Three cheers for the Red, White, and Oh-So-Blue

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‘The Child declares her Independence’

As she put it oh-so-well and oh-so-hashtageriffic on Instagram, #redwhiteandbluearetherussiancolorstoo (!) And looky here — I found this picture of the Russian flag. Which yes, does feature red, white and blue. Big stripes of red, white and blue, in fact.

Plenty of red, white and blue. But kinda boring, what with no stars and all

But nope, no stars on the Russian flag. (It used to have a star, back in the Good Old Soviet Days — but then it also had a hammer and sickle.) And no stars here in Amagansett, either. By “stars” I of course mean The Child and her friends, a group of whom have been on hand to help me celebrate America’s Birthday for several summers now. (I’ve written about their superstar visits before; check out “Stars in Stripes” for gushing details.)

Yes, that’s a Carvel Cake. It’s from last 4th, when my Stars were aligned. (And present) And no, I didn’t bother getting a Russian-flag cake this year. Tho no doubt The Dude could have polished it off, even with no Girls to help

Nope, The Child and three of her usually-here-for-the-Fourth friends absconded to Russia this year. Partly because one of the group is actually from Russia. (Her Dad, when told they were planning to visit Siberia: “Whatever for?“)

When in Siberia, one simply must stay in a yurt. Yup, a yurt

But mostly they went to Russia because they’re young and they could. (No, they didn’t plan the trip because of the World Cup. (In fact, they didn’t even realize Russia was hosting the World Cup until I showed The Child an article in the Times about this Mexican kid who was taking, like, 72-hour train rides to get to the matches and camping on Nice Russians’ couches and such. You can read it here, if you like. He wore a sombrero to meet girls.)

Of course I didn’t mind that my Gal and her Pals went to Russia. Though it did give me pause; after all, when I was her age, Russia was The Evil Empire and if you went there, like a friend of mine did, your hotel room was bugged and people would steal your blue jeans and chewing gum. (I’m thinking it’s not so easy to bug a yurt. And anybody can steal anybody’s chewing gum as much as they like, as far as I’m concerned. See “In outer space, no one can hear you scrinch”.)

It wasn’t all yurts. The Girls also hit the hot spots in Moscow and St. Pete

They had some amazing adventures, which I followed every day rather obsessively on Instagram. Those Instagram shots disappear, so I even more obsessively took screenshots of some of my faves.

So many palaces, so little time to screen-shoot them. This is one of many pilfered Instagram posts of decidedly non-yurt-like places. I’m pretty sure this was in St. Petersburg

Of course I sent a message. It said “Nope, it’s a cluck

Oh, and yes! I almost forgot — they were actually on hand in Moscow the very day when Russia won their Big World Cup Victory. They posted several movies of Crazed Ex-Soviet Soccer Fans dancing in the streets and on top of cars and so on and so forth. Which I could not “steal”. But I did get this:

Muscovites whooping it up after their World Cup Win. Shot from non-moving car by The Child or a Pal

But of course I missed those girls. The Fourth was kind of flat without them. Those of you who know me and/or read this blog (again, bless you!) know that I am rather hung up on Holiday Traditions. Not Christmas. (In fact, The Child spent last Christmas not with us and I wasn’t upset. Well, not inordinately so.) But I am very into The Fourth. And if she ever spent Thanksgiving “away”, well. I’m not sure what I would do. Dear Child, please let’s not try to find out.

So, sure, I was a tad disappointed that they weren’t around to dig into celebratory Carvel Cake and splash around in the pool and track sand into the house and eat me out of house and home. (Do you have any idea how many avocados four young women can consume in a day?!?)

But at least I didn’t have to experience the Dreaded Dropoff, after which I would head home to my lonely empty deck and a nice stiff — and very consoling — G&T.

This was the Dreaded Dropoff a couple of Fourths ago. I didn’t miss this. And I didn’t miss my G&T either

Amagansett, New York. July 2018

A match made in heaven

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‘A Road Trip and a Wedding. Who could ask for anything more?’

We’ve gotten to the point where we are no longer going to the weddings of friends; we are going to the weddings of friends’ children. Oh, I suppose it could be worse — we could be going to the weddings of friends’ grandchildren.

Say “blind date!” The Dude captures Dad and Mom of Bride, at left

We went to a particularly satisfying wedding last weekend. This one was of note not only because the Parents of the Bride are friends of ours, but because The Dude had actually introduced them to each other. Dad of Bride had been The Dude’s college roomie; Mom of Bride had been a cute hospital nurse. The Dude fixed them up on a blind date — and bingo! The rest — and two gorgeous daughters — is history. Of course we got invited to their weddings. In a way, Dude Man is responsible for their existence.

Future Mom of Bride, center, with Fixer-Upper Dude at right. Not sure who the heck the Blonde is, but I didn’t see her at this wedding. Or at least I don’t think I did

Regular readers of mine (bless you) know that not only am I inordinately fond of weddings (See “I do, I do. I really do like weddings” for deets), but that I am an absolute sucker for a good road trip (some of which you can read about in “Drive, she said”.) Well, this event featured both. We not only got to go to one of the best parties ever (I mean, what’s not to like about a wedding?), we got to go there by car.

Well, there is one problem with a road trip — traffic. Here’s some that was at least going the other way. Sadly, this was not the case on the day we drove to the wedding

Let me point out that we live in New York City and that this wedding was in Williamsburg. (No, not Hipster Williamsburg, which is in Brooklyn. But Colonial Williamsburg, which is in Virginia.)

We could have flown, I guess. But Smartie Me did some math and figured that by the time we got to the airport and did all the Airport Nonsense, then flew to Wherever The Nearest City is, then rented a car and drove to C. W’burg, we might just as well drive. So that’s what we did. Got up at 5:30, hit the road by 6:00. Easy-peasy! I even packed us some snacks (granola bars left over from Uganda) and some turkey sandwiches (not left over from anywhere, thank goodness).

Well, we’d zipped on down to the D.C. area and were happily sipping away on some rest-area Starbucks while discussing the Fate of the Nation when, suddenly, GPS Girl goes into her Stern Mode and suggests an alternate route.

Quick GPS Girl Note: have you ever noticed that when she says “There is currently light traffic on your route” it means the opposite? That all of a sudden you are in traffic? Though my all-time favorite GPS Girl Thing is when she says “Drive to higher ground”. (She’s actually saying “highlighted route”, but even The Child once asked why she was telling us to get the hell to higher ground. Was there a tsunami?)

There was no tsunami, unless you count the waves of traffic we had encountered. Apparently I had failed to figure in the hordes of first-weekend-of-summer-after-school-is-out beach-goers who would be sharing our route. I’ll skip the sturm und drang and cut to the fact that we did make it to the wedding, though not with much more than a minute to spare. Lesson learned for the next time we have a wedding to go to in Colonial Williamsburg.

Two wedding belles. And a beau. That’s the Bride’s Dad’s Sister (she who forgot her Maid of Honor dress many weddings ago) stage left. The Lucky Guy in the middle? Her hub, I-Forget-His-Name

Speaking of weddings, The Dude was Best Man when his “fixees” got married. He famously forgot his shoes, which is one of the reasons that he has never appeared in a wedding party since. (You read that right; The Dude and I are married, but we didn’t really have a wedding. You can read about our non-event in “Winning the Dude-A-Thon”.) Incidentally, there must have been something in the water around the time of The Dude’s Best-Man debut; the Maid of Honor forgot her dress.

The one time I appeared in someone else’s wedding: as a B Maid for my Favorite Sister. Note that I did not forget my dress

Anyway, we had a whale of a good time — The Dude even danced! — and were up early the next morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and rarin’ to hit the road. For the way back, we picked a different route, across the will-it-ever-ever-end Chesapeake Bay Bridge and on up the Delmarva Peninsula. (It’s called that because it contains bits of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia — it’s that dangly bit on the map that looks kind of like an appendix.)

It was scenic and all, but our plans to “stop along the way and grab a bite to eat or a cup of coffee” were thwarted by the fact that this was Sunday morning — and we were deep in the Bible Belt. I have never seen so many churches, with their parking lots packed. They were open, but all the “cute little diners” were closed up tighter than drums. We were able, finally, to stop at a Stuckey’s which had been advertised for miles with those billboards that say things like Only 6 Miles to Stuckey’s. Famous Pecan Candies! And Just 2 Miles to Stuckey’s. And Breakfast All Day! 

Boy, were we ready when we pulled up to what looked like a repurposed double-wide trailer with a Stuckey’s sign stuck on it. True, we could get pecan candies. Also fireworks and hams and “cheap cigarets”. But we settled for breakfast. A girl took our order, then gave it to the fry cook right behind her. You helped yourself to coffee (the milk was “in that little fridge right there, Hon”. Locals kept pouring in, ordering breakfast — and passing around the one bottle of hot sauce — before “fixin’ to go to church”.

Our Stuckey’s stop added at least an hour to our time, but overhearing the guy raving about the “mess o poke chops” he had “t’other evenin” was worth every added minute. We finally pulled in to Home Sweet New York City Home around 5 that evening. I did some more math and figured we’d spent as much time getting to (and coming home from) Williamsburg as we did in Williamsburg itself.

Oh well. It was some Wedding. And some Road Trip. I can hardly wait for the next one, which is in October in Marblehead, Massachusetts. I’m already mentally packing my road snacks.

I can’t end this story without showing you the Beautiful Bride. Sigh

Amagansett, New York. July 2018

No bottles, no binkies. Just Beach Boys

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‘Why being an Aunt is so Great’

I was going to write yet another post about our Ugandan Trip, to be titled (wait for it) ‘Gorilla My Dreams‘. But then some other little monkeys intervened.

The little Ugandan monkeys who wanted to visit me in the worst way. And ‘worst way’ it would have been, had I acquiesced

The monkeys in question would be my (gulp) great-nieces. They are the absolutely adorbs spawn of my Nephew-By-Marriage and his Thank-God-He-Married-Her equally adorbs wife. I, of course, leave out Actual Names in this blog. But these are The Ones Who Own the Chocolate Factory. (When you’re done reading this story, check out their chocolate. Literally.)

The Monkeys in Question. Right after Numero Tres was added to the mix

Those of you who read my stories regularly (your reward awaits in Heaven) know that I have a large and much-beloved family. My Henry side gave me four-count-em-four aunts (and that’s only counting my Dad’s sisters; there were four other aunts-in-law).

The Henry Clan, including all four Original Aunts. That’s me at my mother’s feet, next to the kid with his thumb in his mouth. That’s my soon-to-be-spoken-of Aunt Vera at top left

I have ever-so-fond memories of listening in on adult conversations around the Henry or Peterson kitchen table, where we little cousins would be seated on various aunts’ laps. My Favorite Sister and I were reminiscing about this at a recent gathering. She reminded me that if we sat really still and stayed really quiet on one of said laps, the aunts would forget we were there, and really let their hair down with their stories. These gab-fests were fueled with plenty of coffee, and she said she still associates whispering and coffee breath with intimacy, safety, and a dash of subterfuge.

Peterson Uncles around the dining table (one Henry — my Dad — in the middle). Notice there are no small children on their laps, at least none that I can see. They are all in the kitchen with the aunts

I’m happy to say that my sister and I kept up this tradition when we in turn became aunts. Though in our case, most of the fascinating conversations were fueled with wine, not coffee. (See photo at the top of this post for an excellent example of an alternate use for an empty wine bottle, featuring my one-and-only Peterson great niece.)

That’s me, honing my Aunt Skills with one of my sister’s adorable daughters. There is probably a glass of wine tucked under the bed

My Peterson side aunt cache wasn’t quite so large, my mom having had only one sister. Luckily, her brothers had excellent taste, and I adored my aunts-in-law too. I have wonderful memories (again involving a lap) of my Aunt Shirley brushing my hair. She also taught me to knit, which turned out to be a highly useful Aunt Skill.

Thank you, dear Aunt Shirley, for teaching me to knit. Every little niece or nephew or great-niece has been ‘gifted’ a sweater, whether he/she liked it or not

My Aunt Shirley has, alas, passed on to the Great Family Reunion in the Sky. As have all my other aunts, including the last of the Henry Batch, my lovely Aunt Vera. My Aunt Vera was a nurse, a mom of a large clan of fun cousins, and a truly lovely person. She did cut her kids’ meat for them, but as far as I know that was her only fault. (And it’s debatable whether that even counts, fault-wise.)

My late, lamented Aunt Vera just a couple of months ago with my Middle Younger Brother Roger. She was not only the last Henry Aunt, she was the last Henry Sibling. End of an era

Which brings me to my last remaining aunt, my mom’s sister Marilyn. Aunt Marilyn (whom I called “Mooey”, probably because I was trying to say her name and couldn’t) was the Favorite not only because she was my mom’s only sister, but also because she was incredibly energetic and fun. She taught us to ice-skate and ski and took us to parades and let us ride on this cool sled she owned called a rodel. She also made up crazy jokes and games and was a big tease. We cousins would fight over who got to sit next to her at dinner.

Favorite Aunt Marilyn, not long after I appeared on the scene

Aunt Marilyn lived at home before she got married, and when we’d visit I got to sleep in her room. (Which was a Big Deal, and a privilege only I was granted since I was a girl.) One morning she said she really really needed to ‘go to the bathroom’, but she was ‘too lazy to get up’, so would I ‘get her the bedpan‘. Honestly, she had me looking everywhere for that thing. And she was in dire need of it before she stopped laughing long enough to tell me she was kidding.

Aunt Marilyn and me doing something companionable in the kitchen. A frying pan, not a bed pan, is involved. As well as a large box of salt

Anyway. Back to the Weekend Just Past and those three little monkeys. Yes, they are my great-nieces. And I’m happy to report that all the Aunt Shenanigans hold up for this generation too. I don’t have any grandchildren (yet), but I can imagine that some of the perks are the same. You get to do all the fun stuff — like play games and read books and make silly faces — then hand the kid back when it’s time for bottles or binkies or (urk) diaper changes. And we don’t have to wear awful house dresses. Well, unless we want to. We’re so old — and the kids are so cute — that nobody notices.

Great aunts, in my mind’s eye as well as my memory. That’s me in the middle on some cousin’s lap being admired at some Reunion or Other

Which brings me to the Beach Boys. On the first day of my inaugural great-aunt hostessing gig, I naively offered to watch Grand-Niece Number One while her mom went for a run. (Her dad was otherwise occupied on a bike ride with The Dude.) After all, I had ‘watched kids plenty of times’ and ‘knew what to do’, so ‘go on and have a good run; I’ll be just fine.’

Well. The second that little girl saw her mom trot off into the sunrise her face registered first Alarm, then Disbelief, then Fear and Rage. Which turned into Outright Screaming. So what did I do? I picked up my iPhone — no, not to call her mom in despair — but to play us some Beach Boys (‘Barbara Ann’, to be specific). I picked up that wailing toddler and we danced. I may have gotten a little winded by the time her mom got home, but I’m happy to say that it worked.

My Uncle Mike carrying me around before The Beach Boys existed. I do look reasonably entertained. That’s my Aunt Susie helping him

Well. It looks like I’ve run on and on. Like a great aunt is wont to do. So I’ll wrap this up with a reminder.

‘Little pitchers have big ears.’ (Though this particular pitcher only has one.) At any rate, if you find yourself with a niece on your lap, you may wish to watch your wine intake. Or stick to coffee

Amagansett, New York. June 2018

How many people can you pack into a gazebo?

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‘No one knows — because no one has ever tried.’

Some time ago (in a piece called ‘What’s Not To Lichen?’) I wrote about stuff that families find funny. (Usually, but not always, it’s only the people actually in that family who find these things funny.) Sometimes, like in the Henry Clan, it’s bad puns. My Grampa Henry had a whole collection of particularly-awful puns. Plus dirty limericks. He wrote one once about his gall-bladder operation. He survived; fortunately, the limerick did not.

Me. Doing stand-up in a bed of you-know-what. Check out ‘What’s Not To Lichen?’ for more punishment (er, examples)

Besides awful puns (and sometimes limericks) there’s usually a set of inside jokes — groaners that never fail to amuse, at least when told (and retold) within the confines of the family itself. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “How many dead people are in that graveyard?” (Answer: “All of them.”) I know, I know. If you can stand it, a good selection of both Henry and Whitmore specialties can be found in ‘Kangaroo Walks Into A Bar’. Just don’t take a sip of coffee before you read it; there’s a Whitmore urology joke that’s killer.

Sometimes this funny family stuff can’t be categorized as a pun or a joke or even a limerick. Sometimes what’s funny just is.

Take gazebos. For some reason, if you’re a Henry, the mere sight of a gazebo is sure to crack you up. (If you’re not sure what a gazebo is, you can click here or just look at the photo at the top of this post.) If a Henry sees a gazebo, and points it out to a fellow Henry, both burst out laughing. If there’s a non-Henry along, he/she can look a bit baffled. Continue reading

The Movie Disease

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‘More and more beautiful as you reach The End’

Some people say Fall is here when you spy your first red leaf. I say it’s when I need to whip out the grill light to cook my dinner. The Best Sister on The Planet gave me this gizmo a couple of years ago, and I honestly don’t know what I’d do without it as summer winds down.

My handy dandy grill light. I can’t show it to you on my actual grill, since Hurricane Irma or Jose or Maria or Whomever is out there whipping up a wet mess

A couple of nights ago, as I was out there sizzling up a weenie or two and engaging in a bit of grill-light-assisted reverie, I got to thinking yet again about Summer Turning Into Fall. Which I know I’ve written about more than once, but, darn it, I do find the topic fascinating. Bittersweet and sometimes even outright sad, but fascinating all the same.

Oh. Here’s that Sign O Fall of which I spoke. Thanks MJS!

I’ve compared the shortness of summer to the fleetingness of childhood. I’ve likened August to Sunday night, and September to Monday morning. And now I’m going to tell you how Fall is like the Movie Disease. Continue reading

Happy Birthday to my Selfie

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‘Reflections on the 10th anniversary of the iPhone.’

Honest Injun. I was going to write a piece about iPhones and ringtones anyway. But as I was reading the Times (er, procrastinating) with my zillionth cup of coffee, I happened upon the news that the iPhone came out ten years ago today.

My my my. It seems like just yesterday that I was sharing a (very tiny, so it’s a good thing we got along) freelance office with an art director I dubbed Svenska Boy, who was the very first person of my acquaintance who had an iPhone. He waited hours in line outside the Apple Store in Midtown Manhattan to get it. Sigh. Technological memories are so bittersweet.

Take that early selfie at the top of this post. Please (!) It’s not only fuzzy, it’s taken in a mirror. Because the phones back then didn’t have that reverse camera. Or maybe I just hadn’t realized it was there. Oh well.

Selfies before iPhones. I take a picture of my reflection with a thing called a camera. Actually it was a Flip Video Camera. Remember those?

But back to the reason I was going to write about phones in the first place. It has to do with sounds. I was at the Amagansett IGA a few days ago, stocking up for my umpteenth wave of weekend house guests, when I spied a woman who used to date one of The Dude’s cousins. (Hey, I’m alone all week. When I run into someone I know, even vaguely, they simply must be prepared for a bit of social interaction.) Continue reading

Crime ‘n Stuff

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‘Waves of summer mayhem out East Hampton Way’

Well. No turkeys-storming-the-birdfeeder excuses today. I’m late because Labor Day Weekend brought me a full complement of competent Twenty-Somethings to liven things up here around The Compound. And after they left I had to immediately erase all traces of their occupancy (change the sheets; wash the towels; wipe up the avocado-toast crumbs) — or feel super sad.

These turkeys are welcome at my ‘feeder’ any ole time. I miss ’em already

So now that I can walk around the house without feeling assaulted by reminders of a rollicking good weekend (oops, somebody left her wineglass out by the pool; er, that would be me), let me get down to the actual topic of the piece. Which is crime.

Now this is a crime: floaterless pool floats

Yes, crime. Out here on the Eastern End of Long Island, otherwise known as The Hamptons, we do have our share of crime. In the summertime much of it has to do with road rage, which is understandable when you consider that the local population explodes from around 20,000 to upwards of 60,000. Some sources say 100,000, even. All I know is that they all have cars and that all summer long it’s impossible to leave my driveway without doing that queen-wave-with-a-smile gesture that means “You’d better let me out now, if you know what’s good for you and that shiny finish on your passenger door!”

Why, just the other day I watched in wonder as a Range-Rover-wielding Botox Fan backed out of Brent’s Deli (home of the Best Fried Chicken on the Planet) right into a hapless Camry waiting at the red light. I hope she at least bought him a bucket. With sides. Continue reading

“I’ll take a hot foot sandwich, please.”

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‘It’s August. Grab those beachy memories while you can.’

Somebody wise once said that August is like the Sunday of Summer. (I think it was me, actually, but it’s the kind of thing that more than one wise person certainly could have come up with.)

Now I’ve written about this bittersweet end-of-summer stuff before, in ‘Yup. Even Slackers Get the Labor Day Blues’ and ‘The Days Are Long, But the Season is Short’. But, hey, it’s my blog and I’m feeling, well, a tad ‘Augusty’.

How many times did I get out the boogie boards this summer? Do you have to ask?

I’m pretty sure you know what I mean. It’s like you’ve just dusted off your white bucks on Memorial Day and then you realize Labor Day is coming up and you’ll just have to put them away again without having worn them even once. Or like you told yourself you’d have plenty of time to go through all the photos from that birding trip to Africa and make a book out of them already. And, speaking of books, please don’t get me started on yes, this summer I’ll get my act together and find an agent and/or a publisher to turn my stories into a real pages-and-ink book.

Stories? You bet I have stories. Some didn’t have such a happy ending. Just ask that Belgian guy in the back

But enough whining. Speaking of summers and beaches, here’s a joke that’s a favorite of my mom’s. She tells it best, but I’ll give it a shot. Continue reading

“I wouldn’t say no to a piece of pie”

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‘What to do when you’re stuck in traffic’

So The Dude and I driving back to The City last night, and of course there is horrible traffic, it being the height of summer and all. The Dude is working Google Earth to discover a back road to the Back Roads, which these days are as clogged as the Montauk Highway since Jerry Della Femina’s daughter saw fit to publish a back-roads map a couple of years ago, earning her the wrath of every Local from Southhampton to Montauk. Oh well. One Percent Problem, I know.

The scenery in the Hamptons is gorgeous. That is, if you’re into gazing at the backs of cars

But the one promising lead — a teensy dirt road invisible on Apple Maps — turns out to dead-end at a golf course. In our quest, we happened to pass over and under the railroad tracks several times, which got The Dude to thinking about how he really really needs more railroad ties for our driveway. (Someone, ages ago, probably The Dude’s Dad, lined our driveway with railroad ties. But they’re really old, and crumbling, and they never did go all the way down the drive anyway. Somebody got a hernia putting them there, no doubt.) Continue reading

Those were Banner days indeed

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‘An ode to my first job that did not involve cleaning up. At least not cleaning up after other people’s children’

Again, apologies for being a slacker. I seem to be getting later and later with my Tuesday posts. And I don’t even have the turkey to blame this week.

‘Curses, foiled again!’ said Mr. Turkey upon spying this clever foil

Hey, at least we didn’t use a slingshot, an idea suggested by a relative at that Fab Family Reunion I recently attended.

But I wasn’t always a slacker. I was a hard worker, even at a very early age. For one thing, my parents were firm believers in Kids Doing Chores. (I remember we got docked a nickel each day we didn’t make our beds; since our weekly allowance was only 25 cents, there were weeks when my brothers owed my Mom). I won’t go into a whole long list of these chores, but suffice it to say that I got my fill of ironing. And my brothers don’t often volunteer to clean out basements or dog pens. Continue reading