Back in 2007, there seemed to be some sort of fever sweeping through my friend group: everyone was adopting dogs. I couldn’t understand it. Why? All of our youngest children were finally starting school. We would have a moment to ourselves. Why would you bring another dependent into the house? A dog is a toddler that never grows up, I said. A dog will never be able to feed itself, I said. It will need walks, it will need grooming, medical care, it will bark, it will chew your shoes, it will pee in the house, it will steal food from the table…
You get the picture – I was not a fan.
My kids and my husband begged me, “Please, can we have a dog?”
Now, many people want to let others down gently. When they don’t want to say “no,” they say things like, “let me think about it” or “we’ll see.”
My response was unambiguous, “Over my dead body.”
Then, one day in the early summer of 2007, a strange thing happened.
My sister, Diana, and I were on the upper east side of Manhattan and passed the window of a pet shop. The most adorable puppies were in the window. And, yes, even I thought they were adorable because all puppies are adorable and I am only human.
Diana said, “Let’s go in…just to look.”
We browsed around. They had puppies and kittens, all looking cuddly and lovable, and heartbreaking in their tiny cages.
For reasons that remain unclear, I started asking questions:
Me: Do you have goldendoodles? My family has allergies.
Salesman: No, we only have purebreds here.
Me: What kind of purebreds are hypoallergenic?
Salesman: Why don’t I show you?
Never trust anyone who answers a question with a question.
The salesman went to an unseeable room in the store and returned with two tiny shitzu pups. One was the color of toasted marshmallows (which I love), and one was black and white like an Oreo cookie (which I also love). I have a sweet tooth. What can I say?
Without a word, he held them out to me. And without a thought, I took them.
That’s when it happened. It came without warning, I didn’t feel a tickle in my throat, or body aches of any kind. Nonetheless, I caught the fever.
The marshmallow was wriggling and squirming. The Oreo was totally zen. I handed the marshmallow back to the salesman and focused on the black and white fur ball that was now cradled in my arms. Like a seasoned pro, it nuzzled its little head under my chin. I was done for.
When I brought her home, my family must have thought I’d lost my mind, and I’ve never seen so much happiness stem from another person’s perceived dementia. After much debate, we named her Fluffy and she has been a beloved part of the family ever since.
After 13 years, Fluffy still can’t feed herself or walk herself, but she has never chewed our shoes (although she went through a period where she’d gather them like a nest around herself). She doesn’t bark. She doesn’t pee in the house. She doesn’t steal food from the table. Turns out, I’d been around some horribly “trained” dogs. She is nothing like them. She is my sweet, well-behaved little toddler that has never grown up and I could love her more. I have never recovered from the fever, and I never want to.
Like so many people around the country, and the world, business owners here in the containment zone are taking a big hit. It’s devastating. There’s no way to sugarcoat it or make light of it. The only comfort is knowing we’re all in the same boat and we’ll bounce back together. We just need patience (not my strong suit), time and a hopeful look toward the future.
So, I have to give credit to the industrious individuals who are thinking outside the box. Here are some of the ways businesses are trying to make lemonade out of lemon-scented Lysol.
Since obsessing about toilet paper has become everyone’s favorite pastime, one genius marketer came up with a ploy to profit off the mania.
Imagine you’re down to your last roll. You’re feeling desperate. You don’t even have back-up newspaper or an old Sears catalogue laying around. So with a heart full of optimism, you search toilet paper on Amazon and this pops up:
While some price gougers are trying to sell toilet paper to you for about $3.00 per roll, another company lists their shoes as toilet paper – and for a very affordable price, I might add.
What would your internal dialogue have to be to make this strategy work? “Hmm. I’m down to eight squares of TP but, you know, I could always use a cute pair of espadrilles.”
Appealing to people on lockdown with their kids:
Michael’s craft store is offering online shopping with curbside pick-up. Their website reads:
Stocking up on arts and crafts to keep the family busy at home? Now you can grab supplies without leaving your car.
They will actually bring your purchase to your trunk so you can avoid all human contact. This is a great idea, depending on what you order. Let me offer a mommy tip here: do not order anything that involves glitter or permanent markers! You’re welcome.
It’s hard to imaging that anyone is thinking about buying a new car right now, but if you are. Chevrolet says “We’re here to ready to help.”
You can shop for your new car online and get home delivery (again, avoiding other humans and their potential creeping crud). Plus, for well-qualified buyers who finance through GM, they also offer 0%APR for 84 months and wave monthly payments for 120 days. FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m sure there is a laundry list of terms and condition. I won’t bore you with them here.
Cashing in on fear:
There are going to be a slew of commercials coming out soon for assisted living facilities. How do I know this? In addition to acting, I’m also a voiceover artist and I’m getting auditions for these left and right. And they almost all start out with phrases like ‘in these uncertain times.’
You’ll also be seeing lots more commercials for smart phone ultraviolet sanitizers, air purifiers, and the like.
The truth is, if you just stay put at home, respect social distance and wash your hands, you’ll likely be ok and so will your loved ones around you.
Now, a message from my heart:
I’ve been trying to keep people’s spirits up with these containment zone posts, and I hope I am. Sometimes it’s a struggle. I’m going through this just like you and it is stressful. My husband and I have been fortune that everyone in our family is healthy. Some of you have not been as lucky. You are in my thoughts every day.
I’d also like to say thank you to everyone who is keeping the world in motion. Thank you to those caring for the sick, stocking the grocery store shelves, providing gas, internet, and electricity. Thank you to the volunteers who deliver food to their elderly neighbors, and to the people walking their dogs who take the time to smile and ask, “How are you doing?” I’m grateful for the artists, musicians, and yoga and fitness instructors who generously post their talents online to give us all a little sweetness and keep us centered and motivated in these times of isolation and concern. And I am certainly grateful for all of you who take the time to read these posts and leave comments for me. It helps. So to all of you beautiful people out there:
The weekend was jam-packed with super fun activities. I did two loads of laundry, made soup and followed my husband around the house with a Clorox wipe. In the midst of all this, the entire state of New York shut down and all “non-essential” businesses closed. Nobody knows if this will last for weeks or months. There’s just no way to tell.
So I thought it was important to asses my long-term needs. Wants and needs are two very different things, of course. This is where the ability to be very discerning comes in handy. For example: I want paper towels but I don’t need them. I can make do with hand towels, sponges and, if push come to shove I can use one of my husband’s shirts that I secretly hate.
So, what is essential for me?What would I no longer have access to in the foreseeable future?
My husband and I are not big drinkers, so closed liquor stores would mean nothing to us. Consumer alert: Liquor stores have been deemed essential businesses in New York State and remain open. You’re welcome.
I stopped coloring my hair last June, so the closure of salons was not an issue. And who’s going to see me anyhow?
Wait! Hair? I realized I would not be able to have Fluffy groomed for God knows how long? She’s a shitzu and requires monthly haircuts. This is a long-term need! There was no choice but to buy a dog grooming kit on Amazon and learn how to do it myself from YouTube tutorials. Please send your thoughts and prayers to Fluffy.
What else would I need? Coffee! Now some of you might think coffee is a want and not a need. Well you would be wrong. An order placed to Nespresso checked that off the list.
I need food, and therein lies my biggest problem. I can’t order any.
After attempting to use every online grocery service short of the pony express, I finally discovered why I couldn’t get them. On one of the sites, I entered my address and a notice popped up, in red letters. I’m paraphrasing, but it read something like this: Your area has been temporarily suspended for deliveries due to the coronavirus. The message was vague. It didn’t explain why my area was suspended. I have friends elsewhere in New York, including Manhattan, who have access to deliveries. I got the distinct impression it had something to do with the containment zone.
Um…hello?! If we in the “CZ” are considered the most dangerous of the dangerous, wouldn’t it make more sense to drop our groceries outside our doors than to have us sashaying our cooties all over a supermarket?
Running out of groceries was ramping up my anxiety. There was only one option – I would have to venture out. This, of course, compounded my anxiety.
I should point out here that, prior to this pandemic, I was not an anxious person. Thanks for that, pandemic!
Since I didn’t want to risk exposing myself for nothing by going to a store that might have empty shelves, I decided to hit Stew Leonards in Yonkers, which is normally very abundant. I knew the layout of the store well. Crafting my shopping list in groups (veggies, dairy, meat, etc) in accordance with the store’s floorpan, I could maximize my shopping in the least amount of time. I wanted to get in and get out. I had no idea what merchandise I’d find when I got there or how crowded it would be, but having a strategy at least gave me the illusion of some control – which I cling to these days.
I checked Waze before leaving the house and traffic to Stew’s looked clear. To my sheer delight, I arrived to find a half-empty parking lot. Did the lesser planners shop over the weekend? Did the snowy day scare others away? Whatever the reason, luck was on my side. I was able to get almost everything I needed and wanted while setting a new land speed record.
With my cupboards comfortably stocked for at least a month, I could stay at home and this calmed my nerves. And just in case you’re wondering: no, I am not hoarding. I’m just very frugal. Today’s roast will be tomorrow’s sandwich, a steak salad the day after that and a meat sauce the day after that, with leftovers in the freezer.
There was just one more need that had to be addressed – my husband and I desperately missed our children. One of them is in Georgia, the other in Brooklyn with his fiancé, and all of us in isolation. Hubby came to the rescue and coordinated a virtual visit for all of us using something called Whereby. It. Was. Wonderful.
Throughout this entire calamity, technology has been a saving grace. With the help of the internet, I can learn how to groom a shitzu, support my coffee habit, find 20,000 ways to make a chicken breast interesting and see my loved ones!
What’s been your saving grace? Tell me in the comments.
March 20, 2020 (Toilet Paper Inventory: holding at 12 rolls)
I’m going to level with you, dear readers. Last night things in the containment zone took a dark turn. At least in this house they did. There was a harbinger of negative emotions lurking behind my bottle of hand sanitizer. I could feel it standing behind me as I looked at social media posts of selfish imbeciles flocking to beaches and reveling in large crowds during their spring break trips. It was whispering judgments in my ear about people who felt entitled to endanger themselves and others so they could get drunk on piña coladas with their friends. It told me their parents were irresponsible enablers for letting them travel, some of them even footing the bill for these reckless adventures.
As the rage started to build inside of me, the sensible part of my brain said, “Stop!” Understanding that I can’t manage the world and that blame is not useful, I calmed myself down and came up with some tips for myself. I’d like to share them with you here.
Since I can’t control the world, nor would I want to (too lazy), I will focus on what I can control. I can respect social distancing (and I do). I can be vigilant about washing my hands (my ragged cuticles can vouch for me). I can be conscious of my own actions and my interactions with those around me. The bright side is: I don’t have to have any interaction with anyone if I don’t feel like it!
Limiting Social Media
First, a semi-shameless plug: I know many of you are reading this through Twitter and Facebook, but you can subscribe to the blog by going to https://snorkfest.com. New posts will be delivered directly to your email. Thereby, avoiding social media to be notified of updates.
Back to limiting social media: Nothing can twist my mood faster than looking at Facebook. There is an incredible amount of bad advice, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and myths circulating. People are fighting over politics. People are fighting over hoarding. People are fighting over fighting. I don’t need that right now. However, there are also some wonderful things to be discovered. I will focus on those. Here are two that I found on social media today:
If you click here, you’ll be directed to a chart of 50 birds species. Then click on any bird to hear its song.
Communing with Nature
I can take solitary walks, or invite friends to walk with me. If you’re hunkering down where you can’t really avail yourself of nature, take heart. I have something for you!
Music really does soothe the savage breast. If I’m feeling hyper, Vivaldi is my go to. It’s lighter than air and delights me.
When I’m feeling like a lump, I’ve Got The Power by SNAP! gets my ass moving every time.
And speaking of moving…
Expending That Pent-up Energy
One valuable lesson I’ve learned from my dog, Fluffy, is that if you don’t expend enough energy during the day, you will find yourself with a serious case of the zoomies at the end of the day. When Fluffy gets the zoomies, she starts running around the house like a lunatic. Round and round, from the kitchen to the dining room to the living room to the front hall, through the mud room, then back to the kitchen. She’ll repeat the circuit until she exhausts herself.
I don’t know about you, but running through the house like a nut job is not my idea of a good time. So that’s when those long walks come in handy. If you live in an area where you can’t go outside, now would be a good time to dust off that Jane Fonda workout video, or have a private dance party of one in your bedroom. The point is to get up and move. You’ll sleep better, I promise.
Counting My Blessings
Gratitude is always good for keeping things in perspective. My family is ok. Spring is here. I have total agency over my agenda (no obligations of any kind). The environment is getting a break with fewer cars on the road and less planes in the air. My neighborhood is quiet; no leaf blowers! I can read that book I haven’t been able to get to. I can still laugh and sing and write.
We’re all in this together. So, please share your tips for staying sane and centered in the comments. We can all learn from each other.
Until next time, be well, stay safe, wash your hands, stop touching your face and find a way to laugh everyday!
For today, this is yours truly signing off from the containment zone.
March 19, 2020 (Toilet paper inventory: holding at 12 rolls)
Here in the containment zone, every morning is pretty much the same. I have my rituals in place and go through them step-by-step…
Wake up (Essential)
Assess breathing and check for body aches/fever (All good)
Tend to morning ablutions (Use your imagination. On second thought, don’t.)
Go down to the kitchen and begin decontamination protocols (Involves Lysoling the bejesus out of everything my husband and I communally encounter: doorknobs, faucet handles, drawer pulls, countertops, ice dispenser touch pad, light switches, etc. And yes, “Lysoling” is now a verb.)
Wash hands while singing the ABC song.
Apply lotion to sandpapery skin
Make and consume coffee (As essential as Step #1)
Walk Fluffy (Inviting neighbors who like to walk with us. Maintain social distance.)
Return home and repeat Steps 5 & 6.
This might sound a bit compulsive, and you could be asking yourself if Anita is speeding down the highway to OCD-town. Let me assure you, once the dust settles, I will happily give up Steps 2 and 4. In fact, I’ll be able to lighten up a little after the following things happen:
My husband stops going to work. He owns his own business and only comes in contact with his partner, but they have separate offices. So, there’s plenty of distance between them. But he’s out there. In the world.
March 25th passes without any sign of illness in my husband. He attended a conference in Las Vegas and the 25th will mark the end of the supposed incubation period. Now, since we’re talking about Vegas, baby…I’ll bet you somebody at the conference had it. Those are pretty good odds.
So, until then, I will continue to be the sanitizing queen of corona.
After my daily checklist is complete, I start making important decisions: Should I do laundry today, or save that for tomorrow so I’ll have something to do? Should I sort the laundry and just do whites today and save the colors for tomorrow? Should I cook for the day, or make extra for the freezer? Should I start an adjunct list of bigger projects: Clean out the closets? Prepare the flower beds for spring planting? Build an ark?
One thing did happened this afternoon that was very different from the “norm,” whatever that is anymore. I attended a virtual memorial service for my friends’ mother who passed away two days ago. My heart went out to the whole family that they could not gather together in person to comfort each other. But my hat’s off to them for coming up with a way to gather “virtually,” see each other’s faces and share tributes to their beautiful mom. There were stories and songs and, honestly, it was just as meaningful as any memorial I’ve ever been to.
These are very different times, indeed.
After the service, I head back down to the kitchen to whip up some keto-friendly dishes (I decided to cook.). The diet is going well; I’ve lost quite a few pounds and feel energetic. As long as I have access to the foods I need, I plan to stick with it. Of course, if we reach a critical point where there is nothing left in the house but carbs, I will do what I have to do. But we’ll dive into that bowl of pasta when we come to it.
I make keto Oopsie bread, which was easy and came out very well, I think. You can find the recipe here. In addition, I made a lovely zucchini, bell pepper and brie frittata. And last but not least, a creamy cucumber salad.
Once the clean-up was done, I called Amanda and invited her to our 5 o’clock Fluffy walk. One of the wonderful things that has come out of all this is seeing families take walks together. Everyone is out with their children and their dogs. It’s very nice. We saw our neighbor, Lauren, who came outside to say hello. She was having a cocktail party with her husband. It used to be “two’s company, three’s a crowd.” Now two’s a cocktail party.
Strange days indeed.
And now it’s time for some mindless entertainment. I like documentaries. Yesterday I watched Fyre on Netflix. Today, who knows what I’ll find.
Then it will be dinner and some conversation when my husband gets home. Then bed.
Postscript: My husband received an email that someone at the Vegas conference tested positive for coronavirus. That’s a bet I would have preferred to lose.
Unless you’ve been in the middle of a Rip Van Winkle nap since January, you are aware of the coronavirus. And if you live anywhere in or near New York City (like me), you are probably reading this because you’ve already washed your doorknobs, sanitized your phone, had your fourth cup of coffee and run out of Schitt’s Creek episodes. It’s ok, I’m not offended to be at the bottom of your daily to-do list.
I live in Westchester County, just outside of New Rochelle. So I was all ears when, on March 10, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo declared the creation of a containment zone in that area. I looked all over the internet for legible maps of the zone to see if my tennis center was within its parameters. I finally found one. And no, the place where I play tennis wasn’t in it – but my house was. Uh oh!
So, what did that mean? Well, we were assured we could still leave our homes, but places where large numbers of people gather (houses of worship, schools, etc.) would be closed. The National Guard would be rolling in to sanitize those places and would deliver food to people under quarantine. Not to sound ungrateful, but I think being under quarantine and worrying about developing Covid-19 was bad enough without having to eat government-issue rations. But I wasn’t under quarantine, so…
What follows on this blog today, and in the coming days/weeks/months, will be accounts of what’s going on here in the containments zone. Let me catch you up from that first day to today:
March 10, 2020
As I mentioned above, I play tennis; Wednesday mornings in a foursome. My tennis partner and the other two people we play with are in their late 80’s. I am the infant of the group. Needless to say, I worry about them, as they are in the high-risk group. I called my partner and told her we should suspend playing for a while. She would not hear of it and assured me that the tennis center had done a deep and thorough cleaning. Against my better judgement, I agreed to play the next day.
I texted my niece and told her I was worried about exposing myself to the virus and worried about them because they’re all nearly 90.
She said, “Wow! What’s their secret?!”
“Tennis,” I said.
As luck would have it, my manager emailed me. I had an audition which would preclude me from playing. So, instead of putting myself in harm’s way by going to tennis, I would take the Metro-North commuter train into Grand Central Station and a subway to Times Square. Yeah. I know…
March 11, 2020
I arrive at the theater and sign in for the audition – with gloves on so I don’t have to touch their pen. Ever try filling out a form in gloves? Judging by my handwriting, I might have come across as a doctor (or an ax murderer) who moonlights as an actor.
The audition goes well but I am anxious to get back home and away from the general public, who I do not trust to be vigilant with hand-washing or covering of their coughs.
Sure enough, there’s a guy on the subway picking his nose. Seems he didn’t get the memo.
On the Metro-North, which is virtually empty, I sit as far away from everyone as I can. Three women board the train and sit directly behind me. This annoys me. The existence of coronavirus has made me very territorial about my personal space.
As we pull out of Grand Central, one of the women, the one sitting directly behind me, starts making phone calls. She’s trying to get a doctor’s appointment for her daughter. She makes three calls before she’s able to book one. Here is what she says each time:
“Yes, my daughter has had a fever for over 24 hours and when she tries to take a deep breath, she starts coughing uncontrollably and says it really hurts.”
I look across the aisle at a twenty-something woman. We are both wild-eyed. She mouths the words, “Holy shit.”
I want to turn to this mom and ask, “What the hell are you doing on public transportation, Typhoid Mary?!”
Instead, I change my seat, whip out my hand sanitizer, although I’m still wearing my gloves, and marvel at her stupidity. Side note: her traveling companions, who are sitting shoulder to shoulder with her, look as alarmed as I feel.
I arrive home, take a shower (relishing the opportunity to touch my face and rub my eyes) and then email my management team. I tell them, until further notice, I will not be taking anymore in-person auditions.
March 12, 2020 (Toilet paper inventory: 13 rolls)
I decide to hunker down indefinitely but this requires gathering provisions. Since I’m not under quarantine, I can still go out and get whatever food and grocery items I need, allegedly. My neighbor, Amanda, and I decide to venture out to Fairway. Our plan is to stay as far away from everyone else as possible and not touch our faces. That’s our strategy.
Each shopper in the market has the look of a scared wolf: head down, eyes darting back and forth, pupils enlarged. Some of them cover their mouths and noses with masks or scarves. Amanda and I spend two hours trying to get what we need. The shelves are woefully lean; toilet paper and cleaning products are only a memory of days gone by. There are a few bags of frozen vegetables, some boxes of pasta, bags of salad…I snag the last chicken.
It takes another full hour to reach the check-out.
March 13 & 14, 2020 (Toilet paper inventory: holding at 13 rolls)
I try to be creative with chicken recipes.
March 15, 2020 (Toilet paper inventory: 12 rolls)
I should mention here that, before this whole pandemic, I started following the keto diet. Timing really is everything in life.
I realize that I do not have enough vegetables or proteins to last more than a few days since the pickings were so slim at Fairway. But I have enough pasta, bread, popcorn and crackers to keep my husband happy for a while.
Since I’d rather lick a subway seat than go into another supermarket, I log into my Instacart account and start shopping for all the things I think I’ll need for the next three weeks. To my amazement, it’s all there – frozen veggies, ground beef, dairy items galore and yes, the holy grail of coronavirus shopping: toilet paper and Lysol! I take my time. I want to be thorough. I don’t want to have to enter a store for one or two forgotten items.
Once my order is completed, I attempt to check out. Plot twist: there are no delivery times available. Not today, not tomorrow, not at all. Hey Instacart, that would have been useful information BEFORE I started shopping!
Undaunted, I try Amazon’s food delivery service from Whole Foods. When I log in, it clearly states 2-hour delivery for Prime members. Hooray! I begin my list again. They do not have toilet paper or Lysol, but I see everything else I want. While trying to add frozen cauliflower, Amazon alerts me that I have the maximum amount of items in my cart. Now I am faced with the impossible task of picking and choosing what can stay and what must go. When I attempt to check out…yup, you guessed it…no delivery times available. @$#&%!!!!!!
So this is how it is. I have no choice but to go to the local supermarket. First I do a drive-by. Judging from the number of cars in the parking lot and the number of carts in the corral, the store is not too crowded. I decide to go in.
The first thing I notice is that most of the shelves are empty. Then I notice they all bear signs reading “Limit one per customer.” That goes for bread, meat, chicken, milk, butter, water, paper products and cleaning supplies. There is no flour. There is no sugar. The next thing I notice is that I feel dizzy. It is in that moment that I realize I have been holding my breath since entering the market. I quickly move far away from the nearest human being and draw a deep breath. I will get through this.
I need proteins. The meat case is empty. The poultry case contains one friggin’ chicken. If I feed my poor husband any more chicken he will divorce me. I take it anyway. I find frozen meatballs and want to cry with joy. I see cottage cheese and, since it’s not restricted, I get two. I take two cartons of cream. I take two containers of sour cream. I grab some cheese. I pause to thank God that I am not lactose intolerant. I go in search of Lactaid pills for my husband.
For dinner, I prepare a chicken feta pesto casserole and promptly spill it all over the inside of my oven. I salvage what I can, and we have dinner.
After dinner I start texting with my friend, Bradley. I tell him about my shopping misadventures. He tells me he hates the hoarders because he’s down to three rolls of toilet paper and can’t get anymore. I agree with him. He says we should “save our corn cobs ‘cuz that’s what they used in the olden days.” I remind him that I’m not eating corn because I’m doing keto.
March 16, 2020 (Toilet paper inventory: holding at 12 rolls)
I clean the oven.
March 17, 2020 (Toilet paper inventory: holding at 12 rolls)
My friend Tom organizes a Zoom video conference, featuring two ladies in the health and wellness field. I join with audio only because, since self-isolating, I have given up wearing makeup, presentable clothing or a bra. Tom asks me to turn my video on because he’d “like to see everybody.” I turn on my video and die a little inside.
The featured speakers talk about managing stress. I want to rub my nose, but think I might be judged for touching my face – in my own home – with my raw, clean hands. But they don’t know my hands are clean. However, throughout the presentation, one of the other participants polishes off his dinner, two brownies, and then picks his teeth with his finger. Anyway, one of the speakers wants to guide us through a meditation and asks us to close our eyes. I close mine and worry I’m the only one. Then someone in the group farts, loudly. I get the giggles and try like hell to surprise them. I am unsuccessful. I kill my outgoing audio.
March 18, 2020 (Toilet paper inventory: holding at 12 rolls)
Feeling confident that I have a comfortable amount of supplies and food, I spend the day puttering around, looking at too much news and social media. I decide to take a break from doing essentially nothing and watch a documentary.
After dinner (chicken again, but my husband can’t divorce me because all the court houses are closed), I get the urge to start a journal: GREETINGS FROM THE CONTAINMENT ZONE.
It is a warm July evening in 1964. A gift arrives in the mail for my brother Dominic’s 10th birthday. Our Uncle Louis and Aunt Rosemary have sent him the one and only thing every kid wants in 1964: the coveted Meet The Beatles LP. I am only three-years-old, but know who the Beatles are and I can feel the excitement in the house. So precious is this gift to my brother that he doesn’t take the plastic wrapping off the dust jacket right away. We huddle around him as he reads the back of it to us. Then, with great care and anticipation, he slips the album from the cardboard, painstakingly holding it by its edges, and puts it on the turntable. He ever so gently places the needle on the spinning vinyl. It makes that quiet silky hiss and then, BAM, Paul McCartney wants to hold my hand. Singing and dancing fill the living room.
At some point, we decide to perform along with the songs. After all, there are four of them and there are four of us. Dominic and Michael play along on their Mattel Strum-Fun Getars. Since we only have two of those, Diana plays air guitar and I pretended to be Ringo on my imaginary drums. [Side note: Diana and I had the moptop hairdo before the Fab Four became famous, although I can’t say with confidence that they copied us.]
I remember seeing “the lads” on The Ed Sullivan Show and asking my mother, “Why is everybody screaming? They can’t hear the music!”
So, as you can tell, I grew up on the Beatles. My husband did too. When our own kids were little, we gave them a proper Beatles education and would quiz them, “Listen carefully. Is that John or Paul singing?” “Did you know there was another drummer before Ringo?”
Somewhere along the way, the music gods smiled down on us all and created a satellite radio station devoted entirely to the Beatles. If you get in my car, that’s likely what you’ll be listening to. When my husband travels with me, he’ll look up facts about the songs and the stories behind them.
The Original Moptop
It was on one of our drives that we learned something that has been wrongly speculated about for decades: Yoko Ono did not break up the Beatles. So, quit blaming her, people! Many music historians believe it was actually Maxwell’s Silver Hammerthat drove the final nail into the coffin. You see, John, George and Ringo hated the song. But Paul apparently had them rehearse it over and over and over. There were disagreements about some other songs as well. For their part, Ringo and George were the peacekeepers. Ringo wrote Octopus’s Gardento reflect his dream to escape all the discord. George wrote I, Me, Mineabout the ego problems plaguing the band. It’s funny to note that some of the later songs were written to kind of insult each other. And yet, they recorded them together, so their bond was undeniable, despite the tension.
As you can imagine, with all this Beatles love in the house, we were eagerly awaiting the release of Danny Boyle’s movie Yesterday. I will not offer up any spoilers but I will tell you this: We loved it! I laughed, I sang along, I cried a little and then laughed some more. If you haven’t seen it yet, what are you waiting for? The eighth day of the week?
Anyway, after the film, my daughter asked me, “Which was your favorite Beatle?”
Without hesitation, I said, “George.”
“That figures,” she said with a smile. “The quiet one.”
Since then, I’ve been doing a little more research on George. A lot about him seemed very familiar. And then it hit me…I am, in fact, married to a “George.”
My husband practices meditation. He is a talented musician in a band with three other guys. He’s fab. And yes, between the two of us, he’s definitely the quiet one.
Seaweed. The taste of salt on my lips. The smell of sea air. These are just a few of the things that come to mind when I think of childhood summers spent on Cape Cod.
The year was 1966, and it was the first time we had ventured to that popular ocean getaway favored by so many upstate New Yorkers. On the advice of family friends who rented a house there every year, my parents thought it sounded like just the ticket for our young family of six.
My five-year-old self was beyond excited by the prospect of dipping into the ocean for the very first time. Up until that point, my swimming was confined to our navy blue kiddie pool, constructed of canvas and supported by a frame of metal tubing; or the lake at Cherry Plains where we had huge family picnics with my parents’ relatives. At one of those affairs, an old Italian great-aunt tricked me into eating a piece of barbequed “chicken” which later turned out to be rabbit. But that’s a story for another time.
My father rented a cottage for us in Dennis Port. Just the word “cottage” thrilled me, since cottages where only ever mentioned in fairytales. I pictured an enchanted house built of cobblestone and thatch, covered in flowering ivy. It had a beautiful garden and a wishing well. If they had called it a bungalow, I probably would have envisioned jungles and men swinging on vines; certainly a different kind of vacation altogether. But no. I would spend one charmed week in a cottage by the sea.
For several days leading up to the trip, my mother prepared. She bought each of us new sunglasses. She packed our clothes, our sheets, towels, pots, pans, cleaning supplies… Were we moving to Cape Cod?
I distinctly remember the chaos of jamming everything into our sedan. My father packed the trunk without success. There were things that simply wouldn’t fit.
“We just can’t take everything, that’s all,” he said with a shrug. He started to eliminate items based on I don’t know what.
Enter my mother. When she saw what he was doing, she bolted from the house. There were words, if I recall. She unpacked the trunk and put everything on the ground next to the car. With her hands on her hips, she surveyed her inventory and then slowly and methodically repacked all of it into the trunk with not an inch to spare. She shot my father a look of great satisfaction, he muttered something under his breath and, with that, we were ready to go.
My father slowly inched our over-stuffed boat of a car down the slope of our driveway, scraping the bottom of it just as we pulled onto the street.
I remember a few things about that interminable drive to my storybook vacation. I remember my oldest brother, Dominic, trying to ignore the rest of us because he was a teenager and simply too cool. I remember being sandwiched between my brother, Michael, and sister, Diana. They were needling each other so much that my parents threatened several times to turn the car around and go home. I remember the floor of the car had a hump upon which I rested my feet. But what I remember most was being too little to see out of the windows and all the horn honking, swearing and swerving my father did during that ride made me nauseous and terrified. Not being able to see made it just that much more unnerving. Is this how it would all end? I simply couldn’t die before seeing my cottage!
By the time we crossed over the Bourne Bridge, I was barely holding on. But I knew if I threw up on my siblings, I would die a worse death than anything a major car accident could hold in store for me.
“Look out the window, kids!” said my mother, as she opened hers to the fragrant salty air.
I got up on my knees and could see the water and blue skies and sail boats. It was nothing short of magical.
Consulting his maps and handwritten directions, my father drove to the rental office, picked up the key and we headed to our rented property. The paved roads became narrow bumpy lanes covered in sand. We pulled up next to a modest wooden affair, with sun-bleached cedar shingles, an asphalt roof and a screen door.
“Here we are,” said dad brightly. “Home sweet home!”
This? This is my cottage? Where’s the stone? Where’s the ivy? Where’s the ocean?! Instead of a garden and a wishing well, there were some spiky clumps of sea grass, two Adirondack chairs, a charcoal grill and a yellow plastic sand pail the previous occupants had likely forgotten or couldn’t fit into their trunk. The cottage was situated among a cluster of others just like it. There was not a drop of water in sight. I was totally and immediately disenchanted.
At this point, I’d like to switch gears for a second and tell you about the very first date I had. Out of necessity, it was actually a double date – with the boy’s parents. We were both 14 and therefore too young to drive. They took us out to dinner and I ordered the Salisbury steak, for two reasons. One, it was the cheapest thing on the menu so I thought that was the polite thing to do. Two, it was steak. When it was served, imagine my surprise to learn that it was not a steak at all. Rather, a Salisbury steak is a gargantuan oval-shaped patty of ground beef covered in a brown sauce.
So, why am I telling you this? Well, right about now, you might be thinking I was an ungrateful brat. And who could blame you? But try to bear in mind that I was five. A five-year-old doesn’t understand that her father works long, hard hours, often missing dinner and bringing work home from the office, so he can take his wife and four kids on a vacation. A five-year-old can’t appreciate that for her mother, this is not much of a vacation at all. It’s more of a relocation. She’s still cooking, cleaning, and tending. So, in my defense, I was simply a five-year-old child – with a wild imagination and impossible expectations – who didn’t get the steak she thought she’d ordered. Now, back to Cape Cod:
We spent the next eternity unpacking the car and fighting over who got which rooms.
Children are not famous for their patience, and in that respect, I was a normal kid. At about this time, I started whining, “When are we going to the beach?”
“The beach? Well, if there’s time, we’ll go after we get back from the supermarket,” my mother said while making up our beds.
If there’s time? The supermarket? WHAT IS HAPPENING? Wasn’t this supposed to be a beach vacation? Since I was not running the show, it appeared I had no say in the matter. We piled back into the car and left to partake of every child’s favorite vacation activity – grocery shopping. Once the food was purchased and unloaded, I could stand it no longer.
“I thought…we came here…to go…to the beach,” I cried, lips quivering and voice cracking.
I’m not sure if my mother took pity on me, or wanted us out of her hair while she made dinner, but she told my father, “Start the coals and then take them to the beach. Come back in half an hour.”
“Yippee! We’re going swimming in the ocean!” My tearful sobs turned into gleeful delight. I was alternately jumping up and down and running around in circles. “Woohoo!”
“Um…” my father proceeded gently, “we’re not actually going to swim.”
I stopped mid-twirl and stared at him, confused.
“Tomorrow,” he said.
When he saw the waterworks about to start again, he quickly added, “I promise! It’s too late to go swimming today, but tomorrow we’ll spend the whole day at the beach. And the day after that, and the day after that, and every day we’re here. Today, we’re going to go to the beach and see the ocean. We can even put our feet in. But tomorrow, we will swim.”
My father kept that promise. We swam. Boy, did we ever! And when we weren’t swimming, we sat in the warm sand and ate the sandwiches my mother packed in the cooler. We were even allowed to drink soda, which was normally reserved for only the most special of occasions. Dominic decided he wasn’t too cool to play with us and taught us how to body surf. He and Michael pulled Diana and me around on rafts. We peacefully played games together. We all collected seashells, flew kites, played miniature golf, went out for ice cream, visited a lighthouse and a sailing museum, and on and on and on.
When the week was up, I hated to leave the beautiful little gray cottage I had fallen in love with. Nearly every summer after that, we did our best to return to Cape Cod. Each time, I dreaded the long drive but turned giddy and relieved as soon as we reached the Bourne Bridge. Our rented homes got bigger with each vacation to accommodate more of our extended family – aunts, cousins, and eventually spouses and children of our own.
I still come back from time to time. My husband and I take our children to play mini golf at the same places I played. We go out for ice cream at the same parlors. We swim in the same big ocean. In fact, this post was written in Dennis Port. From a house by the sea.
Planning a family vacation becomes complicated when you have adult children. College schedules, work, life – these things can get in the way. That’s why, when the stars align and everyone has a few free days, you pounce on the chance to plan a trip.
We took advantage of just such a miraculous opportunity and booked a family getaway to Costa Rica last year. Several relaxing days in a warm rainforest would be the perfect balm for an icy cold New York January.
I had no idea there would be so much high adventure, tests of human endurance, drama and suspense…and that was before we even got on the airplane.
Let’s begin with the morning before our flight.
New York. January 9th, 4:00 am
It was T minus 24 hours before the car was to pick us up for the airport.
I don’t sleep well the day before I travel. There are so many things to think about. Did I pack the sunscreen? Were my flip-flops in my suitcase? Was my e-reader fully charged? If I forget my retainer, would I come home with buckteeth?
Tip-toeing around so as not to wake anyone, I busied myself with the final preparations for our vacation. My plan was to get everything done and grab a nap in the afternoon. Like most of my plans, that nap never materialized. But that was OK, I thought. I’d just go to bed early and get up around 3:00 to shower, put on the carefully selected traveling outfit I had chosen, style my hair, have a light breakfast, water the plants, load and run the dishwasher, clear the perishables from the refrigerator, and empty the garbage so the house wouldn’t smell like a sewer upon our return. After all that, I’d be ready for some R&R.
Apparently, I am a slow learner, because that plan didn’t pan out either. Here’s what happened instead…
New York. January 9th, 6:00 pm
With PJs on and ready for bed, I said good-night to my family, “Remember, the car is picking us up at four. So, get to bed early and make sure you all have your passports.”
When I uttered the word “passports”, my son got a strange look on his face. He quickly retreated to his room, shutting the door behind him. I heard a lot of rummaging sounds.
He emerged within moments. I would best describe his face as a combo platter of fear, nausea and guilt.
“Mom,” he said hesitantly, “I could have sworn my passport was here. But now I realize I must have left it in my dorm room. I am so sorry!”
Oh, dear god.
His college was 5 hours away (without traffic).
Deep breath. I quickly consulted my phone. According to Waze, we would get to his campus around 11:00 pm. Doing the math in my head, I was certain we could complete the round trip with enough time for me to shower and change before heading to the airport. (Side note: I am not good at doing math in my head.)
“If we leave right now, we’ll get back in time,” I said.
“Are you serious?” he asked.
“Do you have a better idea?”
“I just won’t go,” he offered. ” It’s ok. Really.”
There was no way we were taking this family vacation without him.
“Get in the car,” I said.
I threw on some old sweats and we headed to Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania. January 9th, 10:53 pm
The entire college was closed for winter break. We had to track down campus security to let my son into his dorm. While he and the officer went to his room, I programmed our home address into Waze. We would return at 3:48 am. Good-bye shower.
As I sat in the car watching the seconds slip away on the app, I also noticed we would never make it home unless we stopped for gas. Hello putrid garbage.
Tick. Tick. Tick. What could be taking so long? His room was the size of a bathmat.
Finally, I saw my son and the security officer walking toward the car. My son looked stricken.
“Mom, I am soooooooo sorry,” he said. “I just got off the phone with dad…”
“Oh my god,” I said, “is somebody dead?!”
“No, no…,” my son continued. He looked at the officer for help. The man put a supportive hand on my son’s shoulder.
“What is it?” I begged. “Out with it!”
“Dad found my passport. In my room. At home.”
For the second time that night, I told him, “Get in the car.”
As we pulled away, the officer shrugged and gave a wishy-washy wave good-bye.
“I am really, really sorry. Please don’t be mad,” my son pleaded.
“I want you to remember this moment,” I told him. “Look at me. I’m not mad at all.” And this was the truth – for three reasons. One, nobody was dead. So, that was good. Two, by this point I had been awake for 19 hours. I didn’t have the energy to get mad. But the main reason is that I love my son and I had missed him. Since he’d been away at school, we didn’t get to talk much anymore. That road trip, just the two of us in the car, was an absolute pleasure. He stayed awake with me the whole time and we talked about everything and anything. Sheer joy.
Pennsylvania. January 9th, 11:10 pm
It was time to stop for gas.
And since I mentioned “time”, let me get philosophical for a moment: Time is a funny thing. It doesn’t actually “exist”, and yet it’s very real. You can have too much of it on your hands or not enough of it in a day. It can be on your side or your worst enemy. And anyone with a GPS knows you’re more likely to lose it than gain it. So don’t even try to make up time on the road. I should mention that, throughout this entire odyssey, I kept close to the speed limit. Safety first! Also, if we got stopped for speeding, we’d be totally schtupped.
Anyway, back to the gas…
We had precious few minutes to fill the tank if we were to make it home by four. Now, here is where time decided to eat us for lunch and then laugh at us while it picked its teeth – the gas pump couldn’t have chugged along more slowly if it were dispensing peanut butter. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. My son and I stared at it in amazement.
At this point, I had a sobering thought: Was the universe trying to tell us something? Did providence know something about this flight that I didn’t? Should I listen?
Screw it. I pumped enough gas to get us home and we hit the road again.
New York. January 10th, 4:02 am
As we pulled up to the house, we could see the car service parked out front. My husband, daughter, our luggage and my son’s passport all safely inside it. I ran upstairs, grabbed my retainer (priorities!) and we left for the airport.
Now, you probably think this is the end of the story. Well, it’s not.
Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:30 am
Technology can be such a time-saving blessing. We were able to use the automated kiosk to check-in and get our boarding passes.
My husband scanned his passport. Beep. It spit out his boarding pass.
I scanned my passport. Beep. It spit out my boarding pass.
My son scanned his passport. Beep. It spit out his boarding pass.
My daughter scanned her passport. BLOOP! No boarding pass. She tried it again. BLOOP! Nothing.
My husband said, “Let me try.” He scanned it again. Still no boarding pass.
Seeing we were having trouble with the kiosk, an airline representative came to our aid. She tried the scanner. Same thing. No boarding pass.
“Ohhhh,” she finally said, “I see the problem.”
What a relief. She saw the problem. She was going to fix it. Problem solved!
She handed the passport back to my husband, “This one’s expired.”
Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:00 am
I could not breathe.
Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:01 am
Everything went silent.
Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:02 am
The blood drained from my face.
Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:03 am
There was ringing in my ears.
Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:04 am
Time stood still. Now time stood still? THANKS FOR NOTHING, TIME!!
Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:32 am
The airline rep gave my husband a document and some instructions, “There’s a passport office in Manhattan. They open at eight. Give them this paper. They will expedite your daughter’s passport and you’ll have plenty of time to get on the next flight to Costa Rica this afternoon.”
I looked at my husband. I could have sworn, just for a split second, that his expression suggested I should take her to the passport office. Maybe it did. Maybe it didn’t. What do I know? It’s possible that being awake for over 25 hours could make a person see things. But there was nothing ambiguous about my expression…it said “Warning! Tilt! Danger!!”
My son came up to me. He gently took my hands and whispered, “It’s gonna be ok, mom.”
I looked into his sympathetic, soothing eyes and whispered back, “I feel terrible for your sister. I’m sorry that your father has to take her to the passport office. But make no mistake…I. Am. Getting. On. That. Plane.”
San Jose, Costa Rica. January 10, 11:30 am
When we stepped out of the airport, my son and I were still wearing the same ratty clothes from the day before. So much for my chic traveling ensemble. The warm moist jungle air enveloped us like a welcoming hug. Our cabbie would take us to the resort, which was three hours away. I didn’t care. I slept in the backseat. I snored. I’m sure I drooled. En route, we stopped for lunch at an outdoor restaurant which overlooked a picturesque coffee farm. The food was delicious. The view was spectacular. Our ten-hour road trip, five-and-a-half hour flight, and bumpy excursion in a taxi were all worth it. We’d reached paradise.
After checking into our rooms, we took a dip in the pool, had dinner together and hung out in the bar until my daughter and husband arrived.
The band was finally back together again. And now we all had valid passports.
A few Decembers ago, I was being really very Scroogie and not at all in the mood for the holidays. Ever since that time, I’ve practically made it my business to immerse myself in holiday cheer (and I don’t mean by diving into a punch bowl).
No, what I’ve discovered is that nostalgia is the secret sauce that puts me in the festive swing of things. So, starting the day after Thanksgiving, I play holiday music in the house as I put up Christmas decorations and wrap the presents. Then, every night I tune into one of my favorite holiday programs – the one’s I grew up with.
My love of holiday films was sort of ignited by accident. At the age of 16, I saw a made-for-TV movie titled “It Happened One Christmas” starring Orson Wells, Marlo Thomas, Cloris Leachmen, Doris Roberts, Christopher Guest, and Beans Morrocco…an all-star lineup.
Marlo Thomas plays Mary Bailey Hatch, a woman contemplating suicide on Christmas Eve. She’s standing on a bridge and just when she’s about to jump, her guardian angel, Clara Oddbody (played by Cloris Leachman) jumps in the water and Mary ends up saving her instead.
As I described this plot to my parents, my father said, “It’s a wonderful life.”
I smiled at him. “Yes, dad. It sure is. So anyway, this guardian angel shows Mary what the world would have been like if she was never born…”
“No,” my father interrupted, again. “It’s a Wonderful Life. That’s the name of the original movie.”
He then explained that I was watching a knock-off of a great American classic. When I finally saw the Jimmy Stewart/Donna Reed version, I never looked back. It’s A Wonderful Life was the gateway drug that got me addicted to classic films in general and Christmas movies in particular.
Then about four years ago, I discovered the joy of listening to vintage radio programming, which inspired me to start SNORK, the podcast.
This brings me to the two little presents I’d like to give you, since you’ve been so good this year.
First, if you’ve been enjoying my podcast, I’m giving you a slew of old-time radio shows, all with a holiday theme. Click Christmas Old Time Radio to enjoy everything from Burns and Allen to The Gift Of The Magi!
My second gift is a list of the best Christmas movies and shows of all time (or at least as far as I’m concerned). You can’t watch these and remain a humbug!
This wonderful tale spans Christmas and New Year’s Eve, making it my favorite holiday twofer! Cary Grant’s Johnny Case (a dashing, handsome, regular Joe) is engaged to the fabulously wealthy Julia Seton, played by Doris Nolan. But is she really the right girl for him? Perhaps he’d be better off with Julia’s down-to-earth sister Linda (played by none other than the great Katharine Hepburn). There are great party scenes, acrobatics, tantrums, and excessive drunkenness. What more could you want from a holiday movie?
Christmas In Connecticut (1945)
Barbara Stanwyck’s Elizabeth Lane has made a name for herself writing a food column about her incredible culinary and hostessing skills. There’s only one problem – she can’t boil water. Watch one lie lead to another and another when her unsuspecting publisher decides to run a feature of her entertaining a war hero for the holidays. Where will Elizabeth get a Connecticut farmhouse, a husband and a baby in time for Christmas? The movie also stars Dennis Morgan and Sydney Greenstreet.
White Christmas (1954)
It’s kind of a toss-up as to who performs the “Sisters” number better – Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen or Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in semi-drag. With energized choreography and songs you know well enough to sing along to, this holiday classic will put you in a merry mood. It will also encourage you to go easy on the Christmas cookies as you marvel at Vera-Ellen’s teensy-weensy waistline.
Desk Set (1957)Here’s Katharine Hepburn again, this time matched with Spencer Tracey. She’s the head of a television network’s research department and is dating an ambitious man who underestimates and under appreciates her, while using her smarts to advance his own career. Tracy’s an efficiency expert who’s wants to outfit her department with a computer called EMERAC (which Hepburn and her office mates think will replace them). In one of my favorite scenes of all romantic comedies combined, Tracy takes Hepburn out to lunch – on the roof of her office building – and gives her a personality/IQ test. It’s priceless.
Who doesn’t love Buddy the elf, his childlike innocence and his legendary sweet tooth? Fun and funny, Elf is the only Christmas movie on my list that was produced in this century. Why? Because unlike the recent oversupply of sappy, sentimental, tear-jerking films, Director Jon Favreau goes for old-school charm and comedy. So, if you’re tired of crying into your fruitcake because some kid needs a Christmas miracle to find his deadbeat dad who is a perfect kidney match for his dying baby sister or because Gramps has to sell the farm but then buys the farm when he falls into the wheat thrasher on Christmas eve…well, you get the point. I’m talking to you Hallmark Channel!
A Christmas Carol (1951) and Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962)
I can’t choose between Alastair Sim’s Ebenezer Scrooge and Jim Backus’s Mister McGoo’s Ebenezer Scrooge. So I won’t!
The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
When David Niven finds himself preoccupied with building a cathedral and losing perspective on faith, charity and his lovely wife and daughter, he prays for guidance. Enter Cary Grant as the angel Dudley. Loretta Young, as the title character, teams up with Dudley (not knowing he’s heaven-sent), to help her husband reconnect with his family and his congregation.
A Christmas Story (1983)Christmas wishes in 1940’s Indiana can be frah-GEE-lay for a kid who wants nothing more than a BB gun under the tree – but his mother’s worried he’ll shoot his eye out. Narrated by its author, Jean Shepherd, A Christmas Story follows Ralphie Parker as he schemes and daydreams over the elusive Red Ryder. Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillion, as Ralphie’s parents, charm and delight. I love everything about this movie – it is perfect!
Miracle On 34th Street (1947)
Natalie Wood’s natural, flawless performance makes you forget you’re watching a movie. Edmund Gwenn plays Kris Kringle – just a kindly old man or the real deal? It’s a heartwarming story about generosity, faith, second chances and, of course, Macy’s.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s hard to imagine, but this beloved Christmas classic was not well-received when it was originally released in 1946. Now, no holiday season is complete without it. When Harry Bailey wishes he’d never been born, his guardian angel takes him on an eye-opening odyssey. He learns that his life touched so many others for the better and that every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.
This list is far from complete. It doesn’t include all the TV shows I’ve loved since childhood, like the original Grinch Who Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Year Without A Santa Claus, and so many others. And if I’m going to see them all before the end of the year, I better get cracking!
In the meantime, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you 2016!