Saturday, December 31, 2011

Settling Up

Yes, it’s the last day of 2011.

And for the past two weeks my Inbox has been inundated with suggestions for reflection. Lists of questions to answer about the good, the bad and the ugly. What’s worth remembering? What’s best forgotten? What was accomplished? What wasn’t? What can be done better or differently in the year ahead?

While I appreciate the inspiration and have had all good intentions of coming up with meaningful answers, I’m finding the whole process to be downright daunting.

Frankly, I’m just plain tired.

Which may be why I’m so drawn to Gwen Bell’s concept of the Monthly Review. The notion of doing a monthly accounting of what’s working and what’s lacking feels so much more doable than dealing with an entire year’s worth of life.

Best of all, I get to settle up with myself—literally and figuratively—and move into the next month with, as Gwen puts it, “a beginner’s mind.”

It’s worth a shot. Who knows? Maybe I’ll feel a little less tired on the last day of 2012.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


This lyric from an old O'Jays song sums up how I feel about the holidays this year:

"Christmas just ain't Christmas,
Without the one you love..."

Without giving in to the craziness of the season, getting together with the people I love seems to have happened effortlessly. Being more relaxed helped me stay more I really felt the connectedness that makes being with them so deeply soul-satisfying.

That's what this time of year is all about.

Friday, December 23, 2011

New Traditions

It was recently pointed out to me that the expression “starting a new tradition” is a sort of oxymoron.

I went to the source (still Webster’s for me) for the definition of tradition: “an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior.” No surprise there. But if the fact that it’s something long established means there’s no such thing as starting a new tradition, then I’m forced to redefine this entire holiday season.

It began with Thanksgiving, when my mom’s health was so compromised that, for the first time in family history, she was unable to cook dinner. My brother and sister-in-law, along with Jim, Jake and I—under Mom’s surprisingly dictatorial direction—put the meal on the table and handled the cleaned-up. The consensus was that it was one of the best Thanksgiving’s ever and we should do it again next year. Voila! A new tradition was born.

When Mom landed in the hospital the following week, my sister Deborah and I conspired to hold a Christmas cookie bake-off to prevent her from trying to do it all herself. New Tradition Number 2 turned out to be so much fun that, as we toasted our success with the best Bloody Mary’s on the planet at the nearby Howard House in Elkton, MD, we vowed to—you guessed it—do it again next year.

Jim invented New Tradition Number 3 during a conversation about the need to simplify Christmas dinner because of my parents’ continued poor health. Roast beef and twice-baked potatoes is their go-to menu, but I braved my father’s wrath by putting forth Jim’s alternate suggestion: spaghetti and meatballs. To everyone’s surprise, Dad thought it was a splendid idea and we’re all bringing sides and apps to round things out.

I freely admit to taking comfort in tradition. In the way that my favorite down quilt keeps me warm, traditions keep me fulfilled. But I’d be lying if I said these changes haven’t been refreshing. The dust has been blown off of old (and admittedly stale) patterns of behavior. And I’m really enjoying the process of creating new experiences and deeper connections.

And yet…I was thrilled when Jake and his sister Carly made the time this week to keep one holiday ritual alive. As we decorated the Christmas tree and munched on pizza, I was filled with pure and simple joy. New or old, tradition gives us something to look forward to. And hope is what this season is all about.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tell Your Stories

I believe that our lives are the sum total of the stories we tell about them.

Not everyone agrees. In fact, saying this out loud at a cocktail party can be a real conversation-starter. But think about it: once a moment or an experience is behind you, all that’s left is the memory of it. As you tell people about it—or tell yourself about it—whatever version of that memory you tell becomes the story of that experience. Over time, that story becomes the experience.

String them all together—and that’s your life.

Yesterday was a perfect illustration of this theory. I spent the day with one of my oldest, dearest friends. She lives in Peekskill and we both have crazy-busy lives, so time alone together is a rare gift. We passed the hours in typical fashion, beginning with a lose set of plans (a skincare treatment and yummy lunch) and making the rest of it up as we went along.

We ended the day in a local mall, despite the fact that we’d finished all of our holiday shopping. But it allowed us to get out of the rain and continue to walk and chat. Along the way she picked up a pair of stockings for an upcoming wedding and I took advantage of a 40%-off sale on my favorite bras.

As we headed for the exit, we had to pass through the Lord & Taylor shoe department. Because everything was deeply discounted; and because she had a coupon for an additional 20% off; and because you saved another 10% for using your L&T credit card; and because she got an additional 15% off because she had to re-open her credit card account—I bought a long-coveted pair of La Canadienne boots.

We laughed about this coup the whole way to the car, and as we stashed our bags and fastened our seat belts. Then Maryanne said, “Well, this day has been another story to add to our collection of Donna-and-Maryanne stories.”

The part of the story we’ll both remember is that I saved $135 on a fabulous pair of boots. Chances are that, as we tell this story over time, we’ll disagree about some of the details. Maybe she’ll say we bought the boots at Nordstrom. Maybe I’ll forget the name of the restaurant where we had lunch.

But the bottom line is that this story will be memorable because it’s about so much more than the bargain. For me, it’s a tiny chapter in the book about my friendship with her. About what she means to me. About what relationships mean to me. And, ultimately, about how I live my life.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Autumn. The season of noticing.
The drama of the leaves
draws die-hard peepers, their senses
stirred by both the artistry and the
smell of decay.
The air shifts from damp and dense
to crisp and dry, knitting sweaters and
hats as if by magic.
Pumpkins, piled onto porches and
spilling down stairs, signal the end of
long summer nights.

But look.
Two glittery goblins in gossamer garb
float next to a trellis cloaked in overblown roses.
Golden marigolds and burnt orange bittersweet
dance in watery sunlight beside pastel snapdragons
and the last of the impatience.
Begonias, bursting with waxy red blossoms,
Stand proud in a patchwork of purple, wine
and rust-colored mums.
And beside a hiking trail, a bed of bright moss
cradles a colony of tiny brown acorns.

How comforting! To notice that this,
my favorite season, is not
just about
the death of everything.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

On Vacation

September seems to have vanished into thin air!

But it won't vanish from my memory anytime soon. Between the 17th and the 27th, Jim and I took a long-awaited and painstakingly-planned vacation to the "canyon lands" of Arizona and Utah. And it instantly became the holiday against which all holidays will be measured.

I made a last-minute--and uncharacteristic--decision to leave my laptop and my journal at home. At the time I said it was because my luggage was feeling terribly weighty and I needed to lighten my load.

Truthfully, it was my personal day-to-day that was weighing me down. My shoulders ached constantly, as if they were literally succumbing to the unseen pressure of responsibilities, obligations, and deadlines. So I took a friend's advice and packed only a small notepad and my camera.

It was the right decision. The camera captured everything that meant anything during our 1,200-mile trek through Sedona, Monument Valley, Boulder (UT), Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Vegas. The notepad contains directions to hidden hiking trails, the names of some decent restaurants in Kanab, and the answer to Jim's question, "So if you had to describe this trip in 10 words, what would they be?"

There really are no words to describe all that we saw and experienced. But for the record, here is the list we came up with together:


It will just have to do.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Art Swap

I can't remember being so excited about going to the mailbox since applying to college.

On a whim I decided to participate in Kat Sloma's Liberate Your Art Postcard Swap. I came across it at a time when I was happily reconnecting with my creative "self" after years of ignoring her. For months no one but Jim had seen any of the art I was experimenting with, and I'd begun to secretly wonder if keeping my collages stashed in a closet was a sign of some sort of fear. Or denial.

Then along came Kat.

This postcard swap thing put a whole new spin on my notion of showing people my stuff. It felt far less scary than sharing my work with friends or family because I had no idea who was going to see it. Even more exciting was the fact that--if it worked--I'd get postcards from five artists who I didn't now either!

The biggest surprise was how much fun I had deciding what image to share--and then turning it into a set of five cards. I remember putting them in an envelope and mailing them off to Oregon in July. Part of me panicked, convinced I'd done something wrong and wouldn't get a single card from anyone (like those ridiculous & annoying recipe chain emails.)

But Kat came through. In a matter of weeks the slow trickle of miniature masterpieces began. My heart sang when I'd discover a card nestled between the utility bills and Container Store catalogs. The first one set the tone beautifully, proclaiming, "We are all just a little cracked." The last one closed the loop by reminding me to chose things that scare me.

In between were words and images I'll treasure forever. Thanks to Marie 1 and 2, Natasha, Diane, and Elaine for having the courage to put their art out into the world. I hope you got as much in return as I did.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


My sister Deborah hung her first solo show in the gallery at the Newark Arts Alliance in Delaware.

The opening was Friday night, and there was plenty of support from family and friends. She’s called the show “Quite a Pear”, and she and her husband Mark made all of the food—from chutney to Cinnamon Pie Bars—using pears as a key ingredient. Mark, an unsung hero on the dobro, also provided the music.

Then there was the art. Deborah describes the show as “exploring the ripe metaphors of pears through visual images paired with the poetry of language,” and it was certainly all that. I was especially thrilled to see the progress she’s made in her mastery of technique. Especially in her mixed media paintings, which use elements that she’s returned to often enough that they're familiar—now treated in fresh and skillful ways.

What I can’t put into words is the feeling that came over me as I gazed around the room, its white walls awash in gorgeous colors and lush shapes. Pride? (As in, “Well yes, she’s my sister.”) Delight? (“What a beautiful show!”) Relief? (“She sold quite a few pieces in just one night!”) Amazement? (“Wow, she must have busted her butt to create so many new pieces!”)

Or maybe it was Love. Love for the sister with whom I’ve been paired in a long-running artistic tug-of-war—and have now found peace.

Maybe it was all of these things, plus a dollop of Lucky. Lucky to have a sister who is an artist and writer. Who connects with my artist and writer self. And with whom I can share openly—and celebrate wildly—our considerable gifts.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bran Fan

Bran muffins are one of my favorite guilty pleasures.

Along with French fries and chocolate chip cookies, they comprise the triumvirate of foods I‘d need to survive on a deserted island.

Before I began to worry about what I ate, my weekday breakfast consisted of a New-York-City-sized bran muffin, slathered with butter, and a medium coffee. This habit went on for years. Each time I moved offices or changed jobs, my #1 priority was finding the deli or street cart en route that had the best muffin-and-coffee combo.

Since I started worrying about what I eat, the challenge has been to find a bran muffin recipe that is both healthy and delicious. Not an easy feat, I assure you. But thanks to Heidi Swanson and my new favorite cook book—Super Natural Every Day—the search has finally ended!

As she puts it (modestly) in her intro, “If good bran muffins have eluded you, give these a shot.” As I put it (emphatically), “Bingo!”

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stairway to Heaven

It’s easy to see why the High Line has quickly become one of Manhattan’s biggest tourist draws.

An old elevated train line magically transformed into a public park—what’s not to like?

Winding along the far west side, snaking through neighborhoods in various stages of re-gentrification, it offers an unprecedented aerial view of everything from warehouses and centuries-old corner bars to shiny new art galleries and Frank-Gehry-on-steroids apartment buildings.

Where else can you walk under the hip-and-happening Standard Hotel, then over a fledgling Japanese garden visible through the grates of a metal flyover? Sip iced latte on a (surprisingly comfortable) wooden chaise lounge? Or enjoy an Italian ice as you stroll, block after block, through an ever-changing botanical wonderland in the sky?

On Monday, at dusk, I found myself entering the High Line's recently-opened Section 2 via the stairway at 18th & 10th. The designers have worked miracles, incorporating the actual rails into the walkways and flowerbeds in ways so inventive they literally stop you in your tracks. Their achievement appears even more fantastic when juxtaposed against a still-to-be-converted section of the tracks near 30th Street.

It was breathtaking and, in many ways, even more enchanting in the dark than in the bright light of day. Here’s my paltry attempt to capture the magic...

Monday, August 8, 2011

Adventures in Eating

Jim and I have a well-earned reputation for driving great distances to enjoy unique culinary experiences.

When yesterday’s hiking plans were scrapped due to a threat of thunderstorms, we set off on one such “adventure in eating”: to check out a burrito place that Hudson Valley Magazine raved about in its July issue. The fact that these burritos are served from a food truck way up in Red Hook, NY was not only beside the point—it was at least 50% of the draw. The food may be the main event, but it’s really just a reason to explore the wonders of this part of the country.

A little online research revealed that Bubby’s Burrito Stand wasn’t open on Sundays. And neither was our second meals-on-wheels choice—Rae Rae’s To Go in Poughkeepsie. Undaunted by the lack of info on our third choice, we set the GPS for downtown Newburgh, NY and hit the road.

Ironically, we’d passed through Newburgh on our way back from the recent peach-picking excursion—and decided that we couldn’t imagine a reason to return. Now we’ve found one: the Ixtapa Taco Truck.

Despite the truck’s dubious location and sketchy appearance, these were hands-down the best tacos this Mexican food fan has ever tasted (and Jim concurs.) And at $5 for a platter of four, lets just say I’m glad this truck isn’t parked anywhere near my home or office!

We do plan to visit Bubby’s when I have a Friday off later this month. Because yesterday’s experience reminded me of the lesson I learned while working in Manhattan for so many years: some of the best food on the planet is served from the tiny window of a rolling restaurant.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Just Peachy

Nothing tastes more like summer than a peach.

Thanks to Maryanne, who’s all about supporting local farmers; and Jim, who’s all about not being bored; we drove 90 minutes to Prospect Hill Orchards in Milton, NY. We chatted with farmer Steve, then bounced around in the back of a tractor-pulled wagon to spend 20 minutes collecting a bucket of fuzz-covered, not-quite-as-ripe-as-we’d-hoped fruit.

Now I’m about being outdoors on a gorgeous summer weekend. But even a pit-stop at the Raccoon Saloon to check out their much-lauded burgers (my veggie version was delish!) and surprisingly spectacular view of the Hudson didn’t stop me from thinking it might have been a waste of time.

But when I sliced up a ripe one this morning in hopes of jazzing up my bowl of Special K, I tasted sweet sunlight at the first juicy bite.

And decided that no peach tastes peachier than one you’ve picked yourself.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


My yearly mammogram was magical.

Sounds crazy, I know. How could a procedure most women dread more than, well—almost anything—be the high point of my week? It was all because of Heidi.

She was chatting away in a valiant effort to distract me from the ridiculous process of mashing each breast between two plastic plates in order to record a digital image. Pushing the gown from my left shoulder, she caught sight of my butterfly tattoo.

After a bit of oohhing and aaahhing, she asked what butterflies meant to me. As I stumbled through a lame reply, I realized I hadn’t thought about it in the 10 or so years since I’d walked into a tattoo parlor in South Beach with a sketch in my pocket.

Heidi listened as she angled my arm and shoulder into a position that only a contortionist might find comfortable. Then she said, “I love butterflies,” and pointed to a pretty enamel brooch pinned to her smock. “I wear one every day.”

I asked what the significance was for her. And that’s when the magic began. She said that her young son died several years ago, and on the morning of the funeral she went out to sit in her garden. Minutes later a single blue butterfly landed on her arm. “I’d never seen a blue one before,” she said. “I sat really still, hoping it would stay. But it flew off as suddenly as it had arrived.” Wearing the butterfly jewelry reminds her that life is a continuous transformation. “Things are always changing. We must appreciate the beauty and wonder of each moment, because it won't last.”

Rubbing the goosebumps on my arms, I thanked her for sharing her story. But later, as I dressed to leave, it struck me that her biggest gift was inviting me to share mine. I’d gotten my tattoo at a time when, after years of unhappiness, I was slowly breaking free from the conventions I'd let define me. I took more risks. Lived with a sense of abandon. And experimented with new forms of self-expression—from dying my hair red to competing in a triathlon.

So the butterfly symbolizes my metamorphosis from a good girl who always did what was expected to a woman who was far less predictable. And like the butterfly that suddenly appeared in Heidi’s garden, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that she showed up just now to remind me.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Today is Jake's birthday.

Unlike many of the events that fill the pages of my past, his birth day is fully preserved in my memory. To say it was one of the pivotal moments of my life is to both overstate--and understate--the facts. I wasn't really ready for him, although he was well-planned. I experienced the guilt and fear of failing to feel an instant bond of motherly love--and yet his arrival immediately, permanently, altered my life.

Over the past 28 years, he has become a smart, silly, guitar-strumming, chef knife wielding, sports nut that I love being around. A strong, decent, warm-hearted young man that I'm proud to call my son.

Today, as I waited impatiently on the wrong line at Whole Foods, I thought about a creative exercise I recently did. I was supposed to think about something that gave me joy, then create an image of it on a small card to carry in my wallet. If I found myself in a difficult or aggravating situation, I could simply pull out the card and--ta da!--my anger or frustration would disappear.

What popped into my mind was answering the phone and hearing Jake's voice on the other end. Failing to come up with a suitable image, I just wrote the word "Joy" on the card and stuck it in my bag.

Standing in the slow-moving line, I remembered the card in my wallet. As soon as I saw the word I'd written, Jake's voice was in my ear. My mood shifted in an instant, magically lifted by a wave of love. And I gave thanks for the precious gift of my son--and of being his mother.

Monday, July 4, 2011


This holiday weekend is the one where I declare my independence from driving.

Actually, I refuse to go to any of the places where July 4th revelers traditionally go. Like the beach, ballgames, parades, and fireworks displays. It's got nothing to do with being patriotic (or not.) And it's got everything to do with sitting in traffic jams and feeling claustrophobic in large crowds.

Instead, on Saturday I went to the Metropolitan Museum with Jake (his first time there!) and oohed and aaahed over the Guitar Heroes exhibit. Then Jim & I entertained friends with a yummy grill-less (and meatless) dinner. Sunday we wandered through Storm King in the rain and fell in love with a few new sculptures--Stephen Talasnik’s Stream: A Folded Drawing and Zhang Huan’s Three-Legged Buddha, a 28-foot-tall steel-and-copper piece that weighs 12 tons.

And today--the day we give thanks for those who liberated this country from tyranny--I liberated myself from the burger-and-hot-dogs routine, experimenting with a tempeh and mung bean recipe from my new favorite cookbook, Super Natural Every Day.

So as fireworks pop and sparkle outside my window, here's to declaring our independence from the tried-and-true. And celebrating our freedom to live life as we choose.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

More on Marriage

This is not the first time that my friend Stacey and I have unwittingly posted about similar subjects. But this time I feel compelled to link to her entry. It just seems to add another layer to the marriage discussion.

Tying the Knot

"Make more decisions in every day. Because a decision is a summoning of life.” Esther Abraham-Hicks

Two weeks. Two weddings.

My youngest niece and my oldest friend got married a week apart, and their weddings were—on paper—very different.

My brother’s daughter, Laura, is 27 and got married at a small inn near Downingtown, PA. The rehearsal dinner was at a local brew house. The ceremony was outdoors. The guests ranged from twenty-something friends to grandparents, aunts & uncles, and cousins. The bride carried fat purple tulips. Her mother made the delicate white-and-green centerpieces. And each guest took home an upscale version of a Swiss Army knife.

My friend Marla, who I’ve know for more years than either of us care to add up, got married at The Carlyle in Manhattan. Several of us joked about it being the real Royal Wedding: an entire weekend of lavish and glamorous festivities hosted by the bride & groom. Candlelight and overblown arrangements of peonies and roses in dusty shades of pink and coral, created a flattering backdrop for the black-tie clad grownups who danced to a live band and carried home a CD of the wedding music as a memento.

There were some similarities. Neither wedding was held in a church. The ceremonies were nontraditional. The number of guests was about the same (intimate). There were the obligatory toasts, dances, and cake cutting. The food was fantastic. And both brides looked absolutely gorgeous.

There was also the requisite trash talk going on beforehand. Why didn’t Laura ask her sister to be her maid of honor? Why did a bride & groom who truly have everything register for wedding gifts? At Tiffany, no less!

In the end, none of the above mattered. When the time came to sit still and listen to each couple say their vows, it was all about one thing: love. The joy on their faces as they said their “I Do’s.” The way they held hands and slipped rings on each other’s fingers. The way they looked into each other's eyes as they took to the dance floor for the first time as husband and wife. And most of all, their willingness to formalize their commitment in a way that so many modern couples don’t have the courage to do.

Tying the knot isn’t always about that proverbial noose around the neck. Laura & Patrick, and Marla & Barry, have lived real life. They know what awaits them when their honeymoons are over. Given that, the fact that they place importance on knotting their futures together publicly (and legally), on pledging to live up to the promises spoken aloud with champagne glasses in hand, is something special. And they truly deserve the support and genuine best wishes of those who love them most.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day

Mother's Day is one of those manufactured holidays that, over time, has come to feel very...well...manufactured.

Not that I have anything against honoring moms. (Or dads, for that matter.) And not that I don't enjoy having an excuse to tell my mother I appreciate her. Or to spend time with my fabulous son, without whom I wouldn't actually be a mother. It's just that I'm one of those people who believes that we don't need a Hallmark holiday to tell us when to express our gratitude for our loved ones.

This year, I'm also keenly aware of the impact this holiday has on those who can no longer speak to or visit with their moms. Jim and several of my friends have lost their mothers in the past few months. For them, this is a day filled with sadness. An occasion to be endured. I don't think Hallmark has a card for that.

Thinking about their losses, I was reminded of how blessed I am to have my mom in my life. I also decided that one way to override that "manufactured" feeling was to be as fully present in the day as possible. So I soaked in the glorious sunshine. Savored the heady perfume as Jim and I made our annual trek to smell the lilacs at Skylands. Listened with compassion as my mom went on about her newest health issues. Relished a cheeseburger (and waffle fries!) at BLT Burger in NYC with Jake. Saw the unexpected shutdown of the PATH trains in Hoboken as a gift of more time with him--instead of a major inconvenience.

But it was when Jake surprised me with a bouquet of flowers that I felt that rush of pure emotion: joy mixed with pride topped with "wow." That's when I realized that Mother's Day is like any other day: we get to decide how we're going to experience it.