Saturday, October 17, 2020

Autumn Already

 It says a lot about these past few months that I have not posted here since the end of July. We have been in the most lovely blur of beach and sunsets, osprey and seals, egrets and swallow murmuration, even as the pandemic continues on relentlessly and our beautiful country grows ever more divisive and frightening. On August 1, we decamped to my favorite sleepy beach town in Massachusetts where I rented houses for several summers when my kids were younger. They have such fond memories of those summers here, many of them centered around the local ice cream stand. As each of my teaching and speaking commitments got cancelled, the idea of a month at the beach became more and more obvious. That month has turned in to three, as we could not leave this sliver of happiness by the sea. Happily, Michael fell in love with the town as hard as I did all those years ago, and our days--with Sam and Annabelle--melted one into the next, full of good food (local corn and tomatoes and pole beans, now new potatoes and broccoli and Brussels sprouts), evening cocktails (here's a link to one of Michael's Friday Cocktail Hours, but watch them all! https://ruhlman.com/2020/08/14/friday-cocktail-hour-the-mai-tai/), bocce games on the lawn (with stray balls falling into the river and Sam having to find them), games of Code Names and Hearts and Pitch and the Name Game on the screened in porch, reading on the aforementioned porch or in the hammock (my top recommendations: HAMNET, THREE HOURS, SHUGGIE BAIN), long walks to the beach, cocktails and picnics on the beach, reading on the beach (you get the idea--we spent a lot of time on the beach), late nights sipping whiskey and talking. And writing, writing, writing.

Sam and Katherine went back to Brooklyn in mid-September, but we have stayed on, happily watching summer fade into autumn. How the light on the ocean changes with the seasons! The leaves are turning, the air is crisp, we need sweaters now when we sit on the deck for our evening cocktails and Cribbage. The truth is, we don't want to leave. But Annabelle's school has started up in person half time (much to my consternation) and Providence beckons. So we are treasuring these last days here--today a walk to the beach with our books in hand. Tomorrow apple picking again. Our dinners of burgers or hot dogs on the grill have become pot roast and baked pasta. The sweaters I knit all summer are coming in handy.

We will return to Providence, and with colder weather and the coronavirus, retreat inside again.  I fear for our country and our democracy; I fear for our planet; I fear for all of our health in the coming months. As I know many of you do. But these magical days we've had here will help get us through the coming ones. Remember your own magical times and hold them tight. Keep knitting and reading and loving. Hold your family and friends close, even if only figuratively for the time being. Stay hopeful. That's what listening to the geese fly south, watching swallows swoop overhead, breathing salt air and feeling the waves break on your ankles remind us to do. Stay hopeful. 


Sunday, July 26, 2020

On an early Sunday morning

Sometimes, like this morning, I find myself thinking about how the world has changed these past almost five months. When Michael and I left NYC that mid-March day, we never imagined how the different the future would be. This week, we would have been in Ireland, one of my favorite places, where for six years I’ve taught and laughed and been with friends old and new. As someone who really does not like hot weather, when I step off the plane in Ireland, the cool air, even the rain, greets me and I smile big. Our week in Dingle has become a tradition, and this morning I am missing the wild ocean there, the green fields of sheep, dinner at the Chart House, Dingle gin and tonics, the pubs and the colorful buildings, visiting the folks at Dingle Crystal, Guinness, the little cheese shop, fish and chips, dinner at World Village, Murphy’s ice cream, friends...I could go on and on. If you’d like a glimpse of this special place, read Michael’s article about it in Saveur. He captures it beautifully.

It’s easy to fall into thinking that in these uncertain times, I may never be in Ireland again. I confess, there are moments when I do think things like that. The happiness of being in Ireland and Tuscany and Mexico and all the places I return to every year can feel far away, even impossible. The excitement of seeing new places—we were going to Ecuador at the end of the summer, planning a long dreamed of visit to St. Petersburg, Russia—seems almost too hopeful to allow myself to dream about.

But usually, usually, I instead take quiet times like this morning as everyone, even the cats, are asleep and the hot summer sun is peeking through the shades and the ceiling fan spins above me, to walk the hilly streets of Dingle in my mind. There is a light rain and a crowded pub with music playing. The air is cool and fresh. The ocean is right over there. My gin and tonic has a slice of orange and juniper berries. I’m there.

On other mornings I may walk the rocky path to dinner at Spannocchia in Tuscany, past centuries old stone buildings, black and white pigs, cypress trees. I can almost taste the local wine, the pizzas hot from the pizza oven. We roast chestnuts in the hearth, drink liqueur made from walnuts that grow outside our house.

Or maybe I walk the streets of a small Mexican town hand in hand with Michael. We stop at the mezcaleria, or for street tacos, or the best mole. We look at art and wander local markets, travel back roads to visit weavers or painters or agave farms.

What will our world look like in another five months? Will I spend a glorious week with writer friends in St. Petersburg (Florida, not Russia!) teaching and eating cheeseburgers, staying up too late in our pajamas, hearing readings that make us laugh or break our hearts, surrounded by the warmth of old friendships made deeper and stronger over more than decade there?

Will we sit in Manhattan restaurants, Broadway shows, our favorite movie theatres? Have our friends over for whiskey sours, my students crowded together for posole in our tiny apartment? Will we board an airplane and take off for someplace new, feel the excitement of stepping into a city we’ve never wandered before? Or the comfort and joy of one we know and love?

This hot, humid July morning I dream of all of those pleasures returning. I dream of Ireland and Italy, of Mexico and Manhattan. I dream new dreams.

The cats are awake, nipping my toes, urging me out of bed to feed them. The Sunday NYT is waiting downstairs. Later I’ll struggle over the sweater I’m knitting, finish Maggie O’Farrell’s gorgeous new novel HAMNET, bake blueberry muffins. I hope you find time in your day, every day, to dream. To remember the streets you love to walk, to smell the air there.


Saturday, July 4, 2020

Fourth of July

A Fourth of July without family cookouts and fireworks is upsetting to a lot of people. For me, I'm grateful. You see, the Fourth of July is one of those holidays that kind of tears up my heart.

My father, love of my life, was born on July 4, 1929. For much of my life, the Fourth of July was about celebrating him, with a nod to Independence Day. Dad was a patriot, and as such felt truly proud that he was born on the same day as the United States of America.

As a kid, I would wake up on the Fourth of July to the sounds of John Phillip Sousa march music playing loud in the back yard. From my bedroom window I could see Dad in the backyard, already at the grill with a cold beer in his hand. I'd call Happy Birthday! down to him, and he would grin back up at me. My father had the widest grin, the bluest eyes, the blondest hair, the softest beer belly, and the biggest heart.

Way before noon, people started showing up. My mother did not like parties, drinking, or people acting foolish, so she did not love the Fourth of July. She left it up to Dad to grill the food and refill the cooler with ice and beer and party away. It was hot in our scruffy back yard, but soon enough the party spilled onto the front sidewalk and into the street. One year, the WW II vets among us put pots and pans on their heads, grabbed mops and brooms, and marched around the block singing. Illegal fireworks filled the sky with smoky red and blue from Roman candles and sparks of light from sparklers. In other words, anything could and did happen on the Fourth of July at 10 Fiume Street.

When I was in my 20s and 30s, after I'd made some money as a writer, I rented beach houses for my family every summer at Scarborough Beach in RI. So the parties moved there. And they only got bigger as cousins got married and years worth of high school and college friends came too. Now that we had a big, sloping lawn, the annual bocce ball championship began, a mostly drunken, highly competitive game that went until dark. I have a picture of Sam at three months old, dressed in red, white and blue, smiling up my father on Dad's birthday party at the beach; a picture of me, seven months pregnant with Grace, my head tilted against Dad's, grinning.

Like all things, those celebrations at the beach ended. In 1996, Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, and he died the following April, three months before his sixty-eighth birthday. That year, we all decided that we needed to go somewhere that didn't celebrate the Fourth of July. Even though grief advice is often that running away is not a good thing, I have found the opposite to be true. Mom, Cousin Gina, Niece Melissa, four year old Sam, nine month old Grace, and I flew to Mexico, where we stayed at a luxury hotel on the beach in Ixtapa.

For four days we ate tacos with our toes in the sand, swam in the pool, shopped at the outdoor market, and drank margaritas. On the 5th of July, we realized we had managed to miss the holiday, and felt so grateful that we immediately ordered more margaritas. dad would have approved.

Ever since then, I have had to think ahead, plan my escape. For several years I taught out of state at a writers conference over the Fourth. I took other trips out of the country--London or Italy or anywhere, really. If I had to be home, I said no thank you to invitations to parties and cook outs and kept my family close, gazing up at the fireworks exploding above us. "Isn't it nice how everyone puts on a firework show for my birthday?" Dad would say. In 1986, I was invited to the hundredth birthday party of the Statue of Liberty, celebrated on the Fourth of July. We had ring side seats on Governor's Island, with lots of food and drinks, and a perfect view of the 40000 pyrotechnic device fireworks show. They lasted for twenty-eight minutes, dazzling us and two million other spectators. At one point Dad squeezed my hand and whispered, "Really. This year they've gone way overboard to celebrate my birthday." I leaned my head toward his until we touched, and the sky exploded before us.

2020 finds us living in such uncertain times. On March 11,  Michael and I were in our apartment in NYC trying to decide where to eat before we went to see the play The Lehman Brothers on Broadway when Sam called and told us that Broadway had just shut down. I remember looking at Michael and saying, "This is really bad." Four months later, we are still saying that as the coronavirus spreads and spikes across the country and the world; as protests over racial injustices shake us awake; as our country, of which I have always been so proud, sits on a dangerous precipice. On that Fourth of July in 1986, France's president, Francois Mitterand, said: "May our children's children find themselves celebrating together in 100 years time." Yet today, we can not even travel to France, or anywhere in the EU. In this time of so much uncertainty, when there is no normal anymore, firework displays have been cancelled and large cook-outs are not allowed because we can not safely social distance.

Sam is in Miami, which is a hotspot for COVID 19. Michael is self quarantined in NYC after visiting his son in Syracuse to celebrate his 21st birthday. So Annabelle and I will watch Hamilton (again! Thank you, Lin Manuel Miranda) and eat ribs (thank you Chez Pascal!) and corn and heirloom tomatoes. That's all just fine with me. I don't know if there is a heaven, though I like to think there is. I like to think Dad and Mom and my brother Skip and my daughter Grace are all there together, looking down at me here. I hope there's beer there.

In my mind, John Phillip Sousa is playing, loud. Dad is grinning up at me, a beer in his hand. I can hear the clink of bocce balls knocking together, smell the acrid scent of fireworks right after they've been lit. Happy Birthday, Dad. Happy Fourth of July.

Monday, June 15, 2020

The Insomnia Files

I know I’m not alone in having a lot of trouble sleeping during these strange times. It’s a topic I’ve discussed with lots of my friends, all of pacing, fretting, podcast listening at all hours. I imagine looking down from space and seeing all these women in pajamas moving all night. My own sleeplessness takes a couple different forms—waking at 2, then 3, then 4, and finally falling asleep around 5 or 6; or waking at 4, usually in a full panic. Sometimes I convince myself I have COVID 19 because I can’t catch my breath, only to realize it’s anxiety that’s taking my breath away. Sometimes I worry about everything from how Annabelle is going to safely go back to school in the fall in a school with 1200 kids to financial ruin to Sam being in Miami where cases are spiking to the upcoming election, and sometimes I worry about all those things. Oh, and there’s more too, but you get the idea. Some things help. Like I need the sheets and blanket tucked in nice and neat, the loft chilly, my pillows in the right position, and a cat or two on my feet. Hermia was the most dependable for the latter, but I think I was keeping her awake because she’s been sleeping in the couch. When I was an international flight attendant, we would hang our scarf on our hotel room door so others could see who was awake and come for a visit or even go out somewhere. I wish there was a way to hang my scarf so others could see who was awake, worrying her way through the night.

Days are a different story. I’m almost joyful as I move through them. Reading the NYT, drinking coffee, and doing the Spelling Bee in bed with Michael every morning. Writing my novel. Having lunch with Annabelle. Teaching the daily writing workshop with Hester Kaplan every weekday at 1. Knitting in the afternoon. Reading on the roof. Playing cards with Annabelle and/or Michael: cribbage, pitch, Hearts. Cooking. Six o’clock cocktails. Dinner and a movie. Reading some more. In between there’s lots of time zooming and texting with friends, lots of time for dreaming of moving to Ireland or Italy, of sitting in a Broadway show again with Michael and eating at Barbuto with him, of hanging out with Sam and Katherine in NYC again, of walking from the West Village to the East Village and eating Vietnamese food then going to see a play at the NY Theatre Workshop. Yes, dreaming big dreams and dreams of what used to be normal.

So today I woke at 4. Now I’m getting sleepy again. Hermia has left the couch and is cuddled up beside me. I will sleep for an hour or so. And in a few nights I’ll sleep blissfully the whole night through. In between, well, these are strange days and nights. We are all doing the best we can. Be gentle with yourself. Hang your scarf out and know all over this big world, lots of others have theirs out too. 

Friday, May 15, 2020

Day 64

When I left our sweet apartment in the West Village on March 12, I never imagined that 64 days later I'd still be sheltering in place in my loft in Providence. But here we are, five of us and four cats. We've watched rain and wind and spring sunshine. We've played more games of cards and Catan and Code Names and Celebrity than I can count. We've watched dozens of movies, and the end of Survivor, and caught up on Top Chef. We've cooked chicken tikka masala and enchiladas and risotto and roast chicken and tuna and fish tacos and chicken Marbella and pork chops. We've made festive cocktails, every day at 6, a time to come together and talk about our frustrations with how this terrible pandemic has been handled and our fears for the future and our daily triumphs and family stories and jokes and sometimes we have the cocktails on the roof and we lift our faces to the sun and we feel grateful. We've celebrated two birthdays--16 and 27--one wedding anniversary, and Mother's Day. We've had insomnia and bad dreams and crazy dreams and we have slept blissfully through the night. We have read books, so many wonderful books. (mine: Mrs. Palmfrey at the Claremont and A View of the Harbor by Elizabeth Taylor, not the actress but the British writer; The Light Years by Jane Elizabeth Howard; The Essence of the Thing and The Women in Black by Madeleine St. John; Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns; and I've just started The Springs of Affection by Maeve Brennan and I recommend every single one of these books. Every one!) We've made movies of Friday cocktail hours (go to Ruhlman.com and you can see them too!) and of When Will My Life Begin (on YouTube with Katherine Guanche) and how to make my spaghetti carbonara (also at Ruhlman.com and the recipe is in Kitchen Yarns). Coming up: How to Make an Indian Feast. We've zoomed. A lot. Cocktail parties and writing workshops and theatre classes and meetings and parties and library talks. I brush my hair and put on make-up and a brightly colored top. I leave my pj bottoms on because only half of me is in that little square. We knit sweaters and hats and a baby blanket; we sewed masks; we made complicated origami. We organized cupboards and closets. We put together IKEA bookshelves. We went on bike rides--two miles, five miles, fifteen, twenty-five. We baked bread and cookies and cake and brownies and breakfast stratas. We wrote. We wrote for the LA Times and the NYT and the Washington Post. We wrote cookbooks and memoirs and a YA novel and short stories and five pages a day of a new novel. Some days we feel sad. Or scared. But mostly, mostly, we remember how deeply we love each other, how grateful we are to be here together, to have food and yarn and books and so many decks of cards that wherever you sit you can pick one up, shuffle and deal and in no time be moving a peg around a cribbage board. We are grateful for all these cats, who sleep on our laps or our feet, knock things off tabletops, chase their tails, hiss at each other, literally climb the walls, but eat together--all four of them adjusted to their new routine. Like us. Like you. Be grateful. be silly. Be somber. Be careful, because sadly the world, our beautiful world, is not safe right now. Write a poem. Knit something. Escape in a book. Cook comfort food. Forget about calories and haircuts and grudges. Pet your cat. Hug your children. Kiss your partner, a lot. Live this crazy life.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Sheltering in place

I hope you and yours are safe and healthy and taking this time together as a precious thing, despite the challenges they present. We have five people and four cats together, and are always figuring out both together time and privacy. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything, even with cat fights at 4AM. We are being very cautious and that means mostly staying in and avoiding social contact. I so want to hug my cousins and friends, but have opted to be risk adverse for all of our sakes

We are cooking a lot, and watching movies, and playing games, and doing jigsaw puzzles. Some of us go on bike rides, but I’m doing daily online ballet classes with The Ballet Coach, who is absolutely wonderful. I’m also knitting a sweater, and had to have one rescue FaceTime with my most beloved knitting teacher/friend. With life slowed down, I find I’m in closer touch with people I love.

Of course, as writers, Michael and I are used to being home all day. So our writing practice continues daily. Please enjoy my piece from the LA Times and his from the NYT.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2020/04/17/travel/food-tours.amp.html
https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-04-11/knitting-stress-relief-pandemic

I write this as a big week for my family draws to a close. Sam and Annabelle both had birthdays, yet we also marked the 18th anniversary of my Gracie’s death. Michael and I chose to get married on  April 20 as a way to bring more joy into this week. Today we will celebrate our third anniversary with oysters and champagne. Even though a virus rages outside these walls, I am grateful for the love within them.

Stay safe. 

Friday, April 10, 2020

Let us now praise Elizabeth Taylor

No, not that one! The British writer of days of yore.

But first. How is everyone? These are such strange times. Scary. Confusing. And for some, days spent being sick or having sick loved ones. Pictures of Central Park as a field hospital shock and upset me every day. All of the images of death and illness do.

We are all here sheltering in place. Five humans, four cats. This brings me peace, and joy, to hold my loved ones close. Lots of movies, games, reading, knitting, cooking. Lots of laughter and also hard talks as we navigate this pandemic. I know you are all experiencing the same.

So back to Elizabeth Taylor. The perfect way to spend hours. Delightful. British. Please just try MRS. PALFREY AT THE CLAREMONT.

This is short but I wanted to just post here for anyone needing to touch base with another soul. We are all in this together. I hope we emerge in tact, stronger, more compassionate for each other and our planet.