gratitude-a-thon day 43: Niagara Falls

By now, you probably know, what with all the beach shots and the flower pics and the whining and complaining about winter, that I AM NOT A GIRL WHO LIKES THE COLD. Well, on our recent trip to Buffalo, we took an hour and drove up to the American side of Niagara Falls. (We didn’t have our passports, so we couldn’t go to the bigger, even more dramatic Canadian Falls.) I’m sorry, but there’s just no other polite way of describing one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the Modern World, other than to say HOLY. FUCKING. SHIT.

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You can’t capture the big or the cold in a photo, but let’s just say BIG and COLD.

First of all, it is mammoth, like a moving Grand Canyon. Secondly, it is cold, like one of those nights when the temperature drops to -10, and your heat doesn’t work and you have no pajamas. Thirdly, everything is FROZEN SOLID like you’re in a life-sized fridge. The river is choppy, white water-ish ,because of the force of the Falls, or I should say, it would be choppy if it wasn’t FROZEN IN PLACE LIKE A STATUE.  Literally this water has STOPPED COLD. It’s like a Batman villain showed up and waved his hand and said, ok, FREEZE. Also, the drop down to the river, is pre-tty big. And you’re staring at this rushing water, and the backdrop of white, and it’s a little disorienting, so you think maybe you might fall, like into the freezingness of this awful place, and you just want to go back to the car (Ok, maybe I’m just talking about me, here.) Anwyay, the power of this thing, was just mind blowing. We were all sort of shocked by its intensity. Even the unimpressible kids were impressed (It really takes something big to get a lifted eyebrow from a teenager these days.)

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Everything around the falls is frozen solid. SOLID. Kind of pretty, but I wish there was a “Niagara Falls, The Heated Version.”

Even though I hate the cold, like it was evil itself, I was grateful to have seen the falls. I hadn’t been there since i was 8 and went with my family to Expo 67 in Montreal. I was terrified then, too. And I remember we went on The Maid of the Mist, which was the boat which goes under the falls. As young as I was, this just did not seem like an intelligent idea to me. Anyway, when you see something as big as NIagra Falls, it reminds you of how small you are. And how big the world is, and that you are just a little part of it. And sometimes that’s a really good thing to remember.

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gratitude-a-thon day 42: the mail

I’m a big texter, a huge emailer, a fervent facebooker, and a once-in-while skyper, and while I’ve yet to twitter, I’ll probably succumb some time soon. But call me old-fashioned, or just call me old, I LOVE TO GET MAIL. The kind that comes in your mailbox, that someone has written. WITH A PEN. I have always been a postal proponent. Give me the guy in the blue uniform and the big sack, and I’m happy.  When I was a kid, I spent a month on the Cape every summer and made lots of friends, who turned into pen pals. Everyday I impatiently waited for a letter from any one of a dozen people. I stalked our little black mailbox with the flip-up top, like a dog stalks a big steak that’s just out of reach.  I would wait for the envelopes with my name. Sometimes they had little hearts over all the i’s, sometimes stickers, or elaborate flowers, or my name in a rainbow of markers, or in a fat and balloon-y font. I loved every moment of the letters, in all sorts of writing that inhabited those envelopes, describing life in other parts. Sometimes there were even photos. That was a red letter day. I kept all the letters housed in their envelopes in my room. Sometimes I re-read them. Sometime I just kept them in a neat little pile for me to gaze at.

Today, fewer letters come, except for Christmas cards, which is like watching the kids of everyone I know grow up in time lapse photography. But I still like the mail. I even like the junk mail. I’m sort of fascinated by what comes to my door. And why. I have been getting Haddasah magazine for the past 6 months, despite the fact that I am not Jewish, do not go to a temple, and never ordered it (btw, I am half Jewish, half Italian/Catholic, but was not brought up practicing anything, but we’ll discuss this further in another post). Recently my husband began getting Wired, which is the last magazine in the world my husband would want, or be interested in. How did he get a subscription? We got Spin for a while, too. I flipped through it sometimes, wondering how in the hell this expensive magazine had my name on it. I even like catalogs (Yes, I am weird.) Some are so beautifully designed, I keep them in my office for reference. Some are ridiculous, and I marvel at the idea or product or presentation. A few are actually useful, offering odd stuff that I might never know existed, if the mail person didn’t bring it to my door.

Riley, my dog DOES NOT LIKE MAIL. He barks at the mail person in a viscious, “i will kill you,” way that is terrifying. (Riley is anything, but terrifying, but admittedly, his bark is that of a dog four times his size.) Here’s the odd part of this. We often have different mail people, and he hates all of them. This is something I just don’t understand. What is it that consistently gets him? Do they have a postal perfume that drives dogs wild? Even if we’re on a walk, he will spot a mail person and go crazy. That means, it’s not just a thing of someone walking up to our house, it’s something else. If anybody has any answers on this topic, fess up. I’m interested.

Anyway, I’m grateful for the mail. I worry about what will happen to the Postal Service in the future. I know they’re planning on ending Saturday delivery, which is kind of a major step. (I mean, there’s nothing like a Saturday night with the Garnet Hill Catalog). I am grateful for those men and women who get out there, like Santa with their sacks, and walk in rain, and snow and sleet, and crazy-kill-you heat, forced to meet up with mean old dogs (like Riley!) just to bring me my mail. Thanks you guys. Despite the fact that you also bring bills, and the depressing Sports Illustrated Bathing Suit Issue every February when I’m my pastiest winter white, I love what you do. Keep it coming Mr & Mrs. Postman.

gratitude-a-thon day 41: Pete is 80

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Here’s the crew. I gotta say, they know how to make cheesecake in Buffalo. We voted it the best we’ve ever eaten. And that’s high praise from Ally, the cheesecake maven!

I recently came back from Buffalo, NY, and I am still wondering why anybody would live there. Although every single person I met was exceptionally nice. AND I MEAN EXCEPTIONALLY NICE.  It’s where my husband grew up, and where we went for his dad’s 80th birthday. His dad is having some major health stuff, fluid surrounding his brain, which makes him not remember things, and lose his balance. This was thought to have been Parkinson’s for several years, but was recently re-diagnosed as adult hydrocephalus. There are some things you can do to help this condition, but he’s not really in good enough health to do them. We’re probably dealing with a series of strokes here, too. Last week he found an infection in his leg, which put him into the hospital, and now into a rehab center, so last night’s party was there, in a special little room just for families to hang out. It’s a nice place, as far as those places go, and it doesn’t have that awful urine smell, which is what I most remember about where my poor Aunt Josie was.

Anyway, here’s the grateful part. The night we celebrated, I said something to Pete (my father-in-law) about being 80 and what a big birthday it is. And he said, something like, “Yeah, and I’m going to have a lot more birthdays.” And later in the night, he said something else, in a hearty voice, about living a long, long  time. He said it with conviction and joy.  He said it like a man on a mission. This guy clearly doesn’t want to give up. He wants to live. I admire that. I know that for a lot of people getting old brings with it too many super hard and pain-in-the-ass (back, leg, head, shoulders, knees and toes) challenges, to be excited about more living, but Pete has not only the will to live, but also the drive. What he doesn’t have is the health. And that’s a bit of a problem at this point. He may have to move into assisted living from the rehab center, and there’s the tricky and the icky. Pete will not want to leave his house, the house where his kids grew up, where the majority of his adult life was lived, where there are still so many reminders of his wife, the mom to his kids, who lived with him there, before she left him 20 years ago for her high school boyfriend while on a celebratory vacation to Hawaii in honor of their 35th wedding anniversary, and died from breast cancer a year and a half ago. (I told you this guy is a survivor.) He will not want to leave all the comfort and familiarity, (not to mention his baby grand), of this dwelling where he made a new life with an amazing new woman, who was sent by divine intervention after his wife left, and has been with him ever since, and who is as intelligent, beautiful, upbeat, and vivacious  a person as you could ever find. And his kids don’t want him to leave either, and they don’t want to have to dismantle the house that represents their childhoods, and a time they can never get back again, but that this house reminds them existed. How come stuff has to happen like this? Couldn’t there be a better last chapter for all of us? REALLY, people, we need to work on the ending.

It’s all so complicated, like one of those stupid Rubik cubes–you turn it one way and it works, you turn it another and the whole thing falls apart. I understand this scenario my husband and his siblings and Pete’s partner are going through because I have already been on this shitty roller coaster ride. I have already had to walk this long and crumbling road, watching both of my parents get sick and die. And I have had to face losing the only house that I ever lived in growing up, and all its soothing contents. There was something so comforting about knowing that while  I moved onto have my own life, that house remained untouched. And in my mind,  some part of my younger self still lived there.

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Still rooting for the Red Sox at 80! Go Pete.

I find the whole situation so unspeakably sad and difficult, that even though I’ve never been close to my father-in-law, I abhor watching what’s happening to him. I want to make it better, be Cher and turn back the hands of time, invent some plan that could turn the whole thing around for everybody. But as for Pete. He wants to live. Perhaps it’s how you are, when you’re the son of a Holocaust survivor, or maybe it’s just his inherent nature. But this guy chooses life. And I think that given the circumstances, that’s just all kinds of beautiful.

gratitude-a-thon day 40: ann dowd and the oscars

Gosh, I love the Oscars. I love them just like I worked in an industry where I might actually be in contention for one. I love the pre-show red carpet, the actual red carpet, the fashion on that gosh darn carpet, and of course, the unpredictability/predictability of who will win and what they’ll say, or forget to say, or say in a some really dumb way that makes me always say, “I would have given a better speech than THAT.”

I did not see Les Miserable. Mostly because I hate musical movies (although I am fine with musical plays, go figure). I also despise Hugh Jackman for absolutely no reason. And while I hear that Anne Hathaway’s performance was stellar, I want to talk about another Ann who should have been in this category, but wasn’t.

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Ann Dowd. She’s adorable and genuinely lovely. And a REALLY great actress, too. She should have won, but she wasn’t in the category. (I hate when that happens.)

Ann Dowd, is the sister of my close friend Deb. She has been a working actress for her whole adult life. She was pre-med at Holy Cross, but fortunately for us, she chose to be a pretend doctor, instead of a real one. (In fact, did you see Marley & Me? She was the warm and lovely veterinarian.) Anyway, Ann has been in all sorts of movies, tv shows, and plays. (I saw her in an Off-Broadway production of “Our Town,” in which she was amazing.) And she has won all sorts of awards. Last year she starred in a disturbing movie based on a true story, called “Compliance.”  Her performance, as a fast food manager, convinced by a prank phone caller posing as a policeman, to interrogate a young employee accused of stealing, got Ann got big time Oscar buzz and major critical acclaim. But Magnolia pictures didn’t have the funds to do a big splashy PR campaign for her, so she did her own, with support of friends and family, putting together $13,000 of her own money to send members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the voters), the “Compliance” DVD. In the end, Ann didn’t get the nomination, EXCEPT IN MY BOOK. Because aside from being an extraordinary actress, she is an extraordinary person. She has three children, two of whom have special needs (and are exceptionally and awesomely special, I might add). One of those gorgeous kids is a foster child who Ann and her husband are adopting after a long relationship (with him and the courts). Ann is warm, and intelligent, and gorgeous and funny. She is generous and nurturing and genuinely one of the nicest people inhabiting our planet. So, really, I feel like the wrong Ann won. Because I count all that stuff, and I’m not saying Anne Hathaway isn’t a nice person, but I will go as far as to say she probably isn’t as nice as Ann Dowd. (BTW, Ann did win a National Board of Review Award and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, which she lost to Helen Hunt–nudity wins every time, as well as a Critics Choice Award.)

Anwyay, I didn’t love the show this year. I thought Seth had a couple of good moments that had me laughing out loud, but it was sort of an uneven show. I did find the cast of Les Mis singing really powerful (despite my disgust wtih movie musicals–I am being a bit Bipolar here, no?). And Jenifer Hudson and Adele were ABSOLUTELY OUT OF THIS WORLD AMAZING. And our hometown boy Ben winning Best Picture was really cool, shocking everyone (especially Spielberg). And for crying out loud, Jennifer Lawrence is adorable. And I just think Daniel Day-Lewis is the most lovely man that ever was (please don’t tell me anything different).

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She is the wrong Anne, but she got the dress right (well, except for the boobs).

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I can’t believe I’m posting a photo of Hugh Jackman, because I really don’t like him (except for he does have an old looking wife, which I did think was kind of great), but it’s the only photo of the the “Les Mis cast singing” dress I could find. It’s really beautiful, isn’t it?

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Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.

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The hair is bad, but that dress, AND THAT BODY. I’ll have what she’s having.

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This was really one of my favorite dresses. I just wish Melissa McCarthy could have looked this gorgeous.

And as for fashion, I did like the wrong Anne. I wished her red carpet dress fit better in the boob area, but I loved the back and the necklace was just WOW. I also adored the dress she wore when she sang on stage. And why couldn’t Melissa McCarthy, who is so freaking funny, have a dress like Octavia Spencer. That’s how you dress a curvy girl. And my other two picks for “I wish I had that dress,” are Samantha Barks–simple and stunning, and Renee Zellweger, ohmygod. Of course, I wouldn’t mind having their bodies either.

And that’s it for the Oscar round-up. Thanks for watching. See you next year.

gratitude-a-thon day 37: new york

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The Parker Meridien. We love this place.

Sorry for missing yesterday’s post, I may be a little spotty this week, because it’s school vacation week, and we’re doing some road trips, and I have a sinus infection the size of  Volkswagen.

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It’s morning, but I could eat one of these burgers right now.

I like to get to New York as much as I can. We usually go at least once a year, for one of the kid’s school vacations. We always stay at the Parker Meridien because they have a pool on the roof and it overlooks Central Park, so you can’t argue with that, plus it’s really close to Bonwit’s (and why don’t we have one of those?) and the mothership, Sak’s, and Uniglo (which is fun and cheap and not in Boston, either) and Barney’s. We initially began staying here because it’s a really kid-friendly place, and they used to love the pool, but this time, they haven’t been swimming once. Ah, teenagers. Also, I should mention that they have the best burger in town. It’s at this little place, that lore has it, was there before the hotel was built. And it literally is a hole in the wall, and only serves burgers, fries, milkshakes, beer, wine, the end. It’s a soup Nazi situation, where you better know what you’re ordering, or you go to the back of the line. It’s called The Burger Joint, but it’s only identified by a neon burger. You must go. In fact, you should leave what you’re doing, and go this minute. This is a kind of awful trip, on account of I’m sick. And so is Ally. And our friends Deb and Charlie decided to join us, and Deb isn’t feeling well and neither is one of her kids. So, we’re kind of a sorry group. But we have managed to do some great stuff. And it’s the kind of stuff that tells the story of why I could have written the jingle “I LOVE NY.” Here are just a couple reasons. There are about a billion more.

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Saw Seinfeld here last year. What a New York experience.

1. The New York diner. Peter and I had one of these around the corner from us when we lived here before we got married. It was called the Silver Star. And you could get anything at this place. Really, ANYTHING. The menu was only slightly shorter than War and Peace. Recently we got turned onto the Brooklyn Diner. Last year we saw Seinfeld eating his breakfast there. It’s absolutely amazing food, and all the waiters are aspiring actors, so that’s kind of fun, too. It’s more refined than the diners I’m really talking about, but nonetheless, it’s delish. Plus, honestly, the woman next to us ordered a hotdog and it was the size of a dachsund.

2. The people. The people watching gets a freaking A ++++. There’s no place better, if people are your theater.

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This show wins for staging and costumes, hands down.

3. And speaking of theater. The theater. We saw The Lion King. We saw it a long time ago, but it’s good enough to see again. And there are so many amazing options on Broadway, off Broadway, you name it. Rich, rich, RICH arts world here.

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I was sick for my entire stay in NYC. This is how it made me feel.

4. And now that you mention art, we went to MOMA yesterday and saw The Scream, Starry, Starry Night and Christina’s World, plus a painting made of pollen, which was totally and completely tremendous. And we could have gone to like 700 other museums, too.

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When I saw Elton, he changed costumes, like every third song

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Don’t get me started on my man Adam. He is very cute, ladies.

5. Madison Square Garden. Wow. Big. Big. Big. Maroon Five and Neon Trees  was great, but equally cool was being in the famed MSG. I hadn’t been there since I saw Elton John with Nicky Barzetti on Thanksgiving day my sophomore year of high school. (John Lennon was his special guest, which I had predicted because they both had songs out that they sang back up on, and I could barely watch because I WAS SO SHOCKED THAT I WAS ACTUALLY RIGHT ABOUT JOHN LENNON–ONE OF THE BEATLES–BEING THERE)! And by the way, Elton John’s name was hanging from the rafters, as a retired number! Guess he won’t be playing there again!

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Oh ABC Carpet. Why aren’t you my house?

6. The shopping. It’s ridiculous. And basically puts any other city in the States to shame. I haven’t gotten to do my rounds because I feel too awful, but I did manage to hit the Barney’s Warehouse Sale yesterday (it was picked over, so I got a big fat nothing) and ABC Carpet, which I would actually live in if they would let me.

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I could definitely get into someone blow drying my hair everyday. Yeah, who couldn’t?

7. The Dry Bar. It’s a great little place, actually it’s beautifully designed, and all they do is blow dries. Nothing else, just the blow job. I took Ally and our friend Lily. My hair still looks awesome.

There are a whole lot of other reasons I love New York, although being sick in the city that never sleeps, isn’t one of them.

gratitude-a-thon day 36: attention deficit disorder (squirrel!)

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I could never shut up as a kid in school. I talked incessantly, being told to be quiet, several times a day, only to start talking again moments after being reprimanded. I was smart, but social, my teachers would say. And I don’t think I ever got a report card that did not state in loopy penmanship, “talks too much,” and “does not work up to her potential.” In kindergarten I had to sit in the corner by myself one day because I was talking. I came home sobbing, and told my older sister about my misery, who replied, “Welcome to the Friedman motormouths.” As young as I was, I somehow knew that I was following in a less than desirable family tradition. When I had my son, it didn’t take long for the letters A.D.D. to be bantered around. (SQUIRREL!) He was a tornado of activity from his earliest moments. And while he was clearly super bright and engaging, his activity level and curiosity dogged us from his earliest school experiences. I won’t go into the whole, VERY, VERY, VERY, VERY LONG story in detail, but after having him tested in 2nd grade, we found he did indeed have A.D.D., and the school thought he should be put on medication, but we resisted, feeling adamantly opposed to the idea of medicating a 7 year old. By third grade, with the help of an exceptional therapist, who was acting as a sort of parent coach to us, supporting us to make the right decisions with Jake, and a highly experienced, and extraordinary 3rd grade teacher, it became obvious that it was time to seriously consider medication. My husband took a month off from work, and the two of us immersed ourselves in making this decision. We read everything we could, and even visited the renowned Edward Hallowell, the author of “Driven to Distraction.” It wasn’t easy, but drowning in research and exhausted from thinking, we decided to try it. And within three weeks, his teacher called him an “ideal student.” Jake was feeling good about himself, because, what his medication did for him is the same thing as glasses do for a person with nearsightedness. As my husband and I learned about A.D.D., we realized that we both had it, but had learned strategies to cope with it. There was no such moniker as A.D.D. when we were kids, so therefore there was no help for it (the truth is there was no drug for it, so there was no name for it). My daughter, a chatter box like her mom, wasn’t diagnosed until fifth grade, but of course, when the symptoms appeared, we knew exactly who to see, and how to test. But don’t cry for us, Argentina!  Yes, we are the A.D.D. family, but  I’ve got to tell you, I’ve found that A.D.D. people are some of the most creative and interesting I have met. Those three letters may make it more difficult to focus, but they also seem to make it more possible to take in lots of information, and tap into creativity in fascinating and off-beat ways. And more than not, A.D.D. people are often quite social and have an insatiable curiosity for life. We think of it as a positive in our family. And we treat it like that. I’m not saying, it doesn’t require more work to live with A.D.D, but I am saying I’m grateful for it. Yup, I actually am. It’s kind of a cool sort of malady, once you get the hang of it. It’s thought that Einstein, Mozart, da Vinci,  Churchill, Walt Disney, Alexander Graham Bell, and John Lennon, among other creative and high-achieving people had it, too. And while I may not contribute anything nearly as monumental, or significant as those examples, I’m pretty darn happy to be in their company.