Snow and Spring

We’re feeling a little battered up here by our fourth nor’easter in three weeks.  It adds insult to injury that it’s snowing on the second day of spring.  At least the daffodils and tulips haven’t started to bloom yet, so they aren’t freezing or covered with snow.

This time of year I long for bright colors and warmth.  Too many months of black and white and gray make spring seem even further away.  Maybe it’s time to make an Easter basket and pretend the snow isn’t there.

My mother loved dyeing eggs, in the most vivid shades possible.  She’d dip them until they were deep purple or robin’s egg blue.  No pastels for her!  She also loved to shop for my Easter basket.  She knew I loved stuffed animals, so every year I got one along with the chocolate rabbit and the other candy in my basket.  She still made Easter baskets for me when I was in high school.

Mother was also a fan of the elaborate cakes featured in Good Housekeeping and other “women’s magazines” for holidays.  One year she tried to duplicate one for Easter that used tiered cake pans (like a wedding cake), decorated with coconut nests dyed green and jelly beans for Easter eggs.  I think the cake must have been too “short” (too much butter/shortening) because the layers crumbled as she iced it.  It ended up looking like a mountain with coconut nests clinging to the sides.

My nephew and I told her it was pretty and ate big slices when she cut it.  And it was delicious!  It just didn’t look like the magazine picture.

I wish you and yours the colors of Easter eggs, the sweetness of chocolate, and lots of spring flowers!

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Where Did the Summer Go?

When I was a child in Tennessee, summer started by Memorial Day and ended around the third week of August when we went back to school.  My elementary school was not air conditioned, and we sweltered in class until at least the middle of September.  In those badPlaid_1950s_Shirtwaist_dress old days girls were not allowed to wear pants or shorts to school.  Some clever retailer invented “dark cotton” dresses, knee-length dresses in plaids and fall colors but made of lightweight cotton so you didn’t faint in the heat.  Those dresses did duty until well into October with a light sweater if needed.  Often it wasn’t, and even Halloween was still warm weather.  Patent leather shoes and white anklets completed a girl’s school wardrobe, which we went shopping for in the dog days of August.

Summer here doesn’t seem to end until mid-September.  The kids are back to school after Labor Day, but the outdoor grill at the boat club on the Hudson hangs on for a few more weekends, weather permitting.  Yet all the free outdoor concerts and Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival are done by Labor Day weekend.  And I can see the days getting shorter as we move toward the autumnal equinox.

Where did the summer go?  Mine seems shorter than usual to me because I started a new job and did not take a vacation.  That said, I did do some of my favorite summer things:  went to the Jazz Forum Arts concerts at Lyndhurst a few times (two more opportunities, weather permitting); had picnics at those concerts with friends, and a lavish French-style picnic with a group of gourmet friends; went to Hudson Valley Shakespeare twice; and saw Justin Peck’s Dance Americana at Kykuit, a truly magical evening.  I also saw a dance performance at the Lincoln Center Festival with a new friend from the new job.  And there were a few dinners and get-togethers with friends, as well as time to collapse on the couch and read a good book (ok, not much time for that!)

I’m going to meet up with my sisters on Labor Day weekend, so the summer will end with a family note.  I’m determined to enjoy these last few weeks, especially when the heat wave breaks.  I hope you are all enjoying the summer and will have a smooth transition into the fall.

 

Shall We Dance?

I went to a ballroom dance party last weekend with some friends.  This is not something I would normally do, but the party was sponsored by a local organization and was held by the local Fred Astaire Dance Studio.  It was a Saturday night, and I felt, why not?  Whendance-hustle1 you’re not a kid out clubbing, one gets few opportunities to dance.

The Fred Astaire instructors give these parties for their clients every month or so, so they knew how to accommodate both experienced dancers and people with two left feet.  I learned some new things (the rumba) and remembered some I had forgotten.

It came back to me in a rush that I had taken “social dance” classes before.  When I was in business school, I took free social dance classes to get away from the tension and have some fun.  Back then we did the fox trot (which I forgot completely),waltz, cha cha, Charleston, and the hustle and the Latin hustle.  The hustle stood me in good stead until disco died.  I taught it to my late boyfriend, who was a big fan of the Latin hustle despite his inability to stick to the beat.

After the party I felt really sad.  I had remembered how we used to roll up the rug in the living room of my boyfriend’s apartment and practice the hustle to Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” album or the Beegees.  His law school gave a “Sleazy Party” and we showed up dressed as quintessential disco dancers, me in a tight blue disco dress with spaghetti straps and him in flared pants and platform shoes.  He was convinced we were the best dancers on the floor.

It was a time of endless potential and limitless ambition.  We danced with abandon and knew the future was ours.

Some of the dancers at the party Saturday night had been around for the hustle in its heyday, too, and they swung and stepped with enthusiasm.  The ballroom version of the hustle is more complex, but it’s based on the same old steps, as one of the teachers commented.  “Keep your steps small and you can stay with the beat,” he said.  I remember running in high heels on the dance floor to keep up with my partner’s energetic swings in the past.

Wish I could still fit in that disco dress!

 

 

Five Reasons Why February Is Not So Bad

I just noticed my last post was commenting on how warm it was in December.  So much for that!  Now that it’s barely above zero where I live, it feels like a real February.  I’ve found Red_Heart___1.2011this a depressing month since my dad died in February many years ago.  But on this sub-zero Valentine’s Day, I decided there are reasons why February is a good month, too (in addition to my niece Judy’s birthday!)

  1. The days are finally starting to get longer.  When you have a long commute via car or train the late sunrises and early sunsets of winter in the north make each day a little grimmer.  I noticed last week that the sun was up before 7 a.m., hooray!  And the angle of the sun has changed, so there’s a pool of warm sunlight for the cat to lie in by late morning, and again in the afternoon on the other side of the condo.  So he’s happy, too.
  2. Some of us get a long weekend.  Not everyone gets Presidents Day as a holiday, but for those of us who do, it’s a welcome break in the long winter dreariness, without having to use a vacation day.  Any long weekend is a good thing, even if you don’t go anywhere special.
  3. Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be about romance.   I heard the other day that Valentine’s Day is the most popular day for pet adoption of the whole year!  That’s a great way to show what love really means, by giving a home to a homeless pet. Also, we can all show some love to the other people in our lives who aren’t romantic partners.  When I was younger I was sad if Valentine’s Day didn’t feature a date or a present, but now I like to think of all the kinds of love we give and get.  As the Beatles song says, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
  4. It’s a short month, and it’s almost March.  In the south, spring comes in March.  Up here, not so much–we still have another month of cold and potential snow.  But spring feels a lot closer than it did in December.  I’m dreaming of forsythia and crocuses…
  5. I can’t think of another reason.  But every good blogger knows that “five” and “seven” are magic numbers in blog post titles.  So use your creativity and make up your own fifth reason.  If it’s a good one, I’ll make it public.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Not Very Christmassy

Here  in New York it feels more like L.A., breaking 70 degrees on Christmas Eve!  I’m here instead of with my family because the unseasonable warmth caused thick fog yesterday, which made my flightchristmas-tree-la-quinta-re  be cancelled.  I will travel on Christmas Day instead, so all my plans are out of whack.

The good news is, my friends have stepped in so I won’t spend Christmas Eve alone.  I will see my family tomorrow.  But this unusual warmth reminds of all the places where it’s routinely warm at Christmas.  In Australia, it’s summertime; in Brazil, it never gets cold.  Even in L.A., winter tends to be rainy and gloomy only in January.

Did you know there’s a prelude to “White Christmas?” Irving Berlin wrote the song from the perspective of someone who’s not home for the holidays, and is homesick for a traditional Christmas.  Here’s how it reads:

The sun is shining, the grass is green, The orange and palm trees sway.
There’s never been such a day…in Beverly Hills, L.A.
But it’s December, the twenty-fourth,…..
And I am longing to be up North.

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…

It’s the most melancholy of Christmas songs.  It kind of hits that sweet spot of sad, nostalgic, and lovely all at the same time.

So here’s wishing all of you a Merry Christmas, white or not.  May your days be merry and bright…

 

Dogwood Winter

The other day I was talking to a young woman in my company’s North Carolina office.  I mentioned something about “redbud winter,” and she had no idea what I meant.  She’s not from North Carolina but settled there after going to college in the state.  So I explainedDSCN0102 about the “winters” that come during spring in the South, and she was enchanted.  I’ll share with my friends in case you don’t know.

I learned from my mother that in the South there are always cold snaps in the spring that coincide with when various trees and bushes bloom.  Redbud winter is the first one, when the redbud trees show their pinkish-purple blossoms.  They look like purple flames by the side of the road or in the underbrush of the woods.  A few weeks later comes dogwood winter, when the dogwoods open their lateral drifts of ivory flowers. They are my favorites, as elegant and spare as a Japanese ink drawing.  The last one is blackberry winter, when the blackberry bushes bloom in late spring.  When you see the blooms, you know there will be a few days of chilly weather.

One of the adjustments I’ve had to make to life in New York is that the whole spring season is very much compressed.  Instead of six to eight weeks, commencing with forsythia and the blooming bulbs, and ending with wisteria and the trees fully leaved, there is a hectic period of about a month.  This year everything was two weeks late due to the late snows we had.  So now the ornamental trees are blooming at the same time as the forsythia and the tulips and buttercups.  The willow trees are leafing.  And the dogwoods have not yet appeared.

Perhaps the cold spell this week will be dogwood winter, and my favorite trees will bloom.  No matter what may go wrong in the world, spring always manages to come somehow.  And the patterns in nature don’t change.  I can imagine my grandmother or great-grandmother looking out the kitchen window at the dogwoods blooming under the taller trees, and saying to herself, “It’ll be cold tomorrow.”

Blue Christmas

Last week we had a holiday potluck lunch at work.  People brought the usual assortment of fatty, salty and sweet treats, and the department sat around and ate together.  Some of the folks really don’t know each other all that well, and others really don’t like some of the 800px-Christmas_tree_bauble[1]others.  To get the conversation started, a well-meaning person said, “Let’s go around the table and tell what we’re doing for the holidays.”

This is a gambit loaded with pitfalls, and sure enough, they happened.  Not everybody has the perfect family, or a family, and many people don’t have anywhere to go.  One divorced woman was waiting on her infuriating sister to decide if she was hosting Christmas or not.  A single gay guy said he plans to sleep through it, since he will be singing in choirs or as a soloist (his side job) through Christmas Eve.  Our head of technology (a woman) sat at the table with tears sliding down her face.  She’s married, but they have always spent Christmas with her sister, who died a few months ago.

Christmas is a time of joy for many, of irritation for others, and of sadness for others still.  My father was always melancholy at Christmas because his mother died in December.  Mother would hiss at him, “George, cheer up, for the children!”

Perhaps the bluest Christmas I’ve ever had was the year after Daddy died.  Mother and I went through the motions, even traipsing out into the fields to cut down a cedar tree and dragging it back to the house to decorate.  It was too tall, and Uncle Floyd had to come over and cut the trunk shorter so we could get it in the living room.  We spent many a sad Christmas Day alone together after he died because Mother would not “intrude on someone else’s Christmas,” even though we were invited for dinner many times.

I learned my lesson from that.  If someone cares enough about me to invite me on a holiday, I’ll go.  If I can invite someone else who doesn’t want to be alone, I will.  And I admire the guy at work who just wants to sleep–sometimes you’ve had enough celebrating!  I’d like to thank the friends who give me a reason to celebrate Easter and Thanksgiving, and to thank my sister who makes Christmas happen each year.  And I’m grateful for the friends who help me celebrate throughout the year.

So, a happy Christmas to all, and let’s be sensitive to those who don’t have a picture-perfect holiday.  You may be showing kindness to an “angel, unawares.”