Wiskful Thinking


Homemade cherry tarts for breakfast, including one topped with Cool Whip.

I’m not a baker, nor a breakfast eater.

I know it’s not ideal, but I like my biggest meal at the end of the day. I like dinner food. If I have a huge lunch, I’m a little disappointed for the rest of the day because I can’t look forward to dinner.

Perhaps this is a function of growing up in a large Italian family, where our world revolved around food, and Sunday dinner wasn’t complete with macaroni with homemade tomato sauce, a huge tossed salad and a main dish like roast beef or chicken cutlets. Breakfast and lunch were generally caught on the fly, but dinner? That’s when we sat down and broke bread, discussing current events and skirting topics like report cards.

I’ve never been wild about breakfast food because, well, how exciting are eggs or toast? I can’t eat cereal or pancakes because they screw up my blood sugar, sending me scouring for something to eat 90 minutes later. I’m a little limited: a power bar or two scrambled eggs is about as good as it gets.

But as I learned during my stay at a Vermont bed and breakfast, there’s something soothing and comforting about waking up to a homemade breakfast. The aroma of freshly baked raspberry scones, or the intoxicating scent of bacon sizzling on a grill, are calming and grounding, inviting one to embrace the day instead of grabbing it by the throat.

What I enjoyed most was the sound of our innkeeper Sandra going about her business in the kitchen. Separated from the dining room by a frosted glass partition, we could hear Sandra whisking freshly sourced eggs in her mixing bowl, an incredibly gratifying sound when you’re not the one whisking.

I’ve always enjoyed the sounds of people working – the click of a keyboard, the buttons of an adding machine, the beep of a cash register, the chopping of a chef’s knife, the cutting of a bolt of cloth at JoAnn’s Fabrics. I could stand there all day and listen to fabric being measured and cut, but that’s probably another blog.

I have what might be called sensitive ears. Though they are at times a curse (corn on the cob!), they’re often a blessing: rain on the roof; a robin chirping in a tree; a dog’s deep sigh, or one of my favorites, the sound (and sight) of a present being professionally wrapped at a department store with the paper and ribbon cutting and curling, and everything about the tape.

Don’t ask me to explain something so irrational. But I suspect it’s the sound of someone doing something that I deplore, or maybe a bit like someone running their fingers through your hair. It’s just so much better when someone else does it.

What I found listening to Sandra’s whisking – and her very low classical music – is that waking up to a freshly made anything is lovely, so much better than the grab-and-go that is my household.

I decided to do an experiment, taking out some filo dough and frozen cherries to whip up some cherry tarts. I wondered what effect, if any, a homemade breakfast would have on my family. Would they notice, stop and take a tart, or just walk by? I had to find out.

I followed a simple recipe from the blog The Worktop (https://www.theworktop.com/breakfast-brunch-recipes/cherry-filo-pastry-tart/) and constructed my tarts in a muffin pan. I chose cherry because it’s one of my favorites, throwing in some frozen blueberries to give the mixture a little more texture. Within a half hour, they were cooling on the counter awaiting a powdering with confectioner’s sugar.

I’m happy to report that everyone was a little more chipper after the seeing and eating their tarts. I may be on to one of the secrets of family harmony: a hot breakfast. And while I’m certainly not going to win any nutrition awards for my tarts, I think a homemade breakfast sets the right tone, telling people to sit down and stay awhile rather than rushing out the door.

My usually surly daughter strolled downstairs, said “Hi,” and then exclaimed, “Oh, I see you made your pastries. How much longer do they need to bake?” So she actually does speak in the morning, and can be pleasant.

After she ate one, she thanked me, and said she would be down later for seconds. Score!

My son stumbled into the kitchen en route to the bathroom, and did a double-take at the counter, leaning in to sniff the pastries like a curious dog.

“Can we eat the pastries?” he asked after he was showered and dressed.

When I told him he could, he took one, topped it with some Cool Whip and sat down at the kitchen table to eat it. A minute later, he got up and repeated the process. This was something of a miracle for a kid who slugs down a smoothie or a couple of power bars en route to work.

“Those were good,” he said. “I bet Mrs. Carlson would make those all the time.”

Ah Mrs. Carlson. Years ago, she confided that her three children bought school lunches, but she made them a homemade hot breakfast before school every day. I was very impressed and inspired for a week before returning to cereal, yogurt and frozen breakfast burritos. As moms, we must pick our battles, and know our limitations. I opted to make homemade lunches on request, sparing my kids the agony of ground beef in gravy over mashed potatoes, or worse, corned beef hash.

The Curmudgeon ate one, and then a second. On his way out the door, he paused and apologized for being so cranky lately. He said he’s really bombarded with work. He’s not the type to apologize so I’m going to credit the cherry tarts. They’re the only thing that was different, the only change in our morning routine.

I tried to explain my findings to my friend and former editor John over lunch overlooking New Haven Harbor, but I think I lost him when I began talking about pleasurable sounds, particularly whisking. As he looked blankly at me, I thought I heard a waiter whisking salad dressing at a nearby table.

“Shhhhh,” I said. “Somebody’s whisking.” By the time I got his attention, the whisking had ceased. And on second thought, it was probably cutlery clanking. But it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. All he wanted to talk about were sounds that annoy him, like Interstate 95 traffic, and his new sound machine.

Good sounds – shall we call them joyful noise? – transfix me, sending a chill down my spine and making me want it to last forever. Of course, it never does. How long does it take to whisk eggs for an omelet? But you get my point.

What I’m realizing is that if there are sounds that annoy us, there are also sounds that give us enormous pleasure, and we should tune into them as much as possible: a flag flapping in the breeze; gravel crunching under your soles; crickets (as long as they’re outside); crinkling leaves; a croaking frog; tinkling piano keys; waves lapping the shore; Judy Collins; Silence.

I’m also realizing the power of a hot breakfast and its transformative effect on my family. A hot breakfast starts the day off right, giving people the best possible start. I’m thinking of it as my tiny contribution to society. It’s not much, but it’s something.

Clouds In My Coffee

Vermont in the summer: a covered bridge (the Village Bridge) in Waitsfield; a plaque on the historic bridge built in 1833; fields of gold en route to a hike, and the Mad River.

We stayed at a beautiful bed and breakfast in Vermont for a wedding last weekend.

Our room was impeccable: a spacious suite with a bedroom, a plush couch, a kitchenette and a large bathroom with a corner Jacuzzi. There was a quaint front porch with a swing, lush perennial gardens, spectacular views of the mountains and an antique covered bridge about a mile away.

The breakfasts were incredible: fresh scrambled eggs with spinach, tomatoes and feta cheese with a side of homemade hash browns the first day; French toast with peaches and fresh cream and a tasty sausage link the next. I told the innkeeper I might actually enjoy cooking if I could turn out meals like his wife does.

But there was one problem: they served the world’s worst coffee. It was so bad that I couldn’t drink it, and for me, that’s rare. As any coffee fanatic (addict?) knows, you really can’t function until you’ve had your morning coffee. So I tried to sneak into the kitchen to find some grinds to brew in our room, only to be foiled by the cleaning crew. I went on a hunting expedition before the wedding, showing up to the ceremony with a medium cup of coffee in my hand.

“Get rid of the coffee,” The Curmudgeon ordered as we sprinted to the outdoor ceremony, slithering into our seats in the back row minutes before it began. “No,” I said. “No one can see me back here, and this is really good coffee. I’m not throwing it out.”

The Curmudgeon doesn’t drink coffee, so he doesn’t understand. But I’m something of a coffee fiend, stumbling to the coffeemaker first thing in the morning for my first mug, and then my second. I like it strong and hot, with a splash of almond milk or a tablespoon of non-dairy creamer.


I deplore weak, black or instant coffee, or the addition of skim milk, which turns it an ugly shade of gray.  I cannot drink old coffee, which takes on a weird bitterness that I can’t stomach. And for goodness sake, it must be hot. I’ve thrown out tepid cups of coffee after taking one sip. I once asked a Dunkin’ Donuts worker to microwave my coffee four times, and it still wasn’t hot enough.


A propane burner was pressed into service during a power outage several years ago.

The most troubling part of any power outage is how I’ll get my morning coffee. Over the years, I’ve brewed it in the fireplace, gas grill and over a portable propane burner that was not supposed to be used indoors.

The worst part of losing power after Hurricane Bob for 8 days on Martha’s Vineyard in 1991 was the coffee situation. It was hard standing in line with a bunch of spoiled brats while we waited to see if there would be enough coffee to go around. Actually, that could be the basis of a reality TV show: deprive entitled people of caffeine for 21 days, and see who cracks first. It could give idiotic shows like “Naked & Afraid” a run for its money.

I’m a coffee lover, but certainly not a snob. I don’t much care what brand it is as long as it tastes good. I’ve always been a little intimidated by the whole coffee house experience, a bit out of my league in the land of baristas, lattes and cappuccinos. I avoid using Starbucks terms, saying “Give me a medium” for fear of mispronouncing “grande” in public.

I buy what’s on sale, and am keenly aware of when I’m running low on coffee. One of the best gifts I’ve received in a long time is a Dunkin’ Donuts gift certificate from my friend P. I can use it to treat my kids to Boston Creme donuts, and splurge on DD Keurig Cups, which I’d never get unless a friend spoiled me.

I couldn’t bear the thought of the B & B coffee on Sunday, so I jumped into the car and drove to a funky place down the road that roasts its own beans. I bought a medium coffee for $1.89 (Vermont prices!) and strolled the shop, which featured antiques with tags like “Good chair $20,” scented soaps and handmade kitchen aprons.


Vermont is among the most charming places in the world. Here, a view of the pedestrian walkway on the Village Bridge.

Taking our place in the dining room, our host said, “I see you left early this morning to get gas.” Um, no I went to get a decent cup of coffee down the road, I thought. But I didn’t have the heart to tell him, so said I took a ride.

I considered telling him that his coffee needs help, but the Curmudgeon advised me to stay silent. “He’s been running this place for 14 years, and  obviously has never had a complaint about his coffee before,” he said. “You’re going to be the first one to tell him his coffee stinks?”

Well, maybe. Why not? People complain about my strong coffee all the time, diluting it with water from the kitchen faucet right in front of me. I’m not insulted (well, maybe just a little). I recognize that people prefer certain strengths of coffee, and what I like is another person’s rocket fuel. I was at a reception, and one of the biggest worries the organizer had was whether she had brewed decent coffee in one of those huge coffee makers found in church halls. For the record, she did.

So perhaps I’d be doing the innkeeper a favor by suggesting a stronger brew, or that some people prefer coffee with some taste and flavor, something a little stronger than watered down tea or dish water. I’m going to guess that he’s not a coffee drinker, that there is no way someone who enjoys coffee could serve something so vile.

But you’d think he’d realize something is amiss. No one asked for more coffee, a stunning fact given the way Americans love (need) our morning coffee. And a number of guests opted out of the entire situation, wisely deciding to make tea.

For now, I’m just happy to be home with my own coffee maker. Rocket fuel never tasted so good.




The Blame Game


The dog is sick.

She got into the garbage on Sunday night, and feasted on sparerib bones. The vet suspects she’s developed pancreatitis from eating fatty meat, but I think it’s the shards of bones rolling around in her tummy.

In either case, it’s not good. She’s been having trouble keeping food down and just isn’t herself. And though I’m sure it’s just a matter of time until she recovers, this could have been avoided if someone had emptied the garbage.

What a concept. Such a simple thing, yet no one ever wants to do it.

The Curmudgeon calls me “The Blamer” because I’m usually looking to assign it when something goes amuck. But in this case, someone screwed up and no one is willing to own up. All I know is I’m off the hook because I cooked, and the cook doesn’t clean in our house.

The Curmudgeon pointed out that it was Father’s Day so it surely wasn’t his fault. My son and daughter cleared the table and plates, but someone left the cabinet holding the trash can slightly ajar, allowing Cali to open it and have a field day.

I love pull-out cabinets that conceal trash cans because they’re dog-proof. But in order for them to work, the cabinet must be closed. Even an inch gap is enough for a Lab with a hankering for bones to work it open with her nose. But this is really a moot point. The trash should have been taken out.

The Curmudgeon is willing to concede that he was the last one to go to sleep around 1 a.m., and the dog was sleeping on the living room couch, odd because she’s ordinarily commandeers a chair in our bedroom. That should have put most people on alert that she was up to something, but the Curmudgeon went to bed.

I awakened around 5 a.m. and found the trash can had been ransacked. She got the wrappers the ribs came in, as well as the foil I used to wrap them. She ate paper towels  and some bones, because I found small shards on the living room carpet.

I’m not sure how many bones, but we ate a lot of spareribs that night. X-rays showed she has no obstructions, but apparently objects can roll around in a dog’s stomach for months. I’m praying she’s not one of these dogs because that would mean surgery.

The vet told me about a dog who had eaten chicken on wooden skewers, including the skewers. When the vet operated a few months later, there they were – wooden skewers too thin to show up on X-rays. I don’t know why vets tell you these worst case scenarios, but they do. It’s not really what you want to hear when your dog isn’t feel well.

Anyone with Labs knows they’re land sharks, prowling the kitchen and its environs for food. My old Lab Lindsey was legendary: she once at 4 corned beefs right before a St. Patrick’s Day party while I at was at an emergency clinic with The Curmudgeon. When the babysitter called to tell me about the corned beef, even the doctor said, “I’m sorry, but you really are having a shi*^ty day.”

Cali is becoming a bit of a chow hound in her old age, and now she’s paying a steep price. The vet recommended keeping her overnight, but I insisted she come home because she’s an anxious dog. In reality, I couldn’t stand the thought of having her away from me.

I’m not really sure where I’d be without this dog. She’s such a loyal companion, sticking by me through thick and thin over the past 9 years. She helped me through a particularly difficult period a few years ago, and our bond got even stronger.

The Curmudgeon claims she’s obsessed with me, and I won’t argue with that. She wants to be with me all the time. Sometimes it feels a little oppressive, but I love it. It’s nice to be so deeply loved.

Though he won’t own up to leaving the trash compartment ajar, I suspect the Curmudgeon knows he’s guilty. He claims the dog won’t look at or cuddle with him, that she is in some way mad at him for her current predicament. Maybe she is, and maybe she has every right to be.

My son the philosopher said it’s no one’s fault that the dog got sick, that it’s the dog’s fault for going into the trash. I swear this kid has been doing this since he was little, refusing to accept blame for anything. Perhaps this explains our relationship: the Blamer having a child who is Blameless.

But right now I really don’t care who screwed up. I just want sweet Cali to feel better again.




Kitchen Envy

Scenes from the Stony Creek (CT.) Quarry: A polished slab, the entrance and some carved stone for the garden.

My friend Barbara’s kitchen remodel starts this week, so I’ll be living vicariously through her for the next month or so.

I had my kitchen remodeled seven years ago when The Curmudgeon declared he could no longer clean counters with Mexican tiles and gray grout that never looked clean. We originally planned to replace the countertops, but it seemed silly when the rest of our ’80s kitchen was a disaster.

I don’t know what the design goals were in the late ’80s, but food storage wasn’t a priority. We never had enough room for anything. So we did a complete remodel, expanding the island, creating the coveted “triangle” of the sink, stove/oven and refrigerator, and improving the lighting.

I love the finished product because it’s prettier and more functional than our old kitchen. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little jealous of Barbara’s Big Fat Kitchen Remodel. It’s fun and exciting to remodel, if you can get past the inconvenience and annoyance of contractors in your house, and the actual work that needs to be done.

So I’ve decided to closely follow Barbara’s kitchen project, hoping I can piggyback on the excitement while avoiding the pitfalls of home improvement projects. I recently weighed in on the discussion of countertops, which I found one of the most confounding aspects of my own remodel.

I chose a dark green granite streaked with white called Ocean, mainly because it reminded me of the Atlantic Ocean, specifically off Cape Cod. This is how some women (and I suppose men) make decisions. When all is said and done, we pick things for sentimental reasons, ignoring whether they’re functional or costly.

When the woman from the granite place called to tell me that Ocean was actually a lot more expensive than originally quoted, I told her I was proceeding as planned. “I’m not looking at any more granite,” I said. “I’ll just get cheaper appliances.”

There are times in life when you can’t go back to square one, to begin again as the yogis say. Looking at slabs of granite is one of those times. It took me so long to pick out Ocean that I couldn’t imagine starting the process again. It was easier to compromise on the appliances, though I wish I had sprung for a better refrigerator. The one I bought began falling apart after about three years.

I admire decisive people, but this has never been one of my strengths. I’m the kind of person who will find a dress on my first outing – and then continue to scour stores in hopes of finding a better one. I may like something, but must convince myself that it’s the right way to go. I visited about six kitchens with cherry cabinets before finally deciding I wanted cherry.

I’m not sure what my problem is, but I think I’m afraid to make mistakes on big ticket items. Well, make that anything. I guess I’m a little paralyzed. Actually, it’s amazing anything ever gets done around here.

Barbara is more decisive, but still has not picked out her countertops. I asked if she had considered Stony Creek granite, a pink and gray stone mined the next town over in Branford, CT. This is not just any granite. Stony Creek granite is known worldwide, mainly because it forms the base of the Statue of Liberty. It’s also part of other famous landmarks, including the Smithsonian and Grand Central Station.

“Isn’t that pink?” Barbara asked. “Because I’m getting white countertops.” A minor detail.

Yes, it’s pink, but it’s gray too. And those two colors are hot right now, making Stony Creek granite a top choice among designers and architects. A lot of people around here use Stony Creek granite in their homes because it’s a symbol of the Connecticut shoreline. A lot of New Yorkers use it because it’s part of the bedrock of the city.

I know this because I visited the quarry. I’ve been wanting to do this since gazing at the Statue of Liberty during my return from Staten Island during the 5-Boro Bike Tour last month. I had an hour to kill, and it was either the quarry or Walmart. The quarry won.

I was greeted by a lovely receptionist named Stacey, who told me she just began roping off the entrance last week because people were just driving in, which isn’t the smartest thing to do when blasting is going on.

It’s hard to believe people think they can sightsee at an active quarry, but it takes all kinds. So the rope is up and people have to stop and visit Stacey in her construction trailer to state their business, which is probably best for everyone.

Stacey understands the interest in the quarry, which has been around since 1858. A couple of times a year, the quarry opens for public tours. But you just can’t go in and take a personal tour on a whim. There are rules to follow, protocols to protect us from ourselves.

I got a quick look at the perimeter of the quarry, with its mountains of sand and all manner of rocks, stones, slabs and pavers. A few huge polished slabs sat near the entrance, buffed and glistening in the sun. Hand-carved benches, garden troughs and planters sat a few feet away, showing the range of uses of the granite dating back 225 to 650 million years.


Stony Creek granite forms the base of the Statue of Liberty.

Stacey said many people come to the quarry to see the place where the stone was harvested for the Statue of Liberty and other famous landmarks. But she said the quarry also has folklore status for some locals, who have grown up hearing stories of  grandpa “swimming down at the quarry.”


Stacey rolled her eyes at that notion, noting no swimming has ever taken place at the current quarry. For the record, the stone mined for the Statue of Liberty was mined nearby, but not at the current quarry site.

What I love most about the quarry is it’s a throwback in time, a deep connection to the past that has changed little over the past 160 years. Times may have changed, but workers are still mining the granite. It’s more than pink and gray rock – it’s a beautiful byproduct of nature, a gift from our dear Mother Earth.

I guess that explains all these spur of the moment visits. Sometimes, you want to connect with the past and your deeper self. Sometimes, you need to visit the quarry instead of another big box store.

Stacey allowed me to take a few photos of the slabs, just in case Barbara is interested. I know she isn’t, but it’s nice to dream. And I’m kicking myself a little for not considering Stony Creek granite in my own kitchen. It would have been so pretty.



As I drove away, I noticed large boulders and pieces of granite on people’s property – symbols of their reverence and connection to the land. Some of it was a lot more attractive than others – honestly, some people have no design sense. But I get it. It’s a part of our history, a symbol of the freedom and fresh start so many of our ancestors sought coming to the United States.

I stopped at a parking area down the road from the quarry where I often hike with my dog. I got out of the car and grabbed five large rocks of Stony Creek granite, and placed them in my front garden. I’m considering a granite planter, maybe even a trough if I can cajole the Curmudgeon into springing for one (highly unlikely).

But for now, the rocks will do. No one who walks by may notice them, but I know they’re there – a permanent link to this land and place. I have no idea why I suddenly wanted them, but I did. Maybe it was a primitive urge or a need to feel grounded. All I know is they’re there, my own little connection to this place. Right now, that’s enough.

For more on the history of the quarry, visit http://stonycreekquarry.com/history/.


Born To Plod

Scenes from some of my recent runs/walks.

My brother-in-law RG accused me of writing too much. I would not accuse him of doing too much dentistry, but alas, neither of us mince words. I trust him to be honest with me. If he thinks I’m writing too much, I probably am.

But the trouble with writing is you must write to keep the juices flowing. When you stop, it’s always harder to write. Back in my reporting days, we had to come up with the goods every day. We couldn’t sit back and rest on our laurels because there was a newspaper to fill. And unlike other jobs where you can have a lazy day or two, it was pretty obvious when you were slacking off. You had nothing, and it showed.

So I guess what I’m trying to say (drumroll, please) is writing is all or nothing, feast or famine, if you’ll pardon the cliche. Better to write too much than not at all. Better to use a skill or talent than let it wither and die. Better to keep up a writing practice or fitness routine than abandon it.

Things have a way of getting away from you if you’re not careful. One minute, you’re on a roll while the next, you’re at a standstill. As my old editor John used to say, life is like a shark – keep moving or you die.

I was in great running shape last year. I even became an ambassador for Sound Runner, a running store in Branford, CT.  I got up to five miles, a miracle for someone with lead in her pants. And then, just like that, my running routine fell by the wayside, replaced by writing and other activities.

My fitness has suffered – a lot. I’m in terrible running shape, as witnessed by my pathetic walk/run/stagger last weekend at the Song Strong 5K, a road race to raise money to prevent gun violence and keep kids safe. The race was organized by the family of 15-year-old Ethan Song of Guilford, CT., who died from a gunshot wound in January.

Time and performance were the last things on my mind because of the big picture: the Songs have lost a child, every parents’ worst nightmare. They’re working tirelessly to prevent other children from senseless deaths from guns. I was there to support them and their cause.

But my stagger was a wake-up call: I haven’t been putting in the time or effort to run and it shows. Just like an empty hole where a story should be, it’s very obvious when you haven’t been running. It’s humbling when a man in his 80s is managing to run while you have to stop and walk.

I’ve been running, and I use that term very loosely, on and off since I was 15. I started during the jogging craze in the ’70s, and often ran during high school and college to let off steam. I’m a plodder. If I were a car, I’d be a ’70s Dodge Dart – nothing to look at, but slow, steady and dependable. My comfort zone is about 3 miles, and I’m slower than dirt.

I stopped running while trying to conceive in my late 20s and early 30s, when exercise was cited as a possible cause of infertility. I’m not sure where the experts are on that now, but back then exercise was suspected of making you less fertile. So I shifted to walking, a pleasurable and less intense alternative. I didn’t get pregnant, but I became a dedicated walker.

I began running again in earnest in my late 40s. We live in a wooded area with hiking trails in every direction. I found trail running a great outlet, a way to steep myself in nature and get a good workout. It was safer than running on the road, and I didn’t have to deal with people looking at me while I run. I despise that part of running because I always feel I’m on display and being judged.

How do I know this? Because I often do it myself: Do I look that bad when I run? Am I that slow? For goodness sake woman, pick up the pace!

I got myself back to about 3 miles a day and was competing in a few 5Ks when I was mauled by a dog on my favorite trail. The dog bit my thigh and hand as I tried to push it away. Hospital workers at Yale-New Haven’s emergency clinic told me it was among the worst dog bites they’d ever treated. All I know is the pain in my thigh was excruciating on the first night, like nothing I have ever felt.

I couldn’t run for two months because of deep puncture wounds that wouldn’t heal, and subsequent surgery on my right thigh to remove a humungous hematoma. Being sidelined threw me off my routine. And when I finally recovered enough to be able to run, it was the last thing I wanted to do.

I began trail running again about two years ago. Running again at 57 was great because I had no expectations, no lofty goals except covering the distance. One foot over the other. It’s so simple. We destroy ourselves when we’re younger for failing to meet time or distance goals. But when you’re knocking on 60, you’re just happy to be out there. You know too many people who aren’t around, or can’t run due to physical problems. You realize being able to run is a blessing.

So many women tell me that they hate running, but enjoy walking. I love to walk and hike too, and I don’t love running because it’s harder, frustrating and humbling. I’m a terrible runner. But for me, it’s a means to an end. I can eat more, my clothes fit better and I have more energy and less anxiety. I feel a little stronger mentally, having done something that I was dreading, but still managed to do.

I’ve learned that I need to run in the morning, that leaving it until the evening means that I won’t do it because of other commitments or fatigue. People talk about winning the morning and it’s true. Put it in the books, and there are no excuses or beating yourself up for skipping it.

Having a goal is good. Mark off a 5K a few months down the road, and vow to get in shape for that race. If you can’t run it, you can walk/run or just walk it. I ran the Labor Day race in New Haven last year, and have marked it on my calendar as my summer running goal.

Chip away, realizing that you’re not going to be able to run three miles without building up to it. I’m using a 5K running app (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/couch-to-5k-run-training/id448474423?mt=8) on my phone that promises to get me from the couch to a 5K in two months. What I love is it’s a combination of walking and running, and I don’t feel discouraged. The app takes things slow.

I wish I knew about this app over the past 6 months when I’ve been trying and failing to do my runs. One of the problems “runners” have is we want to be able to run three miles (or whatever distance we’ve been running) even after a long layoff. This app provides a sensible training program that gradually moves from walking to running. I can’t wait to see if it actually works.

Of course, I’ll have to wait until the pain in my right foot subsides. I was enjoying the app so much that I overdid it and strained something yesterday. The app solves a lot of problems, but it can’t turn back time.

Note: I have not received any compensation from the Couch to 5k running app.




Where The Boys Are

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The Edgartown Lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard.

The Curmudgeon is on a Boys’ Weekend.

The occasion? A friend’s 60th birthday. The friend wanted to celebrate the old-fashioned way: with a long weekend on Martha’s Vineyard filled with socializing and merriment. I’m celebrating my 60th birthday this year, but there are no wild and crazy weekends in my future. At least none that I know about.

The boys traveled by boat from Milford, CT., and are staying at the Mad Max Marina in Edgartown Harbor for three days while I hold down the fort. I’m looking forward to yard work and binge-watching TV, but mostly not having to explain myself to anyone.

I can do what I want, when I want, without justifying it. I can order Chinese food or make crab sauce without any complaints. I can do my own thing, whatever that means. After 34 years of marriage and 20 years of motherhood, you almost forget how to act independently because you’re always accommodating someone.

As part of a couple, you must account for your whereabouts and your time. You’re continually thinking about when you will get a chance to do things together, like walk the dog or eat dinner. There’s an apportioning of time for your spouse, even if you don’t do any of it because other things come up.

But when the occasional Boys’ Weekend crops up, you’re suddenly footloose and fancy free, not having to account for your whereabouts, check in, make sure, double check or just check before you do something. What a concept.

When you’re married, you can’t just jump in the car and take off without saying where you’re going. I tried this a few years ago, and it didn’t go over well. I was admonished for being selfish and weird. No one who’s married does this. Or maybe there are people who do, but they’re not going to be married for very long.

Marriage is about give and take, but mostly answering to another adult. It’s about having someone say, “This place is a mess” and knowing it’s your job to clean it. It’s about having someone say, “Would you mind putting a roll of toilet paper in the master bathroom?” and not snapping, “Well, you could do that too. Why is that my job?” It’s about having someone tell you to water the plants and saying, “I’ll do it when I feel like it.”

It’s about biting your tongue when you really don’t feel like it, and sounding off when you just can’t help yourself and knowing you will be forgiven. One of the things I enjoy most about marriage is complete honesty with my spouse, of not having to couch my words. My mother will laugh when she reads this. The last time I wrote something like this, she said, “When have you ever couched your words with anyone?”

True, I do speak my mind, but at least people know where they stand. The Curmudgeon is used to it. I can say, “I hate that sweater. Never wear it again,” or “Wipe your mouth. You have stuff on your chin. No, it’s still there,” and know it’s OK. I can urge him to hurry up, chill out, help more or butt out and know that he won’t take offense. Well, most of the time.

The Curmudgeon and I are both independent, and usually only talk if something comes up. He doesn’t call me in the middle of the day to whisper sweet nothings or tell me how much he loves me. He calls to warn me about speed traps in our neighborhood. He’s also good about telling me when he’s stopping at Walmart, though half the time when I call or text him back he doesn’t pick up or get the message.

He’s a man of few words, texting only that the boat arrived and was safely docked at Mad Max in Edgartown Harbor at 9:30 p.m. Friday. That is the last I heard from him. And though I don’t begrudge him having fun with the guys, I expected a quick text or phone call, just to check in. When I awakened this morning and still hadn’t heard from him, I sent him a one word text: “Thanks.”

He knew exactly what I meant, texting me back that it was hard to send group messages and he’s looking forward to coming home. Sure. I bet he can’t wait to get back to dry land, work, responsibilities and the old ball and chain.

I’m not sure why guys feel so entitled to Boys’ Weekends, but they do.  They delight in them, often posting photos on Facebook and Instagram to rub it in everyone’s face: I’m off doing fun stuff with my buddies while you’re home being a responsible adult. Yes, we get it. You’re away having the time of your life and we’re home stoking the home fires. Bully for you.

But it’s not so easy for women to escape. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been away for a Girls’ Weekend.  I think about it, but it’s complicated. My friends have husbands and children whose schedules must be considered. And unlike men, women can’t just pick up and leave. Getting away for a Girls’ Weekend requires planning, begging, cajoling and convincing. Most of these trips are scuttled before they even get to the planning stages.

So I’ll indulge in the flip side of the Boys’ Weekend – being alone, except for the kids – for 72 hours. I’ll do what I want, when I want. Well, not so fast. It’s my daughter’s birthday weekend, so there’s the cake, the birthday meal, cleaning the house for a small party and buying presents.

And my plans of having the house to myself were dashed when my son asked if he and five of his closest friends could hang out on Saturday night. So much for alone time.

So maybe a Girls’ Weekend is in my future. A girl can dream, can’t she?

Mugs the Word

Tiger Woods, my passport photo from 2016, and Nick Nolte.

I got my passport photo at CVS.

When the Curmudgeon asked if I had taken my documents to the post office to complete the deal, I shook my head.

“I wouldn’t let anyone who looks like this on a plane,” I said. “And I don’t think anyone who looks like this is entitled to a trip or deserving of overseas travel. Anyone who looks like this should do the world a favor and stay home.”

I finally got the courage to show it to him today. He seen me at my absolute worst, so how bad could it be? I handed him the small orange envelope with “Bon Voyage” on the front cover. He opened it, and then sort of threw it away from him.

“Bon voyage is right,” he said. “Take off, and don’t come back. You look like a hard-knock woman. Have you thought about getting a job at the Country Tavern?”

I asked him if I should put it on the blog. “Are you kidding me?” he said. “It’s not fit for human consumption. Maybe if you could put it on for a second and have it disappear. But do you really want it up permanently?”

I showed it to my friend John as I cried in my tonic water and lime over a particularly pathetic golf round. “You look,” he said, “like Charlize Theron in Monster.” I haven’t seen the film, but recall reading that Charlize gained a ton of weight, didn’t wash her hair or wear makeup during filming.” Thanks Johnny.

Of course, I could give the “Monster” a run for her money. Stringy hair. Jowls. Tird, very tired eyes. Old lady neck. The absence of lips and eyebrows.

I don’t know why we’re not entitled to a re-take, but I think when you get photos like this you just want to run away as fast as you can and be alone. It’s sort of like when you get a bad grade in school, or wiped off the tennis court. You had high hopes of doing well, but then reality stepped in.  The photo kind of confirms your worst fears, and you need a little time to regroup.

It was so bad that I rifled through my room when I got home, looking for a passport photo I had taken two years ago. By some miracle, I found it, so chances are good I will actually attend a wedding in London this summer.

It was so bad that it makes my driver’s license photo look fantastic. It was so terribly disturbing that I’m considering an eye lift or at the very least, a $99 Keratin treatment for my hair. It was definitely a wake-up call, one of those ah-ha moments when you say, “I can’t believe I leave the house looking like this.”

In my defense, the chances of getting a good passport photo are pretty slim. You can’t smile or show any teeth. As if that’s not bad enough, you have to scrape your hair behind you ears, not a terribly flattering look. You’re standing against a stark white background and staring down the CVS candy aisle, not an ideal setting.

Still, you are unprepared for the results, which are so much worse than your Costco photo. Think Nick Nolte’s mug shot, or Tiger Woods after his recent arrest. A glazed look in your eyes, though you haven’t been drinking. Washed out. Haggard. Scary.

Of course, in this digital age, there are plenty of times you catch yourself on camera and think, “Oh dear” or maybe even “Holy sh&!”.  The worst is when you’re reclined in your bed scrolling through your phone and mistakenly activate the selfie button. “Who the . . . oh, I guess that’s me with no chin,” you think. And then you make sure that you haven’t accidentally taken a photo and posted it on Instagram. Because seriously, you wouldn’t want that image of you ingrained in everyone’s mind even for a second.

There is also the matter of cameras at the Wal-mart self check-out line, yet another reason to avoid it. As you’re scanning items, you look up to see a tiny screen capturing your transaction. You don’t think you look particularly bad, and yet there is no denying the image staring back at you. So you look at the screen instead of watching what you’re doing, a little like staring in the rear-view mirror as you drive.

I don’t mind being on camera. I understand it’s necessary for security and I applaud technology that will keep us safer. But I don’t think we need to see video of us pumping gas or buying wine. I noticed a row of cameras at the bank yesterday that were just recording, and longed for the old days when you could go about your business without video proof of your every move.

Of course, I might feel differently if I was 30, but as my pal Lisa in Florida often reminds me, “That ship has passed.” Still, a little self-care is probably in order, at least when heading out in public. I don’t want to scare anyone ever again, especially me.


Tree of Life

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Clusters of wisteria in Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard.

I love wisteria.

I’m head over heels for the purple (or is it lavender?) flowers dangling from porticos, trellises, arbors and fences right now.

It seems unfitting that such a beautiful flower grows in the wild, but it does. I began noticing wisteria on trees along Interstate 95 in Virginia several years ago during our annual trek to South Carolina. Like most things on I-95 South, it signaled hope, promise, renewal and sun-soaked days after months of New England gloom.

I’m not sure why we’re enchanted by certain flowers, but we all have our favorites. My sister Diane is wild about pink lily of the valley, while my mother loves roses. My friend Barbara has a thing about dahlias, while my older sister Joanne loves hydrangeas.

I don’t know what favorite flowers say about people, but wisteria is a pretty good match for me: a tangle of vines that grows all over the place, requiring pruning to be held in check. Wisteria has a mind of its own and has boundary issues, spreading to nearby trees and structures and engulfing houses if you’re not careful. It can be overwhelming, not that I know anything about that.


A branch forms a natural cradle for rocks.


Wisteria is planted next to the porch, extending over the entire yard.


A closer look at the tree and its crazy shoots.

I’ve loved it since I was a kid. Growing up in Orange, CT., a suburb outside of New Haven, there was an antique farmhouse near the town’s center with a quaint front porch draped in wisteria every spring. At one point, a trail of wisteria stretched across the yard, looking like one of those garlands you buy at a crafts store.

I looked for that tree and its lush canopy every time I cruised down Orange Center Road, past the old brick schoolhouse, fire station, white steepled Congregational Church, and the library. It was about as close to a Norman Rockwell painting as I was going to get in a suburb lined mostly with expanded ranch-style homes, split-levels and Colonials that sprung up during the town’s population boom in the ’50s and ’60s.

The wisteria-draped house was a sign of simpler times when the town was a farming community, and people spent evenings on front porches. You don’t find too many front porches any more, let alone anyone sitting on them.

We’ve become a society of rear decks and patios, elaborate outdoor kitchens, gas heaters, propane-fueled fire pits, lanterns and lights. I tried to spice up my patio by stringing lights from one end to the next, but was rebuked by my son, who said it looked like amateur hour.

‘You need to be home to clean your house.’

I guess he should know. His first order of business starting his sophomore year at the College of the Holy Cross was ordering remote-control string lights from Amazon and installing them around the perimeter of his room. Half of his dirty laundry is still in bags after three weeks, but he got the lights up in his room on his first day home for the summer.

I threw up the outside lights hours before seven of my daughter’s closest friends arrived for an impromptu Memorial Day party. I was trying to illuminate the area over a wrought iron dining set that I bought at a tag sale last summer, and I haven’t used once.

We’re not an outdoor family. We’re outdoorsy, but once we’ve run, hiked or played tennis or golf, we head inside. I’m not sure why, because I feel instantly better about almost anything once I step outside. But we’re inside folks, which drives me a little crazy.

When I complained, the Curmudgeon announced that he does not like eating outside because of bugs. When I reminded him that you don’t have to eat outside to use a patio, he stared blankly at me. He reminded me that we never ate outside at his parents’ house. I guess an aversion to eating outside can be inherited too.

We spend so little time on the patio that I didn’t even bother taking up two lounge chairs from the basement last year. It didn’t make sense because we don’t lounge at home.

Once you plop yourself in a lounge chair, the phone rings, your dog pesters you for a walk, you’re hounded by a bee,  or someone comes out to discuss the meaning of life. Sitting in a lounge chair announces: “I’m not busy and I have all the time in the world to listen to you. In fact, I got into this lounge chair hoping that you would see me and know that I’m doing nothing. What can I do for you?”

In truth, it’s hard to lounge at home, which I guess is why people take vacations and don’t move from their lounge chairs for a week. Being home means tending to tasks, doing the work of running a household. One of the greatest pieces of wisdom my mother ever gave me is: “You need to be home to clean your house.”


A climbing hydrangea is taking over an oak.

Given the little time we spend in our outdoor living space, it doesn’t make sense to plant wisteria. We’ve got enough trouble with chipmunks in the beach roses and a climbing hydrangea that’s consuming an oak. But I decided to take the plunge, spiriting away to a distant nursery to buy a few specimens.

There were dire warnings from a nursery worker. Wisteria is terribly invasive, and she’s spent countless hours removing it from yards where it has overtaken houses. But she noted, “Most of those people were elderly or dead, so you’ll probably be OK.”

Though it’s not on the state of Connecticut’s invasive plant list – yet neither is bamboo, so go figure – most varieties come from China and Japan, placing it on the dreaded non-native species list. Conscientious gardeners avoid planting non-native plants, trees and shrubs because they crowd out native species, harming insects, birds and animals.

I bought two wisteria plants cultivated in the southeast United States. Now, I am faced with the dilemma of where to plant them: in the front yard, where they will delight passersby, or in the backyard, where I can gaze at them from the kitchen window. Given my history, they’ll probably sit there for at least two weeks while I ponder my next move. I only hope they don’t wither and die during the deliberation process.

The Orange specimen is sadly sparse with blooms this year. I drove to the house to take a few photos, and was crushed to see only a few flowers dangling over the front yard. I got close to the tree for the first time, noticing its twisted trunk and how its branches spread to a neighboring tree. The owners erected a sturdy wooden support system for it.

As I moved closer (actually trespassed), I noticed a row of rocks tucked in a nook in a branch as it curled near the front porch. It reminded me of those trinkets tucked into the tree in To Kill A Mockingbird. It was so cool and unexpected, poetic in a way. Only the person who put the rocks there knows why they’re there, but it’s clear this tree is special. I always knew it was.

Only time will tell if my wisteria will flourish and bloom, becoming a symbol of spring on my woefully wooded lot. But I’m willing to give it a shot. It seems like it might be worth it, for me and maybe someone else.

For more on wisteria’s meanings, visit https://www.whats-your-sign.com/wisteria-meaning.html.


Slip Siding Away

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Middle school.


Almost 17.

I used to get terribly frustrated when my mother wasn’t dressing as nicely as I thought she should.

She’d sometimes wear cut off nylons or my father’s socks, assuming no one noticed her feet. But as a mother myself, I understand. I hope people will give me a pass for wearing my son’s Adidas slides to the prom gathering on the Green Friday night.

I planned to wear a decent outfit for the annual promenade of gowns and tuxedos before this year’s senior prom. But life, as they say, got in the way and I ended up wearing the slides, which my son uses as shower shoes in college.

This might be OK except they’re about 4 inches too big for my feet. As my mom would say, I looked a little like God Help Us. Or at the very least one of those women who have thrown in the towel.

I was hoping no one noticed, but I think a few people did. I definitely caught a kid in Big Y checking out my feet and stifling a laugh as I stood in line and picked up my daughter’s escort’s boutonniere. But I didn’t care, not nearly as much as I did during my son’s senior prom festivities three years ago.

I don’t know a lot of kids in this year’s graduating class because I don’t have any kids in 12th grade. And by the time you’ve attended your fifth pre-prom gathering, all you really want is a few photos and to send them on their way. Oh, there are women who show up in their LBD and pearls, but it’s few and far between. The bulk of the moms come as they are, just happy to have made it out the door.

I wrote a piece a few months ago saying I was rested and ready for another prom, but I failed to factor in the law of diminishing returns. This is about the only thing I retained from economics. It means that the thrill of doing something diminishes every time you do it.


My professor used the example of eating ice cream. The first one tastes great, the second less so and so on. The same is true for prom preparations. The role of hand maiden gets old the second time, particularly when the princess forgot to get the pedicure and is calling you to paint her toenails 15 minutes before she’s due on the Green.

I’m not sure why prom day is always a nightmare, but it is. Hair appointments requiring leaving school early, and miscommunication between the main office that requires three phone calls, two voicemails, five texts, and finally a hand-written note from home. Make-up misfires. Limp tendrils. Hooks and snaps that won’t stay. A last-minute scramble for an evening bag or anything to hold a few necessities.

By the time we pulled out of the driveway with a large cup of coffee between my knees, I just wanted to snap a few photos, take a look at the dresses – the best part of prom in my  opinion – and send my daughter and her date on their merry way.

Of course, it’s never that easy. There is the problem of assembling everyone for group shots. There are the rolled eyes of your daughter as you move in for another close-up. There’s trying to keep your emotions in check as your daughter and her closest friend pose for a photo, making you wonder where the last 15 years have gone.


Both girls looked beautiful, my daughter in her blazing red gown and classic up-do, and her friend C in her silk platinum gown with her long flowing blonde hair in tiny braids framing her face. I swallowed hard. They’re two young women now, no longer the pair of girls who did scouting together and struggled to spend a night away from home at sleepovers.

Her family lives across the street. They were the only ones who took the bait 15 years ago when the guy who sold us his house invited us over to meet the neighbors. It was so nice of them to come. Can you imagine if no one showed up?

We learned that they had two daughters, the younger girl the same age as our daughter. A son would follow a few years after we moved in. The girls have known and played with each other since they were 18 months old, which is pretty cool considering how transient some neighborhoods are today.

I loved the fact that my daughter has a neighborhood friend because I was great friends with two girls on my street while I was growing up. Neighborhood friends share a certain bond that other friends don’t. You almost feel related because you know each other’s families so well.

You’re on the front lines when Joe the Boxer eats the molding around a door. You sense everyone’s concern when your friend’s brother goes in for another surgery. You know the ins and outs of other families, when to give parents a wide berth and when it’s OK to let loose. No one else’s house is quite yours, but neighborhood friends’ houses are pretty close.

The previous owner warned us that our neighborhood is not a coffee klatch type of neighborhood and he was right. I can go weeks, sometimes months, without seeing my neighbors, but that doesn’t mean we’re disconnected, distant or don’t like each other. It just means we’re very busy.

We’re there for each other, watching each other’s dogs when someone’s traveling. We borrow sugar, flour, butter and the occasional cup of dog food when supplies run low. We keep tabs on each other’s houses and kids when the teens want to stay home for the weekend, making sure no more than two cars are in the driveway. We text each other to plan neighborhood gatherings when someone notes we’re overdue.

We get a little choked up when we see two beautiful young women standing on the Guilford, CT., green on their way to prom, wondering where the time has gone. I wasn’t a basket case at this year’s pre-prom gathering because my daughter is only a sophomore. I’ve got two more years of teen-age girl stuff – the good, the bad and the angst.

But other parents were watching their only or last child headed off to their last prom – another last in a list of assemblies, concerts, teacher conferences,  banquets, awards nights and sporting events that is senior year. It goes by so fast that you almost can’t believe it.

As parents, we know that this is what we’ve been working for all these years, yet it’s still so incredibly hard marking all of these lasts. My daughter’s date’s mom said that it helped her knowing that I was terribly sad when my son left for college. She said by telling her, I had normalized her feelings.

“I look around and no one else seems to be feeling this sense of loss,” she said. “It really helped knowing you felt it too.”

I felt it in spades and was somewhat floored because I didn’t expect it. I was terribly sad when my son left for school because I felt a huge void. I had invested so much time in him that I missed him more than I ever imagined I would.

It took me a long time to get used to having him away, but I’m used to it and actually embrace it. In fact, I’m still adjusting to having him home for the summer because he doesn’t realize we all get along just fine without him for most of the year.

He doesn’t understand why I use StitchFix, or why I want to watch Dateline when he wants to watch repeats of The Office with me. He doesn’t understand why I want to veg out in my bedroom while his father watches the NBA finals downstairs. He really doesn’t get how much I hate professional hockey, but I do and that’s never going to change.

So prom is over for another year, and this year’s seniors will take their place on the Green in another few weeks to receive their diplomas. I’m happy for them and their families, and excited for the adventures that await them. It’s a wonderful milestone, a commencement of the next stage in life and things to come.

It’s not over, it’s only just the beginning for everyone – kids and the parents too. Just don’t forget the Kleenex.