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May 2010

Memorial Day Weekend in the Adirondacks

3675542821_cf35d19d3b  The Weatherman and I were in the Adirondacks for the Memorial Day weekend. We both love to hike and of course in this region there are the high peaks, which are challenging and afford amazing views. But another route you can go is to climb the fire tower mountains. There are about 30 of them. They are no longer staffed - today's fire patrol is done by airplane - but they are still up there, and if they are open, you can often get a 360 degree panorama of the region. 

On Monday we climbed Goodnow Mountain (it's Good Now for black flies, I can tell you). It has a huge tower on top, built in 1922. When we were climbing up in, another hiker was coming down. He told us that he worked in trees but he was scared "s--tless" up on this thing. I was torn between the breathtaking vista and the thought that after awhile, metal rusts, especially in bad weather.

The day before we were up on Arab Mountain, which also has a tower. This one felt sturdier, but there was also a very stiff breeze, adding to the excitement. It's hard to believe guys used to work up there, all day long. Someone was staffing the Goodnow fire tower until 1980.

In other news, here's a word to the wise: if you ever find yourself at a dinner party in the Adirondacks, do NOT bring up the topic of gun control. I'm just sayin'....

Mother-Son Quote of the Week


 “Fifty-five years ago, sitting up with you after midnight while the nurse rested, I watched you take your last breath. A few minutes before you died you half raised your head and said, “Which..way?” I understood that: you were at a dark, unmarked crossing. Then a minute later you said, 'You’re a good boy Wallace,' and died. My name was the last word you spoke, your faith in me and love for me were your last thoughts."

-Wallace Stegner

Food Pantry Again

Contra-costa-food-bank  I'm running off to the Food Pantry, so I'm just going to share some info from Christina Rohatynskyj, executive director of the Food Bank of Westchester. The Food Bank is where most local pantries purchase their groceries, ours included.

-They have seen a 22% increase in the demand for food between July and December.Local pantries were requesting more food because more people were turning up.

"They're seeing people who in their wildest dreams never thought they'd be asking for help this way," she said. "Think of a scenario of somebody who is paying a mortgage or rent, who is paying a car payment, and all of a sudden they have no income. They still have that house, they still have that car, which means they probably would not qualify for food stamps because they have too many assets. But their cash is running out or completely gone, and their unemployment is disappearing."

This is exactly what we are seeing. Yikes....late....

Hand Me The Thing-a-Majiggie

Ct1-18_holepunch  Yesterday I was back at the oral surgeon, dealing with my miserable teeth. It's not actually all bad, because I have bonded with the dental hygienist. She was the first person I knew with a Kindle, and we always talk books and give each other recommendations. 

Obviously there isn't much talking when your mouth is propped open and the surgeon has his gloved hands in there, so I could only grunt my alarm when I heard him say: "Hand me the puncher." I'm sorry - the puncher? What the...? Seeing me squirm, he got out of my mouth and asked me the problem. When I told him I didn't at all like the sound of the instrument he was using and asked if there wasn't  some euphemism he could come up with for the tool, he replied "How about 'cookie cutter?'" I will just mention that he was working on my gums at this point. The image was no better.

By the time he asked for the hammer, I could see there was no point in suggesting he call it a "tapper." Oral surgery just can't be word smithed.

That's WRITING Group

Portrait-of-lady-barbara-lowther-on-horseback-by-mullings  Years ago, The Weatherman gave me a big surprise party, which brought together people from many different facets of my life. Afterwards, a friend said, "Gee, I didn't know you rode." "Huh?" I replied. "I met some nice people from your riding group at the party," she explained.

After a moment's confusion I realized the mistake. It had been a great party with a live band, but the music was loud and it was hard to hear. I do not ride. I write. And she had met folks from my writing group. 

I was thinking about this earlier today, because my writing group  is coming over tonight. I met most of them at a continuing education class on fiction writing at Sarah Lawrence nearly 20 years ago. By now they have become treasured friends.

Nonetheless, we'll keep small talk to a minimum this evening.  Everyone will have arrived with some manuscript half in the works, mostly memoir, and chances are will start out by saying, "This is really [choose an adjective here] rough, bad, hopeless..." Then they'll spin something interesting and usually good though sometimes not. We will all give feedback about what works and what doesn't.

 Tonight they will hear my rough, bad, hopeless paragraphs on how mothers today think about Freud and Oedipus, poor things. Then we'll all keep writing and re-writing. Tally Ho!

Sign my Kindle?

3631012976_970160dfc6  Last week I went to a program featuring Dani Shapiro, a writer who recently published a memoir called  "Devotion." The book is about Shapiro's midlife  search for meaning. She had long abandoned the Orthodox Judaism in which she was raised, and in her mid-40s, found herself spiritually adrift.  The author spoke about the process of writing the book and read an excerpt. She was really good - managed to create a sense of real intimacy in a room full of strangers, created interest in her journey and all in all I left committed to buying her book.

Which was for sale right there in the room. But I rarely buy new hardcovers anymore, I download them on my Kindle. So what followed was a rather awkward interchange. I waited in line to meet her and briefly discuss her book. (Yes, I have no shame - told her I was an author too, and she complimented me on my tentative book title and idea.) But I produced no book for her to sign. I sheepishly told her it was on my Kindle. 

Shapiro didn't betray any irritation. And I told myself I had paid for the event, so I wasn't ripping off the author by not buying the hard copy. And I did buy the book in electronic form. But then later I developed that kind of flushed, anxious feeling you get when you know you've done something wrong.

I feel I should write the NYT ethicist. Is it wrong to go to a book signing - and then pigeon hole the author - when you use an electronic reader?

The Mystery of Spanish Ladies Rooms

Viewattachment  At first, I thought it was an anomaly. But then it kept happening. Well, actually there were two variations. Most often, I would go into a ladies room in Spain, and the toilet seat would be up. But sometimes, there was no toilet seat at all.

What is going on? What's more, my friend Helen, who just got back from Italy, says the same situation exists in that country. She speculates that establishments simply don't want to bother cleaning the toilet seats and remove them. (They don't do a spectacular job with what remains, but I digress...)

But that doesn't explain why the seat would be left up in the ladies room. At first, I assumed that women simply did not want to make bodily contact with a seat of questionable cleanliness, so they were doing the old squat-over-the-public-toilet thing and found it easier to do so with the seat up. But it couldn't be. Because more than once, I followed a woman in there who was over 70. There was NO WAY she had the quad muscles to maintain that kind of squat and then relax enough to pee. (Sorry to be so graphic, but I am very exercised over this issue.)

The Weatherman had a theory that this was cultural. You know how in this country, women are forever hounding men to remember to put down the toilet seat? He argues that in really patriarchal countries (and Italy would fit the bill) men hound women to put the toilet seat back up,  and the behavior has become so ingrained that they automatically do so in public ladies rooms. I find this hard to believe.

The Boy's Girlfriend weighs in on this issues with two interesting questions: One, in a country where people drink all day long at cafes (at some point morphing from coffee to wine or whatever) why are the bathrooms such a mess, and Two - where have all the toilet seats gone?This latter one intrigues me. Could there be a market for toilet seat tops somewhere?

Anyone have any insights on this pressing topic?

Chip Off The Old Blog

Blogging  The Boy is writing a second blog, or at least contributing to one. He has a regular job working for his college's admissions office blogging about student life. But he has always enjoyed sports writing - he has been sports editor at both his high school and college newspapers. Now he's joining a bigger market - writing about his passion - The New York Rangers. It's not paid, but it's still cool. MVP Gotham is an interactive site for New York and New Jersey Sports Fans.

Check it out here. 

The Downside of Cats

2 on the couch  You know I love my kitties. They are affectionate, excellent company and extremely low-maintenance. They're just about the perfect pet except for one fatal flaw: cat vomit.

Why? Why? Why do they puke so often? Why do they vomit right where you are stepping? Why do they seem to prefer to vomit on expensive Oriental carpets? Why do they go outside and eat grass, when they must know it will make them vomit? Why do they eat too fast when time and time again,  experience must have shown them that this will result in - vomit. 

I've researched this online, and with a few notable and disgusting exceptions, cat vomit is considered normal. 

It's been a bad morning for me and cat vomit. Now please excuse me while I go change my socks. Again. 

iPhoto and Reorientation

It's taken three days but I'm bouncing back from jet lag and am ready to tackle the book, FoodIphoto_icon Pantry business, the rest of the laundry, etc. Yesterday I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to figure out iPhoto. After hours of false starts (maybe I'm not as over my jet lag as I think) I put together a slide show of our Spain pictures, complete with "Ken Burns effects" and background music. But guess what? It seems you can't actually send anyone a link to your slide show, unless they have a mac and subscribe to a specific service. Grrrr....

If I'm mistaken and anyone knows how to do this, please let me know. 

Meanwhile I read the news this morning with a new perspective, finding the news about the Euro, the Spanish economy and of course the Volcanic Ash closing airports in England,  especially compelling. 

Home But Still Dreaming of Spain

In New York in my body but in Spain in my mind. Here are a few shots from our trip to Cordoba. This first one is inside the Mezquita, an amazing mosque into which the Spanish conquerers later dropped a Cathedral. You can see bits of both here:

Here are some of the gardens in back: 

Gardens mesqueta
 We ate particularly good tapas in Cordoba, at a place The Boy and his Girlfriend frequent - Bar Santos. Here is what they call a "tortilla" but what I would think of as a "frittata."

It was festival week in Cordoba, and among other things, residents there decorate their patios and then open them to the public. It's very prestigious to win a prize for your patio. Here is but one entry: 

Patio festival
Oh - one more thing. This isn't from Cordoba but Sevilla. Remember I mentioned that The Boy told us about a convent where the nuns bake muffins? When we got stuck in Sevilla (oh, the hardship!) we returned for more. They are simple with a hint of lemon, and as The Boy's Girlfriend says, "Baked with love." Here's one:

Nun muffins

Am I A Sevilliano Yet?

I´m starting to feel like I actually live in Sevilla. This morning we bought muffins freshly baked by the nuns at a local convent, and then ate them with cafe con leche in a cafe. We took a city bus out to the suburbs to visit the Roman ruins. Grabbed a bocadillo and ate it in front of the river. Forget photos - by now my camera battery has given up the ghost. The thing is, we are really still tourists, dropping still more euros - how can Spain´s economy still be on the brink after all the money we´ve spent here?

Right now the Sevilla airport has reopened, with some flights departing, but the first seats available were for tomorrow, so we are keeping our fingers crossed that we can get to Madrid and then to New York. We have gotten extra time with The Boy who has been incredibly accomodating, especially given that he is in the middle of finals.

I´m really hopeful that my next blog will be written from New York...

Grounded in Espana

Cancellation board

Well, we did get as far at the Sevilla Aeroport. But we were soon faced with the departure board which read "cancelled" alternately in English in Spanish beside every outgoing flight. The folks at Iberia were-well - Spanish. The airport was closed. No, no one knew when it would reopen. It´s the Volcanic Ash, which has finally made it´s way to Southern Spain. The earliest they are saying The Weatherman and I can get out is Thursday morning.

It´s a funny state to be in. Certainly it´s not anyone´s idea of a hardship to be stranded in Sevilla, and we were able to get a hotel room. But here we are, rinsing out underwear in the sink, taking out still MORE money for lodging and eating and wandering around the now familar streets. The Weatherman is missing a lot of work and the least said about my book, the better.

I was in tears when I said goodbye to The Boy this morning. But I may be seeing him later. He had an exam this afternoon and was not exactly planning on continuing to hang out with his parents. Anyway, he was a great host and tour guide and last night - on what at the time we assumed to be our final night - we went to a flamenco show which was amazing. So dramatic and emotional.

The pix will have to wait, as I am at an Internet Cafe and can´t download my photos on this public computer. The Weatherman is on a computer next to mine, checking out the Volcanic cloud. Everyone please breath very hard to blow it away from Spain, por favor. Meanwhile we might just go and revisit Real Alcazar.

Last Days in Spain

So much to describe and so little time. (Borrowing The Boy's computer, and he needs it to finish a paper - he has finals this week.) Since I've last blogged we've been to Cordoba and seen the famous Mezquita, eaten fabulous tapas and spent some lovely time with The Boy's Girlfriend. But the photos below are from Real Alcázar, a palace in Sevilla. Construction started in 1364, ordered by Pedro the First. They are just a few highlights - a close up of a wall-length tapestry, some of the mosaics, one view of the gardens. I realize I have to wait until I get back to give a full sense of the what we've seen. Until then, some more sneak peeks:

 More in a few days... 

I Love It Here

A girl could get used to Southern Spain. The culture, the weather, the food - all fabulous. Oh, and the shopping is tempting too. I really wanted this crown but they couldn't tell me how many Euros it would set me back.

Ok, that was actually from the Cathedral in Sevilla. It's hard to describe the grandeur here. On our trip to Granada, we first visited the Alhambra at night, a huge palace which was originally built in the 10th century has been wrestled back and forth between it's Islamic roots and Christianity. Our evening tour was one of the gardens, and the smell was so sweet and lovely. There are hundreds of roses, amazing fountains and court yards. We returned the next day for the full palace tour and to see the gardens by day. Here are a few shots: DSCN0231
 Yikes! I can't get this palace shot upright. Bear with me....

DSCN0221Sorry about that. I'll make it up to you by sharing these churros (yes, essentially fried dough) which are dipped in a cup of chocolate. That is certainly not my hand in the photo, and I am keeping mum about whether anyone at the table drank the rest of the chocolate sauce after the churos were consumed.

Right now I'm in an internet cafe in Sevilla but this afternoon we are heading to Cordoba for a few days. Stay tuned...  

These Feet Were Made For Walkin'

Does anyone have a spare pair of feet I can borrow? Mine need a rest, but there is so much to see and do! We started out in Sevilla, where we spent a little less than 24 hours. During that time we began to roam the city with The Boy. One of the amazing spots we visited was the Plaza de Espana (sp?) which has beautiful ceramic depictions of various Spanish cities. Here is one of them:

We spent more of the afternoon and evening exploring the city and the next morning took a train to Granada. So far we have visited the Cathedral here, the Royal Chapel and last night took an evening garden door at the Alhambra. Amazing all. Later today we'll visit the Alhambra palace. Needless to say, the Cathedral here is not exactly modest.

I'd like to post more, but the Internet is really slow and there's some competition here for the use of The Boy's laptop. Hasta Luego! 


Spain - 1st 24 hours

What a beautiful country. I'm going to minimize the words and maximize the pix. Here is the Universidad de Sevilla, where the boy is studying. DSCN0173 

Our first night we happened on a procession into the Cathedral.

That was the Cathedral. Here is the procession:

Way more to come, but limited access to the computer. Stay tuned.....