My Pink Sleigh Day

IMG_2443

Walking through The Pink Sleigh Christmas Shop in Westbrook, CT.,  is magical.

There’s a place a few towns over called The Pink Sleigh Christmas Shop. It’s open from July to December, but I usually only get there around the holidays.

Though I’ve lived out here for almost 15 years, I didn’t visit the famous shop until last year. I stumbled onto it doing errands, and turned into the driveway.  I walked in and discovered that the friendly couple who own it live one street over from me. I wasn’t surprised. I live in the kind of neighborhood where you don’t meet some people until they’re moving out.

I went to The Pink Sleigh last week because I needed it. The Curmudgeon and I have been sick with colds, and it’s starting to take its toll. We’re tired, grumpy and we don’t have our usual stamina for long hikes or runs. We traded naps as Eli Manning and the N.Y. Giants lost another game. As diehard Giants fans, we accept the season is over, but still watch to catch a few plays and nap. There’s nothing like a one-sided game to trigger a nap.

IMG_2436

The Pink Sleigh is one of the reasons I’m happy to live in New England. Founded in 1963, it’s one of the country’s oldest Christmas specialty shops and exudes charm. Housed in a 150-year-old post and beam barn, it’s packed with all things Christmas: ornaments, garlands, nutcrackers, ribbon, snow globes, sleigh bells and miniature villages.

The Sleigh’s magic hits you before you even enter. Rows of old Radio Flyer sleds painted in primary colors and stenciled with snowflakes, snowmen and toy soldiers flank the entrance. You check the $89.99 price and gulp, thinking this might be a good do-it-yourself project. You’re not deterred, just on notice that this will cost more than a swing through the Christmas Tree Shops.

You walk through the door and your inner child screams to get out, so you let her. You’re on autopilot, making a beeline to glittering ornaments depicting the State of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa and Big Ben. You pick up a sparkly Eiffel Tower for your niece studying in Paris. It’s a keeper, something she’ll have when she’s 50 to remind her of her crazy youth.

Your eyes dart, marveling at glass ornaments swirling on the magnificent 12-foot centerpiece tree stretching to the second floor. It’s covered with all manner of ornaments, some turning on tiny rotators affixed to branches. You’re in awe of a large tree branch suspended from the ceiling and covered with hanging crystal snowflakes and lights, thinking of ways to replicate it. You quickly dismiss the idea, realizing it will require a handyman and could damage the ceiling. But it was a cool idea.

IMG_2438

Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa and Big Ben ornaments at The Pink Sleigh Christmas Shop.

You’re thrilled that you came during the week, and had the place to yourself for about 30 minutes. The owners praise your good fortune, noting weekends are so crowded that it’s hard to walk around. You’re relieved. This would be an entirely different place crammed  with harried Christmas shoppers fighting over ornaments.

You’re not surprised when you learn that the Sleigh is a tradition for many families, who exchange special ornaments each year and then wrap them in plastic or newspaper so they’ll live to see another Christmas. You wish you had established the tradition with your family, but are pleased that you jumped in now. Better late than never.

Walking through the Sleigh reminds you of the importance of presentation in retail. As you browse, you’re transported, almost forgetting you’re in a store. It’s almost like a  holiday show house with trees trimmed by decorators and designers. Yes. that’s it. The ornaments are as much on display as for sale. You get the impression that sales figures aren’t driving this operation.

Unlike chain stores that sell ornaments in bins or boxes, ornaments are individually hung and grouped by theme, such as nautical, nature, cooking or hobbies. Many of the ornaments are artfully placed on 25 display trees of different sizes, and there’s an ornament for everyone – a red glass blow dryer for your hair stylist, a bumble bee for your beekeeper friend and fuzzy birds for the birders on your list.

IMG_2439

For the birder on your list.

Though some are imported and expensive, many are reasonably priced – just right for the teacher who has everything or the coach who helped your kid through a rough season. You’re a bit saddened when a fellow customer tells you that her teacher friend hosts a party every year where unwanted student gifts are swapped over nibbles and wine.

You think back to the hummingbird feeders you gave one year, and hope they didn’t end up in the Yankee swap. Just thinking about it makes you a little sad.

Note to teachers: buying gifts is a hassle and costly, and parents dread buying them as much as you dread receiving them. If you don’t want presents – and I completely understand why you don’t – tell parents to donate to a charity in your name or have your room mother organize a group gift. I love it when parents pool money and buy teachers a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant. It makes everyone’s life a lot easier.

Mostly, the Sleigh’s greatest gift is inspiration and a much-needed infusion of Christmas spirit. Arriving home, you decorate more lavishly than usual. You trim the mantel, suspend ornaments from the ceiling with fishing wire and haul in a fallen tree branch, cover it with mini white lights and erect it in a corner. As a finishing touch, you perch a single bird in a tiny nest: a crimson cardinal to remind you of your father, who loved Christmas.

For the first time in years, the enthusiasm extends to the outside of the house. You hang a string of icicles that you got at Costco from your porch, and wrap red string lights that look like old-fashioned twin ball ponytail holders around your Radio Flyer sled, which has seen better days. You’re thrilled when neighbors compliment your efforts, and one rings the bell to tell you to take a photo because it looks so nice.

You abide by his wishes, hauling out your I-Phone in the snow and leaving the house for the first time all day. It’s night, snow is falling and as Paul McCartney & Wings would sing, “The spirit’s up. And that’s enough.”

IMG_1175

The greatest thing about The Pink Sleigh is the gift of inspiration. I decided to decorate a little more than usual this year after visiting last week. Here’s the place during last weekend’s snow.

 

 

 

It Isn’t Me

IMG_2424

What happens when people think you look like a wrapped Christmas tree?

My journalism friends will suspect I’m milking this topic. This is what reporters do when they need to file a story, find a tidbit of information and craft a new story about it.

In the old days, we were required to file two stories a day. Most reporters had no trouble coming up with one, but two? That often required some ingenious rewriting of previously covered material.

Example: You’re covering a criminal case and prosecutors tell you it’s finally going to trial after two years on the docket. You write a piece about jury selection, and then just rehash the case. I could spot one of these stories a mile away when I was editing. We had one stringer who would write a new lede, and then regurgitate previous information, mistakes and all. She never bothered to read the printed version in the newspaper, so she didn’t realize how much her stories were rewritten.

I didn’t mind that she was milking stories – we all did to a certain extent – but found it maddening that I had to make the same corrections every time. I’d cringe when I’d see a story from her on the daily budget, knowing I was in for a long night.

Milking is pretty standard in journalism, and I don’t mind it if it’s relevant and I don’t feel duped. This happened to me the other night. 48 Hours announced it had some new information in a story I had recently watched, and I tuned in for the update. I sat for 55 minutes and fell asleep when the two minutes of new information came on. It was basically a rebroadcast with 120 seconds of new information tacked on the end.

I still don’t know what happened because I’m so disgusted I haven’t watched it On Demand.

Although I don’t want to be accused of milking my Instant Christmas Tree piece, I need to clarify that wasn’t me wrapped in a sheet in the photo. My sister Joanne and friend John said they thought it was me, but seriously? I’m not a giant, nor do I pad around the house with a hood covering my head and face.

“Well, you said you weren’t feeling well, so I thought that was you in your bathrobe,” John said.

Um, no. A few points:

I’m 5′ 4″ and the tree is 6 feet.

The wrapped tree looks like a misshapen mummy or deranged monk. On second thought, maybe I should spend a little more time on my appearance before leaving the house.

The tree has a bungee cord around its middle. I’ve never used a bungee cord for a belt, though I will admit to using a piece of rope.

The tree is wrapped in a flimsy sheet, not fluffy chenille.  To be honest, I haven’t had a decent bathrobe in years. I love them, but we’re not a bathrobe family. We’re more throw a towel around yourself and get dressed as quickly as possible.

The tree has a bustle the size of Kansas. I’d like to think that people I know and love would not think I’d walk around with a butt like that – that I’d exercise my tail off before I’d go out in public. At the least I’d have the good sense not to cinch the waist. Either way, I was a little humbled and went on my first run in two weeks.

Though the Curmudgeon does not read my blog, I showed the photo to him to get his opinion. “Does this look like me?” I said. “Sure, it looks like you with a hood on. Same height, though you do look like a cone head.”

When I pointed out that it was closer to his height, he agreed. “It’s looks like a dead body,” he said. “Actually, it looks like me.”

Party Animals

IMG_2424

Evelyne and her instant tree salvaged from her garage. She even delivered it.

 

IMG_2425

The instant tree.

I’m having a Christmas party.

I know, it’s insane. No one has the time or energy to socialize during the holidays.

But if I don’t host a party, I’m not going to one and neither are a lot of my friends. One of the pitfalls (among many) of getting older is fewer party invitations. Yes, there are showers, weddings, milestone birthday parties and firm anniversary celebrations. But holiday parties? They’re pretty much a distant memory along with rocking abs, thick hair and staying up past 11 p.m.

At one point, I had at least three Christmas parties to attend every year: my work party, The Curmudgeon’s and one or two thrown by friends. But there are no work Christmas parties any more – an increasingly popular trend – and friends are too busy. Our last Christmas party invitation was about five years ago. Sad, but true.

I’m not sure why people lose their hosting instinct, but I think it’s burnout. Throwing parties is a lot of work, and you reach an age where you’d rather go out. Before one of our annual St. Patrick’s Day parties, The Curmudgeon worked so hard that he got dizzy as guests were due to arrive. I called my sister and brother-in-law and asked if they’d be hosts while we went to an emergency clinic.

When we arrived home about 90 minutes later – The Curmudgeon was treated and released for dehydration – the party was in full swing.  But our little emergency killed my desire to entertain. I thought, “Everyone can stay down here.  I just want to go to bed.”

Christmas, New Year’s, Cinco De Mayo and St. Paddy’s bashes followed, but we began to notice a pattern. The Curmudgeon would mysteriously get sick right before or during parties. The first was the dizziness, which overcame him on a staircase. Besides learning that he was dehydrated, tests showed that he has an incredibly low heartbeat. He attributes it to a lifetime of fitness, but doctors say it’s hereditary.

Another health scare occurred as guests were arriving for Thanksgiving. As the first of them filed in with covered dishes, The Curmudgeon complained of a badly swollen knee. My physician father ordered him into the living room, where he dropped his pants and was examined as guests mingled in the kitchen. Dad suggested he go to the emergency clinic because it could be a blood clot. He arrived home an hour later with a drug to combat Lyme Disease.

A third incident occurred at a birthday party at my parents’ house. As The Curdmudgeon ate a slice of Carvel ice cream cake, he began coughing and gagging on a piece of the crumbly chocolate filling. He dashed to the bathroom, where he sat for an hour and inhaled shower steam. We took him to the ER and learned that he had an inflamed epiglottis. Steroids (and many sleepless nights) followed.

We decided that parties and The Curmudgeon might not mix too well, so we backed off on our hosting duties. However, I’m doing my part in the eat, drink and be merry department this year. I really had no choice after my Pickleball comrade Pat got ahold of me.

IMG_0263
That’s party planner Pat (left) with our friend Nancy.  

We’re not sure how she does it, but Pat has an incredible knack for convincing people to throw parties. Pat floated the idea of a Christmas party by me a few weeks ago. By the time we parted, I was thinking of ways to tell The Curmudgeon that he’s co-hosting the annual Pickleball holiday gala.

I’ve set a few ground rules. I want nothing to do with inviting people, organizing the potluck or the Yankee gift swap. I’ve delegated these tasks to my pal Wendy, who has agreed to handle the administrative end of things. This is the worst part about party planning – the guest list, Evites, and watching people monitor RSVPs to decide if they’ll come. This happened to me several years ago. Someone looked at the guest list 12 times before deciding not to come.

That taught me to respond immediately to Evites. Once you do, you can open the invitation to your heart’s content and the hostess doesn’t know. Stay on the fence and don’t respond, however, and the hostess sees every time you open and close it without responding.

Wendy has removed the organizing component from the mix. She sent out the Evites, and I found myself happily opening up an invitation to my party. I also had the thrill of RSVPing that I’m attending. I guess it’s a good thing because it’s at my house. Today, I received an email reminding me about it. I’m really getting excited to go. Fortunately, I won’t even need a designated driver.

DSC_0821

One of Pat’s success stories: a Godfather-themed dinner party at my friend John’s house.  We all brought Italian dishes and answered trivia questions about the Godfather trilogy.

I also explained to the inner circle that I won’t be in full holiday mode for the party. I don’t want to put up our tree until my (prodigal) son is home from college on Dec. 16th. A friend solved my dilemma, offering her boyfriend’s fully decorated tree in her garage. “It looks like a dead body wrapped in a sheet and secured with a bungee cord,” she said. “Sounds perfect,” I said. “When can I get it?”

To be fair, it’s my turn to throw a party. Everyone knows to go to parties, you must host them. I’ve hosted a lot of parties over the years, in part to teach my kids the importance of hospitality. I don’t want them to grow up thinking they’re entitled to invitations when they don’t put themselves out for others. I also want them to appreciate the work involved, to offer to help and ask what they can bring.

My parents’ taught us to always, always make a point of thanking the bride’s parents at a wedding reception. After hosting and paying for seven weddings, this was particularly important for my Dad. I guess it’s no surprise: he knew the financial and emotional investment that goes into weddings. All he wanted in return was a simple thank you from guests.

I’ve decided to view this event as a surprise party for myself. With Wendy handling the tough stuff, all I have to do is provide the place, a baked ham and some sandwich rolls. When I mentioned to The Curmudgeon that four people had already said they’re coming within hours of the invite, he mused, “Wow, their social lives must really be in the sh-&*^.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him ours is too.

Happy Holidaze

IMG_2413.jpg

This dog was quite happy to sit next to Santa and get his photo taken.

Meanwhile, this is what my dog did:

IMG_2411.jpg

She adamantly refused to cooperate, even when coaxed by her friend Kiera.

It’s that time of year again: getting a photo for the holiday card.

A lot of people don’t send them any more, but I’m old school. I love receiving them, particularly ones with kids, and I’m smart enough to know if I want them, I need to send them. People are only too happy to strike you off their list if you miss a year.

Many people get their holiday photos early – summer vacations, weddings or family reunions are ideal times. But I usually wait until the last minute because I want my pictures to accurately reflect my kids. You may have a great photo from June, but the braces came off in September and you want everyone to see the gleaming smile. At least I do.

Some people go all out for photos. A local family hired a photographer to capture them in their Guilford, CT., green gear. They got an adorable themed photo that’s going over quite well on our town’s Facebook page. It made me think, “That’s really cute and clever. Why didn’t I think of it?” Other people assemble cards with highlights of their kids’ achievements throughout the year. After marveling at their prowess in EVERYTHING, my first thought is, “I wish I was as organized as their Mom. And how did she have the patience to insert nine photos?”

A friend announced on a recent hike that she, her family, three dogs and cat sat for a Christmas portrait. I’m looking forward to seeing it, but can’t imagine the frustration of trying to get three teen-age boys, three dogs and a cat to look at the camera. I wonder how many photos there are with closed eyes, snarling mouths or dogs looking every which way but at the camera. And don’t even get me started on the cat.

IMG_2421.jpg

I hoped to get a shot at the Christmas tree farm, but I got this instead.

My mother-in-law was a big believer in a family group photo for her Christmas card. Every year, we’d assemble on the beach and I’d rig my camera to self-timer mode. I was always the person rushing to get into the photo and trying to look like I had not just sprinted to get there. This is probably not a job for anyone over 50 or with mobility issues. Just saying.

Despite our best efforts to inform people it was picture day, we have some years where everyone is in bathing suits with wet hair. After my brother-in-law wore the same red shirt for five years in a row, we told him he might want to wear another color so people didn’t think he had only one shirt. Another year, my brother-in-law Dave couldn’t make it, so we Photoshopped him in. I’m sure no one noticed that he was wearing a collared shirt and suit jacket on the beach.

Taking photos of my kids when they were young was a lesson in frustration. If one was happy, the other was crying. Or I’d get a great shot of one and the other looked awful. I think I shot at least 500 photos of my son when he was 1, and ended up with one that I felt fully captured him. I’m not sure what I was after, but I don’t have the time or patience for that any more. I’m not sure anyone does.

I was reminded of all this when I took my dog Cali to a free photo shoot with Santa at Agway. This is what people do when their kids age out of Santa pictures. We dress up our dogs, cats, and guinea pigs and plunk them down next to Santa for keepsake photos. In Cali’s case, I put a lighted Christmas bulb necklace from the Dollar Store around her neck and headed off with my friend Allison and her daughter Kiera.

I went in with great expectations, but was quickly brought back to reality. Cali refused to get on the dog bed or jump on the bench with Santa even when I sat next to him. This is odd because every time we go to the vet, she climbs into my lap. She refused to sit or look at the camera, making it impossible to get a good photo.

I finally admitted defeat and tugged at her leash to leave. But I decided to stick around and see how the next dog did. It was a terrier dressed as Santa Claus. He hopped up next to Santa on cue and posed for several photos. When I remarked to his owner how good he was, she announced, “He’s used to have his picture taken.”

I tried again today when we went Christmas tree shopping at a nearby farm. I wanted to to snap some cute photos of Cali, but she refused to stay still. Instead of sitting, she rolled around on the ground and got covered with dirt and grass. A woman came up to me and asked if I would take a few photos of her with her family.

I walked over and began snapping photos when Cali suddenly ran over and got in some of the photos.

“I figures,” The Curmudgeon observed. “The only pictures she’s in are the ones she has no business being in.”

IMG_2418.jpg

I’m not sure which is harder to photograph: kids or dogs. Either way, they’re not cooperative.

Holiday Bingeing

IMG_2392 (1)

BEFORE: Partying with the ladies on Thanksgiving.

IMG_2404

AFTER: Hanging with Rachel Bloom, binge-watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Season 1).

I just watched 17 episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend in 24 hours. And you know what?  I’m feeling a little crazy too.

This is what happens with an unexpected chunk of free time. We find a show we’ve never watched, and gobble it up like contestants in Nathan’s Hotdog Eating Contest. Like binge drinking, eating, gambling, and shopping, we know it’s decadent, but we don’t care. We’re all in, and dammit, we won’t stop until we watch a whole season.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Some of the kids. I had to crop out a beer can on the kids’ table.

My latest binge was triggered by a nasty flu-like virus (notice I did not say flu) which took hold about 24 hours after the last of my 29 Thanksgiving guests left. I blame the woman (jerk) in Stop & Shop who hacked without covering her mouth on Wednesday afternoon as I picked up last-minute items. “Oh, that’s just great,” I thought. “Get everyone else sick for Thanksgiving.”

IMG_2385

THE AFTERMATH: The Adults’ Table.

I woke up Friday night barely able to breathe, and fumbled around for a thermometer. I was running a slight fever that spiked to 101 degrees by Saturday night.  I felt queasy and exhausted, chilled but sweating. The worst of it was the malaise. I didn’t feel like doing anything.

I have no idea how I picked Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but it was a solid choice. Rachel Bloom is hysterical as a hard-charging New York attorney who relocates to West Covina, CA., to chase her teen-age crush Josh. Peppered with musical numbers that are absurd yet entertaining, it keeps you laughing through the sneezing, coughing and misery of being sick.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Carving master: My brother-in-law Dewey brings gloves, his own knife and apron.

OK, I had another reason too. I know a thing or two about crushes. My first was on an elementary school teacher who wore knit ties and drove a green Mercedes coupe. He was my first male teacher, a rarity in the teaching profession. Junior high and high school featured crushes on some pretty cool dudes. That’s what happens when you have six sisters and go to an all-girls Catholic high school.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

FOUR AMIGOS: My brother-in-laws John, Bob, Rich and Matt.

What I like about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is it acknowledges – even celebrates – the insanity of crushes. Sure, lots of shows center on unrequited love, but few explore the nuttiness or obsession of a full blown crush.

I knew a girl in college who had an incredible crush on a star athlete. I understood it – he was handsome, smart, charming and had a twinkle in his eye. We all had crushes on him. Problem is, she took it a little too far. She stalked him, and embarrassed herself. Definitely a case of carrying things a little too far.

Men can be just as bad. I used to work with a guy who had a serious crush on a girl. We’d spend hours every week  (between work, of course) discussing strategy. When this dragged on for a year, I cut the cord. It became clear that the relationship was all in his head. His crush was standing in the way of true romance, and I refused to be part of it. Besides, it was giving me a headache.

IMG_2391

I hope this guy doesn’t get sick too. He’s my dentist.

The thing about crushes is you know they’re stupid, but you can’t help it. Even when you get over a crush, they’re in there somewhere. Years later, you find that your heart still quickens with the mention of his name, or you’re incredibly sad to learn that he died. Trust me on this one.

Though I’m not proud of binge-watching, I make no apologies. You can’t do much with a fever except roll around in bed, pity yourself and wonder if it’s possible to feel any worse. I take comfort in the fact that lots of other people spend (squander) their time binge-watching. Netflix numbers show that nearly 65 percent of us binge-watch at least once during the year (I suspect it’s when we’re sick, our kids are sick or we’re trapped by inclement weather.)

Here, in no particular order, are my other binges. Honestly, this is it:

  • The Affair: OK, maybe I was interested because the main character went to Williams College and was on the swim team like The Curmudgeon. Hopefully, that’s where the similarities end.
  • This Is Us (Season 1):  As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t really get on the bandwagon until the show ended, and caught up in about two days. Now, I try to watch every week. It’s my favorite show.
  • Grace & Frankie: A high school classmate (thanks Kate) recommended it on Facebook, and I gave it a look. Before I knew it, I had watched every episode. Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are great as two older women whose husbands leave them to become a gay couple. June Diane Raphael is proof that you can be beautiful and funny.
  • The League: I didn’t learn about this show that’s been off the air since 2015 until my son came home college last spring. Yes, I felt like I had been living under a rock, but that’s not unusual. It’s really funny, and addictive. The cast is so great that I’m not going to single anybody out.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My sister Janet and brother-in-law David. J is another casualty of the sickness.

 

French Kitsch

IMG_2328

Barbara looks over vases and birch accessories for her Thanksgiving table at Terrain Garden Cafe in Westport, CT. She bought three small vases for $30, a great deal.

You know you’re out of your league when you ask people if they’ve been to a place and they don’t know what you’re talking about.

“Have you been to Terrain in Westport?” I asked a friend who loves to shop and decorate. “No, I won’t drive all the way there because I don’t want to drive an hour home after a few glasses of wine.”

“It’s not a restaurant, it’s a cool store where you can eat and shop for plants and things for your house,” I said. “Oh, you mean te-ran,” she said. Huh? “Te-ran. French for earth. Yes, I’ve been there. I thought you said tureen.”

IMG_2337 (1)

Terrain plants.

Boy, did I feel foolish. My friend Barbara had only texted me the name of the place, so I assumed it was pronounced Ter-rain. Usually, I’m pretty good with French. I once used the expression tete a tete and an uppity relative said, “Oh, you mean a tate a tate.” “No,” I thought. “I mean tet a tet. If you’re going to correct someone, make sure you’re right.”

Turns out the same thing happened with Terrain. When I told Barbara about my faux pas, she burst into hysterical laughter. “It’s terrain,” she said. As in all-terrain vehicle or rough terrain. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Yes, I am.” I felt relieved, even vindicated.

IMG_2332

Pretty garlands.

The Terrain Garden Cafe is a cross between a high end garden center and Home Goods, with a funky cafe with foods like avocado toast, sweet potato bisque and quinoa salad with roasted chickpeas. Shoppers pony up to the polished (cement?) bar at lunch for a bite and a glass of wine or beer. I suspect that as much as the food, they need to decompress.

Like your first trip to Ikea, walking around Terrain can be overwhelming – so many things, well, so much time.  Customers spend an average of 2 1/2 hours in the store – browsing, eating, drinking and then browsing again. I learned this tidbit from one of Barbara’s friends, who works there.

This makes sense. If you rarely go to a store, you must reorient yourself every time. But if you go often, you know where the good stuff is. Back when I liked shopping, I could spot new merchandise at Loehmanns,  Marshalls and the nearby JCrew outlet. I used to work a block from Bloomingdales in New York City, and strolled there every day at lunch. There’s something  satisfying about knowing a store like the back of your hand. But I’m afraid those days are over.

IMG_2338

Bread in a flower pot: $39. I ate some of this bread for lunch and it was delicious. Fluffy, light yet immensely satisfying.

Terrain is to garden style like Ikea is to industrial and modern. Rows of live plants, bulbs, terrariums and topiaries greet visitors. Trouble is I’ve got The Curmudgeon at home monitoring our Visa account. I loved a topiary, but it was $99. As I told Barbara, I had to weigh the topiary and my marriage. I picked the marriage, but it was a pretty close call.

The Curmudgeon’s penchant for penny pinching makes it hard to shop with conviction. But I decided to use it as an “artist’s date,” a chance to let my imagination run wild. Julia Cameron, author of “The Artist’s Way,” urges taking at least one hour a week for an artist’s date – going somewhere, preferably alone, where you explore new things. It’s supposed to stimulate your inner child, the source of creativity. She tells you not to question her, to just do it. I’m not one to make waves, so I do as I’m told.

IMG_2331 (1)

Going to Terrain is an experience. Here, visitors stop for lunch and chat at an oversized farmer’s table. The place is full of ideas for DYI enthusiasts, and some items are reasonably priced.

With its Christmas trees and holiday displays, gorgeous flower arrangements and wide selection of home goods and gifts, Terrain is ideal for an artist’s date. It’s also fun to see how the other half lives. This is, after all, Westport, home to the rich and famous and the setting of the hysterical show “American Housewife.” I loved Katy Mixon on “Mike & Molly,” and she’s perfect as a mom who doesn’t fit in with other mothers in her rich community.

I think we all feel a little like Katy’s character when we’re thrown into that scene. I know I do. You suddenly feel a little fat and lacking in all sense of style. Walking around Terrain makes you wonder who can afford this stuff: $99 for a gold wheat wreath;  $39 for a clay flower pot bread kit, and $29 for a cluster of five gold flowers.

IMG_2334

Bring in the dogs: an adorable corgi checks out Terrain.

Barbara reminded me that these places are more about inspiration than shopping. That’s easy to forget when your eyes are darting around, looking at all the magnificent things that you’d buy if you they were cheaper. I began to see possibilities for my own hovel, er, home.

I admire people like my sister Patty who loves to decorate her home, and does it year-round. She even developed a small business based on her love of it. I decorate under duress: I’m having 29 people for Thanksgiving and I haven’t done anything since last year. This place really looks tired. Even The Curmudgeon is on board: “Forget about the leaves in the yard, he decreed. “We need to make this hovel presentable.”

IMG_2329

Did you say you need a vase?

I decided to snap some beautiful, but expensive, things with my I-Phone and try to replicate them with cheaper materials. Barbara, who has years of garden club experience, agreed to help and supervise in her kitchen. She was utterly gracious, hopping to it as I asked for containers, jar lids, twigs and candles. I felt a little like her heart surgeon husband Rich giving orders in the O.R.

The first is a flower arrangement featuring plants and bulbs that sells for $139 at Terrain. We assembled similar arrangement with plants from a big box store and a $20 milk glass container from Flowers on the Green in Guilford, CT.  Total cost:$50.

Special kudos to Christie Baker, owner of the flower shop. Once I told her what I was doing, she embraced the challenge with gusto, helping me find objects in the consignment section of her shop. Thanks also to Patti Todd, owner of Consign & Design in Branford, CT., where I bought a cement pedestal urn for $25.

IMG_2336.jpg

Terrain: $139

IMG_2355.jpg

Ours: $50 (you could spray-paint the milk glass bowl if you want it to look like stone. Save more if you have a similar container at home.)

The second was a potbelly vase with a few sprigs selling for $39 at Terrain. I bought an extra-large plastic Christmas ornament at Flowers on the Green for $9. I took out the loop and holder at the top and put in a sprig of dusty miller, fresh eucalyptus and some greens. We balanced it on a Bell jar ring. Total cost $12.

IMG_2341.jpg

Terrain:$39

IMG_2359.jpg

Ours: $12.

The third is a metal wheat wreath that sells for $99 at Terrain. Christie suggested I make a wheat wreath or a swag. Total cost $25 (wheat, ribbon and gold spray paint.) Thanksgiving hostess tip from Christie: place a spray-painted or natural piece of wheat on napkins for a festive look.

IMG_2333.jpg

Terrain: $99

IMG_1165.jpg

IMG_2368.jpg

Wheat on a napkin.

download-1.jpg

Terrain lighted ornament: $20.

IMG_2370.jpg

Our lighted ornament: $12 (ornament and battery operated light string available at Michael’s craft stores.

At Long Last Love

IMG_2351.jpg

I bought this silhouette of my children at the Guilford Artisans’ Expo in Guilford, CT., in 2004. The artist made it in about 2 minutes by masterfully cutting paper.

I wrote a different piece for National Adoption Day, but I can’t post it. Someone told me not to or I’d be sorry.  If I was still working for a newspaper, I’d say tough luck. But I’m not a reporter and this isn’t a story. It’s my life.

Unlike national dog, cat, goldfish, sibling or spouse appreciation day, today is more than just a day for thousands of foster kids across the country.  It’s the day when they legally become a part of a family. It’s fitting that it falls on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, a holiday synonymous with family.

My original post told a story, but it’s not mine to tell. So I’ll share mine:

My road to adoption was long and arduous, and I sometimes wished I had adopted about five years before I did. Of course if I had, I wouldn’t have my two kids, whom I’m convinced God put with us for a reason. So I’m OK with that fact that I foolishly believed pregnancy was the only way to become a mom for too many years.

My son came into our lives 20 years ago when I was so fed up with the fertility process that I would have taken a baby monkey in diapers. I didn’t get a monkey though. I got a blue-eyed newborn whose curly white locks looked like angel wisps. And he was (is) my angel. As I stumbled through fertility treatments, my friend Carrie wrote down this quote from Simone Weil and framed it for me:

“Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result, one day a light that is in exact proportion to them will fill our soul.”

One day in September, 1997, we got a call that a birth mother had picked us. I didn’t tell anyone except my parents because I was sure something would go wrong. My stoic Italian father cried over the phone when I told him. My mother helped me shop for baby supplies the day before.

After we picked him up at Catholic Charities, we drove to my parents house’ and my mother counted fingers and toes. She then studied his ears, remarking that his earlobes were nice and flat (as opposed to sticking out like Jumbo the Elephant?). I guess this is something experienced moms and grandmothers do.

My sisters came over one by one to meet the newest member of the tribe. They didn’t know why they were coming  – just that we had a surprise. My sister Pip looked at him in my arms and said, “Who’s baby is that?” “It’s ours,” I said. “No, really, who’s baby is that?”

I brought the baby home and he became the darling of our close-knit neighborhood. He was the first baby on the block, and quickly became the focal point of six unofficial “aunts.” One neighbor officially became “Auntie,” and something of surrogate mother. They developed a special bond that endures today. He asked that she and her family come to his high school graduation party.

When I brought him home, I had no idea that our little corner of the universe would  become home to 10 children, seven of whom were adopted. We all struggled with fertility issues and we’d joke (well, lament) that perhaps it was something in the water. Auntie and another neighbor ultimately delivered babies – twins (an adorable boy and girl) and a beautiful little girl. The rest of us adopted, some from the United States, others from foreign countries.

It’s actually pretty remarkable. So many families built from love. A lot of mothers who adopt tell their children that they didn’t grow in their stomach, but in their heart. I always thought it was a little corny until I became a mother too. It’s true. One of the nicest parts about adopting is not passing along your crappy genes or physical traits. You also don’t expect them to be mini versions of you. They’re their own person, as it should be for every child – biological, adopted or fostered.

Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thrilled that my son is a lefty who plays sports righty, just like me. And I’m heartened and proud that he loves tennis as much as my husband and I. I’ve been playing singles against The Curmudgeon with varying degrees of success since we first met. We’re thrilled that our kid walked onto his college team, and has gone further than either of us. I try to remind The Curmudgeon of that when he laments about paying for years of lessons, and then watching him double fault.

I’m thrilled that our 16-year-old daughter took up running like her dad. She began jogging when she was about 13 and friends would say, “Oh, I saw her running about two miles from your house.” “Nah, it wasn’t her,” I’d say. But it was. She ran for her head. That is, to think things over, be alone and get the endorphin rush known as “runner’s high.” She runs cross country in high school, and has pledged to kick her dad’s ass in an upcoming 5-mile Turkey Trot. I’m thrilled she’s competitive and spunky. Both will get her far in life.

I understand the desire that adopted children have to search and know their biological parents. My two children are at opposite ends on this subject. One has no desire and the other does. I’m heartened that the birth parents are on board, but I’d be lying if I said it’s not emotionally trying.

I’m supportive, but it’s tough sometimes. There’s a feeling of being compared with two parents who came before you and will always share something with your child you don’t. You’re on the front lines of parenting – the tantrums, demands, defiance and driving lessons – yet they see the perfectly behaved and polite child. At the same time, your child sees the best of his/her birth parents. They don’t see the bad moods, frustration or exhaustion that goes with parenting.

As a mom I accept all of it – the good, the bad and the right to know whose DNA you have. Birth parents are part of the story, and to deny them a relationship is wrong. We recently connected with one of my child’s birth parents, and I love and appreciate their sacrifice even more today. They put the needs of their child first. That’s the first law of good parenting – doing whatever it takes for your kid.

Happily, the birth parents moved on with their lives, got married and now have young children. I’m developing a relationship with three half-siblings. I even asked my child if I can be their fake grandmother. “That’s ridiculous. How do you see that you’d be their grandmother?” “Well, I’m old enough to be your mother’s mother,” I reasoned. “How about a special Auntie?”

And so I am. They kiss and hug me when we show up, and one demanded that I keep my arm around his shoulder while we played games on his tablet. Since his shoulder was so low at age 7,  I asked if he wanted to get on my lap. Holding him made me long for the days of having young children. They think you’re great, shower you with love and want to be your playmate.

I’m starting to see the situation in a new light. Instead of the loss of my sole authority and role as mom, I have the chance for a larger extended family. A sleepover with the three little ones is in the works. I better get busy childproofing, and pulling out the Thomas the Tank Engine trains (and clunky) train table from the basement. They’ll be here with their sleeping bags before I know it.

Note: The following is my friend John’s account of meeting his cousin whom he learned about through Ancestry.com. John didn’t know anything about Denise, who was put up for adoption in the late 1950s. Here’s his story:

IMG_2365 (1).jpg

 MISSIN’ COUSINS

I recently had my DNA analyzed by Ancestry.com. As well as finding out that I’m less Sicilian that I had thought (81%), I found out something else much more interesting: I have a first cousin that I didn’t know about.

In addition to giving you your ethnic background, Ancestry gives you all your genetic matches in their database, including their best guess as to your relationship. A few months after receiving the analysis, I received an email from a woman claiming to be my first cousin, and asking me if I would be interested in exploring our relationship. She stated that she was adopted, and knew little of her genetic background. I hadn’t looked at my results page in a while, and when I did, there she was, right at the top, indicating that she was my closest match in the database. Her name is Denise.

After exchanging a few emails, we talked by phone. Long story short, she was born in Lawrence, MA, my father’s hometown. Bingo. The adoption agency told her that her birth father was an electrical engineer, married with two sons age 5 and 1 at the time of her birth. Her mother was single, and decided on adoption. My father’s youngest brother, now deceased, fit the description. It’s not proof, but it’s very convincing evidence. Uncle Charlie must have had an affair, and Denise is the result.

Denise and I decided to meet. We met for lunch with our spouses, and made a connection that had started with emails and phone calls. She looks like a family member, and I’ve accepted her as such. I think we are going to continue to explore our relationship as she gets more information from the adoption agency.

I was always close with my father’s side of the family, but all my uncles and aunt are deceased, some of my cousins as well, and I’ve lost contact with most of the rest. I don’t think that’s uncommon with families as the years go by. But Denise has reenergized me, and I hope she and I can make up for lost time. As my wife reminded me, Denise’s father and mine were brothers. Obvious, but when you put it like that, it’s more impactful that saying we’re cousins, at least for me. We have the same grandparents. More impact.

Some people would say that my uncle made a mistake. Well, don’t tell Denise that, or her two sons. They wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t done what he did. It wasn’t a mistake. It’s just what happened. I’m sure many would disagree, but that’s my view. I judge no one. Adoption is mostly a good thing, but it’s complicated. I know, I have an adopted daughter. My cousin Denise wants to find out more about her roots, and I’ve been giving her information about our family as we get to know each other. It’s exciting to help a long lost cousin discover roots.

I don’t know how this is all going to shake out. As Denise continues to search for other relatives (she has three half siblings), she will probably run into apathy and rejection; I’ve read that it’s common in searches like this, but she owes it to herself to try, come what may. At least she’s found one cousin who wants to get to know her better. We both feel good about that, even if that’s all she gets out of the process. She appears to be a very nice person, and I am glad she is my cousin.

Laws regarding the release of birth parent information vary from state to state, but one thing is for sure: DNA analysis has the potential to blow the lid off the subject. If you have your DNA analyzed, be prepared; you too may discover a long lost cousin or perhaps even a sibling you don’t know about.

IMG_2365.jpg

There’s nothing like a new cousin to put a smile on your face.

 

 

 

Slipped Stitches

IMG_2325.jpg

We all have these kinds of days.

If you’re anything like me, you enjoy movie or TV outtakes as much, if not more, than the finished product. Here’s my Stitch Fix gag reel.

I had visions of looking my best when I asked my sister to snap some photos of me in my new outfits. I washed, dried and used a curling iron on my hair. I put on moisturizer and BB cream, powdered the eyelids with three shades of Tarte, brushed on some blush and put on lipstick. I was camera-ready, or at least as good as it gets these days.

I drove to Woodbridge about 45 minutes away for the shoot. After loading the Stitch Fix  box and some other wardrobe essentials, I set out on my maiden (and only) modeling gig. Like many little girls, I loved dress up. Like many women, I love makeovers.

PB123160.jpg

I tried to lighten the mood.

As little girls, we watch Cinderella swapping her ragged clothes for a beautiful gown. We play dress up, burrowing in our mother’s closet and tugging at hangers with sparkly dresses. We march around our room (or mom’s) in our dress up outfits, dreaming of one day being a big girl with a rocking closet.

I know all girls don’t do this. I know some girls like to play football, cowboys and indians or Capture the Flag, a game I’ve never really understood. And I don’t mean to offend feminists, girls who identify as boys or anyone else who didn’t play dress up. But I was one of those girls who really admired beautiful women. I once saw a blonde with curly tresses, heavy makeup and a tight outfit and asked my mother if she thought she was pretty. “Well, she’s a little hard.” When you’re little, you associate big hair, eyeliner and lipstick with beauty. At least I did.

IMG_2324.jpg

I thought some motorcycle boots would embolden me. 

The prettiest woman I knew growing up was my 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Irene Letize. She had thick black hair, sparkling green eyes framed by thick dark eyelashes, a perfect turned up nose, high cheekbones sprinkled with freckles. and beautiful white teeth that she brushed in the lavatory at lunch.

She wore lacy bras and Emeraude by Coty. She was the kind of teacher who took you to Friendly’s for a vanilla Fribble after school. I had her over to our house for tea one day, and was crestfallen to learn she went to another kid’s house in the neighborhood a few days later. I wanted her all to myself.

IMG_2290.jpg

I thought an action photo might help, so I decided to march around the driveway.

It wasn’t just me who thought she was gorgeous. I hired an education consultant a few years ago who worked with her in the ’60s. I asked her if she was as pretty as I remember. “Oh yes,” she said. “Irene was a knockout. All of the male teachers used to call her Gina Lollobrigida.” OK, I could spot a knockout at 8. A good eye even back then.

I’ve always maintained that the recovery process – that is, getting ready to go out by fixing your hair and face – gets longer every year. If you don’t put on makeup regularly, it takes even longer because you forget about eyeliner or where you put the eyelash curler. I haven’t really put on a lot of makeup in about a month, so I was pretty much winging it. But I did what I could and I left the house optimistic.

The camera has a way of bringing you back to reality very quickly. Instead of glamour shots, my sister and I were plodding around her yard looking for better lighting. No, I didn’t know my “good” side. No, I can’t possibly pretend I’m smiling at my daughter when I’m freezing in this halter top. I know I look tense, but I am. Just take about 100 shots and we’ll hope for a few decent ones. Damn, I knew I should have gotten a professional blowout. This hair is killing me. Bring in  the dogs. They always look cute in JCrew catalogs.

To her credit, my sister took many photos, trying to capture me at my best. She finally admitted defeat, acknowledging that I looked pretty bad despite our best efforts. A friend complained that my sister cut off my head in one of the photos. I had to admit it was I who cropped off my head. My neck looked particularly wrinkled, my eyes were slits and I looked jowly. I didn’t want to scare anyone, especially me.

As you get older, you tend to compare yourself to other women your age. I recently saw Mimi Rogers on an episode of “BlueBloods” and wondered if I’m aging better or worse than she is. You think, “How am I stacking up? Do I look better or worse than other women my age?” A little like any rating system, only so much more pathetic.

My photo shoot was pretty much what my sisters used to refer as not getting slapped with the ugly stick, but the whole tree. Or coyote ugly – so bad that a man would sooner gnaw off his own arm than awaken a woman he had sex with while drunk. Or to be enormously crude, a double-bagger kind of day.

I’ve had these experiences before and it’s usually when I want to look my best. It’s a fact that everyone looks at themselves first in a group  photo. Everyone wants to look decent. Maybe not stellar or the way you looked when you were 35, but not frumpy, tired or washed up. It’s not being vain. It’s being human.

IMG_2274.jpg

My hang dog expression and poor posture says it all.

It’s sort of a rule of nature that when you want to look good, you don’t. And when you don’t give a damn, you look like some semblance of what you imagine you do. This experience has taught me that models and photographers work a lot harder than we think. It’s also taught me not to try to be something I’m not. I love to take photos – I pride myself on capturing flattering candids and portraits of family and friends.

But I don’t like to be in front of the camera. I’m self-conscious, stiff and just want it over with quickly. It’s given me new insight into photographing people, and I’ll keep it in mind the next time I’m on the other side of the lens.

 

 

A Stitch In Time

 

IMG_2317The year was 1992. The event was black tie: the Carousel Ball hosted by the Steinert Society of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra. The Curmudgeon was a new member of the board to draw young people to the symphony. A new attorney, he was dipping his toe into the world of culture.

I was at the age where I believed in the perfect dress. If I found a dress early in the hunting process, I’d back burner it. I always thought I could find something better if I just kept looking. I clearly had too much time on my hands, but that’s another story.

I went to a vintage shop hoping to find a late ’60s cocktail dress. My mom kept a few of hers and my older sister and I wore them to a couple of college parties. They were cool and different. The shop owner showed me a black dress and I nixed it. “You’re a young woman, but you act like an old one,” he said. “You have no sense of adventure.” Ouch.

IMG_2293.jpg

My Marilyn Monroe-inspired dress from Ann Taylor circa 1992. Yes, I saved it.

He had a point. Insulted by his assessment, I went to Ann Taylor and bought a chiffon navy blue party dress like the white one Marilyn Monroe wore in “The Seven Year Itch.” Unlike Marilyn’s skirt which flew up on the sewer grate, mine stayed put. But I loved the way the pleated chiffon moved when I twirled. I needed to prove, at least to myself, that I wasn’t so stodgy after all.

Fast forward to today and I can’t stand clothes shopping. I might be inspired if I’ve got a special event like a wedding, but I don’t have the stamina or interest any more. I’ve got other things I’d rather do, like almost anything.

Enter fellow blogger Waking Up on the Wrong Side of 50, who praised Stitch Fix in a recent post. She encouraged me to try it. I had nothing to lose, so I filled out the style questions, provided height and weight measurements and a credit card number.

IMG_2136.jpg

My ‘look’ is suburban athletic. Top: Nike sports skort, North Face jacket, running shoes and a dog’s leash as a makeshift scarf.

Or . . .

PB123181.jpg

Lucky Brand jeans spruced up with a halter top from Stitch Fix. The safari jacket was in my closet. (Pixley Georgio Braided Neckline Halter Top)

I was raking the front lawn when the mailman pulled up and announced he had a package. I thought my son had ordered another item from AmazonPrime. Yes, please leave it on the porch. I continued raking until I spotted some lettering: Stitch Fix. I had almost forgotten about it. Besides, it wasn’t due to arrive for three days.

IMG_2299.jpg

41 Hawthorne Alivia Sweater Dress.

I was curious, but kept raking. I didn’t want to dash in and tear the box open like a 10-year-old. What if the stuff my personal stylist Kamryn picked was awful? What if she didn’t get my “look”? What if this was all a big mistake?

Besides, what could possibly be in a box that small? The box could wait with the junk mail, magazines and bills neatly rolled and fastened with an elastic. Three hours passed. I finally confronted the box when my friend Barbara dropped by. “Oh! I’ve always wanted to try this. Do you like it?”

PB123191.jpg

The halter with Erica Taylor Karen Printed Straight Leg Pant

“I have no idea,” I said. “This is the first time I’ve gotten it and I’m a little afraid to see what’s inside. Wanna open it with me?”

I put it on the counter and Barbara watched me open the box like a guest at a bridal shower. Let’s face it: it’s really boring watching a person open packages when you don’t have any.  “Oh look,” I said. “Isn’t this necklace cute?” “And look at this dress! Let me go try it on and you can tell me what you think of it.”

Barbara was incredibly gracious as I opened my stash and paraded around the kitchen. She understood that I had paid for this thrill. Still, there’s huge joy in being surprised by what someone picks out for you. You’ve given them hints, yes, but you don’t know what’s in there. And that surprise quotient is priceless, particularly when you’re a mom who shops for everyone, including the dog.

IMG_2307 (1).jpg

The halter by Pixley.

I love surprises, and sadly they’re fewer and farther between as we age. Scratch that. We still get surprises, but they’re often the bad kind: the dog has cancer, the mammogram was bad, your kid was in a car crash, mom needs assisted living, or the guy you dated in college died. One of the toughest parts about aging is maintaining a positive outlook in the face of all the crap.

IMG_2284.jpg

Dressed up with a navy blue velvet blazer. If it was practical, I would live in velvet because it’s so soft.

The genius of Stitch Fix is that the thrill of opening gifts never goes away.  It’s in there somewhere, along with your dream of being a detective, writing the great American novel, or  hiking the Appalachian Trail. More than the contents of the box, it’s that someone spent time looking for things for you. You feel noticed, special, worth it.

Another plus is having your own personal stylist. She has key details about you – you won’t wear beige or yellow and please don’t emphasize the butt – without all your hangups. One of the worst things about shopping is the self-editing, self-loathing and tendency to gravitate to the same things. We get anxious when we can’t find “our look,” but many times we’re in a style rut. I’ve been in one for about 20 years. Staying home with kids and scattered part-time jobs will do that.

Being the sporty type, I am guilty of walking around in leggings, yoga pants or skorts all day. My daughter recently asked, “Why are you always in athletic clothing?” I really had no explanation except that it’s comfortable and I’m too lazy to change.

PB123169.jpg

Daniel Rainn Rosaria Keyhole Peplum Top with the pants and pendant.

My stylist Kamryn had no preconceived notions about me  – I’m not comfortable with patterns and I think peasant tops look like maternity shirts on me. But having a stylist is validating. You think, “I can wear this because Kamryn says I can and she knows more about fashion.”

Here’s what I got: a tiered necklace, a gray and navy printed sleeveless sweater dress, a grayish halter top, a forest green peasant top with bell sleeves, and some embossed straight leg black pants. Best part: the cards suggesting various outfits. This is great if you’re not great at accessorizing like me.

Barbara liked everything and so did my 16-year-old daughter. We even played a little game where I asked Barbara to guess prices, and she aced it. I decided to buy the whole box, saving 25 percent.

Stitch Fix may not be for everyone, but I love it. I’ve only got one more hurdle and it’s a big one: breaking the news to The Curmudgeon. Today, he spotted the empty box in the kitchen.

IMG_2312

“What are you sending?” he asked. “Nothing,” I replied. “OK, so you have a shipping  box in here that’s not being sent to anyone or going anywhere.” “Yes,” that’s right.” Incredibly, he didn’t press it, so I won’t either. I’ve got a little time until my next shipment arrives in February.

At right: Nakamol Jenalyn Stone Layering Pendant. Great quality and the stone is beautiful. Total cost of box: $270.

I have not received any financial compensation for this review.

 

Muddy Waters

IMG_1561

The Curmudgeon is in his element on Martha’s Vineyard.

I realize something about The Curmudgeon.

Though he aways lingers below the surface, he comes out full throttle on Martha’s Vineyard. Places can do this: stir up positive or negative vibes, making us carefree, ornery or . . . cheap.

In the Curmudgeon’s case, Martha’s Vineyard brings up a frugality that I rarely see any other time. I think it stems from his simple childhood vacations, which were spent at the Camp at Muddy Pond in West Tisbury.

Though I thought the camp was gone, you can still rent it today. It’s billed as “Vintage Vineyard” from a bygone era. When I told the Curmudgeon, he seemed happy, even wistful. “Vintage Vineyard eh? Well, I’m vintage alright.”

The camp is what you’d expect: a simple wooden cottage on a point overlooking Great Tisbury Pond with the Atlantic Ocean in the distance. There were gas-run appliances and water, but it had no electricity for lights. They hit the hay early, reading books by flashlight to the sounds of crickets and lapping waves.

thumb_199129081_magnuson039

The Camp at Muddy Cove.

I’ve never been to the camp – it’s down a private dirt road and I’m not the type to trespass. But I’ve seen pictures and heard plenty of tales: their dog Amos swimming across the pond, a dog baying in the distance as The Curmudgeon read “The Hounds of Baskerville,” and amusing encounters with goats and ponies. Hearing about it evokes a feeling of simplicity and charm that’s hard to find today among the magnificent estates and elaborate vacation homes. But to me, it sounds fairly perfect – family, food, fun.

As a side note, I must bemoan today’s focus on huge vacation spreads. Back in simpler times, say the 1960s and ’70s, people who could afford it generally built modest second homes. The general concept was you spent the bulk of your time outside and recreating, retreating to the home for meals and rest. Today, people’s expectations are off the chart. A woman called me to complain about the size of a kitchen in a family-owned home that is rented out in the summer.

IMG_1593.jpg

The “tiny” kitchen/dining room.

“It’s sooooo small,” she whined. “I mean, it’s nothing like my kitchen at home.” After rambling through a laundry list of complaints, I finally told her she could find other lodging and I’d refund her money. “You’re making me feel bad,” I said. “I’d rather have you satisfied than be responsible for your miserable vacation.” She finally demurred, but I got the message. She was used to luxury at all times. Did I mention that I think she’s a brat?

But back to The Curmudgeon.

He emerged soon after we arrived for a short off-season visit. Though we packed our Honda for a two-week stay, we forgot a brush or comb. When I told him, he grimaced, noting that we have at least six brushes and countless combs at home.

After checking a nearby general store with no luck, we proceeded to Cronig’s Up Island Supermarket. They had plenty of brushes – though no large round ones – but The Curmudgeon rebelled. “Can’t you just wear a hat for the weekend?”

This might have worked if I was doing nothing all weekend, but this was a work mission. Trees were pruned, brush was cleared, leaves were raked and the gas grill was stripped of a season’s worth of grease. I would need to wash and style my hair if I was going to encounter people on Saturday night. Plus, the Vineyard is rampant with ticks. I had never even seen one until I went there.

We finally settled on a his and her pair of brushes for $7.97. I got the larger one. He reminded me several times to keep track of my brush and to remember to take it home. When he pulled his out of his suitcase at home, he exclaimed, “Look, my brush!” I don’t have the heart to tell him I don’t know where mine is.

thumb_199129002_magnuson037

A rather blurry image of the camp’s grounds.

Here are a few other Curmudgeon musings gleaned over the past few months:

Hey, I got a few more people following my blog this week: “Oh yeah, what kind of drivel are you serving up lately?”

Upon returning from a cross country meet on a Saturday and each taking two-hour naps: “We’re pathetic.”

“How does my ugly face look today? I’ve got to have my picture taken and I’ll do it if I don’t look too ugly.”

You don’t look so hot today: “Well, you’re no bathing beauty either.”

Hey Johnny B thinks you should run for governor of Connecticut: “Who the hell would want to be governor of this #$%% of a state?”

Well, it’s always better to take the high road: “What’s wrong with the low road once in awhile?”

“I can’t do this anymore.” What, I ask. “Walk. I think I need a wheelchair or a motorized scooter.”

IMG_1624.jpg

Might as well jump: the “Jaw’s Bridge.”

After running between the kitchen and the porch, watching the New York Giants, New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees games at the same time: “I can’t take it any more. I’m exhausted.”

Hey you look nice. Do you like my outfit? “Not those Robin Hood shoes. When are you going to Sherwood Forest?”

Smell this. Lavender bath salts from Lavender Pond Farm in Killingworth, CT. : “Well, it’s a helluva lot better than most things in this bathroom.”

I played golf terribly yesterday.: “What’s your problem? Just keep your head down and swing.”

“The dog got into some moldy hotdog rolls in the garbage and it’s all over the living room. It’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen. It’s going to be a lot of work for you to clean up.”

A lot of people are complaining about woodpecker damage: “If I was going to hire a bird, it would be a woodpecker. Did you ever watch them? They never stop. Imagine if you could get a penny for every peck.”

IMG_1788.jpg

Vineyard sky.

For more info/photos of the camp, visit: http://rooneyandcompany.com/?content=forrent.detail&id=101&utm_source=findrentals&utm_campaign=Find+Rentals&utm_medium=referral