Scarlett’s Letter September 12, 2013

I went for a run this morning. It was cool and overcast when I set out, incentive, plus, I needed to run, I’ve been a slug all week. I’ll be traveling for work, again, the next couple of weeks, and that damn marathon is really beginning to loom large on my fitness calendar.

I’ve been running for about a year and a half now. Ninety percent of that running has taken place with my running club, in Sacramento, where we run along the lovely, American River Parkway, devoid of automobile traffic, crosswalks, traffic signals and other perils. Only recently have I begun to run on the street. It is very different, not nearly as scenic, and quite a bit more hazardous, even with bike lanes and sidewalks. Even the streets of Napa. Particularly the streets of Napa, perhaps.

My favorite six and a half mile loop, and a major portion of my favorite twelve-mile loop, encompasses an area of Napa that not many tourists see. I run past liquor stores, nail salons, past a couple of schools (by far the most dangerous traffic, ever, minivans and distracted moms), a gas station where all of the city buses, tour buses and limousines fuel, a couple of hotels, and several trailer parks. That’s the ugly side of my run, the part of Napa that not many tourists see, except for the hotels. At precisely the half waypoint, I, literally, round a corner and am running along a rural road lined with vineyards dotted with traditional Napa farmhouses and a few ostentatious villas. I like to run the same direction around this loop for two reasons, to avoid having to keep crossing the street to be on the “correct” shoulder and, to end my run on the more scenic side.

I am convinced that more people should run, or cycle, or ride motorcycles, because runners and cyclists, like motorcyclists, are much more attuned to the perils of traffic, they know to look, not once, but twice. If I am running on the “correct” side of the road and approach a driveway or intersection where a driver aims to make a left hand turn, I know, almost certainly, they will only quickly glance right as the execute the turn and probably won’t see me, no matter how much fluorescent clothing I’m wearing. I usually just run into the parking lot and skirt around behind them to avoid any unplanned encounter, and I do so at a distance.

In “urban running”, major intersections and crosswalks throw my time off, which makes me distraught, I can’t help it, I’m a calendar and clock kind of girl. Time matters. When I look back on my mile by mile stats, I can always tell where the major intersections are, my time once dropped to almost 19 minutes per mile because I obeyed the traffic signal and waited for the “walk” sign. I can crawl faster than that. Now, I just go around the law a bit, as in, I just run down the street a block or so, then jaywalk, or run, then run back up the block on the other side of the street and pick up my route. I can maintain my pace and even add a little mileage. I know this is probably some minor misdemeanor in the eyes of the law, but they’ve got to catch me first. Jaywalking.

One of my favorite pastimes is walking. Walking in New York City is more than a pastime, it, for me, is sport. I have always been a very, shall we say, “efficient” walker. I want to cover some ground, I do not stroll. Like driving, I would rather keep moving than be stuck behind something slow. Add to my desire to keep moving, traffic and crosswalks and a million other people, all walking way slower than I, and the sport has begun. Like a cyclist, it’s all about pace or cadence, I intend to move through and around obstacles at a steady pace, I do not want to stop, I do not want to slow down. The first trick is to be able to navigate around large groups of slow moving people, or worse, the people that suddenly stop, right in front of you. I usually use the zigzag approach; skirt the crowd on the right or the left, as space allows, switching back and forth as necessary. Sometimes I just walk the curb. Other times, I have no choice but to thread the needle, squeezing between groups, even turning my shoulders sideways, on occasion, to avoid contact. This, by the way, is an excellent workout for the upper body and waistline, as well as the lower body. A brisk walk on crowded New York City sidewalk, threading the needle.

I can walk at a pace, usually, after a few blocks, where I can fall into rhythm with the crosswalk signal. If I am consistent, once I hit a “walk” sign, and I am not impeded in some way, I can hit all of the “walk” signs going in one direction. Once I alter direction, I need to reestablish the rhythm. Of course, that’s only if there are cars crossing the crosswalk. If there are no cars coming, and the signal says, “don’t walk”, well, you do. You can tell the “New Yorkers” from the tourists in a heartbeat. The tourists stand dutifully on the corner, looking a little forlorn and confused while they wait for the signal to change. The New Yorkers cross, and often between oncoming cars, as the tourists look on in shock and bewilderment. I’m not a New Yorker, but it didn’t take long to figure out how to move around in their world.

That is my whole impetus in life; to move through the world in the most efficient manner, no matter where I am, no matter what I’m doing. Just move. Efficiently. This applies to more than walking, running or driving. This applies to everything from banking to television to shopping, working, working out, traveling, and, well, everything. Life can be hard, it can be a trial, it can be exhausting and wearing, if we don’t know how to move through the world efficiently in every way possible.

My mom, my elderly mom, bless her heart, who will not, does not want to, and will never consider, embracing technology in any way, is stuck in a world that has become unfriendly and hostile; the non-technical world. She will look up phone numbers in the phone book, wondering why she can’t find listings that “should be there”. Not everyone advertises in the phone book anymore, because, only a handful of people use them. There are a million online listings that are faster and way more informative, with reviews and photos and a map, the hours of business, everything you ever wanted to know about a business without having to get out the magnifying glass and phone book to scour for the number to call and get the information. It’s funny that she trusts the phone book so, because they’ve misspelled her name this edition, and she has been in the phone book, with her name spelled correctly, with the same number, for the past 47 years. I think the post office must be involved. So, once Mom has found the phone number in the phone book, she calls and wonders why she is put through an automated maze and then put on hold for a duration. Well, probably because most folks are accessing the information online, the company has only one or two people who are tasked with taking phone calls, in addition to their actual jobs. Not a priority.

My mom will sit down in her office and write checks, put them in envelopes and drive them to the post office only to hope, against all hope, that the least efficient, least effective organization on the entire planet will deliver the mail in a reasonable amount of time to the correct address. I went out and got the mail for Mom earlier today. There were two pieces of mail in our box addressed to someone three blocks away. They were addressed correctly, delivered incorrectly. Mom has a cell phone on my account. Every month she writes me a check for ten dollars to cover her share. Three seconds later I deposit it into my account with an app on my phone. Before the bank app had such capability, I’d stuff the checks in my wallet, for months on end, because I just won’t go to the bank unless I’ve got a check for like a thousand bucks, or something, which is practically never. Thanks for the app, guys!

Mom talked to my cousins on the phone yesterday, first one, then the other, then the first one again. Somewhere along the line, in her second conversation she mentioned that she’d fallen while ironing while I was not at home. She was fine, but this is a very real danger for someone a few short months from being beyond her octogenarian age. Apparently, that cousin called my other cousin, who, then called Mom back. She recommended an app or a setting on her phone that would be voice activated to call 911. My cousin carries an iPhone, which, my mom is completely confused by and refers to as my “facebook” . I got Mom the simplest, easiest to use, made for old folks, flip phone, at her request. So, Mom asks me about this wonderful technological capability. I said, “Mom, in order to use the phone to obtain help you have to carry the phone. It has been plugged in to the outlet by the microwave since I moved in six months ago. If you fall in the family room, the phone, no matter what app or button it has on it, will not be able to leap up off the kitchen counter, unplug itself and fly to your side to help you.” I pulled my phone from my back pocket, “I keep mine here.” She knows that, and gives me shit for it, too, for always being on my “facebook”. Well, yes, sometimes I’m answering work emails, sometimes I’m texting my kids, often I’m Googling answers to the endless stream of random questions Mom has, and, occasionally, I am on a social networking site.

I digress. I had a great run this morning, moving through and around traffic efficiently, and, as evidenced by my ability to write this article, safely. Look left, look right, do it again. We are everywhere, just trying to move through the world, and life, efficiently, and safely.

Scarlett’s Letter June 23, 2013

How in the world did it get to be June 23rd already? When I landed in New York City a week ago, it was as though an eternity stretched before me. A whole week in New York. Just like everything we look forward to for a very long time, the days elapsed oh so quickly.

I had a fantastic week, and this in spite of the fact that this was all for a work assignment. I did work very, very hard all week long, and have tomorrow left to work with this client, here in the city. But, I have also taken every opportunity to play very, very hard, too. I am so happy my daughter got to spend the whole week with me, and her hubby a few days, too. Living on separate coasts has been difficult, as we have always been extremely close. The distance and the time apart haven’t changed our relationship at all, we were able to pick up right where we left off, as fantastic friends, as mother/daughter, as two people with a great deal of passion for similar things.

Sometimes I think my daughter is actually a clone and not my daughter. Actually, we don’t look much alike at all, and yet, we constantly have people come up to us and tell us we look identical. I have an oval face, she has a round face, our noses are completely different, as are our mouths, our eye shape, and our brow. We have very similar mannerisms, though, and I think this is what people see. We react to things in a very similar fashion, often at the same time, usually at the same thing. Clothes and shoes, flowers, architecture, nature. We also share a passion for language, for expression and for the written and spoken word. We both seek to be understood and find writing an excellent vehicle for self-expression.

We both share a passion for life, for fun, for incorporating experiences into our ordinary day. We both share a desire and a passion for an extraordinary life. Here we are in New York City, together, for a week, and on a budget. We did splurge on one Broadway show and one museum (MOSex – the Museum of Sex), but other than that, we looked for ways to enjoy the city on a shoestring.

Mission accomplished. We took the (free) ferry to Staten Island and enjoyed the view of the Statue of Liberty. We visited as many parks in a day as we could from Battery Park to Central Park, using the Subway to get us from south to north. We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and back. We took a million pictures of flowers (mostly begonias) and buildings. We shared meals at restaurants with different cuisines. On the night of the “super moon”, we sat in Central Park with our reusable water bottles filled with red wine and talked and talked and talked by the light of the moon. We ate cupcakes and ice cream sandwiches and other treats, then ran in Central Park on Saturday and Sunday mornings as penance.  We planned out silly videos to upload to Vine and YouTube. We decided to incorporate carousels into our sightseeing venue and rode Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn, the Central Park Carousel and the Bryant Park Carousel, all within a twenty-four hour period. We walked around town, from Brooklyn to Central Park on Saturday with mimosas in our “water” bottles. We stopped by Starbucks on Fifth Avenue, on our way to run in Central Park, early on Sunday morning. There, we bought our coffee, a croissant and a banana to share, and ate down the street, leaning against the building, in front of Tiffany & Company’s flagship store. Yes, we had breakfast at Tiffany’s, in honor of Audrey Hepburn and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, one of my daughter’s favorite actresses and movies.

My son and I share quality time together as adults, too. Our favorite thing to do is to set aside an evening one a month or so to try a new pub, or maybe a tacqueria. We sit down, more as friends than as mother and son, we enjoy a couple of interesting beers, a bite to eat and many stories. This is our time and we both look forward to it and cherish it.

The special time I spend with my kids as adults is reminiscent of things we did as kids were growing up. Just little things that made daily life interesting, special, unique. We added these little activities to our daily routine like a chef uses an uncommon spice, an unusual seasoning, a secret blend of herbs to make his/her dish extraordinary. We used to play a word game in the car on long drives called “My Little Green Martian”, we learned the game at Girl Scout camp one year and played it as a family for years to come. When my children were in elementary school, we lived in a suburb with an old “village”. In the village were the school, homes, a park, an old-fashioned hardware store, a coffee shop and a bakery. One memorable tradition we had was our Friday afternoon routine. I would walk over to meet the kids after school. We’d walk home together, stop at the bakery, buy a “hindber snitter” cookie which we’d enjoy in the park, then play on the swings and slides before heading home for the evening. This ritual cost me three dollars per week, twelve dollars a month, $144 a year. For the price of a few video games, or cable TV for a month, we shared valuable time together and created special childhood memories that will never, ever be forgotten.

It doesn’t take much, a little imagination, a little creativity. My kids remember those little things, and I’m betting my daughter and I won’t soon forget our shoestring adventures in New York City.

Couples, friends, brothers and sisters, anyone at all, can find ways to add a little spice to their daily lives and to their relationships. We don’t have to succumb to the monotonous routine of work, household chores, mundane meals, sleep, repeat. There is something we can do, every day even, to make life as memorable as “hindber snitters” and swings and slides in the park on Friday afternoons, as memorable as riding three carousels in New York City in twenty-four hours, as memorable as playing silly word games in the car on long drives. I even look for these opportunities for spice and style in my day when I travel alone.  Life is what you make it, lack of time, lack of money is no excuse. Your only limitation is your imagination and your desire to change life for the better, and both of those are easy to fix. Why would you choose not to change your life for the better?

 

Coffee on the church steps; a sin.
Coffee on the church steps; a sin.
Mimosas on the go.
Mimosas on the go.
Carousels!
Carousels!
Running in Central Park
Running in Central Park
The Great New York City Carousel Caper
The Great New York City Carousel Caper
Howling at the "Super Moon" in Central Park
Howling at the “Super Moon” in Central Park
Breakfast at Tiffany's
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Begonias!
Begonias!

Scarlett’s Letter June 20, 2013

Still in New York City! This is the longest NYC trip I’ve ever been scheduled for and I’m finding I STILL don’t have time to do everything I want to! Each and every time I come to New York, I discover new and amazing things, some of them so fantastic that I just HAVE to do, see, eat that same thing again. So, after several visits, you can imagine, my repeat list is growing to fill almost a week itself. To take in new sites and scenes and restaurants, to visit friends in the area AND revisit all my MUST DO AGAINs is getting a bit crazy and makes for a fairly frantic visit.

As a repeat visitor from afar, what are my MUST DO AGAINs? I always, always, always MUST have a meal at Serendipity3. I MUST go to Magnolia Bakery for a cupcake and I MUST have a few, very specific pieces of Jacques Torres chocolates. I am also drawn to Times Square like a moth to light. I just love the spectacle and the energy, I guess because I, myself, am energetic and often make a spectacle of myself. I am also quite likely to have Waffle and Dinges from a street vendor, preferably in the new and improved smaller size with Spekuloos atop. I am also a repeat offender at Dhaba Indian on Lexington. I am a big fan of Central Park and window-shopping on Fifth Avenue, I am a HUGE fan of Bryant Park. I like parks. Time permitting, I will often do a multi-park downtown to uptown subway trek; Battery Park, Union Square, Madison Square, Bryant Park and Central Park. I know there are many others, but these are each conveniently located by other traditional stops; Whole Foods and Eataly, for example. If I happen to have enough time on my hands, I will walk from park to park to park to park, finishing at Serendipity3 with my Magnolia Bakery cupcake in a box and a small bag of chocolates from Jacques Torres, which I take back to my hotel for later consumption. At Serendipity 3 I am focused on that Frrrrrozen Hot Chocolate after my meal, often my only dessert splurges of the week.

As I am not a trust fund baby, though I love Broadway shows, I usually only splurge on one show per year. Last night was my one; Mama Mia. Love it!!I have a compilation of ABBA songs whirling through my mind, from the time I lay my head on my pillow last night, all night while I tried to sleep, and even now. ABBA songs.

So far this week, I’ve done the park to park tour, with the exception of Central Park. My daughter and I plan to run there on Saturday morning, which will be a first! I’m looking forward to it, I just hope my feet aren’t worn out by then with standing to teach for eight plus hours a day for five consecutive days PLUS all the walking we’re doing in the evenings. I’m sure I’ll manage.  I’ve done the Broadway Show and Times Square. Tonight? Serendipity 3. Dhaba later this week. And window-shopping on Fifth.

I’ve thought of publishing a guide “Scarlett’s Whirlwind Tour of the MUST Dos in NYC”. But, I think New York City is to each visitor something different. We will all be drawn to different activities, different types of food and sites and scenes. And for all of us, there is plenty to keep us interested and entertained, no one guide could possibly satisfy all, most or even any other visitors. For those of you who have never experienced this place, might I suggest you add it to your bucket list? Whether you appreciate crowds or urban places or not, I think this city is something everyone should experience even if only once. There are as many quiet, serene areas as there are crowded, noisy and bustling places. There are places to walk, to ride, to run, to (urban) hike, even to fish. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination, much like everything else in life, only limited by the limitations you have in mind.

I love NY!

Mama Mia!
Mama Mia!
Like a moth to light.
Like a moth to light.
Serendipity 3 Frrrrozen Hot Chocolate (and a hot fudge sundae)
Serendipity 3 Frrrrozen Hot Chocolate (and a hot fudge sundae)
From Roosevelt Island
From Roosevelt Island
The Tram to Roosevelt Island
The Tram to Roosevelt Island
Landmarks everywhere!
Landmarks everywhere!

Scarlett’s Letter June 16, 2013

I’ve made it to New York City and had a lovely time today sharing some of my favorite sites with my daughter who now lives in up state New York. She has joined me for the week. We’re going to have fun! When I’m not working. Which won’t give us much time, so we are cramming everything we can into every free moment we have. We are very well practiced at this.

We were on our way to dinner and I noticed a couple walking down the street. I pointed them out to my daughter. The woman was carrying her purse; the man was carrying his backpack, dragging a suitcase and carrying her enormous Vera Bradley duffel bag. At least I’m fairly certain it was the woman’s Vera Bradley duffel bag, I honestly don’t know many men that choose to carry Vera Bradley duffel bags. In public, unless it’s the wife’s/girlfriend’s/spousal equivalent’s. I see this all the time in my travels. Have you ever tried to carry a duffel bag with all the clothes, make up, shoes, straightening irons and everything else a woman likely to carry a Vera Bradley duffel bag would need to be as lovely as her luggage? It’s frickin’ heavy!

I will admit, I have entertained the idea of acquiring a Vera Bradley piece, or two, but I know for certain I don’t want anything that I have to carry over my shoulder. I already have a purse and a backpack.  I don’t want anything that doesn’t roll. The only luggage I will ever carry I will never actually carry, unless I’m in the backcountry, backpacking. I insist on luggage with caster-style wheels, that will roll in any direction, and four wheels, not just two, so I can push my luggage down narrow passages without having to tip it and drag it.  Or carry it. Second, I can’t imagine the lovely quilted fabric would hold up to the abuse I dish out for very long.

I bought the best purse (very large purse) a little over a year ago. It was designed by a mom who is also a make up artist and who travels a great deal. It is stylish, well thought out, extremely well constructed and absolutely adorable. I get compliments on it every single day. But, in spite of it’s high quality and excellent engineering, superior materials, construction and design, I have worn it out to the point that it is almost embarrassing to carry. And still I carry it. The company has stopped making them for the time being, but I’ve launched a very loud and consistent campaign for a new batch. My point is, if this well engineered, high quality, well constructed super bag is in tatters after sixteen months in my care, no quilted duffel bag or tote is ever going to hold up to the kind of travel and abuse I am responsible for.

I was sharing my thoughts on this with my daughter when we saw another couple walking down Third Avenue, the woman, who by the way, was wearing Under Armor, as in pretty BAMF workout clothes, carrying just her big purse. Her man was carrying his backpack and a Vera Bradley duffel bag. Two different couples within ten minutes, within two blocks! It is an epidemic!

I was nearly apoplectic! So was my daughter! I can’t imagine, and she agrees, ever, ever, ever asking my significant other to tote my stuff around because it’s more than I can handle. Now my gentleman, like my daughter’s hubby, will insist on helping, and sometimes we reluctantly agree, but we both believe that a woman should be responsible for, and capable of, managing her own stuff. If not, we are either packing too much, or we are weak. Perhaps it’s our independent nature, perhaps it’s our love of backpacking, where you could never, ever, every ask someone else to carry your stuff. You just man up and carry your pack! Okay, true, on more than one occasion we did offload an item or two from our pack into my son’s, but, by golly, we packed less the next time. And the stuff we offloaded was “community” stuff, like rainflies or a cook stove or water purifier, not our wardrobe and luxury items (luxury item, we allow ourselves only one when backpacking). And, women backpacking with men have a certain code of honor to maintain, we are already out to prove we can trek as well, as fast, and as strong as the guys, no way are we going to wimp out on carrying our own stuff.

The second thing, here, guys; when your girl begs for a Vera Bradley duffel bag for some gift-worthy occasion, buy jewelry instead. She will be delighted with jewelry, it will cost about the same, maybe even less, and you will never, ever, ever have to carry it. If she just HAS to HAVE Vera, buy a wallet instead and put the jewelry inside as the “big surprise”. Just don’t tell her I told you!

Vera Bradley Guy and Under Armor Girl. What's wrong with this picture?
Vera Bradley Guy and Under Armor Girl. What’s wrong with this picture?

Scarlett’s Letter June 13, 2013

Another day nose to the grindstone, just getting stuff done. I’m just trying to get hyper-organized and get all the loose ends wrapped up before I leave home for a month. On Saturday.

Good news, though! Bless the airline gods! Two of three segments upgraded to first class for my red-eye flight Saturday night! If I can’t sleep, I can drink free wine!

Mom goes to the medical center routinely and has blood work done to monitor her anemic condition. My dad used to always go online and print out any medical test results. That, now, has become my responsibility. I knew I had the capability to print to my printer at home, from anywhere, but I just hadn’t really set it up and worked it all out. Today, I mastered it. I can actually pull up her results on my iPhone, from wherever I am (as long as I have internet) and have them print on the printer in my office at home. Magic. I love technology.

With the installation of a few cool iPhone apps, I have also centralized a whole bunch of random notes, passwords, membership information and other annoying data. I’m just feeling so “together”.

I had an amazing lunch, chicken tacos, out on the deck. One of the luxuries of working from home (occasionally); actually being able to cook the largest meal of the day for lunch and having a “light” dinner. I really think this is much healthier for us. And being able to eat outside and listen to the birds. Ok, crows. We have a flock of crows hanging around that have chased all the birds away, and one crow sat on the very tip of a tree limb and carefully watched me eat my tacos. I guess crows are better than the turkey vultures that used to perch on the deck railing and stare in the kitchen window at my parents while they read the paper in the morning!

I made, made, made myself go to the gym tonight. And I’m so glad I did. I went to a yoga class and had an instructor I haven’t had before. She was awesome! We did about an hour of strength poses followed by a half an hour of inversions and relaxation poses. Just the thing for my tight muscles from all the running I’ve done this week! I came home limber, relaxed and hungry and ate the other half of my Amy’s Margherita pizza with some red wine.

My biggest project for the day, and one I’ve kind of put off all week because I was busy masterminding it; wrapping the gifts I got my Sweetie for his birthday (which was a couple of days ago). Since we live so far apart, his gifts will be arriving when I do. I just had to figure out how to get them from here, to there. I’ll be checking them, like luggage, for a fee, which is still way less than the post office would charge. I admit, like everything I do, I may have got just “a little” carried away in “wrapping” the box. It will be funny to see it come off the luggage carousel. I’m sure he’ll be able to tell in about a half a second which item is his gift. I may have spent as much on tape as I did the gift (kidding). But I had fun with it, and it’s all done, and ready to go. Which I am not.

Ahead tonight, and tomorrow; packing for four weeks. One week of work and play in Manhattan, the better part of the next week in New Jersey for work (so heels and pretty clothes for two weeks) followed by two weeks in Alaska, fishing and stuff (so jeans and boots for two weeks). Again, I think I have it masterminded. And, if all else fails, I have my credit card!!

The gift. Do you think he'll be able to tell it's from me?!
The gift. Do you think he’ll be able to tell it’s from me?!
My chicken tacos. So yummy!
My chicken tacos. So yummy!