Thursday, February 28, 2013

My daughter and I took an Amtrak train to New York the other day. As we stood on the platform, I listened to an announcement over the loudspeaker telling passengers which cars were "business class" and which were something called "quiet cars." The train was crowded enough that we were happy just to find a seat, but I was a little intrigued by the "quiet car" concept, so I looked it up on my phone.

Amtrak says people who sit in quiet cars have to talk in subdued tones. Actually, they shouldn't talk much at all, and they definitely can't make or answer calls. Anything that might ding has to be muted, and even the lights are dimmed.

I think Amtrak is on to something. At home, I have a place like that, and it happens to be my car. It's become a habit that when I pull into the driveway, my children get out while I stay in. Often I'll sit and sift through emails (or, if I'm being totally honest, Facebook or Instagram) on my phone. Sometimes I'll listen to a story on the radio. That time in the car is my escape.

The bathroom - a place where lots of people like to hide out - doesn't work as well for me. Inevitably there are visitors to the bathroom. Usually they knock, but sometimes they don't.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My daughter Kate, as I've mentioned here before, is 13. You've heard me talk about her age because I can't quite believe it. I've had half a year to process this age, and still. How is possible she's a teenager, how in the world did it happen so fast, and how can I be the mother of a teenager when I was one myself just a minute ago (I know - ha)? I realize parents say this at every single age: How can it be that you're a month, a year, four years old, 10? For me, it's 13.

Kate got her hair cut the other day, and the stylist asked her what grade she's in. When she answered 7th, the woman looked quickly over at me with an expression that said "you poor thing." And then she said it out loud. You poor thing. I wasn't sure if she was referring to me or to Kate, but I understood her message. She went on to say she would not go back to 7th grade for anything in the world. She'd choose any year in high school over 7th grade.

What interested me about this conversation was that, though I knew Kate was listening, she seemed unaffected, unimpressed. And that's the thing about 13 and 7th grade: You're in it and it's all you know at that moment and it's OK. Certainly not every day is OK, and for some, few days are. But the other day, when I was driving Kate and two elementary-school friends home, we passed their old school. I asked them whether, if they could choose, they would go back or stay where they are. Instantly, they each said they would choose Middle School. They like going from class to class. They like that there are so many kids. They like that they're older. They like being 7th graders.

Someday they might say something different. They might say they wouldn't go back to 7th grade for anything in the world. But not now. For now, this is what they know. This is who they are.

(Getty Images)


Monday, February 25, 2013

I ran into a friend yesterday whose wife had a baby a month ago. When I asked if they were sleeping - how many times a day do you think they hear that question - he said they've come up with a plan. Because they're photographers with their own business (and flexible work schedules), they split nighttime duty. Jo, the mom, sleeps from 9:00 at night until 3:00 in the morning. At 3:00, Dave goes to bed and sleeps until 9:00 (a.m., not p.m.!).

Clearly, they can't do this forever - and won't have to, even much longer. But I wonder if sleep ever stops being an issue. We're not at the curfew stage yet (eek), but I find I stay up so much later than I should because a.) my kids are up later; and b.) I need time once they've gone to bed. Time for things like laundry and cleaning up, but also time for sitting at the computer or reading or, like last night, watching the Oscars. Just time. And sometimes taking that time at night makes the morning harder than it should be. I'm grumpy and rushed and yell silently at myself for not going to bed earlier.

Like Jo and Dave, I probably need a plan. A go-to-bed-so-much-earlier plan. But then again, I may just enjoy the fact that I'm not waking up in the middle of the night - until I am again, once curfews kick in.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I read an article the other day in The New York Times Style Section about the Mexican town of Merida, where artists, architects, and other creative types have been busy buying up haciendas and renovating them. Some have moved there full-time; others visit for several weeks each year. It used to be towns like San Miguel de Allende that drew these artists, but over time, those towns became too popular.

My great-aunt Dorcas was a painter who lived for years in San Miguel, before it filled with what the Times piece calls "American snowbirds." I visited her there once, with my mother and sister, when she was quite elderly. Toward the end of our trip, we went to a party given in her honor that included a sale of some of her paintings. My sister and I each picked out a painting, and mine is now in my dining room. It was my first piece of "real" art.

Several years later, my sister and I were going through boxes in my mother's basement, and we came across a sketchbook that belonged to my aunt. The sketches - all flowers - look like they were done in thin black marker, and the paper has faded to yellow. I'm not sure anyone would ever buy them, but to me they're beautiful.

I hung six of these sketches in our family room, next to a crayon drawing of a fish (care of my daughter) and a painting of a small orange house (done by either my sister or me - we're not sure who - when were were little) to add color. I think Dorcas, who loved color above all else, might approve.

But one last story: Dorcas once offered to do a painting for my father. She asked him what he'd like, and he said he'd like something that reminded him of the sea, with lots of blues and grays and greens. The photo below is that painting. Not what my dad was expecting, perhaps, but done in her own way and possibly my favorite of all.

Oh, those Housewives

Monday, February 18, 2013

I'd like to think that everyone has at least a few guilty pleasures, and one of mine is most definitely "The Housewives of Beverly Hills." I tape it each week so I can watch in secret. I mute it immediately if my husband walks by or my daughter comes in. Truthfully, I'm embarrassed. At the same time, I can't not watch. I find these women endlessly entertaining. I don't love it when they shout and hurl accusations at each other, but neither do I turn off the TV. So what's to like? I love the closets, the dressing rooms, the pools, and the kitchens, of course. But I also like that, despite the outward fabulousness of their lives, they feel stressed, they get their feelings hurt, and they act goofy. And that's the best part of all: Many of these women are simply funny. They make me laugh out loud every single week. And I shouldn't be ashamed of that.

Photo by

Good book for a long weekend

Friday, February 15, 2013

I finished The Light Between Oceans a few nights ago, but I'm still thinking about it today. I often don't want to get to the end of a good book simply because I don't want it to be over. This was different. There are so many emotional ups and downs in this book that I hoped the end would offer some relief! I won't tell you if it did or not, but it's worth reading to find out.

Quick summary: An Australian couple lives on a remote island where he works as a lighthouse keeper. She's desperate for children after two miscarriages and a stillbirth. She thinks it's her imagination when, one day, she hears a baby crying. A boat has washed up carrying a dead man and a living baby. The woman convinces her husband to let her keep the tiny girl. But when they return to the mainland for a visit, they're reminded, as the front cover says, "that there are other people in the world [and] their choice has devastated one of them."

Warning: A friend read this for her book club and thought it was all too much. Too painful to the very end. Most of the other book clubbers loved it. I did, too.

(Photo by Oliver Hammond via Flickr)

Pink hydrangea

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My plan was to run quickly in and out of Whole Foods late yesterday afternoon. I was getting some chicken for dinner, but it took me almost 15 minutes to get through the flower section at the front of the store. There, just past the roses and tulips, were dozens of beautiful hot-pink hydrangeas. It almost startled me to see them there. They seemed so out of place and of a different time (summer). I started chatting with a woman standing next to me, who already had put one of the hydrangeas in her cart. She told me she would try to keep it alive through winter and replant it once the ground thaws. She reminded me that the soil determines its color, so it might not end up being the same fabulous pink. No matter. I was just happy to be talking about it. I put one in my cart, too, and followed my new gardener friend into the store.

Flowers for Valentine's Day

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

It isn't that I don't like Valentine's Day. In fact, it's one of my favorites. I think if there's going to be a holiday celebrating a sentiment, that sentiment should be love. It's just that, as predicted, I'm not quite ready. I've bought cards for my family. I've helped my eight-year-old cut wings and feet for her owl Valentines. But that's all so far. That may be all, period.

This is one of the reasons I admire my sister, Elizabeth. She is ready. The cards she sent have arrived in the mail. She even had a dinner party last weekend with a Valentine's theme. I love the combination of fresh flowers in greens and whites mixed with pink hearts standing in cups of M&Ms. Her table was colorful and whimsical, and I'm sure her party was very fun. Who wouldn't like that?

(All photos by Elizabeth Bear)

A thought on fashion

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

It's New York Fashion Week, but I'm thinking less about couture and more about skinny jeans. I may be among the very last to get on board the skinny-jeans bandwagon. I've always believed that skinny jeans are for true skinnies. Love them, just not on me. Until...

Two events took place one after the other. The first was reading an essay by fashion photographer and blogger Garance Dore on, yes, skinny jeans. In it, she swore they are the most comfortable, most flattering type of jeans out there. She said she won't wear anything else.

The next was my walk through a store where I came across a pair of skinny jeans on sale for a price that made it impossible not to stop. To at least think about it. I figured I would take them home, try them on, and bring them back. I'd return to my straight-but-not-too-straight jeans. But then something happened. The jeans fit, they were comfortable, and while they may not be transforming, I think they look OK. Best of all, when I put on my boots, they slip right in, no tucking or scrunching required. I love that. So now I'm hoping this still-going skinny-jeans trend will hang on, just a little bit longer.

(Photo by The Sartorialist for Tiffany & Co. "True Love in Pictures" Project)

Found it!

When I was thinking a while back about topics for this blog, underwear wasn't one of them. I have a 10-year-old who whispers when he says the word "bra," and he'd rather avoid the topic altogether (won't be easy with two sisters). But the other day I bought a bra that changed how I feel about wearing them. It's the most comfortable I've worn in a very long time, in the nicest shade of pale gray. It's from the Gap, so it's easy to find, but I know it's not for everyone. There's not a wire to be seen, and its light, soft fabric might be too much lightness and softness for some. For me, though, this is it. Definitely no need to whisper.

(Photo by Life Magazine)


Saturday, February 9, 2013

It's hard to talk about weather, as strange as that might sound. In New England, it seems that weather is often all we talk about. Right now, for instance, it's snowing, the wind is blowing, and nearly everything is closed. We're expected to get at least two feet of snow by the time this storm is over.

It's easy for me to say I like snow and stormy weather because I have a warm house, enough food to eat, and people to keep me company. I know there are those who don't have any of these things. I also know the damage storms can do and have done, too often, in recent years.

So it's a little hard to talk about liking storms, just as it's hard to complain about them. But this blizzard reminds me of the endless number of snow storms we had two years ago, when drifts piled high above our heads because the snow never had time to melt before another 15 inches fell.

That was the winter we decided to get a puppy. We drove up to Maine to see her for the first time in a snow storm. Soon after Clementine arrived home, it began to snow and seemed never to stop. She needed to be taken out almost around the clock. My children had promised they would help take care of this sweet dog, but I had to nag them constantly to do it, and I felt resentful. At the time, I had more pressing family responsibilities than usual, and I wondered if I should have taken on one more. I cried often.

There wasn't one moment that turned everything around. The snow still fell, the wind still howled, and the dog still needed to go out. It just got easier, little by little. My friends who had dogs had said it would, and they were right. By the time Spring arrived, we were OK. And miracle of miracles, the next winter it hardly snowed at all. I was grateful for that.

I realize my struggle that winter was nothing compared with what people deal with all too often. And I can honestly say I'm back to liking winter. Clementine likes it better than any of us. It's almost as if she was born for snow.

Warm up

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Maybe it's because I've been cold all winter, but I enjoyed reading about a new restaurant in San Francisco's Mission District (where the 18- to 20-course tasting menu costs $248 per person!) called Saison. It was featured in one of my all-time favorite design blogs, Remodelista, and there was one small detail that caught my eye. The owners have draped a throw (in their case, cashmere) over each dining room chair "in case diners catch a chill." And if you're so lucky to be seated at a booth, you get a whole stack of them. The chairs in my dining room are modern and, truth be told, a little hard and a little cold. I just may have found a solution to a warmer winter.

Photos by Remodelista


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

I feel Valentine's Day creeping up. Like Halloween before it, it may be a mad dash at the end. My two children still in elementary school will need to make 42 Valentines between them, one for each child in class. So far, no one has made mention of this, including me, the buyer of supplies. I did come across this sweet film, though, made by Disney and nominated for an Oscar. To me, it feels very Valentine-ish. Take a look, if you'd like. And tomorrow perhaps we'll start those cards.

High-tech, low-tech

Friday, February 1, 2013

I've been thinking about chalkboards, and specifically the chalkboard we have in our kitchen. It's not new, it's certainly not unique, and it's so very low-tech. But that's why I've been thinking about it. There has been a lot of talk at my children's elementary school about putting iPads in the classroom, the interactive "Smartboards" that are already there, and the future of technology in general. I'm as dependent as anyone on my phone, our iPad, my laptop, etc., etc. But I do love my chalkboard.

When we renovated our kitchen, someone had the idea of putting chalkboard panels in the pantry door. I had visions of children entertaining themselves for hours. And though they will draw something on there every once in awhile, I'm the one who uses it. All the time. Whatever I would write on a little piece of paper, I write on the chalkboard. There's no better feeling than wiping an item off a list with a damp paper towel (though I also like the look of smudgy chalkboards). And if someone (i.e. child) asks me to do something, go somewhere, or pick something up, it has to go on the chalkboard or good chance it will never happen. Not in this house.

Happy weekend.

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