day and a smooth drive in. Then we hit Midtown. Traffic that morning gave new meaning to gridlock and on top of that the street in front of our hotel was closed for a street fair. With my (unsolicited/unwanted) backseat driving, Mr. Smith persevered and we finally arrived at our hotel.

We had 2:00 p.m. theater tickets so after checking our luggage, we hailed a cab and headed out to grab some lunch at Chez Josephine, a lovely quirky little place on 42nd Street, started by Jean-Claude Baker, son of the eponymous Josephine Baker. Our taxi ride took FOREVER due to all the traffic so we were a bit rushed and didn’t get to truly appreciate the restaurant and it is on the list for a return visit.

After our rushed lunch, we walked over to the Shubert Theater for the 2:00 p.m. matinee of To Kill A Mocking Bird. Based on the 1960 novel of the same name by Harper Lee, it was adapted for the stage by Aaron Sorkin. I’ve read the book and I’ve seen the movie but neither of those moved me like the play. Mr. Sorkin did a brilliant job, including giving new meaning to the words All Rise. Mr. Smith shared that he had always thought All Rise was simply a nod of respect to the judge. Instead, the words are elevated to a higher meaning, making “All Rise” a call for decency and compassion.


The ceiling of the history ShubertTheater.

After the play, we headed over to The Algonquin for a drink. The Algonquin is Midtown’s oldest hotel and was a gathering place for writers in the Roaring 20s. It was designated as a National Literary Landmark by the Friends of Libraries USA in 1996. While sipping my delicious Cosmopolitan, I did my best to channel some of that extraordinary writing talent that used to lunch there daily.

After our cocktail, we continued our walk back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner. This posted sign caught my attention as I am a Madame Secretary fan. And it reminded me of being in the city years ago with Mr. Smith and our friends the Pillers. On our last morning there, Mr. Smith headed out for a business meeting and Bob, LouAnne and I headed out to Rockefeller Center to check out the Today show that morning. We walked out of the Waldorf there were large towers of lights set up and several official looking folk with clipboards running around. One of the clipboard commandoes asked “Are you with the TV pilot?” In our trustworthy midwestern way, we said “No” and were quickly asked to leave the area. Later we decided that should that happen again we would answer “Yes” and ask where the food truck was located. We may have missed our 60 seconds of fame.

We returned to the hotel and freshened up for dinner, before heading to DeGrazia Restaurant for a delicious dinner. We toasted Jeanne’s 77 years on planet earth.

Happy birthday eve, Jeanne.

Jeanne’s one birthday request was Sunday brunch at Tavern On The Green. She had fond memories of taking her sons there many years ago. Mr. Smith and I had never been there so we were more than happy to accommodate her request. As former residents of Ithaca, NY in the Finger Lakes Area, we were delighted to see Konstantine Frank’s Sparkling Riesling on their wine list. We had a delightful meal – I had avocado poached eggs. Jeanne had steak and eggs, Mr. Smith had Eggs Benedict but saved room for a delightful dessert of cheesecake.

He did let me have one (very) little bite.
My sister took a picture of me taking a picture of Tavern on the Green.

After brunch, we walked through Central Park, heading to the New York Historical Society to see the exhibit LIFE: Six Women Photographers. From the early 1930s through the 1970s, LIFE Magazine retained a few women photographers who played an important role in creating modern photojournalism.


All too soon it was time to head home but we all felt energized by our time in the city that never sleeps. A fall weekend in the city is something everyone should experience at least once in their lives. Grab your favorite sweater and stroll the streets. Ride the subway and explore the different sections. And if you have the chance to go see To Kill A Mockingbird, do it. It’s worth every penny. Here are a few of my tips to help you with your own trip.

  1. Bring lots of small bills – $1s and $5s for tipping. All the service employees rely on these tips. The doorman, the bellhops and porters. In the bustle of packing up when we’re leaving, I am sometimes guilty of forgetting to leave a tip for housekeeping and really, where would we be without housekeeping. So you don’t make my faux pas, here’s A Guide to Tipping in NYC.
  2. Allow plenty of time to get where you’re going. Remember that walking is sometimes faster than a taxi – who wants to watch the meter climb as you sit in gridlock?
  3. Wear comfortable shoes. These don’t have to be big, ugly, white sneakers. There is a plethora of attractive, comfortable shoes if you take time to hunt them down. I have spent much time in the city watching women – young and old – shifting from one foot to the other, trying to find a bit of comfort.
  4. If you walk out of your hotel and into a filming, just go with it and act like you belong there.
  5. Don’t give your spouse unsolicited driving advice. They don’t want it and don’t need it. At least that’s what Mr. Smith’s says.

C’est la vie.

Ready, set, Christmas…

With my sister visiting, we’ve been in a few stores this week and it’s obvious the holidays are coming.  While not yet in its usual overwhelming presence, evidence is popping up everywhere. Thanksgiving turkeys are sharing display space with elaborate Christmas ornaments, dishes and linens, holiday cards and wrappings, and my mailbox is overrun with holiday catalogs trying to entice me to choose their wares.

Thanksgiving is unusually late this year as the fourth Thursday falls on the 28th, making Christmas three and a half weeks later.  As someone who particularly likes the holiday of Thanksgiving, I don’t want it to get lost in the Christmas frenzy.  My plan to save Thanksgiving is to be organized with regard to Christmas. 

  1.  Before November 1, I will make a list of lucky people who are on my gift list, as well as ideas for presents.  I will not get caught up in the material trappings and will keep to my budget. I WILL WRAP EACH GIFT AS IT IS PURCHASED.
  2. I will purchase and address my holidays cards early.  Although it seems we receive less and less cards each year, I still love finding those greetings in my mailbox and will continue to send them as long as I can.
  3. In early November, I will pull out my Christmas trimmings and check for anything that needs attention. Even though I do less holiday decorating these days, I still enjoy creating a festive atmosphere. My turkeys will make an appearance in early November and the Santas will come out the day after Thanksgiving.
  4. The first week in November, I will start planning our holiday menus and organizing the recipes.  I will shop ahead for the staples, simplifying my time in the grocery starting Thanksgiving week through the New Year.
  5. I will put aside my obsessive nature, not worry about perfection and practice enjoying every fun, noisy, delicious and messy moment of time with friends and family.
And to all a good night…

C’est la vie. 

I go to Paris, I go to London, I go to Rome, and I always say “There’s no place like New York.” Robert DeNiro

The Big Apple, the city that never sleeps, Gotham. However you refer to it, it’s my favorite city in the world. It’s like a gift I get to open each and every visit. You never know what you’re going to discover. One of the best things about living in Wilkes Barre is its close proximity to New York City.

When Mr. Smith moved to Wilkes Barre for the first time in 2007, he discovered Isabella’s, a lovely restaurant/bar on his route from work to home. When I joined him in 2008, we were frequent customers, getting to know the staff and owner. In fact, it was the owner who told me about the “Shopper’s Special” bus I could take into NYC. My $30 ticket would whisk me in to the city in the morning and deliver back that night. I was suddenly a much happier citizen of Pennsylvania!

And now my sister Jeanne is here visiting from Michigan. I picked her up at the Scranton/Wilkes Barre International Airport on Thursday and we stopped at Isabella’s for lunch on our way home. There sitting at the bar was the owner! He waived at me but as I’ve been away for five years, I asked if he remembered me. He very smoothly replied “Your face is familiar.” I reintroduced myself and reminded him he was the one who turned me onto the convenient Shopper’s Special.

Even better than the Shopper’s Special, is the Mr. Smith Express. Yesterday Mr. Smith drove Jeanne and me into the city for the night. We are celebrating her birthday! Although we have a couple of things planned, we are always open to the unexpected.

As we eat and drink our way through New York, I’m grateful that the treasures of the city are close enough for an exciting weekend. Next Sunday’s post of New York pics and tips will hopefully tempt you to plan your own adventure.

C’est la vie.

My three grandsons…

They arrived like a swarm of locusts, bringing their backpacks, sleeping bags and assorted other necessities. Three grandsons and their parents. They spent some time checking the place out.

I think he’s checking for spiders.

But then it was time for some exercise. We headed out to explore. There’s an amphitheater on the river front, but the boys found other ways to use it other than sit and listen to a concert.

Henry.
Eli.
Sam.

I was not up to their level of action, but I did manage (barely) to keep up with Sam on a walk across the Susquehanna. This is the Market Street Bridge that we overlook from our apartment. Built between 1926 and 1929, it was intended as a memorial to veterans of the First World War.

After getting some fresh air, we returned to our apartment where Eli quickly discovered what I believe is the best seat in the house.

Eli’s all comfy.

I think Henry also likes my reading spot.

After the boys had their dinner, Henry, Eli and I took a walk to the bookstore, giving Grandpa Nick an opportunity to start preparing the adults’ dinner of Tournedos Sautés Aux Champignons from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Requested by Emmet, it’s also one of my favorites and it’s delicious. There were no leftovers.

When the boys were in their PJs and the popcorn was ready, Grandpa Nick went in the den to help them find a show to watch. Our grandsons were quite appalled that grandpa and I didn’t have On Demand tv! Somehow they survived.

Sunday morning, Grandpa Nick made scrambled eggs and bacon for everyone. Then we piled into our cars and drove to Frances Slocum State Park for a hike. We chose the Lake Shore Trail. Sam was quite an eagle eye, spotting the yellow marks on the trees to keep up on the right path.

A boy and his stick…

After our outing to the park, it was back to grandpa and grandma’s for a little lunch before they loaded up to make the trip back to Maryland. It was definitely a whirlwind 24-hours. Our grandsons did say they really liked our new apartment, they just wish we had an Xbox!

C’est la vie.

It’s all about the book…

Mr. Smith and I have lived in several different places during our many years of wedded bliss and each of these locations has its own unique charms and memories.

One of my cherished memories from our time in Indiana is of my book group, The Book Babes.  A group of us founded it in 1995 and we met monthly to discuss our present read, drink wine, and chat.  We took some trips together, reviewed books in the local newspaper, and had a brief stint as local celebrities appearing on the local public television discussing books we were reading.  While no longer a member, I’m pleased as punch to report The Book Babes are still meeting and reading.  And I bet they are still sipping a glass of wine or two.

After my first move to Pennsylvania is 2008, I searched for a book group and was not finding anything that was a good fit.  Never one to give up, I decided to get creative.  My sister Jeanne was living in Portugal at that time and we decided we would form a book group of our female family members and call it Zella’s Girls after our mother.  We didn’t have a lot of takers, but my niece on the west coast gamely joined and the three of us would “meet” via Skype and talk about our current choice.  Due to busy lives and different time zones we didn’t have longevity, but I’m thinking this is something to revisit at some point since my sister is back in the States and I seem to be retired.

When Mr. Smith and I moved to Ithaca, I attended the book club at our local library.  One of the great things about this group was its diversity of age, from college students to aging, engaged matrons and everything in between.  It was fascinating to hear the different perspectives of their varied life stages, and how it affected their opinions of the book’s contents, where they agreed and where they differed.  Ithaca is also where the online book group with my sons was formed.  We don’t get to meet in person and discuss over a bottle of wine, but it’s always a treat to receive an email with questions about the current read and to see what my boys are thinking.

And now I’m back in Pennsylvania. Not having found a book group yet, this month I decided to horn in long distance on my sister’s library sponsored book club in Michigan.  Their current choice is The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle.  

Sabrina and her best friend, Jessica, always celebrate their birthdays by going to dinner together.  On Sabrina’s 30th birthday, she enters the restaurant to find not only Jessica, but the remaining people she had put on a list as the five people, dead or alive, that she would like to have dinner with.  Sabrina made the list years ago to placate Jessica who was taking a course in spirituality and wanted Sabrina to go through some of the exercises with her.  

The dinner list question has become one of my quintessential dinner party ice breakers.  At home, our Monday night dinner was a party of two, but I still asked Mr. Smith who would be on his list.  It took him no time to come up with his list:

  •                         Jacques Cousteau
  •                         Mahatma Gandhi
  •                         Winston Churchill
  •                         Pablo Picasso
  •                         Ansel Adams

That would be quite the dinner party.  I was flabbergasted at how quickly he came up with his list.  A week later, I’m still struggling to compose mine.  There would be my Aunt Ruby and Eleanor Roosevelt, but then I stall out.  I think of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jane Addams, Nora Ephron, Sylvia Plath, and Elizabeth Warren – although she’s probably a bit busy right now.  I noted Mr. Smith’s list was all male and mine was all female.  I wonder what that says about us.

Despite still struggling to come up with my list, I’m glad I read this book.  It’s a bittersweet read that has humor and charm.  And even though it’s a fantasy, it often felt real.  Sabrina may have wanted life to be a magical fairytale, like all of us she had to live in reality.

But where did book groups come from?  One of the earliest was a group formed by Anne Hutchinson in 1634 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  A Puritan spiritual advisor and religious reformer from England, Anne was banished from Boston in 1637 for her religious and feminist beliefs, causing her to flee to the Rhode Island Colony.  I guess that whole premise of America being based on freedom of religion didn’t work so well for Anne who was put on trial for heresy and sedition. And I must pay homage to the French salons which date back to the 1600s.  Ideas about books, art, music and philosophy were shared. In a world dominated by men, this was one place where women ruled and their influence on life outside the confines of the salon were immense.

When searching for the origins of book clubs, I came across this interesting article, The Evolution of American Book Clubs, A Timeline.  Although they don’t mention The Book Babes as trailblazers in this list – it was founded a year before Oprah started her book club – I found it to be an interesting read.  Maybe one I’ll share at my dinner party, if I can ever figure out which five people to invite.  Who would you invite to yours?

C’est la vie.

Company…

Our grandsons (and their parents) are coming to visit!  This weekend Mr. Smith and I will host our first overnight guests in our new abode.  We’ve been planning the menu, the sleeping arrangements, and thinking about outlets for Eli, Henry and Sam’s impressive amount of energy.  The boys are eager to see our new home and I’m excited to show them around.  I’ll give them the grand tour, show them the mail room and let them check out our view.  I think the intrepid spiders on our tenth-floor windows should keep them entertained for a few minutes!

When I popped into my coffee shop on Monday, I was excited to see a poster for the 10th Annual Chalk Fest!  It’s happening this Saturday and right across the street from our building on the River Common.  We had already been planning a walk along the river and over the bridge to a playground, so this segues in beautifully.  

I’m ready with board games, puzzles, cards, play doh, crayons, markers, etc. They’re going to help me make some dinner party favors. My plan is that after a few hours of running around outside, they’ll be ready for a little down time.  If things don’t go according to my plan, I’m ready with plan B and I’ll take them for a walk over to my bookstore and let them each pick out a book.

While surfing the web and looking for a fall craft or two, I came across several articles by grandparents who were less than thrilled with their grandchildren’s visits.  They complained about the noise, activity level, mess, etc.  This makes me sad.  Kids are kids, they are not mini adults.  Best to maintain a sense of humor and have a plan. 

Whenever any of our grandchildren are coming for a visit, Mr. Smith and I may think of the quote from The Devil Wears Prada when Miranda Priestly is arriving early at work and the cry goes out “Alright everyone, gird your loins!”  But then we take a deep breath, lean into the crazy and have a good time.

C’est la vie