Monday, August 30, 2010

Mission Accomplished

Today is Monday. It’s the official end of my summer “staycation”—and the end of my Personal Blogging Challenge.

Last Monday I made a commitment to post every day for a week. When I started this blog a year ago (hard to believe!), posting daily was something I thought would be easy to do. Man, have I learned a thing or two!

And now that I’ve accomplished last week’s mission, here are a few more things I've learned:

1) Blogging every day feels like a job. I spend a good part of each workday writing. Blogging is something I do for fun—and I want to keep it that way.
2) My posts were more spontaneous. I confess that most of my entries have been mapped out in Word and well-edited before I click “Publish Post.” The writer in me longs to create short stories. But lack of time (and not having loaded Microsoft Office on my new computer) forced me to speed things up. I kinda liked it!
3) I took my camera everywhere. I’m hooked on using pictures as illustrations, which means almost any occasion can turn into a photo op.
4) Blogging more meant journaling less. I’m not interested in spilling my guts in public—that’s what my journal is for. But it was tough to make time to do both, and I was on vacation all week! Since I’m a lifelong journal junkie, this could be the deal-breaker.
5) There was no shortage of stuff to write about. Discovering this made the project worthwhile. This entire blog is about moments of joy and amazement. And judging by the endless string of ideas that ran through my mind, my days are filled with them.

As I was writing point #4, I spent a few minutes Googling the definition of a blog. Is it possible I'm doing it all wrong? That I should toss my journal because sharing intensely personal stuff is what separates real bloggers from pretenders? I panicked when Webster’s called it “an online personal journal." But then I came across this from Jeff Jarvis, a veteran print journalist and prominent blogger: “A blog is merely a tool that lets you do anything from change the world to share your shopping list. People will use it however they wish. And it is way too soon in the invention of uses for this tool to limit it with a set definition.”

Whew! Tomorrow it’s back to pen & paper.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dining Alfresco

Outdoor dining: love it or hate it?

It's something about which most people I know have a strong opinion, and I happen to love it. Whether it's coffee out on my deck or a romantic dinner in a secluded garden strung with twinkling lights, nothing says "summer" more than enjoying a meal outside.

But there's outdoor dining and then there's its ugly step-sister: urban outdoor dining. If you live in Bergen County, NJ, it's highly likely that alfresco is nothing more than a few tables crammed together on a busy sidewalk situated along an even busier street. The roar of motorcycles and aroma of bus exhaust hardly creates a desirable atmosphere, and yet that's what most local restaurants have to offer. Which is why I understand when any dining companion chooses to sit indoors instead.

This week I've been fortunate to experience the upside of eating outside. In one 48-hour stretch, I ate lunch on a cliff high above the Wanaque Reservoir; sipped a beer on a patio at one end of Greenwood Lake; had dinner on my deck overlooking a small creek; enjoyed breakfast on an outdoor deck on Lake Hopatcong (where it was so chilly they had the overhead heaters on); and stopped for a late lunch in Frenchtown at a cafe beside the Delaware River. The only time noise was a factor was in Frenchtown, where the cafe is at the foot of the bridge that leads in and out of town. But even then we could have chosen to sit in the screened-in porch, far removed from the bustling road.

I savored every minute of every meal. Being in the open air always creates an illusion of space, even when you're within spitting distance of the next table. There sure was plenty to look at--from hawks swooping overhead to sailboats glinting in the sun. I relished the cool breezes. Succumbed to the water's hypnotic powers. Was soothed by the sounds of birds and crickets. And the food? Well, somehow it just tasted better! The colors were more vibrant. The flavors more distinct. I chewed more slowly. Appreciated each bite.

If only this sort of experience could be replicated by restaurants closer to home. Where the best tables offered a fresh perspective--and a view worth seeing.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Heart Stones

"We tend to find what we're looking for," Jim said. In a rare moment of synchronicity, I said I couldn't agree more. (Actually, my standard phrase for this is, "Perception is all there is." Meaning things are as we chose to see them. Not exactly the same thing, but close enough.)

He said this yesterday as we were well into a steady uphill climb on a new hiking trail in Norvin Green State Park. (I'd quickly dubbed it the Fried Egg Trail in honor of the yellow-on-white Mine Trail marker pictured here.) I'd spent most of the previous 20 minutes with my eyes glued to the ground, carefully navigating the rocky ascent. And I'd noticed what seemed like dozens of stones shaped like hearts.

I have my friend Shelley to thank for this. A few years ago we were strolling the beach together in Point Pleasant and I was talking about my obsession with shell collecting. I've got so many I should be ashamed to even look at another, yet I can't seem to help myself. She suggested switching to pebbles, and I confessed to having pocketed more than a few of those as well. I consider them souvenirs--even though, with few exceptions (like the large river stones from Montana and the smooth gray rocks from the Maine coastline) I've no idea where they all came from.

Then she told me that a friend of hers collected stones shaped like hearts. This opened a whole new world to me, one that required keener powers of observation and a bit of imagination. Some of the stones I have only look like hearts to me--and that was Jim's point. If I want to see hearts, I will. And yesterday I saw so many that I decided it was a sign. Maybe I needed to open my heart more? I've been feeling pretty self-centered lately, focused more on what I want and need than on the people around me. So was this nature's way of telling me to pay more attention? To share more love? Connect more deeply with those I care about?

I held this feeling in my consciousness as we moved through the day. Jim and I seemed more in sync than usual, and we both commented on how present we felt. Everything about the hike seemed more intense, and the sights were like a Reader's Digest condensed version of what we love best. These pictures capture a few of them: strenuous climbs, spectacular views, a black-and-blue butterfly perched on my leg, several abandoned mines, a cascading brook hidden from view, even a real bat cave!

The piece de resistance was a wacky house nestled in the trees along the road out of the parking lot. Part tent, part domed sheet metal, it was painted a vibrant shade of pink--as was everything else in sight. From the iron front gate to the lawn chair cushions, the mailbox to the old Volvo in the driveway. Pink. The color of love. The shade of the heart.

Could it be another sign? The way we choose to see things is the way they are.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Yesterday was an unexpected gift. Jim had work to do so I had a day to myself. The sun finally broke through, the damp and the gray blew away, and the temptation to drive to the beach was strong. But my goal this week is to relax. As I drank my morning coffee and watched the cat stretch in a warm shaft of light, I decided to bring the beach experience to my backyard.

It’s amazing how little it takes: a canvas chair, some suntan lotion, a tall glass of iced tea, and a big fat book (our book club pick is Penny Vincenzi’s The Best of Times—perfectly mindless reading.) I threw in a long afternoon walk and homemade tuna niçoise for good measure—and guess what? I hardly missed the sound of the waves. The bonus: no sand in my shoes!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Son the Sex Symbol

There is a picture of my son Jake in the May 27th issue of Time Out New York. It doesn't quite do him justice, but the short profile next to it manages to capture a bit of his personality. At least the things that might be important to someone interested in dating him.

That's right. My baby, my only child, was featured in the magazine's "Sexy Summer Singles" issue.

Not long afterward, my friend Robynn suggested this might be something to blog about. As in, "How does it feel to be the mother of a sex symbol?" I actually sat down to write about it, but my mind went blank. Were there no words to describe my feelings? Hardly likely. Did I have no feelings? Doubt that, too. Maybe I just needed time to process the whole thing?

Flash forward to last night, when Jake and I met up at Micro Center. I needed to buy a new computer, and he'd offered to provide technical support in exchange for a free dinner. I'd already done my research, and was convinced I was taking him up on the offer just to spend time with him. He's 27 and has a very full life, so hanging out with his mom isn't a priority. And rightly so. But we do have shared interests and he's not embarrassed to be seen in public with me. So I'm thrilled to get together with him whenever the occasion presents itself.

I got there first and was perusing the MacBooks when he walked in. For a split second I saw him, not as my son, but as a guy walking into an electronics store. And it didn't seem possible that the boy I'd raised had become this tall, good-looking young man. In my mind he's forever four years old, sweet and inquisitive and independent. Racing through the house in his footy pajamas with mischief in his eyes and an infectious giggle. But the Jake strolling towards me, the one giving me a peck on the cheek and saving me $400 by telling me I don't need the most powerful laptop Apple makes--this Jake was the man profiled in the pages of TONY.

He's the guy with his own apartment and a great job, who loves sports and music and cooking and travel. Who writes songs and makes his own beer and is spending the summer attending the weddings of half a dozen close friends. He's the guy who has dinner with his grandparents most Thursday nights and has sat through virtually all of his step-sister's dance recitals. Who has taken his mom to Pearl Jam concerts and Red Bulls games. Most miraculous of all, he's the strong yet sensitive son who still struggles to makes sense of his father's death from cancer 10 years ago. And chooses to live life on his own terms as a result.

If all of these attributes combine to make him an eligible bachelor, who am I to argue? Just don't ask me to think about it for too long. I prefer to see him as the walking definition of a Renaissance Man. I believe that he's a "catch". That the girl he finally settles down with will be lucky that he's chosen her. And that it would behoove her to realize this fact. Do I also believe that I'm unabashedly biased? You bet. And why not? I'm the mother of a sex symbol.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Being Open

It's been many (many) years since I attended the U.S. Open Tennis tournament, and I've never actually purchased tickets to go. Not because I don't like tennis (I do) or didn't enjoy watching it live (I did.) But given the choice as to which sport I'd willingly spend hours sitting in the stands to watch, I'd go with baseball.

That said, I fancy myself as someone who is open to new experiences. I also love Jim. And Jim loves tennis. So yesterday I found myself walking through Flushing Meadows in a steady drizzle to the USTA National Tennis Center. No, the U.S. Open doesn't start until August 30th. But there is plenty of tennis being played there this week--and you don't need tickets to enjoy it.

Jim has been talking about doing this for several summers, ever since a guy who he met on his local tennis courts told him he's been taking his kids for years. The deal is that there are dozens of qualifying matches as well as practice courts full of pros working out. And the public is invited to watch for free! As luck would have it, the timing coincides with the last of our week-long summer "staycations." So we decided to take our chances with the incessantly miserable weather and cruise on out to Queens.

We were richly rewarded. Okay, so we missed seeing Rafa Nadal practice by about an hour. And we waited at least that long for the puddle-spotted courts to be dried and readied for play. But there was plenty of action on the dozen or so practice courts, where you could get within yards of the grunting and groaning players. Many of the concession stands were open, so we had our fill of high-end junk food. And I was amazed at how many spectators, staff and tennis groupies were milling about.

But what made it all worthwhile was seeing the look of pure joy on Jim's face as he pronounced himself happier than if he'd been watching the final match in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Being open to a new experience? Zero dollars. Experiencing it with someone you love? Priceless.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Narrowsburg. The name alone sounds small, doesn’t it? Described by New York Magazine as a “liberal-leaning burg on New York’s Pennsylvania border…shaping up to be the Woodstock of Sullivan County” (April 6, 2009), it nonetheless sounded like a destination well worth the two-hour haul. Yesterday Jim and I visited Narrowsburg for the third time—and I’m still trying to decide if that’s true.

The drive is absolutely gorgeous: equal parts Hudson Valley farmland and majestic views of the Delaware River. And as you approach the town from Route 52 you get a glimpse of its unique location—perched on a bend at the deepest part of the river where a large eddy spreads out like a lake. The first time we went we almost missed the turn onto Main Street—and even now I marvel at how tiny it is. I grew up in a small town, so trust me when I say this town is barely there. The street has a “wild west” vibe and you can see from one end to the other. It’s also possible to count the businesses on your fingers: two restaurants, a few galleries, the requisite coffee place, and a post office.

On our first visit we were steered to the Main Street Café by a gallery owner—and readers of this blog won’t be surprised to know that food is probably what lures us back (that, and the chic home store, Nest.) As Jim said yesterday, we’ll go anywhere for a good meal. And so, as the rain pelted down and dashed our hopes for a beach day, we agreed that it was perfect weather for the café’s signature sloppy roast beef sandwich (one good reason for not going 100% vegetarian!)

We set off, stomachs growling in anticipation. Low and behold, it’s not on the summer lunch menu! Alas, we had no choice but to assuage our broken hearts with 1) a slice of the best chocolate cake this chocoholic has ever tasted and 2) homemade apple pie. Desperate to stretch our legs before getting back in the car for the long drive back, we grabbed an umbrella and took a short stroll to the observation deck for a view of the eddy.

A pleasant-looking woman joined us and said she hoped the awful weather wasn’t ruining some sort of vacation plans. As if! I chuckled to myself, remembering that the last time I stood on this spot and took a picture, the river was frozen and the sidewalks snow-covered. Ten minutes later we headed back to our car, clutching a brochure promoting a “tent and breakfast” lodging option that our new friend Jane had recently launched.

Serendipity? You bet. First of all, we’ve been talking for weeks about spending a weekend hiking in the area, and this would be a perfect place to stay. Best of all, Jim and I often ask ourselves if we could move to a place like this, and Jane couldn't contain her enthusiasm for the decision she and her husband had made to retire to Narrowsburg (from Long Island) three years ago. “There’s plenty to do here if you don’t need to work,” she said. For one brief moment I sighed and thought, “Ah, yes—the upside of downsizing."

Monday, August 23, 2010

What's in a Name?

Jim and I hike so much that we’ve started forgetting which trail is which. I’ve promised to put together a log book that includes space for notes to help us remember. And I’ve gotten as far as buying the binder. In the meantime, during a summer in which we’ve made good on our decision to try more new hikes, we struggle to keep them straight.

One of our tricks is to bestow names on some of our favorites: the Rhododendron Hike, the Mount Tammany Hike, the Reservoir Hike. And the one Jim longingly refers to as the Blueberry Hike. There’s no real logic to the names. Some are destinations (the Milford Village Hike.) Some refer to landmarks (the June Cemetery Hike.) But two of our most beloved trails are named for the seasonal natural wonders we encounter along the way. If we’re lucky.

I say that because one of the things we forget is exactly what time of year we need to hike these trails in order to actually see them—literally—in full flower. The Rhododendron Hike, which ranks as one of my top three trails to date, is so named because of the dense groves of wild rhododendrons that form lush canopies over large sections of the trail. They bloom for a few short weeks in the spring, and Jim has done plenty of research (including polling many a hiker whose paths we’ve crossed) to try to determine the ideal time to catch them at their peak. Only once have we hit it just right—and it was truly breathtaking. So you’d think we’d have written it down somewhere, right? Beats me where that might be.

The Blueberry Hike poses a similar challenge. Wild blueberry bushes dot many of the trail systems in northern NJ and southern NY, but nowhere have we found a more dazzling display than on this trail, which winds up and over Seven Lakes Drive near Lake Tiorati. The small, dark berries are far sweeter than their big brothers, and we believe they ripen in late summer—although we can never remember precisely when. So we target the window between late June and early July and hope for the best.

Last Sunday was August 15th and we figured we’d missed the boat. Still, we headed out with visions of scraping together a few handfuls that might have survived this sweltering summer. But how much did it really matter? Not a heck of a lot. Because the reality is that there are endless joys to be found along these trails—surprises and delights that no name can capture. That day’s trek included a surprise deer sighting, a trip through the infamous Lemon Squeeze rock formation. And intermittent rain showers that played a staccato on the leafy tree tops. Yesterday we were just looking for an easy “walk in the woods” on a damp drizzly day—and discovered an amazing well-preserved stone wall, more than a century old, that rivaled anything Andy Goldsworthy has recently engineered.

And yet—calling it The Great Wall Hike will do it such a disservice. Because “what’s in a name?” is never the whole story. “Successful.” “Strange.” “Friend.” “Musician.” “Happy.” “Vegetarian.” “Blogger.” Sure, these labels help us remember. And create a semblance of order in our minds. Maybe even our lives. But oh, how limiting they are! How inadequate. Just like this handful words I’ve scraped together.