No photos in this one, just a wholehearted appreciation of New York! Poems, narratives, observations and stories. Pub date is TBA! #LocalColor
I needed to cook bacon for dinner last night. Not because its best-before date was up. Not because I didn’t have anything else. But when I knew I wanted eggs, I knew I needed bacon. Bacon and me, we go way back. It’s possibly the first thing I learned to recognize by smell. That, and Folger’s coffee.
Every weekday of my life as a child, my mother made bacon and an egg, white toast and coffee – for my dad. We had cereal sometimes, toast most days, but my dad, he loved bacon and an egg. And I am sure it was because of the way my mother made them.
Strips of bacon laid flat barely touching in a copper bottom, Revere Were pan. Cooked low and even, turned a few times, bacon comes out, egg goes in, smack in the middle of the grease left behind by the bacon. Spatula flicking hot grease over the top of the egg to cook it while the bottom of the egg cooked on the inside of the pan. Then slide out onto the plate like a short order cook – the one thing my mother always swore she was not. “What do you think, I’m a short order cook? Eat what’s in front of you.” And most days we did.
After I was labeled “gifted” in Grade Five, I skipped, and was unceremoniously assigned to Grade Seven without the inconvenience of showing up for a Grade Six. Over the summer after Grade Five, I was assigned to the care, and ultimately feeding, of the nun who taught grade six during the school year, a powerhouse named Mother Josetta. When we both tired of my Math and English lessons, she taught me how to do things – like fry an egg. I remember watching her flick grease just like my mother did. I could see a wonderful, unspoken camaraderie come alive: with eggs, with nuns, with my mother, with women in the universe throughout history, if we could all execute the same flick, if we all knew how to fry eggs. I did not get a sense of a greater purpose in this exercise, but rather I could visualize an invisible silken thread drawing us all together.
I believe that was the first and last time I used bacon grease to fry an egg. That’s the way it is sometimes with life’s profound moments. They stand on their own. They influence thought, but not action. And it wasn’t that my mother hadn’t taught me many cooking skills, but this nun with her methodical bacon and egg protocol is what I remember. She must have felt sorry for me. A tall misfit chubby girl with glasses not finding her way in a sea of normal little girls and boys in this small Midwest Catholic school. I don’t think I ever confided in her later that the kids in my new Grade Seven were suspicious of me and kept their distance, and the kids in my old Grade Five instantly forgot my name as they attended that inconvenient Grade Six, barely recognizing my absence. There had been talk about sending me away to a school in Indiana known for the way it worked with gifted kids, but the cost of tuition was a deal breaker. It’s impossible to know now if that move really did stop at tuition or if my family decided it was just easier to keep me where I was. I’ll never know.
Still, the smell of bacon cooking or the sound of an egg breaking into a hot pan, the smell of fresh Folger’s – these all take me back to a clean dinette set with four place settings of 1950s, burnt orange Melmac plates in Michigan. Four chairs, four people eating breakfast together and my mother always wondering existentially; if the coffee was good to the last drop, what was wrong with the last drop?
Now, in my all-grown-up studio in the Bronx, I am able to fill the space with the foods of my childhood and a memory of the people and places that still carry meaning. It might be time to try frying an egg in bacon grease again – just to see if I could get it right and not burn myself. I’d like to please Mother Josetta now – and my own mother too, even though I’m way past needing to do that and they are both gone. I think it would be fitting to let them both know their lessons are as fresh to me now as the day they first presented them to me. And as useful.
Like all the women in history, I can fry an egg.
If you would like to read more of my little stories, check out My Books on the menu!
My notebook no longer contains…
My notebook comes along with me when I leave my house,
you never know when elusive inspiration will be found lurking
around the corner, down the block, over your shoulder.
When it will be better to write than to grieve or to laugh.
But now, my notebook doesn’t carry any of the thoughts I want to write
It holds the receipts, the holy cards, the phone numbers, bills for the car or the hotel.
The tiny note cards from the flowers.
Not one word can I write,
not one thought with any level of clarity
I know there is usual healing in words,
salve in poetry for the open wound
Or in some short narrative, a remembrance;
but it’s just not there.
Instead of being reminded that I am a writer –
by opening to a blank page,
Instead of being reminded that I take words at face value
to spin my stories, to tell my sorrows,
joys, memories –
I see only the shards, the detritus of my loss
and words simply pull farther and farther away.
My notebook no longer contains
Stories of today or plans for tomorrow.
That all stopped on Saturday.
While I know this is as temporary as a life,
It is just as maddening.
If you’d like to read the Late Orphan stories, look at My Books for These Winter Months and These Summer Months.
Today, I am putting on my travel coach hat. This is where I hear your lament – “I have always wanted to go there!” – and I turn it into, “I am so glad I went there.”
Eiffel Tower? You can go to Paris, you know. How about a soccer game, opera performance, art exhibition, concert? How many times do you have to miss something because you just can’t figure out how to get there and back without breaking the bank?
I call it it a “Bugout.”
I was working at Columbia University many years ago in the Department of International and Public Affairs. The woman whose office was just next door to mine was a professor in the department and her husband taught in the Business School. They were very comfortable, financially speaking, and took some nice trips. But it was one trip in particular that made me re-think bugout travel. They went to Barcelona for the weekend. They left on Thursday night, and came back the following Tuesday.
I was stunned. They were not super rich first class, jet set travelers, they were just a husband and wife wanting to go to the museums in Barcelona for a few days. My conversation with her went something like this: “How did you, where are you, when did…” I never considered a trip like this. I always figured you had to have ten days, two weeks. I have a friend now who is going to Spain, Portugal, and Morocco – but for three weeks of traveling.
So, what did I learn? Other than you can go someplace far and get back in just a few days? I learned that bravery was necessary. That timing was critical to a successful bugout. That planning was essential. But that all in all, it was completely doable.
First consideration: the best long distance bugouts involve nonstop, direct flights to your destination. If you want to go to Barcelona, don’t fly in and out of Madrid. You run the risk of missing a connection when time is of the essence. This means you can go best when you can get to your destination in one flight.
Next – plan to take next to nothing with you. This will reinforce the bugout nature of the trip and ensure you get in and out of airports with the least number of events. Meaning, don’t check a bag you have to retrieve, run the risk of losing, have to drag around. Get just what you need into a carry-on.
Then, get tickets to the place and to your thing. I bugged out a few years ago to Miami to see a ballet company perform that was not going to be in New York that season. I remember calling my daughter when she lived in Madrid to see if she wanted to go to Lisbon for the weekend. I bought the tickets on Wednesday and was on the plane Thursday night. We spent Friday, Saturday, Sunday in Portugal visiting Lisbon and Sintra. She went back to Madrid, I went back to New York. We did the same thing for Barcelona. And just this past June, I went to Italy for a long weekend to see the Palio in Siena.
Bottom line – life is so short. If you can just get out to the airport, get out and go. Maybe it’s just to North Dakota because you’ve never been there. Or DC because you want to protest in front of the White House. Get maps, get guidebooks, get online and get your tickets.
If you’d like to read more travel tips, try “Buen Camino!” Paperback and Kindle.
Jet lag will bring you down. It’s a weird, disorienting feeling that you are too tired to lie down, to jazzed to stay in one place, too foggy to think – and in no way, shape, or form are you ready or able to enjoy a vacation, business trip, or family bug-out.
In a word or two – jet lag is the pits.
I have conquered jet lag – and I do not say that lightly. I really have decided to beat it at its own game and in order to do that, I have set up some protocols that seem to work every time. It’s been over more than a few trips, and it does reflect my own body chemistry, but it works.
Allow me to fill you in on my protocols. They are a little floopy, but I think if you have issues with jet lag, you got nothin’ to lose by trying them out on your next trip over time zones.
One note: these tips are based on trips to Europe from the US.
- Step out of time. This means taking off your watch, shutting off your phone, and letting the day tell you what time it is. Certainly you want to make your flight, but let all those airport clocks remind you of the current time. Then, once you are on the plane, don’t sit and mentally remind yourself of the six hours or so ahead you will be when you land, or the the time it is now at your destination, or the number of hours in your flight. Step out of time altogether and let life present itself to you.
- Bring a watch already set to the time where you are going. But set it the day before you leave so it doesn’t bring you back into time. Put it in your bag and don’t look at it until AFTER you land. Look out the window at your new day and put on the pre-set watch.
- Ignore folks who say, don’t drink caffeinated drinks on the plane, or don’t eat anything. I’m a coffee lover – going without it gave me a headache. I do pack food these days because I tend to land and then keep going, either to a train or another flight, so I need food to tide me over breakfast or lunch when I land.
- Sleep. If you are on an overnight flight to Europe or beyond, don’t beat yourself up if you think you are not sleeping enough on the flight. Rest is paramount, sleep is a bonus. If you put the book away, turn off the screen in front of you, wrap a nice fleecy blanket around your shoulders, and rest, you will likely fall asleep regardless. Trying to make yourself fall asleep won’t work and it is stress-inducing!
- When you arrive at your destination, get as much daylight as possible. Do not be tempted to just sack out when you get there. Stay on your feet, find something neat to do, get lunch at lunchtime, dinner at dinnertime, best as you can. While I would not book Wagner tickets to sit through five hours of singing in German on the day I arrive, there’s nothing wrong in booking a nice twilight tour of Paris on the Seine or a night walking tour of spooky spots in York.
- If you are too tired, seriously tired, take an hour nap not later than early to mid afternoon.
What I have found is the constant mental math of what time is it here, what time is it there, or how many hours have I been traveling is what makes for world class jet lag. Best is to convince yourself you are a world class traveler, but one who is not tied to clocks and watches. Sun up, you’re up. Sun down, you’re down. Then little by little, the new place will come into brilliant focus and you will have a fabulous trip. And besides, everyone wants to know what you bought, what you saw, where you went, not how many hours it took you to get there.
Get up and go! Life’s too short to stay in one place.
If you’d like to read more travel tips, try “Buen Camino!” Paperback and Kindle.
There’s a mourning dove near my window in the Bronx. She’s new. I hear her in the morning now, and at twilight sometimes.
I grew up listening to the soft grey birds near my house in Michigan. Over breakfast. The cooing, the pattern of cooing, that plaintive, slow soft grey cooing. The other birds set off on a frantic chatter, but the doves, they were the calmer voice of reason. A sultry mezzo countering the soprano chorus of ingenues.
There was another dove on the windowsill at work today in Queens. She let me watch her until my shadow forced her away. I’ve never seen one up so close before.
I tell you this and I know you’ll think, oh, listening to that sad sound from the visitors by her window now must remind her of home and lazy Michigan summers.
It’s not that at all. It’s that now I know: home must have been reminded of me.
I am the pioneer, not you.
When you came, I had already seen
the vast stretches of tall cool grass and trees shading, standing,
When you came,
I had already known
the warmth of late summer twilight and the chill of an early fall sunrise.
I am the pioneer, not you.
I washed over your tired feet and soothed your limbs and your pain
I was there to refresh you and I watched you smile at the taste of my
Do you remember the quiet winter when you skated across my frozen surface,
shouting and laughing with your friends?
And then the spring, when you built little boats and I tossed you in them?
I am the pioneer, not you.
I washed over my banks over and over again and you said I didn’t know where to stop.
I flooded the hills and the paths over and over again
and you thought I was wrong, that you could fix me.
I came up to your silly bridges
and lapped against the fragile wood structures you buried in my riverbed.
I’ll win you know.
I carried away your simple tents and your plantings and playthings
I carried you all on my back down stream until nobody remembered
But you will remember me.
You will say,
“The spring of aught-six was
a bad one, the river was a terrible thing,” and you will fear me now,
you will run from me
and you will move your tents away and you will have to bring my water up hills to your homes.
And I will miss the time when I washed over your feet and you sat along my banks, sipping my clear water.
It’s different now.
It’s my nature that you should fear me.
I am the pioneer.
(Written about the St. Joe River in my hometown of Niles, Michigan. It is now, as pictured above, 6′ above flood stage). Photo credit: WNDU