Decorating for the holidays!


I brought my brother a bouquet of garlic for Thanksgiving.  I bought it from Keith’s Organic stall over at the Union Square Farmers Market.  It really is the perfect gift for a chef. He’s working his way through the bundle as we head towards Christmas Day.  I have to confess, the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas seem to be speeding by.

Old Santa

Lisa and I headed to my father’s house today.  She had bought a tree with him last weekend and it was in need of decorating.  He put the lights on it during the week.  It’s the one Christmas chore he has held for 83 years consecutively and does amazingly well.  He wants nothing to do with the ornaments or decorating in general.  That was always my mother’s domain and she was very particular about every detail.  It took us 4 years but this was the year we abandoned all of my mother’s rules.  The tree has colored lights,  is shaped unlike any we’ve had before,  there is a toy truck under the tree that matches the one parked in the driveway and we are serving chicken for Christmas dinner.  She would be horrified.

We didn’t set out to defy my mother.  It just happened organically if I dare use that term.  It wasn’t until this afternoon that we realized we had veered so far from the decorating etiquette rules my mother had set.  Admittedly, her rules were sound and we’ll come to our senses in future Christmases.  This year though, it was change that was desired.  Why don’t we…. and whatever was said sounded good.  It must be part of the mourning process as not one of us wants what was.  We’re all excited that nothing is the same.

 We’re having chicken because few of us are not eating beef anymore.  I met with a nutritionist at Sloan Kettering a few weeks ago.  He mentioned the book Anti Cancer by David Servan-Schreiber and I’ve been reading it every night since.  It doesn’t say don’t eat beef but limit it to grass fed and not every night.  My brother arrived at the same beef conclusion but it was his arteries and heart problems that is the driving force behind his change of diet.  My nieces never liked beef even as little babies.  They were born pollo vegetarians, a term I actually looked up!  That’s how the roast my mother deemed the perfect Christmas meal was replaced by a chicken.  I also have no doubt that there will be garlic in that Christmas dish.  It’s recommended for inhibiting cancer and heart problems and there is that bouquet hanging around the kitchen.

I hope all of your holiday plans are going well too.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing and hoping all of you had a wonderful day for those of you celebrating Thanksgiving.  For those who aren’t, I’m hoping you had an enjoyable day too!  We’ve expanded this holiday to a two day event.  I should be good and stuffed by Saturday!

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Lost and Found


I entered the lobby yesterday to find the mailman on his knees by the radiator.

“Bill, what happened?”

He sheepishly looked up.

“I lost my keys.  There were 40 on that ring to every building on my route and my cars.  My wife is going to kill me.”

It was a day for losing things.  My sister Lisa lost track of my father who was on his way in to see his eye doctor.  At 91, we play a game of catch.  My brother gets my Dad ready for the train and reminds him when to get on it.  One of us, here in the city, meets him in front of Kmart in the belly of Penn Station.  This has been the routine for nearly 15 years.  It started when my mother got sick and had to make frequent visits to Sloan Kettering.  I offered to drive them but they preferred taking the train.  My father has always loved trains and it’s easy buffering here to there with the hum of high-speed travel.  Many times they sat on that train digesting news that would have crushed any spirit.  My parents are from stoic stock and both like unemotional scenes.  I sometimes think they needed the unintended audience of fellow rail riders to keep their hardened masks affixed.  They rode that train for 8 years as the news grew worse and her health deteriorated.  Finally, they were referred to the Long Island facility when maintaining status quo was the goal.  Train rides were now regulated to holidays and the occasional doctors visit.

My father adores his independence.  He clings to it with clenched wrists and an attitude of unyielding defiance.  I love that about him.  His mind is slipping  though and small details like appointments or train schedules get lost.  We’ve had him to the doctor and it’s normal wear and tear of the brain.  Yesterday was different though.  I got this text from my sister Lisa.

Dad forgot to meet me.  I don’t know where he is.  I tried calling but his phone goes to voice mail. 

Suddenly, New York’s size seemed so much greater.  We called his home, the eye doctor and mostly each other.  It was decided she should stay at the meeting place and that I would take the train up to the office of his appointment.  I looked out the window at every station to see if he was there.  My brother was notified that he may have to leave work and look for my Dad at home.

We were frantic for an hour and a half.  Just as Lisa was headed to the police to report him missing he showed up.  He had gotten mixed up and took the wrong train.  His phone was in his pocket turned off.  Constant communication is not a part of my father’s era.  He sometimes answers the phone, “It’s your dime so start talking.”

When he first retired, we were in the habit of calling my mother everyday.  When she died, we all continued the tradition with him.

“So, why are you calling?”

“To talk Dad.  I’m calling just to talk to you.  No reason.”

It took him years to get used to the talk for the sake of visiting by phone.  My sister Lisa would send out talking points to Colleen and I so that our conversations would go on for a while longer.  Eventually, he looked forward to the interruptions and we learned how to trigger subjects that would interest him.

Lisa didn’t yell at him when he showed up at the meeting point late.  She’s just as stoic as my parents when it comes to public display of anger.  Lisa just asked what happened so that she could fully understand the situation.  He doesn’t know it yet but there will be new rules and new safeguards when or if his next trip occurs.  She believes what we had yesterday was a fire-drill for a possible future emergency.  I’m hoping that emergency never happens.

As for Bill the postman, his keys are still missing.

Abbey below ground*  the photos are from Scotland.  We were in an Abbey on our way to Glasgow.  These didn’t develop right but I thought them perfect for my little tale.

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Another trip around the sun

Bucket in Polaroid It’s my birthday today. Yes, another orbit around the sun complete and I couldn’t be happier.  I’m healthy, not so wealthy but so much wiser.  Two out of three and if I were to be lacking in something, I don’t mind that it’s a few shekels in my purse and little else.  Well, I also could use more time in my day.  I’m not sure what happened as years ago, I seemed to be able to do so much more with the allotted 24.  Now, I’m struggling to get to bed at a decent hour! Weed against wall While in Scotland, I wanted to capture every last detail.  My senses were on overload and when I saw this weed by the barn next to the textured wall, I just wanted to capture it.  I’m not sure why I was so enthralled by it but I was.  I loved the way it looked.  I set about photographing it the moment I saw it.  I mean I really photographed it.  First with my IPhone, then digital, film, and finally with my Polaroid.  It’s the Polaroid version I like best.  I did this over three days while entering or leaving my friend’s house.  The light changed, my camera changed, my mood and well, you get my drift.

I vaguely remember being watched by Merlin.  In hindsight, I realize now he might have been examining me the same as I the weed. Merlin is a rescue horse with a bad attitude. It took him a while to love his mistress but  now there seems to be no one else in the world he can bear the company of.  He kept his distance from me.  I’d call his name at the gate but he’d only move further away.  I even tried to lure him over with a carrot but he wanted none of that.  There would be no making friends with Merlin. On the third day of my visit, I was there when Merlin was brought in from the field at night to be put to bed.

Thomp, thomp, thomp.

You could hear him galloping in the darkness at an alarming pace.  Up close, Merlin is huge.  He passed the weed everyday for weeks but on this night, the third day of my visit, he swerved and pulled it out of the ground with one smooth swoop.  I stood there shocked as he slowly munched on my weed while looking me straight in the eye.  I’m still debating if his look was evil or mischievous.

What I do know is to seize my opportunities as they come.  Merlin did. I don’t know if it was to snack or annoy the visiting stranger.  Maybe a little of both.  I decided last February to enjoy my travel for what it is – an adventure wrapped in the mundane cloak of work.  There are weeks that are exhausting but in retrospect, it has been fun.  I would never be able so see the world as I do on my own budget.  I just hope my future muses don’t always get chewed up!

By the way, that’s Merlin’s bucket up at the top of this post.  I was going to open with the observation that I hadn’t kicked it yet.  Instead, I seem to be ending on that note!  Enjoy your day!

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Stardust in motion

Statue of Andrew Jackson

Statue of Andrew Jackson

Last night the cab driver joked as he lifted my suitcase into the trunk, “Do you have a dead body in this?”

He was making light conversation but I was beginning to feel like one myself after nearly two weeks of travel. I had barely enough time to recover from my trip to Scotland and the cold I caught while traveling when I was off to Cincinnati, New Orleans and then Austin. Whirlwind does not begin to describe the pace I was going at.  I knew it though the moment I set foot into October and just barreled on through.

St. Louis Cathedral

The trips were connected in timing but little else. This year Greenbuild was held in New Orleans and I took this as an opportunity to explore the city. The trade show itself highlights sustainability such as the Make It Right houses in the 9th Ward. I toured them and loved the architecture as well as materials used. I also viewed Bayou Bienvenue, which is a cypress swamp that is being restored to help as a barrier to hurricanes. It has been destroyed over the years by a shortcut developed in the 1950’s for tankers delivering oil. The shortcut no longer exists but the trees have yet to take hold. While in the 9th Ward, I stood on the levee listening to lectures on the measures taken so that the past can’t be repeated.

Looking across the levee in the 9th Ward

Looking across the levee in the 9th Ward

Back at the convention center, Deepak Chopra had us meditating in an auditorium. He really has an amazing mind and I picked up a book of his to read on my travels. The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success is a thin little book filled with deep thoughts.  He said during his lecture to just be present in the moment and I admit that advice was needed as I grasp hold of my agenda.  Too much anticipating what is coming next to really take note of the here and now.  He also mentioned we were all made of stardust and I secretly thought I might be a shooting one if I’m not careful!

Tracks by Bayou Bienville

Tracks by Bayou Bienville

The trolley to the Garden District was hopped mid week and I fell in love with Magazine Street. This is where the true locals go and I loved it for that. I did play tourist a few nights and the French Quarter remains one of the more interesting places to wander. It was an amazing week of fun and work nicely melded together. If you get a chance, I would tell you to go to New Orleans in a heartbeat.

Drinks in the French Quarter

Drinks in the French Quarter

From New Orleans, I flew to Austin for a wedding and then meetings. I love weddings where the bride and groom just glow. This was one of them and their happiness was contagious. Austin is another city I should really devote more time to. I tend to use it as a portal to come and go but this time I was able to explore more and know I will try to do more next time.

The meetings ended yesterday and that’s how I came to be standing with a cab driver in the middle of the street at midnight. The thought of another night on the road was unbearable so I took the last flight I could to get back to New York.

“Are you sure you didn’t pack a dead body in this?”

“No” I said. “Just a lot of great memories.

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Coming up for air.

Time on Barn

I flew home from Scotland exactly a week ago yesterday.  My reentry into everyday life didn’t go as smoothly as expected.  If I had known jet lag would haunt me as it has, I wouldn’t have planned so many business meetings early in the week.  I did though and most days this past week found me hobbling around like a two-year old in need of a nap.  To make matters worse, I caught a virus of some kind on the flight back.  No, it’s not THE virus in the news but a more common strain that has my sinus cavities pounding and throat sore.  I went to see the doctor yesterday and he confirmed I was indeed sick but advised me to hang on before taking antibiotics.  “You need rest, lots of rest.  Try that for a day or two and see what your body can do.”  He is young, handsome and said it with such conviction that I couldn’t help but nod in agreement.  I’ve been eating lots of garlic, drinking mugs full of echinacea tea and bowls of chicken soup and resting. I feel like a helium balloon on the third day.  That was the day Franz, our pet cat growing up, would destroy all of the balloons.  I’m hoping to soar to new heights tomorrow.

Bowl of Garlic

I posted the bowl of garlic because the bowl is one of my souvenirs.  Yes, I’m getting around to writing about my trip.  Before going to the Isle of Skye, we stopped at a friend’s farm outside of Glasgow.  She bought an old barn from the 1500’s and has been renovating it into a wonderful home for herself, her horses, dog and as a welcoming stop for friends.  I was enchanted with the place from the moment I stepped foot onto the property.  As a woodworker and architect, she is creating many of the details herself.  That’s where the bowl came from.  It was sitting on the woodpile headed to the woodstove when I nabbed it.  Too thick and clumsy to the practiced eye, it was declared fuel long before my arrival.  I liked it though because it is a bit quirky and less than perfect.

Ali front barn view

Everyone has been asking me what I did while in Scotland and I have to confess, it doesn’t sound like much when put into a list form. I photographed nooks and crannies plus the many sheep that populate the backcountry roads of Scotland. More importantly, there was limited cell phone access and Internet. The most profound thing I did on my vacation was let go. Sure, my family was able to FaceTime me with careful planning as the five hour time difference proved challenging.  I may have also been accessing the server illegally.  I was never really sure.

Ali Barn

I was also able to upload IPhone photos from cafés we stopped in for lunch or tea. Telephone access and emails were less available and after the first few days of withdrawl, I enjoyed the peace and quiet in my mind. I think that is what helped make this such a wonderful vacation. Yes, my friend Freda I adore and Scotland was beautiful but for the first time in months I was able to focus solely on the present and none of it was work related. Over the next few days I will post the Polaroid photos of this trip. Freda taught me Lightroom at night and with 30 rolls to develop, I have a project that will last all winter long!

Lone Sheep

I will try and get to all of your posts in the next week.  My Internet service has been down for days and I’ve only been able to access the web randomly.  What seemed like heaven on vacation is a bit like hell now that I’m back working.  My sister Lisa says Mercury is retrograde.  My dealings with Verizon have been less than satisfactory and I keep expecting them to tell me it’s Mercury’s fault too.

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Front DoorI am back from vacation and feeling the combined effects of jet lag and the cruelty of Monday in general.  My vacation was amazing and I am still dizzy with happiness.

KeysWe stayed in a cottage part of the time situated on the Isle of Skye.  I’ll write more when my mind and body sync better with the time zone.

Wishing you all a wonderful evening.  I’ll visit you in the coming days.


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