Thursday, April 28, 2022

Lovely things

My son, his fiancee, and her parents did a walk through of their lakeside wedding venue a couple of weeks ago. Her mom sent me that photo of the happy couple on the dock where they will say their vows five months from now. The trees will be fully leafed then, and in a perfect world it will be a clear September day, when the lake is crystalline blue, the light brilliant yet gentle, and camp is at its most beautiful. My son grew up on that lake, and the friends he made during camp summers there have become his most faithful fellow travelers through life. Yet it was his love who wanted to hold the wedding there. She fell in love with that rustic place, too, and the way the camp people just folded her in. My daughter likes to say that camp is like a cult, but an exuberant joyful one that throws its arms around everyone. I'm getting excited! Now if only the rather zaftig mother of the groom can find something spiffy to wear.

In more immediate happenings, the kitchen reno is, as everyone predicted, going into overtime. It was supposed to be done by my birthday next week, but now that doesn't look likely. The end is in sight, but the punch list of final details is endless, and triggers my undiagnosed OCD. It helps that the contractor is a detail guy. He notices things that even I don't see, and I appreciate his perfectionism. No "good enough for government work" attitudes there, but of course, everything takes time. I do love the countertops I chose. I didn't need to get used to them, I was immediately happy. They are very understated, a light polished gray with thin seams of white running through, the lines far enough apart that it doesn't look too busy to my eye. I do see now that plain gray would have been boring—inoffensive, yes, but definitely less interesting, because those white seams remind me of the delicate foamy ribbons the surf leaves behind after waves kiss and then retreat from the shore. I'd show you a picture, but the countertops are covered by drop cloths right now to protect the surface while the backsplash is being installed. I'm told the backsplash will be finished today and grouted tomorrow. I do believe I like it fine, too.


Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Why I pray

The news was devastating. On Sunday, inside a flaming house in Brooklyn, four firefighters became trapped when the ceiling suddenly collapsed. Three of the firefighters managed to make it out alive, but the fourth could not be rescued. One civilian also died at the scene, and five others were injured. The city is now grieving the loss of one of its Bravest, Timothy Klein, who is my son's age, who had been in the fire department for six short years, the same length of time as my boy. My son spent three years on the medic side, and has been on the engine and ladder side for only three years, and he had never met his fallen comrade. Still, he lost a brother, and we lost a young man who didn't hesitate when the inferno raged. I cannot imagine the pain of his family at the loss of this son of a retired firefighter. They all knew the risks, but prayed he would be as lucky as his father. At moments like this, the reality of what my own son does for a living comes crashing in, and I have to take myself in hand, sitting in silence and circling him with all sorts of protective light, and this is why I pray. Rest in peace, brave Timothy Klein. May your brothers and sisters who are called as you were, who run into burning buildings to save the rest of us, be safe always.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Chaff and grain

My friend and I sat on a bench across from that red Japanese maple excavating our lives as mothers, partners, workers, women of a certain age holding life’s quiet traumas, the two of us emptying our carousel of cares. 

When the spring chill began to overtake the late afternoon sun, we walked home slowly, both of us feeling lighter from the soft sifting of worries, the rueful laughs, and grateful for friendship, especially the kind women share.

As a teenager in the age of "Desiderata," I and my friends at Queens High School for Girls used to write pithy quotes on the covers of our subject notebooks, most of them trite and transient, but there was one quote that I carried forward through the years. Though I’d first encountered it on a garish day glo poster on someone’s wall, even back then it felt true to the bone. It went like this: 

“A friend is one to whom one may pour out the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that the gentlest of hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

I later looked up the original quote by Dinah Mulock Craig:

“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person—having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

The breath of kindness, yes, but the safety, too, is such an important part. With a true friend, one feels safe.


Friday, April 22, 2022


The kitchen reno continues, more or less on schedule. One upper cabinet next to the window is on back order, and will have to be installed later. The countertop guy came and measured and made a template yesterday; I had no idea they made a template before cutting the actual stone; they never show that stage on HGTV. The cut countertop slabs will be delivered and installed on Monday. They took down the heavy plastic sheeting that was blocking off the living room, so things feel a little more open now. Dust somehow managed to find its way under and around the plastic anyway, and I will have to do a thorough cleaning of surfaces, nooks, and crannies once the construction is done. Everything in its time.

I am thankful this job will be finished by my birthday, May 3, as our son will be having a knee operation on May 4, and will need to stay with us for about a month after that. He lives in a third floor walk up, and won't be able to navigate the stairs immediately after the surgery. He tore his ACL again, the same knee, it happened at work, so he is now on medical leave from the fire department, and seeing all the best doctors to get him back into fighting form. The department knows how critical it is for firefighters to have strong, intact bodies, and they offer the best medical care to ensure it. I am grateful he is getting good care, but heartsick that he will have to undergo that surgery again. 

I remember how excruciating the recovery was last time, especially the first night, when our boy awoke crying silently in the hours after midnight and his dad just held him, the two of them watching the clock till he could take another dose of meds, even though in the beginning, not even those pills could touch the pain. He healed quickly though. In six months he was fully restored, despite that the recovery period is said to be nine months. His fiancee pointed out that he is six years older now, and to give himself the full nine months. He may have to, because the department won't put him back in shift rotation till their doctors give him the all clear. In the meantime, he still shows his face at work for house activities like clean up-day. He is not a shirker, that one.

Yesterday, since he had free time, he met up with some of his future in laws—nephews, sister, aunt—at the Museum of Natural History, where his dad works. It was spring break, and my husband had got the family tickets to the dinosaur and butterfly exhibits and shows, and he also gave them his now famous behind-the-scenes tour of the ichthyology department. The boys were fascinated. 

There's my son with one of his (future) nephews, showing him a cleared-and-stained fish specimen—the fish are treated with certain chemicals that render the flesh gel clear, leaving the bones red, and the cartilage blue, allowing an unobstructed view of those aspects of their anatomy. My kids grew up helping their dad with such processes when they went to work with him, and they loved showing the magic to their friends. Now a new generation gets to enjoy what happens behind the curtain of a great natural science museum.

Afterward, my son came home with his dad, and we got to spend time with him for a couple of hours, chatting, dining on pad Thai take out, and watching Survivor together in the dusty makeshift space of our living room. I hate so much that he has to have another surgery, but the fact that he will be under our roof for a few weeks afterward, and we can nourish him from our brand new kitchen, is a sweet silver lining.


Wednesday, April 20, 2022

A spirit of acceptance

This photo of my girl was circulated at her new job to introduce her to new colleagues. Her start date at the new company is May 2, but she will be able to work remotely from Boston until the end of June, when she and her love will move back to New York City. They found a great apartment in a lively artsy Brooklyn neighborhood dotted with sidewalk cafes and hipster joints like the drag bingo bar where my niece Dani and her friends can be found every Monday night, and where practically all of their closest friends already live within walking distance around them. 

The kitchen renovation is proceeding on schedule, the cabinets are now almost all installed, and tomorrow someone will come to measure the dimensions of the gray quartz countertop, which will take 2-3 days to cut and deliver, which means the counter will be installed by early next week, and the backsplash the same day, with grouting to be done the day after. I continue to be completely unsure about every choice I have made, but however it turns out I have decided to simply be okay with it, because my husband stated very clearly that while he is fine with whatever I decide (except when he isn't, and then he gives his opinion and we make another choice), it will drive him bananas if, after everything is done, I am constantly second guessing the process and moaning that I should have gone with some other decision about a particular detail instead. I say that's fair. And so however the final kitchen turns out, I am resolved to be at peace with it, because it will be a safe, bright, and functional new kitchen and what a privilege to have wished for that and then be able to make it happen.

As for the contractor, I have no complaints. I suspect I might be a difficult client with all my hand wringing and self doubt, but he has been unfailing kind, informative, and accommodating, offering choices until I arrive at one I might be happy with, and never making me feel rushed or bamboozled. I do know that we have different aesthetics—I like warm lighting for example, and he is cool LED lighting all the way; he also likes a few bells, whistles, and flourishes, while I like simplicity and clean lines. And so I have to be my own designer, which is where the self-doubt comes in. I wish I knew how to throw in a dash of art, say in the lighting fixture over the kitchen island. I played with the idea of getting an art glass fixture, but I didn't have the confidence to choose something dramatic and bold, so I went with a simple three bulb cylindrical light with white frosted glass and brushed nickle hardware. My husband, son, and daughter all liked it, and I did too, but it was a moment where I could have gone with drama and flair instead, and I didn't. On the other hand, this apartment was built in the 1950s. It's lines are simple and unadorned, so perhaps a simple unadorned kitchen is a perfectly good canvas for what can come later.

I did get the backsplash I was mulling over in a previous post. I hope it looks as good as the picture. Honestly, I worry that the smaller hex tiles will look too busy, but it's too late now, I've settled on them, and if I find that I don't love them, well, I will keep that to myself. My husband is a patient and easy going man, but one thing that he cannot abide is people getting all worked up about circumstances that are essentially fixed, and not of astronomical importance in the scheme of life anyway. He is philosophical that way. "Done is done," he might say. Another famous one of his lines: "You play the hand you're holding." I guess I'm writing this post as a way to process and practice a spirit of acceptance about the outcome of this kitchen renovation, given that every material choice along the way has been mine. One of my aphorisms? "Live and learn." I am definitely doing a lot of learning. I am also looking forward to purging so much stuff as we set up our new kitchen!

Saturday, April 16, 2022


It's Easter week. Usually a melancholy time for me, for reasons that have to do with the gulf between how such holidays were celebrated in the close-knit family of my childhood and the loneliness of now, with almost all of my beloved elders gone, and the rest of my extended family living far away. I will go to church with the man tomorrow. Our minister came down with Covid this week, but will be out of isolation in time for the Easter service. Her wife sent a message through my husband to let me know she will be looking for me on Easter Sunday, as she knows I am "one of those good Easter and Christmas church goers." It's our little joke. She is an ordained minister herself, yet she is in church as seldom as I am, and our minister and my husband like to riff about their "recalcitrant spouses." 

I actually love our little church with its super liberal, multi racial, multi faith, gender fluid, artsy, academic, streetwise, non-proselytizing and gloriously oddball congregation. Everyone comes as they are, even the agnostics, and feels seen. Though I had been inside the sanctuary maybe once since Covid lock downs started in March 2020, I went last week for Palm Sunday, as my husband was playing the role of Pontius Pilate and also the soldier who takes Jesus from the Garden of Gethsemane in the passion play. It was a serious piece of theater, directed by a vestry member who is a university professor of the performing arts in her other life, and she meant for her passion players to do the material justice. 

Last year, she and my husband sat around our dining table for many many hours taping the passion play as a piece of Zoom theater. This year, it is once again live, as everything is now reopened, and I figured I should go and support my husband, after all his stories about our friend Celia (the director) looking into the actors' eyes and asking intently, "What do you think this person is really trying to say here? From where do you think this arises inside them?" Or questions of that sort. My man did a wonderful job of emoting, as did all the players. When I walked in at the start of the service, Celia came over and hugged me and then issued a warning: "Don't you dare wave at your husband while he's on stage." "I wouldn't dream of it," I assured her.

The thing that was so lovely about last week Sunday was that even though I had been so scarce for almost two years, everyone welcomed me as if I was a part of it all, and I remembered what my Aunt Winnie used to say about that church. Back when our son was born, and my husband was looking for a place to have him baptized (he hadn't established a New York City faith home yet), Aunt Winnie sent him to investigate a little Harlem church where the White minister was a member of the Black Panther Party, and had marched with Dr. King (and played the role of Tom Hanks father in the movie Philadelphia) and where Aunt Winnie said, "No matter how long I stay away, they always remember my name."

So it's Easter. My husband rose bright an early to go down to the flower district and choose his blooms, as he always creates the altar arrangements for this day, in honor of his parents. It is a cheerful task for him, evoking memories of doing Easter arrangements with his mother that lighten his heart. I on the other hand awoke with an aching nostalgia for my family of origin, the gathering in each other’s homes after Easter morning services, playing with my cousins in the yard while our parents prepared the feast, the huge circle of us saying grace, rituals I had no idea that I’d so sorely miss, back when I was living them without understanding how surrounded by love and care I was. But I have community still, people who always remember my name and welcome me in, and I recognize the gift that is, the door held open for me, no questions asked, no matter how long I have stayed away.


Update on Easter: That's my husband getting ready to take the traditional Easter day "family photo" of the congregation and our lovely minister in the foreground, wrangling everybody. After the service and photos there was a pot luck and coffee hour in the garden, and then the man and I went to brunch, where I got quite plastered on half a margarita, which occasioned a delicious afternoon nap once we got back home.


Tuesday, April 12, 2022

It's just a kitchen

A kitchen renovation is stressful, y'all, and not for the reasons you might think. The construction noise as they took everything down to the studs was the least of it. Living in our bedroom for three weeks because the living room and hallway are blocked off with sheets of plastic to protect their contents, and the other bedrooms are overrun with boxed up kitchen ware, is less constricting than you would think. Thankfully, my husband is generally very easy to be around. Not being able to cook anything, but having to order in meals instead, is expensive, but how lucky we are to have the option of doing that. The contractor finding all sorts of janky electrical wiring and plumbing workarounds and what-were-they-thinking gas lines behind the walls isn't even the the worst of it, because all of that is now being brought up to code. But let me tell you, the decisions—that's where the storm clouds gather.

So many choices to make, and I realize I don't trust myself to make them. I'm not a designer. I can't envision beforehand how things will look, so I have to just make my best guess about what I like and go on faith that it will turn out to be pleasing once installed, or at least, inoffensive. My husband, bless him, is no help. It's all okay with him, whatever I want. He will tell me if he really doesn't like something, but beyond that, he insists he's fine with whatever I decide on from the remaining universe of possibilities, and it's sort of overwhelming. Countertops, backsplashes, light fixtures, hardware, sinks, faucets, pantry widths, appliances, you name it. I worry that the outcome won't look like the pictures of light airy kitchens I see on Pinterest, because I didn't make the right choices. My friend Lisa said some wise words to me on the phone just now, as I was bemoaning how worn out I am from all the decision making, and how anxious about getting things wrong. She said, "You know what, hon, it's just a kitchen." It was exactly what I needed to hear.

I remembered, as I did before when I was choosing couches to replace the broken and torn ones in our living room, that in my twenties, I was sublimely sure of my tastes, never second guessing myself. Where did that confident woman go? I have lost my own voice, allowed it to become muffled by decades of trying to gauge what it is my loved ones might be wanting, so that now I am no longer in touch with what I might want.

Weirdly, I think I also miss my old kitchen, if only the cabinet doors weren't always in danger of falling on our heads. There was some good energy spent in that kitchen. But now we will have a clean, functional, safe kitchen, and so what if I don't have a clue how to bring color and drama to the creation of it? So what if all I can pull off is neutral and simple? That is okay. As my friend Lisa reminded me, “It's just a kitchen."

Later: Just to put everything in sharp perspective, I’m just now hearing about a violent attack in a Brooklyn subway station this morning. Shooting and undetonated smoke bombs, thirteen people injured, five by apparently random gunfire. The shooter ran up the stairs and disappeared into the streets of Sunset Park. A citywide manhunt is underway. The city is starting to feel again like it did in the 1970s, when crime was rampant. This is not the New York my kids grew up in. Everyone is rocked. 

Thursday, April 7, 2022

The daily

Here’s the text I sent in the family chat this morning.

Also today, Justice Katanji Brown Jackson was confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the first Black woman to sit on that high tribunal, which for the first time in its history will not have White men as the majority of its justices. I hadn’t focused on this somehow. No press story I read mentioned this until after she was confirmed today. It was as if the entire media colluded in this omission so as not to give the Trump Republicans in Congress another reason to lose all sanity. Had any of you focused on this fact before today? Am I just late in doing the math? I’m so happy she was confirmed. She is a justice who I believe will make us proud. 

In other news, the kitchen demo is done. The adventure has officially begun. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Material fatigue

I am in such an anxious place. As my daughter moaned when she signed the contract two nights ago for the new job she was offered on her birthday, "Change is hard, Mama." I can tell you now that she's changing jobs. She told her boss yesterday, the two of them cried. She loves her current boss, but just felt that in order to grow she needed to take on a new challenge. She's been working at that nonprofit since she graduated college in 2016, and they promoted her three times, so as her mother, I felt she was safe and appreciated there. But safe is overrated when it comes to growth, so I applaud her stepping into the unknown.

Meanwhile the demo on the kitchen begins tomorrow, and we are not yet done packing up everything. I am once again gobsmacked by how much stuff we accumulate in our lives. We use perhaps five percent of what is in our kitchen, so why do we have all those things. I’m drowning in material possessions. It sucks up all our air. Also, the man and I aren't as young as we used to be, we don't power through physical tasks as we once did, which means I'm feeling extremely overwhelmed. And anxious. And lonely. Why lonely? Decision fatigue is real. Self-doubt is real. Relinquishing control and daring to trust an outcome that is in the hands of others to execute when you’re not that clear on your own vision is hard. At least it is for me.

My son just came. He immediately got busy throwing out a lot of expired containers, with not a moment of doubt or angst. Thank you for that, son. I don’t even care what went in the discard box. You are a prince.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Vision board


I have trouble settling on backsplashes I like. I seem partial to plain white subway tiles, but I think I also like this one, which offers a little more oomph, but is still subtle. This could work with white Shaker cabinets and some sort of light gray countertop, no? Thoughts?

Sunday, April 3, 2022

I love this girl

My son and his fiancée spent the day with us yesterday. They came over to help us pack up the kitchen, so that demo can begin this week. Or rather our son was going to help us pack, as his love works on Saturdays and was doing her job remotely from our living room. My boy and his dad went to Home Depot to get boxes and bubble wrap while my heart daughter and I had a lovely time chatting about everything, and when work claimed her attention I watched Single Drunk Female on Hulu, actress Ally Sheedy’s new show that is wonderfully inclusive, not just in terms of race and ethnicity but also in terms of bodies, sexuality, gender identity, life itself. 

Later my son’s fiancée’s best friend came over, her maid of honor, who got married last November herself. The young women were so much fun together, two musical theater kids now working in tech, doing an impromptu rendition of “Satisfied” from the musical Hamilton, all the lyrics and dance movements, I loved it so much and wanted them never to stop. They also caught me up on all the wedding planning, which seems to be proceeding well, though not without its moments of angst. I opined that it seemed so much simpler in my day, without the ubiquitous eye of social media. But was it really? Or was I simply more equal to the challenge of it all than I am now?

Meanwhile in Boston my daughter and her love were taking a few steps toward the future themselves. It was an eventful week for my girl, a big work win on Monday, which was also her birthday, then she and her partner learned they got the apartment in Brooklyn they wanted, for the price they counter offered (people seem to be making rent bids on apartments in New York City these days—what is going on??) in the neighborhood they love. They’ll be moving back to the city at the end of June. Amid the madness of the world, life in microcosm seems to be humming along. 

We still have to clear out the kitchen. The man and I were having so much fun just socializing with the young folks yesterday, and watching the March Madness basketball that we never got around to actual packing. We’ll do it tomorrow, now that needed supplies have been laid in. I can hardly believe that after 21 years of living with poorly installed kitchen cabinets forever coming off their hinges, and me always worrying about a door falling on someone, we’re finally going to have new solid, sturdily installed white Shaker style cabinets, with pot drawers rather than cupboards in which plastic Tupperware containers get lost at the back for eternity. 

Don’t mind me. I’m busy counting my blessings over here. That beautiful stout hearted young woman in the pictures above, she’s one of them for sure.