Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Another birthday

My son was in Vienna on Monday night, so it was my birthday there six hours before it was my birthday here. I was in choir rehearsal when his WhatsApp came in, wishing me happy returns of the day and sending me a picture of himself smiling. He never lets me take pictures of him, so this was a big concession.

My friend Jackie was in town just for the day, passing through from Cape Town, South Africa where she had been vacationing. Another friend, Lisa, came over in the evening, my husband made dinner for us all, and we chatted and laughed and sang happy birthday and ate cake and toasted my day with a good Malbec. It was all very low-key and easygoing. I was with people with whom I felt completely myself, and with that, another birthday was tucked under my belt.

My son gets back on Friday evening, my daughter is coming to town for the weekend, and my niece will be here too, so we'll celebrate again in some small way, maybe nothing more than a ritual birthday tequila shot. And now, back to work. We are always grateful for work.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Why I love social media

Our son WhatsApped us from Florence. "Today has been a crazy day!" he wrote. "We rented vespas and took them a few towns over to a place called Siena (over an hours drive) but on the way we stopped at this beautiful little town and went to the butcher shop restaurant and had the most amazing food (pics to come). On the way back we got a bit lost, it started raining, sun set on us, and it took us two hours to drive back in the darkness dripping wet. But it was such an epic day it was all worth it." And: "Italy is fucking amazing."

Here are some of the pics he sent:

Meanwhile, our daughter's Snapchat posts told a color story all their own. Clearly she too was having an epic day, though quite different from the one her brother was having.

Ah, social media. I'm living vicariously through those happy crazy adventurous and colorful young people today.

The bard

Friday, April 29, 2016

One month more

Exactly one month from today, our girl will graduate from college. That's her grad portrait, or rather, a poor camera phone snap of it, along with a recently found photo of my girl and me from when she was in seventh grade. Or was it sixth? All I know is it was pre braces, and she had the sweetest spirit then and she has the sweetest spirit now. Her approach to graduation is rather different from her brother, who wore sneakers and an untucked open collared shirt. She on the other hand is sending me pictures of lovely fit and flare dresses, trying to decide which will be the perfect one for graduation. Four years just went poof. Soon she will enter the so called "real" world, and her bright face will be back around here, at least for a while. She's stellar company.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


I'm working on a new project. That diner was my conference room yesterday. My collaborator and I sat for three hours, planning and brainstorming.

I arrived early and just watched the people around me, one of my favorite things to do in the city. The man in the green shirt at the far table seemed intoxicated by the woman beside him. He kept nuzzling her face and ruffling her hair and saying, "Doesn't Mommy's new haircut look great, kids?"

My project has a short deadline, so I'm going to be underground for the next two months, though I'm sure I'll pop up here. I'm just happy to have work.

Thinking about work makes me remember something my son said a while back. "When I was younger, I wasn't that concerned about money. I just wanted to do a job that was interesting to me, that made me happy."

"And paid the bills," I added.

"Well, that's just thing thing," he said. "I didn't realize how happy paying the bills would make me."

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Yoga then

The all-knowing Facebook sent me a notification this morning of someone's birthday, a wonderful young woman named Jodi, who used to do parent and kid yoga classes back when my daughter was in second and third grades (the age she is in the photo above). We did that class together twice a week, my girl and I, with several other parents and their children, many of whom were in my daughter's grade at school. We were a class of friends, two generations strong, with Jodi guiding us through the sweetest most soul strengthening poses.

But that wasn't even the best part. For every one of us, parents and kids, the best part came at the end, when Jodi put on the soothing music, and we lay down on our mats for relaxation. Our children would invariably scoot over to their parent's mat from theirs, and curl themselves against us, going to sleep in our arms. It was heaven on earth, and it got even better. While we lay with our eyes closed in the dim room, bathed by the soft music, Jodi would go to each and every person in turn and massage our feet with lavender oil. The kids loved it. I don't even have to tell how much their parents did, too.

During that period, several members of our class chose to hold birthday parties at Jodi's yoga studio, and she is certainly part of the reason some of the parents in that class are still so bonded today. It broke our hearts a bit when Jodi's rent was raised so that she could no longer afford her dreamy, candy-colored studio with its peace posters and jewel-toned gauze curtains and happy flower power vibe. Jodi ultimately decided to move west with her much loved dog Chants, and our classes came to an end. But oh, it was a delightful interlude in our lives, the sweetest thing. Thank you, Jodi, for giving us those two years of such holy bonding time with our children and dear friends. Happy birthday, darling woman. May you always know the joy you brought to our lives.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Global tracks

My husband and I went to dinner in Harlem last night. We ate outdoors at chef Marcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster restaurant, watching blue twilight settle on the avenue as the neighborhood passed by. Harlem is the big new dining destination in the city. Scores upon scores of cool restaurants have opened there in the past five years. I told my husband we should spend the summer just dining at a different restaurant in Harlem every week, and we still wouldn't get to them all. And speaking of Marcus Samuelsson, he and his wife Gate Maya Haile just might be the most ridiculously beautiful people I've ever seen.

If you don't know Marcus's and Maya's story, he was born in Ethiopia but his mother died of TB when he was very young and his father, a priest, couldn't care for him and his older sister. The two were adopted by a Swedish family, and were raised in a fishing and farm-to-table household that gave Marcus an early love for fresh Scandinavian food. After culinary school in Paris he moved to Harlem, where he added Southern cuisine to his repertoire. Maya, also born in Ethiopia, grew up in a traditional Ethiopian family in Holland. She started out as a nurse, but everyone told her she should try modeling, and so she did, signing with an agency in Paris and then moving to Harlem. She and Marcus had crossed the globe on parallel tracks all their lives, until finally they turned and saw each other at a housewarming party of mutual friends.

They've been married seven years. She's quite a few inches taller than he is, but smart man, apparently he doesn't care. Honestly, they are two of the most genetically gifted people I have seen in life. And I hear Marcus has a new book coming out in October, The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem. Someone I know worked on it with him, so its bound to be good.

But maybe this post today is really all about connecting us here in Harlem with an idea of Sweden, because that's where our son is at the moment according to his most recent post on Instagram, and Holland, where his itinerary takes him tomorrow. Traveling mercies, son.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Purple Prince

Prince Rogers Nelson died today. His Purple Rain album utterly defined a moment in my life, a particular year in my twenties when I was lost. I was the dove that cried, the sorrowful lover standing in the purple rain. Prince once said in an interview that for him, purple rain described the particular quality of the sky just before dawn. I can't quite take in that the haunting wail that got me through so many nights is gone, but then, I never quite took in that Prince could get older, either. It never occurred to me that he was mortal. As my friend Sharon put it when she heard, "Dying seems too pedestrian for Prince...It always seemed like he just existed, and always would." But perhaps most apt is what another friend, Cori, wrote on Twitter: "I hope he just went puff and left behind a cloud of purple sparkle dust." His going only makes sense when I imagine it like that. Sayonara, Prince. Indelibly, you were here.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Where the water comes down

“It has always been a happy thought to me that the creek runs on all night, new every minute, whether I wish it or know it or care, as a closed book on a shelf continues to whisper to itself its own inexhaustible tale. So many things have been shown so to me on these banks, so much light has illumined me by reflection here where the water comes down, that I can hardly believe that this grace never flags, that the pouring from ever renewable sources is endless, impartial, and free.” 

—Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Artwork "One With Nature" by Mukesh Singh

You, my loves, are where the water comes down. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Everyone was there

The book party/ 98th birthday celebration was fantastic. Ellamae was in her element, with well over one hundred guests celebrating her and her book. Her niece and grandniece and four stepdaughters came from DC, Denver, Columbus, New York and Chicago, and her godchildren were all there, too. So were former colleagues at Kaiser, and former patients, and a cohort of women doctors who she mentored. All her friends from the retirement residence and the Bay Area also showed up. It was clear that Ellamae is so very loved, and she basked in it.

Even when she was exhausted towards the end of the festivities, she still refused to be taken downstairs to her apartment. She had signed every book, almost 200 of them, beforehand, and at the end of the afternoon, they were all gone. Some she signed with her first name only, some with her full name, some with her initials circled, and a couple she signed with her former married name, as if her first husband was whispering to her. She didn't seem to realize she'd signed that name, and her niece and I just looked at each other and let it pass. At 98 years, she can sign whatever name she wants.

A photographer took pictures, which I will soon have a link to, so maybe I'll share some here. In the meantime, here is one of my favorites of the afternoon, when Ellamae and an old friend greeted each other. They put their hands on each other's cheek and just stared with so much love into each other's eyes. All through the party, whenever I came near, Ellamae would reach out and take my hands in hers and kiss them, then press them to her cheeks. I think she was happy with how our work together turned out. I also think I caught her at the right moment, when she could still tell me her stories. Ellamae isn't using her words much anymore, but her eyes speak her heart.

There is so much more I could report, but I seem to have come down with something buggy on the plane ride home. My eyes won't stop streaming and I've been in bed all day, mostly sleeping and reading when my aching head allows. My son leaves for a three-week jaunt with a friend around Scandinavia and Europe tomorrow, so I'll pull myself together and go for the ride to drop him at the airport. Oh, to be young and footloose, with a sense of adventure calling you. In other news, his firefighter/paramedic dreams are a few steps closer to coming true.
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