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Posts Tagged ‘Memoir’

A friend asked me if I had any plans this weekend. I told her I’d just returned from Nashville, and Bob of course was working. ERs can get pretty busy when Summer turns to Fall. There was a slight chill in the air this morning as I kissed Bob goodbye. A pale sun glow illuminated the eastern ridge, as I sat down in the aviary to ponder plans.

1 – Shop Local… and sustainably! Forget about big box sales, on junk from China, my buddy Wendi has a delightful warehouse in Cville chockfull of anything and everything for your home. When the grande dames of Albemarle County start downsizing, they bring their gorgeous antique furniture and unique finds from around the world in fashion to her. I follow Leftover Luxuries on Instagram to see what rolled in this week; needless to say, you never know what you might find! A huge farm table for under $500? Bonus, you don’t have to build her furniture! http://www.leftoverluxuries.com/home

2 – Get Your Hands Dirty! Plant a new tree, or some bulbs. Now’s the best time imho to spruce up your garden. There’s only a couple of months of watering until frost steps in and you’re done! And if you don’t have a green thumb, our local potter Mud Dauber, (a gallery and studio of different clay artists) will be giving private throwing classes in their 1890s renovated barn – right down the road in Earlysville, near the Farmer’s Market! I was thinking this might be a good exercise for my broken pinky finger. https://www.visitcharlottesville.org/listing/mud-dauber-pottery/1218/

3 – Hit Up an Indie Bookstore – You know all about me and that famous Nashville watering hole for literati, but why not find your very own indie bookstore and lose yourself for an hour or so among the shelves? If there’s one thing Millennials and us Boomers have in common, it’s that we prefer to read real books on paper over a device of any kind. When I was writing for the Two River Times in NJ, I loved stopping in at Fair Haven Books – now known as River Road Bookstore. The ladies there knew my name and what I liked to read, so I never left empty-handed. In Prague I discovered the Palac Knih (Palace of Books), but here in Cville, stop by New Dominion Bookshop!  http://www.newdominionbookshop.com

4 – Take Up a New Sport – One of my Facebook friends mentioned that her son doesn’t like sports, what’s a mom to do? I told her not to worry, kids gravitate to their own beat; the Rocker hated baseball when he was little, even though I loved playing softball every summer at camp. Lacrosse was a no go, only ice hockey sustained my son’s interest. Coming full circle, his band Parlor Mob joined a Jersey Shore Rock and Roll team that benefitted several charities, and voila he was back out in the field again! My sports club in Cville opened a brand spanking new Squash facility last year, hmm… facilityhttp://www.theaquarian.com/2011/08/17/shoreworld-charity-softball-new-asbury-music-book-and-more/

5 – Do a Vineyard Tour – Central VA is full of vintners, honestly I can’t drive ten minutes without finding a winery! We’re kinda like Napa, only not so well known and greener. Millennials drive down here from Northern VA for weekend wine tours, but for us, it’s a hop, skip and a jump to the best terroir on the planet. My favorite wine of all time is White Hall, it’s a beautiful drive out past Crozet http://centralvirginiawinetours.com/wine-tours/  Or maybe think about planting your own grapes? That is if you’re not into craft beer, and beekeeping seems too difficult…ah, the toils of the landed gentry!  http://www.virginiaestates.com/virginia-farms-for-sale/starting/vineyards.asp

6 – Charlottesville City Market – If you’d rather buy your local produce, head on down to this fantastic farmer’s market very early tomorrow morning. UVA is back in session so this place gets crowded quickly. There are over 100 vendors in the downtown Water St parking lot, and you will find everything edible in season, and jewelry, wood carvings, gorgeous orchids and much much more. Plus, it’s an event. You are guaranteed to meet someone you know, and to learn something new. I hope Hermine decides to spare my friends in FL, and maybe hold the rain off here until noon. http://www.charlottesville.org/departments-and-services/departments-h-z/parks-recreation-/city-market

7 – Warhol Your World – If it’s raining, pop into a museum! There’s the Broad in LA where you will find Ms Cait, and the Frist Center in Nashville where my grand babies roam free. But here the UVA Fralin Museum will be finishing up its show of Andy Warhol silkscreens on September 18th. “The exhibition will pay special tribute to the concept of the icon, and the fluid definition of that term in contemporary society, particularly in relation to its historical definition. From Annie Oakley to Liza Minnelli and Saint Apollonia, in these prints as in other works, Warhol played on notions of celebrity through the use of the singular iconic image—repeated, reproduced, and reversed.”  http://www.virginia.edu/artmuseum/index.php   This is titled “Butterfly on Nana 1”

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My favorite living author, who also happens to own a bookstore in Nashville, asked her readers what the title of their autobiography might be; “What would be the title of your life story?” The graphic on Parnassus’ Instagram account was a cartoony book titled “Can I Get Extra Cheese On That, a Memoir.”

Now I have nothing against cheese, in fact a day without cheese is like a day without a squeeze! But since that title was taken, I thought for maybe a split second and wrote “Victory Gardens.” That title means so much to me, and I realize it probably makes you think of the push to grow our own food after WWII, if you are of a certain age. But if my foster parents hadn’t scooped me up in Scranton at ten months of age and planted me in Victory Gardens, I might have been heading for an orphanage.

In that tiny, four room cement house, in the “temporary” development built to support the war effort at Picatinny Arsenal, I was surrounded by enough unconditional love to grow  strong. You remember the ice cream truck, and the doll house Daddy Jim built from the ice cream sticks; my trips to town and free samples of everything, especially bologna at the butcher shop.

Yesterday I listened to NPR’s Fresh Air in the car and I was rooted to my seat. I couldn’t leave the car and face the oppressive 96 degree heat – plus the topic spoke to me. Two culinary historians were promoting their book about food during the Great Depression. The authors were talking about their grandparents, but we Boomers grew up with parents who lived through this period, so our childhood kitchen tables reflected that period of time perfectly. And don’t forget, I had two mothers.

In Victory Gardens, Nell would proudly tell anyone within earshot that she was really good at opening cans, then her face would light up like a Christmas tree at her own joke! I remember dinners that consisted of canned hash with a fried egg on top. A vegetable side would mean a sliced tomato. Frozen foods were a novelty, so in this Catholic house we ate frozen fish sticks on Fridays. One day a week we ate out at the diner. And for a very special occasion she might make her specialty, stuffed cabbage, a Slovakian miracle simmering in sauerkraut.

But the Flapper, in her old Queen Ann house in town, would cook! She simmered meatballs in sauce she made herself, and even though she was working ever day she managed to get a delicious hot meal on the table every night. She taught me how to shop for the freshest ingredients by season, and how to save a few pennies here and there. Of course I’ve told you about her Depression-era Mac n Cheese, the kind with bacon because they could not get real butter. One of both Moms’ favorite stories was how as a young child I could tell the difference between butter and margarine. Later I learned they had to put yellow food coloring in a Crisco-like substance in the 30s to approximate butter. And ps, I have never purchased margarine in my life!

So while listening to “Creamed Canned and Frozen” yesterday, one author spoke about  bologna and mashed potato dinners. I had to smile since bologna was a staple at my cement house too. With the Flapper we made delicious ham sandwiches on rye bread with real dill pickles we picked from a barrel.

But the funniest thing the authors Jane Ziegelman and Andy Coe said was their children would not eat the food they were preparing during the writing of this book, since it didn’t look like food to them! And thinking back, canned hash does look like something maybe the dog didn’t like…http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/08/15/489991111/creamed-canned-and-frozen-how-the-great-depression-changed-u-s-dietsta The Flapper, however, cooked creatively with spices, and spicy food believe it or not was deemed suspicious in the 30s.

Spicy foods were [considered] stimulants. They were classified as stimulants, so they were on that same continuum along with caffeine and alcohol all the way up to cocaine and heroin. And if you started with an olive, you might find yourself one day addicted to opiates. It put you on a very slippery slope — watch out for olives!

Today we are asked to learn where and how our fish were harvested, what the cows have been eating before we buy a steak, and how sustainable is the farm growing our produce. Would the Flapper pay more for organic milk, like I do? It’s a wonder panic doesn’t set in the moment we think about getting a meal on the table! I wonder how or IF the Love Bug will cook, maybe she’ll use a replicator a la Star Trek? I remember how she turned her nose up at the first chicken nugget I offered her, after all, it doesn’t look like chicken!

So even though I grew up in a bland house that referenced a garden without an actual garden, where a tinned tuna casserole made with soup was considered nutritious, I managed to become a fairly inventive home cook imho thanks to the Flapper. And the real victory was when the Bride asked for all my recipes when she was setting up her own kitchen after college.

While Lee and Al were visiting I made stuffed eggplant; a recipe I made up as I went along, sauteing garlic and mushrooms, mixing with the eggplant, and of course baking with cheese sprinkled on top! This was right before they went in the oven, Bon Appetit!  IMG_4981

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Are you watching? Do you gloat when Lilly wags her finger at that Russian swimmer who has been accused of doping in the past? In and around the Olympic pool, shaming a competitor is allowed. Go ahead and try to hack into our emails Moscow, we’ll show you a thing or two when the games finish up and the medals are counted!

Do you cringe when the bicycles crash? What about archery, or volleyball on the beach, in bikinis? My all time favorite is diving – guys, girls synchronized pairs, or alone. How in the world do they enter the water with a tiny ripple after somersaulting like birds in the sky?

I’ve been reminded that in 1972 the world experienced a seismic shift for women when Title IX was passed into law in our country. Sen Birch Bayh of Indiana said this on the floor of the Senate:

“We are all familiar with the stereotype of women as pretty things who go to college to find a husband, go on to graduate school because they want a more interesting husband, and finally marry, have children, and never work again. The desire of many schools not to waste a ‘man’s place’ on a woman stems from such stereotyped notions. But the facts absolutely contradict these myths about the ‘weaker sex’ and it is time to change our operating assumptions.”

Title IX was too late for me. Graduating from high school in 1966 – yes our 50th reunion is coming right up – my class was on the cusp of the feminist movement. My friend Lee is ten years younger, yet she experienced discrimination in law school, one of very few women. You had to be tough in those days to last, like Hillary!

At my girls camp every summer I had racked up athletic prizes. Basketball was my favorite, and I was the one lone player, the “roving” one, allowed to run the full length of the court because they didn’t think girls could play like the boys. There was no future for me in sports however. In high school I was always trying out for plays, the drama department had stolen my heart. I had compartmentalized any talent I thought I had, not consciously, but summers were for sports. Sure some girls played after school, but I returned to the “real” world, where the Flapper had to work and so I had to take the bus home every day.

I thought about dance, ballet had been a big part of my life. The one time I performed that wasn’t part of a musical on stage, was in the gym as part of the Girl’s Athletic Association annual award ceremony. I didn’t get a medal of course, but I did choreograph and dance an interpretive number to “I Enjoy Being a Girl” from Flower Drum Song. One PE teacher took pity on me, and encouraged me. Looking back, it seems ironic:

I adore being dressed in something frilly
When my date comes to get me at my place
Out I go with my Joe or John or Billy
Like a filly who is ready for the race

When I have a brand new hairdo
With my eyelashes all in curls
I float as the clouds on air do
I enjoy being a girl

I actually hate frilly. Moving on to my first year in college saw my first knee injury on a ski slope. Sitting on a chair at a law school mixer in a full leg cast, my first husband approached me. I should have known something was up; he didn’t dance himself. Washed up as a dancer, my dreams of being a super star on Broadway, a hoofer, were stalled.

So I did what every girl my age did, got married. The point is, we women of the late 60s couldn’t even dream of being super star athletes. Not then.

Today the “Final Five” USA Women gymnasts are super heroes, inspiring a whole new diverse generation of girls. And most importantly, all the women in Rio grew up with equal opportunities – Title IX was entrenched – whatever money went toward boy’s sports in public schools, had to be allocated to the girls too. In archery, tennis, golf, rowing, basketball, softball and of course swimming and diving.

Even though times they have changed, the media coverage of women in elite positions on the world stage hasn’t very much. I thought this was a provocative article – a little “sarcasm” if you will. Imagine covering a man the way some broadcasters talk about women. Maybe the world of male commentators thinks we are still waiting for our Joe or John or Billy?  It’s a good laugh if it doesn’t make you cry. “Congrats girl! Fiancé of former Miss California scoops his 25th medal” http://thetab.com/uk/2016/08/10/congrats-girl-fiance-former-miss-california-scoops-25th-gold-medal-13873     IMG_3652

 

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Let’s take a break from the sturm and drang of politics shall we? Do people ask you where you would most like to live if you had nothing else to consider in the world? Let’s just say you won the Lottery and you have no grandchildren. No ties to any coast at all. Which is not my case, but this is a hypothetical.

Well this week I’ve been reminded of my favorite place because our dear friends came from the Berkshires for a visit. When the Bride was little, we would pack up our cars and take the ferry from Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard for a whole month every Spring. Lee is probably my bestest friend, a wild and wonderful woman! She was an Ass’t DA when we first met, at a ballet class, and then opened a private practice in family law. She went to the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Princeton, so we would kid around and say we went to different schools together.

At the Rocker’s Bris in August of 1984, she singlehandedly filled my living room with tall, glorious gladiolas!

Her husband Al is retired and Lee is starting to think about retirement too, though she is a bit younger. And they were smart years ago to buy an investment property in Vineyard Haven; although we always rented a cottage on the wild side of Gay Head, a place that dropped off red clay cliffs to a rocky shore and held center stage in my dreams for many years.

This is the place where I imprinted ruggedly beautiful seascapes and rambling rose bushes on the Bride’s baby brain. We would dig up clams on Menemsha Pond in Chilmark and eat them slathered in butter. Lee would bake bread every morning, then we would visit the fish market to plan our dinner. We would ride on the historic Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs, an old and established Black community on the island. The Bride would reach to catch the brass ring, and our dogs would want to jump up and catch it too.

We flew on clam shell roads with the wind in our hair, our bikes with fat tires, taking showers outside that could never entirely wash away the sand.

So yes, there is no other place I love more than The Vineyard! And our President is taking his last vacay there as Commander in Chief.

On the island, Mr. Obama is expected to play a lot of golf and read a pile of books, if his past vacations here are any guide. He may attend a party or two given by friends who also vacation here, but for the most part the Obamas tend to keep to themselves. Mr. Obama is an avid sports fan, and with the Olympics playing on TV, he may have even more reason to remain in his rented house. After so many years of having the president and his family as summer guests, residents here have lost much of the excitement they once showed for presidential visits. The island is a haven for moguls and movie stars, and the Obamas have become part of the scenery.  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/07/us/politics/obama-arrives-in-marthas-vineyard-for-two-week-vacation.html?_r=0

I’m sure he can relax this August, knowing the lead Madame Secretary has secured in the race to the White House; knowing his legacy will be assured. Jobs numbers are good, the market seems to be progressing. Maybe he will play some golf and eat a few lobster rolls? Walk into town for some ice cream?

Sometimes I would run into Carly Simon in town and pretend I didn’t know who she was…because that’s what people did before cell phones and selfies. I hope people leave the Obamas alone. I hope they can actually find a little peace on this island paradise. I’d like to turn off all the political punditry for the next few months.

Cause I haven’t got time for the pain…  this was us in 1981. Menemsha Family 20160808

 

 

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Since I didn’t grow up with the Flapper, her character can be elusive. I’m back to my book, writing about her and the intersection of a story I covered back in NJ. A story about a mobster and a long line of Irish women. So this Mother’s Day, I thought I’d share with you a snippet of the book, from my older sister Kay’s point of view:

Men found it hard to look away from Mama’s legs when she sat up at the counter. She had this way of crossing them, her tiny feet balancing on the brass bar that ran along the smooth wooden baseboard. Stockings rolled down, T-straps punctuated her ankles like a proper Flapper. She smoked lazily, holding court with all the customers. My Daddy was a pharmacist and his Rexall drug store was our family’s meeting place after school.

Every day my little brother Mikey and I would stroll over for ice cream, and to see if Daddy needed any help. I’m the oldest and only girl after Shirley moved out, so I’m the sugar in his coffee. Only lately Daddy was having trouble moving his left arm, and sometimes he had headaches. Then I would get to pound some powders into pills for him in the back office. I was just heading there when I heard my name.

“Katy honey, bring me that new lotion that came in last week.”

Mama stabbed out the cigarette, willing me to her. It was her pleading, sweet voice. The one you didn’t want to cross. She was pregnant now and found it easier to ask me for all kinds of favors. Mikey was sitting in the store window, sunlight sparkling off his blond head, reading a Superman comic. He was tired of being the baby in the family.

“Mama can I name the baby, please? Can I name her pretty please?” 

His voice was pleading. The baby was due in September, and we all wanted a girl with red hair. Mikey would name her Rose.

As I searched for the new lotion, I watched Mama twirling her fingers in her heavy lap; never still, pivoting around in the counter seat, flashing a smile so brilliant you’d think a light bulb went off. There was a cold, sweating Coke in front of her, and the fan was aimed at her neck. She was waiting for a new life, never imagining what was to come.

Of course this was the summer of 1948 when she was pregnant with me, her sixth and last child. You could hear Frank Sinatra crooning in the background, and I always imagined Reese Witherspoon playing her part in a movie. The Year of Living Dangerously was about to begin. She had left the city lights behind. The Flapper was a complicated Mother, full of contradictions and forged out of steel. She outlived three husbands and worked hard all her life. Still I loved her and moved in with her when I was twelve.

Happy Mother’s Day to all! We are not perfect, we are all of us complicated women. But above all, #LoveTrumpsHate

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When your birth father dies before your first birthday, and your mother is 40 years old that year, the Year of Living Dangerously, and then your adopted mother is ten years older that that, you end up without a grandfather. Well I learned many things due to the circumstances of my birth in a PA coal town. My Nana gave me a certain self-confidence that was sorely needed when we’d visit her on occasion. But I never had a Grandfather; and my children, I was afraid, would follow suit.

Bob’s parents were divorced, and his father basically skipped out on our little family. But Grandma Ada found it in her heart to marry again, when the Bride was two years old. Hudson was a “younger” man, and he lived in Poughkeepsie, so we called him the Poughkeepsie Gypsy, until he packed up his wood carving tools and his pastoral counseling degree along with his African missionary artifacts and moved to NJ. He instantly became the de facto grandfather I’d never had and our kids adored him.

He would drive them around in his truck; he would film their every move with one of the first hand-held, shoulder-mounted video cameras in America; he would cook them breakfast; he would show them how to plant a seed; he would swim with them in the pool and show them how to make a hot tub out of an old bathtub; and of course, he’d teach them how to whittle. To name certain trees, to catch crabs, to fish…

Little did I know Great Grandpa Hudson would eventually send me his official Baptist pastor degree, so he could marry the Bride and Groom on Carter Mountain. Or that their red-headed baby boy would carry on his name.

Bob is doing his best to carry on his step-father’s amazing grandfathering duties when we see our babies. From the WWII sailor who was called “Red” by his shipmates, Bob has learned to slow down time, to feed birds, and turtles. To dry tears. To name bugs and touch them, to teach the Love Bug how to swim. Luckily for me, Bob never picked up the habit of enjoying a good cigar, while patching a roof in the sun. To keep the mosquitoes at bay!

So Happiest of Birthdays Hudson! You’re turning 90 this weekend and friends and family are coming together from near and far to celebrate your extraordinary life. I’m sure Great Grandma Ada will sing your praises, you’ve been her rock through some very hard times. You’ve been her traveling companion for many years, her woodcarver. Her faithful, second-chance, side-kick on the carousel of life. Your marriage was the model many of your patients aspired to have; and still is a beacon of how love works.

I simply want to thank you for being the best Grandpa Hudson to our family. The family you chose, but really, we choose you! And always will. J&M  0596

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All you Northerners, feeling all self-rightious about a little Nor’easter, listen up. The South is used to a “dusting” every winter that usually melts by the next day. A few feet of snow is enough to freeze time, close schools and have everybody switch into total hibernation mode. In fact, a cheer went up on the Lawn when UVA cancelled today’s classes a few minutes ago!

Milk has been flying off store shelves, and bread will disappear altogether. For some odd reason, wine and beer are always available in grocery stores and gas stations! Seems we have our priorities straight down here.

As a former Yankee, I feel it’s my duty to list the things I love about snow…

  1.  Hey, it’s pure. So pure you can collect a little in a cup and pour some maple syrup over it to make a New Englandy snow cone!
  2.  It’s an instant slide. Even if you don’t have a sled, you can clean off a trash can lid and have instant fun. No makeshift lid, use a cardboard box. Find a hill.
  3.  Snow is an instant anger management tool, have a snowball fight and nobody gets hurt! Warning, if ice is present avoid this activity.
  4. Thanks to the movie Frozen, everybody can practice their inner Dr Frankenstein skills. Build a snowman, give him a carrot nose. I used to build snow women too!
  5. Now make that snowman a margarita, since we all know Olaf really loves the beach.
  6.  It muffles sound. Think about that, it’s like you’re in a padded room so that animal and bird sounds are amplified. It’s much easier to stay present in the snow.
  7.  People are just plain nicer. It’s like we’re all getting ready for this impending disaster (snow) so we may as well talk to perfect strangers. It’s that post 9/11 syndrome – but it’s pre #Snowmageddon2016
  8. Snow will kill all those nasty bugs: ticks, and fleas with West Nile and such. And believe me, we have BIG bugs in the South.
  9.  Speaking of fleas, if you have a furry friend, you will have endless giggles throwing a ball into the snow and watching them try to find it! This will not work with Corgis, it could injure them.
  10.  Snow is beautiful. In a Nordic, wintry, wonderful way that people who live in the Caribbean can only dream about. You can ski and snowboard! It makes us strong and sturdy; it makes us long for Spring. Having only one season would seem like a one dimensional life.

So I hope this helps you feel a little better about our upcoming storm. Back in the Berkshire Mountains, this was No. Big. Deal…we had a woodstove for cooking and warmth, the kids had thermals and snowsuits and mittens and hats and boots and built forts in the driveway while waiting for the school bus. Life goes on, only just a little slower in the South. Here is the Bride on her cross-country skis at about the Bug’s age in our old backyard, where two to three feet of snow was always eagerly anticipated. May everyone stay safe and may the power stay on, amen.  Snow Bunny 20160122

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