Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Voglio (I want)

When I'm in Italy I want to wear high heels.

I don’t know why, I don’t wear them here in the US. (Right. Everyone knows I wear flip-flops, don’t they?) I don’t even want to wear high heels here. I fall when I wear high heels, even standing still. But when I am sitting at a café in an ancient piazza, with a bell tower and a splashing fountain and a guy washing his shirt in that fountain and a black-haired, sunglassed woman with red lips strides by confidently--and quickly--in heels, I think to myself, “Maybe I should get a pair of those.”

That’s what being in Italy does to you. It makes you want things. For example, Angelo and I were home a little over 24 hours and we were already looking at houses on the real estate website in his hometown. There is only the one company; it’s a very small town. We think we want to find a small apartment so we can have a place to go back to every year. See? Now I want to go back to Italy every year because once every couple of years isn’t enough.

Here are some other things being in Italy made me want: 

  I want to eat food like this every day.

I want to walk down the street as an old couple next to the Naples waterfront where the tourists and townspeople are still partying at 11pm and sit at a café with Angelo and have a Prosecco. 
(He’ll have an espresso. Someone has to get us back home.) 

   I want a local bookstore with a bar inside.

  I want a bottle of wine that costs $1.70. 

   I want a view like this out my bedroom window.

You have to grow up in Italy, I think, to wear heels there. They have cobblestone streets with dangerously wide spaces in between the cobbles. I watch in wonder as women walk by talking on phones, lighting cigarettes, chatting with friends and they don’t fall down. Ever. I think it’s in the blood. I am positive that if I put on a pair of shoes with a higher elevation than an eighth of an inch, I’d be face down before I took two steps. So, wearing heels isn’t in the cards for me. But all those other things? I think I can manage them.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Join the club

Things sure have changed, haven’t they? It used to be that if I wanted to buy a bottle of wine, I’d go to the liquor store and get one. Simple. These days, as with most everything, I can get it online. For months now, I get emails several times a week from a couple of online wine sites with whom I registered with unbelievable offers, helpful buying tips and rapidly expiring $15-off coupons. I open some, but usually delete them because, at 57, if I want a bottle of wine, I still go to the liquor store and get one.

Then along came Club W.

I don’t even remember how this little guy wrangled his way into my checkbook. I think it was the promise of getting a bottle of wine on the house. I opened the email, clicked on the link and discovered I would have to sign up to get the deal. So I did. I signed with the other two helpful online wine proprietors, didn’t I? Why not make it a hat trick? But, after I did so, the deal disappeared into the ether and I lost track of it.  I closed the fancy, scenic wine country page, deleted the email and forgot about it. Not a difficult thing for me to do.  

Then, the following week, Club W showed up in my email again. They wanted to buy me another bottle of wine. Since they were so persistent, I allowed it. They didn't send me just any bottle of wine, Club W wanted to know my preferences and my tastes.  I thought that was thoughtful. I looked through the selections, chose my 3 bottles (I had to buy two to get one, but still, it seemed like a good deal) and entered my credit card number. They assured me that I would be happily receiving my shipment in a few days and that my next selection would ship next month about the same time.

Wait. What? What the heck did I just sign up for?

It turns out that Club W is a subscription wine service and you get three bottles every month, rain or shine. This seems to be a trend in Internet shopping: you can get almost everything without even lifting a credit card anymore, except that first time. There have always been subscription services for goods, but it was typically limited to reading material; magazines and newspapers and Book of the Month Club. Of course, Harry & David have been selling apples and pears by subscription for years, but, now, it seems like everyone’s getting into the act. Take a look at all the places you shop online--most, if not all, will offer an auto-reorder option for your oft-ordered items. You can get anything from razor blades to maternity clothes delivered to your door on a regular basis. Bourbon, science experiments and dog treats will also arrive monthly for you, your kids and pets.   Plated is one of many companies that will gather ingredients together for a specific recipe and send you dinner in a leak-proof, insulated box. (You still have to cook it.) They have cute and clever names like Mantry (The Modern Man’s Pantry), Flicker Box (a monthly assortment of candles. Seriously, candles) and MeUndies (Yes, it’s underwear). So, why am I surprised that there is a subscription service for something as normal and essential as wine? 

I guess I’m not as surprised that it exists as much as I am that I finally gave in to such a service. I am not an Internet novice; I typically don’t let the siren's call of easy delivery tempt me. Also, I am Yankee-frugal. But this is wine. And in fact three brightly labeled selections showed up pretty expediently and in time for the weekend. Each selection had an accompanying recipe. (Thanks, but my go-to recipe is cheese and crackers.) I will have to investigate this subscription further to see what I’m in for. It’s not like I don’t drink the stuff. (In fact I wrote about wine in the last post.) Maybe I can get on board with this deliver-stuff-to-me-every-month system.What else can I get to come to my door?

I'll let you know.

Friday, May 15, 2015

White Hot & Red Faces

A few months ago, during the longest winter in recent memory (which in my case is just a few months ago) my body clock decided to ramp up the hot flashes. On one hand, nothing wrong with a little extra heat during a record-cold winter. On the other hand, we had recently changed over our oil heat to gas and added insulation throughout the house, so extra heat was not terribly welcome. The flashes were too hot and too frequent. If I had been able to turn them into a super power and melt the five feet of snow in our driveway, I might have been a little friendlier to the ever-present volcanic blasts. But, no. Hot flashes do not melt snow. They do not burn calories. They only make the sufferer look as if she has just emerged from an overly long session in the sauna and that’s never a pretty look.

So, how to manage these gusts of fiery heat?  Drink wine, of course. (When isn’t that a good idea?) None other than the New York Times itself reported that, “One drink a day in women who are not at risk for alcohol abuse may be beneficial for the heart. Red wine in particular contains a substance called resveratrol, which is classified as a phytoestrogen and has estrogen-like effects.”

Wine is like estrogen. I’m not going to argue with the New York Times.

Although the recommended lifestyle changes are to “Avoid hot flash triggers like spicy foods, hot beverages, caffeine, and alcohol,” this clearly paves the way for wine as a hot-flash solution, as I am pretty sure alcohol refers to bourbon and tequila. Probably not vodka; vodka is a vegetable.

So, after months of research, I am here to help. The following is a selection of Wine Pairings to help with as many instances of menopausal tribulations as possible. I figured two for each category, because, let’s be honest--we’re not really worried about bouquet and tannins right now, are we? Please know, that in the interest of science, I will continue my research as long as necessary. Anything for womanhood.

White Hot & Red Faces: A Guide to Menopausal Wine Pairings

Let’s start with the obvious:
Hot Flashes
·      Hot to Trot Red Blend - I couldn’t resist this one: Why? The name. Also, it is a blend of Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon and other red varieties and I figure the more resveratrol-bearing red skins, the merrier.
·      Neige Apple Ice Wine - It has ice in the name (and the method). What could be bad about that? Also, it has apples in it, so you get a little more fruit, too.

·      The Prisoner Wine Company Prisoner 2013- Obvious, right? You feel like a prisoner in your own skin, don’t you? Have a glass of wine...you’ll feel better. Maybe wear stripes, too.
·      Rhiannon Red 2013 - Put on some Fleetwood Mac and take yourself back to a time when life was simpler (and by simpler I mean not so many annoying people around).
·      Flip Flop wines - (You didn’t really think I’d forget this one, did you?)  I paired Flip Flop wines with Forgetfulness for the helpful alliteration...Flip Flops For Forgetfulness.  Also, if you forget your favorite wine, there are many to choose from: A reliable Chardonnay, a friendly Cab Sav and a Pink Moscato for when you’re feeling frisky. Alliteration galore!
·      Bogle Essential Red - Because it’s essential, you might remember it.

Weight Gain
·      Cupcake Vineyards Riesling- you really have to go with a white wine for its lower calorie count, so choose this one. You get your wine and a cupcake all in one.
·      Champagne - your choice. Champagne has fewer calories than most reds or whites and you might as well celebrate the fact that you haven’t hit anyone over the head with a wine bottle yet.

Loss of Libido
·      Opici - Or anything that comes in a 1.5 liter bottle or box. Make sure you and your spouse or partner drink most of it and you’ll both fall asleep and forget about having sex.

General fatigue
·      The Chook Sparkling Shiraz - it’s sparkling and it’s red...doubly good for you, right? Bubbles are so good for cheering you up.
·      Mulderbosch Rose 2014 or Casal Garcia Vinho Verde Rosé  - Both of these are good choices to perk you up a bit. The Vinho Verde is slightly effervescent and I added this one because it’s good and I like to use the word effervescent.

Good luck, ladies. You’re welcome.

Monday, April 20, 2015

57 years young

As many of you know, my daughter Annie and her little family are currently living with us. To not admit there are some adjustments would be to flat out lie about how easy it is to live with your children after they've moved out (several times) and moved back in again. But, mostly, it is.  We probably would feel that way anyway, but the icing on the cake is that Angelo and I get to hang out with our grandson Luca almost every single day. That is one of the best gifts ever. And the cherry on the icing is that, at 3-1/2 years old, Luca makes quite an obliging slave.

I realized this one winter evening months ago when I was happily ensconced in "my chair" in the living room. Before bed Luca often plays for a little while while we finish up from dinner.  I played the elder card and went to sit down and relax. I could reach the lamp next to me, but I needed a little more light in the room. Luca was playing on the rug next to the floor lamp behind the TV stand. The switch is also on the floor, so I asked him, "Lu - do you think you can turn on the light switch behind you?" He needed a little instruction, but within seconds he had accomplished his task and looked quite pleased with himself. 'What a wonderful gift I've just given him,' I thought to myself, 'the feeling of accomplishment.' So I gave him that gift every chance I could.

"Luca, can you turn on the lamp again?"

"Luca, will you put this in the garbage for me?"

"Lu, see if you can put this book back on the shelf."

And so on and so on. I rarely moved from my chair all winter as all my previous knee-shuddering tasks were taken over by my enthusiastic and helpful slave, er, grandson. He wanted to help me; what was I going to do, disappoint him?

Then, I went to Florida for a few weeks when my Dad was in the hospital. Between me and my two siblings, if we weren't by my dad's bedside in the hospital, we were at my parents' apartment with my mother. I'm not saying that my parents were helpless...but let's just say that with a little extra muscle in the house, I was doing a lot more heavy lifting.

"Cindy, can you open this jar?"

"Cindy, are you sure you don't mind taking the laundry down?"

"Cindy, can you reach that book up on the shelf for me?"

And so on and so on. I was happy that I was able to be so helpful when there was so much during that time that was making us feel so helpless. I was bending down for this, running out for that, and carrying the other things. One day it dawned on me...I was the slave! I was the one whose knees still bent and whose back was still (mostly) pain-free. I could see to drive at night, run the shopping cart back to the corral and drive the car around to the front. I was still the kid.

One evening, soon after I returned home, I took my rightful place in my chair. I lowered my cold, aching, aging body into it and prepared for an evening of reading, catching up on Agents of Shield and enjoying the rest of my Cab-Sav. Luca was on the rug with his zoo animals, and he looked up and said, "Gramma, want to play with me?" I left my chair, switched on the floor lamp and grabbed the elephant and the peacock and sat next to Luca on the rug.

The chair can wait.

Friday, April 3, 2015

In an instant

I was in Florida again a mere 7 days after my previous trip in February.  This is the only picture I took while I was there:
It is a picture of the bus I had to take back to the hospital after returning my rental car to the airport. The company I rented from (Dollar, if you must know) gave me slightly inaccurate information when I made the reservation. They told me if I needed to keep the car longer than I originally scheduled, it would be no problem - just let us know! What they neglected to tell me was that they would also add a $20 late charge each additional day I needed it. So I showed them--I took it back! And was relegated to taking not one, but two buses back to town. That's why I took the picture...to text everyone and let them know I was eventually making my way back. I had about 15 minutes to kill between buses and I was trying to avoid the lady  asking me for bus fare, which I told her--honestly--I only had for myself. (Because I wasn't going to give her a twenty and expect change.) Naturally, she found the fare elsewhere and sat where? Right next to me.

Oh, right...the hospital. My trip to Florida was to be with my family as my dad recovered from a coma. The day after I left from my first trip, he fell, hit his head and began a journey for which there was no map. For all of us.  At the hospital, side effects from the concussion gave him aspiration pneumonia, which triggered the coma. My sister, Susie, was in Florida, wrapping up her own trip and about to fly home when she got the news. She canceled her plans and drove across the state to be with my mom and dad. My brother Richard and I relied on her reports on his progress until we made our own arrangements to fly to Florida, coincidentally arriving within minutes of each other; me from Connecticut and he from California. I rented a car (yep, that one...) and we drove from Tampa to Sarasota Memorial Hospital and found our exhausted mom and sister at my nearly unresponsive dad's bedside, where they had spent most of the past week.

Over the next two weeks our lives changed.  We had all the conversations; honoring advance directives, honoring my dad's wishes, planning for my mom's future. Then, as the respirator was removed and he began responding,  other ones about rehab, affording home care, staying, leaving,  etc. The five of us had been together in recent years, but within our larger, extended family, and for much happier occasions. Operating as the original five in an emergency situation was the family dynamic on steroids. Our common focus was, of course, my dad. Secondary to that was being supportive to my mom, such as we were. We three were so darn supportive, we just kept getting in each other's way, outdoing the next in being helpful and considerate. I offered some imagery to help us keep some perspective: We were all floating in the pool of our love for our dad, but on separate rafts, with separate needs and feelings. Clearly we would probably bump into each other on occasion, but it would just be a slight bump and we could float off in another direction without turning into a big deal. It seemed to work.

On we went, figuring out where to stay (What? It's Spring Break? Who knew?? About a million northerners, that's who.) Hotels were crazy-expensive and we were nomad-like in finding rooms and accepting generous offers. A family friend offered their home and car to me for a few days and it was like a life preserver (to continue with my pool analogy) as it gave me the solitude I needed to process our experience. As much as I could. Friends of my parents' loaned us their car, pretty much indefinitely, while we were all there. A gold, Sebring convertible. They were worried we wouldn't like it.  Our cousins offered a bed and meals and all in all, we were pretty well taken care of. Which was a good thing, because none of us really knew what we were doing except just wanting to be there.

When my dad began to regain his consciousness, but not quite his memories, we hung around him day in and day out, just to catch the next thing he was going to say. He was kind of hilarious, with his curious questions and raspy voice. One day I was Olga, his sister. As far as anyone knows, there was never a sister...or an Olga. I was back to Cindy the next day. One morning he shared with Susie that he was surprised that the nurses brought him his breakfast in French Maid's costumes. We gently suggested to him that it could have been a "waking dream" as French Maid's outfits aren't exactly conducive to effective medical care. We laughed as much as we cried and on the last night before I had to leave--begrudgingly-- to come home, we all had dinner together in the dining room of the rehab facility where my dad finally ended up 18 days after his accident.  Another amazing coincidence because the rehab is in the building my parents live in and is one floor below their apartment. My dad asked us all to hold hands and he expressed his gratitude that we were all able to be there together. He said he was grateful that we all loved each other and that we all liked each other, too. "And not necessarily in that order," he added, with a familiar smile.

It's funny how such a situation can completely take over what you once thought was your life. The first few days I was gone from home, I had occasional tugs of responsibility. But those tugs were quickly brushed away as I turned my attention to catching the doctor or flagging down a nurse. I am lucky because my husband, children and friends took up the slack in my wake when I left for Florida with only a one-way ticket and no idea what was going to come about. The emergency consumed me.

I began thinking about how people's lives can change in an instant, due to accidents and other misfortunes, and all the decisions that are taken out of one's hands. What if we could do that same thing, but mindfully, with purpose? Could I change my life in an instant? Because now that I am back home, the only thing I can really focus on is my next trip to Florida. Not that I've been invited, but I'm planning anyway.  Thankfully, my dad is excelling in his rehab programs and activities. My mom is getting some rest and, although she recently told me, "I kind of miss having you all around to get some errands done," she seems to be doing okay.  But I want to be there and I know that they could use the support.

When lives change in an instant, and often it is due to a calamitous or devastating event that forces us to rally our energy and resources to make sense of our lives once more. All I'm asking is why not do it on purpose? I'm not saying I am going to chuck all my possessions in the back of my Toyota Sienna van and head south...yet. I have to get Angelo on board for that one. But I've got him thinking about it, and so am I.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Dreaming of Spring

It has been a looong and cold winter. See how cold it is here? 

This first week of March should be tempting us with thoughs of spring as we fling off our jackets and scarves to enjoy only slightly warmer temperatures. Instead we have mountains of snow that surround us and the forecast continues to display single digits for nighttime lows.  Fortunately, this first week of March also brings a special sale on e-books from my publisher, She Writes Press and its parent company, Sparkpoint Studio. The sale runs the whole first week of March and there are nearly 20 books for only 99cents each. That, dear readers, is a great deal.

Now, during my forced hibernation, I will have plenty to read. Honestly, I prefer the heft and the feel of holding a book in my hand when reading my latest mystery. I just haven’t gotten the hang of holding a skinny little iPad and tapping the edge of the screen when I’m done reading a page. It’s not natural. But I have almost 20 of my sister author’s books to read so I decided to become an e-reader. For the time being, anyway. 

The details of the sale are below.  I provide them for you because I know some of you are in a similar circumstance...cold, snowbound and slightly cabin-feverish. There are so many books here to choose from, but--why choose? Get them all and you've only spent a little more than you would for one book. Throughout the last year as this group of authors has published their books, we've all connected with each other. I don't think it's typical for authors to have such a supportive network of colleagues, but we do. Each author brings a unique voice to our virtual conversation and generously contributes ideas, knowledge, resources and encouragement to the group. 

Please give these books a read. I just know you'll find a new favorite or two. And if you do, leave a review or comment for the author. She'll appreciate it. 

Happy Reading! 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

In the Cards

My Nana's collection of friends over the years was like a collection of teacups; delicate and fancy, simple and practical.  Over the many decades of her life, her friends had arrived through some kindness she had shown them or that they had shown her. Her gratitude in enjoying her friends was a tangible thing and no time proved that more explicitly than her birthday. On the few occasions that I happened to be visiting around the beginning of April, I would see card upon beautifully decorated card displayed around the window next to the table where she sat and played cards and smoked Camels. There were piles on the table where she drew and painted on the Florida porch and, usually, dozens stuck into her address book, so she would know whose birthday was coming up, to return the gesture. It is a vague memory, but a solid one: My Nana had a lot of friends and they all showed her some love on her birthday. 

So I knew what my Mom was referring to the other night when I told her that, after a day of babysitting Luca, I checked in to my Facebook page and saw over a hundred birthday wishes from friends...and counting! She said, "Who are you? My mother?" 

I am a lucky birthday girl. The postman dropped off several traditional birthday wishes in the form of greeting cards through the mailslot in my kitchen door, but, in addition, I received over a hundred Facebook greetings on my birthday this year. This has never, ever, happened in my life before. My birthday comes in the winter and nobody wants to go out into the dark and cold, and if they do, they're buying Valentines so they don't get in trouble with their significant others. This new phenomenon--getting tons of wishes for my birthday is amazing and humbling. I know you're supposed to say that so as to appear appropriately gracious, but I'm not kidding...I am humbled. 

Of course, with the Internet and Facebook, it is very easy to virtually pop over to someone's Facebook, LinkedIn or email address, type out a little greeting and go on about your day. If you happen to forget things like birthdays, Facebook (and a dozen other apps and functions) will remind you. Facebook will even suggest that you send your acquaintance a bouquet of flowers or a cup of coffee, like some irksome, electronic personal assistant (as if you hadn't thought of it yourself. And would have if you weren't so busy...). 

Birthday wishes are fun. Birthday wishes are sweet. Birthday wishes are one of those things that take literally seconds to complete, but have the power of turning an entire day around. That's why it is so important to value them. Think about it: having people in your life who stop and declare for all the Internet to see their affection for you by sending a written greeting to acknowledge your birthday is big. And? Humbling.

Friends are collected through the ages.  As far as I can remember, Nana always spoke with love and affection about her all her friends and acquaintances. She talked about this one's wonderful baking skills or that one's gorgeous garden. If Nana were around today, Facebook would have broken with all the wishes she would have received on her birthday. For me, I heard from my "oldest" friend (a girlfriend from junior high school) and one of my "newest" friends (we haven't even actually met yet...but we will some day!)  Madeleing L'Engle said, "The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been." Or in many cases, the friends.