The Dude shares a bird-day

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‘Felicitations to a newly-minted 70-year-old, his cousin — and some future purple martins’

Last Thursday Dude Man celebrated a Very Big Birthday — his seventieth. (Gosh, that birthday is not only big, it’s really hard to type.)

Oh. If any of you are shocked — shocked, I say! — at my “outing” my husband’s age in this public way, let me assure you that I’ve already outed myself. I turned big ole scary 70 last November — and boldly and unabashedly wrote about it too. See my story “Skirting the Issue” for proof. (And fun party details.) See also “Doing the Math” for how one’s attitude changes upon reaching this hoary landmark.

 

Me, celebrating 70 in style — and with a heck of a lot of veuve

But enough about my birthday. We’re here to celebrate Dude Man and his 70 trips around the sun. Speaking of the sun, he happens to own a gizmo called a “sun scope” which he sets out on the second-floor deck and commandeers all and sundry to come up and squint through. Yes, you can see the sun. Okay, fine. But somehow I don’t quite get it.

The sun scope wasn’t a present. No, we’ve reached the stage in our relationship where we pretty much get what we want on our own. (Like that, um, sun scope.) Though I did get a request from The Dude. He wants a nice notebook in which to record the antics of his gift from Mother Nature — a flock of martins.

Dude Man’s martin house. There are martins in there. Finally. And yes, that’s the ocean in the background. I mean, what martin wouldn’t want to live here?

It was about fifteen years ago when The Dude got his martin house. And every year he’s cleaned it and doctored it (more gourds, fewer gourds, higher gourds) and watched over it. He’s opened the little doors, closed the little doors, mounted some of the gourds on the roof. Last year he played a loop of martin songs on an old iPhone that he rigged to a tree. (Incidentally, you can see the martin house over The Child’s shoulder in the photo at the top of this post.)

Nothing. For fifteen looooong years.

Then, this year two showed up. Then three, then four. They chased away some wren interlopers and kicked out a pair of flycatchers who’d settled in, eradicating their nesting materials with contemptuous tosses of their beaks.

And, on Dude Man’s birthday, this happened:

Martin eggs. Yes, you can lower the whole martin rig and open little doors on the gourds to look inside. The martins don’t mind. At least I hope not

Even more exciting (for me anyway) somebody else besides martins flew in. Last Sunday I got a call. Child: “Hey, what are you doing for Dad’s birthday?” Me: “I offered him a party, but he said no way. So we’re going to Smith & Wollensky.” “Really? Would it be okay if we came? It’s a Big Birthday.” “Of course you can come. He’d love that!”

News spreads of The Child and Hub joining us. But no, that bird is not a martin

Now, Her Childness lives in Flagstaff, Arizona — which is not exactly a hop, skip and a jump away. Which is why I hadn’t bothered to mention this dinner to her. But guess what? She booked herself and the SIL on a flight that got in the afternoon of the dinner. And when that flight was cancelled, they drove to Tuscon to catch a flight that would get them there.

“But what about the cousin?” you may well be asking.

Here’s the cousin (in back) sharing a snake — instead of a cake — with Young Dude (in front)

This cousin — a Whitmore; no doubt he puts his hands on his hips Backwards-style — has a birthday a couple of days after Dude Man, so we often get together in Amagansett to commiserate (er, celebrate.) And this year was no exception.

The other end of the birthday table, featuring Dude and SIL — and Carvel cake

So. Birds flew in. Kids flew in. And a cousin was the icing on the cake. Happy Birthday times were had by all!

Amagansett, New York. June 2022

 

 

 

Taking motherhood to a whole new level

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‘In The Heights On Christmas Day’

“It’s not rational,” I said as I lamely tried to explain my fear of heights to my pretty-much-100%-fearless son-in-law. “It’s emotional. Visceral, even. I react to a cliff the same way I’d react to, well, a snake.”

“You’re scared of snakes?” was his befuddled reply.

Well, yes. As you know if you’ve read my piece “The Year of the Snake,” I have a very well-developed (and healthy, in my opinion) fear of snakes. A fear that I have yet to conquer.

But I’ll have you know that this Christmas I faced my fear of heights in fine fettle. By hiking the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon. Without fainting or shaking or cringing. Much.

Me, not shaking all that much, pausing to gloat on the Kaibab Trail

Sure, I didn’t hike the whole trail — it’s seven miles all the way down. But, for a person who can’t even stand on the top rung of a ladder to change a screeching smoke alarm at three in the morning (see “Things That Go Shriek in the Night”) climbing down — and back up — a mile of steep, icy, rocky switchbacks is a pretty darned proud-making accomplishment.

It all started Christmas morning. “Hey, it looks like a great day to visit the Grand Canyon!” was The Child’s delighted cry after opening presents. “We’ll do a Christmas hike!”

I didn’t object, but, needless to say, I didn’t join in the general glee. And I was quiet on the almost-one-hour drive from Flagstaff to the South Rim. Too quiet.

Even the roadside stop at Jerky Guy’s stand failed to get a rise out of me

The rest of our carload sang along to country music and nibbled on snacks while I quietly composed my eulogy. All too soon, The Child shouted, “Look out to the left! There it is: the Grand Canyon!” And yes. There it was: magnificent, massive — and oh so very very deep. I’m glad no one took my picture. Continue reading

The Ghost of Christmas Presents

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‘Thinking back on a battery of gifts’

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time wielding a corkscrew. I envy people like The Dude or even my Favorite Sister who, when I complain about not being able to wrest a cork out of a bottle, go “Oh, but it’s so easy. You just slip this gizmo here, lift, and there you go!”

A unopened bottle of wine serves as a pacifier during a family reunion. (Pretty much the only thing an unopened bottle of wine is good for)

I’m especially jealous because they both swear by those mysterious (to me, anyway) waiter-style corkscrews. When I can’t even get a bottle open with a Rabbit.

But guess what? Problem solved. A little elf named Jeff (one of my Mom’s buds at her newish home, the senior-living facility where I’m visiting her right now) listened to me whine the other day over Morning Coffee and said, “You should get one of those electric corkscrews.”

That’s not me capturing the mountains out the window on the way to visit my Mom — it’s some random person with an iPad. But the mountains are stunning, eh?

Of course I’d never heard of any such thing. An electric corkscrew? What’ll they think of next? An electric knife? (Hah-hah, they have. My Dad was an early adopter. Also of the electric toothbrush. The Christmas where he gave one of those to my mom will forever live on in infamy.)

Was this the Christmas of the Electric Knife? Hard to say, though the decade seems about right

Well. Not only did Jeff extoll the virtues of the electric corkscrew, he zoomed off to his apartment and, within minutes, had zoomed back with something in hand. “Here. Take this. I already have one. Merry early Christmas! Do you have batteries?” Continue reading

“Your turkey or your life!”

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‘The time I was mugged on my way to Thanksgiving dinner’

I did a little calculating this week and realized that this will be the 25th time I’ve hosted Thanksgiving dinner out here in Amagansett.

Flippin’ the Bird at one of those 25 Flippin’ Feasts

Yup. My first turkey and fixins’ for a crowd was in 1995 — when the “crowd” was my Mom and my Dad and The Dude — and The Child when she was an actual child. There may have been Others here as well. If so, it would have been our Same-Age-Best-Friends, J and P. I’ll have to ask them. They (of course) will be here this year.

An even-earlier Amagansett T’giving, when The Child was so small that we tied her to a kitchen stool with a bathrobe sash, having no high chair out here at the time

If you’re good at math, you’ve no doubt found a discrepancy in mine. “But every Thanksgiving since ’95 makes 26 times, not 25,” you might be thinking. And you’d be right. One year (2009) I was persuaded to skip the Amagansett Thanksgiving because The Child, who was a college freshman at the time, wanted to have Thanksgiving in the City so she could see her friends.

Speaking of “seeing friends,” here’s a batch from a few Turkey Days ago

Well. That year we enjoyed a perfectly-nice (but rather sedate) feast at Wayne’s Club. But The Child was fruitless in her attempts to connect — turns out all her friends were celebrating in away-from-the-City family hoedowns of their own. Continue reading

“Pop” goes the weasel

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‘My popovers? Not so much.’

First, full disclosure. The popovers portrayed in the photo at the top of this post are not of my making. They were produced by The Dude’s talented Cousin Christine, who is the daughter of the Best Cook — and Popover Maker — on the Planet Earth, Dude Man’s Aunt Eleanor.

Aunt Eleanor too busy enjoying a toast at her 90th Birthday Party to make any popovers

Why, back in the Olden Days, when I had first met The Dude, we would look forward all year to an Eleanor Christmas, when we would gobble up not only perfect popovers, but sublime roast beef accompanied by some crazy-good potato dish that was sort of like scalloped potatoes but on some whole other level of deliciousness.

(I could go on and on, but I promised I would write this post before lunch, and this is torture.)

I knew I couldn’t replicate the whole menu, but, silly me, I thought because Eleanor said that popovers were “easy” and that she “just threw them together” that I could make them too.

Dude, scanning the horizon for piping hot popovers. Er, make that piping plovers

Hah. I tried every recipe I could find, including — yes — Eleanor’s own. But my popovers flopped. They were wimpy and chewy and blech. Lucky for me, The Dude eats anything and everything so he didn’t really notice that my popovers were less than fantastic. Well, except for the time the oven caught on fire because the butter I’d greased the pan with overflowed onto the gas jets and burst into flames. That batch he noticed.

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Silver linings in a Covid Cloud

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‘I count my blessings instead of sleep’

According to my new Apple Watch (which, incidentally, does everything except the dishes), I slept 10.1 hours the other night. I mentioned this dubious figure to Dude Man the next morning.

“I didn’t go to bed until around 2, and then I got up before sunrise. So what’s with this 10.1 hours of sleep?” “It’s counting all the sleeping you do during The Crown,” he said, going on to explain that good ole Apple can tell when I “nod off” on the couch and adds that time to my total sleep. I, like my mother before me, am rather famous for my ability to “sleep read” or “sleep watch” without spilling a drop from the glass of wine clutched in my somnolent paw.

Latest creation-in-progress. Yes, I can do this while Crown-watching

And while I think Apple counting upright sleep is totally cheating, I suppose I should feel somewhat comforted knowing I’m getting more shut-eye that I thought I was. Ever since The Corona Craziness, I, like many others, have had trouble getting adequate Zzzzzs. All that wondering what the heck to cook for the 269th straight dinner, not to mention when in heaven’s name I’ll get to hug my Mom again will do that to a person.

Sometimes when tossing and turning, I try to think of some good things that have come out of this time of Conflict with a Capital C. Now, with New Year’s coming, it seems like a good time to count them up.

Here, in no particular order, are some silver linings, the first of which is actually silver:

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This Christmas is going to pot (roast)

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‘It’s high time to bring back that classic.’

As I wrote in my sort-of-whiny and somewhat-navel-gazing post last week, I’ve practiced a rather opt-out attitude toward the Holidays in the past few years.

Some years my “decorating” consisted of switching the turkey napkins for the reindeer ones

I remember only too fondly and well the famous Marilyn Christmasses celebrated at my late great Gramma Peterson’s when I was a kid. Nat King Cole on the stereo. Gumdrop tree on the table. A luxurious evergreen so bushy and tall Aunt M would often have to crop it so it’d fit in the living room. (We believed her when she told us the top, complete with angel, was in the bedroom overhead.) 

A Marilyn Christmas Classic: The Cousin Lineup

After that, during Dude Man and my Early Married Years, there were the amazing Aunt Eleanor Christmasses: lobster, shrimp and, if you saved room, an incredible roast beef dinner complete with popovers. Gramma Whitmore, who made it till a week before her hundredth birthday, would hold court while Eleanor cooked, champagne glass in hand.

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It’s beginning to look a bit like Christmas

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‘I Holiday Cheer myself up with a (very) little decorating’

I flunked Plank.

“No no no! my indefatigable PT instructor Jennifer cried, while Zoom-watching me flounder on the floor demonstrating my form, such as it was. “The Plank is not for everyone,” she added, hoping to soothe my fragile ego as she deleted it from my program.

Toned-by-Jennifer Me, decked out in Tracksmith duds

I may have flunked Plank, but still I’m set to graduate from PT at the end of the month. I should be thrilled that I have made such fantastic progress. I can now rock a pair of Tracksmith tights like nobody’s business. (And my back? Oh, it’s better.) But I have bonded with Jennifer the PT Girl; she’s seen me sweat and “squeeze my bootie.”

The Dude shows off his Holiday Bootie

“I already miss you!” I cried at the end of our session last week.

There’s was only one thing to do: decorate.

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Right party, wrong hosts

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‘The strange case of the Other Erica and Kevin’

Thanksgiving was (sob) over, which always makes me sad. But we were starting to get intriguing Paperless Post invitations in our inboxes, which always makes me happy. I do so love a party, especially a holiday party. (Say, maybe I should rethink my choice of Thanksgiving as the World’s Best Holiday. No one ever throws a Thanksgiving Party.)

Thanksgiving’s no turkey, mind you, but it does rather lack in actual Paperless Post-style parties

But back to those invitations. I’d just clicked on the little birdie to “view invitation,” and said to The Dude, “Remember that nice Erica and Kevin? They’ve invited us to a Holiday Party!” “Gee, that’s great,” responds Mr. Man, peering at the address listed on the invitation. “I guess they moved back to New York. Gosh, it’ll be fun to catch up!” “And, hey. We get to go to a party!” I added.

I do love a party. Here I am with Fellow Revelers at some event festive enough for champagne, feathers — and a tiara

I was excited, so I added a little note to our positive RSVP: “It’ll be great to see you and catch up!” To which Erica replied, “So much to celebrate!”

See, Erica and Kevin are this couple The Dude went to Dartmouth with way back when. So “way back when” that Erica was one of the first women admitted to Dartmouth. (It used to be an all-male institution, so notoriously “all-male-ish” that it inspired the movie “Animal House”.) When Erica and her five or six equally brave fellow female students entered the institution in their sophomore year, their fellow (male) students called them, not-so-affectionately, the Co-Hogs.

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A Merry Minimalist Christmas

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‘And a Happy New Decade’

Yes, yes. I’ve told you enough already about the Downsizing. (For those of you out of the loop, blogwise, The Dude and I are soon to move from a normal-sized New York apartment to what I call The Ken and Barbie House. Which is itty-bitty, to say the least. And I do mean the least.)

Floorplan of K & B House. Yes, that’s a 6×6 kitchen

But have I told you about the Staging? In order to move into the teensy apartment, we have to sell our normally-sized apartment. And, in order to sell it, our arms were twisted to Stage it. “Staging” means you, basically, get rid of anything in your home that gives any clues to your personality: photos, artwork, memorabilia. This also (at least in our case) meant getting rid of anything that provides comfort and coziness: carpets, pillows, lamps.

Stripping the living room. Only things left are the piano and the cat bed

“Our” living room, after the Stagers had their way. Sigh

Living in a staged apartment is rather like living in a hotel room. The stuff isn’t yours (those are rented couches; the coffee table isn’t ours either) and god forbid you spill anything. It’s also rather echo-y and noisy, what with the carpets and curtains gone. And don’t get me started about where on earth to put a cocktail — all my end tables were banished.

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