Monday, July 11, 2011

Because It's There

In preparation for our trip to Boulder, Colorado, for a week’s long “hiking vacation” (a term I found oxymoronic), we decided to practice on nearby Haycock Mountain. Of the single assault we made (yes, I said “assault”), I insisted on turning back about 30 yards from the top because a few big rocks were in the way. “We’re going to a city called Boulder,” my husband reminded me. “There’s a reason for that.”

My husband is a runner and I swim a mile every day: a laughable resume when you go from sea level to almost 6,000 feet in a few hours. Still, we believed we were fit to first take on the Flatiron trails in the foothills of the Rockies. Our goal: to reach the Royal Arch, another 1,200 feet…up.

“We’re…from Pennsylvania,” I managed to exhale again and again, defending our pace to passersby, or, rather, passers-us-by (including two elderly sisters, and a woman with a water pack strapped to her back and a baby strapped to her chest). After two-and-a-half hours, we finally got to the trailhead to find a photo of a group who’d completed this climb, circa 1910. I retied my T-shirt around my head (yes, I was also wearing a tank top and no, I hadn' brought a hat), then panting, I studied the women in their long dark skirts and pointy-toed boots. Yikes! If they could…. But this was our second day there, and almost out of water, we turned back.

In the days that followed, we packed more water as we plotted more ambitious courses – none of which we finished - the last one being Rocky Mountain National Park’s Bear Lake, still ringed with snow at an altitude of close to 10,000 feet.

“It’s getting late,” I said, when I saw hikers who’d passed us heading up now passing us coming down - bringing the sun along with them. Again, and for the last time on this trip, we cried “uncle.” “Let’s head back to Boulder and eat at Aji again,” I said. (Aji is a Peruvian restaurant, and, likely, the closest we will get to Machu Picchu.)

Anyway, now home, I am even sadder. Because my husband managed to snap pictures along the way, I – so focused on pushing past the “rocks of Haycock” – barely remember the prairie dogs poking up out of the mesa, or the massive bull elk wading into a pond a few feet away. A whole week in Colorado, and I didn’t stop to smell…the columbine.

So here are the lessons I want to share when it comes to having good outdoor fun this summer: 1) don’t be cocky; 2) bring plenty of water; 3) if a steep incline stops you, it’s because you’re supposed to stop to see...something.

And most important, because the sun will set: 4) don’t stray far from a good restaurant. Happy trails.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Towards Your Destination

Soon after I moved here, I found myself hopelessly lost along the back roads of Bucks. (Can one find him- or herself lost….?) My husband bought me a bunch of maps, which I stuffed under the driver seat, and then didn’t need after downloading VZ Navigator onto my nifty new Apple iPhone.

Now, my husband has an iPhone as well but refuses to pay 4.99 a month, so instead, he uses the Maps app that comes with the phone, its silent blue dot charting the entered course. If he calls after work from the car, instead of asking him what time he’ll be home, I’ll say: “So… Where’s your blue dot?” I like to make fun of it.

Anyway, at first, I had a powerful girl crush on my GPS, whom I named Penelope, until her holier-than-thou attitude began to bug me. So one night as I exited the parking lot of Panera Bread in Bethlehem, instead of the left Penelope commanded toward Route 22, I turned my wheel to the right, toward downtown, challenging her.

“Recalculating route,” Penelope said politely. “Make the next available u-turn.” I didn’t. “Recalculating route,” she repeated. Again and again, I passed Penelope’s suggested turns. “RECALCULATING ROUTE!” I imagined her throwing up her hands in disgust. It wasn’t until I was close to the Sands casino when she must have realized this was not going to end as she’d planned. “Turn left onto Route 412 and continue towards your destination.” I showed her who was really the boss, er, the driver, in this relationship.

So after that, in recent weeks, I believed Penelope and I had struck a respectful balance until the Sunday afternoon when my husband and I, en route to an event in Washington Crossing, pulled over so I could enter the address. (Focusing on anything but the road makes me car sick.) Did you mean…? Several addresses came on the screen, none of which was even in the state of Pennsylvania. “She doesn’t know where we’re going,” I said, and as I turned toward my husband, I found myself nose to nose with his phone. “Where’s my blue dot, you ask? Right here,” he said in even beats, tapping his screen with the bobbing orb, which got us to our event in time.

I was fearful at first that Penelope was exacting revenge for the Bethlehem “incident.” I had images of her one day leading me into the bowels of faraway nasty neighborhoods for the fun of it all. You know how mean those mean girls can be. But I centered myself, put an end to the Vietnam flashback to my 8th-grade schoolyard, stopped personifying my iPhone – remembering this is a phone – and did what comes naturally: blamed Verizon.

Friday, March 18, 2011

From All Other Nights

I always sat beside Uncle Moe, who’d cue me. “Why is this night different from all other nights?” I’d ask. And so began the Four Questions, with me, the youngest child at the Passover Seder, prompting a kind of overview of the Israelite exodus from Egypt.

As the ‘60s gave way to the ‘70s then ‘80s, as all of us cousins started families of our own, the dining room table sprouted massive “wings” of card tables laid end to end, with a “new” youngest child every few years. But with the passing of Uncle Moe, our large extended family splintered, everyone retreating to their own little corner of the northeast corridor, with Mom at her stove until she announced she was handing the baton, or, rather, ladle, to me. For almost two decades, I dutifully prepared a traditional Pesach meal. Except early in that tenure, Mom bullied the matzo balls back from me: “Yours are like golf balls,” she complained. Oh, and to save oven space, I’d sneak off to Boston Chicken and bury the aluminum-lined bags at the bottom of the trash. (Yikes, I guess now the chicken is out of the bag, so to speak.) We don’t keep kosher, but still….

Then two years ago, I moved here to Bucks, further fracturing the family tradition. So these days, my brothers gravitate toward their children and grandchildren, leaving Mom a free agent. But with every ending, there is a beginning.

Last year, with Mom at brother Sam’s house, my family attended an inclusive Seder at the BuxMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Warrington. I’d signed up weeks before to bring a dish. Not cook, bring. To continue a longstanding tradition, I ordered roasted chickens (kosher, just in case) for the more than 50 people who participated, many reading Hebrew phonetically from the Haggadah, the Passover story. As I recall, a blond woman with a Scandinavian accent asked the Four Questions.

So what made that night different from all other nights? For me, when I think back to Uncle Moe’s house, everything. Globally, though, despite our differences in background and ethnicities, we were sitting down to share a meal and a tradition, a coming together that doesn’t occur – or isn’t possible - in most places around the world.

Later this month, we will be attending our second Seder there. We’ve invited Mom, who’s oscillating between here and my brother Keith’s home. But something else will make this night different. While I’m still ordering chicken, I’m also bringing 150 matzo balls. Bringing as in cooking. You could say I’ve begun my own matzo-ball boot camp.

I’m sending Mom this column to lure…and guilt her.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

As Predictable as the Weather

Most everything you read in monthly magazines has been written a couple months earlier; but dtown has a nice, comfortable “closing” date, and I don’t need to get this column in till mid-month. But stuck in the house once again after last night’s ice storm, listening to the sound of my husband chopping away at a trench for the fuel deliveryman – we are dangerously close to being Code Blue due to both of us overlooking the plummeting level in the sight glass – I thought I’d write this one today.

…Which is Groundhog Day. And by now, at 8:19 am, we know that Punxsatawney Phil did not see his shadow, which means that spring will arrive early. I certainly am hoping Phil’s prognosticating acumen is far more accurate than those weather predictors of the human ilk, who warned of 5 to 8 inches the other night - and we woke to 20. My grandmother used to say, “If you want to know the weather, stick your head out the window.”

When I lived in New York City, one of our local stations – and if memory serves, it was NBC Channel 4 with their Live Doppler Radar – ran tickers at the bottom of the screen with moment-by-moment updates as to when a storm would hit your street. The Cloisters – 7:05………..…Broadway and 125th St. – 7:09……………309 East 89th St., 1B (the apartment in the back) – 7:11. To check, I would stick my head out the window.

You probably didn’t realize this, but the weather report is the number-one reason people tune in to the news, and it’s always on at the end. Oh, they may tease you earlier with, “When we come back, more on the Apocalyptic Tsunami heading our way,” but that’s just to keep you on the couch during the commercials for which advertisers are paying lots of money.

Weather forecasting is like furniture delivery: They tell their customers about when they’ll be there, but no one really expects them to keep their word. And still we tip them, further rewarding poor service. I recall the Blizzard of ’96, which dumped more than two feet on Manhattan. One of the local tabloids did a tale-of-the-tape on the city’s top TV celebrity forecasters. Below their glamorous and debonair headshots the paper had printed their way-into-the-six-figure salaries, followed by their percentages of accuracy so far that season. Let me just say that in my next life, I want to be a celebrity TV weathercaster. You get a wardrobe allowance, great seats at posh restaurants without a reservation – and you don’t have to be particularly reliable at your job.

I hear our snowblower gurgling through the slush. May this column find you wearing a nice cotton sweatshirt, nursing a cappuccino outside Saxbys.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Please Be Mine

The way Mrs. Stevens handled this day was to first ask the boys to put their heads down while the girls skipped around the room, depositing white envelopes on desks. Then it was our turn. I’m pretty sure I made little flowers out of the i’s and l’s on the names of the boys I liked or the girls who were my friends. It was okay for a girl to openly give another girl a card. Because in grammar school, Valentine’s Day was more about friendships. I don’t, however, remember boys giving other boys cards. Historically, and at all ages, we are certainly more enlightened.

Case in point, and the reason I remember Mrs. Stevens’ 4th-grade Valentine’s Day in more detail, is because this is the year I lifted my head to find a card with my name spelled out with little hairs sprouting from each letter. I was, er, particularly hirsute as a child, and one of the boys not only had the audacity to craft this cruel cursive attack, but sign his name as well.


I digress. Until last year, those little Valentine’s Day cutout cards had been my only measure of popularity, until Facebook. Listen, this isn’t my first day on earth. I know a lot of friend-ing is about collecting, about self-esteem and self-satisfaction. Most of my Fb friends have more than 500 pals while I remained at a woeful 189, which I was okay with until two weeks ago when I saw my number drop…by one.

I scrolled up and down my list, studying it with the same intensity needed to find a dropped earring back. And then I made the ugly discovery: The woman who’s been dating our best friend was gone. I hadn’t responded with enough sympathy, it seems, when she needed to vent about their relationship. And her response was to cut me off cyberly. I made up that word.

It was worse than not putting a card on my desk; it was as if she’d lain one down, re-evaluated me, then snatched it back. I masked my hurt in incredulity then mockery. “She’s acting like a child,” I complained to my husband the other night. It took a nanosecond to realize the irony.

She and I are always going to be nine years old. I imagine we’re in good company. It was a time when we were discovering how our peers perceived and judged us. Something we still consider – and some of us worry about – day to day. It’s a big suitcase we never unpack. However, I no longer have to figure out creative ways to hide the area between the tops of my knee socks and the bottom of my hem.