The “Go Home” Button

I’m now doing a commute by car to Long Island, an hour or more each way depending on traffic.  There are a number of alternate routes, some more obscure than others.  I was aware of a few of them but I’ve learned a great deal in the past few months from the Traffic

Chico and me on the farm
Chico and me on the farm

Alert function on my GPS.  It’s nothing fancy, a refurbished Garmin Nuvi, but I’ve learned to listen when it yells, “Severe traffic ahead!  Recalculating!”

It has taken me on scenic tours of parts of the Bronx to avoid traffic jams, some a lovely surprise like Pelham Bay Park or the Moshulu Parkway, which winds around in back of the Bronx Zoo, and others where I wished I had an armed guard riding shotgun with me.  It sent me through Queens in a snowstorm, winding through a few ethnic neighborhoods and then ending on the LIE (Long Island Expressway, for my non-New-York readers.)  I found out later it avoided  a car fire on the Cross Island Expressway.

All in all, it’s a learning experience, if an exhausing one sometimes.  My favorite function of all is the button on screen labeled “Go Home.”  Wherever I may be, I can touch Go Home and the satellite will guide me, around traffic and obstacles, the fastest way home that it sees.

On these long drives I get into a contemplative mood (unless someone cuts me off) and I have started wishing for a “Go Home” button in my life.  Sort of like Dorothy clicking her heels in the “Wizard of Oz,” but I’d like to be able to go through time and space to places, times and sometimes people when I felt safe and loved, or pleased and happy, or just content, and revisit them again.

I guess that’s a function memory serves.  But I would like to see Mother frying chicken, walk with Daddy to the tobacco barn, my dog trailing behind and startling birds or rabbits, or listen to my uncle Jesse (known as Fatty because he was so thin as a boy) playing guitar and singing old songs.  I’d like to eat my first meal in Paris, in a faded bistro with a fat old German shepherd eyeing my dessert.  I’d like to be back at Bear Lake in the summer on the pontoon boat with the cooling breeze of the boat’s motion.  I’d like to be there.

Until someone invents a time machine I’ll have to keep working with memory, and trying to add more to that vault of good feelings, and trying to forget the bad ones.  Peace out, and have a good week.

I am Woman, Hear Me Roar

Gloria Steinem, 1971
Gloria Steinem, 1971

I’ve been reading Gail Collins’s book, “When Everything Changed:  The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present.”  It’s a really interesting, well-researched story.  What amazes me, however, is that I was there and participating in the change for a good portion of this history.

Along with my friends, my sisters, my boyfriends, and classmates, we were all part of history and didn’t even realize it at the time!  At least, I didn’t think of it as changing history–I thought of what I did as standing up for myself and trying to make the kind of life I wanted.  More accurately, I knew what kind of life I didn’t want, and was determined to go a different way.

I didn’t want to be stuck on a farm doing hard physical labor and dependent on my husband or neighbors to drive me anywhere, like my poor mother.  Item #1 on the independence agenda:  Learn to drive!  I’m flabbergasted that fewer kids are learning to drive now.

I wanted to learn, to get a good job, to support myself.  Item #2 on the agenda:  Go to college.  Mother and Daddy were in strong agreement with this.  Their whole intent was for us kids to have a better life than they did, and college was the road to that.

I wanted to make a good living, travel, see the wide world.  Item #3:  Graduate degree.  I think that’s where the reality of the change I was pushing for really hit me.  My class at Wharton was 28% female, and most of the male percentage was not very welcoming (except the ones who were looking for high-earning wives.)  One guy said to me, “You know you got in under a quota.”  I asked him what his GMAT score and GPA were, and he wouldn’t tell me.

That was just the beginning of what I had to face in the business world–and still continue to face.  Women have made tremendous strides, but we still get paid less for the same work.  We still carry more responsibility for family and home while working more and more hours.

I used to get alarmed when I saw young girls continuing to play dumb to attract boys.  I’m glad that more of them are strong enough to not play those games.  The real lesson from the women’s movement for all women is:  Be prepared to take care of yourself.  The old social contract of the stay-at-home wife and breadwinner husband was irretrievably broken by bad economic times in the 1970’s, and there is no going back.  Even without equal pay for equal work, we still gotta work.

The other lesson I think we’re all still trying to learn is to respect ourselves, be kind to ourselves, and stop blaming ourselves when life is not controllable.  As women, we’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got.

Looking Forward, Looking Back

Mother and Daddy at home on the farm
Mother and Daddy at home on the farm

I always get contemplative at this time of year.  I think we all go into the new year hoping for the best, making resolutions, looking for better days.  Most of us think, “If I could lose 20 pounds, my life would change for the better,” or “If I got a new job, everything would be great!”  We look back as well.  Remembering the bad times and the good, progress made or lost–I think of that Bruce Springsteen line, “One step forward, two steps back.”

A lot of us have had to face a new reality during the years of the Great Recession and afterward.  The old life is not coming back.  That job, that money, that ease of living, will not be ours again.  It’s the new normal, and unpleasant as it may be, we have to adjust.

Like most people in their 50s, I didn’t expect this.  But when I remember my parents, I see that it happened to them as well, for different reasons.

Daddy worked for several years for a government contractor driving ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) into the tunnels where they were stored after the warheads were assembled.  Yes, that’s really what my dad did for a living!  But when the Vietnam War came about, gradually the cold war lost emphasis, government spending for nuclear “defense” was cut–and Daddy was laid off.  His life was never the same.

He was reduced to doing hard physical labor, unloading trucks and carrying meat in to the commissary freezers at Ft. Campbell, KY when he was in his late 50s.  He had a heart attack and couldn’t do that job any more, so he drove a school bus.  All the while he was farming our small farm.  He died of his second heart attack not long after I graduated from college.

The good news in all this was, he loved the farm and was never happier than when he was feeding the cows or driving the tractor.  We managed to keep our house and the farm despite mortgages, and when Daddy died there was property to sell so Mother had something to live on.  It was never carefree or easy, but we had family and friends and fun.

So when I feel like whining I try to remember that this is a new cycle and I’ve been given a second chance to keep going, to make this life work.  And hopefully to have some fun along the way!

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,000 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 17 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Winter Blues

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s a melancholy day here.  I can’t believe it’s snowing this early in December.  And it’s snow mixed with freezing rain, forecast to turn to black ice later tonight.  Too miserable to go out, but I’m restless inside.

When I was growing up in Tennessee snow was a rare occurance, and greeted with delight.  A snow day!  We got to stay home from school!  I remember one storm when I was small that left over a foot of snow, something that almost never happened.  My brother went out sled riding with his friends and got run over by one of the boys.  The sled runner must have been sharp because it sliced his knee open and he had to have stitches.

Ice storms were more common.  They were actually frightening because the power could go out in addition to the roads getting slick.  Once when I was home from college there was a massive ice storm and the power was out for a few days.  Mother cooked on the wood-burning stove in the garage, and Daddy hauled water up from the well since the pump couldn’t work without electricity.  It was so cold that Mother even let my German shepherd come in the garage with us.  He was rarely allowed to come inside since Mother thought having pets in the house was low-class and dirty.  Poor Chico was so happy!  He always wanted to be an indoor pet, despite his size.

In recent years we’ve had ice storms here, which used to be uncommon.  One of my friends calls it “global weirding,” to explain the more violent weather we seem to get.  Big parts of Connecticut were without power for weeks due to tree branches taking down power lines.

So I guess a relatively mild snow and ice event is nothing to complain about.  Still, I feel grumpy and blue.  So I’ll post a picture of a Christmas tree and go watch some cat videos.  Light activities for dark days!  Any hints for cheering yourself up in the winter weather are welcome!

Cowboys in Tuscany

The Culprits
The Culprits

All Americans are not cowboys, but sometimes we think we are.  This story comes from the summer when a group of us rented a villa outside Panzano, Italy for a week.   The villa was on a working farm.

The owners lived in the other wing of the house and grew grapes and olives.  They had two little girls and an extremely friendly dog who loved to visit at mealtimes.  They also kept a couple of horses, Oskar and Luna, for riding. Our group enjoyed looking at the rolling hills  and watching the horses graze while we sat on the terrace sipping wine.

One day half the group went to San Gimignano.  The rest of us decided to have a lazy day at the villa’s pool.  Sally had broken a bone in her foot six weeks before we left for Italy.  She had walked through Rome, Florence and Siena in an orthotic boot, so she thought a day at the pool would be a nice break.

Sally, Scott, Nancy and I were sitting on the terrace reading and relaxing when  we heard a clopping sound.  Oskar and Luna were standing in the yard looking at us, and the fence was down.  Sally jumped up and caught both horses by their halters, while I tried to find some rope so we could tie them up.  There was no rope to be found, so Scott closed the farm’s electric gate to keep them from straying onto the road.  The owners were away in Florence for the day, so Nancy called them on their mobile phone and reported the problem.

Oskar and Luna were patient with us, but they didn’t stand still, and they had big, heavy hooves.  One of them shifted his weight and stepped on Sally’s broken foot!  She yelled and let him go.  The horses drifted to the front yard, and Sally put an ice pack on her foot.

Then a real Italian cowboy arrived, on a motorbike.  The owners had called him to come fix the fence and get the horses in.  He had a ponytail and a tan, and wore cargo shorts, sunglasses, and hiking boots.  He was quite handsome.  He said something like, “Los cavallos escapa,” and we said, “Si, si.”

The horses had broken their water pipe and were thirsty.  So our cowboy fixed the pipe, repaired the fence, put the horses back in their field, and buzzed off on his motorbike.

Fortunately Sally’s foot was only bruised, not broken again.  She elevated it and daydreamed about the cowboy.

Superstorm Sandy and the Halloween That Wasn’t

011_Halloween_pumpkins[1]I was just thinking of last year’s Halloween experiences in my village and what was happening a year ago.  My friend Caroline was here from the Netherlands to see the sights and visit NYC.  We’d heard warnings of the storm, and my friends who worked in the city were hustling to get home before it hit.  It didn’t seem that serious until later in the day, when Caroline and I stood at my balcony door and watched the Hudson River overflow its banks.  No trains, no subways, no power in lower Manhattan for days–far beyond anything we had expected.

Fortunately up on my hill the power never went out, and we were safe through the storm.  All the Halloween attractions were shut down until the day poor Caroline was flying back home.  She did manage to get a couple of days of shopping in by taking a combination of trains and buses into Manhattan.  The only Halloween event she got was the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor, which reopened the day she was leaving, so we saw the pumpkins and I took her to JFK.

This year the only storm has been an onslaught of tourists!  But on a weekday it’s fairly placid.  The leaves have finally turned.  The village Halloween parade was filled with revelers last Saturday, packing the streets afterward.  It’s fun to see your neighbors dressed as Annie Oakley or wheeling the mechanical spider they built on a gurney through town.  I discovered there are at least three Headless Horsemen currently working in the village, not counting the one on the Fox TV show.

So I’m counting my blessings this year as I look back at last year.  I hope we don’t see a storm like that again!  And a Happy Halloween to all.

Halloween’d

320px-The_Headless_Horseman_Pursuing_Ichabod_Crane[1]My village has officially become a tourist destination.  When I saw the first tour bus parked on Main Street a few weeks ago, my first thought was, huh?  The walking tour with a microphone-wielding guide kind of threw me yesterday.  Maybe it was the tourist carrying a chihuahua in his backpack (so not Tarrytown.)  Then I realized it was inevitable.

The first step was when North Tarrytown changed its name to Sleepy Hollow a few years ago.  In fairness, the area really was known as Sleepy Hollow long before the time that Washington Irving wrote about Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman.  But for some reason that village was incorporated as North Tarrytown.  It’s also not apparent to me why there ever were two villages (Tarrytown and North Tarrytown), but that has been the case for many years.  They have separate police and fire departments and each has its own mayor, village trustees and judges.   However, they do share a school district.

The name change was a smart marketing move.  There are a number of historic properties in each village, including Philipsburg Manor (Sleepy Hollow), Kykuit (Tarrytown/Pocantico Hills), Lyndhurst (Tarrytown), Sunnyside (Washington Irving’s home, also in Tarrytown), the Old Dutch Church (Sleepy Hollow) and the Old Dutch Burying Ground (Sleepy Hollow).  The Union Church at Pocantico Hills with its amazing stained glass windows comissioned by the Rockefellers is nearby.  And the Headless Horseman’s ride was reputed to be close by the cemetary.  Both villages began to market themselves in a small way, and Historic Hudson Valley, a nonprofit which owns and manages many of the historic properties, began to advertise a bit and get the word out.  Tourist traffic had been building slowly, and the local restaurants were pleased to see an increase last year–until Superstorm Sandy hit town.  Historic Hudson Valley also souped up the events at its properties and created new ones, like the Great Jack o’Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor.

But what really stuck a match to the firecracker was the new TV show, “Sleepy Hollow.”  Granted, it bears basically no resemblance to Washington Irving’s characters or to the real villages.  One of my neighbors was joking that the two villages between them don’t have enough police cars to fill up one scene in the show.  As a result of the publicity, however, we have tour buses, walking tours with guides on Main Street in Tarrytown, and foreign tourists showing up on the River Walk by the Hudson.

It’s kind of fun but a little weird when you’re used to living in a (really) sleepy albeit beautiful village like Tarrytown, named one of the 10 most beautiful in the country by Forbes last year.  I’ve always enjoyed the feeling that it was our own special secret, living in such a historic, lovely and low-key place.  The big event of the Halloween season used to be the Ragamuffin Parade, when the little kids would wear their costumes and walk from Patriots Park to the Y (early years) or more recently the fire station on Main Street and see the fire trucks.  I’m told that years ago a person dressed as the Headless Horseman used to ride through the neighborhoods on Halloween and scare people.  Now the Headless Horseman figures in our Halloween Parade and appears at events.

The locals curse the traffic, but we’re all glad to see more revenue coming to town.  And with any luck, once Halloween passes and the autumn leaves have fallen, we’ll go back to being a couple of quiet, charming villages once again.

Stormy Weather

A boat left high and dry by Superstorm Sandy
A boat left high and dry by Superstorm Sandy

I still think of fall the way it was when I grew up in the South.  The weather grew gradually cooler, the leaves turned red and gold and brown, and slow, heavy rains washed them off the trees.  By late November the leaves were gone, the branches “bare ruined choirs” as the poem says, and we settled in for the chill of winter.  I don’t recall violent storms or tornados once we were past the summer.

Living closer to the ocean has taught me about hurricanes and tropical storms.  I always pictured them as a phenomenon of Florida or the Gulf Coast.  Picture Bogie and Bacall in “Key Largo” (a really great movie to watch during hurricane season.)  Until recent years I never realized those storms could do damage not only at the shore, but several miles inland.  They can even carry their violence and damage for hundreds of miles from the ocean.  Who knew?  I saw it last year outside my window, watching the Hudson River overflow its banks during Superstorm Sandy.

So now the fall brings with it a shiver of unease.  I hadn’t really thought about it until some friends were discussing the date of the village Halloween parade for this year and how it’s been cancelled for the last two years, due to a snowstorm (yes!) and then Sandy last year.  Another friend remarked about the storm that roared through yesterday, “Trees are not our friends.”

But today is a placid, blue-sky autumn day.  No signs of clouds or winds or witches on broomsticks blown past the window.  A perfect day to sky-write, “Surrender, Dorothy.”

The Autumnal Equinox

I’m always amazed how quickly things change when the official first day of fall arrives.  The equinox (the date when day and night are of equal length) only happens twice a year, spring and fall.  Here in the northern hemisphere, the spring equinox signals we’re DSCN0162heading toward the long days of summer, culminating in Midsummer, or the summer solstice.  The fall equinox means  the shorter days and longer nights are accelerating toward winter, peaking at the winter solstice, or the shortest day.  Then the days slowly get longer again.  The cycle is as old as the earth itself, I suppose.

Here’s a cool infographic that explains why this happens:  http://www.livescience.com/31264-season-season-earth-equinoxes-solstices-infographic.html

Fall is a melancholy time of year, but to me it’s the most beautiful.  I love it that summer goes away in a burst of bright colors before the bleakness of winter.  The leaves haven’t started changing yet where I live, but the weather is slowly cooling, and it’s harder to get up before 7 a.m. when the sun rises.

As a child I remember looking forward to Halloween and Thanksgiving.  I didn’t look forward so much to standing out in the dark, waiting for the school bus in the morning!  I remember seeing the sun come up from a school bus window as the bus wound its way through the hills of the countryside, mist rising from the hollows.

And here in Sleepy Hollow Country, Halloween has turned into a big celebration!  I’m still stunned to see busloads of tourists coming down Route 9.

Let’s enjoy the brilliance of fall.  Winter comes soon enough.

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