Friday, February 26, 2010

Female Bonding

When was the last time you shared an intimate detail of your life with a group of people you’d just met?

If you’re a woman, chances are you’ll say, “Last week.” Or even, “Yesterday.” Women have this amazing ability to connect with virtual strangers – often in the blink of an eye. And on a deeply personal level. I’ve experienced this phenomenon several times in the past few months: At a detox retreat in Vermont in October (that's some of the gals above). A birthday dinner in a chic Manhattan restaurant last week. And in my own living room on Tuesday.

I’m one of those women whose emotional baggage is chock-full of painful memories of adolescence. Of the relentless competition, sniping, and betrayals that were so prevalent in the relationships I had with my (supposed) girlfriends. I’m guessing that’s why I often marvel at this instantaneous—and shockingly authentic—female bonding. It seems to happen between women who come together for a common cause. Or unite in a shared purpose. Whether it’s celebrating the longevity of a great friend or marshaling our collective energy to support the intention of manifesting positive change.

You know how the universe has this annoying habit of beating you over the head with messages it wants you to pay attention to? This month it’s been reminding me that women place a high value on relationships—often to the point where we’ll sacrifice personal gain rather than risk losing someone we love. In some ways this isn’t a good thing. The “experts” say it renders us unable to ask for what we want. It leaves us lagging behind men in the workplace. It prevents us from leading fulfilled lives.

But I’m choosing to believe that said universe is asking me to focus on the positive aspects of this trait. How reassuring it is to know others are thinking and feeling and agonizing over the same things as you. How much fun it is to share and learn and laugh with like-minded spirits. And what a relief it is to feel understood and supported. To know you’re not alone on your path.

Our conversations with other women may begin with a superficial, “Love those shoes!” But by the time we’re saying our goodbye’s, it’s not surprising to find that we’ve connected on a soulful, lasting level. For me, that’s worth a whole lot more than a few extra bucks in my paycheck.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Turn Back For Pies

Jim and I do a lot of back-roads driving. It’s one of our “things” – getting up in the morning and saying, “Looks like a great day for a drive!” I’m not big on heading off aimlessly, so we’ll usually come up with some sort of destination. But one of the things I like best about our drives is our more-or-less unspoken agreement to just stop wherever and whenever we like.

For me, the biggest lures are sketchy-looking antiques shops and hand-lettered signs that direct you down dirt roads for things like fruit, wine, pottery and baked goods. If the road we’re on winds through a cute little town or farm country, chances are I’m emitting a fairly steady stream of requests to “pull over” or “turn around.” And I’ll often pout a good long while if Jim’s driving and he blows right past an artist’s studio or vegetable stand that looked promising. I mourn the lost opportunity, wondering what treasures we might have missed.

Today’s excursion was to Warwick, NY. The excuse was lunch at a little French bistro we like. We’ve made this drive probably half a dozen times in the past two years, and it usually involves a stop at the Bobolink Dairy, a few miles south off of Route 94. It’s a working farm that makes and sells an array of delectable artisanal cheeses (raw milk from grass-fed cows) and rustic wood-fired breads. As we drove up past Greenwood Lake we debated whether to stop at the dairy or not. I wasn’t keen on it: I love the cheddar cheese and rosemary bread, but am trying to cut back on dairy and carbs. Jim was thinking we could pick up a few things to snack on the next day when our friends Tom and Maryanne came to visit. After lunch we agreed that was a good idea.

On the way there I noticed a few signs along the road that said “Pies” in big red letters. Jim, who never met an apple pie he didn't try, showed an unusual lack of interest. Despite my urging, we kept going. Then I saw the sign that said, “Turn Back for Pies.” Always one to appreciate good marketing when I see it, I said, “That’s it, we’re going back.” But we didn’t. Jim’s face made it clear that given a choice between the two, he was going for the known entity. That old familiar feeling came over me: Damn! What if they were the best pies on the planet? And this was our one and only chance to find out?

Ten minutes later we squeezed into the tiny space that serves as Bobolink’s retail shop, tasting something called Foret and agonizing over whether to choose the medieval rye with olives or the cherry/walnut breadsticks (we got both). As we loaded our purchases into the car, Jim started chatting up a guy driving by on a large green tractor. “I’m looking for someone who might sort of be in charge,” he said. “That sort of might be me,” said the guy. In that moment, a quick pit stop turned into our most memorable visit yet.

The guy on the tractor was Jonathan White, head cheesemaker and clearly the man in charge. He asked where we were from, then said we’d be happy to know he’s bought a farm near Milford, NJ and is moving his entire operation there in a few months. He saw me snapping a few farm pics and eyeing a large group of cows gathered near the fence behind him. Next thing I knew he was introducing me to a two-day old calf, Sarastro (he names all of the cows, this one after a character in The Magic Flute.) His passion for what he does was evident as he spoke about the animals, especially when the little calf began to nurse and he explained that what was once a natural instinct is now something he has to teach the babies to do. As I traipsed through the mud and snow to take the pictures below, Sarastro’s mom Ernestine, a gorgeous Guernsey-Hereford mix (and quite the helicopter parent) followed my every move. It was an amazing, surprising and delightful turn of events.

P.S. We did go back for pie: Jim got apple, I got cherry and they were so delicious that we’ll definitely be adding Noble Pies to our Warwick itinerary. But I’ve learned a valuable lesson: it’s possible that the things that happen when you don't turn back are the things you won’t want to miss.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow Day

Is there anything more delightful than a snow day?

I remember feeling giddy whenever a snowstorm led to an unexpected day off during the school week. Unlike kids today, whose initial response is often to whine, "So what are we going to DO today?", I don't recall ever wondering how best to take advantage of that freshly minted freedom. Assorted siblings and friends would struggle into snowsuits and drag our banged-up Flexible Flyers up the big hill on Glen Avenue; then sled down to Sylvan Road and pray no cars were crossing below. When we couldn't feel our fingers and toes, we'd head indoors for grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup (if it was lunchtime) or hot chocolate (if it wasn't.) Before our ice-caked socks and mittens had thawed, we'd be off again. We never seemed to tire of making snow angels or tunneling into the biggest drifts and lying, entombed, in the eerie silence. At night we'd fall into bed and sleep like the dead.

It was just starting to snow this morning when I left for work. I went anyway, knowing that predictions called for a foot or more by tomorrow morning. Yesterday it was all everybody talked about, kvetching as if a snowstorm was a rare and devastating occurrence in North Jersey. In February. Anyway, at noon my boss announced that the building was closing, and as I drove home that old familiar feeling came over me: SNOW DAY! After whipping up a grilled-cheese-and-tomato-soup lunch, I ventured out to measure: 9" and counting! The cat stood at the open patio door, meowing with annoyance as she repeatedly touched a paw (gingerly) to the snow. I watched as frilly flakes collected on her nose and whiskers, and thanked Mother Nature for giving me this afternoon off. I don't own a sled anymore, and these days hot chocolate upsets my stomach. But I'm letting any and all adult worries wait until tomorrow--and going outside to make snow angels!