Archive for November, 2008

The Magical Sixth Day

If you read my post from yesterday, you know that I’ve worn the same blue fleece for the last five days.

Then today I woke up to this…


and this…


It’s magical. My girls are elated. I dug out mittens and snowpants. I put on Vince Guaraldi. I built a fire in the fireplace. I plan to make pot roast for dinner tonight with mashed potatoes and red wine.


And on the seventh day, the blue fleece will rest.


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Defending Blue Fleece


Yes, I am aware that I’ve been wearing my blue fleece every day.

It’s from Old Navy and it cost $15 which is all I can afford to spend on myself during this global economic crisis. Big and warm, it’s perfect for turning down the expensive heat and eating everything in sight.

I should be concerned that I’m wearing it too often — especially in my small town where I see the same people every day.

Wednesday night I wore it under my green down vest to Caroline’s choir practice. I thought it looked bright and festive, like I’d just breezed in from doing something really sporty.

Friday afternoon I picked up my daughers at school. Moms were complaining about the cold, rubbing their skinny arms and shivering. I strolled right past them, cozy and warm with my blue fleece zipped smugly up to the top.

Saturday morning at Elizabeth’s basketball game, the local MILFs were dressed-to-kill, perched on the tiny elementary school bleachers in suede boots, hip jeans, and full-on make-up. I sat behind them and kicked back…in my blue fleece.

I put it on again today, ready for a day of lounging in front of the fire and reading my new book. My youngest daughter who wears nothing but tutus and sequins sneered at me. I saw her.

Perhaps I should care. But I don’t. Or maybe I should care that I don’t care, but my blue fleece keeps me cozy.

And right now, I need cozy.

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It’s the time of year for gratitude. I’m trying to take it seriously this year. There’s so much overwhelming stress happening in the world right now, that my new thing is to take a few minutes and remember what’s good. I’m trying to inject a jolt of happy into the dull pessimism that has spread out a blanket and is rudely lounging in my brain.

Today I’m making a list of all the things that I love about living in JCrewville. Instead of sneering at all the happy, productive, latte-toting residents, I’ve decided to skip along next to them. Who knows? Maybe, I’ll even whistle.

    What I Love About Living in JCrewville:

    My kids walk to school. I love watching Elizabeth meet her best friend, Hallie, in our front yard and begin the quaint morning ritual that seems all but extinct as children in the sprawling mega-suburbs get bussed every day.

    They walk together arm-in-arm huddled in fourth-grade secrecy, giggling, with their backpacks bouncing in tandem. Some mornings I stand at the end of the driveway in my flannel PJ’s and watch them, taking in gulps of fresh air with my morning coffee. Hmmm, I think — it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

    I have a really pretty house. It’s an old gracious house we could never afford anywhere else but here, where cheap real estate prices seduce big city visitors. It’s tall and has amazing moldings and three sets of French doors on the first floor alone. The windows all have wavy, old glass and the stairs creak like you would expect them to. It warms me that my girls get to call such a pretty place the house they grew up in.

    I have great, kooky neighbors. Our old houses sit very close to each other. So close in fact, that before I got blinds in my back den, I could literally see what my neighbors were eating for dinner. This closeness encourages spontaneous moments of togetherness that make me both laugh and sigh.

    Through open windows next door, Karen catches a glimpse of me and cries out “Stella!!” in her best Marlon Brando. My neighbor, Ben, doles out nightly sarcasm as he strolls up and down the block with his after-dinner coffee. Crazy Deb from across the street is out every day, putzing endlessly over her house in overalls and a black t-shirt. She yells at my kids for being careless near the street, but I know she secretly treasures them as much as the antiques that fill her house.

    I am surrounded by old trees. Strong and silent they keep us cozy, holding fresh snow, singing birds, breathtaking color and cool shade. My kids hide behind them, climb them, reach for their branches and tie jump ropes to their trunks. Is it any wonder that “The Giving Tree” is my favorite book?

    Starbucks is around the corner. I know, I know…but still. I love Starbucks: the smell, the ritual, the cool music, the hip baristas (except, of course, for the “White Barista” ). Five years ago, we had a huge snowstorm. Socked in our houses for days, we bundled the kids in puffy snowsuits. Dave pulled Elizabeth in a sled and I stuffed Caroline in the Baby Bjorn and we slogged through the deep snow to the only place open in town. Starbucks! Safe, warm and full of caffeine and sugar –what’s not to love about that?

    I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else. Okay, this doesn’t really make me happy, per se. In fact, it could actually top my JCrewville “Black List”. Yet at the same time, the longer I’ve lived here, the harder it is to leave. I’ve moved every three years of my life until I landed here. Does this make JCrewville home for me? Possibly – or at least for now.

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My Grandma Lovins was always right — even when she technically wasn’t. Her way of doing anything — unpacking groceries, storing linens, cutting radishes — was the only was to do it. She was so exact about her practices that no one dared make a move without being told how. She orchestrated everything. My grandmother was The Maestro.

When I was little, my cousins and I bonded over her bossiness. We made fun of her, taking turns imitating her commands while we played with the musty toys she kept in the guest bedroom. We snuck black olives off her holiday table and giggled over the matching pajamas she would buy us every year. We were co-conspirators, linked by disdain for her order.


My parents got divorced when I was eight. After that, I didn’t see her much. She was my dad’s mother and despite the amicable parting, my working mom didn’t have time to drive us across state to visit. She became a distant presence that passed through occasionally in a birthday or Christmas card.

Then when I was in college, I went to live with her. My student loans had run out and I needed to a place stay while I regrouped financially. My grandma lived an hour from campus and my mother lived across the country. Living with my grandma meant I could be close enough to visit my friends on the weekend. She generously invited me to stay as long as I needed.


The first few weeks were awkward. We move around each other timidly. As the newness wore off, she began teaching me how she wanted things done and I fell into step quite easily. I was a perennial pleaser and once you knew her rituals, she was easy to please.


I knew how she wanted the table set: a salad fork at her place –not a heavy dinner fork, two sets of salt and pepper shakers because my grandpa got them “too greasy,” a blue plastic juice glass for her because heavy water glasses hurt her shoulder. She kept her own special margarine because she claimed she needed to “watch her cholesterol,” even though everything she cooked was slathered in butter.


As I learned the special jobs and requirements, an ease grew between us and we began to enjoy each other. Secure in her world because I knew the expectations, I benefited further because I was a grandchild. She was older and softer by the time I got to know her. 


We often sat up late at night watching Johnny Carson and she would me the stories of her life: living on a farm, being a nanny to a famous senator’s son, her turbulent divorce from her first husband. I loved her drama in the details. She loved having an audience.


If I shared with her a problem, she would roll up her sleeves and get to work. She could easily mull for days, giving me a recess from worry. She analyzed enough for the both of us. I got a break. 


Her structure and predictability were a welcome respite from the transitions of early adulthood. I loved that her penchant for worry and drama matched my own. As long as she was around, I could never feel alone. We became very close.


Decades later when she was living alone in a nursing home I visited as often as I could. At first I made a big effort. I took her out to the beach and we ate pizza. I brought her bunches of pink carnations (her favorite) and planted Amaryllis bulbs for her at Christmastime. I made her lemon cake, and we spent visits discussing what to put in my garden.


But the nursing home depressed me. It got harder to visit regularly once I had two small daughters. Over time, she became harder to engage. She lost interest in my garden. She lost interest in the details of others. She kept talking about dying and threatened she wouldn’t live much longer.


I stopped coming by as often as I used to. Torn and guilty, I feared her disappointment in me.


One warm summer evening, I went to visit her and she was unusually animated. We had a nice, long talk and laughed about things. I stayed longer than I had planned because we were having such a good time. When I got up to leave, I kissed her soft cheek goodbye and told her that I loved her. She said, “I know you do. And I know that one day when I’m gone, you will really miss me.”


Two days later she had a major stroke and died. Her funeral was on a gorgeous day. My aunt and I picked out her casket — metallic and light blue, her favorite color. She was buried in the pretty suit she bought for my wedding. I gave a eulogy that I had scribbled recklessly that morning. It barely sufficed. After the service I went home and drank a lot of wine.


Today, November 11th, is her birthday. And she is everywhere. I think of her when I use a separate spoon for jelly (to avoid crumbs in the jelly). I hear her voice answering the phone, happy to hear from me. I put a vase of pink carnations in the kitchen, which undoubtedly was her favorite room of the house.


On the surface, it might seem what she said on that last visit was a cry for attention. But my grandma never did anything on the surface. I know she was letting me know I shouldn’t have guilt or regret. She was reassuring me that I had done enough. Given her enough. She knew how much I loved her. That I would miss her desperately.


And as always, she was right.    

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