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My Summer Vacation

Day 0
Why am I planning a vacation? I live in New York City! Everyone else goes away and I have the city to myself (sort of). I hate airplanes.
Day 1
On the plane—Can’t sleep, iPad jumps when I try to read, no good movies, legs cramps.
Then we land, take our luggage on a bus, but the bus is a boat (vaporetto)! The boat is a bus! We’re in Venice! Canals, lagoon, pasta! Prosecco, gelato! Let me at it. Toilet paper in the hotel is gift wrapped! I’m not in Kansas any more.
Day 2 and…
Rialto bridge, Bridge of Sighs, Correr, Garabaldi St., gelato, Jewish Ghetto, Academia (May be most amazing museum ever! Bosch!), Murano (eh), St.. Marcos, Academe bridge at sunset, churches, churches, HEAT, museum of musical instruments, food!
I don’t want to leave…ever!
Day 6 Florence
Easy train ride. The hotel has given us a hand-held device with GPS and free international phone calls. “Hi, kids, eat your heart out.”
Day 7
Uffizi, David, museums, museums, HEAT, Galileo museum. Churches. Charlottsville 🙁
Day 8/9
Laundry day near Santa Maria Novella, loud smells. Museo del Bargello, walking, churches. Pitti palace, walking, shopping, eating.
Day 10
Tuscany, Siena, San Gimignano.
Day 11
Santa Croce, shopping, walking, eating. Did I mention HEAT.
Day 12
Train to Rome. Old hotel in back street below Spanish steps. Lovely. (see the view of cafes from our window)
Day 13 and…
Colosseum, Forum, HEAT, walking, eating, churches, flea market, ghetto, Kosher lunch (humus, baba, ahhhh), Borghese gardens (hot and dry 🙁 restful ), Piazza Popolo, Ara Pacis (slavery exhibit, oy!), Catacombs (bones removed because tourists steal them!), Borghese Gallery (Caravaggio, but we’re museumed out, can’t stop laughing, place is all marble like living in a [fancy] bathroom—where is the exit?) Last dinner—why am I yearning for fish tacos?
Day 17
Frantic message from our son at the airport, “R U OK? Heard there was an earthquake there.”

Pastry Confessions

I’m primarily an ice cream person, but occasionally my thoughts turn to pastry.
The women in my family (my mother and both grandmothers) were accomplished pie makers. My Manx grandmother baked with lard. As unhealthy as it is, folks went crazy for her creations, sweet pies and pastries as well as steak and kidney pie—a dish I never tasted as I lack the ability to digest meat. My personal favorite was Manx shortbread. Though I now possess two notebooks with recipes in her handwriting, as well as an ancient cookbook of hers, I found no recipe for Manx shortbread. The cookbook I inherited from her is “The Rumford Complete Cook Book.” It was originally published in 1908 and dedicated to Count Rumford who was “ennobled by the courts of Europe because of his pioneer discoveries in cooking” (in 1790 according to the book). The publisher of the book, Rumford Chemical Works, manufactured baking powder (since 1859) which is enthusiastically utilized in a many of the recipes in the book. A short introduction touts the importance of calcium and phosphates found in baking powder.
There’s a recipe for Scotch shortbread in Rumford but I didn’t remember grandmother’s having almonds in hers. The closest I’ve come to duplicating her shortbread is with another Scottish recipe. The directions call for a lot of butter (I use Irish), and entails kneading. Kneading for a period of ten minutes is more labor-intensive than it sounds. It’s best employed in resolving residual anger. Grandmother would be annoyed to learn that her shortbread was tainted by directions and ingredients taken from the Scots and Irish, cultures she considered inferior to the Manx.
I’m more openminded, not only in terms of pastry.
My other grandmother’s ancestors had been Americanized for generations. She was fond of apples. She baked with Crisco (also unhealthy). I favored her apple dumplings. She made them for me every time I saw her, and I ate them relentlessly.
I never saw a cookbook in her house.
This is my pastry confession: these days, as in childhood, I do not like the finished pastries as much as the uncooked dough. In fact, when I bake, I save dough in the freezer to eat at my leisure. I don’t use lard or Crisco, but the consumption of raw eggs in dough is hazardous, so they say. My mother was horrified when I stole dough to eat raw. It frightened her more than the possibility of putting an eye out, making faces that might freeze on my face, or having an accident while wearing ragged underwear.
I’m not generally one to court danger, but we have to give in to some temptations. What’s life without taking a chance now and again. I try to keep my consumption of raw dough outside the margin of stomach distress. Moderation is key, a harmless way of rolling the dice.
It hasn’t killed me yet.


My father was an unconditionally honest man, obsessive in his habits. My mother was a saint, helpful to everyone, never a harsh word. I’m an only child who aspired to be a badass, but I had no role-models.

I look terrible in black; not so much vampirish as weak, sickly, possibly contagious. My tattoo fantasies are shattered by the fact that I’m prone to keloids. I’ve never owned a gun. I get loopy on a second glass of wine and I’m too clumsy to wear sunglasses in the dark. When I speak loudly or too much, I lose my voice. I can’t eat red meat because, apparently, I’m deficient in an enzyme required to digest it. When I break rules, I hear my mother’s voice. I want to be Patti Smith but lack her style and talent. I admire Tom Hanks. (And Keith Richards—so there! ) My competitive instincts are deficient. I’ve been frightened by my husband’s old brown shoes, thinking they were an animal lying in wait.

My favorite tai chi teacher assumed I was a “second sister.” I’m not sure why I lack the outer poise and self-assurance of an only child. My parents did their best to assure me that I was clever and capable, but I never quite believed them.

However, once I chased down a purse-snatcher with no regard to what I might do when I caught him. (Luckily, others arrived to help.) I have spoken out, when I probably should have kept my mouth shut. I’ve stood my ground (quietly) in awkward situations. I’ve offended people I don’t like—on purpose. I’ve embarrassed myself in countless ways, married a boy everyone said was wrong for me, and have no regrets. Though I don’t think of myself as courageous and conduct myself unobtrusively, there is a line I will NOT cross or allow others to traverse in my presence. I do not tolerate bigots or bullies, but I don’t argue with them. I’ve learned that it doesn’t do any good, better to walk away, block, unfriend.

I’ll never be known for bravery or boldness and, alas, there is no glory in being a connoisseur of daydreams, a gifted flaner, cloud visionary, or adept wallflower. The impression I make is amiable, entirely reputable. But make no mistake, in my heart I’m bad to the depths of my tawdry illusions.

Color notes from an “art drop-out”

In the course of shopping for gifts this year, I notice a lot of elaborately designed coloring books. They’re everywhere, toy stores, book stores, craft stores, even grocery stores. I can’t help wonder who has time to fill in the intricate patterns in these books? I barely have time to keep up with friends, email, laundry, errands, (grand) kids…and I don’t have a real job! It’s true I probably watch too much TV now that there are Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and cable options. But that isn’t until the dinner dishes are cleaned up and I’m incapable of being feasibly productive. I suppose I could color while I watch TV but that would be like watching with subtitles, wouldn’t it? You don’t see the actor’s faces and often miss weather the line was spoken in dead seriousness, or jokingly, ironically, threateningly… Sometimes you don’t see enough to tell one actor from another.
But the subject is color.

It’s said that a healthy diet should be rich in multi-colored fruits and vegetables. And life is fuller with colorful friends, even if that friendship consists solely of reading their clever/uplifting/intelligent Facebook posts (Twitter, Instagram… whatever app you use to stalk interesting people who might not be willing to come to your house and share a tub of store-bought ice cream).

My mother was an amateur painter. She was a fan of green. Not bright green, turquoise, teal, any sort of vibrant shade or rich blend; but bashful institutional greens, the green of school walls, hospital corridors, government offices. Today some of these institutions have begun to include color in their environment, but in those days an indistinct green was thought to be soothing. My mother was a calm woman. Her home and clothing choices could soothe you to oblivion.

I, on the other hand, am a fan of color. Fall is my favorite season. The worst part of winter is the absence of color—grey skies and people huddled in amorphous dark clothing. I admire summer colors though I’m too old and plain to aspire to drastic vibrancy.

I covet rooms and fashions that are bold colors but, unfortunately, I was laughed out of art class in the seventh grade. I have little sense of what goes together. I know when the end result clashes but have trouble predicting disharmony. I can’t visualize what a color will look like on a wall from a tiny sample or even a stroke of the brush, though I know it’s wrong when it’s completed. When I needed a file cabinet and was offered a pink one, I thought I’d hate it and end up repainting it but, frankly, I think it looks great with the mismatched blues and teals in the room. It matches the skin of the actor on my Peking Opera poster and the faded red of my Carson & Barnes circus poster.

My son doesn’t take a position on color but his wife is very good at choosing dramatic shades and putting them together. My daughter has a curious relationship with color. Her home and clothing are shades of black, white and grey. I would never have thought these “colors” come in shades, but she puts a great deal of attention to whether there’s too much pink in the white, or green in the grey. These are nuances I miss, lessons that must have been taught in art classes beyond grade seven.