You're either on the bus or off the bus. Tom Wolfe

This past Wednesday I was on the bus!  This trip I chose to leave directly from the bus terminal and not rely on the Curbside Pickup service (forever to be known as Curbside Driveby!).   My niece, Judy, who lives in Indiana was spending a week in Connecticut and had a free day to meet up in New York City. Who am I to say no???  We booked a couple tours and kept our fingers crossed for good weather.

I boarded the bus in Wilkes Barre before the sun was up and during the trip I watched the sky turn from violet to red to a beautiful blue.  By the time that oh so familiar skyline came into view, the sun was shining with the promise of a great day ahead.  The bus makes a couple of stops on the way into the city and I always marvel at the number of people who use it for their daily commute.   In addition to the commuters, there are folks like the group of four women who boarded in Scranton, heading in to take advantage of NYC restaurant week.  Then there’s the woman I shared a seat with over a decade ago who was on her way to Lackawanna County Prison in Scranton, PA to visit her incarcerated boyfriend.  Along the way she asked to borrow my compact so she could check her makeup before meeting him.  You have to look good for your man.

I met up with my beautiful niece at the lion-guarded New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue for our first tour of the day.  This is something that has long been on my bucket list and I was pumped!  We watched the Visitor’s Film before our guided tour of the three floors of this magnificent Beaux-Arts style building.  This amazing structure filled with marble, soaring arches and incredible artwork did not disappoint.  

The library took ten years to build and opened to the public in 1911. The research collections are unparalleled, including a map collection which includes over 10,000 maps of New York City alone.  Fun fact – During World War II, Allied military intelligence used their map division to research and prepare battle plans.  

After our library tour and a pass through the gift shop, we hot footed it over to the United Nations for our second tour.  Founded in 1945, the four pillars of the United Nations are:

  • Peace and Security
  • Human Rights
  • The Rule of Law
  • Development

Located on a strip of international territory on the east side of the island of Manhattan, this complex has served as the official headquarters of the United Nations since 1952.  The tour was exceptional and I felt humbled in these lofty corridors of international diplomacy and began to better appreciate the work of the UN. 

 I was not aware that in 2015 all the UN Member States adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, “a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone everywhere.”  The members hope to meet these goals by 2030.  Progress has been made, but more ambitious action is needed to deliver these goals on time.  To assist us all in helping achieve these goals, they have issued The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World.

We walked the city, catching up on family news, until it was time for Judy to head back to Connecticut.  We parted ways at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.  She headed downtown and I walked up to Rockefeller Center for people watching and to peruse a couple of shops.  I ended my day in the city by stopping into Morrell Wine Bar overlooking Rockefeller Center for a glass of Sancerre and some delicious French fries.  Then it was back to Port Authority and back on the bus for a quiet ride home, wondering who my next travel companions might be.

C’est la vie.

Surprise!

I’ve read the articles. I know that the first things you should do when you wake up in the morning are hydrate, stretch, meditate.  I break all the rules and reach for my phone.  I check for text messages and then quickly scroll through Facebook and Instagram, first and foremost looking for pics of my grandkids, but also happy to keep up with what’s happening with friends, family and the world in general.

This past Sunday morning I was doing a quick scroll through Instagram when I thought – hey, that looks just like my shower!  What a surprise, there on Mr. Smith’s Instagram feed was a photo of our shower.  

I have a great shower.  It’s the best shower I’ve ever had in my whole life.  Every morning, I relish in the luxury of this shower and how good it makes me feel when I start my day.

Then he posted a picture of a soap package.

And then I ran into this bar of soap at the store and became familiar with “The Right to Shower” and their mission.  It’s a great bar of soap, but more importantly, it contributes to an effort to make a decent shower accessible to those who normally wouldn’t have access, in particular, the homeless.

The Right to Shower is a charity project of Unilever.  It is based on the premise that access to cleanliness is a fundamental human right.   Their products include body washes and bar soap, made in the USA and not tested on animals.  I plan to check out the Hope Body Wash to “…feel soothed from the caring and pampering effects of creamy aloe and dewy moss with a touch of avocado, sweet clover and sage…”

My husband has surprised me many times over the years with his thoughtfulness and his insights.  There have been bouquets of peonies, bottles of bubbly, and special dinners.  We often read the same book and our subsequent discussions have been eye opening and surprising as he often has a different perspective than mine.  Seeing a photo of our shower on his Instagram feed Sunday morning was simply the most recent of over 40 years of surprises.

But perhaps what I should be most surprised by here is not that he still surprises me, but that I’m surprised when he does.  We are lucky people.

C’est la vie.

You gotta have friends…

Have you ever unexpectedly run into an old friend?  Was it awkward?  Uncomfortable?  Or did the good memories wash over you and come flooding back?

When by chance my sister Jeanne and I are able to spend Christmas together, we have a tradition of heading out on the 26th in search of half-priced holiday treasures and other bargains, along with a tasty lunch and day of no cooking or cleaning up!  This past December 26, our agenda included fabric stores.  One of our first stops was Ann Arbor Sewing Center.  Jeanne had a question about her machine and I was checking out their fabric offerings.  While meandering through various rooms, I passed a display of different sewing machine models, and there she was at the end of the row.  A beautiful, used, older model Husqvarna, so very much like my old friend, my eyes felt a little misty.  

In 1979 when I was newly pregnant with my first child, I bought my first used Husqvarna, a good quality brand from Sweden.  It was my partner in creating an overabundance of open bottom sleeping bags for baby-to-be and other layette items.  I then graduated to nightshirts and rompers for toddlers, chair pads and curtains for our home, halloween costumes and even a few pieces of clothing for me.  I made pillows, sewed patches on lettermen and band jackets, and mended many a tear.  

One December long ago I was frantically trying to finish up several pairs of Christmas flannel pajamas. Flannel fabric has a tendency to shed or pill and you end up with lots of annoying fibers clogging your sewing machine.  I decided to take a break from sewing and clean it.  Unfortunately, in my over-zealous effort to clean out my machine, I took it apart one step too far and was unable to get it back together.  With my kids napping, I was in no position to load up the machine and the kids and head to the dealer.  So, in desperation, I phoned for help.   I am not a mechanically inclined person.  It amazed me that in the next 30 minutes, that very kind and patient person on the other end of the phone was able to direct me step by step until I had put machine back together and me back sewing before the end of nap time!

I received a badge for sewing in 4-H when I was in grade school.  In junior high, I took Home Economics and made a ghastly 1970s polyester skirt that my instructor deemed “too short!”  During my high school years, I was intent on making halter tops, hot pants and maxi dresses, items that weren’t available in small town Indiana.  Sadly, I drifted away from sewing until I bought my machine in 1979.  For the next thirty years, we enjoyed a marvelous friendship.

So it’s understandable that it was a sad day for me when I realized that I needed to retire my trusty old machine.  It was used when I bought it in 1979, and in 2017, much had changed in sewing machine technology and no one wanted to work on mine anymore.  I eventually bought another machine, another brand, a plasticky, computerized one.  We never bonded.  

“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Maybe it’s because I have more free time or maybe it’s the influence of Project Runway and all the fabulous sewing blogs, I find myself eager to jump back into the world of creativity. And now I have my new used machine.  When I was at the counter completing my purchase, I asked the clerk if they used to be on Main Street in Ann Arbor.  Why yes they did!  I was buying my second machine from Ann Arbor Sewing Center.  If this friendship works out half as well as the first, I will be a very satisfied seamstress.

C’est la vie.

Hot fun in the summer time…

With the holidays behind us, I can now turn my focus to Camp Grandma 2020!  The hard part is done.  The venue is booked and all our children have the week blocked off on their calendars.  Now it’s time for the fun stuff.

Our immediate family consists of 8 adults and 7 grandchildren. With all of us together for a week, getting everyone fed and keeping kids happily occupied are my main objectives.  Since my husband and all our sons are great cooks, the meal planning seems to happen pretty seamlessly.  No one has ever gone hungry at Camp Grandma.

I am most in my element when planning activities and crafts for the grandkids.  This is their week with their cousins, their aunts and uncles and of course, their grandparents and I while I want the main emphasis to be on that experience, I like to have some planned activities.  They look forward to these activities as much as I do and it’s a special part of their Camp Grandma experience.

We have done many projects over the years including making terrariums, building steppingstones on the beach, and making items from clay.

I’ve begun my research for activities for this year.  We’ll have 37 acres to run and play on, so I’m putting together a “field day”, keeping the emphasis on fun and not competitiveness.  I have my work cut out for me there and if anybody has any ideas, I’d love to hear them.

My grandkids all like to work in the kitchen, so there will be some culinary fun.  As research, I’ve been watching episodes of Kids Baking Championship, partially to remind myself of how much kids are capable of without my hovering!  Again, my goal is to morph this into a fun experience and not a competition.  I’ve ordered up some cake decorating tools – tips and bags – and I’m going to enlist the help of my daughters-in-law in teaching a cake decorating class and maybe making some macaroons.   

One of the days I’m going to have the grandkids help me decorate the pool house and make and serve appetizers for a little pre-dinner party for their parents.    I did something similar a couple years ago when we had a dance party.  I went to a party store and bought a slew of decorations off their clearance table.  Nothing matched – there was no theme – but they were all fun and festive.      

I am all too aware of the passing of time.  At the first Camp Grandma in 2012, Henry and Eli were running around in swim diapers and this year they will be 10.  Mr. Smith and I know there will come a day that Camp Grandma won’t be feasible and we’ll have to figure out another way to get everyone together.  But not this year!  This year it’s on.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

C’est la vie. 

In winter she curls up around a good book and dreams away the cold. Ben Aaronovitch

Just as reading was the salvation of my lonely youth, it is my reprieve from the January blues.  I have often used reading as a reward.  As a young mother living in our big old house in Indiana, I would get my boys off to school, set a timer and clean for an hour.  I would then read for an hour, repeating the process until I could simply read.  Now I use reading as solace for my winter doldrums.  Since our little apartment doesn’t need as much attention as our old Victorian, I no longer need to set a timer, I just tidy up after Mr. Smith has left for work and then I dive into my current guilty pleasure.

This December, I finished reading Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove as part of My Three Son’s book group.  I read it years ago with my Indiana book group, but I found I enjoyed it just as much the second time around.  My son Elliot was taken with the friendship between Call and Gus.  They were friends, no stipulations, no questions asked, noting that friends like that can be hard to find.  Our next read is The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje.  Mr. Smith has been devouring many of Ondaatje’s books and recommended this one about the adventures of three adolescent boys traveling alone who meet on a ship crossing the Indian Ocean bound for England in the 1950s.

Last week I read Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane.  Her character, May Attaway, is a forty-year old woman who sets out to explore friendships in the digital age.   She is employed as a gardener for a university and the book is full of fascinating information about trees.  May is an introvert, more comfortable with plants than people, leading her to lean heavily on Emily Post.  When I started it, I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to bond with the protagonist, but like Alana Masad in her NPR review, I ended up loving May and I’m glad I stayed with it until the end.

Presently, I’m reading Anna Quindlen’s How Reading Changed My Life. My girl crush on Ms. Quindlen was validated when I read about her mother trying to chase her outside with “It’s a beautiful day,” when she only wanted to curl up in her favorite chair, lost in a book.  I was delighted with Ms. Quindlen’s adamant belief that despite computers and e-readers, print books are here to stay. Admitting that while reading lists “…are arbitrary and capricious…”, she acknowledged that she loves them and ends the book with several different lists.  Lonesome Dove appears on her “10 Big Thick Wonderful Books That Could Take You a Whole Summer to Read (but Aren’t Beach Books)” list.  I did come away with two more titles for my reading list:  The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers and Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence.

My library card is one of my dearest possessions.  I was over the moon when we were living in New York and snail mail brought me my library card from the New York Public Library.  Anyone who lives, works, attends school, or pays property taxes in New York State is eligible.  The card gives you access to millions of materials, resources and services.  And you get a really cool card!  I no longer live in New York, but I still receive an email every morning with a Book of the Day recommendation. 

Mr. Smith and I have lived in many different states.  I have gone through many different library cards, but they have all been my key, opening the door to the joys of intriguing stories and new adventures.  I hope this will continue as long as I love books – in other words – forever. 

I am simply a ‘book drunkard’. Books have the same irresistible temptation for me that liquor has for its devotees. I cannot withstand them.

L. M. Montgomery

C’est la vie.

The party's over…

After Emmet and Henry left this past Sunday to head back home, I plopped down in a chair next to Mr. Smith.  I must have been wearing my melancholy face because he said, “What’s wrong?”  My response was “the party’s over.”  The shopping, gift giving, visiting, eating, and drinking frenzy was over for another year and I was left with January.  I thought I had escaped the clutches of my old nemesis this year, but before my visitors had made their way out of the state of Pennsylvania, I felt the inertia creeping in.

I have always had a difficult relationship with January.  The mornings are cold and dark, you have to take down your Christmas decorations and store them away, and there are way too many people at my gym.  A quick internet search of post-Christmas blues revealed I’m in good company.  A 2005 Gallup survey asked 1,000 Americans about their favorite month (the most recent year they asked this question).  No surprise to me, January ranked dead last, right behind February. 

The internet is also chock full of suggestions on how you can beat the winter blues.  Eat right, exercise, make something, do something for someone else, organize, get out of the house, plan a trip.  The list goes on and on.  These are all great suggestions, but some days I’m just not in the mood.  My bed is warm and cozy in the morning and Mr. Smith is always agreeable to bringing me a latte there before he’s off to work.  Then it’s so easy to linger there, pick up a book or waste an hour on my phone. With no job to define my schedule, it’s up to me to structure my day.

This January I decided to borrow a page from my sister Jeanne (and Sir Isaac Newton’s) book.  As a personal reminder, Jeanne has Newton’s First Law of Motion written and hanging on her wall: An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion…  Along with packing up the Christmas decorations, I’m going to pack up the inertia and send it on its way.  I will push myself out of bed in the morning and have my morning latte with Mr. Smith before he leaves for work. And I won’t wear my melancholy face.

C’est la vie.

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.