Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Scram, Old Man 2014

It's been a tough year, full of uncertainties, sadness, illness, and stress. We all carry stuff around that most folks don't know about, living our lives juggling whatever comes along. Sharing what we can, bearing what we must. So be it. But 2014 has been particularly filled with crazy negativity, and I'm looking forward to leaving it behind.

Of course it wasn't all bad. Some wonderful memories were made. I loved when my family visited New York and we took in everything from the Statue of Liberty to Coney Island and Broadway. I've loved settling back into the rhythms of Atlanta and being with family and friends again. I loved the day out in London with friend Joanne, catching up on two years' worth of our lives, tracking down the Twinings Tea Shop in the dark. And watching Liam and Charlotte grow over the past 12 months has brought me infinite joy. For all of those things, and more, I give great thanks. 

But would I want to relive it? No. I'll look ahead with prayers and good thoughts to the new year. I will bring the lessons I learned in the past 365 days with me in hopes that they will inform my thoughts and actions in the future. But beyond that, I'm happily shoving Old Man 2014 out the door.
So buh-bye, Mr. 2014. Don't let the door hit you in the ass as you leave.

Wishing you good health, laughter, and love in the coming year. A very happy 2015 to one and all!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Bones of Winter

I love winter. I love it for many of the reasons that most people hate it. I'm partial to cold weather. I love that it's Mother Nature's way of saying "slow down!" I love lying around on the weekends, feet in cozy socks, with a good book and cup of tea while the winter winds blow outside my window.

One of my favorite things about this time of year is the beauty of naked trees. The winter sky sets off the shapes of branches hidden under the leaves and flowers of other seasons, creating shapes and patterns we rarely get to see. I suspect most folks think the foliage is the glory of a tree, but to me, the true glory is the branches. Tree bones come in infinite designs - from stalwart and straight to complex filigree, and it's only when they are bare that a tree can show us what it really is.

These bones of winter remind me to look deeper than whatever spring green, summer shade, or autumn color hides the real tree. Or person. Look up, my friends, and appreciate the glimpse of reality that God and nature give as a blessed gift in winter. Yes, look up and rejoice!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

God Bless Us, Every One

One of the big advantages to being in my own home for Christmas is that after all the wonderful, dear family time, I can come back at the end of the day and spend Christmas night doing whatever I please. That always involves cozy clothes, re-heated leftovers, and a night of Christmas movies. Even though I've watched each of them several times during the season, I cram as many into Christmas night as possible.

This year, I'm watching every version of A Christmas Carol/Scrooge that I have access to. Thanks to Turner Classic Movies, I've added the 1935 Seymour Hicks version to the mix, followed by 1938's Reginald Owen version, 1951's with Alistair Sim, and moving into Albert Finney's musical version from the 1970s, George C. Scott's from the 80's, Bill Murray's Scrooged, and The Muppet Christmas Carol (Michael Caine is phenomenal, really). Amongst the full-length films are sprinkled Mr. Magoo's version, as well as versions from the Flintstones and Mickey Mouse. That should keep me busy this evening (I'm with Alistair Sim at present).

I love the message of Dickens' work and feel the need to remember its lessons of redemption and living into one's own history, being aware of the present, and casting an eye to the future. I'm hoping that if I spend Christmas night with Scrooge, Fezziwig, the Cratchits, and several ghosts, I'll be more apt to retain these things.

Christmas is not over after midnight tonight. Technically (church-wise), it lasts through January 6. I'm happy to keep it up until then, and pray I can keep it up beyond.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”

A very Merry Christmas to everyone! 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Home for Christmas

For the first time in nine years, I have a Christmas tree. A real one, not one concocted out of stacked books and a few well-placed ornaments. I'm in my own cozy place, not camping out as a visitor, and watching my own Christmas DVDs, surrounded by my own books and all the Christmas cards that have come my way. Because for the first time in nine years, my home is where my family is. My stuff doesn't reside a 800 miles away. I am home for Christmas.

Do I miss the crazy splendor of New York at Christmas? Yes, of course. I haven't seen the trees at Rockefeller Plaza and The Met. I find myself wondering about the theme for the windows at Bergdorf's and Sak's. The holiday markets at Union Square and Grand Central had to do without me this year.

But I got to attend pageant rehearsals, Christmas programs, and holiday family outings spread out over the month of December, rather than being packed into 3-4 hurried days. I've baked Christmas cookies with Liam in my own little kitchen and watch Charlotte yank on the ornaments at the bottom of my tree. I've gotten to catch up with dear friends at a party or two. And none of it involved the purchase of an airline ticket.

In short, I'm back in the fold of family and community. It feels good. It feels right. I love New York and always will, but my place and my heart are here. At home. For the holidays and beyond.

Merry, Merry Christmas!

Sunday, November 09, 2014


We're in that sweet spot between Halloween and Thanksgiving. If you don't give in to the early Christmas push all around you, it's a great time to slow down and savor the color, the cooler air, the smell of the dried leaves before the year-end onslaught. The season calls for joyful reflection of nature and life in general. I call it Novembering.

Novembering is my best Advent effort, since real Advent hits at a time that, no matter how we try to resist, is jam-packed with obligations not to be ignored. So I do my watchful waiting between Halloween and Thanksgiving. It's a time for extra reading, extra thinking, extra kindness. There's time right now. No trees or presents, no parties or performances. A chance to tap the brakes and pull off the road for a few weeks, intentionally, without the stress or guilt that will pile on in a month.

I'm not sure I could commit to Novembering without the color and glory that is autumn. There are fine reasons, I'm sure, to live in places without brilliant red maples or blindingly yellow ginkgos, but none come to mind. Deserts and beaches, nah. Not in November. Maybe in January or February, but definitely not in November.

So I'll use the color and crisp air to spur honest reflection in the days running up to Thanksgiving. No early Christmas for me, even though it's my favorite holiday, because I need this time for other things. Like appreciating the slowing down of nature, even if life in general doesn't slow down. Like thinking deeply about what I'm thankful for and why.

Novembering lets me prepare myself first for the day of Thanksgiving. And if I'm prepared for that, I'm well on my way to being mentally and emotionally prepared for Christmas.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

'Twas the Night Before Halloween

When I was a little girl, I could never get to sleep the night before Halloween. It was a couple of notches down from the keyed-up restlessness of Christmas Eve. After all, I didn't have to listen for reindeer on the roof or a big ol' red-suited elf falling down the chimney into my living room. But the butterflies-in-stomach excitement was there all the same.

What kept me awake, I wonder? Was candy such a big deal? Was dressing up as someone or something else worth losing sleep over? I really can't remember what had me in such a dither the night before Halloween.

My costume was usually homemade - seems like I was always a gypsy - except for when I was 7 and 8 years old. One year for some reason Daddy sprung for a Siam Princess costume from the dime store. I think it cost a whopping $2.98, and I remember choosing it. Siam Princess? I liked the mask and the shiny yellow and bright pink coverall with some sort of intricate sparkly design.  I got two Halloweens'-worth of wear out of it, so when you amortorize the cost, well - practically free. Of course, it was a little big the first year and a little small the second, but no matter.

One thing that kept me awake, I think, was the anticipation of being allowed to go door to door, never knowing who'd give you what, trying to set a goal of how many houses you could get to or how big a paper sack you'd be able to fill. We always took paper bags to collect candy - no plastic pumpkins or trendy little totes - except for the big kids (and you really weren't supposed to trick-or-treat over the age of 12 - but some boys pushed it to 14), who carried pillowcases.

The idea of collecting candy, or whatever - because you were just as likely to get apples or homemade cookies - was exciting. That stuff just wasn't as readily available to us on a day to day basis. Candy, cookies, Coca-Cola - those were all for special occasions. Like Halloween. I don't remember getting much chocolate; it was mostly hard candy or wax lips or bubble gum. I well remember the fun of getting home and dumping it all in the middle of the floor, pooling our resources, trading this or that, with big brother David coming in at the end with a bulging pillowcase (or two) to add to the loot.

As we got too old for trick-or-treating, there were usually parties or the coming-of-age thrill of getting to answer the door and hand out candy.

I tried to provide the same good Halloween memories for daughter Kate when she was growing up, and I think I did. Her costumes were more elaborate, though we did have several rag-bag homemade ones, and the decorations grew well beyond a simple carved pumpkin, though not to the level of many houses today.

And now I get to re-live Halloween excitement with grands Liam and Charlotte. Liam, at 4 years old, is just coming into his own where the euphoria of Halloween is concerned. The super-hero costume, the thought of trick-or-treating with his family and buddies, the anticipation of what candy he’ll acquire for his efforts - yes, the thrill lives on.

And tonight? Well, I think I'll sleep tonight without difficulty. Tomorrow I’m helping Kate with Liam’s school party, then taking on the delightful job of dressing up as a silly witch (at Liam’s request) to hand out candy at their house while they’re out trick-or-treating. I will love seeing the little cuties come to the door - some in awe of the whole thing, standing there dumb-founded, some shouting "trick or treat!" so loud they blow out all the candles in the house, the princesses and the cowboys, the Captain Americas and the Harry Potters.

Still, if I lie in bed tonight and try to dredge up the feeling of being an 8-year-old Siam Princess again, who knows? Maybe I won't get much sleep after all.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Redefining Fun Size

Halloween. That time of year where every Walgreens and Target proudly declares in big bold letters sales for fun-size candy. Fun-size is a marketing term meaning tiny. I can never understand why tiny equals fun, especially where candy is concerned. Maybe if the tiny candy did a little dance or karaoke, yeah, that would be fun, but just tiny? No. Not fun.

My idea of fun-size? A giant candy bar that with every bite you lose a pound. Need to lose 20 pounds? Eat the candy in 20 bites. Sounds like fun to me.

Or a piece of peanutty chocolate candy the size of your fist that automatically deposits $50 into your bank account with every nut you hit. A really fun way to pay off your credit cards. Giant Baby Ruth, anyone?

Or a thick slab of chocolate and caramel that leads you on a crazy scavenger hunt where you unlock mystery doors and meet fascinating new people. What could be a funner-size than that, hm?

Really, I could come up with thousands of ideas for fun-size other than tiny. Tiny may be convenient. Tiny may fit better into Trick or Treat bags and candy bowls. But tiny, where candy is concerned, is not fun. It's the opposite of fun. So, dear marketers, you are fooling no one. Fun-size, indeed.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Confessions of an Unrepentant Empty Nester

My Darling Daughter,

It's that time of year again when parents wave bye-bye to their college-bound, newly employed, or recently married children. Social media is teeming with tearful parents, contemplating their lives without their little darlings taking up room on the sofa in front of the TV. And every year at this time I feel the need to apologize to you for not wearing sack cloth and ashes as you pulled out of our Atlanta driveway headed for Boulder, Colorado, 13 years ago. Actually, I seem to remember waving gaily. Godspeed! Drive safely!

For many years it was just us. I wouldn't trade that time for anything in the world. The day-in/day-out routines of getting up-and-at-'em for school, work, and church, school plays, choir practice, dance classes, Girl Scouts, a variety of camps, lots of fun birthday and Halloween parties, arts and crafts, friends coming and going, wonderful vacations and family gatherings - enough great memories to take us through a couple of millennia.

I knew sooner or later all that would end, that we'd move into another phase of mother-daughter relationship. I did my best to give you wings, and then at the appropriate time, pushed you out of the nest - though, truth be told, you had an arm and leg out of it already. I believe we were both ready for me to clear the nest. It not only let you test your wings, it let me test my almost rusty ones, as well. You had your adventures; I had mine, like seeing if I could live and work in Manhattan for almost 9 years.

So I never saw the empty nest as something sad. It wasn't an ending, it was a beginning. For both of us.

But reading all these weepy, oh-woe-is-me-my-baby's-gone posts on social media makes me feel guilty. What kind of mother am I, to not have fallen into a deep depression when you flew away? I can't believe anyone can love you as much as I do. We were joined at the hip for many years, you and me against the world (with a fabulous support system, of course). So why, oh, why wasn't I beside myself with grief when you drove away that day?

I don't have the answer to that. I don't think either of us has ever doubted our love for each other (OK, maybe a couple of times during the teen years). I guess I always knew I could be with you whenever I wanted, really - a phone call, a car trip, an airline ticket. You weren't leaving me, you were starting your own life. To me that continues to be a joyous thing. 

However, since there's obviously something wrong with me as a mother, next time you come over, I promise to do a little Old World wailing when you depart. Will that make up for all these years of not regretting my empty nest?

And is the nest ever really empty? Seems fuller than ever with all the new family members you've brought in!

Your loving Mama

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Being Home

So. Here I am. In Atlanta. Home. Funny thing, though. As much as I loved living in New York City, as much as I completely adore that old town, I really haven't thought much about it since I left 25 days ago. Of course, I've been busy - fighting with movers, digging into boxes, figuring out what goes where, getting into the working-from-home groove (harder than I thought it would be, by the way), and spending as much time as possible with the two adorable babes who call me GrandMary.

Yep, I've fallen back into driving everywhere, even to the bank, nail salon, and grocery store, all just across Peachtree Road from me. A shorter distance than from my apartment on 115th to the 116th subway station. Seriously. (Note to self: sheesh, at least walk to the bank and the salon!)

I'm loving all the trees. And the absence of constant noise, noise, noise, which I thought I'd miss, but, no. No I don't. I love hanging out at Atlanta Botanical Gardens and the Center for Puppetry Arts. I've yet to use my High Museum membership card. Too busy. (Another note to self: get thee to the High!) I'm loving real fried chicken and Zesto's soft serve ice cream (like buttah!).

Most of all, I love the familiar faces, the hugs, and the "Welcome, back!"s I get from family and friends. I love going to my own church. I love having loved ones schedule lunches and dinners and drinks, just to catch up. I love being back among my own.

One admission: I listen to the Broadway channel on Sirius in the car. You can take the girl outta Broadway, but you can't take the Broadway outta the girl.

Yet I find it amazing how quickly I folded back into Atlanta, to the normal, to the familiar. New York was a marvelous adventure. But being home is the stuff of life.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Give My Regards

My last night as a resident of New York City. The past couple of weeks have been stressful and tiring, and my experience with the movers on Wednesday just about did me in. What I thought would be a teary final walk-through of my Spanish Harlem apartment the next day turned out to be surprisingly unemotional. I was ready to close that door, and I did. Goodbye, SpaHa!

At this point, I'm ready to leave. I've loved living here. It's been crazy and fun and sobering and brilliant. It's the greatest city on the planet, and it will kick your ass. But then, my ass always needs lots of kicking, so, yeah.

What will I miss? Well, I guess, Central Park most of all. It's big, it's varied, it's iconic at every turn, and it's free. And of course, I'll miss being able to indulge my love of the most spectacular theater whenever I want (and whenever I have the funds). I've seen spectacular performances and the craft of all the folks it takes to put on a Broadway musical or play. And Times Square at night never gets old. Center of the known universe. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, certainly; it's my go-to place when I think humanity is just a big ol' mess, a necessary reminder of what skill and a creative soul can accomplish.

I'll miss coming through Grand Central and the Chrysler Building on my way to and from work. And the little guy who hands out the free papers at the top of the stairs to the downtown bound #6 116th Street subway station. Ooh, and the wasabi ice cream from Sundaes & Cones on East 10th. And the Union Square farmers market, where you can buy the freshest of the fresh, as long as you get there before Danny Meyer and the other restauranteurs.

I'll miss my favorite scratch-off lottery games, Bingo Doubler and Cashword Doubler - they relieve stress and many times I win back, and then some, my $2 investment. And how will I get along without my all-time favorite meteorologist, Janice Huff, on the local NBC station (she sometimes pops up on NBC Nightly News)?

I'll miss living in a place that's liberal, progressive, and has a can-do attitude about everything. And contrary to popular belief outside of these 5 boroughs, it's the most American, patriotic city in the country.

I'll miss being in a place where just walking from Grand Central to the office on Second Avenue I pass every sort and condition of human being, every race and nationality, the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor and everything in between. The Big Parade does, indeed, go by.

And the history. Oh, I'll miss living in a place so important to the founding of this country - the native Americans, the Dutch, the British, George Washington and the Sons of Liberty, the first US capital, the Gilded Age, the Progressive Era, the immigrants and huddled masses yearning to breathe free, Harlem Renaissance, the Wall Street crash, the Times Square kiss at the end of WWII, Mad Men, Greenwich Village music scene, Warhol, Studio 54, 9/11. Try telling the story of the United States without New York City. Can't do it.

Still, it's time to leave all the marvelous things behind, at least having them close by 24/7. 

So give my regards to Broadway. Remember me to Herald Square. And Central Park. And the Met. You crowd, you cramp, you're still the champ, NYC. I shall return as a visitor. But now, I'm ready to get back to family and friends, cheaper rent for a much bigger place, wide supermarket aisles, all the trees, and a different kind of American history.

Atlanta, I'm coming home.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Uprooting the SpaHa Rose

This is my last night in the little Spanish Harlem apartment that has been home since February 2007. Most of the major sorting/throwing-away/giving-away has been done, and now it's just me and the stuff of my life that will follow me back to Atlanta. Though I've contracted the movers to pack me up as well as move me, I'm spending the energy, what little I have left, to fill up the last of the boxes of the items I'd rather pack myself.

It's hard for me to believe that this time tomorrow evening, the movers will be hauling out my furniture, books, and assorted boxes. When everything's out of here, I'll head farther down the island to spend the first of three nights in a hotel and give my final-final farewell to the City as a New York resident.

Eight-and-a-half years ago, I had no idea if "I could make it there, I'll make it anywhere" in New York. I sold my Atlanta house and traded a comfortable, familiar life for a big adventure. There were so many challenges, but I took 'em as they came and soon realized that, hell, I could handle New York City. Some things were easier (getting around town via subway or on foot, the convenience of everything), some were harder (finding an affordable place to live, surviving the tourists). New York City and I became good friends very quickly.

So on this last night in my little SpaHa digs, I wax melancholy about the Metro North trains running under my windows and the loud Latin music blasting out as I come up from the 116th Street station in the evenings. I'll miss the incredible sunsets from my west-facing windows and having my own personal fire escape, though I'm glad I never had to use it. Oh, and being just 5 minutes from Central Park.

So. My last  night in 5B. No longer the rose in Spanish Harlem, but looking forward to reclaiming my Georgia peach-hood.

Now, back to packing boxes.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Required Reading

Because you should read it at least once a year. 

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

Happy Independence Day 2014! Let the fireworks begin!

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Shredding Bills Blues

"Bills! I hate you so, I always will." (apologies to Marilyn McCoo and the Fifth Dimension)

Paper, paper, paper. I have boxes of it. Bags of it. Plastic storage containers of it. And I'm determined to go through every bit of it, pull out only the most important keepables, and shred the rest.

Not only do I have eight years' worth of New York paper, I actually brought a lot of accumulated Atlanta paper with me when I moved up here because the move happened so fast. Hey, maybe I needed that power bill from 1996! Anyway, it ain't coming back South with me. So I bit the bullet and bought a heavy-duty shredder.

And now the Great Shred of 2014 begins.

I am determined to shred the contents of at least one bag/box/container every evening until I am practically paperless. So last night I started with the biggest bag of miscellaneous papery stuff that I had, one of those giant Ziploc garment storage bags. That one bag has taken me two nights to shred, so here's hoping the smaller bags/boxes/containers keep me on my one-a-night schedule.

What is all this paper, you wonder? Oh, dear. A lot of it is painful to revisit: all of the closing down stuff for my life in Atlanta, the paperwork for selling my beloved Strathmore Drive home, certain bills I'd rather forget. Yet, much of it brings laughs and fond memories - notes from friends and family, theatre ticket stubs, photographs. Some of it I keep, most I don't. Farewell. The bulk of it, however, is just tedious old day-in-day-out (or should I say, month-in-month-out) bills, old checkbooks, old business cards.

I only shred the paper that has my name, address, account numbers on it, as well as anything with the names and addresses of family or friends (so you're all safe, as well). The business cards and checkbooks are the biggest pain to shred. It's tiresome to keep feeding that stuff through the shredder. Plus, I can stand the loud, grinding noise for only so long. But I will persevere until all this silly stuff is in tiny pieces and in the recycle bin.

I have a goal. I have a shredder. I can do this. "Don't you bury me, bills! I've got the shredding bills blu-oo-oo-ues."

Saturday, May 31, 2014


I heard her before I saw her. The nurse at Lenox Hill Hospital, where I was being treated for pneumonia several weeks ago, had popped in a few minutes earlier to let me know, "You're getting a new roommate," so it wasn't a complete surprise. At first, it sounded like a man's voice. In my IV-antibiotic-induced haze, I remember thinking, "They wouldn't put a man in here, would they? I shouldn't have a man roommate, right?"

The voice was loud, off the Richter Scale loud, giving orders to the whoever was wheeling her to the door. Then it stopped sounding like a man - really, they wouldn't give me a male roomie - and started sounding like . . . Howard Wolowitz's mother from The Big Bang Theory. Exactly.

Betty was a mess and let everybody know it. She was almost deaf, so anyone talking to her had to repeat - louder and louder - whatever they were saying. She was almost blind. She was very obese, as big around as she was tall. And her body was completely failing her.

On the other hand she was very entertaining. That voice, wow. I did feel like I was in the middle of a Big Bang Theory episode. She had a good sense of humor, complete with some real zingers. After having to skip breakfast and lunch because of medical tests, she came back to the room famished. Our fabulous nurse, John, had saved her lunch and her dinner so that she would have plenty to eat. And eat she did! Inhaled it (yes, I could hear it all). In the middle of her meal, she said in a loud (very loud) voice: "I'm eatin' like I got ten assholes heah!" I lost it. And every time I think about it, I lose it. Just think about it.

She was also concerned about me. "How ya' doin' over theah, Mary! All right?" And I'd yell back - several times so that she could hear - "Fine, Betty. Thanks!"

But as hilarious as Betty was, she was also losing control of her body and ready to check out. "I've lived a good long life, why am I still here?" She was embarrassed by her inability to hear, see, and control bodily functions. In short, she was ready to go. She readily admitted to the nurse that she was depressed. Only one grand-daughter lived nearby, and she visited once a day, but the rest of her family were either dead or lived far away. She'd lived in the same Brooklyn apartment for over 50 years, but now her neighbors were strangers who didn't speak English. She was a stranger in a strange land and was ready to move on.

Betty taught me a lot. I learned that getting old ain't no picnic, especially if you lose control of everyday body functions, those things we take so for granted. I learned that to make things a little easier going forward, I must control my weight, and I must pay attention to the tiniest changes in my sight and hearing. I learned to keep family and friends close, or as close as I can or dare, because being pretty much alone at that stage of the game is a hard, hard thing.

After a particularly hard night of groans and tears and massive clean-up on the other side of the roommate curtain, I found myself squeezing my eyes shut and praying, "Please, Lord, do not let me live too long, where I'm in Betty's condition." Now, I'm not sure whether or not that was a good prayer, but, boy, that's exactly how I felt after sharing a room with her. As entertaining as she was at times, she really scared me, or, rather, her condition scared me.

It got too much in the middle of that tough night,  and I realized I needed to take care of myself, since that's what I was in the hospital to do. In the middle of all the chaos and smell, I requested a room change. The nurses accommodated me immediately, and I was put in a room with a less effusive roommate. As I was getting ready to leave the hospital the next day, I told our nurse to please give my best to Betty.

I'm not sure of Betty's fate, but I learned enough from her to give me great pause about what the next twenty or so years might hold for me. Plus, I learned a great zinger for when I'm stuffing my face. Ten assholes. Ha!

Thursday, May 08, 2014

A Beautiful Day for an Ambulance Ride

A week ago, my colleagues wrestled me into urgent care after I'd shown no improvement with a cough and cold I'd had for a couple of weeks. Testing of vital signs and a chest x-ray later, and the doctor was informing me that I had a mass of pneumonia in my left lung and that an ambulance had been called. Whoa, serious.

While, yes, it was serious, it was not so crazy life-threatening that I couldn't appreciate the experience and enjoy the show around me. Take the ambulance ride, for example. I've never had an ambulance ride before (thank God), and let's face it, this was a bloodless, painless way to get the experience of riding from the Upper West side urgent care to Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side, the route of which took me through Central Park. It was a beautiful day, I could lie back and enjoy the view, while Joseph and Kathleen, my ambulance professionals, took care of everything. Plus, my friend Ann got to ride with me. Best possible ambulance ride, truly.

And then, there was the emergency room experience. I was duly prodded, poked, tested, x-rayed yet again, and left to wait while others got their ER attention-time. One guy was raving and cursing so much that he was finally cuffed to the bed. A little Upper East Side "lady" fought and scratched as the emergency personnel tried to assure her that she wasn't in jail, but in the ER, because a passerby had worried about her on the sidewalk. "I only had one margarita too many and now I'm being held prisoner!" she kept yelling (this little UES "lady"). She tried to slip away several times, but they kept re-capturing her, until the last time - while no one was looking, she was out the door. I saw the whole thing, but, hey, what could I do?

I finally got to my room around 10pm (a 12-hour ordeal so far, if you're keeping score), I saw hundreds of doctors, residents, medical students, nurses, nursing assistants, and who knows who else, who asked questions (the most popular: name, birth date), affixed IVs, drew blood, snapped on a variety of wrist bands, showed me how to maneuver the IV to and from the bathroom and how not to set off alarms by keeping my arm absolutely straight. Well, just a lot of faces coming and going and asking questions and sticking me. I was vaguely aware of a roomie, but she was quiet and I tried to be the same. It was not a restful night, as anyone who's ever been in a hospital can attest.

If you have to have pneumonia, it's not a bad gig to be ensconced at Park Avenue and 77th Street in NYC. When you look out of your windows, you get to see beautiful buildings where really rich folk live, plus you get to see them coming and going to all sorts of fancy affairs. Quite entertaining.

The most painful part of the experience: my tiny, tiny veins, which caused untold pain every time my blood had to be tested (which was often) or my IV moved. I foresee this as a huge problem in the future, as I get older and need more medical care. Anyone know a way to boost vein size?

The best part of the experience: jello! Couldn't get enough of it. It's something I never make for myself, so I forget how comforting it can be. Mmm. Hospital jello!

The next day, my quiet roomie went away, and just having the room to myself let me get a lot more rest. I was roommate-less for one whole day. Then came Betty.

While I don't remember all the doctors' names (weird, eh?), I do remember the great nurses that took very, very good care of me at Lenox Hill. Here's to Esther, Alysa, Brigitte, John, and Emily. All of you treated me with dignity, care, and good humor. You made the experience bearable. Thank you.

As for Betty, that's another story for another day.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

From Park to Peachtree

It's time to come home. Several months ago my New York landlords let me know that they were selling my building. Except for the first few months I was here in 2006, my little Spanish Harlem apartment is the only New York home I've known for the past eight years. I've gotten used to Metro North trains running under my window, and I know my way around several of the local bodegas. It was hard to find something I could (barely) afford every month in Manhattan, but after an intense search, I landed on Park Avenue - the dicey end, not Billionaires' Row.

As the time grew closer to the building sale, I found myself becoming so stressed out about trying to find another safe, affordable apartment in Manhattan (yeah, yeah, Brooklyn, I know) that it was affecting my work, my sleep, my health. What to do? I need (and love) my job, so quitting is out of the question, but perhaps it was the perfect time to go back to Atlanta. Is there a way to do both - keep my job and move back home? Well, turns out I could do both, thanks to a great boss and other powers-that-be who needed to bless my telecommuting plan.

As of August 1, I will say a bittersweet farewell to New York City and settle back into my hometown, Atlanta. I can certainly do my work efficiently from anywhere on the planet, as long as there's an internet connection, cell phones, and some kind of power to keep the computer, et. al., running. And face it, I travel enough that working from Atlanta makes more sense than NYC, since ATL has a much finer airport than any in the surrounding New York area - plus, I can take MARTA right into the airport, saving those astronomical taxi fees.

I'm looking forward to being just around the corner (sort of) from my daughter Kate, my sweet grandbabies and son-in-law, and other family members and long-time friends. I look forward to being closer to green grass, azaleas, and dogwoods than my 10-minute walk to Central Park. I look forward to awesomely wide grocery story aisles. I look forward to settling back into my pew at All Saints' Church. I look forward to being able to sock away a little more money for retirement. Bottom line, nothing can take the place of close proximity (but not too close) to family and friends.

But, oh, how I'll miss New York City. It's the most wondrous place on the planet. I'll miss Broadway, Central Park, The Met, MoMA, Union Square farmers market, living in a place that aligns with my political views, easy commuting (yea! walking and subways!), Janice Huff - my favorite meteorologist, Grand Central Station, wafels and dinges, the energy!, but mostly, I'll miss my colleagues that I get to see day in/day out. Extrovert that I am, I do love coming into the office and being face-to-face with the folks I work with. Fortunately, I'll get to travel to the Mother Ship several times a year, so NYC will always be on my radar.

OK. So that's the news. I'll be writing more about my farewell to NYC and my hey, y'all to ATL in the next few months. What an incredible experience it's been! There are a few things on my checklist that I need to complete before moving home (Coney Island, anyone?), but I'll do my best to pack it all in before I leave.

While I'll always be in a New York State of Mind, now it's Georgia that's on my mind. That old sweet song. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Attend the Tale

Great art has the power to knock you off your foundation and plant you in a different place. It is very rare, and maybe some folks never have that experience. I'm moved to say that I did get to experience foundation-knocking Wednesday March 5th at the New York Philharmonic's Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, with Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson.

The stars were properly aligned last October when I nabbed my ticket online. The impetus was the opportunity to see/hear Bryn Terfel in person. Ah, the man can sing. I had the funds, I was online at the right time, and - boom! - orchestra aisle seat for March 5. Only 5 performances, so no time to dawdle.  I'll admit I had my doubts about Emma Thompson's Mrs. Lovett being able to match Terfel's Sweeney, but, shoot, it's Emma Thompson, right? And it's Sondheim. And Sweeney Todd. Here. Take my money, and save me a seat.

I didn't stop to think that it was opening night of a 5-performance run. I had no idea what to expect, except that I knew Bryn Terfel would blow the roof off the place. And the Philharmonic. And Christian Borle as Pirelli. And Emma Thompson - even if she just sat on the stage and picked her nose, well, Emma Thompson. Add in Christian Borle as Pirelli and surprise cast member (noted as ? in the program) Audra McDonald as the mad woman, well, nothing short of perfection.

After a long and busy Ash Wednesday day at work, I crossed over to the West Side, had a nice dinner, and made my way to Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. The place was absolutely mobbed. I wormed my way into the crowd and let it carry me up the escalator and to my seat. I settled in, thinking I knew what I was going to see. I was well familiar with the score (it helps to have memorized Sondheim before turning 30) and story. But everything about this production exceeded my expectations.

The New York Philharmonic gave the music the treatment it deserved, well beyond what the normal Broadway orchestra is able to do. It was big and lush and spectacular. The orchestra was the focal point, of course, front and center and taking up most of the stage. The actors worked around the musicians, even using some of the instruments as props.

The cast marched on stage, all prim and proper, dressed in formal garb with their scores tucked neatly under their arms. They took their placed behind their music stands, and I thought, oh, OK, it's going to be a recital-type thing. But just as I was settling into that notion, each one tossed their books to the stage and started ripping off their dress clothes to reveal the seamy, dirty wardrobe better suited to this story of murder and questionable meat pies. And then it just took off.

I have never seen anything like it. Everything about this production was superb. I've seen many a fine production in my life, but this one blew everything else out of the water. The evening was spectacular and well worth any price paid to see it. And at the ending ovation, Emma Thompson ran out into the audience, grabbed Stephen Sondheim, and brought him on stage. Thrilling!

It made such an impression on me that I think it will be a while before I can see another musical, since I'll be comparing it to this production. Well done, New York Philharmonic, Bryn Terfel, Emma Thompson, and cast! Thank you for  giving me the experience of a lifetime. I'm so glad I attended the tale of Sweeney Todd.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Dust Thou Art, to Dust Returneth

Instead of attending a full-on worship service, I thought I'd give Ashes to Go a try this year. I'm not much on bells-and-smells, but no one loves a whackin' great pipe organ and Tiffany windows in a lovely old church or bewailing my manifold sins more than I, so this was a tiny little Lenten adventure for me.

There's a lot of pro-and-con about Ashes to Go, which is basically taking the prayers and imposition of ashes to the streets for any and all who want them. The pro-folk believe it to be a worthy evangelism effort, going to where people are - commuter stations, street corners, grocery stores - rather than requiring them to show up at a given time and given place. The con-folk believe that it is a cheap short-cut and that the imposition of ashes means nothing if you haven't fully confessed your sins (bewailed the manifold) and been granted absolution by a clergy-type.

Before I go any farther with this, I would like to lodge a protest against the name "Ashes to Go," which does smack heartily of the flip, the easy, the wink-wink-nudge-nudge. But I'll let that go. Here's where I stand on it. Meh. I can go either way. Ash Wednesday is way bigger than which method I use to get ashed. Yeah, I'll probably stick with the tried-and-true service from here on out, but my manifold sins feel no less bewailed (I don't need the Prayer Book for that) or my dusty beginnings and endings any less internalized because I opted to have myself reminded of them on the streets of New York rather than in a church.

Last year, I assisted one of our priests with Ashes to Go at 42nd and Lexington. We had a goodly number of folks line up for the prayer and ashes. All took it very seriously and were grateful for the opportunity to demonstrate their faith. The most memorable were a couple of down-and-out men, who solemnly received the ashes and prayers, said bless you, and seemed genuinely moved that someone had prayed with them and given them the sign of the cross in ashes on their foreheads. Who knows what it meant to them? But maybe it was the first time in a long while that someone had said a prayer with and for them. Maybe it was the first time someone had touched them in a positive way.

So here's the thing. If you don't like or approve of the Ashes to Go concept, don't go that route. If you want to try it, go ahead. Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return, whether in a formal worship service or on busy city streets.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Blow, Thou Winter Wind

A few things to think about as you whine about winter. Have some hot chocolate and calm down.

(All photos taken in Central Park, New York City, Winter 2014)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Fire of '74

Forty years ago (forty! yikes!), I was having a hard time sleeping the night of January 11, 1974, at our Bellows Court apartment in West St. Paul, Minnesota. Not sure what was keeping me awake, but I was getting frustrated with the whole insomnia thing, when a bright pinky-orange light flooded our bedroom window. The first thing that came to my mind, in my wide awake but maybe partly asleep state, was "Who the hell is setting up a carnival in our parking lot?" The light was cotton candy pink and bright as the sun. Carnival. Hm. Well, that's the way my mind works.

I honestly don't remember what happened next or how Charley and I got out of the apartment, into our car, and a mile or so away before the big explosion. We obviously moved pretty damn fast, so fast, in fact, that I left behind two of my essentials - contact lenses and birth control pills. But I did manage to stuff my feet into snow boots and pull on my parka before tearing out the door.

Where to go? What to do? This was out of the realm of experience for a couple of 22-year-old newlyweds from the South. We headed to a co-workers' apartment because we knew she'd be up late packing for Texas and the Super Bowl (Vikings vs. Dolphins).  Lest you need reminding, this was well before cell phones, email, and texting, so all we could do is just turn up on someone's doorstep without any notice. This acquaintance - not even a friend, really - let us crash in her spare bedroom so that we could at least be warm and dry for the rest of the night.

And that's about all I remember of the night itself. I'm not sure where we slept the next night, but I don't recall having stayed in a motel. Perhaps we found our new apartment the very next day, which is possible, since I guess nearby apartment complexes were housing the displaced residents of the destroyed ones.

Fortunately, Charley was an insurance man, so he knew to call to find out about emergency benefits and get details of our coverage, etc. We were lucky not to have lost everything. In fact, we were on the outer edges of the L-shaped complex, and the explosion and fire damage mainly demolished the center angle of the L. However, there was a lot of smoke and water/ice damage to furniture and clothing, mainly. In short, the sofa and mattress were gone, but my carefully packed away China was intact (a 22-year-old newlywed's priorities).

Four people lost their lives in the fire and explosion - three firemen and a manager of the other damaged apartment buildings. The cause was a little fuzzy at the time. We were told some guy was trying to thaw out something-or-other with a blow-torch just as the propane gas truck was pumping in the monthly gas allotment for the apartments. Bad timing.

I'm not sure of that's the real story, but the cause didn't really matter to us at the time. It was scary and confusing and frigid cold. But we were alive. A lesson learned about priorities forty years ago.

Sometimes, insomnia can save your life.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Losing a Force of Nature

Many years ago, I was pulled out of my kindergarten class to help Mrs. Miller with something. Now, Mrs. Miller was the founder and head honcho at Brainerd Baptist Kindergarten, and her family and ours were like . . . family. Anyway, this was a big deal, right?

After I ran through any of my behavior that might cause the head of the school to pull me out of playhouse time and determined I should be clear, I felt pretty special. I mean, Mrs. Miller needed my help with something. So I go out into the hall with her, and she sits down in a little chair. "Mary, I want you to pull out any gray hairs you see." Whaaaat?? Well, of course I didn't say that. I was a little kid and a grown up friend and teacher told me to do something, so, OK. I spent several minutes eyeing any gray hair in her side-part (I don't think there were very many) and yanking them out. Mission accomplished. Then I went back to my classroom.

Now, why Mrs. Miller had asked me to perform this particular honor, I'll never know. Maybe because she knew I needed to be rescued from Mrs. Jones' class or maybe because my family and hers were such good friends that she knew I could be trusted. Whatever. I was asked to do a task, and I completed it to her satisfaction. That's my earliest definable memory of this incredible woman, who'd known me since birth.

She started one of the first modern kindergartens in Chattanooga, Tennessee, pulling together creative, loving teachers (including my mother) and drawing a rather large number of 4- and 5-year-olds for her half-day school.

In her ground-breaking  kindergarten, I learned all about my five senses. I learned the song "It's a Hap-Hap-Happy Day." I learned my first cheer: "Apples, oranges, peaches, candy, Brainerd Baptist Kindergarten you're so dandy!" I learned to sit in a circle and listen to a teacher. Bottom line, I learned lots of things in kindergarten, as you do, of course. And all of this was driven - and I do mean driven - by Mrs. Miller. The school was her vision of what kindergarten for little Baby Boomers needed to be. Right time, right place, right vision.

Summer of '63 - I was 12 - she hired my sister Cindy and me to 1) help organize/cut out/assemble all the artwork projects for the upcoming kindergarten year, and 2) babysit for 2-year-old Star (you were a handful, Star). So in the midst of "Blowin' in the Wind" and Martin Luther King's March on Washington, we were camped out at the Millers cutting out circus animal patterns, chasing a 2-year-old, and eating our weight in Campbell's tomato soup (made with milk, not water). I know many of my famous organizing skills were birthed during the summer of '63.

The summer I left for college, we sold our house on South Moore Road and moved - guess where? - next door to our good friends the Millers. Now we really were like one big combined happy family. The Fraziers and the Millers. 

I'm writing this rambling little memoir because Fonza Miller Barkley died on Sunday at age 93. If I had to sum her up in one word, I'd say "Enthusiasm!!" (complete with exclamation marks). She was tall and had impeccable posture. When someone with her physical stature is enthusiastic, then - wow - that energy just fills the universe.

She was, of course, so much more than a standard happy, enthusiastic person. She really did make a huge impact on pre-school education in Chattanooga. That kindergarten she started is now a thriving pre-K through 5th grade private school. She was active in the Eastern Star and lent her talents to many other endeavors. But I knew her outside of all of that. To me, she was a force of nature.

My last memory of her was sharing brunch with her and son Glenn last spring when I was in Chattanooga for a weekend reunion. Though older and frailer (too many gray hairs to pull out now!), that famous enthusiasm was still there. We laughed and hugged tight before saying our goodbyes. I'm so glad I got to share one more tiny slice of my life with her.

Farewell, Fonza. It's a hap-hap-happy day in Heaven. There'll certainly never be a dull moment up there, dear lady. And no more gray hairs!