Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Side Dish

I wrote this on the morning of Thanksgiving Day, but totally forgot to press 'publish', so here it is:

I’d like to take the time this Thanksgiving morning to wish everyone a very happy holiday season, a warm Thanksgiving, a fantastic Thanksgivukkah / Hanugiving and a lovely day with friends and family.  I’m not going to start enumerating everything that I am thankful for, because I am pretty much thankful for everything.  My family gives me such a feeling of abundance I could have never expected, and I’m coming off a two-week paid vacation so I’m in no position to complain, life may not be easy, but it’s good.  I am also thankful for the crazed man who called my husband’s work cell phone at 3 AM this morning, threatening us that if we did not get the super to put up more heat in his apartment, he was going to call the cops, because he kind of just epitomized Life In New York right there.  I hope he gets his heat because as I sit here in the Seventh Borough, it’s cold and blustery outside.  But when a 718 Area Code call comes in at 3 AM, it’s easy to assume the worst. 

I love holidays even more so now than before, because I get excited for Nick to get excited about the events of the seasons.  By now, I’ve probably had 35 Turkey dinners on the fourth Thursday in November, so there is no novelty there.  Some time, when we’re not facing gale-force winds, we will take Nick to the Thanksgiving Day Parade in the First Borough, just like my parents had taken my brother and I, and Rob’s family had taken him, and that will be great fun!  But as I prepare for my 35th Turkey Thursday, it’s the little things I look forward to.  A giant Kermit the Frog balloon coming down Central Park West is awesome, but these days I get my kicks out of that ‘woosh-slup’ sound of a log of jellied cranberry sauce slip-sliding its way out of the can.  Once out of the can, it resembles the can more than an actual cranberry, with the can’s ridge marks on the side of your jellied log. 
And now that I've put 'jellied log' into writing, it sounds horrible. 

So enjoy your turkeys and all the fixins' and trimmings, whether it involves jellied logs or fresh cranberry with orange zest, or cranberry juice + vodka, it's all good.  Thank you for reading this train-wreck of a blog on your own free will.  And let's all be thankful for food in our tummies and the heat in our home, even if the cops had to show up and turn it on by force. 

Other People's Ghosts

Sometimes what you see is not all that you get.  Sometimes you make a purchase with a little sumpin’ sumpin’ thrown  in for good measure.

We closed on our house on December 29th, but the turn of events would be more Halloween-ish  than  Christmas-ish.  After not eating breakfast at a local diner, due to nervous tummies, Rob and I headed over to our attorney’s office in Eastchester. We were dressed in full business attire, because we were, after all, about to become property owners.  This was serious.  This was the biggest financial transaction of our lives, at least the biggest transaction with our own money.   We were about to purchase a house on nine one-hundredths of an acre of land.  That was a lot of one-hundredths of an acre of ownership (for us).  This was our 40 Acres and a Mule moment, (hold the mule) by New York standards.  Immense. 

We arrived at our attorney’s office.  I had enjoyed working with our attorney, Christopher, though it was also my first time really working with (read: paying for) an attorney.  He helped us get this closing in under the wire of a tax year quickly coming to an end.   Despite our professional dress, Christopher greeted us in a hokey reindeer pullover sweater (granted it was a cold day), and introduced us to his notary, a guy donning a too-small black velvet blazer, which made him look like a lounge singer or a valet parker, or a guy who does both in between notary engagements.  Our mortgage broker was also there, and he  was rocking that fine line between business casual and the festive holiday red and green color scheme.  In the opponent’s dugout was our soon-to-be home’s seller, Mrs. Reinhardt, in a white and red Mrs. Santa Claus parka outfit with her post-cateract surgery sunglasses, her daughter, dressed normally, and their attorney, apparently a friend of the family, and a smartly dressed professional, the only one in the room taking ‘billable hours’ seriously.  Missing from this picture, to my surprise, was the real estate agent, on her big commission day.  I say “the” agent and not “our” agent because she was working for us but this house was also her listing, so the seller’s agent and the buyer’s agent was one and the same.  This is a bad situation I would recommend avoiding at all costs. 

Sitting in Christopher’s conference room, we filled out about 5 trees-worth of papers, while the seller, her daughter, their attorney, the valet/notary and our attorney had a mini Eastchester High School reunion and chit-chatted about the teachers they had, who was still coaching what varsity team and which teachers they knew who were still teaching there now.  We were clearly the outsiders.  Well I was clearly the outsider.  I’ve learned much of ’good’ Westchester is filled with two kinds of people: those that left the Bronx, and those that left the ‘bad’ parts of Westchester.  I’m still not sure what constitutes ‘bad’ Westchester, but if you live in Westchester and send your kids to private school, you must live in a ‘bad’ section.  ‘Good’ sections are those where the residents freely utilize their public school district.  At the closing, we had two Eastchester school district-graduated attorneys, so it couldn’t be that bad of a school district, even if one was wearing a reindeer sweater.      

There was some more chit chat about our walk-through in the house the prior evening and by the way, where was the door bell?  Initially confused by my question, the Reinhardts realized they had packed up the chime box of the door bell, so that was settled.  The doorbell wasn’t your typical ‘ding-dong’ sound, no, it played songs when you rang it, so I was sad to see that little nugget of charm walk out of our lives.   Perhaps noting some pettiness in my question about the doorbell, the seller’s attorney passed a comment about “Kicking an elderly woman out of her house at the holidays”.  Hey, I can’t help it if the holidays coincide with the end of the tax year.  They do every year so let’s wrap this up.   We went into contract 2.5 months ago so let’s get moving, and there was a first time home buyers’ tax credit on the table and 72 hours left in this tax year so let’s cut the chit chat and close already.

Then two unique events occurred at our closing.  I had brought a bouquet of irises for Mrs. Reinhardt.  She was selling us her house of 55 years, she was 85 years old and recently widowed.  Mr. and Mrs. Reinhardt had bought this house during the Eisenhower administration in their early 30’s to raise their family.  We were buying this same house during our early 30’s.  As yet an unmarried couple, times had changed,  Obama was president, and we house-hunted on line.   If I was having separation anxiety from my rented studio apartment of six years, I am sure Mrs. Reinhardt was going through a lot, even if she had her poker face on behind those huge, dark glasses.  During the walk through, it was evident Mrs. Reinhardt had left her floral curtains up all over the house, and her fake flowers all over the bathrooms and even in the back yard.  She loved flowers.  I’m not sure she loved fake ones more than real ones, or if that was just a matter of convenience.  So I brought the lady some real flowers.  Our lawyer was touched, even the valet/notary was touched, as was the hard-nosed seller’s attorney, and of course the Reinhardts as well.  It was the least I could do.

In this warm-fuzzy post-holiday moment of sharing = caring, Mrs. Reinhardt decided to share something with the rest of us.  Her husband had died earlier in the year and loved their house very much.  His passing prompted her to sell after all, but not before she spread his ashes over the back yard. 

Silence.  Pin-drop silence.  Stunned silence all around the room.  I think the two attorneys were quickly spinning their wheels to make sure the disposition of human remains on the property didn’t nullify the transaction.  The papers were signed.  The checks were handed over.  Did we all just hear what we think we heard?  Did we just exchanged a bunch of money for nine one-hundredths of an acre (no mule) and a sacred burial ground?


We closed on our house in December when the days are shortest and the nights are long and we had no reason to be in the back yard.  We went through a paint and plaster repair job.  We hung new curtains, we unpacked, we moved in.  That first spring time in our house I’d go in the back yard with a suspicious eye like I was going to see something out of place.  Though I eventually threw out all the fake flowers (placed amongst the real ones) in the yard, I have never touched the other knick knacks left behind in the yard, like the fake birds or the plaque with the sun on it or the ceramic frog, or the wind chimes, and especially not the American flags.  Mr. Reinhardt was a WWII vet and employed by the Eastchester Fire Department.  He could be anywhere.  He is everywhere.   Rob has felt a ‘presence’. The cats sometimes watch things I can’t see move around the room, and then Nick would do the same.   Other friends have felt a ‘presence’.  Sometimes even skeptical me has even felt a ‘presence’.  The presence probably spends most of its time in the littlest bedroom, which is the guest room, so come on over and stay a night or two!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Post Season: Seventh Borough Updates

Back in July, I wrote that this blog would run a few posts for each of its 'season' and that the Summer 2013 'season' would be about summer itself.  And I got two entries in and Summer was coming to an end, Labor Day had come and gone, Columbus Day had past us, Halloween was now a distant memory, and here we are in November.  I had written an entire post for election day, and by election day, I mean the primary, which here, is early September, and scrapped it altogether.  And I was trying to write a post about Baseball, a beloved summertime game, and it was becoming an Albatross of an entry.  I couldn't get it out, I couldn't pin down how to fit the entire 100+ year history of America's past-time as it related to me personally, and with meaning and humor, into one blog post and not try to produce the "Seventh Borough's Encyclopedia of Baseball".  As we Met fans are all to familiar with the phrasing: Maybe Next Year for my Baseball summertime entry. 

However, today's post, Dark Chocolate, was churned out in under three hours, as it related to a discrete and recent event, and I think 1. Reopening the blog with the word 'Chocolate' in the title is a cheap (but effective, no?) gimmick to get your attention and 2. A direct parlay into the 2013 Fall/Winter Season's theme: Life in New York.  I gave you my first hand account of visiting Red Hook, Brooklyn (in apparently what was its off season) and the changes going on there.  And by Life in New York, I'm not referring to fancy 5th Avenue shopping trips and visiting the Statue of Liberty, that's tourist junk.  I'm talking about your day-to-day life, as enhanced when eight million people squish on to a few, closely-connected islands, I'm talking about an appreciation for mass transit, even when it smells bad, I'm talking about the strategy it takes to get to work in East Midtown when the entire UN General Assembly and their entourages and their entourages' entourage have blocked all your paths to the office, I'm talking about my loyalty to my favorite coffee wagon man, even though I have a back up wagon man, and yes, a back up to my back up wagon man, just in case.  Even though I've had the privilege (the horror?) of paying $40 for a parking spot and $70 for a cocktail on occasion, I'd like to use the next season to get to the guts of the people and places and events that have made this place what it is, and its residents who we are.

And I'm playing loose with this theme of  Life in New York, generally I mean the City, but then the title of this blog puts us out of its official jurisdiction.  Things are never so black and white, are they?  I lived in the Second Borough until I was 31, my parents lived in the Second Borough, my grandparents lived in the Second Borough, my great-grandparents moved to the Second Borough after coming through Ellis Island, and I went to school where at least 75%* of the class had a relative come through Ellis Island as well, I always wonder if I made the right decision to leave the city even if I'm still only a stone's throw from it's geographic borders.  But then, the Seventh Borough has got to be filled with at least 75%* of NYC transplants as well**.  And I wonder if they feel the same way.

So welcome to "Life in New York", or what possibly could have just been titled "Stuff That Happens Near By And Involves Highly Opinionated People Who Talk Loudly", but that's not catchy.  Definitely not as catchy as "Dark Chocolate".

(* my best guess, no documented proof behind these figures, but seems better than writing 'a lot')
(**just a quick one - I feel most of the NYC transplants here are from the Bronx.  It seems no one from Brooklyn ever relocates to Westchester.  Though there are at least three of us, Myself, My Aunt Jane, and of course, Jay-Z.)

But really, I'll leave you with a vignette about baseball:
In late October, Rob, Nick and I took a long weekend up to Boston and were in town right about when the Red Sox won the pennant and were heading off to the World Series.  A few day later, the Sox had won the Series.  I mentioned this phenomena to my boss: I said I was just in Boston, and the Sox win the Series.  In 2009 I was temporarily living in the Bronx with Rob while waiting to close on our house and the Yankees won the Series that year.  Where ever I go it seems to be good luck for that home team.  My boss looks me square in the face and says," Could you move to Flushing?" 

Stay-cation Road Trip: Dark Chocolate

Sometimes a wife wants to surprise her husband with a trip to a place they have not yet visited, and once there, sometimes the wife realizes that their trip is not all it’s cracked up to be and the husband thinks his wife has lost it. 

A co-worker of mine, well, to be clear, the Grumpy Cat, is a big foodie and wine-y (?) wino(?) and he’s been talking to me about his trips to Brooklyn for local eats, artisan food merchants, butchers, bakers, wine cask makers, and other nom-noms he can buy at the source of production.  The Grumpy Cat has family in Brooklyn, though he grew up in Long Island and now lives in North Jersey, I was sensing, like myself, he had a bit of an inner urban child who needed to get out of his Xth – Borough and back into the grit and grist of Brooklyn every now and then.  So I paid heed to his stories.  Our group at work is also mostly a bunch of non-drinkers, so I think he felt able to discuss his vineyard, brewery and distillery visits with a fellow imbiber such as myself. 

So a few days ago, I drove Rob to Brooklyn for our ‘Surprise Destination’ trip, and I gave him a hint: it was in Brooklyn.  He thought we were going to Spumoni Gardens, which is, like a lot of Bensonhurst, an entirely concrete ‘garden’, that sells (obviously) Spumoni, Gelato, ice cream, Italian Ices and some of the best Pizza you could ever sink your teeth into – that’s why I capitalized  the P in Pizza right there.  But in my personal opinion, they make the best Sicilian Pies on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.  Their Sicilian Pies have to be 2 or 3 inches thick of fresh crust, and everything there is always so fresh because it’s never not crowded, they are a Pizza making machine!  About 2 years ago we went to Spumoni Gardens in the summer to have ices/spumoni/gelato in the ‘garden’, which is a giant concrete patio on the street filled with concrete picnic tables and lines of people waiting to order food reaching around the corner.  But Rob never got a slice of Pizza at Spumoni Gardens, and he’s still looking for his return trip.

I told Rob we were not going to Spumoni Gardens, but in fact we were going to Red Hook, and I think he immediately thought about our last trip to Red Hook, which just involved checking out the new Ikea Brooklyn down there.  I promised him we were not going to Ikea, or at least, that wasn’t the main attraction, though we did end up there on this trip to use the restrooms and get a snack.  (OK and then we ended up buying stuff because who doesn’t love Ikea?)

Red Hook, Brooklyn is both in a state of urban renewal and yet frozen in time.  It’s a small swatch of waterfront land, a grid layout of maybe only 15 blocks by 8 blocks, north of the Gowanus canal, just southeast of the very tip of lower Manhattan, grossly underserved by public transit, and isolated in a way, as the BQE cuts it off from flowing into Cobble Hill or Brooklyn Heights.  Exiting the BQE and heading past the public housing projects, Brooklyn’s cruise ship terminal makes use of the northern-most coastline in the area, and the large blue box that is Ikea sits at Red Hook’s southern coast.  In between those commercial establishments is a mix of old industrial buildings, some in disrepair and decay, others renovated but still in the shell of old brick buildings, advertising crafts and trades shops, and two- and three-storey brick row houses, also in various stages of decay or renovation.  Some of the row houses had their front doors or window trim painted bright, happy colors.  Others had gardens in their small front courtyards.  But it was entirely hit and miss.  Some blocks looked entirely renovated, while others looked like they had suffered an air-raid bombing.  Some streets were paved and some were cobblestone.  It made driving a little tricky but the whole area, in spite of what I thought was a home to burgeoning artisan industries, was in parts, desolate.  The most people I saw in one group was a team of Firemen checking out a very decrepit (and hopefully unoccupied) corner house, that looked like it was on the verge of collapse. 

I don’t think that Red Hook ever had such an industrial or commercial heyday as the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which lies just a short trip north up Brooklyn’s coastline, but the combination of houses and low-slung industrial buildings made me think it was once its own, self-sufficient port, like an old New England fishing village, the people who worked the docks and the boats, were probably all the residents just the same.  In between the old and renovated buildings, there were chunks of land entirely out of use, empty plots, in some cases dumping grounds, where you’d find remnants of a waterfront town – buoys and dinghies tossed about on land, a handful of motor boats in a lot, broke down and forgotten.  Like once upon a time people could launch a boat from here and now the waterfront isn’t a system of piers and docks, but chopped up concrete and wood pilings all over the place.  There was no seawall or formal coastline, just jagged edges.  I wasn’t sure how much of this was pure decay or how much was recent damage from Hurricane Sandy, which gave low-lying Red Hook a real beating last year, but I’d say it was more like time moved on and forgot about this little slice of Brooklyn, whose ridiculous proximity to Manhattan should have warranted it a better fate. 

We found our destination, and I had like 9 parking spots available to me, which in any other part of Brooklyn, would be considered akin to winning the lottery.  Nine open parking spots gives one pause, to think maybe these spots aren’t really legit, or maybe the streets were being vacated for a parade or a feast.  Given the general lack of souls about, including the general lack of traffic cops, I took my chances, parked the car and walked into the open steel-framed glass doors of a three-storey old brick industrial now operating under the name of Cacao Prieto – or literally – Dark Chocolate.  (www.cacaoprieto.com).

Cacao Prieto is both a rum distillery and a maker of their own chocolate.  What more could you possibly need?  As a lover of Rum, I thought Rob would love it, even if we had to drive though an urban ghost town to get here.  The building seemed to be cut into three parts, on the right side, you could see large steel (metal?) vats and piping, most likely the mechanics of the distillery itself.  On the left side, there was a bar and café, which was dark and empty.  In the center area, was an old fashioned cart of sorts, stocked high with wooden casks and decorated with dried ears of corn and pumpkins.  Behind this cart, was one guy who seemed to be running everything by himself.  I never caught his name but he was wearing a flannel shirt and had several small tattoos on his fingers, which I was trying to make sense of while he poured some rum tastings.  Rob tried a coffee flavored rum, a chocolate flavored rum, and another type of rum which they let age in barrels which once held whiskey.  This rum was called ‘Widow Jane’ and Flannel Guy informed us that this rum is cut with mineral water from the Widow Jane limestone mines in Upstate New York.  We bought two bottles of Widow Jane, she was clearly the winner!

I have no idea how people figure these things out, say age x liquor in a barrel that used to hold y liquor, or use this mineral content in your production and it will taste great.  Like whiskey or beer, rum has been around for a long time and I guess all that much time to tweak and enhance flavors.  Once I tried to make olive-infused vodka thinking it would amount to like an already-mixed martini.  That went badly. 

Flannel Guy also informed us that they weren’t selling any more Chocolates, as their cacao supplies from the Dominican Republic had all been used up for the rest of the year.  That was sad news.  I chatted with Flannel Guy about the café, and the overall desolation of the area.  He said that Red Hook’s location near the water made it an exceptionally cold place in the winter, he thought on average being this close to the water left them about 15 degrees colder than say any other part of Brooklyn.  Come summer time, the café fills up and the area is hopping, but late November on the cusp of a Nor’easter, the stray cats outnumber the humans. 

I thanked Flannel Guy for his time, and we made our way out of Red Hook, with a quick stop at Ikea, then over the cobblestones and past the projects, and in 10 minutes we were back on the BQE, in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and full re-entry into the 21st Century.

Sunday, September 1, 2013


A year and a half ago I had this fantastic idea that when I went on Maternity Leave, I would get to enjoy a sabbatical of sorts.  By then I would have been working for 10 years + straight, with no real break, aside from holidays and vacation days and such and during my sabbatical I would organize my house, organize the storage in my house, visit all the museums and stuff I wanted to do but never had the time to do because I was working, have a baby, write thank-you notes for all the baby gifts, take care of that baby, recover from a C-section, and plant my spring garden while making home cooked dinners for three months. 

Then reality set in. 

The first two months of maternity leave were just spent understanding the whole newborn thing and being glad to have brushed your teeth and put on clean clothes by 2 PM.  I did get to do a few things that I typically wouldn't do while working but none of that involved taking the newborn to the abundance of cultural exhibits in the First Borough, in fact, it was more along the lines of meeting my mom or my aunt for lunch and going to Starbucks for a coffee and drinking it there, instead of getting it to go.  Yes, that was the extent of my 'sabbatical'. 

Nowadays, it's possible, though rare, to get a break to do something entirely for yourself, and enriching, all the while minimizing the guilt you feel for not spending a Saturday with said newborn and newborn's daddy.  I'm not talking about doing one's CPE on 325-page study guides on Variable Purpose Entities.  This will get jammed into 2013 somehow.  Last weekend I was able to be a part of a sailing crew on my co-worker, Kristine, and her husband John's boat, Liberty, as part of the Luekemia and Lymphoma Society's regatta for the cure. 

I love boats.  I love water, I love swimming, I love the beach, I love scuba, I theoretically love sailing, though I don't really have any first hand experience at it.  In 2012, during said sabbatical, while Rob was away for business in (sadly, landlocked) Pittsburgh, I got into watching these Coast Guard rescue shows on the Weather Channel and decided I missed my calling to service as a member of the Coast Guard.  Had I been employed by USCG, I'm sure I would never have to work in a place like the desert and be subjected to 50 Shades of Brown.  The experience of my youth, growing up in Bay Ridge near the mouth of the Hudson clearly qualified me as a maritime expert, if not also an expert on suspension-span bridge engineering and thus bridge toll calculating.  ($15 WTF?)

Kristine and John, along with their sailing mentor, Margot, were plotting a sail on their 30 foot Catalina (this is a brand of sailboat) Liberty for the late August Leukemia Regatta.  Margot was recovering (in remission) from Leukemia and this race had a special meaning for them.  They also enlisted another couple, who, during a practice run proved to be quite the seasick crew, and had to be replaced.  Kristine asked me if I was interested (you bet I was), and I just needed to make sure that leaving baby and baby daddy home without a car for a day would be a workable situation.  Rob and I sailed around for a day two years ago with Kristine and John when I was 4 months pregnant.  This was not a race.  That was a nice calm sailing day and I got to 'man the helm' (steer the boat) most of the day.  Without an inkling of seasickness at 4 months of pregnancy, I had earned my slot on the regatta team.  Margot enlisted her oldest and best first mate, Shaunie.  Shaunie and Margot grew up on the south shore of Connecticut, and Margo was Shaunie's sailing instructor at sail camp in Essex some 45 years earlier.  These two ladies, now in their late 50's, spoke to each other about sailing in a code only the oldest and best of friends would understand.  I was fairly clueless, but I was not seasick.  And that's all that mattered.  So I thought.

I had been studying sailing for about 7 years now, and by studying, I mean I found a very thorough text book, bought it and read it.  I had never taken a sailing lesson.  Location, timing and cost of instruction was never making it real easy to just sign up.  Even my growing up next to the Narrows was not a sufficient nautical education, nor was watching Coast Guard Rescue on The Weather Channel for a few days.  True sailing skills seemed like something learned only by sailing as a child or teenager.  Or buying a boat as an adult and paying outright for instruction.  I had none of this.  But I had Kristine and John who were willing to invite me to sailing world here and there and I appreciated that. 

On the morning of the regatta, I was up at the crack of dawn, no, before the crack of dawn, drove out to the marina in Westbrook, CT and on Liberty by 8 AM.  I got to meet the sailing legend that is Margot shortly there after, and then Shaunie.  Both ladies asked me about my sailing experience.  I felt like I was on an interview  for which I was grossly underqualified.  Then they asked me about my racing experience.  That was a flat out nil.  Margot then asked me my surname, for which I was surprised by, and also figured she was fishing for some kind of sailing bloodline, which I also did not have.  Was my surname WASPy enough to sail in a regatta off the coast of Connecticut?  I gave her both my maiden name and my married name and let her pick which one she liked better.  I don't know the root of that question but it kind of died there. 

We were a crew of 5.  John was technically the captain but Margot was really calling the shots.  Kristine and Shaunie were in charge of tacking, which means to bring the jib (front) sail from one side of the boat to the other.  I was in charge of moving the main sail, but we didn't really do much of that so I became the weight and the lookout at the front of the boat (really the sides) and as we tacked from side to side, I moved my position from sitting off one side to the other.  This was a real physical work out as I had to get up from the edge of the boat, across the deck, over the cabin, under the boom (holds the main sail in place) all while wearing a hat and a life jacket.  On one tack my leg got stuck between two lines (ropes) and I lost a bit of skin there.  This was a grunt job but I guess that's what you get when you are the least skilled, least knowlegable, and perhaps have an insufficient surname for sailing a boat. 

Skinned calves and a few black and blues later, I got some reprieve to just hang out on the side of the boat while we made good time.  I cannot explain to you the start of the race but according to Margot and Shaunie, it went badly.  We then headed south into the Long Island Sound and had to arrive at and turn port-side (to the left) around a fixed buoy.  It was a big red buoy with bells, and as we approached, it looked as though the tides switched and the wind just died.  It took us about a half hour just to turn around a thing no more than six feet in diameter.  My job was still to tack myself left to right, as requested.  But the gong, gong, gong of the buoy bells were like a sad reminder, with no wind, that we were going no where fast.  At this point Margot and Shaunie were yelling commands and observances to each other in a sail-talk I had never heard before, not in my sailing textbook, not on my last-minute YouTube crash courses in sailing, the two skippers got us around the buoy in regulation direction with no wind.  That's a skill you can't pick up on the Weather Channel.

As we made our way to the finish line, I sat off the edge of the boat, as directed watching the man-of-war sized jellyfish of late summer skim the surface of the Long Island Sound.  Shaunie came over and sat with me and we chatted about sailing and water and such.  She was familiar with the Verrazano-Narrows and my little slice of the Hudson River.  Shaunie was a landscape architect and worked on a project at Poly Prep, a private school not far from where I grew up in the Second Borough.  I later found out she was a Capen House Smith Alum ('77) and our paths had a lot more in common than we first thought.  It was like an instantaneous connection between the big sister and the little sister, or the skipper and the indentured servant working her way for sea passage. 

We came upon the finish line, just before 1600, when the race time would expire.  We started at 1100 and I thought five hours was a ridiculous amount of time to finish a race but we needed every second.  Again, just as we needed speed and steering ability, the wind died down on us, just a few feet away from the finish line.  We were so close I thought I'd have a better chance of jumping off the boat and swimming to the mark.  At least I knew how to do that.  Again, Shaunie and Margot jumped into their long-term sailing mate code-speak, not wasting any over- or under-steer to preserve every little bit of wind speed to get us over that line and ahead of our two competitors who were just on our heels.  Margot and Shaunie got Liberty across the line at 15:58, with just moments to spare. 

Apparantly sailing has a very thoroughly calculated handicap system, and this vaulted us from next to last place to third to last place, or out of seven boats, we came in 4th.  Liberty's heavily handicapped due to its hull being built for recreation and not for speed.  It became very evident to me that sailing is the kind of sport where you do your best, but you can also keep an eye on your competitors, and there is no shortage of sh1t you can talk about them/their boats amongst your own crew. 

Team Liberty went to the after-regatta barbeque, had some more chit-chat  and some beers.  Margot's boat had been dry docked since she had become ill and she had full expectation to back-seat drive (sail) John and Kristine until she could get her boat and her self back to full speed.  I made my way home on the 75 mile drive from Westbrook to the Seventh Borough.  Tired, bruised, a little sunburnt, and thoroughly educated. 


One random Tuesday in May I was suited up, all dressed up for a meeting related to the Long Island City Project, plus another presentation, so I decided some time late in the day to go to another presentation after work, leaving baby and baby daddy home to fend for their own dinner. 

The Smith College club of NY was hosting Professor of Economics, Mahnaz Mahdavi, to discuss the recent financial meltdown in the Eurozone.  So I registered for the event just a few hours before it started, made my way to East 83rd street and entered the old brick townhouse-now-political-club which was hosting the event.  As with all the Smith Alum events I've been to in Manhattan, it was set up for a relatively small gathering, supplying cases upon cases of wine and very little food.  So I fixed a plate of about 3 strawberries, one piece of cheese and two crackers, and a full glass of red wine.  I remember I had been to a similar event when I was a junior or maybe a sophomore in college, and alum who lived in a full-floor doorman-elevator-straight-to-the-apartment kind of set up on Park Avenue kept feeding those of us just a hair under the legal drinking age plenty of wine, but the food portion of the event consisted of a few crackers and maybe a  handful of grapes.  Now where I'm from, no one leaves hungry, in fact I've left block parties with plates of food for the rest of my family who didn't even show up at said event.  #FirstBoroughProblems.

So as to not get wrecked at an Economics presentation, or start 'donating' randomly to the college by writing blank checks, I've learned my lesson and had a half sandwich before I showed up.  While people were milling about, I took a seat and noticed many of the alums were much older than I (they must come for the wine), though there were a few younger alums, who of course turned out to be PhD candidates and all work for the World Bank or IMF.  A much older alum ('46) struck up a conversation with me.  Her name was Ruth and she grew up in Manhattan and then moved to White Plains (Seventh Borough) after she was married.  We immediately struck a chord about adjusting to the suburbs and hating it at first, even though her transition was some 60 years before mine.  I told her it was my impetus to start a blog.  "An accountant who blogs, that should be interesting" Ruth said.  I smiled, "Well that was kind of the gist of my opening blog post", I said.  Ruth got it.  Nail on the head.  Turns out she still works as a consultant to a law firm after a long career as a political science teacher/lecturer.  She asked me if my company was giving out free tickets to Citifield.  I told her if her firm banks with us, she should talk to her relationship manager about free tickets, given the Mets record, and it was only May at this point, you know something will always be available.  She thanked me for the tip.

Professor Mahdavi got up to speak, and her Euro crisis topic was nothing new, but the level of details she went into brought a lot of clarity to the issue.  When countries joined the Eurozone, a sort of 'equalization' went into effect impacting their lending rates.  Some countries got cheap money, some used these funds well, others squandered it, and their failures brought the whole house to its knees.  Can Europe work together?  See World War I.  Not convinced.  See World War II.  Well life is a compromise boys and girls, life is a compromise.  During the lecture Ruth, now in her 80's, started to nod off.  I was surprised she was still working at her age, and she had told me her daughter had just retired, but she was not ready for retirement herself.  She told me she had another lecture to attend to at 8:30 and promptly, at 8:15, as if she were the only one to hear an alarm, jolted up, excused herself and went off to her second lecture of the evening.  I was impressed.

Even though Mahnaz was still fabulously stylish as she had been when I took her Corporate Finance class in the pre-Euro days of 1999, I was more interested in her work with the Women and Financial Independence project at Smith than the we've-already-taken-our-EURO-write-downs lecture of the night.  After the q &a I went to wait in line to speak with her and gave her my card, if there was any way I could assist with the financial independence project, I would be happy to help.  I thought that program was a fantastic idea and I wished it was up and running when I was a student.  It's a disservice to our students to give them a $200K education and put them out in the world not understanding not only the cost of a $200K education, but the value of a $200K education. 

I left that lecture in a happy mood, having had an intellectual discussion about current events, a nice chat with fellow alums, including my Seventh Borough Sister, Ruth, a catch-up with Mahnaz, and the hopes she'd call me to help with the Financial Independence project.  Like call me the next day.  I then realized it was late May and the school year was over, but it will start again.  I would be truly excited to help out with that project, maybe get a day trip to Noho, I'd have to bring my own sandwich, but I know they will supply the wine.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Road Trip!

Sometimes you just need to get out of Dodge.

I’m currently in this stint at work where everyone is out of the office and we are operating on a true skeleton staff.  My entire cube area is empty, the offices are empty, the technology group was recently moved to Jersey City (seems all roads lead technology to Jersey City these days).  The Grumpy Cat even took off a few days to bring his youngest to college for the first time.  We have the bare minimum of warm bodies present to process a (legal) cash transfer.  This would be the ideal time to clean my desk and get rid of some of the 1500+ emails in my inbox, but all I want to do is run out of the building and go to the beach.  I know there is a vacant chair at a swim-up bar somewhere with my name on it.  I have full confidence there is a deck chair out there, next to a chilled bottle of Pinot, waiting for me to come find it, and take in a new landscape.  I believe I am in full need of an escapism journey to an off-the-beaten-track town with a quaint hotel, and it would be great if that hotel had a (clean) Jacuzzi.    

Something about late summer just makes you want to check out and take a break.  But if I look at my 8 years of attendance and vacation schedules here at work, only once did I take off during the summer.  One week – July 2007, and I think I had a stomach virus for half of that week. 

So now that I’ve complained and day dreamed for two paragraphs, I can assure you that the Summer of 2013 has not all been wasted on silly things like going to work.  While my swim-up bar and hot tub may still elude me, we’ve had a few adventures of our own – the kind you can do in one day and not have to jam a baby stroller through a metal detector.  Yes, our two-mini road trips involved no metal detectors, pat-downs or security breaches whatsoever. 

Road Trip I: Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives

In July, for a bit, days were getting into the 95+ temps and bringing summer activities back indoors to make good use of this wonderful invention we have called Air Conditioning.  We had a couple of things we wanted to do and somehow, it just fit to do them all in one day: an errand in Connecticut, a Children’s Museum (indoors!) in Norwalk, dinner at Rob’s new love - Buffalo Wild Wings (insert eye roll here), and our recent find in the Overlook Dive-In Movie Theater, in Poughkeepsie, NY.  I Google-mapped everything, and plotted out our course.

We got the day started out east on 95 into Norwalk, home to a very interactive, hands-on children’s museum.  I found it on line because they were 1. Air Conditioned and 2. Advertising their dinosaur exhibit, and Nick loves dinos right now, I’m not really sure why, but he also loves trains, and balls (playing catch).  I guess it’s what little boys do.  The museum had a giant water-works exhibit and it was filled with plastic balls that you could float around in the water works.  The kid was in seventh heaven.  The Dino exhibit wasn’t that exciting for him, because it took a-dig-for-bones archaeological approach and all Nick wants to do is run around saying “Roar, Dino, Roar”, while stomping his feet.  They also had a dance room with a projector shooting different images onto the floor and the kids could jump on them.  Nick’s quite the dancer, and he’s not bad at jumping either.  A bunch of other tactile-ly things and a quick stop a the gift shop to buy, what else, Dinos (one’s a real ominous looking T Rex – sometimes when we’re home and it’s dark and the T Rex is on the floor, limbs upward, I think to myself, oh Lord, one of the cats died, but no, it’s the dino), and we rolled out, dinos and all.

While a very worn-out Dino-lovin’ 18 month-old snoozed in the back seat, Rob and I drove the 75 miles north-west towards Poughkeepsie, via route 7 to Danbury.  The drive from Norwalk to Danbury on a windy, two-lane route was nice and peaceful.  We passed small towns with tree nurseries, fresh fruit/veggie stands, little antique/old stuff shops and the occasional chrome-plated diner.  It was a little slice of Americana.  It was a hot day, but it was a nice day. 

We got off route 7 and onto I-84 toward Fishkill and then north to Wappingers Falls.  Wappingers Falls has a big shopping area with several chain stores and car dealerships.  By itself, it was nothing remarkable, aside from the fact it was our pre-movie pit-stop at Buffalo Wild Wings.  While I took in the small-town quaintness and lack of aggressive drivers along Route 7, Rob spent that drive strategizing his approach to selecting buffalo wing flavors.  I was able to pick one flavor of wings and I went for something dangerously spicy and tongue-numbing.  He picked the other three flavors and then had to diligently study the beer menu.  Wings and beer, I guess it’s what big boys do.   

Buffalo Wild Wings has no less than 20 flat-screen TVs airing no less than 17 simultaneous sporting events (I think the Yankee game got three TVs worth of coverage, well I think they were playing Boston), no less than 50 types of alcohol, and no less than 25 flavors of wings.  There was so much sensory-overload, it was hard to notice your own child taking a nosedive out of his chair, French fries and dinos spilling about, and no less than 3 waitresses and 2 bystanders coming to your aide.  I was furious at this daddy-distraction of a restaurant, but I could get no articulate words out of my mouth, lips fully asphyxiated by hot sauce.

We got out of that hot wing mess and changed Nick into his pajamas, and headed further north to the drive in theater in Poughkeepsie.  We found this drive-in last summer when needing a night out at the movies, but with baby in tow, it was worth the sixty mile each-way-drive to get to see a new flick and let the kid sleep in the back seat.  Gas is cheaper than a sitter?  Yes, unless the sitter service is called Free Babysitting by Grandma.

Overlook Drive-In is like the ultimate throwback movie theater.  It’s a big open field with a ginormous movie screen and a crummy old cinder-block garage-like structure that houses the (not so nice) restrooms and the concession stand.  The popcorn is good, but I think the oils they use are as old as the garage-building itself.  Last time we came the popcorn gave us some digestion challenges, and that on top of wild wings is a recipe for disaster.    

I digress.  We pulled into a spot according to the pre-established hierarchy of vehicular size and let Nick run around for a bit.  Behind the movie screen, it’s heavily wooded, and even though we’ve never seen a horror film at Overlook, I have no doubt that a machete-wielding, mask-wearing, chain-saw-brandishing, nut job will emerge from the woods and kill us all.  Lots of families were there and many were tailgating.  Some brought their dogs.  I was keen that the dogs would clearly alert us when the serial killer steps out of the woods so we all may have a chance to escape.  Growing up in the urban Second Borough makes one constantly suspicious of dense clusters of trees and such. 

The Drive-in also offers you something movies hardly ever do anymore, and that’s a double feature.  We saw a movie I call “Slugs”, which is a movie about racing snails officially titled “Turbo”, and finally, I got to see “The Heat”, with Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock.   It was a great movie and it made me laugh out loud, while the big boy and the little boy snoozed in the car.  As drive-ins need the dark of night to light up the screen, the movies here don’t start until about 9 pm, so after a double feature, it’s after midnight and we still have 60 miles on the Taconic back to the Seventh Borough and an ax-murderer to dodge, so car doors locked, we were on our way home.        


Road Trip II: Locavore Holiday

One day Rob and I received a wonderful gift, the gift of babysitting (this gift actually costs money, but Nick already knew the babysitter, so the element of stranger-danger was off the table).

We were so elated we didn’t know what to do with our free day, and the weather forecast was not looking so good, but I decided we would still manage to make an adventure out of it.  The adventure had three rules: 1. We will go out to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  2. None of our eateries could be places we have been to before, either separately or together.  3. To re-enforce rule #2, we could not go to Buffalo Wild Wings.

So the day before our day of 'adventure' I did some web research and no less then 60 minutes of Google Mapping Westchester County and I came up with our Locavore day out. 

Nick got dropped off and we headed towards the Sound for breakfast at Stanz in Larchmont.  Walking into Stanz, we ordered breakfast off the large chalkboards behind the counter, and then headed into the 'diningroom' area, made up of large, farmhouse-style tables and a help-yourself coffee bar.  You know I helped myself to the coffee, and Rob and I sat down at a smaller table, surrounded by 'regulars' reading the papers and meeting up for what looked like a post-lululemon workout group.  I had a potato-egg-goat cheese-and-onion scramble, with toasted French bread and a small fruit cup.  Rob had pancakes and bacon with a side order of fruit cup which was more like a fruit bowl.  The fruit was fresh, the food was good.  Stanz was very 'Jean-Jaquesesqe' for those of you familiar with its Pleasantville cousin (thought unrelated).  I'd like to have sat there on a drizzly morning and keep refilling my coffee and reading my WSJ, but we had an agenda, so it was time to go.  Stanz in Larchmont, two thumbs up. 

We rolled out to I 95 to attend to an errand relating to the aforementioned hole in my kitchen, and spent mid-morning doing that.  For lunch, our stop was at Red Hat in Irvington, a Hudson River town named after Washington Irving and his Legend of Sleepy Hollow fame.  Sleepy Hollow gets no recognition by the MTA and Metro North, but Irvington has its own commuter rail station, and Red Hat is situated on that small tract of land between the Hudson River and the Hudson River line, just south of the Tappan Zee Bridge.  We made no reservations for any of our eating spots on this July Friday, because it was a weekday and we thought we were 'beating the weekend rush' or whatever that meant.  After negotiating a parking spot, we realized Red Hat was quite the place for lunch as well as dinner and we'd be waiting for table for a long time.  In that small tract of land between the Hudson River and the Hudson River Line, were a small cluster of ~100-year old factory/warehouses that had (somewhat) recently been renovated into sites for small business, retail and Red Hat had capitalized on this architecture and river view, and we waited over an hour for an outside river-facing table for lunch.  In the meantime, we sat at the bar and had a round, while people-watching at the bar luncheon crowd, who seemed to be business lunch regulars and giving the evil eye to those patrons at tables whom we decided were done eating and needed to get up, vacate their table, and move us up on the wait list. 

We were finally seated at one of their river-view tables, outside the old brick building, under a black and white ticking-stripe awning, and even though I had already looked at the menu online, I needed to give it another go round just in case.  I got the Moules et Frites, Rob had a burger.  The  scenery and ambiance were worth the wait, though next time, and I'm sure with their roof-top cocktail service, there will be a next-time (though it will have to coincide with babysitting), I will be more strategic in my timing to Irvington (aka make a reservation).  I asked Rob how his burger was, and he said it was "French".  I asked him what that meant, or does being at a bistro just trump everything with tasting "French".  His interpretation of tasting "French" meant being under cooked.  As we're both fans of meat being VERY well done, anything less than burnt meant being cooked "French".  Anyway I really enjoyed my Moules, something I had only grown a taste for in London, when my housemates and I would frequent a Belgian beer place, big on Moules, though even bigger on beer.  My Red Hat Moules were fantastic.  We had dessert - Rob had a Key Lime pie slice, which seemed to vindicate his "French" burger, and I had a ginormous Profiteroll, sliced in half with a scoop of fresh vanilla ice cream in the middle, and a boat of melted chocolate on the side.  Dessert and a clearing, sunny sky over the river Hudson was full compensation for a long wait for a table and a "French" burger.

Stuffed to the gills, we had one more errand to make in the sixth borough and dinner at Truck in Bedford.  Heading north on I 684, we were hitting our third point in the triangle of our adventure/locavore holiday.  Larchmont, Irvington and Bedford also makes for an east-west-north triangle per Google Maps as well.  Where Larchmont seemed normally suburban, Irvington was, at some point, an old river town, whose Main Street absorbed the deep slope to the river (de)incline indicative of many Hudson towns, but Bedford, just a few miles north of the Seventh Borough, encompassed riding rings, small-tract farmland and unpaved roads.  As we headed off I 684 and onto local roads, it became apparent that there was a local parade closing down the main road in Bedford and we'd have to circumvent.  Guided by local police, we drove over gavel roads, past farms and into the very small main town of Bedford.  On Route 22, aka Post Road, aka White Plains Road, was a small house with a small parking lot that was Truck, so aptly named for its home address, the Truck website will tell you that Route 22 was that main food delivery route from Canada down to the Bronx, and Truck's founder, a US Southwest ex-Patriot, named the restaurant such after the food delivery trucks on old route 22.  Despite it's stark name and quaint placement, Truck serves food with a  Southwest flavor and its recommendation on Lohud.com favored the seasonal margaritas.  So we ordered some.

Again, trying to keep with the spirit of adventure and not with the spirit of reservations made well in advance, we were seated at a small table near the doors to the kitchen, and I sat in full view of the commercial-grade dish washing machine, bringing back memories of working in the kitchen at college.  I would have gladly run a few racks through the dishwasher at Truck if they'd comp some of my seasonal watermelon margaritas, which I would have sat there and drank all night if I wasn't the driver home.  Despite our crummy seating, we kicked off with a good rapport with our waiter, who was just as much of a fan of fish tacos as I was.  Three different types of fish tacos with rice and beans was a special and I ordered it right up.  Rob had a chicken quesadilla, and I had a Bluefish, Lox and grouper taco, after some fresh chips and very fresh salsa were delivered to our table.  I covered all my food with the 'secret hot sauce' and it was nothing less than magical.  Until I got to the lox taco.  I just couldn't eat lox in a taco, it looked horrible, and I couldn't bring myself to do it.  So with no request for a substitution, our waiter comped my  lox taco and brought me a shrimp taco.  Still filled on Red Hat profiteroles, I didn't need another taco, but the gesture was well received.  And I ate it.  Our waiter and I had a thorough discussion about fish tacos, and I think the last time I had real good fish tacos was in Santa Barbara, California, four years ago.  The key to good fish tacos is you need that south west flair AND you need to be near the ocean to get fresh fish.  California gets it.  Truck delivered as well. 

Though the town of Bedford left me with a feeling that I didn't earn enough money to even drive though it, I had had three good, local Westchester meals, and was fully satisfied with my 'adventure' for the day.  In the spirit of Truck's route 22, we followed that same road, through Armonk, White Plains, and finally into the Seventh Borough, picked up Nick from babysitting, and headed home.


Pre-Roadtrip: Before the Learner’s Permit, or The Early Years of Liz, the Mapaholic

In a past life, I may have been an explorer.  Well, probably not.  I’m not that adventurous.  I’m pretty risk-averse.  But I’m surely a map-aholic.  I once confided in a friend that if Google Maps existed when I was a child, I’d surely be a recluse, studying maps all over the world, Streets, Traffic, World view, etc.  I’d have never left my bedroom and yet have a photographic memory of all things map-able.  I’d be the cartographer hanging out with the explorers.  The technician hanging out with the adventure-seekers.  I’d be the dork supplying detailed information to support the popular guys (oh, wait, that’s my job now!)

Fortunately, Google Maps did not exist when I was young.  So many maps at the touch of a finger, it would have been addictive.  Instead, I spent my childhood walking, riding my bike or roller-skating around my very-easy-to-follow-numerical-grid-of-a-neighborhood.  We had a car when I was very young, and then again when I was 12, but for a good chunk of my childhood, we didn’t go very far unless you could get there on public transit or car service/cab.  My early-life map obsession was fed by the Public Library system, which provided free bus maps, free subway maps and these gigantic mega-ton books called Atlases.  Perhaps kids today will learn of the Public Library system as the pre-Google way to find anything about everything.  Because, you know, it’s totally the same.  I’d take the free maps off the racks every time I went, trace my fingers around the bus routes, through all the neighborhoods young girls should never find themselves in after dark (ironically all those neighborhoods are now cool, pricier, and infested with Hipsters), and check off places I’d been: this park, that park, this museum, that pool, this beach, that stadium.  So many places out there for me to find, map my way to it, and tick it off the list.  I’d see the world one city block at a time.

Fortunately, Google Maps did not exist when I was young, and this is also assuming I’d have a computer in my bedroom which had internet access.  That’s a tall order, given my mom’s issues with technology (even right now) and when our family did get its first computer, it lived on the dining room table, next to two type writers.  You see, we didn’t eat at the dining room table, that was like the ‘office’, or a rather large display table for typewriters and even an adding machine here or there.  We ate at the kitchen table, because the kitchen and the dining/office/area were actually nowhere near each other.  (Note: I’d like to tell you I grew up in a pre-war building, but our building was actually completed in 1943, right in the midst of World War II, so maybe all the clever architects were out helping Uncle Sam and our building got the interns for the drafting stage.)  So when my family did get its first computer, which was really only used for playing hangman and writing essays for high school, it lived on the dining table, which was actually situated in an alcove of our living room, down a long hallway from the kitchen, amongst the other typewriters, and yes, we had typewriterS, plural, and if you are reading this and don’t know what a typewriter is, you can Google it.

Road Trip III: Greatest Hits of all-time Road Trippin’

Select Highlights of Adventures in Driving:

Fortunately, Google Maps did not exist when I was young, but they have become widely used well after I got my driver’s license.  My husband will verify, I’m not a big GPS fan, most of the time, in fact I often know more than the GPS does (according to me), and my husband often takes the side of the GPS, because technology is always more reliable than your wife (according to him).  I am able to be more knowledgeable than a GPS (or as my tech-challenged mom calls it, a GP – she won’t give it the respect of all three letters, nor should she), because before any big road trip, I Google Map our route and destination and it’s like once I see the pictorial representation of a location, I remember it always.  Once I’ve driven somewhere, I have total mental recall of replicating the drive.  I had a roommate who could do the same thing with dates, you give her any date of any year and she knew what she had done on that day.  Maybe that’s a gift.  Maybe that’s a curse.  But it’s the skill I’ve got so I’m sticking with it. 

Sometimes you just need to get out of Dodge, even if you drive a Toyota - but planning the escape is really half the fun.  Road trips are great, even though hours of driving can be boring, it’s that nexus of ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ and ‘Life’s a Journey, Not A Destination’.    I’ve done the spur-of-the-moment-everyone-pile-in-the-car-late-night-run-down-to-Atlantic-City, where we stay up all night and watch the sunrise on the boardwalk.  I’ve done the peaceful, solo drive up to Dutchess County for a friend’s garden wedding.  I went to that wedding dateless (actually the garden owner’s puppy kept sitting next to me so I guess he was my date), but left with a full car as wedding guest-cum-taxi service. 

For the back-to-back graduations of my Carrollton, Ohio, based-cousins (Class of ’07, Class of ’08), twice I made the drive out to eastern Ohio with friends in tow.  The first ride involved us making a lot of animal noises, both in the car and outside of the car, after our first encounter with an alpaca farm (you can take the girls out of the 2nd Borough, but you cannot take the 2nd Borough out of the girls). I think some of the Alpacas were for sale.  I could have bought an Alpaca!! On our second round to the Buckeye state, we took our time, took a come-what-may approach to Cleveland (and by come-what-may, I mean, keep your expectations low and Cleveland won’t disappoint) before we headed south to my cousins’ (and yes, past that same alpaca farm).  It was on this leg of the journey, I was shamelessly profiled by the local police and prosecuted with my first (and only!) moving violation.  The cop gave me a speeding ticket for doing 39 in a 25.  You could believe my confusion, I wasn’t even going fast.  The officer told me I was in a ‘commercial’ speed zone of 25mph that was about 4 car lengths long and well, radar got me in that tiny band of egregious regulation.   Business District speed zones?  It was Memorial Day weekend, who’s working???, but I was driving a red, rented car with Empire State plates and they made an example out of me, or so I thought.  When we arrived at my cousins, I was informed that’s how the local cops catch everyone, and at the ripe age of 18 my cousins already had a few tickets under their belt. 

Before the graduation party, we found a liquor store, parked the car nearby and walked in the garage bay-sized doors to get some party beverages.  Little did we know, this was a drive-through liquor store and we were supposed to drive the car into the shop.  If someone had given me a ticket for that, I would have understood, but I’m still a little bit bitter over my 39 in a 25.  Well that, and the $200 I had to mail to Carroll County.  To pay for the (alleged) speeding ticket, I did not buy an alpaca.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cruel Summer

Nothing was going right.  Since mid-April to the end of July, nothing had gone smoothly.  A lot of stuff was going on, some for the better, some just adding challenges to everyday life, and then there was one, uber-time-consuming project.  I won’t go into details on this project, but it has to do with my job, the implications of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and a certain cheery but ineffective co-worker, who is inconveniently located twelve time zones ahead of us.  Since the term, ‘The Manhattan Project’ has already been taken, I’ll refer to this endeavor as ‘The Long Island City Project’. 

The Long Island City Project spanned three months and it’s one of those projects that didn’t even have the self-respect to come to an official close.  We kind of declared it dead.  Over.  Kaput.  Sort of unofficially like how the State can issue a death certificate without a body.  Finis. 

The Long Island City Project required a lot of meetings, and thus, a lot of dry cleaning, a lot of doing my own hair (yikes!), a lot of doing my own nails (why bother!), a lot of rearranging or switching Day Care pickup/drop offs, and it yielded absolutely nothing.  It’s one of those ‘Life’s a journey, not a destination’ periods, where absolutely none of the intended goals were achieved, though contacts were made and functions were better understood at the end of all this.  And part of it was conducted in secret until certain milestones were met, further adding to the stress of going into the office all jazzed up only to falsely assure people that nothing was going on.  Yep. 

When it became evident that something was going on, opinions were split.  My boss took the stance: you gotta do what you gotta do.  A former supervisor of mine was so in favor of the Long Island City Project being successful, he’d coach me on things to say in these meetings via blackberry email at 8, 9, 10 PM each night.  He loves this company so much that he gets so excited over every opportunity to talk about it.  When we used to work in the same office together, you could gauge his level of excitement (or stress) by what time of day he’d eat lunch.  If he ate lunch after noon, and it was just a sandwich and a Snapple, it was an okay day.  If he was ordering Chinese food delivery at 10:15AM while on his way to the snack vending machine, something was definitely blowing up.  The head of our department was not in favor of the Long Island City Project.  He took the approach that everything has its time and its place and this was neither of those for the LICP.    If the Grumpy Cat (on Facebook) was a fifty-five year-old CPA who lived in New Jersey, this would be the head of our department.  The facial expressions are identical, it’s uncanny!!  A foodie, a financial accounting genius, and as excitable as the Grumpy Cat, that’s our director of Financial Control.

But, no, I’m not going to talk about The Long Island City Project.  I’m going to talk about my cruel summer. 

Sometimes in life we emerge from a haze of sorts.  Sometimes it’s just getting past a hangover.  Sometimes it’s a break after devoting all our energies into accomplishing a major goal.  For example, about 4 years ago I emerged from a 10 month stint of intense study for my CPA exams, only to find the New Kids On The Block were touring again.  Dazed and confused, I wondered if I had been so preoccupied with the Federal Income Tax code that I had actually time-traveled back to the Seventh grade.  But no, it was almost 20 years later and the NKOTB were making a comeback. 

As the Long Island City Project was fizzling out, I was coming out of the haze of the frenetic pace of being on my own Midtown-Long Island City roadshow for 12 weeks.   During this period, other things in life had sort of also gone awry, out of busy-ness, distraction, neglect, or low prioritization.  As you, dear readers are well aware, the Seventh Borough News was one of them.  And it’s time to make a comeback!

As the mental exhaustion of the Long Island City Project was starting to pass, I realized that Summer was already upon us, and I longed for the care-free (perhaps NKOTB-infused) days of a grade-school summer.  I was kicking myself for not taking any vacation time in June or August (July being our busy post-quarter end time) and the rest of the department staff had snatched up vacation time for the remainder of the summer.  I was trying to be flexible, not knowing how, or when the LICP would come to a close, and now I’ll be the lone staffer holding down the fort come the end of August.  I really could use some time off and I absolutely had it in my time bank, but all I managed to eke out was one vacation day (read: mental health day) where I watched about seven hours of Netflix and drank a whole case of seltzer. 

My one, lonely mental health day was spent entirely sprawled out on our leather recliner, covered by my two cats, watching the final episodes of series I had not caught on DVR.  It was also one of those rough summer days where the temperature and humidity are both well above 90.  These are not the kind of days you want to spend covered in cats, though I did feel bad for my two girls, covered in fur at 90+ degrees.  And after every 20 ounces or so of seltzer consumed, I’d have to take a potty break, peeling my skin off the leather chair and dumping the furballs on the floor for a bit.  Well, it’s good to stay hydrated. 

Sure, we have air conditioning, but did I have the mental wherewithal to turn it on?  No.  One more episode and then I’ll go outside/take a drive/get an iced coffee.  One more potty break and then I’ll go for a walk/take a nap/make a phone call.   Sure, those were all good ideas, but the entire day was summed up: Netflix, seltzer, cats.  Yep.

My mental acuity was clearly taxed, then throw in the added workload and hours of the quarter end and I’m lucky I make it through the day.  One evening I found myself in my bathroom trying, with no avail, to remove my nail polish.   Put the pink liquid on the cotton ball, swab, swab, swab, nothing’s happening, huh?  Just because it’s in your medicine cabinet, does not nail polish remover it make.  Let’s just be glad no one had to call poison control that day. 

One morning on my way to work, while WALKING up Park Avenue, I noticed a woman with a rather bizarre outfit for a weekday morning, or for a day that’s not Halloween, in general.  As she stepped behind me, I thought I could catch another glimpse of her costume in my rear view mirror.  Sure, because pedestrians have rear view mirrors.  Had my pedestrian self also had a windshield, I would have looked through it and welcomed a familiar face in Francisco, my coffee wagon man.  When I saw Francisco, he was actually quite upset because he had just received a $300 citation for blocking a garbage can or some other trivial street vending issue.  But $300 = 200 cups of coffee.  200 cups of coffee = like 10 months of coffee.  Or when I was studying the tax code, 200 cups of coffee = 1 week.  Francisco is going to have to find a dozen or so sleep-deprived students to pay off that ticket, and this is exactly the wrong time of year for that.    

 Nothing was going right.  Since mid-April to the end of July, nothing had gone smoothly.  A lot of stuff was going on, some for the better, some just adding challenges to everyday life.  I was having zero success at work and zero success at getting off from work, and unlike last summer, this summer I had no intern to run reports for me nor entertain me with intricate details of how one expects the zombie apocalypse to go down.  Rob has a new long-term project that has him working every Friday night and Saturday morning, exactly the time of the week when no one wants to be working.  One of my furballs (you KNOW it was Rita) peed in my dishwasher, (I can’t even explain that one, but fortunately you can run dishwashers on very, very high water temperatures and you can run them 7, 8, 9 times in a row if you had to, and we did – also we have paper plates just in case).   Also, there is currently a hole in my kitchen floor, which is part of a small-scale renovation, but it was also a gateway for major ant infestation of my kitchen, yay!  Then there was a coxsackie virus outbreak at day care (somehow, we dodged that one).  All this junk going on in 90+ temps and 90+% humidity, the kind of days I just want to give up, lay down on the pavement and have someone wake me up after Labor Day, but you can’t, because the pavement is too hot and the asphalt is starting to melt.  The kind of days better spent under shade of tree or by ocean breeze, and not spent with throngs of sweaty people on mass transit, nor near hot pizza ovens during brownouts (Mezzaluna: you should have comped us dinner for that night!!)

But one weekday evening, in early June, under the hum of the air conditioner, while I was in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner, out of the corner of my eye, I caught my little cruiser walking, unassisted across the living room floor.  I was so excited I wanted to run over and pick him up, but that would defeat the whole purpose, so I just jumped around with excitement from a safe distance away.  Six weeks earlier, when the Long Island City Project was still very much a go, we had to meet with The Specialists on the request of our pediatrician, as to why Nick wasn’t walking yet.  I knew he would get there, I knew he could do it, and I also knew Nick came from a long line of late walkers, but I didn’t feel the pediatrician nor The Specialists would understand my rationale of genetic late-mover-ness, which I instinctively understood.  Rob got out the camera.  Nick was elated with his new-found skill and independence.  Just in time too, Summer’s here and there’s so much to explore.

And so we have.  The beach.  The pool.  The park.  The mall.  The Children’s Museum.  The baseball stadium.  The sandbox.  Nick will now walk over to the back door and say ‘outside’, though he also says this during thunderstorms and hasn’t quite differentiated the weather yet.  The second half of this summer is still very much a possibility for fun and excitement.  Things at work have started to calm down and we will make the most of Baby’s First Mobile Summer even if we have to jam all our activities into the weekends, and spend Monday through Friday with the Grumpy Cat.     


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While emerging from my Long Island City Project-induced fog, I knew this blog was one of my prime victims of recent neglect, but I felt absolutely spent and un-creative.  I felt I was in a position similar to ‘Confessions of a pope-less Catholic’, entirely stressed out and time-strapped for writing, yet this time around, I had nothing to say and was hung up on a few partially written entries.  The juices, as they say, were not flowing.  There was definitely news to report, from the Seventh Borough, but I just didn’t see the humor or entertainment value in anything going on.  So I made myself read some of my favorite ‘reads’: Ralph Gardner’s and Joe Queenan’s columns in the Wall Street Journal (these guys are not Finance guys, and they are funny!), The Smith Alumnae Quarterly (sure to light a fire under your butt as it makes you feel utterly unaccomplished, yet longing for tea and cookies), and I began my 40 credit hours of Continuing Professional Education self-study, because while there is little humor in a 325-page primer on ‘Fin46: Consolidations of Variable Interest Entities’, sometimes I feel I get good ideas after doing something very boring or dry.  Not that FIN 46 is that boring, it relates to the scenarios which created the Enron debacle, but does it really have to stretch over 325 pages????


Like a pre-workout warm-up, I had to read stuff I liked, to write my own stuff I liked.  But I also had to avoid this cycle of try to write all the time - not do it - feel bad - get nowhere.  My original plan for one submission a week was, in hindsight, not realistic, at least not with the long-winded, minutiae-laden junk that I write (how many other bloggers make constant reference to their coffee wagon man?), and a full-time job.  So my new plan is to run in ‘seasons’, each with their own theme, with inevitable breaks in between each season, and try to publish 5-8 submissions per season.  All that stuff out there already, is Spring ’13 season.  The theme of that season was mostly the starting up of the Blog itself, with a few current event topics (‘Across Five Aprils’) interjected.    Starting here with ‘Cruel Summer’, my next few submissions for the Summer ’13 season will be, aptly, about Summer itself:  Baseball, beaches, birthdays, vacations and school, or the lack thereof.  I think this new approach will work out, and I think we’re starting off with a good seasonal theme.  After all, Summer is my middle name!

No, really, it is.

Welcome back to the Seventh Borough!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Welcome to the Mothership

    “The power that a mother has to create another human being, with a sense of self-esteem, with a sense of possibility, that is a job that you should honor…this is a person who is making sacrifices all the time so that your life can be better.  So I think the more we can acknowledge moms in our own homes and beyond, the more women will feel empowered in that role.”

--Maria Shriver speaking of her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mommies, grandmas, aunties, Godmothers, and ‘second mothers’ out there.  You all know that Mother’s Day morning I will be milking this to the hilt as the one day I get to sleep in with all the justification in the world. 

The Mother’s Day bandwagon is one which I have recently joined myself.  Truth be told, the only other humans who truly understand the sacrifices other mommies have made, is well, other mommies.  I was on the train the other day speaking with a co-worker who has a 5 year old, a 3 year old and a six-month old.  I said to him “What is Carol (aka Mrs. Australian) doing for Mother’s Day?” and he said she’s having a weekend out with the girls.  I said that’s the way to go.  Everyone needs a break from their children, especially on Mother’s Day.  Ironic as it may sound, I have a 15 month old whose molars are arriving with no lack of drama and me and my 30+ year-old molars don’t need to listen to this crap. 

In my whopping 15 months of experience as a mom, which, I know is not quite a solid match for the tours of some others on mom-duty, including my own mother, I do feel comfortable stating that motherhood boils down to two elements: what you DO for your children and what you WANT for your children.

What you DO for your children is highly visible and easily measurable.  Right now I’m in a DO FOR the child phase, as are most moms of little children.  We do the basics:  feeding, washing, dressing, explaining words, phrases, actions, vocabulary, we play with the little ones.  We teach building, sharing, colors, shapes.  We regulate that the daily vegetable intake should exceed the daily French fry intake.  We do your laundry, we snap you snugly into your carseat, we drive cautiously as if the most important person is in our car, because the most important person IS in our car.  We tuck you into bed at night and we liberate you from the crib each morning.  Your laundry still has a baby smell to it, and we love it.  Moms love to snuggle you!!!!!!

Big or small, near or far, what moms WANT for their children knows no boundaries, not age, not distance, not for lack of communication, not for excess of proximity, not for traits in common, not for diverse personalities, your mom always wants what’s best for you.  And maybe you scoff at the idea, but it’s true.  When I was pregnant in the late summer of 2011, I was excited for this baby and I thought I was having a girl.  I thought to myself, dear little girl, I want you to have a fantastic life, and I want you to avoid all the mistakes I made and I’m going to tell you exactly how to do that.  Then, on September 14th, 2011 we had a sonogram and found out you were not a little girl at all, but in fact, you were a little boy.  And I knew nothing of what it was like to be a boy, so, little baby, you and I are going to figure out the Mom-baby boy thing together. And that’s what we’ve been doing for the last 15 months.  (Even if you were a girl, I’m still new to this mom thing so not really sure what I was thinking there). 

Boy or Girl, I was already formulating all the life lessons that I though you needed to know.  Filtering out the really important lessons, getting ready for the excitement I thought your life would hold, bracing for the disappointments I thought may come your way, based on my own experiences, and always hoping the excitement would outweigh the disappointments, hands down.  I know we are still working on building vocabulary and using utensils, but I hope that my little one finds his talents early on, that he treats people with respect, and learns to recognize that he deserves the same, and whomever become his friends or significant other, whether I like them or not, if they are a big part of his life, they are always welcome to come over for dinner, or more likely, takeout. 

In my 15 months on the mothership, I have also developed great empathy for the other mommies out there and the challenges they face.  My own mother didn’t found the Special Olympics, but at one point she worked three jobs at the same time.  I can see how my mom worried if her daughter would ever come back from London (she did) or if her son would ever walk again after losing his leg (he does).  When I lost my father at ten years old, many, many things seemed topsy-turvy.  But I was told this was going to be very difficult on my 76 year-old Grammy, burying her 44 year-old son.  I saw the sorrow on her face that day and filed it in my ten year-old memory.  Now, on the mothership, that sorrow has an all new, raw, context when retrieved from my ten year-old memory. 

No part of me wants to lose my little boy, I don’t even know how anyone can recover from that.  But I have to admit, there is a part of me that felt like once this kid was born, my job was done.  As if I had secured the next generation and thus my time was up.  Even if time’s not up, I have this feeling that I have to protect my little guy and guide him on his path to adulthood.  I think most moms feel that way.  I had never really considered my own mortality in this regard until I had this little guy to worry about.  I’ve already decided that if the events of this world take me out of it and keep babycakes in it, I’m determined to be his guardian angel, his watcher, the spirit on his shoulder, because even if I’m at a point where I can’t DO for my child, I will always WANT for my child, for his happiness, for his health, for his well-being, and so that he may know his Momma always loves him.  Even if he still calls me Daddy. 

Vocabulary, Nick, vocab.