Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend, Part One

Ah. I can smell the dysfuntion brewing like a fat, buttered fowl after four hours in a 350 degree oven. The annual family gathering has begun.

Actually, it wasn't that bad. My family gathered at our "ancestral farm" in Vermont. Well, that's what our mother called it, but can you really call a property bought within the last fifteen years part of our ancient heritage? Do barely five acres in the middle of a neighborhood qualify as a farm? Sure there is a barn, paddocks, a small riding ring, and a pasture,'s Vermont, not the Boston suburbs.

We gathered for both the traditional turkey fixings and to celebrate my son's birthday. He's grown up enough that he is heading out to spend the winter in Colorado. As he is just out of college and contemplating the direction for the next stage of his life, a little living and ski-bumming is definitely in the cards. At least he has a plan. Sort of. He's been talking about this trip for the entire summer, but didn't quite think out his departure. His intention was to leave the Sunday after Thanksgiving, all well and good, barring a few minor details, like a summers worth of garbage and an evil rabbit. (No. I did not offer to take Bunnicula. I have too many animals of my own- yes I just admitted it. That's the first step to recovery, right?)

Mr. W and I drove to the farm the day before T-day, loaded with the dinner makings, including a turkey bought from the local market; the woman there "grew it herself." Yeah. I am a food hypocrite. I try to eat natural, locally grown, yadda, yadda, yadda, and I love to eat meat that I hope is not pumped with steroids and antibiotics or mad-cow disease. BUT, I don't want to know what it's name was before it was handed to me neatly wrapped in plastic. Whatever happens between Bambi running through the woods, or Ferdinand basking in the sun, or Foghorn Leghorn pecking around his free-range, and placing the shrink or paper-wrapped package containing my dinner in the grocery cart, is definitely within the realm of "I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW!"

My sister and her family, minus one (who was back in PA nursing a sick dog. She was missed), arrived on the big day, about 11:00 AM. Anne was providing the roasting pan, so we aimed to eat around 5 PM. Mr. W, living up to his moniker, began the process of preparing the meal. My sister went to her hotel to take a nap (they had been driving since 5AM); the boys did whatever twenty-something boys do; I got in the way and made the stuffing.

The meal was fantastic. The turkey, which we brined overnight (simple salt and water brine), was cooked to brown, crispy-skinned, juicy perfection. Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, whole and creamed corn, peas, giblet and plain gravy, cole slaw, and plenty of dinner rolls were set out buffet style. We loaded our plates, squeezed around the long, plastic folding table, lit the candle in a Patron bottle center piece, poured ourselves some wine, sang "Happy Birthday", and dug in.

The mood was fun, despite the fact that my son was anxious about his impending mood, my sister was worried about a sick dog left at home, my nephew was concerned about his allergies (the rabbit was in the corner of the room), Mr. W hoped the meal was perfect, my brother-in-law joked, and I obsessed about what I was going to do with an empty farm. (It's not completely empty, a friend keeps her horse in the barn and checks on everything at least twice a day, but... the future is looming and it may be time to say goodbye to that dream my mother and I shared.)

We glutted, cleaned up, and sprawled on the couches and chairs. My son received his presents, which were mostly monetary in nature. In an ironic, lovely twist, when I was searching through a trunk for a tablecloth, I found the tiny, blue shirt my son was given by the OB group that delivered him. I held it up marvelling at the difference twenty-four years makes. It was a fitting reminder for both of us.

A bit later, a few of his friends came over and the pie was served with ice cream. When we could neither eat nor drink anymore, and we had watched sixteen episodes of "Punkin' Chunkin", my sister and brother-in-law headed to the hotel to sleep it off. I nudged Mr. W, who had shockingly nodded off during the pumpkin carnage, and we retired for the night, leaving the younger set to play video games into the night.

Thanksgiving is a day for gratitude and gluttony. We eat and appreciate. Too often, it turns into arguments and tension, and while my family has had it's dysfunctions and challenges, I'm sure it isn't unique. (Ok. I do think a mother who tells you, "You're not fat, Nancie, you're just chunky" is rare. And that was one of her nicer sentiments. My sister could tell you many more.)

For me, this Thanksgiving was the perfect reminder of all the things I am thankful for. I am a very lucky woman.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Have you ever felt invisible? The other day, I had that experience. I was sitting at the dining room table, at the head or foot, depending on perspective; it was the end closest to the sliding glass doors that lead to the patio, so I guess it would be the foot. Irrelevant really.

Anyway, I was comfortably reading my book, the late-day-autumnal sun on my back, and the heater vent blasting warm air at my feet. Lately, I have been easily chilled. The heat and sun was nice after spending most of the day outside.

I must also note that our house is not large. The main floor consists of a kitchen/dining room that opens into the small living room. There is a mud room that leads into the dining area, which we use as our main entrance. Beyond the living room are a small guest bedroom, a full bathroom, and an office. Upstairs is a landing and the master bedroom and bath. I know this is more than you think you need to know, but bear with me, it's relevant.

So here I was, my 800 page tome (almost finished and boy was it good!)laid out on the table in front of me, when I heard the sounds of Mr W. coming up the walk. With four dogs, it is awfully hard to sneak up on us. I was waiting for him since he called me en route, conversely, he knew I was home...

He strolled through the mud room into the dining room, where I sat. I watched as he removed his bluetooth (I think he wants one surgically implanted, but that is a whole 'nother can of worms). His blackberry was gently set next to the bluetooth on the kitchen island. Turning toward me, he removed his coat and laid it on the chair at the other end of the table.

I waited for him to greet me, after all, he was practically staring at me. Nope. He headed for the living room and with a small shake of the head, he headed down the short hall to the office. I was amused. He hadn't seen me. His footsteps returned to the hallway, pausing at the foot of the stairs.

I listened as he removed his boots, spoke to the dogs, and thudded upstairs.
Click. Creak. Step, step. Creak. I could hear his thoughts in the rhythm of his steps- Where the heck is she? It's not a large house.

Click. Thud, thud, thud, back down the steps.

Ok. Now he'll figure it out, I thought with growing hilarity.

He returned to the kitchen, walked by me again.

Really? I was right in front of him!!! But he still did not notice me.

Passing by, he grabbed the knob to the basement door, pulled it open and stuck his head through, searching. At that point, I could not keep quiet. I cracked up. Shocked, he finally saw me.

"Where were you?" He asked.

Umm...I must have spent a few minutes in another dimension, "I was right here."

"You saw me walk by?"

"Yep." At this point I was crying from a huge attack of the giggles.

There are some men who would be hurt or angered at being laughed at or feeling a fool. Not Mr. W., he laughed harder than I, nearly passing out from a lack of oxygen. Luckily, I can be invisible.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Wall

My sister gave me a ticket to a Roger Waters concert, where he performed "The Wall" in its entirety. I went with my brother-in-law, my nephew, and one of his friends. A little surreal, but it was fun.

The show was brilliant. And like so many others, the music and the layers of messages embedded within the spectacle resonated within multiple facets of my life. From the sixth grade classroom, where a record player was smuggled in, the needle laid upon the fifth song of the first side, and the anthem that every hormonal and dissatisfied pre-teen embraced, rang out, to the depression and isolation of disenchanted adulthood, "The Wall" blurred the boundaries between the angst of self and world issues.

Supposedly, when originally conceived, "The Wall" represented the mental and emotional barriers erected by a wounded psyche, simultaneously with physical borders between political entities, most notably the now-defunct Berlin Wall.

A wall is a wall is a wall.

So, on a random Tuesday night, I felt like I was taken back through time, through the autobiographical expressions of Roger Waters's music, as well as through incarnations of my own self. It was a strange situation for me on so many levels. I have gone to a lot of concerts. The memorabilia I collected is stored lovingly in "the Box." I pull it out on random occassions to either impress my son with my past coolness or to remind myself, "Oh, I really did see them. What tour was that?" Consulting the t-shirts and/or tour programs to jog memory.

I spent a great deal of my youth at the Philadelphia Spectrum. I must note that as of last Tuesday, the building was still there, however the previous days had seen a flurry of adoring fans pillaging whatever they could carry out before the demolition of the structure. I remember JFK Field (saw the Gold Cup Grand Prix as well as the Rolling Stones, The Who, and so many other bands- missed Live Aid, damn). I was at Veteran's Stadium watching the Atoms (Yes, there was once pro soccer), the Eagles (freezing my patootie off with my dad), and the Phillies. Those edifices are all gone now, replaced by The "Link", Citizen's Bank Field, and the ever name changing home of the Flyers at the moment sponsored by Wells Fargo.

The venue is different. Out with the old, in with the newer, larger, flashier, state-of-the-art. I am older, Roger Waters is older (I can only hope to have his energy at 67), and yet, the performance was powerful and relevant.

The show itself was newer, flashier, used state-of-the-art technology and effects, and still overwhelmed and awed. As I listened, I remembered how the lyrics moved me as a confused teen, touched nerves I could never express. At the same time, I was constantly dragged back into the reality of now. The visuals flitted back and forth between the cartoon figures that adorned the album's liner notes, old footage, and modern politial imagery. The world is still at war and we are still building walls.

I steeped in a heady tea of memory, flavored with propaganda, with a hint of hard individual truth, and a bitter bite, but the finish was pure fulfillment.

A 35 foot wall was built during the first half of the show. It remained as a tool and backdrop for most of the second half. Of course, at the end, it came down. It would be rebuilt the following night, and the next, for every night of the tour.

For myself, my own walls have been built, destroyed, rebuilt, and torn down over and over. I admit, I still do it, though not as strong or obliterating as my defenses were when I felt the most damaged.

I do believe that Roger Waters touced a universal nerve with this work. It is genius. Seeing it performed live, sharing in his vision "In the Flesh," (I know, I know, but I couldn't resist) in the place I grew up, hearing the music, recalling how it affected my mixed-up, half-insane teenaged self (whose ideal state was to be "Comfortably Numb"- hey, it's an accurate assessment), took me back. And threw me forward into our current mixed-up, half-insane paradoxical world. I continue to examine the resonance of the concert. I feel like a teenager again, filled with conviction born in the combination of loud, live music and poetic metaphor -an almost religious experience; I'm sifting layers and layers, peeling the onion, not entirely sure what I will find or what conclusions I will draw. It's a journey. The more things change...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lovely Weather for a Ride, Part Two

Two days after the first exploration, Anne, Cosmo, Tucker and I, set out again to wander thhe wilds behind my house, determined to find the woods full of baby fences. If possible, the day was even more glorious- warm sun, light breeze and we actually shut up for moments to enjoy the rhythm of leaf-crunching hoofbeats.

We headed along the trails on a mission, our pace was purposeful, my sense of direction, however, was not. I knew where I wanted to be, but it seemed like a typical New England quandry: You can't get there from here.

Our first clue that this was more complicated than it needed to be was a sign: Caution. Shooting Range.


Nevermind the bird hunter's shotguns blasting in the distance, the fact that some of the land we were exploring belonged to a hunting preserve, or that it was bow hunting season. We were travelling in the opposite direction of the shooting. This was someones personal range. I didn't hear gun-like noises or voices. It seemed safe and the trail led right through. Trotting forward, we confirmed that the range was empty and hightailed it away. Well, until Tucker spotted the buck standing smack dab in the center of the path.

We stopped. Everyone stared. The deer sniffed, Tucker pricked his ears. Anne backed Cosmo off Tucker's rear end, muttering about the infinite ways to be kicked and commenting on the boldness of the buck blocking our way. After a few moments of mutual regard, the four-pointer ambled a few steps into the brush.

Our now clear path led us to the back of a barn yard. Not the chickens, pigs, sheep, and cows wandering around kind of barnyard, but the immaculate back side of a pristine indoor arena and horsebarn perfection, complete with a near life-sized sculpture of a running horse.

The choices available were to sully this perfect setting with our passing or head back into the woods and find another way to the road- the road we needed to cross to get to te promised land. I turned Tucker toward the barn. A horse in a nearby paddock began to saunter over. Ok- he galloped over. Tucker grew about six inches with interest. Ahead, another horse was being led toward the barn. I could hear Cosmo blowing behind me.

"What do you want to do?"
"Uh...not sure. I guess we can go through..."

I squeezed Tucker forward. That's when he noticed the sculpture.

Tucker is not overly excitable. But he did NOT like that sculpture. He spun around and started trotting away, blowing and puffing. I turned him around, he spun back. I could tell this was a fight I did not want to have.

"Guess we'll go this way." Back into the woods we went.

We came to a driveway; it was where we had turned back toward home on the last ride, but today we turned toward the road; it was right there!!! We simply couldn't seem to get to it. Another fork. Should we continue down the driveway or explore an inviting grassy lane that seemed to cut directly to where we wanted to go?

The grass was soft and spongy as we meandered...right into someone's backyard. Someone who happened to be puttering in their garden. OOPS!

I turned to Anne.

"Should we turn around? Or ask if we can ride through?" We dickered for a moment. I am not the most decisive person. The road was so close!!! Finally, I took a deep breath.

"Excuse me, I think we're a bit lost."
"I should say so." The woman's British accent conveyed her surprise and annoyance at our intrusion. She was older, dressed in a long skirt, Wellington boots, and a light jacket. It was as if our path had led us somehow into the English countryside. I don't really believe in fairies, regardless of what others might tell you.

"We're trying to get to the road."
"Well, it's right there." Obviously.
"Should we turn around? Is there another path we can take?" At this point the boys were getting restless. Anne was silent. I'm sure she was thinking good thoughts and admiring my ability to handle the situation.
"Well, I suppose, if you stay right to the edge of the lawn, you could come across and go up the driveway." She sounded dubious.
"If it's a problem we can go around."
"No.I think if you stay way over, it will be fine. Where are you coming from?"
I told her where the horses lived and who Mr. Wonderful was. Oh, what a difference a name drop makes.
"Oh. How nice! Just go up the driveway. It's nice to meet you."
I apologized profusely for my mistake, assured her it wouldn't happen again, and skirted the yard.

Cosmo almost took Anne off with a low branch, but we stayed on the edge of the lawn. Once on the driveway and out of sight, I breathed a sigh of relief, while imagining how I was, most likely, going to become gossip fodder. I pictured the woman picking up the phone..."Guess who wandered into my yard, lost???" Ugh.

The upside was the driveway emptied directly across from where we wanted to go. Finally, we got to play around and jump. It was a blast.

The best part was finding our way back- the short way. The very short way. We had wandered for about an hour and a half going out. Coming back took fifteen minutes. It was so worth it.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Lovely Weather for a Ride, Part One

It's been a crazy couple of weeks. But in a good way.
I've actually been able to get out riding and I have discovered that I really do live in fantasy land.

Tucker and I, along with my friend Anne (not to be confused with my non-equestrian sister) on Cosmo, headed out to explore the woods behind my house. My lingering apprehension, the residue from my fall from Gil is dissipating thanks to Tucker and lessons from another friend;I looked forward to heading into the woods and maybe testing my nerve with some of the jumps scattered throughout the area.

We headed down the leaf layered trail in perfect Autumn weather; a slight breeze and bright sun sifted through tree branches. I'm sure the woods were filled with the calming sounds of creatures getting ready for winter providing counterpoint for the staccato crunch of hooves. Instead, our chatter and laughter echoed between the balding branches.

Our first challenge was the small brook. Tucker balked, planting his feet and snorting at the flowing water. Cosmo is known to contort to avoid putting his feet in a puddle, so there was work to be done. After a few minutes of convincing, Cosmo conceded and led us through. Tucker was more than happy to follow.

Closeby, were the first two hunt fences, one shorter than it's neighbor.
"Shall we?" Anne asked.
I was apprehensive. Tucker is still new enough that I wasn't sure how he would react to a fence so out in the open, with plenty of room to gallop and buck. My body began to lock up with insidious nervousness. My confidence plummeted.
"Not yet, lets see what's up ahead."

We continued on our way, discovering mile upon mile of wide, soft, inviting trails. Second and third fences were two coops-kind of like a roof peak. Cosmo spooked at them the first time we came upon them, by this day, he strolled right by. Tucker never even glanced their way, but they were too big and solid for my whimpy taste. The fourth fence, was a log stretched over a boulder. Nah, there was a bit of a ditch running through it,nevermind the fact that the middle was a large, hard, rock.

Fifth fence- too big.

We were still having fun, laughing and chatting along, wading through streams and large puddles (the water issue was improving), cantering up a hill, making "Man From Snowy River" jokes on the steep downside, kicking Tucker when he wanted to paw and roll in a stream (water aversion solved, new water issue a work in progress). After wandering around for nearly two hours in this horsey paradise, we returned full circle to the first jump.

"Ok. We have to do this."
I agreed. "But I'm going to come at it from the other side." I wanted to head away from the trail home.

Tucker and I trotted a ways up the trail, turned around, then turned again to get more lead up room. Anne and Cosmo followed, waiting for me to take the fence, intending to follow at a safe distance.

I took a deep breath, closed my legs upon Tucker's sides, sending him forward in a brisk trot. I pushed my weight into my heels for security, reminded myself-sit up, shoulders back, eyes up, look past the fence, and smile, as Tucker toted me toward the larger of the fences. I remembered to steer and he angled to the intended jump. (Neither was very big, but...) Trot, trot, trot, jump. No big deal. Calm and comfortable, Tucker gracefully pushed over the bars, took two canter steps, three trot steps and came to a halt, as if to say, "Really? Was that such a big deal?"

Anne's turn. She clucked and Cosmo trotted. Instead of heading to the larger fence, Cosmo tried to aim for the opening next to it. Anne guided him back. He trotted to the fence obediently. He gathered himself to leap into the air.

And changed his mind, sucking all of his forward motion backwards, and stepped over the

So much for being nervous and cautious.

We returned to the barn, hysterical, embarrassed for ourselves, a little muscle sore, but overjoyed at the prospect of the next ride.

And someone had told me about more trails a little further away, with "lots of baby fences." The next challenge awaited!