Friday, November 22, 2013

Black Friday


November 22, 1963. I was in my high school freshman English class when the principal’s voice came over the intercom – sounding weaker than his usual bellow, yet ever more serious. When he got to the part about President Kennedy having been shot in Dallas, my teacher (a very pretty, very self-assured young woman rumored to be dating a NY Giants football player) literally fell into the chair behind the teacher’s desk. She didn’t look so pretty or seem as socially legendary anymore. She slumped and quietly cried. She could not speak. The principal had said enough, ending with instructions for an early dismissal – which got me home within minutes of Walter Cronkite’s iconic controlled yet emotional delivery of the official news that the President was dead. This was the first time I experienced the world around me shutting down and remaining hauntingly still – a stillness and shock that would last hours through the news of Officer Tippit’s death and the return of the Johnsons and Kennedys to D.C. -  and continue through the days  we watched Ruby shoot Oswald – in real time -- on a boxy black-and-white TV in my living room, and then the  funeral.

November 22, 1963. That is the Friday in November I have always associated with the seasonal tag – Black Friday – never the shopping day after Thanksgiving. This Black Friday actually precipitated the closing of most stores – through the mournful weekend and funeral – all of which draped their window displays in black fabric, festooning the official photograph of the  President, smiling broadly, contrasted only by the red, white, and blue of an American flag.
Having the entire world stop and then remain still for some time was different than the way family and dear friends drop out of the  otherwise unaffected flow of the universe for a few days, grieving the loss of a close relative or friend. Through the fifty years since then I can count on one hand the other times I’ve felt that extended collective pause: September 11, 2003, January 26,1986 and December 14, 2012. Three too many.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Big City, Little City (One)

My summer started, with my expectations of city folk about to be derailed.

Photo: Flickr.com/reivax
I boarded an Amtrak business car (I was on business after all!) at 6 AM, a tad nervous about the trip that lay ahead. By 9:30 the train pulled into Penn Station. I've been in and out of Penn Station before, but never wielding wheeled luggage and a stuffed shoulder tote. Still I maneuvered pretty steadily onto the  up escalator that brought me out of  underground Penn to the city's heavily  shadowed daylight  

I walked ‘bout a half mile up 33rd Street to Broadway, locating the hotel I‘d booked for the night. Only catch – check-in wasn't until four.  With a suitcase mostly filled with books (I’d be attending the New York Book Festival tomorrow – in the same hotel) and two business-casual-changes folded in the large shoulder tote, taking a bite out of the Big Apple on arrival day wasn't going to be easy. Crowded New York street crossings are not suitcase-on-wheels/stuffed-shoulder-totes friendly. Conventional wisdom told me throngs of city dwellers and workers weren't necessarily friendly on a number of levels, no less on the corners of their congested streets.

But there I stood at the revolving door of the hotel. The doormen looked more business-like than polite as they waved guests in and out of the threshold’s spin-around. Yet, it wouldn't hurt to go in, I thought. I'd ask if there was a place I could leave my baggage until four (even as I questioned how secure is secure behind the front desk of a big city hotel). I waited in line for my turn with a desk clerk. A sympathetic desk clerk I hoped.

“I’m booked here for tonight,” I explained. “I was wondering if you had a place I could –“

“Name,” she interrupted.So much for sympathetic.  

I gave my last name. Almost immediately she followed-up with my first. Then asked for a credit card. Her fingers clicked the keyboard, her eyes glued to the computer screen

“Your room is ready,” she announced.

“Really?” I said. “And I was just hoping to be able to leave my bags some –“

“Christmas in June,” she remarked, then cracked a smile.  “The first elevator will take you up to 18. It’s the highest level,“ she said as she handed me my scan key.

“Even better than Christmas in July,” I said. “Thank you so much.”

I headed for the only elevator that went to the top level, and said a silent prayer there’d be no fire !

(to be continued)






Tuesday, June 18, 2013

This Little Writer Goes to Market


If you read Mommy of the Bride regularly, it’ll come as no surprise that I enjoy writing and blogging observations and family stories. The flip side of  freelance writing  is marketing the material. Not so much my cup of tea.

Fresher analogy: If " writing" were my baby –marketing would be akin to diapering the kid.  Essential, but not so pleasant. At least not until after the initial step.

Now, almost two years after publishing my memoir Staying Alive: A Love Story, this little writer is going to market once again.  The endeavor takes great planning, and then getting here and there to (the best part) readers and professionals in the book industry.

If you are near the here and there I’ll be showing up at, join me for a chat, a talk, a reading. Through the summer I’ll be in NYC, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

  • Saturday, June 22 I’m honored to have been invited to participate on a panel on marketing – of all things(!) -- at the  New York Book Festival  being held at the Radisson Martinique on Broadway,  49 West 42nd Street.  It’s an all-day event and it’s free! Staying Alive: A Love Story just received an honorable mention in the Festival’s “"annual competition honoring books that deserve greater attention from the world’s publishing capital," according to the NY Book Fest website (http://newyorkbookfestival.com/).I'm a tad nervous about the trip and requisite schmoozing! We’ll see what happens.
  •  Monday, June 24 I’ll be at the Agawam (MA) Public  Library (750 Cooper Street) for READLocal, along with fifteen other area writers for a meet and greet. The event starts at 6 PM.
  • Saturday, July 13 you’ll find me (and only me) at Bank Street Books ( 53 West Main St.) in Mystic, CT from noon to one. Great vacation spot,  Mystic is. The bookstore is in the  heart of the pretty town.

There are more CT and MA visits coming in September too.

And while I’m in marketing mode – allow me to ask a favor. If you've read the memoir, please take a few minutes to leave a short review on the book's Amazon , bn.com, or Goodreads site.

Thanks to all  MOTB and SA:ALS  readers. I’ll be back from market with stories and observations soon enough


Saturday, June 1, 2013

Moms Have Ways of Finding Out!


EFHS graduation photo from digplanet.com
I heard it through the grapevine – and you know how those grapevine sound bites go. You’re never quite sure where the truth ends and the embellishment starts. Yet, as much as the word-of-mouth nearly knocked me off my feet, it made all the sense in the world.

The news item involved my son and his high school buddies. They were – still are – a like-minded crew and even though it’s been eight years since they graduated together, this crew has stuck together through many stories their mothers have heard as well as ones we haven't, along with the  miles that separate most of them today. Between high school and post-college days some of them have occasionally lived together (a few still do), continued to play in an adult soccer league together, and made a ritual of their annual summer weekend at Lake Sunapee. Those who have settled in South Hadley and Boston and even as far away as Pennsylvania and Virginia have simply made their relocations places for the others to visit. Regularly.

Not terribly unusual – and I’d say it’s a fairly low-risk bet these ties will continue. But here comes the part that caught me unawares. That made my mouth drop and gasp, “My son? And yours? Really!”

I heard it from one of the other boy’s mom, the mom who for years now, has so graciously cooked up a storm and, I understand, steered the speedboat on Sunapee every summer while the crew took turns water skiing and tubing their way around the lake. That is, when the crew  was not otherwise engaged in some clandestine activity  - like fashioning a newfangled floatation device from a recycled lawn chair they'd attached to wooden runners.  A contraption that, when it did stay afloat tethered to the speeding motorboat, caused quite a stir on the Sunapee shores. Yes, that’s the direction these young adults’ minds tend to go given some idle time –  the engineers and entrepreneurs’ workshop more or less.  

Anyway, an official  letter had gone to the Sunapee-speedboat-driving -mom’s house , since the former high school of these boys and one girl (as I heard it) had her son’s home address on record.

“If the letter didn’t come to the house, I probably would not have known either,“ she admitted. Yet, alas it had -  with very specific information about where each of these friends were  to report and at what exact time – for the presentation, she explained. 

“Presentation?” I asked.

“Yes, but they’re not getting anything.” .

I was clearly confused until she said, “They’re giving a scholarship.” You could have knocked me over with a whistle as she continued, “A scholarship to a student going on in science - in  honor of their high school science teachers. “

Why, those rascals, I thought – eight years out of high school, all (fortunately) employed and  now pooling their resources– as a way to thank a few Misters and Misses who nurtured their (and I say this in a most complementary way) nerdy adolescent minds.

That's the way I heard it, anyway.

Texted my son after getting the word on the street.
  
Never know what your kids are up to ! .

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Nursery of Eden

I need to get back to my favorite garden center– Meadowview Farms in Southwick , MA.


I briefly alluded to this plant emporium as the Nursery of Eden in last week’s blog. Yet, even then I knew I hadn’t given the garden center its due.  By the time I left the  aisles and aisles of vegetables and flowers and grasses and herbs – there was even a section dedicated to cacti – all I could think was that the country – no, the world, should run the way this busy business operates.

I got there before 10 A.M. on a weekday, and the place was packed. Cars had already parked past the edges of the paved lot onto the grass. The departing customers pushed carts bursting with splatters of colorful blooms against multi-shades of greenery. Arriving customers frequently offered to take an empty cart as strangers finished loading their trunks with their purchases.



This is my kind of shopping
This air of cooperation continued in the crowded aisles of the open market. No one seemed to mind waiting while a patron picked through geraniums or spikes or vines, visions of a barrelful of blooms dancing in her head. This is a scenario where no one seems to mind lingering a little longer.

Supermarkets don’t rise to this level of consumer congeniality.Big Box Stores sometimes even fall short of basic civility. Their customers weave in and out of aisles more robotically. Even on the cashier line, many glue their eyes to their phone screens or stare at the magazine rack loaded with sensational headlines about celebrity birth, weight, and relationships. Some of the people I’ve stood in line with don’t even talk to the cashier as they check out. They just swipe, punch in a pin number, and go on their way. 

Here at the farm, everyone is smiling! At one point I panned one corner of the vast market to the other to see if I could find a disgruntled face or two. Not a one came into view. There must be something soothing about being surrounded by table after table of blooms, a floor full of larger pots and bushes, and hanging baskets overhead.  Soothing and aromatic, especially through the herbs.

I gathered my usual three varieties of tomatoes: an early bloomer (for its earliness) ,a  plum (for sauce) and a cherry (for snacking mostly right from the vine).  I picked out a colorful array of peppers – all sweet,  and dill and fennel to add to my herbs that came back this spring, after a colder than usual winter. (I wasn’t surprised to see the hardy chives and oregano come back – but the sage, rosemary, marjoram, and even a few sprigs of parsley surprised me. Must have something to do with planting them up against the sunny side of the house.) I decided to try a few Brussels sprouts plants, for the first time (The sign said “easy to grow", though I’ve come to find out they take a lot of pinching back. Time will tell.) Couldn’t resist a small white eggplant either.

In the floral category I decided to go with coral geraniums for the porch flower boxes. Three in each with a touch of silver duster between them.  Yes, that was me holding up the works in the geranium aisle earlier,
I need to get back to Meadowview Farms - for three more coral geraniums. Apparently I miscounted. Chances are I’ll return home with more than those few plants.

 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Torn Over Tornado Reporting

I didn’t turn the news on when I got up this morning the way I usually do. I didn't want to hear 
Tornado history repeats itself in Moore, OK
 (photo from weather.com)
more about a mile-wide tornado that travelled twenty miles in about forty minutes through Moore, Oklahoma. I had followed the breaking news yesterday through the late night TV news broadcasts.

I had had enough.

I don’t mean I had had enough in a sated way or in a disgruntled way. I mean I had seen enough to have the horrible tragedy, like other unfathomable events of the recent past, now  ingrained in my consciousness. Sad to say I’m no longer surprised when bad events are experienced by undeserving people. Natural disaster and acts of random violence have nothing to do with whether or not  their victims have “it” coming to them. 

Nothing would have been gained by resettling myself on the couch, in front of the TV, this morning.  Viewing repeated news clips of the same horrible moments of destruction or cries of despair I had seen last night,  over and over, would not have helped anyone in tornado-torn  Moore Oklahoma  or (as of this morning) calm Connecticut . What will help is, once again, a national community effort to support the people most impacted by the tornado.The Town of Moore OK website has already posted the best ways.

Text STORM to 80888 for Salvation Army.
Text REDCROSS to 90999 for Red Cross.
Text FOOD to 32333 for Oklahoma Regional Food Bank

At this time, PLEASE make financial donations only, until when and if other types of donations are requested.   

I hope my readers will join me in abiding this call.

Back to this morning, instead of turning on the news, I took an early ride to my favorite garden center just over the Massachusetts line. Lush indoor and outdoor displays surrounded me there, and everyone was smiling

A good place to be, I  thought. 


I returned home with lots of coral geraniums and veggies and herbs. Through the early afternoon I assembled seven flower boxes for the porch. Then, in minutes, an ominous cloud cover rolled in and soon the heavens let loose with heavy. . . heavier . . . and then the heaviest rain I've seen in some time. So heavy. the dog and I had to leave the porch as the wind  sprayed the rain diagonally onto it. Inside, I turned on the TV to learn areas in my own state had been issued tornado warnings. I sure hope the Connecticut storm will not overtake the news tomorrow. But if it does, I hope the viewers from afar will pull themselves away from excessive media coverage that just replays the same emotional footage 24/7, support the cause with a donation, and make their untainted day worthwhile.

 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Angie and Me


ABC Good Morning America photo

I never expected I would ever compare myself to Angelina Jolie. But after reading her Op-ed in the New York Times this morning, I’m feeling some really significant common ground.

Chances are we will both owe our future health (hopefully good health) to preventive medicine.

Jolie stunned the world today with the disclosure that she has spent most of this year undergoing a preventive double mastectomy to combat her high chances of developing breast cancer. A genetic test Jolie chose to take after her mother’s death from ovarian cancer assessed the actress’ risk at 87%.

With such high stakes, she decided to take action before the odds played out against her. No question. No reality show. She just halted her busy schedule as mother, actress, and philanthropist. Three months  of opted surgery may just have added decades to her life. Her odds of getting the disease are now less than 5 %.

My kindred story doesn’t involve genetic testing (which has been reported to have cost Jolie about three thousand dollars). Just yearly check-ups, which most health plans cover.
I left one of those yearly check-ups six years ago, expecting to not have to see the doctor again for a year. Instead, I got a phone call the day after my appointment. “There’s blood in your urine and your liver function is off,” he told me on the phone. “We’ve got to find out why.”

The next day a tumor the size of my fist appeared atop my right kidney on an ultrasound screen. There had been no pain, no bleeding perceptible to the eye (just microscopic blood cells in my urine sample on the day of my physical), and no palpable lump.

An MRI followed. Then a diagnosis: Late Stage Two kidney cancer. Yet, I was fortunate. Within weeks, major surgery removed the tumor and kidney - before the cancer had spread. My lymph nodes were clean.

Every year, at my annual physical, I still tell my doctor how thankful I am that he saved my life.

“Early detection,” my doctor replies. “Prevention is the way to go.”

I still get yearly physicals  - and yearly chest x-rays because of the kidney cancer. It always surprises me when women I know, smart women who have more than adequate health insurance, tell me they do not have "time" for physicals. Some say they are too  busy raising their children, juggling work with parenting, etc. etc. I hope these ladies stop to take a look at how a busy celebrity cleared her globe-trotting schedule for preventive medicine. I don't think she did it to prolong her movie career. More likely, the fear of leaving her children and fiancĂ© without a mother and wife made her find the time to make an informed decision.

 I feel fortunate  that I only have to wonder what might have happened if I didn't start seeing a doctor regularly, in my forties. I'm glad Jolie will  just get  to wonder what might have happened if she didn't choose the preventative medical treatment this year.

I hope more busy women will take the time to detect medical trouble before it's too late to stop it .