Dinnertime…

“Time to set the table!”  I can’t remember the number of times I heard those words from my mother while I was growing up, much less remember the number of times I’ve repeated them to my own children while they were still home to set the table.  Growing up, dinnertime was a casual event in our home, but my parents and whichever siblings were still living at home all ate together, no one off in front of the TV or computer.  The dishes, Mom’s first set of Melmac, were welcome for their indestructability for a family of nine.  I don’t remember napkins at all, but I’m sure they were paper if any.  It was only on holidays and the occasional birthday celebration that we pulled out her trusty old lace tablecloth.  Like most large families, we didn’t have china or silver flatware for 12, so holiday meals with extra relatives meant pulling extra odd plates from wherever you could find them.  Mismatched plates, flatware and glasses were placed on the table following certain conventions, but in retrospect that was part of the charm.  “Oh here, Aunt Ruby, you sit at the fancy plate!”

When I was about eight years old, I received a copy of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys and Girls.  In the back of the book there were illustrations of “proper” table settings, as well as how to lay out a buffet table.  I spent a lot of time looking at those pictures.  They captured my fancy more than any recipes!  I have since passed that book down to my grandson Henry, albeit his interest lies more in cooking than table setting.

Fast forward a quarter of a century and I was living in small town Indiana with Mr. Smith and our three sons.  Late afternoon one day, I walked down to pick up young Emmet from a friend’s house.  The mom was getting ready for dinner and had set the table for her little family complete with tablecloth, cloth napkins and a candle.  No special occasion, just a cozy dinnertime for four.  It woke up the domestic goddess inside me just waiting to burst forth.  I was hooked.  

While I had used tablecloths and cloth napkins in the past on special occasions, I now started looking for casual, everyday offerings.  Cooking dinner was something that had to be done each day but serving it on a table with a lovely woven tablecloth that didn’t have to be ironed, matching napkins and lighting a candle or two was something I chose to do.  And I choose to believe that making every day mealtimes a bit more special played a big part in getting our sons to linger at the table, share something from their days and connect and strengthen our relationships.

Having conquered the casual and warm dinner time for my immediate family, creating dinner parties for our friends became my new passion and took “lingering” to a whole new level! 

Mr. Smith and I would work out a menu, he would take charge of the cooking and wine selection, leaving me free to think about the table.  I always want my guests to be greeted with a beautifully set table that makes them feel welcome and wanted.  It has been said we first taste food with our eyes and I wanted the presentation to be worthy of Mr. Smith’s exemplary culinary talents.  Selecting the table linens, flowers, candles or other table decorations is a thrill for me.  If I can add the perfect party favor, all the better.

Dinner parties for friends and family became such a part of our life that for Christmas one year my son Elliot gave me an “Entertaining” book to record dinner parties in – who was there, what was served, the wine, the table décor, even the seating chart.  It is a wonderful keepsake and I look forward to the day we can again entertain!

I am drawn to beautiful dishes and it often takes all the self-control I can muster to keep our inventory to a minimum.  I love glassware and it has been said that I am the girl with a glass for everything.  Different wine glasses, champagne coupes, brandy snifters, cordial glasses and beer glasses.  Our friend Bob was a beer drinker and while he was a guest at many of our dinner parties in Indiana, we never could convert him to wine. To my dismay, he preferred to drink his beer straight from the bottle.  He and I came to an agreement on this – he could drink his beer out of the bottle in the kitchen but as soon as he stepped into my dining room, that beer had to be in the proper glass.

The setting of the table is important to me, but it is an act of creative love, not a snobbish putting on of airs or trying to achieve some archaic ridiculous level of elaborateness.  You will never find me measuring the position of each plate and fork like they do at the White House or Buckingham Palace.  But you will find me reviewing my arrangement with an eye to whether it will be pleasing to a guest.  Will they be comfortable?  Will they feel welcome and special?

Perhaps it is all the time at home this last year that has dinnertime in my thoughts even more than usual.  I miss my family and friends and remember so many meals around a festive table where I didn’t want the evening to end. My heart is happy whenever my phone pings and there is a photo of my children and grandchildren at the dinner table, waving hello to grandma.  While we can’t all be together, I am thrilled that they are carrying on the tradition of gathering together for a meal, sharing their days, and connecting.  And I’m already planning for the day we can all gather around the same table again.  I will set the table with flowers and candles and we will linger, oh, we will linger.

C’est la vie.

Walking in a winter wonderland…

Fellow blogger, Betty Chambers who writes Chambers On the Road, commented on my post, We Need a Little Christmas, that one of her favorite activities to put her in the Christmas spirit is “…walking at night and viewing the holiday lights.”  Mr. Smith and I walk a lot, but we are usually dutifully getting our steps in during daylight and not fully appreciating our surroundings.  I was inspired by Betty’s comment and decided I wanted to spend one mild December evening strolling our neighborhood with no agenda other than soaking in the spirit.

We don’t live in a subdivision or residential neighborhood decked out with festive lights or other holiday garb.  No Christmas inflatables, no animated guitar playing Santa.  We live in the River Street Historic District.  Decorations here are few and far between.  Wilkes Barre was founded in 1769, reaching the height of its prosperity in in the 19th century when massive coal reserves were discovered nearby.  Factories and railroads sprang up around the booming coal companies and those coal barons needed places to live.  For many years, River Street Historic District was primarily a district of wealthy industrialists’ mansions and upwardly mobile merchants’ homes. 

But then the decline of coal impacted the economy of Wilkes Barre badly.  There were no more titans of industry to maintain the magnificent mansions.  Those beautiful homes up and down South Franklin Street are no longer private residences.  One is a lovely bed and breakfast. Some have ground floor offices with apartments on the upper floors.  Fortunately, several have been purchased and repurposed by Wilkes University.  So while you may spot an elegant wreath here or there, it’s pretty slim pickings as far as Christmas decorations go. That is, until you reach The Westmoreland Club. Established in 1873, The Westmoreland is a private social club.  They purchased the beautiful, Georgian mansion on South Franklin in 1922 and still occupy the building today.

As it is a private club, I have only been inside on one occasion.  Several years ago, I was a member of a women’s club that was having their end of the year dinner there.  I had been recruited as the event chairperson’s able assistant.  I arrived at the club at the appointed time, got the lay of the land, and gave a couple of easy instructions to helpers.  It was at this point I started obsessively checking my watch as the chairperson had not arrived.  Half an hour later she was still nowhere to be found, wasn’t answering her cellphone and guests were starting to arrive.  It was her responsibility to bring the centerpieces and other items needed to complete the setup.  The Club’s manager kept checking in with me and apparently caught on to my frustration.  Predinner happy hour was well underway when he kindly brought me a glass of wine, told me they had some “stock” centerpieces for just this type of occasion and offered to complete the tables with those.  With the chairperson AWOL, I thanked him profusely and helped distribute the centerpieces.  As we were finishing the tables, the event chairperson made her entrance complete with the BALLOONS she intended to use as centerpieces.  Of course, the balloons had yet to be inflated but she was just sure The Westmoreland must have a helium tank somewhere.  They did not.  I didn’t scream at her, she didn’t acknowledge her lateness and dinner was served. That manager has most likely long moved on but should I ever run into him again, I will happily share a glass of wine and a memory or two with him.

Today The Westmoreland Club is doing what it did that day their manager helped me out.  They are doing whatever is needed to accommodate their customers.  The current crazy times call for ingenuity, so they have installed outdoor private dining rooms, a beautiful outdoor space worthy of their reputation.  Now if they could just serve me a glass of sparkling wine while I admire their fabulous set up, my winter walk would be complete.

C’est la vie.

Rockin’ around the Christmas tree…

I gave my husband a bit of a scare the other morning.  We were sitting savoring our morning lattes when instead of looking out the window at the rooftops and river, my attention was focused on our apartment.  “I think I’m going to need a Christmas tree this year.”  He didn’t say a word in response, but I detected a look of fear in his eyes.  I could tell the wheels were turning in his head as he glanced around our intimate (small) apartment.  After a couple of deep breaths he said (with a tone of relief), “Aren’t all the ornaments in storage in Michigan?”

We haven’t put up a full-sized tree in years.  For the past few years, we have settled for a tabletop version or no tree at all.  We are normally out-of-town for Christmas, so I just decorate enough to feel festive and don’t bother with a tree.  But now I’m looking at Covid Christmas and trying to be proactive and do whatever I can to make the season jolly.

Mr. Smith is not a Scrooge.  During our Indiana years, at the beginning of each Christmas season he opened the trap door in the upstairs hallway ceiling and pulled down the stairs so he could lug numerous large plastic bins of holiday decorations down for me to decorate our home.  The first week in January, he would again open the trap door and haul them back up.  He has hung miles of fresh garland and lights for me over the years.  And while he thought his contribution to decorating the tree was dealing with the lights, he was always a willing participant.  I might note that Mr. Smith is a very artsy fellow with a fine eye for design, something I have always appreciated over the years.      

Mr. Smith made many trips up and down a stairway just like this one!

 When I asked him why he wasn’t wild about having a tree this year he gave me two reasons.  He felt it wasn’t practical from a space issue.  Also, it didn’t really feel right with the state of the world.  If there were grandchildren coming for the holiday, he would definitely be all in.  Surely next year.

But I was still thinking about a tree.  I understood his point about practicality.  We don’t have room to store an artificial tree.  I thought briefly about purchasing one of the small, (somewhat) freshly cut trees in front of our grocery store.  I felt certain I could decorate it just fine without a trip to Michigan to raid the storage.  Then it came to me.  I had tucked away an image of a tree made from books in my inspiration file. This would be the perfect year to try my hand at this.  I kept it small in size, no furniture had to be moved and I love it!  After gathering bunches of books, I built my creation in our little TV room.  It helps create just the Christmas-like coziness I was longing for.  It is economical, environmentally friendly and makes me smile.  There are a gazillion YouTubes on making your own.  Mine is a simple version and took only about half an hour to put together.

With the tree completed, I was ready to work my magic on the rest of our home.  With many of the books on our bookshelf repurposed into a tree, I was left with some open shelf space.  Those open shelves were the perfect location for my Santa collection.  I started by adding green garland and twinkle lights to the shelves.  My Santas collected over the years in their different sizes and colors are the perfect crowning touch.

My Christmas tree is made from books, one of my favorite things, but I still want the smell of fresh greens in my home.  A quick trip to the garden center and I was armed with pine, cedar, Fraser fir and holly.  Now when I walk in the front door, I am greeted with the smell that always evokes great memories.

I often style a centerpiece down the entire length of the dining table built on a bed of greenery, usually seeded eucalyptus.  This Christmas I decided I wanted something I could easily pick up and move off the table.  I arranged three candle cups on a rectangle tray, added faux greens and pinecones and had my centerpiece! I love the look of the wood with my Falalalala table runner but want to be able to easily replace the runner with a tablecloth when we dine at the table.  We have fallen into the habit of dining in front of the TV a little too often these past months. I am determined that at the very least on Sundays during December I will set the table with my Spode Christmas china, light a plethora of candles and we will linger over dinner.

A few other touches of Christmas around the apartment and my halls are all decked out.  Closer to Christmas I’ll add some fresh flowers and refresh my greens.  This year’s decorating is low-key and cozy and makes me happy.  

I have visions of some major rockin’ around the Christmas tree next year with a gathering of grandchildren.  But this year I will enjoy my little book tree and Mr. Smith.  And maybe a glass of wine or two.

C’est la vie.

We need a little Christmas…

My grandsons headed out with their parents to TLV Tree Farm in Gleneig, Maryland over Thanksgiving weekend and selected the perfect tree for their family. Henry, Eli and Sam all assisted with the selection, the cutting down and hauling of the tree. I love this shot of Henry taking his turn toting their magnificent find. It is going to fill their home with the earthy, fresh fragrance you just can’t get from a candle!

To help kick off the Christmas season here in the love nest, I stole a page out of my sister’s book and switched out our regular coffee mugs for Christmas mugs for the month of December. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, I enjoyed my morning latte in my new Falala mug!

In further search of holiday joy, I’m gearing up for some Christmas reading with my grandchildren. My grandsons and I are going to read Merlin Missions #16 A Ghost Tale for Christmas Time by Mary Pope Osborne, a twist on Charles Dickens’s classic, A Christmas Carol. I sent them a letter to let them know what I had chosen, along with self-addressed postcards for them to mail back to me with what they thought might make good reading snacks. I don’t believe they have ever responded quite so promptly!

Instead of Victorian London, Olivia, Emily, Elizabeth and I are going to head to New York City with Claris, The Chicest Mouse in Paris. We will help her solve a Holiday Heist, me reading and them munching their treats on their new Paris plate and cuddling their own stuffed Claris.

I don’t have a fresh cut tree to make our apartment smell holiday-ish, so I decided to start on some baking. First up was my mother’s famous date nut bread. I shared the recipe in a post last December. Chopping the dates and mixing the thick batter takes me right back to hanging around the table in Galena Township where my mom was working, trying to “help”. I put a couple of loaves in the mail to my brother Danny in honor of my mother. I still don’t think mine is quite as good as hers was, but I keep trying.

What puts you in the holiday mood? Is it the first snow fall or Christmas carols on the radio?Baking is a good start for me. And FaceTime reading with my grandchildren always puts a smile on my face. They will show me their trees and I will try to spot my favorite ornaments. I think it is time for me to start decorating. I wonder if I have enough twinkle lights…

C’est la vie.

26 shopping days until Christmas…

I love Christmas shopping.  I am in my element making lists of who to buy for and thinking about what they would like to receive. I love taking the bus into New York City between Thanksgiving and Christmas, checking out the tree in Rockefeller Plaza, the over-the-top window displays at Bergdorf and winding my way through the holiday fair in Bryant Park, searching for the perfect gifts for the people on my list.  Not this year.  This year here I sit at my computer, surfing the web and placing orders for presents I hope will please.  

Considering the state of our economy, it seems like a good year to be less gift-oriented and think more about others. While I can’t imagine a world in which I don’t buy gifts for my grandchildren, they all have more than they need, and I have no desire to add more big pieces of plastic to the landfill.  My preference is always to give experiences instead of things, but because of our current lock down a simple gift under the tree is called for. I shared with my oldest son that Mr. Smith and I were cutting back on Christmas spending this year and he obviously passed that information on to my grandsons.  Instead of a request for an iPhone or laptop, my youngest grandson asked for a $7 box of colored pencils.  That just warms this grandma’s heart!

It is nearly December.  Christmas movies are on TV, holiday songs are on the radio, and for the past month I have been buried in emails from retailers, magazines and bloggers featuring holiday gift guides.  Best gifts for husbands, for sisters, for teenage boys.  The list goes on and on. Some I delete without opening.  Some I skim through.  And one I read word for word and then read again.  Jennifer Connolly writes the blog A Well Styled Life.  Her post Gifts from the Heart – Women Helping Women, really struck a chord with me.  On her Facebook page she had asked her readers “what’s on your personal gift list?”  Their responses brought a lump to her throat, as they did to mine.  Many acknowledged they have more than they need and want to help women who do not.  This lovely post even includes a link where you can enter your zip code and find shelters in your area which are often so badly in need of support.

The economic fallout from COVID-19 has hit many people hard, with many struggling to pay their bills, keep up with rent and put food on the table.  It is heartbreaking to see the lines of cars backed up waiting for food giveaways.  After watching a segment on the news regarding the overwhelming need this season, Mr. Smith and I turned to each other is dismay when the commercial following was for a luxury car line that was suggesting a couple of new cars complete with oversized bows in the driveway would make the perfect Christmas gift.  I know they have a business to run, but this seems tone deaf to the dire economic climate many are facing.

Like most grandmothers, I love giving gifts.  So, what to do? There are many ways individuals who “have enough” can share with others this holiday season. We can shop retailers who give back to the community.  TOMS donates a pair of shoes for every pair they sell.  Warby Parker donates one pair of eyeglasses for every pair sold.  Online pet supply company Chewy partnered with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and is donating and directly distributing $1 million in pet food and supplies to pet parents in underserved and impoverished rural areas, helping families care for their pets during the pandemic.  Everlane, Bombas and so many more give back all year long.  How fun to find the perfect gift and support companies that care at the same time! If you find yourself continually turning to Amazon this holiday season, you can sign up for Amazon Smile, pick your favorite charity and a portion of your purchases will be donated.  If you have the time and inclination, you can contact your local Salvation Army or other charity to “adopt” a family for Christmas.  And if you can afford it, you can write a check to your favorite charity.

Like everyone, I am looking forward to a return to normal life next year.  It would be wonderful to be able to get out and Christmas shop, stop for hot chocolate and attend holiday parties.  I have wonderful memories of lunch by The Great Tree in the Walnut Room at Marshall Field’s in Chicago as a young girl.  I loved the years I would get up in the dark and spend Black Friday with my friend Lou Anne, looking for elusive bargains but mostly just enjoying having a day together.  

Someday soon I’m hoping to make new memories and take my grandsons on their first trip into New York City to see the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular and do a little shopping.  I want to walk through department stores again and admire their wares. I want to stop at a little wine bar and enjoy a glass of champagne with Mr. Smith.  I am filled with gratitude for my good fortune and want to remember how quickly life can change, that instead of shopping for Christmas gifts for their children, many parents are suddenly grappling with how to put food on the table because of a family crisis, illness, or even a pandemic.  If there was ever a holiday to share, it is 2020. To reach out with kindness, support and donations because there but for the quixotic randomness of Mother Nature , could go you or I.

C’est la vie.

Midweek musings…

As promised on Sunday, here is a list of ten things I am thankful for right now. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

SELF AWARENESS

  1. Maturity, perspective on life, whatever you want to call it. I love the feeling of being old enough to believe ‘this too shall pass’; that a crisis no matter how serious, will eventually be only a memory.

SHELTER

2. A roof over my head, a warm and safe place.

NOURISHMENT

3. I don’t have to go hungry. Despite any COVID hoarding, I live in a land where I have plenty for me and some to share.

4. BOOKS.

FREEDOM

5. Living in a country where we can speak our minds and most of us don’t have to live in fear of being silenced.

COMPANIONSHIP

6. My family and friends. I doubt anyone’s top ten list of things they are thankful for would not include the people who make our life better. I am grateful for the support, kindness and inspiration of the people in my life.

KINDNESS

7. And the kindness of strangers. On many occasions, I have been touched by the quiet everyday kindnesses of strangers, whether it be holding a door for me, rushing to pick up a dropped item or even a smile on a gray day.

WELLNESS

8. My health. I have been blessed with my father’s sturdy genes. During the Pandemic, my daily walks with Mr. Smith have done wonders for my sanity.

HUMOR

9. While Mr. Smith often entertains me with his quick wit, it is my grandchildren who most often make me laugh out loud. Bad jokes, silly riddles or a “floss” dance off, their banter and playfulness add a note of fun to my life.

WORK

10. Blogging. Particularly these past several months when our activities have been limited, blogging has been a lifeline. It is often my raison d’être, the prod that forces me to exercise my brain to think about what matters to me as well as others. To be relevant. I appreciate every reader, every comment, like and share. The support and kindness of other bloggers I have met “virtually” has been amazing. Thank you…

C’est la vie.

Covid Thanksgiving – table for two…

Mr. Smith and I have spent Thanksgiving alone before. The first year we moved east, it was also a table for two. But that year I knew we were getting up on Friday and heading into New York City for a couple of nights, complete with a trip to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular. But that was then and this is now. With my Thanksgiving boxes in the mail making their way to my grandkids, I knew it was time to turn my attention to the home front. I decided that instead of feeling sorry for myself, I would put my energy into creating a fun, festive celebration for Mr. Smith and me.

While Mr. Smith’s focus is on the menu, mine is always on setting the table and creating a gracious atmosphere. I scoured the Internet including spending way too much time on Pinterest in search of inspiration for my tablescape. There are sooooo many lovely, inspirational table settings to peruse. Unfortunately, they often make me want to start ordering up new items to recreate the settings. I almost broke down and ordered some special “turkey” dinner plates that I would have had to store the other 364 days of the year. Luckily reason prevailed. While in my dream life I have a dish room/butler’s pantry to store all types of wonderful bits and bobs, that is not my reality. I have a small, highly curated collection of fall decor and I’m always pleased with myself when I create with what I have on hand. There is also the added bonus of being able to savor the memories associated with each holiday trim when it comes out to make its annual appearance.

I wish I had noted the year on this little handcrafted turkey. It was given to me by niece Rachel many years ago when she came for a holiday visit. Every time I unpack it, it is a warm reminder of the many Thanksgivings our families celebrated together. I can see her sporting a black olive on the tip of every cute little finger. I can see her – and her sister Hannah – squirting whipped cream into their mouths straight from the can. Rachel and Hannah are similar ages to my sons and we shared many a holiday.

Earlier this fall I had purchased the Fleur des Indes tablecloth from Couleur Nature. We have a small dining table by American standards so it’s always fun to discover a company that carries a variety of sizes. Covered in curling vines and floral designs in harvest tones make this cloth the perfect backdrop for our holiday table.

I’m using our Guy Buffet dishes I found over a decade ago on the clearance table at Williams Sonoma. I found the gold pear napkin holders while shopping in a consignment store with my sister. I added a ceramic turkey, faux leaves, faux pumpkins and pomegranates, and candles. When some of the pomegranates wouldn’t sit up quite like I wanted them to, I simply put a little double sided tape under them and voilá! The one good thing about daylight savings time and it getting dark so early is being able to eat by candlelight earlier! I love the incredible warmth created through candlelight and like to blend tapers and tea lights. I have gravitated away from a large formal centerpiece in favor of scattering treasures throughout the center fully down towards the ends. A mix of textures and height always adds interest to your creation.

THE MENU:

Buttermilk-Brined Turkey Breast – New York Times Cooking

Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Apples – Allrecipes

Herby Bread and Butter Stuffing for Two – New York Times Cooking

Cranberry Sauce – Natasha’s Kitchen

Libby’s Famous Pumpkin Pie & Whipped Cream – Libby’s!

We will toast the day with a special bottle of wine Mr. Smith has chosen for our dinner. We will reminisce about Thanksgivings past and make hopeful plans for Thanksgivings future. And just in case my pandemic pal and I run out of things to talk about – we do spend a lot of time together – I printed up some conversation questions I found on www.skiptomylou.org. I hope Mr. Smith gets ‘If you were a circus performer, what act would you perform?’

Our Thanksgiving will be different this year, but we will be ok. We will miss our family tremendously, but are happy to do our part to help keep them safe. I will start the day like I have almost every Thanksgiving day for the past 42 years. I will put a pumpkin pie in the oven. Mr. Smith will make us a lovely brunch. Hopefully we will go for a walk. We will definitely do some reading. I haven’t watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in years but I may tune into this virtual event in hopes of catching the Rockettes’ performance. And I will be thankful. Check out the blog on Wednesday for the top ten list of what I am most thankful for right now.

C’est la vie.

Midweek musings…

On this chilly, late fall morning, what better subject could there be than books???  Here are the titles I read in October.  Again, I don’t want to give a fulI “book report”, just a brief overview. I hope you find something that piques your interest.  And if you have a title you would like to share, I’d love to hear!

The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward

I don’t remember where I came across this title. I am going to start keeping yet another list and when I do request a book from my library, I’m going to write it down and note where I found the recommendation.

The premise of the book did catch my attention.  Seventy-year-old Charlotte Perkins submits a sexy essay to the “Become a Jetsetter” contest in hopes of winning and taking her three estranged children on a ten-day cruise traveling from sun-drenched Athens, glorious Rome and onto Barcelona.  Charlotte, of course, wins and everyone packs their bags.

I did find humor, poignant moments and a little twist at the end I didn’t see coming.  But, and it’s a big but, much of the book was written too easy breezy for the underlying heaviness that triggers the family pain.  I did read the entire book, partially because I thought it was building to something that never materialized for me.  I’m giving it 3 grandmas out of 5.

A Bookshop in Berlin by Francoise Frenkel

Originally published in 1945 under the title No Place to Lay One’s Head, this memoir documents the fulfillment of a dream for Francoise Frenkel and her husband, opening La Maison du Livre, Berlin’s first French bookshop in 1921.  They are both Jewish.  Their dream is shattered on Kristallnacht in November 1938.  Though the shop is miraculously sparred, fear of prosecution forces her to flee, first to Paris, then to southern France.  Chronicled in her writings are the countless horrors she witnessed along the way. She survives the war at the courageous hands of strangers who risked their lives, secreting her away in safe houses.

Ms. Frenkel believed it was the duty of those who have survived to bear witness to ensure the dead are not forgotten.  She tells her story in gripping, compelling prose. I will not forget this book.  5 grandmas.

Paris, A Love Story by Kati Morton

I have mixed feelings about this book. Kati Marton is an award-winning journalist and distinguished author. After the sudden death in 2010 of her husband, American diplomat and author, Richard Holbrook, she retreats to Paris where she and Holbrooke had purchased a pied-a-terre in the Latin Quarter in 2005. The book jacket describes the book being “For anyone who has ever fallen in love in Paris, or with Paris.”

Born in Budapest, Hungary, the daughter of to reporters who spent two years in prison on false charges of espionage for the U.S., Kati and her older sister were placed in the care of strangers.  Following the revolution, her parents fled Hungary and settled in Chevy Chase, Maryland with Kati and her sister.  Kati eventually studied at the Sorbonne and the Institut Politiques in Paris where she began her love affair with Paris.  

I thought the book was going to be about the death of her third husband, Richard Holbrooke, and how she recovered from this loss.  What I found was story of her three marriages.  The first short one barely mentioned, her second marriage to Peter Jennings and her third to Ambassador Holbrooke. Perhaps it is because we live in such different worlds, the book felt obsessed with glitterati and name dropping.  While she certainly has led an interesting life, I never felt engaged with her thoughts or emotions.  Maybe I read it at the wrong time.  Sometimes I reread a book and wonder why I didn’t like it the first time through. If someone else has read it and found it engaging, please let me know.  Back in my Kendallville book group, other readers insights often helped me see things differently.  But for me, it gets 3 grandmas.

Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie

Spoiler alert, this book gets 5 grandmas out of 5.  It follows the story of Noriko, a young half African American, Half Japanese girl as she grows up in post-WWII Japan.  Abandoned by her mother, 8-year old Noriko is locked in the attic by her grandparents. Noriko’s isolation and suffering are palpable and I was rooting for her the entire book. It is not until her half-brother, Aira, enters her life that she seems to have any chance of happiness. In her debut novel, Asha Lemmie tells a story I had never heard before and tells it in a compelling and compassionate way.  I didn’t want to put it down, reading it in two days. 

C’est la vie.

Sometimes you get the best light from a burning bridge. Don Henley

During my recent autumn retreat to Michigan, I was lying on my sister’s couch on a rainy, cool, dreary afternoon.  With the fireplace spreading a cheery glow, I was idly flipping through catalogs and looking around her living room.  She had created a cozy, eclectic space that reflects her life.  “Oh, I found that in Paris” or “I picked that up in Spain.”  A very artsy vibe, every so often dotted with a touch of whimsy.  One of those touches that captured my attention that cozy afternoon was a little sign on her fireplace mantle, “The hardest thing in life is to know which bridge to cross and which bridge to burn.”  

I questioned her about the sign.  She said the expression spoke to her and she knew she needed to bring it home as a small reminder of learning to navigate her own life.  I tried poking the bear a bit to learn what bridges she had burned and if she had any regrets without much success.  She did offer up the following reflection for this post:

“When I spotted this small block on a shop shelf it struck a chord with me.  I am not a person who travels the familiar paths in life but one who has often taken the road less traveled.  Occasionally, over the decades I have encountered the proverbial bridge.  Now I know the conventional wisdom is to not burn those bridges, however, I am not the conventional sort.  After considerable thought and due deliberation, I try to judge, does the person or circumstance that the bridge represents enhance or damage my life.  

I believe that life is precious and time the ultimate gift.  Do I continue to beat my head against the same old wall or straighten my spine and walk away, recognizing there may never be enough time in the world to solve a particular problem?  My kind sister once sent me a card which read, ‘Backbone beats Wishbone Every time.’  I love that card and it is framed in my office.  So occasionally in my life I have chosen to burn the bridge down. It is sometimes difficult but after a stern talk with your conscious, it may be the self-healing path you need to travel. And only once in a while do I look back and like a nighttime arsonist, smile into the flames.”

jgk

We have all been at crossroads in our lives when we had to decide whether to cross the bridge or burn it down.   Prevailing sentiment does steer us not to burn bridges.  I am particularly fond of, “Don’t burn a bridge and expect me to send a boat.”  When you burn a bridge, there is (usually) no going back. Yet some people burn them and proceed to blow them up with explosives.  For some, the no going back is part of the motive for the fire. 

Between celebrating my milestone birthday of 65 and having more downtime due to the Pandemic Pause, I find myself reviewing my life and choices made.  My life has been more conventional than that of my outlier sister.  In fact, I can only think of one time I truly burned a bridge.  I was engaged to be married to another man before meeting Mr. Smith.  As I sat down to address the wedding invitations, I was struck with the strong realization this was not the correct bridge for me to cross. Breaking off the engagement was difficult, no one wants to be rejected or be the rejecter.  But I had a clear recognition that I could not go through with the marriage and for the sake of both parties involved, the bridge needed to be truly burned.  My father unscored this thought.  When I told my parents I had decided not to marry, my dad said, “That’s fine, but there will be no going back and forth on the decision.”  He understood the importance of not trifling with someone’s feelings and his words helped me fully grasp the finality of my decision.

That burned bridged forced me forward.  I made a move to Ann Arbor, Michigan where I met Mr. Smith and the rest is history!  We have crossed several bridges together, we have ridden a few rapids, and a couple of times we have had to portage.  Some bridges were breathtaking and lovely.  Some were rickety and scary.  And we are still here.  

Have you burned bridges that you regret or like me, did that push you forward, exposing you to new people and new adventures?  Crossing bridges has allowed me to discover new strengths I didn’t know I had.  And the times the bridge collapsed while I was on it, I learned I can fail and survive.  I doubt many of us reach the age of 65 without a few regrets – should I have crossed that bridge, should I have burned it?  But I can’t go back, I can only go forward.  As I sit on my perch and look out over the magnificent bridge over the Susquehanna, I wonder what the next bridge will be and if I’ll cross it.

C’est la vie.

“…I stand on their shoulders.”

midweek musings…

No matter which side of the aisle we find ourselves on, I hope we can all appreciate that history was made this past weekend.  The United States will FINALLY have a woman in the White House, just a heartbeat away from the presidency.  I was teary eyed when Kamala Harris strode onto the stage in Wilmington, Delaware on November 7, 2020, to give her victory speech.  Wearing all white in a nod to our historic suffragists, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, she thanked her country for turning out to vote in record numbers.  She challenged our children to “…Dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourselves in a way that others may not, simply because they’ve never seen it before, but know that we will applaud you every step of the way.”  These are our hopes and dreams for all our children, but especially our daughters and granddaughters. 

Vice-President Elect Harris was not the only woman to make history this election cycle.  More women were elected to Congress than ever before.  Republican Cynthis Lummis was elected the first woman to represent Wyoming in the U.S. Senate.  Missouri elected its first Black congresswoman.  Congress will now have a Korean American woman, a Native American woman and the first openly trans person.  Congress took a giant step towards looking more like the diversity that is America.

After CNN called the election for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Saturday, my daughter-in-law looked at my three beautiful, smart, kind, funny granddaughters and told them, “A WOMAN!  A woman, ladies, holds the second highest position in our country!  A WOMAN will be representing our country in the world!  You get to LIVE history, I hope you are proud!”  My granddaughters cheered!   Then they coyly asked, “Can we go to McDonalds?”  Everyone celebrates in their own way…

I’m thrilled my grandchildren are growing up in, in the words of Kamala Harris, “…a country of possibilities.”  On Saturday night, I did a quick, non-scientific poll of some of my friends over the age of 65.  I wanted to know if when they were nine years old (the age of my oldest granddaughter), they ever wondered why a woman wasn’t president.  With the exception of one self-proclaimed rebel, they were right there with me, accepting without question that men run the world.  By the mid-sixties, some of us started to question the status quo, but it truly has been a loooooong process.

So, Kamala, while I toast your accomplishment, I will be watching.  I fully realize you and President Elect Biden face staggering challenges you didn’t create and every decision you make will be scrutinized.  We know you will remember the wisdom of the extraordinary Congressman John Lewis, “Democracy is not a state.  It is an act.”  Don’t let my granddaughters and me down.  We’re counting on you.

C’est la vie.