What I Found Behind The Fridge

The Lovely Fridge
Image by shrff via Flickr

Because that’s how I live….a handwritten note from the year 2000 from Jean Harris, legendary for shooting and killing her lover, the famed inventor of the Scarsdale Diet. I had written to her asking her for an interview for my book about women and guns.

She wrote me back, hand-written in blue ink on her personal stationery, to say she would not participate: “Since leaving prison, [prisoners’] children are the center of my concern — the future, not the past. The future can still be touched, maybe even changed. The past is over.”

I hadn’t moved the fridge since I moved in 20-something years ago. A new one moves into its spot tomorrow after the carpenters cut the counter and cupboards to fit it.

We bought a sexy new fridge this week, a Fisher & Paykel — which I will also enjoy using because I wrote about that company when I was in Auckland in 1998 writing a feature about the value of sponsoring major yacht races, as they did for the Volvo round the world race, (then called the Whitbread.)

This is likely my penultimate T/S post. I am hating this week, frankly. I hate endings and goodbyes. I’ve been on the phone and FB and email with some of my T/S pals, Claudia Deutsch and Nancy Miller and Fran Johns and Jeff McMahon, even Paul Smalera, who left in March when he got a great online editing job. I hope to be working with him soon as a freelancer.

I will miss this community’s easy camaraderie, for all the “independent” journalist party line. Independence gets lonely.

I’ll post tomorrow night where this blog is migrating.

Emotional Eating — When You've Gotta Have Some Salt/Fat/Sugar

Brussels Waffle (known in the USA as Belgian W...
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been so good — eating much less and much healthier than ever before.

But yesterday I fell so far off the wagon it was lost in the the distance.

Because I had to say goodbye to my Mom, who I see, at most, once a year and sometimes only every two years; we live very far apart and the costs of hotel (small apartments for us both with too-big personalities) make it a challenge to do it frequently. She lives in Canada, and I in the U.S., having traded our native countries.

I hate that goodbye, not knowing when, or if, I’ll see her again. She’s 76, in OK health, living alone. I’m her only child.

She beat me bloody at gin rummy and I trounced her at Scrabble. That’s a good visit for us.

So it was a plate of Belgian waffles, (whipped cream and strawberries), that morning on the ferry ride back to Vancouver. It was a beer at lunch, and some of the fries that came with my fish and chips. It was a package of wine gums (a chewy candy I can’t find in New York.)

Yes, dammit, all in one day.

Comfort food. It didn’t heal my sadness, but at least I’m now quite conscious when I make lousy choices and why.

Today I took a long bike ride around Stanley Park, admiring herons and seaplanes. Healthier, more fun, fewer calories.

The first wagon-abandonment — and the first time I was really aware of this comfort connection — was the day True/Slant was suddenly sold to Forbes, putting my future with them (still) in doubt. I had a small scoop of ice cream and it tasted very good. Wrong choice, yes, but the day a carrot really makes me feel better I’ve turned into a rabbit.

What’s your comfort food? What pushes you to (over) indulge in it?

Vacations-Gone-Wrong: When The Hotel Is Great — But Not The Guests

New Yorker Hotel building from below
Image via Wikipedia

I don’t plan to blog about Tyler Brule every day, but his column in today’s FT is too delicious to miss — the subtle art of making sure your hotel guests are up to snuff:

Hoteliers spend a lot of time working on both the software and hardware to make for the perfect stay – at least, the best ones do. Newspapers and magazines devote countless column inches in their travel pages covering these developments at various hotels featuring the latest spa with yet another interpretation of a hot-stone treatment (how much room is there for innovation when it comes to lining up warm stones along a guest’s spine?), groundbreaking showers that reverse the ageing process and communications technology so smart you can order room service via Wi-Fi just by blinking the number of the item on the menu. Happy customers will spread the word by talking up the food, the service and the breathtaking views.

Rarely, however, is there much discussion about the most important and uncontrollable element of all – the guests themselves. For all the websites devoted to peer reviews and all the guidebooks that make bookshop shelves sag, there’s little space given to the types of people that a certain hotel attracts or repels.

It’s controversial territory to start ranking hotels by the quality of the guests but then that’s also part of the fun. I’m convinced that if I launched a series of guidebooks and accompanying website to support this idea there’d be no shortage of special interest groups lobbying for its closure because it would be seen as ageist, sexist, racist, anti-silicone, anti-Botox, homophobic and toddler-intolerant. It would also be highly readable and before long would be available in over 16 languages.

If a hotel can get all the basics right, then all that’s left to ensure that you return season after season are the quality of guests you’ll be lying next to by the sea, perusing the breakfast buffet with at 8am and gently smiling at when you share the lift. But how does a good general manager attract the right crowd?

I think about this often, because we’ve returned five times since 2001 to a small, quiet resort south of Montreal, Hovey Manor, partly because we’ve never once spent time around people there we wanted to flee.

How undemocratic! What snottiness!

You betcha.

After all the time I spend/endure dealing with New Yorkers’ monumental egos, braying cellphone conversations, dodging them as they race down the sidewalk staring into their PDAS expecting you, peon, to move, the last thing I can possibly cope with on vacation is….more of the same. I once flew all the way to bloody Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and ended up in a hotel that was full of the same sort of people I spend energy avoiding at home. Never again.

Hovey Manor manages to be elegant but not stuffy, warm and welcoming but not clingy, cosy but not schmaltzy. We always find there a few interesting, fun companions — the former ballet dancer with red hair to her waist, a judge and her psychologist husband, the Grand Prix fans on their way to Montreal.

And, sorry, no kids. I don’t know if they are not allowed, but the only non-adult I’ve ever seen was a boy of perhaps 15, perfectly-behaved. It’s not — thank God — a place where caps are worn at the table or cellphones are welcome everywhere. However silly it sounds, and I love it, one dresses for dinner.

A vacation is a precious time to relax and recharge. So, no, I don’t want to watch you play tonsil hockey with your 30-years-younger gal pal. Nor do I want to hear your music leaking from your earbuds or have to fight over the pool-side chairs. I really don’t want to deal with shrieking little children.

So I tend to choose smaller, European-style inns or boutique hotels.

Yet, as a traveler who oscillates happily between luxury and penury, I’ll be at the Vancouver youth hostel for two nights this summer, $38 a night for a room that might have 16 others in it. As someone who shared space for many years at camp and boarding school, it’s not a big deal — unless they snore.

Have you had a vacation ruined — or made wonderful — by the people at your hotel?

A Free Summer Treat — Crewing On Others' Sailboats; My NYT Story

Vessal seen from below
One of my favorite sights in the world!Image via Wikipedia

Here’s my story in today’s New York Times:

IT’S a gorgeous Friday evening. There’s a breeze off the Hudson River, and the single best place to be — every sailor knows — is out on the water. But you, who wouldn’t know port from starboard or rudder from tiller, can only gaze longingly at those bobbing, darting boats on the horizon.

You don’t know anyone with a boat and you don’t know how to sail.

Get to Nyack, on the Hudson 25 miles north of Manhattan, and stand on the dock of the Nyack Boat Club before a scheduled race. “There’s always people looking for crew — you would definitely find a ride,” even without any experience, said Tom Lawton, who sails a 17-foot Thistle, one of the nation’s top 10 fastest such vessels. The club’s regular races are Wednesdays from 5:30 until dusk, and Sundays at noon.

Despite its blue-blood reputation, sailing is for everyone. Owning and storing a boat may cost thousands of dollars a year, but aside from membership fees at some clubs (not Nyack), crewing costs nothing when a skipper invites you aboard. What you do need are the will to learn and a boat in need of a crew.

The references are local, but the spirit is international — anywhere there are skippers eager to race their sailboats, there are skippers who need crew! And there is rarely an unlimited supply of strong, quick, reliable and friendly sailors to help them out.

Which is where you come in. I fell into crewing after my marriage blew up. I was in the boring ‘burbs with few friends, no kids, not much money. What was I to do on long, lonely summer weekends? Sail! Once I found a few boats who saw that I brought good skills — and taught me more — my summers, May through October, were set. I was racing sometimes two or three times a week, sometimes two or three times a day. Exhausting!

If, like me, you are outgoing, a quick learner, competitive, and love being oudoors on the water, there are few free pleasures as great as this one. All you need is a cap, sunscreen, non-marking rubber-soled shoes and a few skippers willing to take you on.

My Weekly Ritual — Softball Lite — In Today's New York Times

BEIJING - AUGUST 12:  Lovieanne Jung #3 of the...
Image by Bongarts/Getty Images via @daylife

The joy of a new editor and a new section….here’s my story in today’s Times about my beloved co-ed weekly softball game. It’s been nine years and we’re still going strong, even as I now need someone to run the bases for me (my hip) and I’m still, on a good day, lead-off hitter:

It’s lite because, with an age range of 14 to over 70, we’re looking for fun, not more pressure to perform. People don’t yell or look at their BlackBerrys or answer their cellphones while on base. We’re skilled and competitive, but chill enough that we don’t obsess over the score.

Since a number of players are in their 50s and beyond, some of us have been known to limp to the diamond. My team has seen me through shoulder surgery and a foot stress fracture, so when I hobbled up recently and warned the gang that I’d need someone to run for me — I had a newly arthritic hip — everyone shrugged. “I showed up on crutches,” said Joan, a medical editor.

I can still hit to the outfield, so even unable to run, I was lead-off hitter, and Alan, a lean, swift lawyer running for me, scored a double. In Westchester County, N.Y., not known for its diversity, we’ve got a pretty good mix, with players driving or coming by train from Queens, Long Island and Harlem: five lawyers, a literary agent, a pastry chef, schoolteachers, a retired ironworker and his three adult sons, a psychiatrist, a scientist. Perhaps most fortunate, an orthopedic surgeon, one of our more competitive players.

One unspoken rule of Softball Lite is that men don’t help the women — who usually make up roughly a third of about 20 players each time — or tell them what to do. We know what to do, and after a few games, our teammates know and trust our skills as well. If we goof up, well, it’s not fatal and we’re quite aware that we goofed. I usually play second base, and I didn’t appreciate one new male player who marked a spot in the dust and told me where to stand.

Even the photo than ran with the Times piece was taken by a good friend, fellow freelancer Alan Zale.

As a Canadian, I didn’t grow up playing softball, so my skills came much later in life, which is half the joy of them. I so treasure this little island of camaraderie in a sea of competitiveness.

Do you have a beloved sports team you still hang out with?

You're Driving Me Nuts! How Couples Co-Exist In Cars

AC
Who gets the driver's seat? Image by Hugo90 via Flickr

Anyone who’s spent time in a vehicle with a loved one knows the drill — the gasp, the shriek, the moan, the whine. These are not engine sounds. These are the sounds of your sweetie driving you mad.

Funny story in today’s Wall Street Journal:

Beverly Floyd will never forget the worst argument she ever had with her husband—a fight that saw the couple screaming at each other and hurling insults of “crazy” and “psycho.”

A spat about finances? The kids? Work? Nope. It was about which one of them should gas up the car.

The fireworks started when the couple pulled into a service station while on a return leg of a road trip. Already silently fuming that he hadn’t offered to do his share of the driving, Ms. Floyd was astounded when her then-boyfriend didn’t lift a finger to pump the gas. So she did it herself and paid for it. As she got back into the car, he handed her a $20 bill.

Bad idea. She threw it at him. He tossed it back at her. She ripped it up. He shredded the cash she kept in the ashtray. She ripped up the money in his wallet. All told, they destroyed about $200 in a matter of minutes. (They spent their evening trying to match serial numbers and tape the shredded pieces of money together.)

Then she married him?

The sweetie and I leave this weekend for a road trip to Vermont and Quebec, about six hours of driving each way. That’s nothing, for us, as we’ve made the drive to Toronto — about 10+ hours — several times and once drove from Seattle to Vancouver, Canada late at night in a rush to get to my sick mother. We’re actually pretty good in the car, an old Subaru Forester, as it’s one of our few chances to catch up with one another uninterrupted by phone or computer. He commutes to the city every day so he gets to do (happily) most of the driving because he misses it. When we cross into Canada he jokes with the border guards that he’s returning a national treasure. They’re OK with it.

He does tend to second-guess me sometimes, which irritates the hell out of me. My most egregious slip? Flipping the bird at a driver ahead of us while on a very long bridge. I’ve never seen him so angry, and it’s since verboten. (I still do it, just beneath the dashboard.)

What does your partner do that drives you nuts? Or vice versa?

Road Trip! A Top Ten List, Plus Mine — And Yours?

Life Is A Highway
Image by Matt McGee via Flickr

I love road trips!

Here’s a fun list of America’s top 10, three of which — Arizona, Maine and The Blue Ridge Parkway — I’ve done.

I didn’t learn to drive until I was 30, growing up in Toronto and Montreal, where public transit was safe, cheap and plentiful and where the taxi drivers knew me by name I splurged so often. So I had some seriously pent-up consumer demand by the time I did get my license, after learning to drive in Montreal, en francais. It’s a city of aggressive drivers and many hills, so learning stick on a hill in the dark in French was good prep.

I didn’t have much of a jones to do road trips in my native Canada because the distances are so often exhaustingly enormous, certainly if you’re on your own. You can drive for 12 hours in Ontario and still be in…Ontario. After six or ten hours of pine trees, enough is enough.

Some of my favorite road trips have included:

Montreal to Charleston, S.C. with my then boyfriend, later husband, (then ex.) It’s a long, long way and I was still learning how to drive, so had an interesting moment trying to shift gears at 60 mph on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We camped some of the time, stayed in some hotels, ate a very good meal at Poogan’s Porch in Charleston, where I ended up covered in mosquito bites from eating on the (lovely) terrace. If you love architecture or design, Drayton Hall, near Charleston, is one of the nation’s most beautiful early homes, whose construction began in 1738.

Montreal to Savannah, Ga. with my Dad. We visited small coastal towns like New Bern and Oriental, N.C., winding down backroads fragrant with night jasmine and the Great Dismal Swamp. It is large and, on a rainy gray day when we drove across it, was dismal indeed. If you’ve never been to Savannah, it’s well worth a visit.

Santa Fe To Taos, aka The High Road, with the sweetie. We stopped in Truchas where the sweetie explored a Buddhist temple while I waited outside — where a dog bit me on the ass. Never before, never again. The drive is gorgeous.

New York to Charlottesville, Va. I did that trip in the spring of 1995 in my red convertible and spent a whole $500 for a week’s solo adventure. I loved historic spots like Harper’s Ferry and Shepherdstown, the oldest town in West Virginia, was intrigued by Monticello and often, as I drove through the hollows of West Virginia, felt as though I were lost in a Thomas Hart Benton painting.

Taxco to Acapulco, with my Dad. Driving in Mexico is its very own brand of adventure. We ran out of gas somewhere rural and my Dad, pointing to a hacienda down the dusty road, said “You speak Spanish. Ask where the nearest gas station is.” I remember getting a bad electrical shock in the pretty tiled bathroom in Taxco and loving the dirt-cheap pension in Acapulco Dad remembered from a trip 20 years earlier.

Perpignan, France to Istanbul, with Pierre, a professional truck driver I was writing about. Eight insane, amazing, scary, unforgettable days. Pierre didn’t speak a word of English and we slept in the truck in two narrow, tiny bunks. We didn’t shower once the whole time because hotels cost money and that was — then — the only place to get a shower. So we wore duty-free cologne and perfume we bought at truck stops in Bulgaria. Our gas was siphoned out of the truck while we slept in Yugoslavia, just as he had predicted it would be.

We were pulled over by an irate cop in Bulgaria who shouted at me inside the truck cab and demanded I roll out all my film to expose it. I was so grungy by the end I begged Pierre to let me wash my hair; on a windy day in a parking lot in Romania (maybe Bulgaria) he held a plastic jug full of water over my head while I lathered up. My skin still broke out from constant road dirt.

I’ve never seen a truck go by since without a thumbs-up of respect for their tough, important job. Best road trip ever.

What’s been your best — or worst — road trip?

Mosquitos, Black Flies, Leeches, Hunger — The Benefits of Summer Camp

Campers and staff of Camp Becket of the Becket...
Image via Wikipedia

Need a break? Not you, your kids. Send’ em off to summer camp, says author Wendy Mogel:

Mogel has gained a loyal following as the consummate anti-hyper-parent since her 2001 book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. The book draws on the teachings of the Torah and the Talmud to encourage parents to back off, let kids make mistakes, endure bad moments and learn self-reliance.

The event this Sunday will be her first time speaking in Canada, but she has delivered her message to camp organizations across the United States.

“In an era when the default position is overprotection, over- indulgence and overscheduling … camp is a wildly potent antidote,” says Mogel.

She broke her leg riding bareback at camp one summer but stayed and learned to fish.

As Mogel wrote in a 2006 article in Camping Magazine: “Kids, at camp you will get all kinds of valuable gifts; you will get homesick, other campers will be mean to you, the food won’t be great, you’ll be cold and hot and hungry … I hope all of this will happen to you because otherwise you are deprived. Of life. Of its thorns and its roses.”

I grew up in a non-hot-house family and in a time when kids were actually allowed to make mistakes and learn from them, our young lives filled with boredom and empty hours — that we learned to fill with our imaginations or own activities.

I went off to summer camp, every summer all summer, from the age of eight to the age of 16. I loved it.

I attended three different camps, all in northern Ontario, and am still friends with a few of the girls I met there. I can think of few life-shaping, character-altering experiences more powerful than finding a sleep-away camp you love. I discovered a deep, powerful and abiding devotion to a life spent often outdoors; learned how physically strong and capable I am; learned that I could make new friends. I even learned, at 16, I had leadership skills when I was elected by fellow campers to a role that demanded planning, ideas, creativity and motivating dozens of girls my age and younger.

Every month, we’d put on a musical and I usually won the lead role — anyone want a chorus of “Just In Time”? I played my guitar and sang songs I’d written at our Sunday evening talent shows. My confidence speaking publicly is a direct result of stepping onto a stage year after year, building my skills and starting to trust them. Unlike boarding school, where the focus was on obedience and endless achievement, camp was a place to test new ideas, skills and muscles, to renew and deepen friendships, to learn to trust our counselors. We earned and won badges for our skills — J-stroke, jibing, canter — but the larger point was trying, not winning.

When you’re out on a week-long canoe trip, in the rain on an enormous lake with a headwind, what choice do you have? Whine, bitch, moan, give up? No. Paddle hard, belt out some great paddling songs, and get to the next campsite. Nature is becoming an abstraction for many kids now, spending 7.5 hours a day attached to media-providing devices.

Nature is powerful and beautiful — and can kill you. But not if you learn to read a map and compass, how to give CPR, how to do an Eskimo roll or shoulder a 60-pound canoe over a muddy mile-long portage. Camp can teach you that.

Where Do You Want To Go (Next?)

Beach sunset in Cuba.
Image via Wikipedia

This photo is taken in Cuba. My Dad, (who like me has a Canadian passport so we could visit easily enough), keeps trying to get me to go cycling there with him. He’s 80, went a few years back, loved it. I admit, though, it’s not highest on my list, but I do still share his insatiable lust for travel. My mom traveled the world alone for many years and savors memories I still dream of acquiring. She saw the Buddhist statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan before the Taliban blew them to smithereens and has touched down in Nauru. She taught me to wedge a chair beneath my doorhandle when staying in a dodgy hotel, just in case. When I was in college and she roamed the globe, I’d see her once a year, imported to wherever she was then — Fiji, Cartagena, Peru, Costa Rica.

When I was two, Mom and Dad took the backseat out of their car and drove from Vancouver, my birthplace, to Mexico, a country I’ve lived in, been to many times and love. No wonder I’m happiest on the road!

Today’s New York Times includes in their travel magazine the news that many travelers, with tighter budgets and perhaps craving the familiar in rough times, are returning to old stand-bys like London or Tuscany. As someone whose shelves bulge with travel books and guides, whose Times Atlas, passport and green card are some of my most precious possessions, I spend a lot of time dreaming of the next trip. I’ll be going to Atlanta in three weeks for three days, for a board meeting, a new-to-me city. After that, Toronto (hometown) for Christmas, then Tucson and New Mexico for vacation in January.

When I have more income and time, I’ll head for some more places on my list: Argentina and Patagonia; the South Sea Islands, Jordan and Lebanon; Norway, Finland, Iceland, Estonia; Morocco; The Magdalen Islands and Gros Morne National Park. My sweetie, a Buddhist, is desperate to get to Tibet and would love to see Ireland (which I’ve been to, luckily, four times.) I won’t return (sorry if these are your faves) to: Austin, (the Times raves about it, again, today) Salt Lake City, Orlando, Cabo San Lucas.

My top 10, so far: the tiny northern town of Mae Hong Son, Thailand; the island of Ko Phi Phi, Thailand; Galway City; Paris; London; Peru; Corsica; Tunisia [Tunis’ Bardo Museum has one of the world’s best mosaic collections]; Istanbul, Stockholm.

Where do you want to go next? What are some of your favorite places and why?

I Want a Chick Wall!

Four cigars of different brands (from top: H.
Image via Wikipedia

Have you heard about the Man Wall? Yeah, baby!

For $15,000, this Florida-made entertainment center, includes a live sports ticker, four TVs, two cigar humidors, a 32-bottle wine rack, a microwave oven and refrigerated beer tap. (What, no strippers?)

I have to admit I like the idea of containing a pile ‘o guystuff into a tidy, space-saving unit that only takes up one wall. In our small apartment, my sweetie has a growing stack of baseball caps that, soon, will topple onto the floor. If it has a logo, he will buy it. This, he argues, is only payback for the (I am hasty and haphazard about putting things away) heavy and breakable jars, cans and bottles that routinely fall out of our fridge and kitchen cabinets, sometimes hitting him on the head or splashing all over the floor.

So, a chick wall, devoted exclusively to the things that make me, and maybe a bunch of my girlfriends, really, really happy. Hmmmm…

How about:  a really good flea market, an excellent pedicurist, a Saks shoe sale at 80 percent off with a bizarre total absence of competitors reaching for the same size in the same style, blood orange Berthillon ice cream, a news ticker (watching the stock market is way too depressing), a G & T dispenser, a Canadian candy section and Pierre, the ever-accommodating chef who’ll whip up whatever delicacies we feel like that very minute.

Sadly, confining all my desires to one wall remains unlikely. Maybe it’s a chick thing.