Sunday, January 26, 2014

Below Freezing

It is cold outside today, and blindingly bright when I open the curtains. Fresh snow everywhere, white and thick, and winter sunlight reflecting off of it. It might be a Sunday to stay inside.

Yesterday, because I knew it would be colder today, I bundled up in all my layers and went out for a winter walk that took me onto the college campus near where I live. Winding paths, grey sky, the river off to the side. I was deep into the walk when I started having that feeling that I was going to just crumple. I felt hungry and cold and faint. I pulled out the chewy granola bar that I had tucked into my pocket before coming out. My first bite was a surprise, since it was not, in fact, chewy any longer but frozen. I chomped it down anyway, but did not feel much better afterwards. I felt frozen myself.

Then I saw that I was not that far from the library, where I knew there was a little coffee bar near the back entrance. As I straggled toward the building, I saw that the coffee place was dark--not open on the weekend, clearly. I still had hope--I knew there was a much bigger coffee place in the campus commons, not that far away. So I went into the back entrance of the library, went around a corridor, and saw the welcome sight of a young woman walking toward me holding a coffee. I asked her where she got it, and she said, "Oh, there's a St*rbucks, in the second floor of the commons." I said, "Oh, okay, but how do you get there from here?" I felt a little silly, because I after all work for this university, but since my location is off campus, I just don't know my way around the main campus that well. The young woman was very helpful: "Just follow the tunnel, and make a right, and then you'll see a fork in the road, and follow the part that has carpeting." I must have looked dubious, because then she said, "You'll find it, it'll be easy, there'll be signs."

I thanked her and went on in my expedition, gladdened to see students coming towards me in ones and twos and threes, all carrying hot or cold beverages that were unmistakenly from Coffee Emporium that is Everywhere. I found the carpeted hallway, and emerged into another alley, where there was a salon tucked away advertising waxing and other treatments. Finally the passageway led me to the welcome bustle and cheer of the coffee emporium, where students in coats and hats waited on line to order drinks of bewildering complexity. The young woman in front of me asked for something that involved "Valencia orange" and some kind of "base." I couldn't really hear all of it, but it seemed complicated.

I ordered a grande hot chocolate and a slice of the reduced-fat chocolate-chip banana cake. (Little did I know that the latter would use up almost half of my W. Watchers points for the day, but that's another story.)

I stepped off to the side to wait for my drink. The barista, a young man, called out each person's name and their drink with great authority and earnestness.  "Diana, your double soy moccachino is ready," he would proclaim, or "Jin Woo, your half-caf vanilla latte is at the bar!"

Another barista came out looking for the woman who had placed the complicated order with the Valencia orange. "Jenny?" he said, empty cup in hand, surveying the assembled students like a nurse about to usher a patient into a waiting room.

Jenny came forward, explaining that the drink she wanted was Valencia orange with a vanilla bean base. "So you want them kind of all mixed together?" the barista asked. "Yes, exactly," she said.

When the drink came out, she made her friends taste it. "What is it?" aked one of the friends. "It's amazing." Jenny gave the name, adding, "You have to go on line and look for the list of St*rbucks secret recipes. There's like 150 different drinks there.

The Jenny noticed the barista who had been calling out all the drinks. "Wait, Ethan, you work here?" she asked, leaning in towards him across the wide counter and machinery. "Yes!" he said. "You should come here and get a job with me."

She said, "I just applied for a job with a lab." Then he told her about a fellowship he was doing in a unit doing research on child psychotherapy, at the medical center. "You should apply for it next semester, we're doing really cool things. It's lot of fun," he said.

"Yeah, sounds cool," she said. "Okay, I'll let you get back to St*rbucksing. I'll call you."

"Okay, yes, please do," he said, giving her a nod as he went back to turning dials and pumping shots.

But then she came back, just a couple of minutes later. "Ethan, you have to taste this. Make it for yourself," she said, proffering to him her Valencia orange drink.

He took a sip. "What IS this?" he asked, in a tone of wonder.

She repeated her explanation, and he said he would definitely make one for himself.

Then, in his loud, strong tones, "Sarah, your grande hot chocolate is ready!"

I thanked him, grabbed my drink and my packed-with-points slice of cake, and sat down in a comfortable chair to thaw out. The hot chocolate tasted great, and so did the cake, and it felt good to be warm. Around me there were students in groups or alone, some gossiping, some working at their computers, all with a fancy or not-so-fancy drink at their elbow.

After the hot sugary drink and the snack, the walk back home felt much easier. As I turned the corner onto my street, the snow was falling thickly, making it seem darker out than it should be at 5:00. There was a sort of bluish cast to the air and everything was very quiet. Not many cars out.

I let myself in to the main door, downtairs, and then went upstairs to where I live--the second floor of a 100-plus-year-old house. I was glad to have gotten out but also very glad to be home.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Although I have lived in my new place in upstate New York for over a year, I still have not gotten Massive Communications Company to get me anything resembling high-speed internet. What I have is barely crawling speed. This I think as much as anything has kept me away from blogging.

Okay, not to begin this gratitude post with a complaint, but just to say that here I am, visiting my sister in Brooklyn, and her internet speed is fine, and so I will grab this opportunity for a Thanksgiving post.

This year, I am thankful for:

my family and friends who are here, and those whom I remember every day

the ability to read, write, think, work

the roof over my head

unexpected kindnesses

my rational self and my dreaming self, sometimes in fruitful combat

Hope all who happen to read this have a peaceful day, filled with kindness.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Fine, Thanks, and You?

It has been a long time, dear bloggy friends, but here I am, more or less thriving in upstate New York. This is the month or six weeks that I travel a lot for work. I have just come back from a trip that took me to a conference in a tropical location, where I got to see some friends that live there, take a three-day vacation on a beautiful beach, and then work the conference for three or so days before flying back to the north. That was a nice trip.

In a couple of days I have another conference, in a more prosaic northeastern location. In between I have had some meetings and presentations and another one tomorrow morning for which I could be more prepared.

Because I seem to have wrenched my shoulder carrying too much luggage to the tropical place, I am sitting here typing somewhat awkwardly, with a cold compress on my shoulder. In addition to taking ibuprofen for my shoulder, I am taking antibiotics because of a dental procedure that I had two days ago. I have to keep eating so I can take the antibiotics, which is unfortunate because I had been making some progress in losing weight. The pills are making me sleepy, and I feel a bit like it is all too much. But also like it will be all right.

I am going to go to bed soon, so I can get up early and finish preparing for my presentation.

With the ending of Daylight Savings Time, it suddenly feels like winter. I went to work today, a Sunday, to try to catch up on some things, and out the windows of little building where I work, I could see, somehow, that it was cold out. The colors were bright, but then night came quickly.

That's all for now.

Sunday, April 28, 2013


I am feeling well taken care of here in Upstate City. Last week there was a lot going on for me: an important meeting at work that included a visit from an out-of-town guest whom I ferried back and forth to the airport, then traveling to a conference in New York where I was arranging my own accommodations (a friend one night, a bare-bones hotel in upper Manhattan the next night), then time with my family over the weekend for the memorial service we held for my brother last Sunday, which was a beautiful and bittersweet tribute to his life, rich with memories contributed by family, lifetime friends, and colleagues who worked with him on another coast before he had a stroke almost nine years ago. And we had his photography displayed everywhere, along with a collage of photos of him throughout his life. It was lovely, but also emotionally exhausting. All of this was punctuated by a flood in the kitchen the night before I was leaving for New York, which I finally got under control with the help of Handyman Neighbor and the landlord (who shot over here like a bullet when the downstairs neighbors called him to let him know that water was dripping through their light fixtures in the ceiling). On Monday, I was getting ready to travel back to Upstate City late in the evening when I got the call that my flight was canceled. The airline put me on a late-morning flight the next day, and I went straight to work from the airport.

Okay, so the being well taken care of part: It was hard to concentrate at work after coming back from all of that, but I went to yoga after work on Wednesday and Friday. I have lived here only eight months, but I have found my yoga community. Both of the teachers fussed over me in their different ways--one saw that I was a bit unsteady during class ("maybe you're dehydrated," she said), and the other noted, before class, that I had not been there in awhile and asked how I was doing. I talked to both of them about my brother, and they were kind and consoling. On Thursday I went to the theater with a co-worker who is becoming a friend: we saw a play about history and slavery and Jewish slave owners. Painful to watch but well-acted and very rich--and I was grateful for the experience of being there.

And then we come to the weekend, which has been most healing. This is the first weekend in a long time where I have just been here, not preparing for something stressful at work and not enveloped in the anxiety of my brother's being ill and the traveling back and forth to New York.  The weather has finally, finally turned here in Upstate City. The air is warm and soft, the flowering trees are blooming, and I can hear all different kinds of birds chirping as I sit in my second-floor kitchen with the windows open. I had let various friends, old and new, know that I was back in town, and yesterday two of them invited me to do things. My longtime friend from graduate school, who moved here eight years ago, invited me over to help her do some gardening in the afternoon and hang out with her and her husband (also my friend from grad school) and their most funny, loving, and adorable six-year-old daughter, and one of my new friends, a connection through the university here, texted me, "Would you like to go for a walk at 4:45 in Beautiful Park and then come over here for dinner?" 

I said yes to both options.  

So that is the being well taken care of part. I am very, very grateful.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Loss, Once More

I need to share some sad news with you, my handful of readers. Some of you who know me in real life or who have become virtual friends on one or another form of social media will know this already, but for others who may be reading, I want to share that my beloved brother, whom I have written about so many times here, is gone. He had been holding his own for eight years after a massive stroke and heart attack in 2004, but he had been growing weaker lately. He went into the hospital a little over two weeks ago with congestive heart failure and pneumonia. At first he seemed to be getting better with treatment, but then he got worse. He died last Sunday night, March 24th, in the hospital. My sister and I, and my niece and nephew, were with him during those last days. 

I traveled back to where I live now, in upstate New York, a few days later. I am stricken with this loss, although somewhat comforted that he is no longer suffering (those last few days were very hard, and he had made it clear that he was ready to go). That thought is so abstract, in a way, though--yes, he is no longer suffering, but he is no longer here to know he is not suffering. Mostly I feel an ache for his presence, and sorrow, and emptiness. 

Monday, December 31, 2012


Next-to-last night of the year and also of my first longish visit home since moving to Upstate City. i've been here, staying with my sister in Brooklyn, for over a week, and it's been fun and relaxing. I'm starting to get more used to the rhythm of coming back every couple of months to visit, almost feeling like I live partially here, where I used to, and partially in Upstate City, where I have lived since the end of August.

It's always a little hard to leave, though. My life upstate still feels a bit unestablished. And it's lonely, compared to being here with my sister. Here, also, I feel closer to my father, who is gone but whose presence seems vivid here in my sister's apartment where we held many family gatherings.

Today we spent some time with my older brother, who, as longtime readers know, has been living in a nursing home since his stroke eight and a half years ago. He can't talk and is paralyzed on his right side but he understands everything that is going on. I always like it when the three of us can be together--the family feeling is very strong. My brother is always happy to be with his two sisters and I have this feeling of content that I think goes back to being very young and having my siblings around (both of them moved away when I was a young teenager and both of them are quite a bit older than me--eleven and sixteen years to be exact).

It was too cold and windy to take my brother anywhere, but we brought in some pizza and sat and ate it with him in one of the day rooms. We also fooled around a bit with the tablet that we got him for Christmas last year. It's hard for him to use it on his own but we got him to play some games on it and then we also practiced with a software program my sister installed that allows him to touch a picture and have it say what he wants. Then we also took some pictures and made a little movie and looked at lots of old and new family pictures that are on the tablet because it is synced up with my sister's computer.

Then it was time to leave. I drove us home, which is novel--I never had a car when I lived here and I do now--and then we came upstairs to my sister's apartment and settled ourselves in with a book (me) and crossword puzzle (her) while the wind howled outside.  After awhile my sister got up to make dinner. I was reading a mystery on the couch and allowed myself to slip into a most satisfying nap. Then we ate, played scrabble, and watched a rerun of Downton Abbey.

Then we both went off to bed. I am wakeful, though, thinking about things, and anticipating the transition back to my other life in a couple of days.

Will try to settle down now, though, and get some sleep. Thanks for listening.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Upstate Update

It's an interesting life, this new life in Upstate New York. Here, I have a car for the first time ever, which, as mundane as that might be for many in our great land, is thrilling for me, the lifelong car-deprived New Yorker (as in New York City).

Yesterday I got in my car and drove an hour and half to another upstate city, to visit a friend from childhood with whom I had reconnected via Ubiquitous Social Network while I still lived in the city. We had a nice visit--he showed me around the city and the campus where he teaches, and I stayed overnight in a cozy guest room in his big house. Then this morning I made the drive back, guided by the GPS system I had purchased a few days ago. Driving on the highway is new to me, and nervewracking, but I figure I am never going to get comfortable unless I do it. Changing lanes is especially anxiety provoking. I made it back without incident--but felt very relieved when I pulled off the highway and was suddenly back in the familiar streets of my neighborhood here in Upstate City.

After driving back from visiting with my old friend that I am getting to know again after, oh, forty years or so, I spent the afternoon with a new friend, a young guy (he's maybe 28 or so) who lives in my neighborhood and does odd jobs for people. He has helped me with a few things already--hauling a washing machine into my basement and setting it up, putting together a bathroom cabinet--but he is not always up to helping because he has a bad knee and sometimes he is in a lot of pain.

Today, when I called my handyman friend (lets call him H.) to see if he could help me put up some curtain rod fixtures, he said he was doing okay and could help. I picked up some sandwiches for us at the local sandwich shop, which styles itself a "New York deli." (H. requested a sandwich called "the Bronx Bomber"--but without the peppers.)  He came over with his tools. As soon as we pulled the longest curtain rod, for the bigger window in the living room, out of its package, we saw that it was damaged. I said, "We could go exchange it." H. said, "Or you could go and I could get started." I said, "Yeah, that's a good idea."

I started gathering up the things to return (there was also an extra set of holdbacks I had inadvertently purchased) and H. asked me, "Where are these from anyway?" When I told him the name of the store, he said, "Ooh, watch out for the Beyond part!"

I said, "Yeah, I know, Family Guy." This is a conversation we have had before.

I popped into my car (did I tell you I have a car?) and headed out into the dank and rainy afternoon  to the store with "beyond" in its name, about 15 minutes away.

When I got back, I could see that one of the shimmery cream-colored curtains I had bought was already up, in the narrow window facing towards the front of the house. I had left the radio playing--the NPR station here that I love, and I'm sure they were playing some earnest folky-type music. As I came up the stairs, I could see through the glass-paned door into my second-floor apartment that the TV was on, and I could hear the sounds of football. I have to admit, it was a lot more cheerful than the folky ballads on the radio. I thought, wow, this is nice, it's Sunday and there's football on (which in some way signals normalcy and contentment for me because it reminds me of my father) and there's a guy here fixing things in my apartment.

So that was my day. Just to wind things up in a pleasurable way, I am now going to take myself to bed and read some more of the very lightweight (yet engrossing) mystery I started a couple of days ago. And look forward to admiring my curtains tomorrow in the daylight.