Gentle January…

I am easing into the new year.  My holiday decorations are still up and we are still delighting in family visits.  This past Thursday, our granddaughter Eleanor came for lunch with her parents.  They had spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s with friends in New York City during which her dad introduced her to Carnegie Hall by sharing cupcakes in the lobby.

Perhaps contemplating being on stage at Carnegie Hall.

On their drive back home, they made a side trip to Wilkes Barre for a late, leisurely lunch. Mr. Smith made a tasty pot of potato leek soup and I tossed a salad.  Eleanor entertained us by picking up different of my Santas and saying “Ho, ho, ho” in her best Santa voice. Even though we were together for Thanksgiving, Mr. Smith and I both saw changes in Eleanor, mainly her growing vocabulary.  She is growing up bilingual and it is amazing to see her segue between English and Mandarin. 

Yesterday morning I was up early and off to the gym, not just to log some miles but to “weigh in”.  Back in the middle of November when I was down for the count with a lousy cold and feeling sorry for myself because I didn’t feel like working out, I got an email from my gym encouraging me to “maintain, not gain” over the holidays.  Members wanting to take part in this challenge needed to pay $25 and weigh in before Thanksgiving for a starting weight and on January 4, 2020 for an end weight.  The three people to lose the highest percentage of their body weight would each win $75. Despite my cold, I got myself over to the gym, weighed in and paid the fee.  I won’t know until Monday if I’m in the official winner’s circle, but when I weighed in this morning, I was down 4.7 pounds!  Whether or not I win the money, not having gained over the holidays makes me want to do a happy dance.

I didn’t spend too much time basking in my triumph as we were expecting more visitors.  Emmet and Henry were headed up to spend the night with us.  Emmet has a goal of bringing each of the boys up for a solo overnight twice in 2020, scoring us six visits!  Getting to visit with a grandchild one-on-one is a special treat.  Mr. Smith made a delicious Lobster Pasta (there go my 4.7 lbs!) and Emmet brought an amazing Chardonnay.  

Henry I went for a walk, talked about his favorite classes at school, his love of tae kwon do and the state of the world, or at least the selection of treats at the local convenience store.

This holiday season has been a gift for me. It’s been an opportunity to take a breath, relax and connect with friends and family, enjoying the luxury of time. Maybe it’s unpacking the ornaments that have been collected over the years and the memories connected to them or maybe it’s the Christmas cards from old friends, but I’m always a little nostalgic this time of year. But while I’m happy to honor the past and happily anticipate the future, I never want to underestimate the present. After all, these are the good old days.

C’est la vie.

Bonne année…

Happy New Year to all of you and happy birthday to my blog!  

One year ago today I gathered my courage and pushed “publish” on my inaugural post.  I set a goal of posting twice a week and I am thrilled to say I met my goal!   It amazed me to hit the milestone of publishing 104 posts in 2019.

In my January 1, 2019 post, I wrote about starting the year with reflections instead of resolutions.  And 2019 gave me much to reflect on.  Mr. Smith and I managed the move from New York to Pennsylvania with minimal complications, but we are both aware that we won’t retire here so we spend some time contemplating and discussing where our golden years will take us.  And I lost my dear mother-in-law Pat in October and my sister Suzi in November.  The end of those lives gave me pause and reinforced that life is transient and not to be wasted.

During our recent Christmas road trip, in addition to an abundance of Christmas music, Mr. Smith indulged me with some playlists from the Seventies.  While listening to Carly Simon croon Anticipation, it struck me that Anticipation may be my word for 2020.  There are already some events on my calendar that I’m excited about. As a self-confessed planner, there is nothing I love more than having upcoming adventures to plan and organize.  I’m also excited about growing my blog.  Technology doesn’t come naturally to me, but I have some things I want to conquer this year and I anticipate success.  And if my awesome editor has her way, I’ll get back to work on my book.

I thank you all for reading.  I appreciate and treasure each and every comment.  I hope that 2020 brings you new adventures as well as a surprise or two.  Because as we know – these are the good old days.

C’est la vie.

What are you doing New Years Eve?

There are still Christmas leftovers in the refrigerator and too many treats in the house for my comfort zone, and now New Year’s Eve is upon us. Not only are we ringing in a new year, we are ringing in a brand new decade! Remember the whole Y2K scare? That overblown panic over a computer bug that would totally disrupt commerce and our social lives never happened yet it led some people to build emergency bunkers in their basements to ride out the feared impending apocalypse.

Happily, this year most people are focused on the need to celebrate and not worry about the possible end of the world. While many Americans ring in the New Year sitting on their cozy couches watching the giant crystal-covered ball drop in New York’s Time’s Square, other countries around the world have their own ways of celebrating. People in Brazil, as well as other Central and South American countries like Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela, believe it is lucky to wear special underwear on New Year’s Eve. The most popular colors are red which is thought to bring love and yellow, thought to bring wealth.

In Spain, people will eat 12 grapes, one for each stroke of the clock at midnight. Each grape represents good luck for one month of the coming year. In Denmark, people save up old plates and glasses to throw against the doors of friends and family to banish bad spirits. And one tradition I can really get on board with comes from Colombia. In hopes of a traveled filled year, people carry empty suitcases around the block. That beats clanging pots and pans for me!

There are all the typical ways to ring in the New Year like the countdown to midnight and kissing the person you hope to keep kissing all year, a champagne toasts, ringing bells or blowing horns, and singing Auld Lang Syne. It can also be a holiday that creates stress for some, particularly if they don’t have a significant other or tribe to celebrate with. Yet many solo seniors find satisfying ways to celebrate one more trip around the sun, racing ahead of the grim reaper I know one old Duchess who is looking forward to a solo evening, drinking her split of champagne from a hand-blown coupe and watching the ball drop from the comfort of her couch with the warmth of her fireplace.

Through the years, Mr. Smith and I have celebrated New Year’s Eve in numerous ways, from sipping a little bubbly by ourselves while watching our young sons fall asleep, one after the other, despite their valiant efforts to stay awake to witness the ball drop to other years of hosting fun, festive dinner parties for friends. We’ve gone to parties, to the movies, out to dinner with friends and on our own. Some years Mr. Smith has prepared me a fabulous meal worthy of the occasion in our own home. This year I’m giving Mr. Smith a night off from cooking. We will go down our elevator, walk across the street to one of our favorite restaurants and share a table for two and say goodbye to an eventful 2019 in style. And in a nod to my Brazilian friends, I think I’ll wear some special red underwear.

C’est la vie.

Tis the season…

Christmas is just around the corner and Mr. Smith and I are again on the road, off to visit family and friends, some family that are also friends and some friends that are family. The weather forecast predicts temps in the mid-40s with zero chance of a white Christmas.  And while I have vivid memories of the magic of snow falling on Christmas Eve when I was a child, as a traveling adult I am thrilled with the gift of dry, safe roads.

The planning, shopping, baking, wrapping, packing and mailing are all done and now it’s time to relax and celebrate the season.  This past week, I hosted some old friends for a holiday happy hour, appreciating the comfort of those who have known me for years and still love me!  On another occasion, I shared a dinner out with newer friends, getting to know them better over a glass of chardonnay and tasty crab cakes.  And now it’s on to the main event.

Mr. Smith and I were up early this morning to pack up the sleigh and hit the road.  The long hours on I-80 with our festive holiday beverages from Starbucks and holiday tunes on the stereo provide plenty of time to discuss the week ahead of us with eager anticipation.  We are particularly looking forward to a visit with our bubbly granddaughters.  It is enchanting to enter their mystical world of girliness and camaraderie.  It is my grandma hope that when they are in their sixties they will still get together at the holidays and share heartfelt memories of a Christmas visit from Slick Grandpa Nick and me as cherished as those I have of Christmas visits from my beloved Aunt Ruby.  

And before we hit Ohio, I-80 becomes Memory Lane and we ponder the decades of Christmases with our three sons. Like Emmet’s second Christmas.  During his afternoon nap, Mr. Smith and his brother Pete went out to get a tree. When Emmet woke up there was a tree in the living room complete with holiday lights.  He was overjoyed.  Or the year we were stunned to remember late on Christmas Eve after the boys were in bed that their gifts were still in the closet of Mr. Smith’s office out at the printing plant.  Luckily, he remembered how to turn off the alarm system.  Our precious memories are a treasure trove of cookie decorating, messy tree trimming, noisy holiday meals and fun Christmas movies.

When Mr. Smith and I take a break from our discourse, my stream-of-consciousness mind drifts back to my own childhood Christmases.  There were always colorful gifts under our simple tree and stockings stuffed with candy and an orange, but my most vivid memories are of the anticipation of family coming home and the meals shared.  One year in particular was when I was in high school and working at an Indiana toll road restaurant.  My usual shift was 6:00 am to 2:00 pm.  For Christmas day, the shifts had been split and I was only working 6:00 – 10:00.  My younger brother thought we should get up and open gifts before I went in at 6:00 am, but thankfully my parents put the kibosh on that.  When I got home from work shortly after 10:00, my wonderful Aunt Ruby and Uncle Ike were at our house, having driven up that morning from Illinois.  It was my sweetest Christmas surprise ever!

My mother always decorated for Christmas, made cutout cookies that we frosted, and baked date nut bread.  She baked it in Dad’s empty beer cans after he had carefully removed the tops. This created little round loaves.  It was moist and delicious and it is what we always left out for Santa on Christmas Eve, along with a can of beer (Dad’s idea).

ZELLA’S DATE NUT BREAD

  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4-1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 T. soft butter
  • 3 eggs well beaten
  • 2 tsp. soda
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped nuts 
  • 2 cups chopped dates
  • 2-1/2 cups boiling water (pour over dates and walnuts and baking soda and let sit for 30 minutes)

Cream the butter and sugars and add the vanilla. Combine the flour and salt, then add the flour mixture and the date mixture a little at a time, alternating between the two. Fold in the eggs at the end.  Don’t overmix.

Grease cans (6-7) and fill ½ full.

Bake 55 minutes at 350 degrees or approximately 1 hour for loaf pans.

Of course, you don’t have to bake your date nut bread in beer cans, but I can attest that Santa never left any behind.

C’est la vie.

As a woman, I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world. Virginia Woolf

Reading my post about a solo trip into New York City prompted my sister Jeanne to think about her many solo adventures over the years. Below she shares her thoughts on the advantage and pleasures of traveling – and being – alone.

Jeanne and me in Paris.

The Wrinkly Duchess looks at Oneness…

I believe several situations contribute to the preference of being alone.  First, you were an only child and have grown up with that paradigm.  You comfortably function as an ‘only’ with no need of constant reassurance.

Or perhaps you were one of a brood, lost among busy personalities and a hectic household, who longed for quiet moments away from the crowd.   I suspect the third type might be the folks who have crazy busy intense people filled jobs, whose eight hours are crammed with decisions and who long for quitting time and the quiet ride home. 

I’m part of number 2 and number 3. The oldest girl of seven siblings whose working mother was single for many years, so she depended on the oldest daughter to hold the fort and who’s after school and summer hours were spent wrangling the young ones while starting dinner prep and other assigned household chores like ironing and floor scrubbing. 

Sounds a bit like Cinderella but not really. Times were tough and I had to pitch in. Mom worked two jobs to feed us. It is the reality of many families.  Later as an adult I had one of those intense jobs which necessitated coming home late. My four interesting kiddos were my escape.

So now, as an senior, I find I treasure solitude.  It’s a treat to sit in a lovely café, peruse a menu and pick my favorites. No…”What are you having dear?” God forbid we chose the same entrée. Why? 

Traveling alone is really fun. I choose where, when and for how long.  I read up on interesting places or sites and jump in with both feet, discovering exotic cafes, adventures and friends along the way.  Curiosity and imagination are the very best traveling companions. Staring out windows of planes, trains and automobiles I wonder about the lives of those in towns and villages we pass and perhaps chose a future destination. 

Oneness doesn’t dictate always alone. It simple suggests you do not fear solitude and function quite well on your own. When a friend or relative comes to share my life for days or weeks, they are welcomed.  But my alone days are often filled with projects, reading, writing, volunteer hours, even movies and shopping. My brain is my friend, my companion and playmate.  I remember stupid old jokes my brother told me decades ago and I laugh out loud. I remember loved ones who I can no longer call to gripe about some insane political occurrence. I remember sweet moments in my very long life that still warm my shriveled up old heart. I realize that no matter that we lose in this life, perhaps the saddest is memory. They are the compendium of our experiences. Memory can be the best roommate. 

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks…

People who know me well would never describe me as a relaxed, go with the flow person.  I prefer a plan and a schedule.  This past Wednesday I had scheduled a much-anticipated Christmas trip into New York City.  I planned ahead and bought my ticket for the “Curb Side Express” back in November.  This route picks up passengers a short two blocks from our apartment.

Wednesday morning, I arose earlier than usual and was ready and waiting at the appropriate spot five minutes early.  It was a chilly morning, so I was delighted to see my motor coach approaching.  I wasn’t delighted when it drove right past me without stopping!  As a planner, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be at exactly the right time.  I watched to see if he might circle the block to pull up on the side street, but no, to my horror, he was gone!  Frustrated and confused, I called the bus company and kept getting transferred and cut off, so I stomped over to the bus station a few blocks away to tell them my tale of woe.  There I was informed that I was supposed to “wave the bus down”!!!  I tersely –  but politely –  explained that information was nowhere on their site and that I had been at the station previously to check precisely where I should wait for the bus and no one said a word about needing to flag down my ride.

I was put on the next available bus into the city, but that robbed me of the time I would have been there by a few hours.  Needless to say, I had a prepared itinerary for my visit, so the first part of my trip was spent grumpily reviewing my list and deleting some things.  Yet as soon as the New York City skyline came into view, my grumpiness disappeared to be replaced with sweet anticipation of the day’s adventures ahead.

My first stop with the festive Winter Village at Bryant Park located behind the New York City Public Library.   This European inspired open-air market features over 175 vendors offering tasty treats and unique artisanal boutiques, as well as a skating rink that offers the only free skating in the city!  This market always sparks my Christmas spirit.  It seems to have that effect on others too as everyone seemed particularly jolly.  I was charmed by the negotiations between the hot chocolate vendor and the cheese stick folks, trading their wares with each other.  While I didn’t sample the hot chocolate, I can attest to the tastiness of the cheese sticks!

After some time perusing the village, I headed up busy, bustling Fifth Avenue towards Rockefeller Center.  My first glimpse of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree makes my heart happy each and every year.  It is always crowded, but even an introvert like me considers it an absolute must this time of year.  I love every sparkle on this 75-foot masterpiece.

And as always in the city, you never know who you are going to run into.  Although Mr. Smith says the fellow in the photo below is an imposter and insists that he is my personal ole St. Nick!

When I’m in the city for the entire day, I like to plan a break mid-afternoon to revive my energy and decide on how to spend my remaining time.  I received a gift card from my grandsons that has been calling my name, so I had scheduled a couple of spa treatments at The Red Door.  While they may have rebranded and changed their name, the pampering remains delightful and I emerged rejuvenated and eager to press ahead.

On to Bloomingdale’s!  I know that department store shopping is time-inefficient, but it still holds a huge appeal.  Attractive, well-dressed people want to spritz me with perfume, well-groomed folks want to give me a make-over, and one of Santa’s elves in the Christmas section wanted to know if I fancied a visit with Santa!  I am a kid in a candy shop with the vast selection of finery and frippery.  I made a couple of purchases, noted some things to think about, and soaked in the sparkly holiday décor.

It was now time to think about navigating my way back to arrive at the bus station in time to catch my ride back to Pennsylvania.  I walked down picturesque Lexington Avenue and cut up to Fifth Avenue, admiring the shop windows and all the holiday decorations.  This simple window stood out to me amongst all the opulent ones.

My bus connection home went smoothly, we made good time, and I was home sipping a cup of tea with Mr. Smith by 10:30.  Many friends are surprised that I am happy to spend the day on my own in the city.  Without a traveling companion, it is easy to settle into your routine and not venture out.  But a day in the City reminds me it’s a big world – I love hearing the different languages spoken and seeing fashionable New Yorkers.  I also like the sense of accomplishment I get by doing it on my own.  I still remember how I felt over a decade ago on my first solo trip into the City when I was able to easily locate the Sephora where I had an appointment. Over the years, I gotten to know myself better and acknowledge that life can be an adventure if you learn how to flag down the damn bus.

C’est la vie.