Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blue Moon

A "blue moon" is going to usher us out of 2009 and into the new year. And I can't think of a lovelier or more fitting symbol for this transition.

I think we'd all agree that this has been a pretty dismal year in oh-so-many ways. We've been bombarded with awful news from every possible angle. From day-to-day stuff like paying the mortgage and job security to escapist pleasures like politics, sports or celebrity gossip, the accumulation of crap has been relentless.

An editorial in yesterday's Record claimed that despite this constant barrage, a recent AP-GfK Roper poll showed that 78% of Americans claimed they were "very...or somewhat happy." And it (more or less) defined happiness as "the end toward which all other ends lead." If everything we do or desire is just a means toward this one end, one would think that 2009's continuous assault on our psyche's would have driven that percentage far lower. Many of those I love have grappled with the kind of debilitating hardships--from loss of income to chronic health issues--that drown happiness in their wakes. During the summer I often felt guilty about publicly admitting to having a good day--even around my most upbeat friends! I started this blog to develop a practice of celebrating the positive; on any given day, it's been a daunting task.

That said, we don't need a poll to tell us that happiness is something we choose. And tonight is our chance to breathe a sigh of relief as we sip (or gulp!) our champagne and watch the ball drop in Times Square. Not because we'll wake up tomorrow and find our world drastically changed. And not because there's any guarantee that the coming year will be an improvement over the one we're kicking to the curb. But because that ball will be dropping under a big, bright, blue moon. A natural phenomenon so special that it won't happen again (on New Year's Eve, anyway) until 2028.

It's snowing outside my studio window as I write this, so it's possible we won't actually see this moon. But we'll all know it's there. Beaming it's light into the darkest corners of our world. A glorious reminder that miracles do happen.

My New Year's wish is that we all remember to appreciate the miracles that happen-- not just "once in a blue moon"--but every single day of our lives. We may have to look hard to see them. And some days we may not find them at all. But faith is knowing they're always there. And hope is the moon that illuminates them.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holiday Haiku

In her insightful and inspiring book One Continuous Mistake, writer and Zen Buddist Gail Sher suggests that writing a haiku a day will dramatically improve one's writing practice.

Given my issues with the "C" word (see entry dated 12/4), I can't promise to follow her lead. But this morning, the day before Christmas, lying in bed, I made my first attempt:

crimson cardinal
snow-caked pine bough bends—

I like it enough to let it serve as my holiday "card", as well as the introduction of this blog to my friends.

Merry, merry!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Heart of Giving

Some years, when the holidays roll around, I decide I can't handle sending cards. Some years decorating is a chore to avoid. Some years I can't bear going to parties. This year it seems I am totally not into the whole gift-giving thing.

I'm not entirely OK with this. After all, I'm one of those people for whom giving a gift is like buying a new home. It requires thought, research, and plenty of shopping around. It has to be uniquely suited to it's recipient. If it's something they haven't asked for and aren't expecting, all the better. Even the wrapping is chosen and executed with care.

I also love to get gifts. That said, it's impossible for me not to hold others to my standards. And I'm often disappointed, especially when it comes to men. My first real boyfriend, who went on to become my husband, was a thoughtful gift-giver but didn't have great taste. So his ideas were A+ but his execution rarely rose above a C-. My divorce was followed by two long-distance relationships separated by a few short-term (and completely misguided) flings. To a man, they worked tirelessly to make up for their lack of commitment by showering me with ridiculously fabulous presents. Some of them still give me pleasure: the Lisa Jenks bracelet from Peter, the scent Richard turned me on to, memories of the trip to Spain with Luis. But the men are long gone, and their piles of perfect presents paled in comparison to their parting gifts: loneliness, disappointment, heartbreak.

One sure way to avoid any possible let-down is to ban gift-giving so there can be no receiving. But as I write that I know that fear of getting a crappy gift or two is not the reason for my lack of enthusiasm. I think it's more about being out of sync with the emphasis on material things at a time of year that is meant to be about celebrating hope, faith, joy, and peace. I'm in the process of reconnecting with my core values and clarifying what's important to me now. Living a genuine life. Connecting with people in an honest and soulful way. Being a source of light and positive energy. These things matter. So does steering clear of those who use gifts as stand-ins for love.

I'm in a relationship now that is the most satisfying and fulfilling I've ever known, and gifts seem so superfluous. The experiences and values Jim and I share--these are gifts with weight and meaning. So far we've celebrated the holidays by hiking in Ramapo; driving through snow-covered farmland in New York; strolling the quaintly decorated streets of a small town in Pennsylvania (followed by impromptu wine and cheese in a cozy inn); and enjoying a great burger and fries at Burger Joint, then checking out the Christmas tree in Manhattan. And it's only December 16!

Jim and I have agreed to enjoy these "experiential" gifts in lieu of wrapped presents this year. My friend Maryanne and I also came to a consensus on a gift moratorium. As for everyone else, I will be giving in to the giving. Engaging in my family's Secret Santa tradition. Exchanging small tokens with friends as expressions of mutual gratitude for our presence in each other's lives. Using the holidays as an excuse to "treat" my son. But my heart's not really in it. My heart is somewhere else entirely. And I'm very OK with that.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The "C" Word

Commitment. It's a word that can amaze, surprise and delight. Sometimes all at once. Sometimes not in a good way.

I've always felt that a promise is meant to be kept. That being true to one's word is the definition of honor. I've lived my life trying to hold up my end of the bargain. I keep secrets. Return calls. Show up. Follow up. Try to keep pace with emails (not always successfully). But when it comes to delivering on the deals I make with myself? My track record is nothing to brag about.

Case in point: this blog. I started it with the intention of telling people about it. The first month was supposed to be practice, just to see how it felt and decide whether or not it was something I'd enjoy. As you can see, it's now almost four months later. I've told probably a dozen or so people, "I started a blog", but I've only told two people the actual name of it. And one of them is my boyfriend.

What am I waiting for? I'm waiting for the "C" word to kick in. To grab the Pisces in me by the tail and push me upstream. I'm no fool: I know that if I tell people I'm here they'll come visit. And comment. And then I'll have to keep writing. Because that's the promise I'm making by telling them. That's the commitment I'm making to myself. To show up here. Every week. And give myself the gift of writing.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ode to a Good Hair Day

Nothing cures a bad day like a trip to the hair salon.

It’s not that I’m shallow. And I’m no more obsessed about my appearance than the average woman. I don’t stress over a killer pimple or wear dark glasses indoors to hide under-eye circles. I don’t cry when I break a nail or feel naked if I leave the house without mascara. I do admit to being bummed when I wreck a fresh manicure (all that time & money down the drain!) and resorting to the occasional pep talk on those days when fastening my jeans is a struggle. But nothing sends a day spiraling into the gutter faster than the effects of wind and rain on my hair.

I’ve felt this way since high school. One of the biggest rows my mother and I ever had was when she told me it was too close to bedtime to wash my hair and I’d just have to go to school the next day with it dirty (yes, this was in the days before blow dryers). I was up at the crack of dawn to jump the line for the shower (five of us vied for bathroom time) and allow for ample drying time.

I’m not alone in this obsession. Sure, I have friends with bullet-proof hair. Julie doesn’t have a clue what frizz is. Alysse and Maryanne have truly wash-and-wear locks. And Shelley—well, this is a woman whose artful use of hair accessories (i.e. reading glasses doubling as a headband) has disguised many a messy up-do. But for most women I know, achieving hair nirvana is an uphill battle. Humidity is Public Enemy #1, closely followed by excessive use of hair product (who knew there was such a fine line between too little and too much dry wax?) Split ends run a close third. And let’s not even discuss what a bad haircut or not-quite-what-you-expected color job can do to the psyche.

“Hell” is calling the salon, desperate for a morale boost, and discovering that your stylist has skipped town—without bothering to email, text, or tweet. Think that’s absurd? Two months in the hospital and a lengthy course of heavy-duty antibiotics caused my mom’s hair to fall out. Despite the array of debilitating physical ailments that continue to plague her, she has given nothing as much airtime as the pain and embarrassment of this loss. On Thanksgiving we all shared her joy at the visible return of her own hair. But seriously: this woman almost died. Is it possible that the worst thing that happened to her was bad hair? Apparently.

So yesterday I let a new stylist color my hair. During the consultation, she slipped into that foreign language of highlights, lowlights, and ash versus golden. But she sounded confident and in a leap of faith (or moment of true desperation) I concurred, relaxing until the moment she walked away, timer in hand, saying she’d be back soon. After what seemed like an hour I broke into a sweat, imagining the frightful effects of over-processing. But panic subsided when, during the final rinse, the assistant pronounced the color “pretty”. In my excitement I said yes to the overpriced blowout. Soon the mirror reflected a shiny, swingy, bob in a just-right shade of gold. And—poof!—the week’s woes bit the dust.

If only I could afford to go every day...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanks Giving

On Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, I sat down to write a post about saying grace. I got interrupted and never finished it. That evening I found out that the woman I'd intended to refer to in that post had died. On Thanksgiving. And although I knew that she had melanoma, I was stunned by her passing.

Her name is Barbara, and for well over 10 years she has been one of the two great teachers who have blessed my life. A few years ago she asked me for a testimonial for her website. I wrote: "Part philosopher, part healer and part spiritual counselor, her powerful vision...has opened my eyes to the limitless abundance all around me, and helped me develop a deeper appreciation for life's gifts--even those that are not always readily apparent! Integrating these lessons into everyday life has been nothing short of life-changing, dramatically altering my view of the world and how I choose to live in it." It's still absolutely right.

Barbara lived in Tucson and, since we did most of our work on the phone, it's her voice that's imbedded in my memory. Warm, lilting, girlish, yet deep for a woman with such an ethereal physical presence. Regardless of how much time had passed between our sessions, she'd answer the phone, "Helllooooooooooo, my Donna," or "Hey, girl", as if we talked every day. Her intuition was mind-boggling and her suggestions often wacky. But, skeptic that I am, I rarely balked--and was rewarded beyond my wildest imagination. She taught me to eat better, be a better listener, and take better care of myself. She helped me end the most painful relationship I've ever known and learn from it; have faith in my son's ability to cope with his father's death; and choose the job I have now--a career move that even I didn't believe would work out as well as it has. She instilled in me the importance of "allowing", and of being a source of joy and light in the world.

The reason I was thinking about Barbara on Thanksgiving was because of her "Yes Prayer". My family says grace before we dig in to our holiday feast, and it's always made me cry. I never thought much about it until this year--when I didn't cry. I'm pretty sure the reason I've cried in the past is because giving thanks for the good in my life was something rare and unsettling. But this year I've developed the habit of expressing gratitude on a daily basis, which may have defused the act of saying grace. I begin my practice by reciting the "Yes Prayer", a signature prayer that Barbara often used to open our sessions. The basic idea is to give thanks for all we have and to open ourselves to receive all that the day holds for us. It centers and calms me. It's also allowed me to connect daily with Barbara; and for the past few months, I've asked whatever power fuels the universe to marshal its forces and help her beat the cancer.

She always struck me as someone who was not entirely of this world. The first time I met her was in New York City, and seeing her outside, on the street, was disconcerting. She appeared to be totally out of sync with the traffic, crowds, and noise. She belonged indoors, in a cool, quiet, space where she would fix her crystal blue eyes on your face and draw you straight in to her soul. I secretly believed she had some special hook-up to eternity, that a magic spell cast at birth gave her life everlasting. That's why her death is so shocking. How could this woman, of all people, die of cancer? A woman so devoted to health and wellness and self care. A woman who was the essence of love and gentleness and peace. A woman who left an indelible imprint on the lives of everyone she came in contact with. What I'm really asking is: How could this woman die at all?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Big Deal

I've never sold a raffle ticket. I've never raised money for a cause. I believe in causes and believe in giving to them, but fundraising is just not something that has ever amazed, surprised or delighted me. Until last week, that is.

I work for the YWCA Bergen County and we held a raffle this month. We're a non-profit, so a raffle is no big deal in and of itself. But for our YWCA, this raffle was a big deal. The prizes were big (a 40" flat screen TV, a digital SLR camera). The potential was big. And for me personally it was big: because this year, raising money is a job requirement. Selling some raffle tickets seemed like one of the surest ways to do that. The only problem was that it required me to do something I really, really, (did I say really?) hate doing: Asking.

Fortunately, this is what the Internet was invented for! Asking via email is so much easier than looking someone in the eye and begging. (Nothing like being separated by cyber space to boost one's confidence!) So I sent an email to everyone I thought might either 1) be willing to give just because they care about me, 2) be generous by nature and give because it's the right thing to do, or 3) actually want to win a TV the size of Utah. The first surprise was that all but three of them said yes. The second surprise was that a quarter of them bought more than one ticket.

When they picked the winners last Thursday, the amazing thing was that my sister Deborah won the camera! The delightful thing was that it turned out I'd sold the most tickets of any single person in the organization. Me, the woman who has never asked anyone to donate anything. Ever. And yeah, I earned myself half a day's vacation. And better still, I raised some money for a cause I believe in. But the really big deal is the realization that, when you do ask, the answer will be yes more often than you think. Maybe next time I'll have the guts to do it face-to-face...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Poetic Justice

Yesterday I sat in a small circle of writers and listened as Tina Kelley spoke for an hour about her life as a journalist and a poet (not to mention a wife and mother.) Tina writes and blogs for The New York Times and is a published poet who is shopping her second collection.

As a lifelong writer who has often dreamed of having her work see the light of day, this struck me as interesting because it drove home the point that getting published once is no guarantee that the door is open to you forever. But by no means was this the only message that I carried out of the room. Or the most important one. It was the reminder that inspiration comes from paying attention every day. It comes from anywhere, anyone, at any time. And it doesn’t have to be showcased in a 2,000-word essay or a short story. It can shine in a poem or a blog entry.

Any writer worth their salt knows enough to jot these vision moments in a journal before they slip away. What Tina spoke about—and punctuated with several readings from both her published and yet-to-be so work—is the necessity of having a process that ensures that these kernels of creativity are easy to access. This may sound like a small thing, but for me it was huge. Because when I turn a page in my journal, all of the thoughts and ideas logged on the preceding pages simply vanish. When I highlight a passage in a book, dog-ear the page, and then put the book away, it’s rare that I remember what resonated or why.

Tina culls her notes every few weeks and stores the best of them in a file on her computer. And after what happened Monday, I’m going to start doing this, too. I was listening to the radio and heard a line in a song that went something like this: “Life is going along just fine and then one day someone leaves you—and nothing is ever the same.” I don’t know who sang it and I didn’t write it down. But I hope it will do more than inspire me to write. It could be the catalyst for this one small change in my writing process. And that’s a big deal.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Crazy About Bruce Springsteen

So there’s this woman who has written a book called “How Not to Act Old”. Her name is Pamela Redmond Satran, and as I understand it the book evolved from her blog of the same name. The book consists of 185 tips on how to avoid the deplorable fate of being seen as “lame” by those younger than you.

The reason this caught my attention at all was that a newspaper blurb I happened to be scanning noted that #34 on her list was this: “Don’t Admit You’re Crazy About Bruce Springsteen.”

Now I’m sure Ms. Satran is a lovely woman and her insights are undeniably clever and often true. She professes to be a die-hard Springsteen fan who, sadly, is forced to keep her feelings to herself because to reveal them means she’ll be dating herself. But I respectfully beg to differ. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that one sure way to feel ageless is to see Bruce Springsteen in concert. And I’m sure that the tens of thousands of people—young and old—who recently took in his shows at Giants Stadium would back me up.

I know my friend Shelley would. We went to the third of his five performances in the Meadowlands and had more fun than we’ve had in a very long time. And that’s saying something: because although we’re both over 50 (which I’m guessing means we easily qualify as old), we know how to have a good time. We tailgated in the parking lot. We sang along. We danced. We were on our feet almost as long as the E Street Band was. We went home exhausted and exhilarated. And then? Holy crap—we told people about it.

One of the people I confessed to was my son. Jake is 26 years old and passionate about music. Despite being the progeny of two lifelong Springsteen fans, he has always maintained that he really doesn't “get” what Bruce’s popularity is all about. But lately he’s been doing some exploring, and a few weeks ago he told me that he’s developed an appreciation for some of the earlier albums. So much so, in fact, that he went to one of the Giants Stadium concerts himself—and called me afterwards to say he couldn’t wait until I went so we could compare notes.

Does this prove my point? Does it disprove hers? I don’t know. What I do know is that being considered cool, or relevant, or “phat” (as Satran says) are not ambitions that concern me. Jake doesn’t consider me old. I don’t think his friends do either—but frankly, I don’t waste time worrying about it. If I did, I’d probably just wish for them to see me as a woman who relishes life and refuses to worry about the opinions of others. And I hope they’ll do the same.

I could care less about being phat. And something tells me that Bruce—who just celebrated his 60th birthday—doesn’t care about it either.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Man in the Moon

Amazing: a perfect summer day just as I was beginning to think we'd seen the last of them. Clear blue skies, blazing sunshine, and a breeze just strong enough to blow away yesterday's humidity. A day as gorgeous as advertised. All I wanted was to spend it outdoors--and that's exactly what Jim and I did. We drove to the Valley Shepherd Creamery in Long Valley for hand made sheep milk cheeses and fresh bread, crawling in traffic through Chester and passing several pick-your-own-apples farms teaming with noisy families. Then we headed to the park at Spruce Run, mercifully deserted by the summertime crowds. We picked a spot near the reservoir, spread a blanket on the grass, and unpacked our cheeses plus some apples and a Coppola Syrah-Shiraz. Need I say more? It was an idyllic way to spend the afternoon.

Later, heading east on Route 80 on my way home, a fat, full moon hung off to my left. It was one of those freakishly gigantic ones, the kind that my brain (which really has no clue what it's talking about) thinks of as a harvest moon. A deep, burnished gold, it stood in sharp contrast to the steely sky. And for the first time since who knows when, I saw in its random pattern of gray craters that storied "man in the moon". I told myself repeatedly that it was just an illusion, but each time I blinked, looked away, and looked back, the benevolent face with the hooded eyes and knowing grin was still there.

I've decided it must be symbolic of something. Maybe it's about the imagination trumping the cold, hard truth. In the face of what is generally regarded as real, we can chose to view things through the kaleidoscopic lense in our minds. On this day, Jim and I chose to celebrate the pure and simple joys of life, savoring the bread and cheese, the water and the breeze, the thick, damp grass and the thump of acorns dropping from majestic oak trees. A more sober reality--the one where his mother waits to find out if she's dying of cancer--was lurking in the shadows. But for a few hours our imaginations ruled, fueled by the warmth of the sun, a bottle of red--and the Man in the Moon.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Heavenly Day: Part II

Blueberry pancakes. Those two simple words conjure up a world of delight. Add two more words—Sweet Sue’s—and they instantly move into the “amaze” category.

Sweet Sue’s is an institution in the town of Phoenicia, NY. And not just because there is almost nothing else there (all apologies to Town Tinker Tube Rental and Tender Land Home.) The café has, by all accounts, a checkered past—one that prompts locals to talk and take sides. Since Jim and I have eaten there often enough to be considered regulars (at least in our minds), we have taken a position in the debate: we listen attentively to both sides of the discussion about who did what to whom—and then we chow down.

Breakfast is our meal of choice at Sue’s. From the inn in High Falls, Phoenicia was about half an hour’s drive—but most of the time we set out from northern New Jersey and travel close to two hours (each way) to indulge in what we consider the best breakfast on the planet. Maybe it’s because breakfast is the first meal we ever had there: it was a frigid Sunday morning in January and there was a line out the door. I convinced the impatient Jim that it must be worth it—but neither of us had a clue just how “worth it” it would turn out to be.

Then again, maybe it’s because breakfast is the ONLY meal we’ve eaten there. The owner may have expanded into the space next door (forcing out a beloved tenant and igniting a firestorm), and expanded the menu and the hours, but we haven’t expanded our horizons beyond the eggs and pancakes. And why should we? The pancakes have set a standard so high that I don’t even bother looking elsewhere—this from the woman who is shameless in her search for a better burger or the ultimate chocolate chip cookie. A cross between a crepe and—well—cake, they strike a magical balance between light and fluffy and moist and dense. Adding fruit isn’t necessary, but does enhance the experience. BTW, we’re talking actual berries and bananas here, not flavored syrup.

And then there is the size. On our first visit the waitress said, “You should probably start with just one. They’re really filling.” Ignoring her advice, I went for two: not only did I leave plenty on my plate—I was so full I didn’t eat a thing for the rest of the day. Picture a dinner plate about half an inch thick. Factor in the sides (a thick slab of the homemade turkey sausage is a must) and, well, you have the idea. In fact, serving sizes are generous—period. And prices are ridiculously reasonable.

So the truth is we stacked the "heavenly day" deck by starting at Sweet Sue’s. Everything that followed--gorgeous weather, a long trail walk in the Mohonk Preserve, and a beer and a Cuban sandwich in New Paltz afterwards, was just the proverbial icing on the—um—pancake.

Heavenly Day: Part I

Heavenly day
All the trouble gone away
For a while anyway, for a while anyway
Heavenly day, heavenly day, heavenly day...

Patty Griffin, Children Running Through
© 2007 ATO Records, LLC

Listening to Patty Griffin’s remarkable voice is definitely something I enjoy. I can’t say Heavenly Day ranks as one of my all-time favorites, but the song captures the essence of what a "heavenly day" feels like when you’re in the midst of one. And I've been blessed with them in abundance. Some have been planned in advance, but the majority have simply unfolded. The seeds are sewn in a suggestion or spontaneous idea—like “let’s drive to Belmar”—and then the day just blossoms into perfection.

Sometimes I hit the jackpot: heavenly days back-to-back! Last weekend, Jim and I decided to spend our last two vacation days of the summer bumming around in the Catskills. We do a lot of day trips in the area and last summer stayed at a friend's house in Woodstock and hiked for a week. But Jim had a sore Achilles, so anything more than an easy walk was out of the question. I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to book a room in a small inn in High Falls, but other than that we had no plan in place when we woke up Sunday morning. We agreed to start out at our favorite local breakfast spot, the County Deli, were we fueled up on lobster eggs benedict (him) and a ham & cheese breakfast wrap (me), then set off for the sleepy little town of Catskill.

We had been there once before, enjoying the whimsical cat sculptures that line the streets and a nice al fresco lunch. But the return trip was a surprise--and not in a good way. Many of the shops were out of business and the bulk of the rest were closed. On a Sunday? We walked into a small antique store and the owner, a soft-spoken man who offered to negotiate the price of anything that struck our fancy, told us that most of the town was pretty much closed on Saturdays, too. This news, mixed with the pervasive aura of emptiness, made Jim so sad that even a Jane's cappuccino ice cream didn't cheer him up (I can't say the same for my yummy mango sherbet.) Then it started to rain, which forced us to head to one of my favorite places on earth: Lucky Chocolates.

Housed in a renovated garage on the outskirts of Saugerties,
it's an unlikely oasis of hedonism. The worst part about going is having to choose from the array of sinfully original organic chocolates. We're partial to the truffles: raspberry and Earl Grey for me, orange and the seldom-available gorgonzola for Jim. (And I rarely leave without a bag of their big, fat chocolate chip cookies.) We opened our box of treasures the minute we were back in the car and let loose a chorus of "mmmnnn's" and "oh, wow's" as we savored the dense, silky treats. Amazing.

The next stop was Woodstock, where I usually torture Jim by dragging him into every single shop that sells jewelry. But we decided to bypass town and head straight to The Bear Cafe for an early dinner of salad and cheeseburgers. The surprise was that we were there early enough (and the rain stopped long enough) to snag a table out on the deck. The rushing of the rain-swollen stream below us was a lovely backdrop and a cool breeze kept the bugs at bay. It was so idyllic I even indulged in a second Absolut and tonic before we headed down Rte. 209 to High Falls.

Neither of us had been there before and it's highly unlikely we'll go back anytime soon. Maybe it was the extreme humidity. Or the fact that we were tired from the day's adventures. Or it could have been the total confusion of the staff in the adjacent tavern where we'd been instructed to pick up our room key. Whatever the reasons, our night at the inn was not the cozy, romantic, or even quirky experience either of us had hoped for. But as I drifted off to sleep with the sound of the Yankees beating the Red Sox in the background, and visions of the next day's breakfast dancing in my head, there was no doubt that this had qualified as a heavenly day.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Will Work for Olives

I love my job. But like many places today, we’re long on stuff to do and short on people to do it. So while I’m never, ever bored, by Friday night I’m pretty much done in. Which is why the unspoken rule at my house is we don’t cook—and wherever we go to eat, there must be a bar.

I don’t want you to get the wrong impression: I’m not much of a drinker. This wasn’t always the case – I’ve got my repertoire of stories that begin with consuming more than my weight in alcoholic beverages. But the past is the past. And in the present, wine, beer and my body just don’t get along. A friend suggested trying hard liquor, but the only thing I can get past my nose is vodka. Bingo! I discovered that an Absolut and tonic is quite refreshing when it’s warm outside. But what’s a girl to do during New Jersey’s long, cold winters?

Enter the martini. An elegant solution: clear, clean, simple. Sophisticated and so grown-up in its retro, long-stemmed glass. A charming bartender in the Martini Bar at the Raleigh Hotel in South Beach spoiled me from the start. Seduced by his willingness to share his secret recipe, I ordered a second one—and barely made it back to my friend’s apartment (an adventure that prompted me to introduce the one-martini limit.) Years later I realized that he set the standard by which I’ve judged every martini since. The right balance of vodka and vermouth. Definitely shaken, not stirred. No slivers of ice in a glass that’s not too large, not too small. And—best of all—half a dozen big, fat olives.

That’s right: as my sweetheart Jim knows all too well, it’s all about the olives. No, I’m not talking “dirty” (who would ruin good vodka by mixing it with olive juice?) But I’m afraid the single-olive-on-the-end-of-a-skewer is just a tease. Serious drinkers should probably read no further—because I’m sure I’ve given new meaning to the word “extra”. If they’re large olives, five or so will do (a bartender at Café Luxembourg in Manhattan once told me more than four was excessive and I’ve never been back). But the small ones? Well, let’s just say I’m overjoyed when the waiter at Bottagra brings me a small dish full.

So here’s to my favorite drink for unwinding after a long week. One that's meant to be sipped, not gulped. And is best when accompanied by good conversation—and a limitless supply of olives.

Monday, August 17, 2009

If at First...

Last week I started a blog. Not this blog -- a different one. It had a cool name. And it was a big deal just to, well, do it. I'd been thinking about it for at least a year, but hadn't pulled the trigger. And then one night -- well, voila!

I didn't tell anyone about it at first. I just blithely wrote the first few entries, safe in my cocoon of total anonymity. Then I mentioned it to two or three friends, and they all asked the same question: "So what are you blogging about?" My lame answer: "Nothing in particular. Just stuff."

Seriously. It was just something I needed to do. Create a place to write out loud. Outside of my head. And my journal. And why not? There are a gazillion other writers out there right now, doing exactly the same thing, for exactly the same reason. And I'm not sitting here wondering what they're blogging about. Besides, right before I created my first blog I saw an adorably chic 11-year-old girl wearing a t-shirt that said, "No one really cares about your blog." Enough said.

But the question stayed with me. Nagging at that part of me that lives to create clever ideas. As I thought about the topics I was itching to write about,
I kept coming back to a book I'd read in June: Anne LeClaire's Listening Below the Noise. Among the countless things she said that resonated with me was that, at the end of each day, she jotted in her journal things that "amazed, surprised or delighted" her. Lately I keep hearing about the benefits of keeping a gratitude journal, but this sounded way different to me. So I tried it during a trip to Sanibel Island later that month. It was, as it turned out, an effortless endeavor. It grounded me in joyfulness each time I wrote. What better inspiration for a blog?

There is no shortage of things that amaze, surprise and/or delight me. Excursions I take, food I savor, stuff I read, conversations I have with friends. Phrases I hear, songs I sing along to, hikes I relish, beer my son insists I try. Color combinations, recipes, magazine clips, gallery shows, picnic spots, a rare snuggle with my psycho kitty--the list is endless, really. Each is an invitation to forget the day's aggravations and focus on it's pleasures. And that's a practice worth turning into a discipline. Looking forward to sharing...