Thursday, November 27, 2014


I've written before about my feelings around Thanksgiving.

This year, I'm going to focus on what I have to be thankful for — and I have a lot to be thankful for.

I am alive.  In relatively good health.

I have a lovely home. (However much work it needs.)  A roof over our heads. Heat in winter. Cooling in summer.

I have two refrigerators and a pantry filled with food.

My children (young adults now) can walk outside and will not be approached, profiled, stopped, arrested, or shot because of the color of their skin.

Whatever my life, whatever my problems, I have so much.

After my last post about regrets,  I heard from many of my friends.  
Some very worried about me. (No need.) 

Some reassuring me. (They too have regrets.) 

Some advising me. (The past is the past.)  

Each sharing their affection and support from their respective places in the world.

One thoughtful friend, even sent me absolution. (She's a minister, so it's legit.)

But I thought long about this shared wisdom from a dear friend…

"Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do, but you never get anywhere."

That seemed very profound to me. I thought about it and thought about it and I thought about how true that was and I wanted to accept that wisdom and move on — but oh, how I love a rocking chair!  How I just sink into the comfort of that motion. Back and forth, back and forth, and no where to go but be in that swing and sway.  
Back and forth, back and forth.  Maybe I'm comfortable sitting in regret.  

I hope not.

Another wise treasure came from a high school chum…

"Regrets limit us. Nobody gets a chance to go back and fix them so why do we focus on them? We did the best we could. Hopefully, our children can come to appreciate that. Don't beat yourself up...try to let go of shit you can't change."

And so, uncharacteristically, I find myself feeling very good about all the feelings of friendship and warmth and caring that have come my way and I'm trying to be in my present.

This Thanksgiving I made:

  • the organic turkey (with a thyme-rosemary-salt & pepper butter rub, for the first time),
  • my root-vegetables-only, no-flour FABULOUSLY DELICIOUS gravy,
  • sausage stuffing (with mushrooms added in this time with the celery and onions)
  • creamed onions with toasted almonds on top,
  • cranberry-mango sauce
  • and my wonderfully smooth and luscious caramel pumpkin flan with whipped cream...
          and you know what?



(I didn't make the mashed potatoes but with my gravy, they were great, too.) 

AND (This is really pretty amazing...)


Now I know many of you readers out there don't know me, but those that do, KNOW that for me to make a meal that I don't chop into little pieces complaining about the taste, the texture, the color, or any other way I failed to make it right — that's pretty miraculous.

I'd say that's a lot to be thankful for — and believe me I am.

But more than this — thankful, thankful, thankful for ALL OF YOU.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Regrets, Regrets, Regrets

I'm gonna need a mighty big eraser (Claus Oldenberg-style) to wipe out all my mistakes.

Where do I begin?  How far back should I go?  

When I first started working I did a good thing. I opened an IRA with $2000.  I was young and it was forward-thinking.  Life went on, I moved many times, got married, left the state, and lost track of that IRA.  Never set up another one.  I thought about it over the years, tried to track it down.  Never finished the paperwork.  Let it go year after year.  FINALLY I did what needed to be done, submitted all the documents, updated my name, information, address, marital status, and got back that IRA and was thrilled that it had tripled in value!  But the guy at the brokerage house?  He was sick over it because for 30 years it had been sitting in a money market account earning next to nothing.  Properly invested, that IRA should have accrued in the tens of thousands. GEEZ.  As Julia Roberts says in Pretty Woman... 
"Big mistake. HUGE."

I had a wonderful wedding and a huge reception with over 200 family and friends.  Try as I did to think of EVERYTHING to ensure no detail would be missed, there were misses.  I forgot to give my photographer the list of shots to get and never had a picture taken with my Gramma.  Because it wasn't my side of the family (and I didn't know at the time), we didn't include my deceased father-in-law's only
sister, Aunt Barbara and Uncle Dick in the photos and we didn't invite my sister-in-law's best friends from college, Marilyn & Doug, to the wedding.  Worse, my friend Shirley didn't ask me to take over the video camera and I didn't ask her because I thought it would be making her "work" at my wedding.  Videographer-extraordinaire, if Shirley had been behind the camera, she would've had a much better time. Shirley would've gotten our guests  many of whom are no longer living  to tell stories and share wisdom and we would've had an unbelievable visual and oral history of the people who loved us and were there to celebrate our marriage.  Instead, we have a stationery movie of the fixed view from the camera on a tripod.  

Photo by Jack Edinger

When I was at a small street fair on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I bought an unbelievably stunning piece of art  a silver necklace of a face that was so simple and yet so beautiful.  Out of fear and uncertainty, I never asked the artist his name.  I'll never know the name of the person who made this face that I love and wear and get complimented on for forty years now. 

Growing up, no one paid me any attention in my family, so when my children were born I was determined, driven and determined, not to have them experience that feeling.  But the trouble is I went all the way the other way.  I tried to tell them everything, give them everything, impart every last bit of information I could to inform them, educate them, protect them, and extend to them what no one but my teachers gave to me.  But the pendulum swung too far the other way.  How I smothered them with my knowledge.  I didn't know this until they were grown and gone.

If only I had known then what I know now.

When my sister-in-law Robin was dying, I didn't go back up north to see her one last time. I'd helped in managing to get her out of the hospital and up to her home, contacted family and friends, got the information for arranging hospice.  Though I spoke to her often (with someone holding the phone to her ear) I didn't make plans to return north. I was worried about the money, thought it was more important that my husband fly up to see her, but some part of me really didn't want to go back.  Didn't want to see her at the end.  Wanted to remember her dazzling smile and happy face. Didn't want to see her so changed and leaving this life.  I regret it now.
And finally, and this is a big one, a really unforgivable big heartbreaking mistake.   My sister Donna was an amazing, giving, gorgeous person.  I don't know that I ever fully appreciated how much of a a supportive, generous presence she was in my life.  When my sister died, my daughter and I had arrived to visit her for her birthday and then were headed to southern California where our first cousin Bobby's daughter was getting married and many of the family were coming west. It would be the first wedding my daughter ever attended.  We arrived at my sister's late one night, talked to her for hours and then, when it was 3:00 am our time and my daughter and I were collapsing, I finally said we had to go to bed and would see each other in the morning.  Not twenty minutes later, at Donna's request, we were taking her to the hospital and four days later (on her 59th birthday) she passed away in the fifteen minutes no one was there.  That was my sister, always looking out for everyone else. She didn't want to inconvenience us by dying at home and she didn't want to make it tough by leaving this life on anyone's watch.

She'd been sick for five years, bedridden for two, but still, it came as a shock.  We were devastated that Donna was gone.  Her son said the thought of orchestrating her funeral was overwhelming.  And we worried about spoiling the wedding happiness by following it with a funeral.  We didn't want everyone to darken their joy with our sorrow.  So we sent my sister to her next incarnation without any ceremony or service for all the people who loved her. We planned to hold a celebration of her life at another time on one coast and the other, but time went by and we never did.  Maybe that's why she doesn't "visit" me in my dreams or send me messages and let me know she's watching over us.  It was shameful. It is shameful.  She deserved better.  It is my biggest regret.


Okay, I've confessed.  These are the enduring regrets that keep me awake at night.  When my head hits the pillow, THEN in the dark and silence of night, all the other things that have kept me busy and distracted (and not thinking about my mistakes) disappear, and it all comes flooding back to haunt me.  I obsess about what went wrong last week, last month, fifteen years ago or more.  These are the mental one-sided conversations I keep having over and over and over again  hoping to be heard by those in my past, in my present.  

Not being seen or heard  painful remainders (yes, remainders) from my childhood.  These are the hot buttons that make me tough to live with and keep me from finding peace.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Fickle Figs

I have always loved figs.
First it was only dried figs that were served whenever company was coming.  The figs came in a circle stacked side-by-side and sealed with crinkly cellophane.  We took those figs, bit off the tiny stem and stuffed them with walnuts for our guests. The figs were always accompanied on the serving platter by dates but first we had to squirrel in to get the pit out which was replaced by shoving an almond or two deep into the cylindrical cavity of those dates.  My friend (whose job it was to fly to Iran and inspect shipments of dates, apricots, & nuts) told me never to buy pitted dates. He saw that they were pitted by women using their teeth!

Fig Newtons were a treasured cookie of my childhood, though they've fallen out of favor now. (And I never took to those other-flavored fig newtons.)

When I moved to Manhattan I was exposed to fresh figs for the first time and I fell in love with their delicate sweet-not-sugary taste
  in salads with goat cheese and nuts, or wrapped in prosciutto.  Then I came across this simply exquisite artwork of figs online and I just couldn't stop staring at it.  The greens and the purples (my favorite colors), the beautiful gradation of colors, the exquisiteness of lines.  Here was someone who appreciated figs as much as I did.
Fabulous illustration by John Segal
About ten years ago, our down-the-block neighbor Frank gave us three fig saplings because we so loved his fresh figs. My husband planted them but they never took. After years of scraggly growth, two of the trees died off.  It was tough, but I was not fig-deprived.

Our neighbors, Jenni and Todd, have a truly massive fig tree in their yard and every year when their tree is bursting with more figs than they can possibly manage, they send out a blast email to everyone in the 'hood:

Please take some figs off our hands and make something delicious (or at least interesting) for the party we just decided to have next Saturday.  We have a gazillion figs in the fridge after this weekend's explosion. Come get some and make something to bring to a fig party...think fig pizza, fig bread, fig brownies, jam, sangria, newtons...

Hi, friends. Our fig tree is producing like crazy and we need your help! Please join us for our Second Annual Fig Pickin' on our new screened porch for figs and whatever goes well with figs.  The diversity and deliciousness of last year's fig dishes will be hard to top but we know you are up to the task!  If you are interested in making something, we will FIGure out how to get some to you. 

After a slow start our fig tree is finally producing, which means that it's time for our Third Annual Fig Pickin!  Please take some figs off our hands and make something figgin' awesome for the party.  Previous years' fig dishes have been diverse and delicious and repeat recipes are welcomed. Can you top figs in blankets? Figarettes?  

Year after year, it was wonderful but it was depressing.  Then a few years back my husband moved the sole remaining fig to the edge of his garden and finally, finally that little fig tree began to grow fruit! And for three years the fig grew green figs that never, NEVER ripened! They just stayed green, got hard and then died off. Why wouldn't OUR fig tree finish the job?  

This year, once again we got an abundant crop of green figs.  Each time I pulled into the driveway, I scanned that tree, hoping to see some ripening figs, and then  miracle of miracles  ONE ripened!  Hooray! That single fig was delicious!  Slowly others started to ripen and I thought, That tree has finally matured.  We're going to have a bumper crop of figs!  Each day as they softened we would get five to six ripe-for-the-picking fresh figs for eating…but you couldn't leave them to get that rich purple hue because the birds had their way at them so we picked them as judiciously and quickly as we could. 

After a week of getting those lovely figs, it all stopped.  No more ripened.  The bounty ceased.  I went online to see what I could find out.  Turns out there were many reasons:  not enough water; too much stress (how could a fig tree be stressed?); too much new growth diverting the plant's energy from ripening the figs it already had. That cause seemed probable  the tree was growing by leaps and bounds.  So, I got out the clippers and gently chopped off the new branch shoots from all over that tree.

The tree was loaded with green figs. 

And then, when all hope was lost  one  just one little fig started to turn,

 and before the birds could get at it, I quickly picked and ate that fig.

And the next week  after it turned cold and we'd already had fires in our fireplace — there were four more! Was the solution working?

This luscious fig had more time to mature…but not the others.

Now I ask you  why the heck won't ALL those fickle figs ripen?


Well, it seems the fig's on me because here it is mid-November, the leaves on that tree are turning spotty yellow/brown, falling off, and wouldn't you know  more figs are ripening!  Maybe I should start searching recipes.  Fig chutney anyone?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Stuyvesant Square and Surrounds

My friend Shirley Sender died much too soon and whenever I am in New York I think of her.  This trip was no exception.

On the Lexington bus headed downtown, I passed (too fast to take a shot) a restaurant awning  Shirley.

I was going to see one of Shirley’s best friends (one of two Nancys) who’d recently had open-heart surgery and (thank the Lord) was doing very well.  Despite feeling as if she had been rammed by a car and a truck (one in front and one in back),  Nancy was sitting up, talking, taking short walks, and wise-cracking like her pre-surgery self. 

She was at Beth Israel Medical Center, down on First and 16th, in a spacious room (bigger than her West Village apartment, with French doors no less!) and a beautiful view  despite the scaffolding that wrapped the building outside her window.  In addition to seeing Nancy doing so well, meeting her multiple friends (Bryan, Dodie, Christina & Josh) and sharing stories, I got the pleasure of perusing the neighborhood once I left.


Stuyvesant Square Park  actually two lovely parks, back-to-back on either side of the avenue.  Though it was November, the leaves were turning and falling all around me, still there in the park were flowers in bloom…


       a beautiful strong and stalwart church standing guard  ready to slay dragons if needed…


and the quiet majesty of the Quaker presence  with their meeting house from 1786 (with plain but elegant moveable bench-pews painted dove-gray with worn red velvet cushions) and their Friends school.  Here I visited another friend-of-a-friend who was tending children while their Quaker parents communed in the hall upstairs.

The Quakers have their own tenets of truth.  Some emblazoned outside for all to see…

and other more subtly displayed to embed in one’s conscience.  Inside, where the children stayed and played while their parents discussed the problems of the world and how their social activism could help, I found a little truth for my own.

I was wearing the scimitar pin Nancy saved for me from Shirley’s collection.  

Maybe I’ll be slaying some dragons of my own.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The High School Reunion

I've inserted many links to earlier posts because if you want the truth (I won't say "the whole truth and nothing but the truth" because there's always more than one truth), if you want to understand my truth, then you need the backstory.

High School graduation was 44 years ago...

What a LONG time.  The last reunion I attended was the 33rd (our class doesn't do things the usual way).  I don't remember much of that reunion  except that it was nice, but felt unsettling to me.  I suppose if you asked, people from my class would always say I belonged, I was a cheerleader, held class office, and was in the Girls' Varsity Club.  But for me, high school was like being an outsider living on the fringes.  Outside because I was one way at school and then another at home.  There I lived a totally different reality  a hidden reality until my brother did something that shamefully splashed our family's name all over the newspapers.  Though I gave a speech at graduation ("Maybe I'm not an individual but only think I am…") and won an award for citizenshipreally didn't feel as if I was part of any life I saw my classmates living.

Going to a reunion I suppose many of us worry about the things that always worried us. For me it was my weight. I'd always struggled with weight and was certainly heavier now. While I knew some of those attending would look as they did back in the day, when I looked in the mirror I didn't see the old me  nor would they.  

The reunion was full of surprises.

Yes, I and others were heavier, but for the most part people were the same.  Certainly older, changed hair (beards!), more wrinkled, but still, much as they were almost half a century before.  I was surprised that I spent more time talking with classmates I barely knew back then.  I was surprised that most of the women were still coloring their hair (darker or lighter) but I don't remember any other female who'd let their hair go gray, as I did.  Our creative writing teacher had married one of our classmates!  Turns out he was only seven years older than we were!  How is that possible?  I was astonished that we were there from all over  California, Montana, Florida  they'd all come together despite the time and the miles.  Why?  What we we looking for?  What were the hopes?    

My motivation was to reconnect with my past.  To see if I could get perspective on where I came from and who I was back then.

I had to say this "look back" was a driving force the past six months  tracking down old boyfriends to say something I hadn't said. Visiting old homes to see what they looked like now.  Trying to find a missing recipe, a photograph that captured something now gone.  I wanted to square my past; I wanted people to know who I really was then and not who I often pretended to be.. "Little Mary Sunshine"

Surrounded by my classmates, I started to see who they were. Like sweet S who had cared for her ailing, aging parents, found her calling, decided to go back to school and became a nurse.  Or vivacious D who was traveling the states successfully running her own media business. Ju, N, L, S, H, and J, looked as if they'd just stepped out of high school.  Forty-plus years later, & S were the same couple they'd always been and there was comfort in that for me.    The high school sweethearts who'd been living separate lives for decades and came together recently and married because R said, "I thought about when I was happiest in my life and it was when I was with C."  Having twins myself, I was curious about the three sets of twins in our class, and sadly two sets are estranged.  Everyone had stories to tell: loving J with an alcoholic parent, the divorce that left perky M a single mom raising four little ones on her own; H who surprisingly only learned after her mother passed that she was Jewish and survived the Holocaust.

For me, it was a chance to revisit what was true for me then, especially two stand-out incidents: In Mister Burson Wasn't a Nice Person I wrote of my indignance when my geometry teacher called me "stupid" but at the reunion was infuriated to learn that (in a different class) he'd called fun-loving M a "dum-dum."  She told me she hadn't been able to walk out but his negative words left their impact.  When she shared this parallel insult it confirmed for me what I thought about Mr. Burson back then as a sophomore  he was an awful teacher and should have been FIRED.  

And a big thanks to B who remembered being in class when dear Father Ryan lost his temper with me.  B validated the mortification I felt that day and the humbling pall that fell over the class at Mr. Ryan's uncharacteristic action.

Despite my trepidations I was warmed when Bl's first words to me were "Hello Denise…" and I was pleased when after the reunion C emailed , "Man, you are some dancer, you got the whole crowd going! "  and despite the fact that after partying too hard when I sat down to talk to Br  I fell off my chair (thank you for being so chivalrous about it), I was struck by an unmistakable fact.  Out of about 250 kids, sixty of us from the Class of '70 came together to greet one another, catch up, share our memories, drink, laugh, dance, and be one again.  It was pretty damn great.

Still there were things I wanted to say, questions I wanted to ask, people I missed, people I didn't get to talk to.   

Guess I'll have to show up again — for the 50th.  

Maybe, just maybe, I belonged more than I knew.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The New York Public Library - A Treasure To Discover

Luckily I had a half-hour free before meeting an old friend for lunch right around the block from the main branch of the New York Public Library, a massive building I used to frequent decades ago when Manhattan was my home. Behind the famous majestic lions, marble steps, and columned facade of "the Beaux-Arts landmark building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street" there are always wonders to behold.  Now named the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (thank you Mr Schwarzman for all you did to preserve and enrich the exterior of this magnificent place) inside I have always loved seeing what this building is besides books, books, and more books. 

Over Here  WWI and the Fight for the American Mind  is an exhibit that traces how the American People were "sold" on our involvement in the Great War. 

This small exhibit is set in a glorious room that my photos won't do justice to (no flash allowed) but I hope you'll get a sense of the intensity and interest of the display. Great graphics on a backdrop of marble and ornamented crown moldings...

Along with the beauty of the room, I loved the way the exhibit showed the progression of public sentiment through sheet music…beginning with the adamant reluctance to get involved with

to the slow and reluctant acknowledgement of the coming storm...

to George M. Cohan's rousing rallying cry (following the sinking of the Lusitania) with the most popular song of the Great World War...

and finally to the demand that people engage with the war effort and stand up for being AN AMERICAN!

Appropriately the exhibit gave a look at the effort of the public libraries to do their bit and the play on children as part both those to engage and those to protect...

(Below) This was an advertisement in 
the Ladies' Home Journal, October 1918.

As I left the exhibit…

I noticed the commemorative plaque honoring those from the library who fought (and died) in THE World War (because they truly thought there would only ever be one)

I looked up at the magnificent ceilings and down at the ornate doors and doorways,

...into the lovely book/giftshop to the treasures for adults and especially for children.

There I was, leaving the library...and just when I thought my library adventure had ended, as I walked down 41st Street toward my friend, all along the way, embedded in the sideway, were plaques celebrating books and words…

And there it was.  A message meant for me.  A kick to my writer's block.

I am trying to tell the truth about myself, but it is hard…so very hard.