Jury duty, only with feathers

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‘What those crazy birding trips are like’

I just flew back from a birding trip to Brazil, and boy are my arms tired.

The jury is in: Birthdays are Birddays on trips like this one. Here we celebrate my latest at Itatiaia National Park

People often ask me what these trips are like. Well, here’s how I often describe them. Picture yourself thrown together with eleven random strangers from all walks of life. For several days you spend nearly every waking moment with these people.

Our team of twelve doing a bit of problem-solving together

You eat every meal together, you take breaks together, you even spend the night together. (Well, sort of.) You consult, you deliberate, you draw conclusions.

Which owl was this? Group conclusion: Tawny-browed owl — a baby one

You form bonds and promise to stay in touch. Then, when it’s all over, you go home — and never see each other again. Jury duty, right?

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Garbage in, garbage out

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‘You meet the nicest people at the dump’

I just have to say that my family has way too much fun on our weekly Family FaceTime calls. We started them during the pandemic — and for a couple of years now we’ve been gathering round the ole iPad or iPhone every Sunday at 3PM Pacific Mom Time.

Checking in with Mom and the Sibs on a random Sunday. Jealous of Doug’s Dilly Bar

It doesn’t hurt that every one of my sibs is pretty darned funny. (Those of you who know me in person may be surprised to learn that, in my family, it is not I who is the “Funny One” — or even the “Chatty One.”)

Roger shows off the latest headgear on another random Sunday

To say that we discuss a wide range of topics on these calls would be putting things mildly. Sometimes we’re serious (sort of). Like, this Sunday Youngest Younger Bro Doug reported on the soggy aftermath of a Maine Nor’Easter. (He lost power and his dock got dunked.)

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Tawking the Tawk

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‘”New York” as a second language’

I once worked with a fabulous art director named Jayne. (Hi, Jayne!) She was — and probably still is — not only visually talented, but verbally funny.

I forget now where she grew up, but she was living in New Jersey when we were working together and she was concerned that her daughter was picking up the accent.

“Mommy, Mommy,” the Little Cherub cried while playing on their outdoor deck. “I have a splintah!” It says something about Jayne’s devotion to good diction that she corrected her daughter’s pronunciation before extracting the “splin-ter.

My boss Harvey, the master of New Yorkese. Read about him in the ever-popular and hilarious “Harvey and the Grilled Half Goat Head”

Speaking of accents, you may have a good idea of what a New York accent sounds like even if you’ve never spent time here in the City. (Note: New Yorkers never refer to their town as the Big Apple; it is “the City.” But, yes, some do refer to it as “New Yawk.”)

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Cleaning is a nightmare.

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‘Cobwebs in my brain, dust devils under my bed’

There’s an old saying, scary-biblical in nature, that goes something like “we come from dust, and to dust we shall return.” Which reminds me of the old joke about the kid who asks his mom if that saying is true and then cracks, “Well, gosh Mom. It looks like somebody’s either coming or going under my bed.”

Not sure what was under my bed. But there sure was a lot of cat hair up top. Miss you, Wommie!

I’m glad that smart-alecky kid isn’t anywhere near my house these days because it looks like I’m saying hello or goodbye to a whole Henry Reunion.

What a whole Henry Reunion looks like

See, my theory on cleaning, which you can read about in detail in “To Clean, Or Not To Clean?” is, in a nutshell, that you don’t clean before company arrives — you clean after they leave. My wise Middle Younger Brother Roger is the one who wised me up, pointing out that cleaning thoroughly in advance of guests makes you, the host, uptight. As in “I just Windexed that coffee table, and he’s putting a wet glass on it.

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Technical difficulties

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‘On leaving the blogosphere for good. Almost.’

Those of you who have been reading my stories for a while (bless you) know that I try to publish fresh nonsense every week, usually on a Tuesday. If I miss a Tuesday, I’d better have a darned good reason — like going to a wedding or visiting my mom or roaming around in the jungle dodging leeches and internet holes.

The wedding, as the story appeared in the East Hampton Star. (No, don’t squint. You can read it by clicking here)

Well. The pretty good reason was that none of my subscribers got my last post. And if you write a post and your subscribers don’t get it, that’s kind of like dressing up in your fanciest duds just to hang out at home. You express yourself, sure. But what’s the point?

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“She’d better put a bell on it”

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‘A story about Queen Elizabeth’

It’s been a while since I wrote a piece that qualifies for my ‘Brushes with Fame’ category. I’ve got some pretty juicy stories parked there. About Steve Martin, Vladimir Horowitz, Karl Malden, Willem De Kooning, Malcolm Forbes and even Elvis.

This week the long-expected-but-still-shocking passing of HRH Queen Elizabeth reminds me that I have one about her, too. No, I never personally met the Queen, but I knew somebody who did — and here’s his story. (Oh, that person in the crown at the top of this story? That’s me with two regal pals — hi, T! hi E! — channeling queenhood on a recent birthday.)

Here’s another birthday shot — this one taken in honor of my mom’s 90th. Because, why not? Mom’s a real queen in my book

The person I knew who met Elizabeth the Queen was, in fact, pretty famous himself. His name was George Shearing, and he was a celebrated jazz pianist. He not only played at Birdland, he wrote  “Lullaby of Birdland,” a song I bet you know, even if you don’t think you do. But I bet you haven’t heard it played on a massive pipe organ in St. Thomas Church. (Which I did, at the funeral of Sir George.) Continue reading

Sitting Pretty

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‘And pretty much just sitting. Thank goodness.’

Perhaps you recall my saying that I had a couple of good excuses for going Blog-AWOL back in August. One, of course, was the much-anticipated wedding celebration of The Child and the SIL. Read all about it — and see lots more pretty pictures — in “Two Weddings Are Better Than One” and “No, I Didn’t Skinny-Dip At That Canadian Wedding.”

Oldest Younger Bro Scott captured this image of the Happy Couple

The other excuse?

Me and my other excuse

I was visiting my Mom. Where, thank goodness, we pretty much just sat around talking. Oh, sometimes we’d drink coffee and talk. Other times we’d drink wine and talk. But sitting around was our preferred activity.

Sitting around having lunch at Beaches, our favorite riverside restaurant

There were two reasons for this. One was that I was all tuckered out from the wedding. No, not from helping with the wedding. As I told many of my friends who asked, “How are plans going for the wedding?” I had absolutely nothing to do with it. Nothing to do with the flowers, the food, the music. Not even the guest list. This summer, in a show of mother-of-the-bridely concern, I asked The Child what her colors were, and she looked at me like I had grown another head. “Colors? My colors? I don’t know.”

Colors? Who needs colors? What you want are scads of adoring friends and family. All picked by The Child and the SIL

Nope. All I had to do for this wedding was show up. I didn’t even need to buy a dress. When I asked about that, I was told to just pick out something from my closet.

The winning dress? This little navy number I’ve had for about 20 years. Those gorgeous accessories? I’ve had them even longer — all 3 of my brothers and my one and only sister

No, the wedding was exhausting because there was a whole week’s worth of activities leading up to it. And not activities like shopping or having tea or touring stately homes. These were activities like hiking mountains. Scree was involved. So were grizzly bears.

Why, there was even a hike the morning of the wedding. Here I am being supported by a strapping young grand-niece

The wedding itself wasn’t too exhausting. Not for me, anyway. There was a bit of stress involving hair and makeup. And I had to give a toast. Though I think the fact that I was giving a toast was more stressful for The Child than for me. She was terrified that I’d riff on her old boyfriends. “Me? Make fun of your old boyfriends?” “Well, you have made fun of them. Lots of times.” “Not at your wedding. That would be tacky.” Meaningful silence.

Appreciating a hilarious toast by either the bro or the dad of the SIL. (Neither made fun of The Child’s old BFs.) At least we got to sit down

Oh, and after dinner there was lots of dancing. Some moves were fairly strenuous. Thank goodness my twirling days are over.

Even the dancing was strenuous

So. After all of this activity I was really looking forward to a week of recreational sitting. And, lo and behold, Mom’s place was perfect for it. My sister had scouted out the perfect furniture for Mom’s previously-underutilized balcony. And, trust me, we gave it a workout. The only time we went inside was to watch Cubs’ games. Oh, and to get more coffee and/or wine.

We even engaged in some rock-related activities at Mom’s: arranging these Maine specimens sent by Youngest Bro Doug. No scree, as you can see. And yes, Mom is watching a Cubs game

I was truly and duly relaxed after a week at Mom’s. Why, so relaxed I almost forgot about the wedding. Kidding.

One more wedding photo (thank you, Joanna!) taken after the freak thunderstorm, but before the ceremony. Happily ever after, folks!

Oh! Here’s one last photo, for this week anyway. Taken from my plane window on my way home:

Saying bye-bye to Mt. Hood. I am sitting (of course) and sipping wine. Airplane wine, but still

Amagansett, New York. September 2022

 

 

No, I didn’t skinny dip at that Canadian wedding

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‘But I did get up close and personal with scree.’

First let me remind you that I had a darned good reason to skip a couple of blog posts in August. (Actually, I had a couple of good reasons, but The Wedding is the one I’m talking about today.)

Dude and Child walking down the aisle to the shore of Lake Louise

Another reminder. This was the second of The Child’s two weddings. The first — and legally binding one — was held last May on the rim of the Grand Canyon. The second — the one family and friends could attend — was held a couple of weeks ago on the shores of Lake Louise.

The Child Bride at her first (legal) wedding. Yes, the groom was there too, but that was about it

The wedding itself was gorgeous but not without drama — though not of the will-the-groom-show-up kind. A thunderstorm blew in one hour before I Do Time, so freakalicious that it capsized several canoes on the lake, sending their (luckily) lifejacketed occupants — including one woman clutching a lapdog — into the forty-degree drink.

Me, with view of Lake Louise out our window. No capsized canoes in evidence. Yet.

Speaking of gorgeous, I was invited to the bridal suite to have my “hair and makeup” done. I was relieved when informed that I needn’t bring my own makeup, since I really don’t have any. I did relate a cautionary to the makeup artist. Once upon a time, my late lamented sis-in-law Patty got all dolled up to go out, whereupon her young son Aaron exclaimed, “Mommy! You look just like Clowny Boy!” (This was a stuffed toy of Aaron’s that looked, ahem, like a clown; Patty did not take this as a compliment.)

Neither Aaron nor Clowny Boy could make it, but his brother Joe sure did. That’s him with his dad, Oldest Younger Bro Scott

When I went back to our room all groomed and polished, I struck a pose in the doorway, and said, “Well?” To which Dude Man replied, “Huh?” I did a little spin, explaining about the hair. “Oh. It doesn’t look as stringy as it usually does.” I didn’t bother pointing out the makeup.

A gaggle of Henrys — plus Susan, my Scree Coach (read on), on the right. That’s me in the hair and makeup

But enough already with hair and makeup. What about that scree? Well. One of the cool things about Wedding #2 was, not only that we got to go to it, but that there was a whole week’s worth of fun run-up activities. Most of these took place in and around Banff. Which I swear is spelled with two “fs” because there’s just too much fun for one. (Or, as my experience will prove, maybe too much fear.)

Dude, Child and great-niece at the top of Sulfur Mountain, Banff. Yes, all three climbed the mountain. Me too

Most of these activities — mountain-climbing, white-water rafting to name a couple — were pitched toward the Younger Set. Dude Man and I did accomplish a couple of the more family-friendly climbs. But one day, puffed-up with our success at scaling Tunnel Mountain, we decided to “do” the glacier hike. Which ever after became known as the Horrible Hike — and not just by the seventy-somethings (us.) In fact, one of the Younger Set, a most fabulous female neurosurgeon whose hobby was pole-dancing (honest), is the one who dubbed this the Horrible Hike.

Nope. Not the Horrible Hike. Yet another beauty shot of Dude and Child

Before I heard her refer to it this way, I had been calling this hike just “Scree!!!” — pronounced just like you think, very loud and like a scream.

Me, practicing how to say “scree!!!!”

See, scree is a toxic mixture of dirt and loose pebbles. When a mountain trail is composed of scree, especially at, like, a 45 degree angle, the Hiker has little, if any, purchase on said trail. There is lots of slipping and skidding, and, if you’re afraid of heights like me, a panic attack or two. There were a couple of times I was frozen mid-slope, clinging to a root or a rock rather like that poster of the cat hanging from a ledge by its front paws.

Dude Man and Me, pondering our next move (straight up that scree-covered right-angled slope in the background) with Susan and Suzanne

The Younger Set had, of course, scampered up to the glacier’s edge well before the rest of us. In fact, I heard that The Child spied me below, mid-scree-festooned climb, and said, “I can’t believe my mom is doing this!”

The Younger Set, all set up by the glacier at the top

Well. I couldn’t believe it either. But, with Scott’s Squeeze Susan’s coaching and James’ Aunt Suzanne’s encouragement, I made it (almost) to the top.

Look in that circle to see me leading the line of descenders — The Child right behind me providing moral encouragement

Dude Man and I joined a group descending only when told the extra 100 yards or so — more or less straight up — weren’t “worth the extra effort.” Scott and Susan pushed on. “We’re only here once!” was their attitude.

Scott on top of the world — and a whole heck of a lot of scree

Their go-for-it attitude meant they missed quite possibly the scariest part of the Horrible Hike. We had made it all the way to the parking lot at the trailhead when someone said, “Look! There’s a bear!” Of course we all ran back to get a glimpse. We were only about ten feet away, peeking through some bushes, when someone said, “Gosh, he’s brown…and has a hump. It’s a grizzly — and he’s heading this way!”

Dude Man and our fresh new SIL stuck around long enough to photograph Mr. G. Yikes

So. I got up close and personal with a grizzly and hiked the Horrible Hike. But did I skinny-dip? Nah. That would have been waaaay too scary. Besides, it would have wreaked havoc with my hair and makeup.

Amagansett, New York. August 2022

 

 

Two weddings are better than one.

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‘Especially if they both involve the same two people.’

Yes, I’ve been AWOL for a couple of weeks now. But I have a very good excuse. (Many good excuses, actually, but I’ll stick with this one for right now.)

*sigh* The gorgeous Lake Louise setting. The Child pointed out that this is the second time she’s tied the knot in a National Park

The Child had a big ole wedding up in Canada. At Lake Louise — which, if you haven’t been there, is well worth the trip — with a whole week’s worth of ramp-up activities in Banff the week before. (Ditto Banff.) There was so much going on — hiking and rafting and gondola-ing and line dancing — that I didn’t have time to do my PT much less weigh in with blog posts.

Gondola-riding with a Great-Niece

Now, I have time — but so much material I can’t possibly put it all in one measly post. So I’ll focus on explaining why, since Her Childness has been legally hitched for more than a year (see the delightfully scenic “Runaway Bride” for the story) — why, oh why, she and the SIL had another wedding.

Wedding Number One: If you make a toast in the Grand Canyon and there’s no one there to hear it, are you really married?

I’m going to crib a bit from my wedding speech here. (Yes, I was asked to say a few words — but only after reassuring The Child Bride that I most absolutely would not entertain the wedding crowd with tales of Old Discarded Boyfriends.)

Child and SIL take their turn at the podium, Child looking decidedly relieved at my not mentioning old BFs

I started by pointing out that His Dudeness and I had not had a wedding. Yes, we got married, but that was pretty much it. We thought at the time that we would have a party for our family and friends after we got back from our wedding trip. Then it was, “Oh, we’ll have a party on our first anniversary.” Well, that anniversary passed, and so did the fifth and the tenth. The twentieth and thirtieth.

Mr. and Mrs. Dude, almost 40 years ago. A hot dog stand, but no party

And, gosh, the ole anniversary odometer will be turning over to 40 before too long — and still no celebration. (See “Party of Two” for a story of one of our non-celebrations.)

Another shot of Dude and Child strolling the aisle. Note uncanny resemblance. Yup, I was a conduit

Okay, you may be asking, but who cares? Why is having a celebration so important? I mean, other than that it’s so much fun to drink champagne and make toasts and dance like a crazy person and go skinny-dipping at two AM.

During the dancing, but before the skinny dipping

The reason is that weddings are pretty much the only time the family and friends of the bride and the groom ever get together. (Well, except for funerals, though I tactfully omitted mentioning that in my speech.) This was the first time I’d seen my brothers since my Mom’s 90th birthday party three years ago.

Here we are, all dressed up and ready to party: all five Henry kids, together again after three long years

And where else but a wedding am I going to get to trade sibling stories with the SIL’s great aunt on his mother’s side? Or scramble up a mountain with his Dad’s sister? Or dance with members of his college track team?

SIL’s Dad’s sister, plus Oldest Younger Bro Scott, Dude Man and Me, plotting our next move on the Scary Horrible Hike (story to follow, or not)

Yes, having another wedding — a wedding celebration — was a pretty cool idea. So cool, that maybe The Dude and I might rustle up a celebration for our 40th anniversary, after all. Though I think we’ll skip the 2 AM skinny dip. That’s a memory that would last a lifetime — but for all the wrong reasons.

Photo courtesy one of the 2 AM skinny-dippers (not me, thank goodness)

New York. August 2022

 

 

 

Galapagone

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‘Adoring Ecuador — in spite of spooky caiman, scary towers and claustrophobic lava tubes.’

Yes, we made it. To the Amazonian jungle, the Andean peaks and the Galapagos Islands. There was plenty of excitement, though perhaps the most hair-raising bit was American Airlines cancelling our 6AM flight at midnight the night before.

That’s our lodge in the distance. Yes, it’s accessible only by water

We spent the first ten days in a remote lodge in the middle of the jungle, where swimming was allowed only in a caged area since there were caiman and piranha and sea otters roaming the waters. (Tempted to swim? I was most decidedly not.)

Lucy, the caiman who lives under the breakfast pavilion at Sacha Lodge

Though I did indulge in some tower climbing. For those unfamiliar with jungle birding (which may be most of you), towers and walkways suspended high above the jungle are pretty much a necessary evil, since the canopy is where the cool birds hang out. And with some tree heights well over 100 feet, there’s really no way to see, say, a paradise tanager without taking the plunge (hah) and hightailing it up a tower.

Me, after shimmying up one of the two canopy towers

There were seven of us participating on this jungle adventure, five of whom went on to the Galapagos. After more than a week of muddy-trail-and-scary-tower togetherness, we’d formed a pretty tight bond. I’ve often said that these birding trips are like jury duty. You show up when and where you’re told; you eat together, talk together, pay attention to authority figures. And the Galapagos trip was almost literally like a jury since there were 13 of us (12 jurors and an alternate).

Our Galapagos Group. There was no one who was The One. Unless it was me, of course

Usually on these trips there is a participant who is The One. He/she is maybe a little too loud or too whiny or who has some other personality trait that’s, well, annoying. Like, there was a woman on a Panama trip who insisted on being called “Raven,” though she had a perfectly good normal name (Rebecca, I think it was.) I responded to this request by “mistakenly” referring to her as Sparrow.

No sparrows, but plenty of iguana. So many that you had to be careful where you stepped

And then there was the famous instance of the vegan on the East Africa Tour. In those days it was pretty tough to provide for a vegan in the wilds of Africa while traveling from lodge to lodge every day. Every time we unpacked our tasty lunches, we’d look to see what nasty surprise Jodi would find in her box labelled “Vegan” (or sometimes just “V”). The funniest was the day she found her box filled with a hand of bananas — and nothing else. Well, nothing else but the giant tarantula nestled inside. And then, on our last night together, Jodi, like the rest of us, ordered a pizza. “You’re having pizza?” inquired our baffled guide Terry. “I thought you were vegan.” “Oh, I was just trying out being a vegan on this trip, just to see if I liked it.” she replied, as Terry’s face grew red and his head spun around on his neck.

Decidedly non-vegan lunch on board the Nemo III, our floating Galapagos home

We had a vegan on this tour too. But he was very nice. And got to eat a lot of avocados.

Dude Man makes a couple of new Galapagan friends. I don’t think they’re vegan either

Suffice it to say that the Galapagos Islands themselves lived up to all the Bucket List hype. I will have more than enough material for several more blog posts. (Oh, and remind me to tell you all about when we almost drove off a cliff up in the Andes.) But before I sign off today, let me tell you about the Lava Tube.

The Galapagos. We got to visit ten of the islands. Only three of them had any people living there

This is pretty self-explanatory. The Galapagos being volcanic in nature, there are lots of big ole “tubes” where lava once flowed. We had just finished a rather lovely lunch (no hands of bananas with clinging tarantulas) at the tortoise preserve when Willy, our guide, suggested a post-prandial stroll — through a nearby Lava Tube. “How long is it?” someone asked. “About two football fields. Silence. Asked for a show of hands, only Dude Man raised his. Then one other guy raised his. It was only after one other woman raised her hand that I figured “what the hell,” and raised mine too.

Another new Dude Man buddy

Our intrepid little band set out. There were many steep stairs to the entrance, but the beginning wasn’t too bad. There was even lighting. But, as we forged on, the tube got narrower — and shorter. Until, at one point, we had to sort of “limbo” our way under a rock outcropping. Here I was, scrunched up under a ten-foot span of cooled-off lava that was 3 feet from floor to ceiling. Literally a once in a lifetime experience.

Trying not to think about Tom Sawyer while in the Lava Tube

Whew. More adventures next week. Now I really need to get back to Barbara Pym. 

Thinking longingly about English villages and vicars

Amagansett, New York. August 2022