Sunday, April 18, 2010

Time for a Vacation

Massachusetts State House
Tomorrow is Patriots' Day in Massachusetts. The holiday commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first clashes of the Revolutionary War. It's observed on the third Monday in April, also known as Marathon Monday, since the Boston Marathon is always run on Patriots' Day.

I feel as if I've been engaged in a bit of a marathon, myself, having posted on this blog six days a week since mid-November, 2009, with a one-week hiatus in January, 2010. I've decided it's time for a break. Later this week, I'll be returning to the Boston area and making final preparations for my son's wedding in mid-May. What with closing up my Miami apartment and getting resettled in Newton, plus attending to last-minute wedding details, I'll be busier than usual, while still needing to keep up with work on my website, I also plan to focus on my Chinese lessons (see "Gwong Dong Waa"), in the hope that I'll be able to say a few intelligible Chinese words at the wedding.

I'm not promising to remain completely silent during my vacation. If I can't resist sharing an experience, an opinion, or a photograph before then, you may hear from me. But I plan to resume my regular blogging on May 18th — not exactly a cosmic event, but I should note that on that date exactly one hundred years ago, the Earth passed through the tail of Halley's Comet.

Friday, April 16, 2010

An April 15th Inspiration, One Day Late

On April 15, 1802, the poet William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, took a walk around Glencoyne Bay, Ullswater, in the Lake District of England. During their walk, they came upon what Dorothy later described in her journal as a "long belt" of daffodils by the shore, " about the breadth of a country turnpike road." She continued her description:

I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake, they looked so gay ever dancing ever changing.

Inspired by this experience, Wordsworth wrote perhaps his most famous poem, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," in 1804. It's my favorite poem. I first discovered it with my mother in a poetry anthology she had purchased. I was in my early teens at the time and struggling to create my own separate identity while searching for qualities in my mother that I could admire and emulate. I remember my pleasure in reading Wordsworth's poem with her. The poem's joyous imagery is forever linked for me with a moment when my mother and I were in complete accord.

Here is the poem:

"I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud"

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
 Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed — and gazed — but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Just as the poet discovers the bliss of remembered pleasure, each time I re-read his poem, I experience the remembered happiness of reading it for the first time with my mother.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Where to Buy Drugs

I've found a great place to buy drugs — legal ones, that is. In most locales, there aren't many choices when it comes to drugstores — Walgreens, CVS, or maybe Rite Aid. Recently, New York City's ubiquitous Duane Reade chain was acquired by Walgreens, so New Yorkers now have one less option. As for the independent pharmacies, most of them are gone. Yesterday, though, I discovered a pharmacy that's trying to carve out its own niche.

I hadn't been looking for a new place to fill prescriptions or buy toiletries. I assumed that when I needed those items, I'd go to Walgreens or CVS. In some ways, the pervasiveness of the major chains is comforting. It's easy to transfer prescriptions, a big plus for me since I travel back and forth between Massachusetts and Florida. Also, I know what's available and where to find things in the chain stores, since most of them are laid out the same way no matter where they're located. And if there's something I can't find in either Walgreens or CVS, I go to my trusty backups — for a vast selection of drugstore products; and Whole Foods or the Vitamin Shoppe for supplements.

I still remember when there were many independent drugstores. Thayer's Pharmacy was a mainstay for years in Newton Centre, Massachusetts. I filled my prescriptions there and knew the people who worked behind the counter. It was taken over by CVS a long time ago, part of a consolidation that occurred all over the country.

There's one service not performed by the drugstore giants, though — compounding, which involves custom preparation of drugs to satisfy individual needs. Yesterday, my vet prescribed a medication for Cosmo and told me I should pick it up at Coconut Grove Pharmacy. It would be formulated specifically for him.

I asked the vet where the pharmacy was located. It turns out I'd been driving by it almost every day without noticing. Since it hadn't caught my eye, I wasn't expecting much, maybe a tiny retail space with a few new-age-y items and a low-tech setup for compounding. I was totally and pleasantly surprised to find a bright, modern, roomy interior. A quick perusal of the shelves revealed many of the products I usually buy at Walgreens, like Crest Toothpaste and Advil, plus supplements I'd normally find at Whole Foods. The store also sells an array of organic skin care products, with available testers that contribute a lovely scent to the air. The lighting fixtures are attractive and the shelves have wood accents, giving the space a warmth utterly lacking in the utilitarian expanses of the big chains.

I found the owner-pharmacist personable and knowledgeable. He made up Cosmo's elixir using beef flavor, as prescribed by the vet. Along with the medicine, he gave me a good-quality syringe and a nifty device to allow me to measure the dose precisely. We chatted and I soon learned that not only does he offer a full-service pharmacy, with the entire array of prescription drugs sold by the chains, but he also accepts insurance. And he delivers!

How had I missed this place? It opened in January, 2009. I'm not known for my keen powers of observation, but apparently I also ignored several postcards sent to all the residents of my apartment complex, describing the pharmacy and the free delivery service. Better late than never, though. I'm pleased to have discovered an appealing alternative to the big chains. Not that I'll never go to Walgreens again — they have a product selection that the smaller Coconut Grove Pharmacy can't possibly match. But hopefully, there's room in the world for a small local establishment with specialized services alongside the bigger, more impersonal chain stores.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Department of Veterinary Corrections

I faced a veterinary crossroads yesterday. Cosmo required immediate attention. He had a couple of breakthrough seizures yesterday morning even though I recently increased the dose of his current medication to its highest possible safe level. I'd been hoping to keep him stable until we return to Newton next week and I'd already set up an appointment with my vet there. But clearly, something had to be done immediately.

I called my Newton vet, thinking that perhaps he would prescribe a new medication before seeing Cosmo. I should have known better. He said I really needed to take Cosmo to my Miami vet to have his blood tested before starting him on anything new. As he explained, that's the only way he would be able to accurately gauge the effect of the new medicine.

I agreed with his assessment, but where to take Cosmo? I've tried the high-priced interventionist clinic (see "Vetting the Vet") and, more recently, a low-priced walk-in clinic (see "More from the Vet Trenches"). My last experience at the walk-in clinic left me doubting. I felt the vet lacked a good bedside manner and gave Cosmo an overly-painful ear exam.

But how much could go wrong with a simple blood test? Surely it would be cheaper at the walk-in clinic. I called first to check whether they would be willing to do such a blood test. The receptionist said the vet would call me back shortly and she did, a few minutes later. A good sign. She seemed on the same wavelength as my Newton vet, agreeing about which new medicine Cosmo should get and on the value of a pre-medication-switch blood test, which she would be happy to administer. Cosmo and I headed over to her office.

The clinic is staffed by a father/daughter team. Last time, I got the father. Since I'd spoken to the daughter on the phone, when I signed in I asked whether I could see her. The receptionist said that would be fine. Unlike my prior visit, the waiting room was nearly empty. Cosmo didn't seem to have any bad memories. He happily sniffed the floor, which I'm sure was redolent with all kinds of tempting doggy odors.

I only had to wait a couple of minutes. The vet, whom everyone calls Dr. Kate, efficiently drew Cosmo's blood and discussed the new medication, which will initially be added to the drug he's already taking. If all goes well, I'll wean Cosmo off the old medication as I increase the dose of the new one. Hopefully, this will spare his liver and keep him healthy for a few more years.

Dr. Kate seemed knowledgeable and helpful. In the midst of the consultation, her father stopped in just to say hello and see how Cosmo was doing. Much better bedside manner this time — perhaps on my previous visit, he'd been having a stressful day.

Dr. Kate called me with the blood-test results by the end of the day. I was impressed by such a quick turnaround. Based on the results, she wanted me to bring Cosmo back for a follow-up blood test to check for infection, which she said she could analyze right in the clinic.

We returned this morning to find a waiting room full of patients — two Boxers, a Doberman, a Rottweiler, a couple of cats, and more. To my surprise, Dr. Kate took me right away to draw Cosmo's blood, so I wouldn't have to wait twice, first for the test, then for the results. Apparently, there's some flexibility in the first-come-first-served policy.

The wait for the results turned out to be thoroughly enjoyable. I sat next to two long-time residents of the neighborhood, one of whom works in the local thrift store. We discussed our pets and the local news. One of the women had been coming to the clinic for so long that she knew the father's father, who first opened the practice many years ago.

Cosmo's test results were excellent. No infection. I'm glad I gave these vets a second chance. This time, the clinic vibe was good. And the price was unbelievably reasonable. I may even miss them when I'm back up north. I definitely stand corrected regarding my original negative impression.

Cosmo starts on his new medicine tonight. Tomorrow, I'll describe my trip to compounding pharmacy where I bought it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Way I Remember

I found myself recalling an old friend today. I used to think of her often, now not so frequently. But my memory of her inhabits some small corner of my being and from time to time I feel her presence in my life.

Her name was Carol. We first met at Smith College, when we lived in Duckett House, a dorm exclusively for seniors. I didn't know her well, but I liked her shy smile and pleasant manner. Later, she married a friend of mine and I came to know her better. After I got beyond her initial shyness, I found her to be a warm and loving person, devoted to her husband and two children and also to animals. She relished living out in the country, where she kept dogs and a miniature donkey, among other creatures.

I never heard Carol say a cruel word about anyone, though she had reason to be bitter. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and, due to negligent readings of prior mammograms, the disease was not detected until it had reached an advanced stage. Carol's treatments took an enormous physical toll. She was often too tired for socializing, so our meetings were sporadic.

When we did manage to get together, our conversation covered a range of subjects — our children, of course; Carol's many pets; our shared training as lawyers; old friends from Smith. One day, we got into a discussion about life's daily annoyances. I complained of having recently bought a lucite napkin holder with a glued-on price tag. I couldn't get the tag off and became increasingly frustrated. I tried to peel it off with my fingernails. No luck. I took my plastic Dobie pad and scrubbed at it, then added some Soft Scrub to the mix. That got rid of the paper, but the glue was still there, plus I'd managed to scratch the lucite with my exertions. At that point in my sorry tale, Carol broke in. "I have the solution for you — Goo Gone. It lifts sticky labels right off."

Why am I bothering to describe such a mundane conversation? Not to advertise Goo Gone, though it does work, but because this trivial exchange has come back to me many times, specifically every time I have to get something sticky off a surface. When I reach for the Goo Gone, I think of Carol. I remember the unusual lilt of her voice, the waves in her short brown hair. And I'm struck by the power of a simple association to evoke not just a mental picture of Carol but an almost visceral experience of her.

I debated whether to share this story. I feel somewhat ridiculous admitting that Goo Gone reminds me of my friend. But I actually think Carol might have appreciated the connection. She was a person who treasured the small pleasures in life and, especially after her illness, found joy in simple household tasks. I wish she were here now, so I could tell her how I used Goo Gone to get baked-on chewing gum off the inside of my drier. It took about an hour, but Goo Gone did the trick.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Hassle Factor

We all have our priorities in life. One of mine is convenience. If I'm invited to participate in an activity and it's not easy to get there or the timing isn't optimal, I would often prefer to say no. I have to really want to do something to override the hassle factor.

My tendency to avoid inconvenient activities has nothing to do with age. I've been this way as long as I can remember. Here's an example from my twenties — E. and I were given tickets to a Rolling Stones concert at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. At first, we were excited. We both liked the Stones. I'd never been to a mega rock concert and felt I was long overdue. And the tickets were free!

As the day approached, however, I started to think about all the hassle involved. We'd have to get to San Francisco from Los Gatos, a fifty mile drive, during rush hour. Once we got there, the concert  was sure to be a madhouse, full of drugs and wild behavior. Not that I expected another Altamont, but the prospect of frenzied rock fans in a huge venue did give me pause.

The day of the concert, E. and I were scheduled for eye checkups. We took off early from Guitar Player, the magazine and book/record company where we both worked, and headed for the ophthalmologist's office. There, the doctor needed to dilate our pupils to complete his examination. That sealed the deal. No way could we drive fifty miles with recently-dilated pupils. We easily found friends who wanted the tickets and settled down to a quiet evening at home.

The other day, I had reason to reflect on my willingness to forego events because of the hassle factor. A friend called me on a Friday morning. She had an extra ticket for the ballet that evening and wondered if I'd like to accompany her. I've seen some wonderful ballet performances and do enjoy watching dance. But this wouldn't be Nureyev and Fonteyn dancing with the Royal Ballet, or the Bolshoi's incomparable Plisetskaya, all of whom I saw as a teenager. Rather, the performance would feature a local troupe, The Miami City Ballet, competent dancers, but not guaranteed to wow me.

I thought of the alternatives — a chance to read more of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, an entertaining epistolary novel I'd just started, or an opportunity to watch a couple of episodes of The Shield on a Netflix dvd. No contest. I just couldn't muster the energy to put on more-presentable clothes, get in the car, drive downtown, and park, all for a performance I wasn't at all sure I'd like. Call me a Philistine, but it just didn't seem worth the hassle.

My friend later told me that I hadn't missed much, so it seems as if I made the right choice in skipping the ballet. There have been other times, though, when I've regretted not attending a concert or a play or a baseball game because it didn't seem worth the bother to get there. Still, by and large, the hassle factor serves a useful purpose — it enables me to gauge my true level of interest. If there's something I really want to do, no amount of inconvenience will stop me.

I'm not likely to miss a party with friends, for example. Weddings, bar mitzvahs, birthday celebrations, holiday meals — it's never a hassle to share in those meaningful events. Even intimate dinner parties will usually rouse me out of my anti-hassle state. But if you have tickets for an ice hockey game on an snowy winter evening, you might want to invite someone else. I'm probably not your girl.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Checking the Radar

This evening I had plans to eat with some friends at a lovely outdoor spot in Coral Gables. I anticipated yet another agreeable dining al fresco experience (see my recent post, "Dining al Fresco"). But in South Florida, you can't always count on clear weather. Today turns out to be a case in point. As I write this, dark clouds are gathering and I hear the sound of distant thunder. As if that weren't enough to tell me I won't be eating outside tonight, I also checked the radar.

Online radar has improved enormously in recent years. With a simple click, I can check for virtually any place in the country and instantly see that area's radar. Not only that, but I can view the radar in motion, so I can tell what direction the rain is coming from and how fast. This isn't just an amusing pastime. Checking the radar helps me in all sorts of practical ways.

Take walking the dog—when it looks like rain, I check the radar. If I see a huge swath of green with dangerous-looking yellow and red cells approaching Miami on the radar screen, I quickly dash outside with Cosmo and get in a quick walk before the rain starts. On the other hand, if the radar indicates that a quick-moving storm is about to hit but soon the sky will clear, I wait until it's over to take Cosmo for a more leisurely stroll. You may scoff at at my bothering to make such precise calculations, but have you ever had to take your poodle out in a downpour so he could relieve himself? Not a pretty picture.

The radar came in handy this afternoon. Even though I could see from my window that it was about to rain, I hoped against hope that the sky would clear in time for our dinner reservation. One glance at the radar, though, and I realized that the dark clouds and thunder outside were only the beginning. The rain extended all the way west to the Gulf of Mexico and would take several hours to pass over Miami before finally departing. Definitely, an evening for a nice cozy indoor meal.

With radar on my side, I always arm myself with an umbrella if the screen shows rain. One less thing to worry about. As a world class worrier, I need all the help I can get.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Ice Cream Fantasies

For many years, an evening didn't pass without my enjoying a bowl of Haagen Dazs chocolate, chocolate chocolate chip, or coffee ice cream. I eventually stopped eating it nightly, but I still frequently fantasize about my favorite dessert. And occasionally, I fall off the ice cream wagon and indulge.

Why did I give up my nightly portion of ice cream? As mentioned in an earlier blog (Addicted to My Granola), guilt began to outweigh pleasure when I contemplated the amount of animal fat and sugar I consumed just to satisfy my craving. I started substituting fruit in the evening and found that a juicy orange or a slice of ripe honeydew tasted great and provided just enough sweetness to keep me from feeling deprived. It surprised me how quickly I adjusted to life without ice cream. But I still have challenging moments.

The Haagen Dazs containers in the market's freezer always beckon. Once in a great while, I succumb and buy a pint, thinking I'll limit myself to a spoonful after dinner. No way. With ice cream, I can't just eat one bite. I've never yet bought a pint and been able to resist having at least a half-cup of the stuff every evening until it's gone.

Restaurants also present temptations. Ice cream appears on many dessert menus, often at the end of the list, almost as an afterthought. To me, it's always the most appealing option. Even though it may not be Haagen Dazs, I sometimes give in to the urge and order a scoop or two.

I remember fondly the last time I had an ice cream sundae. A few months ago, E. and I dined with friends at California Pizza Kitchen. I noticed that the menu featured a hot fudge brownie sundae. I asked the waiter if I could possibly get the sundae part without the brownie. He suggested I order the hot fudge sundae from the kids menu—Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream with hot fudge, whipped cream, mini-M&M's, and a cherry. I dispensed with the M&M's and the cherry and ordered the rest. I wasn't disappointed. The concoction tasted rich, creamy, sweet, and utterly decadent. It was so good, in fact, that I wondered whether I would backslide into my old addiction.

Rather to my surprise, I haven't been tempted to resume eating Haagen Dazs on a nightly basis. But every once in a while, nothing hits the spot like a luscious dish of ice cream.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Trawling for Neighbors

There's a marina right next to my apartment complex. I walk by it every day, sometimes several times a day. The slips are filled with a variety of vessels—sailboats, powerboats, even a couple of enormous yachts. This year, one boat caught my eye, a small trawler called Namaste. In all the times I've walked by, I've never seen anyone on it. Yesterday, though, I met the owners and discovered that we've been neighbors since the fall.

The Namaste doesn't resemble any of the other crafts in the marina. It lacks the sleek lines of the yachts and the classic beauty of the sailboats. It looks like it was made to be useful, a no-nonsense workaday boat, with a pale gray hull and a pilothouse painted crisp white, accented by a thick red stripe. On the deck at the stern of the boat are two chairs next to one another, creating an inviting tableau.

E. and I met the owners while we were taking our afternoon constitutional with Cosmo. We were a short distance from the marina, wending our way toward our favorite bench overlooking Biscayne Bay, when we noticed another a couple walking along the sea wall near the bench. They noticed us, too, or more accurately, they noticed Cosmo, who's otherwise known in our family as "the conversation starter." The woman came over to pet him. In short order, I learned that her name is Bonnie and that she and her husband, Randy, own the Namaste and have been living on board since last November.

The two traveled to Miami from Maryland during the fall. It was a slow journey—the boat can only travel at about nine knots, or around ten miles per hour. There's no television on board, though a computer provides streaming video, so not too much hardship there. The kitchen is a tiny galley, but Bonnie likes to cook and finds it adequate. In short, life on board sounds a bit cramped, but otherwise not so different from my life in an apartment several stories up.

Miami's historically cold winter presented a few challenges. The couple had planned to do some cruising to nearby islands, but for much of the winter it was too chilly to be out on the water. And they really had to cuddle up on those frigid nights when the temperatures dipped into the thirties.

Bonnie and Randy have invited us to come see them on their boat. Given my extreme susceptibility to motion sickness, it may be a short visit, but I'm looking forward to it. And we'll be sure to invite them to our place. Other than a big screen TV, I'm not sure we have much to offer that they don't already have on their floating home. Other than Cosmo, that is.

Click on the photograph to enlarge it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Far from Kyrgyzstan

This morning, I read a news report about unrest in Kyrgystan, a small Central Asian country which happens to host a strategically important American air base. I also learned more about the dire situation in West Virginia, where 25 miners have already died and four more are missing after a horrific explosion. In the midst of this bad news, E. and I went for a walk along Miami Beach.

The beach shimmered beneath a cloudless sky. Bathers enjoyed the warm surf, and a couple of colorful parasails hovered above the water. Further offshore, I could see huge tankers awaiting clearance to enter the Port of Miami. Even Miami's real estate woes seemed far away. As we walked on the lovely beach-side boardwalk, we passed the new W Hotel and, nearby, saw several other buildings under construction.

The story about Kyrgyzstan had particularly caught my eye because a friend of my son went there a few years ago as a Peace Corps volunteer. He left after several months, however, when it became apparent that the local school teacher whom he had been assigned to assist planned to enjoy a prolonged vacation while his American "assistant" did his job for him. Disillusioned, my son's friend resigned from the Peace Corps and came back to the states. His experience is virtually the only thing I know about Kyrgyzstan. Yet that extremely tenuous connection was enough to make me read the news of today's violent events with interest and concern.

Even though it's part of my own country, West Virginia might as well be on another planet, so vague is my knowledge of the state. I've never been there and I don't know a soul who lives there, unless you count Senator Jay Rockefeller, whom I sat next to at a dinner party over 20 years ago. He actually lives in Washington, anyway. Despite my lack of ties to the state, I felt horrible hearing about the mine explosion and the terrible loss of life.

It's a truism to say that we humans simply can't absorb all the misery of the world and still function. A survival instinct causes us to detach ourselves when despair becomes overwhelming. Still, as I walked along the gorgeous beach, luxuriating in the sun and surf, I couldn't help but be surprised at how easily I tuned out the bad news and enjoyed the beautiful day.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Good Read, Marred

I just finished The Piano Teacher, by Janice Y. K. Lee. I would describe it as a good read, though not a literary masterpiece. The characters lacked depth and believability, but I found the pre- and post-WWII Hong Kong setting of the novel evocative and interesting. I hadn't known anything about the situation in Hong Kong during the war, so I appreciated the historical aspects of the story. All and all, I enjoyed the reading experience. Until the end, that is.

At it's heart, the novel contained a mystery—what became of the glamorous Eurasian socialite, Trudy Liang, during the war? I solved one aspect of the mystery halfway through the novel, not due to any great powers of divination on my part, but because the unfolding of the story made the solution likely. Despite that, the plot developments kept me involved. In the end, though, the choices made by two of the three main characters weren't believable or satisfying.

It's hard to write about a book's ending yet not give it away. Suffice it to say that, having been immersed in the novel for over 300 pages, I craved an ending that felt genuine, one in which conflicts were resolved and characters experienced some degree of personal growth. This book left me feeling let-down. I'm still glad I read it, still happy I learned a bit about Hong Kong life in the 1940s and 50s. But after investing my time, I missed that jolt of pleasure that comes when things are wrapped up well.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Reading and Eating

The words almost rhyme and, for me at least, they certainly go together. If I'm absorbed in a good novel during breakfast, my granola tastes even sweeter. I eat my tuna sandwich with more pleasure at lunch if I'm perusing the latest New Yorker. And there's nothing I like better than a handful of potato chips to accompany a good mystery. Reading while eating simply makes both better.

I also enjoy conversation with a good meal and I admit to sometimes watching television while consuming food, but there's something special about lingering over breakfast, lunch, or even dinner while meandering through a book. As a girl, I identified with Jo in Little Women—she would climb a tree with an apple and a book in hand and enjoy the pleasure of reading and eating undisturbed. I didn't get into the tree climbing thing, but I loved to grab an apple or two after school and settle myself in my favorite chair for a good read.

Since my reading and eating habit started at an early age, I've become totally conditioned— I associate the satisfaction of eating with the joy of reading. Maybe there's something in this phenomenon that could be utilized by early childhood reading programs. What if kids were given their favorite snacks while they worked on their reading skills? There might be a few more sticky books, but perhaps also a few more kids who associated reading with good tasting foods and developed a hunger for books.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Remembering a Fenway Classic

It's Opening Day at Fenway Park, with a twist. Day will turn to night by the time the game starts, and it will be the first home opener played on Easter Sunday. What's also a little twisted is that the Red Sox will face the New York Yankees right off the bat (pun intended). Happily, the game will be aired on ESPN, so I can watch it from Miami. I'll miss being on hand for the annual flyover of F-16s, though. My Boston-area house is right in the path of the flyover and it's always a thrill to hear the roar of the jets and run outside to see them pass overhead seconds before they fly over Fenway.

Like most Red Sox fans, I wax a bit sentimental on Opening Day. Today, I found myself thinking about the most thrilling game I ever witnessed at Fenway. It was April 27, 2002. The Red Sox were playing Tampa Bay on a beautiful spring afternoon. E. and I had seats along the third base line. The crowd seemed cheerful. It was early in the season and hopes ran high, even though the Sox hadn't won a World Series since 1918.

As always when I'm at Fenway, I wasn't paying too much attention to the game. I love the feeling of being at the ballpark—the green grass, the smell of beer and peanuts, the camaraderie of the fans, the satisfying sound when the bat connects with the ball. I noticed a young father sitting in the row behind me with his son, who was perhaps four years old and apparently at his very first game, judging from his father's patient attempts to explain the rules and point out the players. Although it was only around 60 degrees, the brilliant sunshine made it feel more like 80. I drifted along in a stupor of enjoyment as the game proceeded.

Somewhere around the sixth inning, it dawned on me that the Devil Rays hadn't gotten a hit off the pitcher, Derek Lowe. I glanced around. Apparently, it had dawned on everyone else as well. The crowd watched intently, but no one mentioned the phrase "no hitter." For suspicious fans, me included, that could have jinxed the whole thing.

By the bottom of the seventh, the crowd had a hushed, expectant air, punctuated only by the roar that accompanied every out. Everyone was riveted on the game. As Lowe came to the mound in the bottom of the eighth, I heard the father behind me urgently whisper to his four year old, who was getting fidgety, "Something really special might happen here. Let's be quiet and watch." The little boy, wide-eyed, didn't have a clue what his father meant, but he picked up on the importance of the moment and settled down.

Red Sox fans are notoriously loyal and devoted. Most stick around for the whole nine innings. During playoff games and certainly World Series contests, no one leaves. I haven't yet been at Fenway for one of those. But on the day of Derek Lowe's no-hitter, not a single person left the stadium. The anxiety was palpable as each of the ninth inning's three batters stepped up to the plate. When second baseman Rey Sanchez made the final out, pandemonium broke out in the stands. What started as an idyllic afternoon at the old ballpark turned into a jubilant celebration of one of baseball's most acclaimed accomplishments.

I'm psyched for the new season and hope to make it to Fenway for a game or two. I know there's always a chance that while I'm there, something really special will happen.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Dining al Fresco

I love to eat outdoors and I'm not alone—in warm weather, people flock to restaurants that feature patio dining. In northern cities, the minute the temperature climbs above 60 degrees, tables and chairs appear on sidewalks outside coffee houses, bistros, and cafes. One great innovation in recent years has been the window panels that open entirely, creating an outdoor experience even when you're actually seated indoors. Restaurants have clearly discovered that even on congested city streets, offering an outdoor environment attracts customers.

Dining al fresco seems to make everything taste better. It feels casual and relaxed, yet festive. Perhaps because most of us spend so much time indoors, the opportunity to eat outside seems special. When I have lunch on my apartment terrace, I'm suddenly in the landscape instead of merely looking at it through my window. I breathe in the air more deeply. I linger over my meal. I become more reflective.

I love to take long walks and wind up at restaurants with outdoor seating. South Beach offers literally hundreds of options and I've tried quite a few. My current favorite is the Raleigh Hotel, right on the beach. I work up an appetite during a walk by the water, then find a shady spot near the pool. A nice salad and an Arnold Palmer (iced tea mixed with lemonade) hit the spot. The price of a meal also buys me a chance to people-watch and enjoy the delightful salt air.

During walking trips to France, Holland, and Italy, I've experienced some wonderful dining al fresco. In Provence, after a long hike, my group of walkers was treated to a heavenly meal at Auberge de la Loube, in the hillside village of Buoux. At a long table laden with wonderful Provencal fare, I simultaneously experienced the beauty of the French countryside and the inspiring flavors of rustic French cuisine. The rigorous hike had primed my appetite and made the meal all the more pleasurable.

Like most people, I love a picnic. I also like to stop for an ice cream and eat it while strolling along the sidewalk. Then there are summer barbecues, those quintessentially American feasts. I rarely eat beef these days, but it's hard to resist hot dogs and hamburgers hot off the grill.

All this talk of food has whetted my appetite. I hope to satisfy it soon with a delicious meal served al fresco.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

!slooF lirpA

My Chinese lessons are going so well that I've decided to drop everything and take a slow boat to China. I admit, a boat seems an unlikely mode of transportation for me, given my sorry history of motion sickness. But wait! I've undertaken a regimen of inner ear balance exercises, extensive whole body acupuncture, and transcendental meditation. I'm convinced I've got the seasickness thing licked.

Just to make sure, I rented a sailboat from a local marina the other day and sailed due south for Cuba. I couldn't get E. to accompany me, so I had to go it alone. I only capsized once, after I stood up to do my balance exercises. When I arrived in Cuba, my Spanish came in handy and the locals were happy to accept my (waterlogged) dollars in return for arroz, frijoles negros, y platanos fritos. Thus fortified and newly confident of my ability to conquer seasickness, I returned to port in Miami and began to pack for my voyage to China.

I won't be traveling to China on a sailboat, though. I've booked passage on a Chinese freighter. The accommodations may be a bit rough, but I'm a hardy soul. The vessel will make a few stops along the way, so I don't expect to arrive in China for several months. Meanwhile, I intend to practice Chinese by conversing with the crew members. I'll disembark in Hong Kong, where the locals speak the Cantonese dialect I've been studying. There, I hope to enroll in a Chinese cooking class. As my friends know, cooking has not been a passion of mine. But it's never too late!

After my stay in Hong Kong, I'll embark on a journey up the Pearl River up to Guangzhou, where I may take a job in a factory. By then, I expect my Chinese to be fluent and I'd like to experience life as a factory girl, albeit a rather old "girl."

During all this time, I plan to keep in daily touch with E. and Cosmo through email, Twitter, and webcam. They'll watch my transformation from suburban matron to intrepid traveler. When I return, next April 1st, I anticipate a hero's welcome. At the very least, I hope they'll let me in the door.