Talking to Strangers

Growing up, I always heeded the parental warning: “don’t talk to strangers.” I am fairly certain that most people of my generation grew up with this similar caution. We never answered the door for someone we didn’t know. We politely declined and kept walking when asked for directions or for the time. And we certainly did not strike up conversations with random strangers just to “be friendly.” Strangers were dangerous. We were trained to avoid them.

At some point in my adult life, I seemingly forgot these warnings. I cannot recall when or why, but some time ago I began not only talking to strangers, but also, engaging many of them in interesting conversations and actually befriending some. I can be virtually anywhere– at a checkout counter… in a movie theater… dining in a restaurant… waiting in an airport… hiking up a mountain… riding a ski lift… or working out in an exercise class– and I will happily strike up a conversation.


Met some nice strangers waiting in a movie queue for an 8:00 a.m. film…

Whenever I start talking to a stranger, my husband groans and rolls his eyes, as if to say: “here we go again.” I am not purposefully trying to annoy him. Rather, I am naturally friendly and actually get a rush of adrenaline from talking to strangers. During these spontaneous conversations, I usually learn something new, while gaining a different perspective on a particular topic or issue. Sometimes we discover friends in common via the six-degrees-of-separation phenomenon. Or, we end up helping one another. And, in certain circumstances it seems easier to tell a stranger something very personal… it feels less risky opening up to someone who doesn’t know you.

I love when a stranger smiles at me and I smile back and we have that wonderful momentary connection. Perhaps it’s my inner California girl shining through. I live on the East Coast, but I spend a lot of time on the West coast and often feel more like a Californian than a New Yorker. In the Golden State, people routinely smile, say hello to strangers and converse with them; it’s part of the open, welcoming culture there. Much less so in New York– except around the Christmas holidays, when everyone is a little bit kinder and friendlier.

Just this morning, I had a wonderful conversation with a stranger. I was waiting in line at a local food market and a woman walked in with a golden retriever. As two “golden retriever people,” we immediately started comparing notes on our dogs. I told her about the rescue group I work with and the story of how we adopted our Golden from Turkey. Then, another woman, who works in the shop, joined the conversation. She, too, apparently had a golden retriever. Within minutes, the three of us had bonded over our dogs. I left the store with two email addresses, two telephone numbers and three new friends– two human and one canine named Harper. I have no doubt we will stay in touch.

So, with apologies to my Mom, I’ve adopted a new guideline: “talk to strangers.” After all, at some point in our lives, every good friend we have was once a stranger.



The Nest Replenished

If you had told me when I became an empty nester that I would actually miss the piles of dirty clothes and shoes, the daily trips to the grocery store and produce market, the nonstop cooking of omelets, grilled chicken and roasted vegetables and the dirty blender bottles lining the kitchen counter, I would’ve called you crazy.

Well, now I’m rethinking that perspective. Over the past week, I surprised even myself when I discovered that not only did I miss the mess, but also, I longed for it! This meant that our family was intact once again, with both adult children home, a super-happy (albeit mischievous) dog, and a house filled with home-cooked food, animated conversations around the dinner table, laughter over the familiar dim-witted Caddyshack and Animal House jokes and, of course, lots of football & basketball on TV!

Three years ago when our youngest left for college, I launched this blog for the purpose of embracing a new phase of life, embarking upon new adventures and sharing my experiences. My husband and I have fully enjoyed– even celebrated– our empty nester lifestyle. We have relished our newfound spontaneity as we attend concerts, shows and plays, go out frequently on weeknights and travel extensively around the US and abroad. We definitely miss our children, but we stay in close touch and speak to them often. And, most importantly, we are happy that they are each on their own journeys, living their lives.

Yet, for a few brief days this past week, with everyone under one roof, our nest was temporarily full. My responsibilities increased exponentially as I returned to full blown “Mommy Mode,” juggling food shopping, short-order cooking, dish washing, laundry, and the many other tasks that I had cut way back on in recent years.


I was happy to do all of this for the reward of having my family at home. The experience was completely wonderful and exhausting in equal parts. I loved every minute of it. Interestingly, although our children have grown and matured, we all seem to revert back to our former family roles. Life at home seems so natural and easy… perhaps that’s why it’s important for children to leave the nest and step outside that comfort zone. Nonetheless, I relished our time as a family– sitting around the dinner table and just talking… taking long walks with the dog… watching sports and cheering together for our favorite teams. It is certainly bittersweet to witness our children’s transition into adulthood, but I must admit that, for a few brief days, I fully enjoyed taking care of them.

I did not raise my voice once this week. I gave no unsolicited advice. (well, maybe once, but it wasn’t totally unsolicited.) I did not stress out about the unkempt piles of dirty clothes and the unmade beds. I simply closed the doors to my children’s rooms to hide the mess. I tried to live in the moment and enjoy this quality family time. And, I hugged my son, whom I see so rarely, quite often (I think he was a little annoyed by this, but thankfully, he didn’t protest too much.)


Our five days in the replenished nest has come to a close… for now. One child is across the country back at college; the other has returned to real life and work in the city. The laundry is done. The dishes are washed and put away. Our table of four is back to a table of two. Tonight, it will be just me and my husband (and our golden retriever, Casper) watching This Is Us. And yes, this IS us.

The pace is decidedly slower and quieter, but I am good with that. I now realize that our nest is never truly empty, because it remains a warm and welcoming place where we love unconditionally and always feel comfortable just being ourselves.


Casper figured this out awhile ago…

Back to School

Watching the kindergarteners waiting at the bus stop, I am flooded with mixed emotions. Their post-summer haircuts, new sneakers, colorful backpacks and “happy-face” name tags, identifying them as new students, bring back many bittersweet memories. The children, filled with first day jitters, pose for photos and videos. The parents choke back tears, recognizing this as a major milestone of parenthood. They are amazed at how quickly the years have passed.

Fast forward 16 years, as I try to fathom how my son can possibly be a senior in college. Like those Kindergarten parents, I am filled with pride, witnessing how far my boy has come, yet wistful that the years have flown by in the blink of an eye. The juxtaposition of the first day of elementary school and the last year of college is not lost on me… hence, I pause to reflect on “back-to-school” and all it signifies.

For toddlers, back-to-school is mostly a time of fun and excitement (with the exception of those dealing with separation anxiety,) as children enjoy days of structured play with peers in a comfortable, safe environment. For parents, preschool is a welcome reprieve for several hours a day when they know their children are well supervised, fed and are learning basic, yet important, life skills.

The elementary and middle school years bring progressively more structure, responsibility and, of course, longer days for students. Back-to-school entails battling long lines at Staples where families stock up on school supplies like pocket fodders, notebooks, colored pencils, compasses and markers. First day photos at the bus stop begin to wane; indeed, many middle schoolers are embarrassed to have parents at the bus stop with them. Students begin to worry about which teachers they have, whether they have classes with their friends, and what outfits they will wear each day to school.


First day of school, September 2002

High school is an entirely new back-to-school experience. Family summer vacations are cut short to make way for pre-season fall sports and other extensive commitments which commence well before the first day of school. With our daughter’s soccer schedule, this entailed double sessions every day in sweltering August heat, intense workouts and an anxiety-ridden three days of tryouts. High school also demands heavier homework loads, a continuous stream of exams and college preparation. And, for parents, the stress of newly licensed teenage drivers who feel it is no longer “cool” to ride the school bus.

For college students, back-to-school means organizing, packing and driving (or, in our case, shipping) multiple suitcases, duffels and boxes to campus. Instead of buying basic school supplies at Staples, college dorm life now necessitates trips to Bed, Bath & Beyond and Target for everything from rugs and printers to book shelves and mini-refrigerators. (Gone, apparently, are the days of driving oneself to college with a suitcase, a milk crate filled with record albums and a few posters.) It also involves bidding farewell to the comforts of home, including healthy home-cooked meals, comfortable beds with clean sheets and plenty of space to relax. Once back at school, these young adults will resume their lives of independence, learning to schedule their own days and juggle priorities like classes, extracurriculars, jobs, meals, homework, sports and friends.

For empty nester parents like myself, back-to-school means the end of summer’s carefree spontaneity, outdoor concerts, barbecues and beaches and signals a return to a more predictable routine. I actually like routine so I don’t mind that part of it, although I am saddened as the days continue to grow shorter… plus, I can never figure out what shoes to wear this time of year. However, the upside is promising: minimal grocery shopping, less laundry, and no messy piles of clothing, wet towels and other random belongings spread throughout the house. Still, our quieter home always takes some getting used to each fall.

As my son begins his senior year of college– our final back-to-school experience– I cannot help but reflect back on his first day of Kindergarten, as we waited with our neighbors for the yellow school bus. While this was in the days before social media, I still remember capturing those Kodak moments and tearing up as the bus pulled away with my little boy aboard. All the children at the bus stop that day, including our son, have grown into confident, self-possessed young adults, ready to take on the world. And to think it all began 16 years ago at the corner of Fox Ridge Road and Fox Ridge Court.

So, back to school we go– one final time…







Drink Pink!

Like many of my generation, my early wine-drinking experiences incorporated Mateus Rosé. This sweet, fruity, inexpensive wine came in a really cool bottle with an old-world label. Mateus was the perfect choice for a picnic, tailgate or outdoor concert. What more did a young, inexperienced drinker need?


Despite the success of Mateus, wine connoisseurs were long biased against rosé, often shunning it as a frivolous “picnic” wine. Today, rosé is no longer the maligned wine varietal. The pinkish-hued wine has been gaining in popularity for several years, with people of all demographics joining the Rosé Revolution. Nielsen data showed +64% growth in rosé consumption from May 2016 through April 2017 (the overall wine category grew just +4% during the same period,) with dramatic, +84% growth in the final four weeks of the survey, even before the summer surge.

The pink stuff is everywhere. Local liquor stores from Peoria to Portland prominently display rosé wines and feature rosé tasting events. Store managers cannot keep certain brands in stock. Most restaurants, from casual beach joints to fine dining establishments, feature rosé on their menus. On Nantucket Island, a popular summer vacation spot, bartenders have nicknamed the top-selling Whispering Angel rosé “Nantucket Lemonade.”

Younger drinkers have played a substantial role in the popularizing of rosé. The wine’s pink hues and easy rhyming sounds make it ideally suited for Instagram and other social media platforms. And the less intimidating image rosé conveys has clearly helped its rise– as Lorna Andrews, a fashion influencer and blogger notes: “you can lob a cube of ice into a glass of rosé without fear of vitriol and serve it with any food whatsoever.” It’s a drink that says ‘I don’t take life too seriously.’


Bros drinking rosé = Brosé

Rosé wines are enjoying widespread appeal, and not just among millennials; these days, all demographic groups are drinking pink– from baby boomers to grandparents and even men who typically drink hard liquor (hence, the Brosé phenomenon.) In fact, research from the Provence Wine Council confirms that the U.S., Russia and Australia now have an equal number of male and female rosé drinkers, and Brazilian men apparently drink more rosé than their female counterparts!

Curious about this rosé revolution, I undertook some research to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. This research encompassed hands-on tasting, reading numerous articles and talking with local wine experts. A special thanks to Carol Todd of Wine Geeks in Armonk, NY and Noah Goldberg of The Study in Greenwich, CT for educating me about rosé. Here is some of what I learned.

What is the appeal of rosé and why is it so popular these days?


Rosé is very easy to drink and quite affordable. It is probably the easiest wine to pair with a wide variety of food. Rosé is perfect at a picnic, barbecue or clambake. It pairs beautifully with hamburgers, salmon, shrimp, lobster and countless salads. Food & wine critic, Peter Gianotti, notes that rosé also holds its own when served with spicier foods like Indian, Mexican, Italian tomato-based dishes or Thai cuisine. Rosé is a many-sided wine, making it highly adaptable to all tastes and palates. This versatility, coupled with its unassuming nature, enhances rosé’s likeability among all types of drinkers.

Further, as Noah Goldberg points out, rosé is drinkable as a current vintage­– that is, the grapes are harvested in the fall and the wine is ready to drink the following spring. Unlike many white wines like chardonnay, and especially red wines, which need to ferment for years before they are drinkable, rosés are typically consumed very young– helping us feel more connected to the wine.


Rosé also enjoys a ‘beyond the bottle’ allure that traces to the celebrity/pop-culture factor, with a host of stars either producing their own rosé or promoting wines and related lifestyle brands. This rosé A list includes: Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie, Martha Stewart, Drew Barrymore, Francis Ford Coppola and his daughter, Sofia, and rapper Wiz Khalifa just to name a few.

Rosé has been around for a long time. Why have we not heard much about it until recently?

Rosé wines originated in Provence, France but became popular on American shores after WWII with the launch of Portuguese brands Mateus and Lancers. These sweet rosés set record wine sales in postwar America. Next up was White Zinfandel and the wine spritzers of the 1980s,  which made domestic rosé production profitable.

As more Provençal wines entered the U.S., tastes began to shift. The drier Provençal rosés were found to be highly versatile and adaptable, doubling as both aperitif and complement to many cuisines. For over a decade, rosé wines from Provence have been trending steadily upward. In 2001, rosé imports from Provence to the U.S. were just 158,000 liters, compared with 11.5 million liters in 2016– this translates to a rise of 7,165% rise over the past 15 years!

Today, the market has evolved to include many high-quality rosés from wine-making regions around the world. As people drink more rosé, they are venturing beyond the traditional strawberry and citrus staples for which Provence is known. There are also deeper, richer rosés that are more akin to the red wine experience, which has brought many red wine drinkers into the rosé fold. This proliferation of sophisticated wines from various regions has helped further legitimize rosé as a ‘serious’ wine.

What gives rosé its distinctive pink color?

There are three different winemaking methods used to make rosé. When rosé wine is the primary end product, the most common method of producing rosé is the skin contact method. Red grapes are crushed with the skins remaining in contact with the juice for just a few days. The longer the skins are in contact with the juice, the more intense the hue of the final wine. (In red wine making, the skins are left in contact for weeks or months.)

When a winemaker desires more tannin and color to a red wine, some of the pink juice can be removed at an early stage via the saigneé method (from the French “bleeding.”) The red wine remaining in the vats is intensified as a result of the bleeding, and the pink juice that is removed can be fermented separately to produce rosé.

The third method, simply blending red and white wine to make rosé, is uncommon and is discouraged in most wine-growing regions, especially in France, where it is illegal. Still, some winemakers opt for this method– for example, Summer in a Bottle, a popular rosé made on Long Island, uses the blending method.

Rosé wines are made with either a single grape or, more often, with a blend of grapes; the grapes used will determine color and aroma. Thinner-skinned grapes like pinot gris or pinot noir yield a lighter colored rosé, while thicker-skinned grapes like cabernet sauvignon or syrah yield darker and richer rosés. Local factors from climate to soil will also significantly affect the resulting wine.

Is rosé just a refreshing summer beverage or can it be consumed year-round?

“Because it’s meant to be served chilled, it’s refreshing and it’s very pretty, rosé has been mostly marketed for summer. But that is quickly changing,” says Carol Todd, whose family drinks rosé year-round. Before all of its associations with beachside sunsets and cookouts, rosé had classically been a summer wine because of its production timing and limited quantities. It was typically released in the spring and would often go on sale after Labor Day, enabling distributors to sell all their rosé inventory by early fall. This created a more seasonal feel. However, given its increased production, rosé is now easier to find throughout the year, with an expanded selling season from March through November. With rosé consumption extending well into Autumn, rosé has become the perfect complement to Thanksgiving dinner, with traditional foods like turkey, cranberry and stuffing.

Is rosé just a fad or is it here to stay?

Noah Goldberg is confident that rosé is here to stay. He contends that a large part of rosé’s popularity is rooted in its associations with easy living, summertime and fun. The lighter blush rosés from France certainly fit that bill. However, Noah’s hope moving forward is that tastes in rosé wines continue to evolve beyond the traditional Provencal wines as wine drinkers learn to appreciate many rosés of ‘character’ from across the globe– including vintages from Spain, Argentina, Australia, Italy and Greece. With Noah’s prompting, I took home a bottle of Hentley Farm, a full flavored Australian rosé, and served it last night alongside our dinner of steak, salmon, veggies, potatoes and fresh berries. Much to our surprise, the rosé went beautifully with all the different foods and perfectly bridged the gap between red and white wine drinkers in the group.


For those who think that rosé is merely a flash-in-the-pan, just look to France (the birthplace of rosé,) where rosé sales outstrip those of white wines. This has been the case since 2008, making rosé a dominant staple in the country’s culture and cuisine.

Rosé, it seems, can be many things to many people. Not only does it appeal to all types of wine drinkers, but also, rosé exudes a relaxed vibe and suits a variety of foods and occasions. After studying rosé in depth, I am left with one final thought:

Few things in life are less intimidating that a glass filled with something pink.






Berry Picking

It’s nearly 90 degrees outside. Most people are seeking shade, beaches, lakes or air-conditioning to escape the heat. Not my husband. He is fully attired from head to toe in long pants, a long-sleeved T-shirt, a Bill Murray “Caddyshack”-style hat and gardening gloves. He is preparing for the annual berry- picking bonanza.

IMG_0211Just outside our home in a Northern New York suburb, there is a short but prolific berry season. The raspberries are wild, slightly tart and bright red. Hundreds, if not thousands, of bushes dot our neighborhood.

For a few days each July, my husband-turned-boy relishes the simple, old-fashioned pleasure of picking fresh berries. The season is very short—a week at most—during which time the berries are perfectly ripe, but have yet to be consumed by the local animals or dried out by the summer heat.


Dozens of berries are readily visible on the front side of the bushes, but my husband seeks the greater challenges that lie beyond the low-hanging fruit. He prefers to venture inside the bushes to uncover the “berry motherlode.” These forays generate redder, plumper and much more plentiful berries. But it’s tricky work. The berry vines bear a thick, protective layer of prickers, hence the need for full body gear.

As the afternoon slowly passes, The Berry Man remains hidden deep inside the raspberry bushes, patiently plucking berries and dropping them into his bag. Two hours later he emerges with what is, indeed, the motherlode. Enough to feed a small army for days. Next comes the painstaking process of washing and cleaning the berries to remove stems and other vine remnants. berrybowl

Finally, the berries are ready to enjoy! They are delicious plain, with granola & yogurt or atop a bowl of vanilla ice cream.

This year’s raspberry season will last just another day or two. Then my husband will have to wait for next summer’s berry crop to emerge. Fortunately, he also has the spring maple-sugaring season before then to keep him amused.


Do You!

Even though Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder were eliminated in the first round of the NBA playoffs and are not in this year’s finals, Westbrook’s Mountain Dew TV commercial remains a welcome presence.  In fact, I have found watching his commercial to be a major highlight of the 2017 playoff season.

Between his unrelenting play on the court and his eclectic style off of it, Westbrook has emerged as one of the NBA’s most unique personalities. In his latest TV spot, the triple-double superstar urges fans to embrace their individuality. Russell marches to his own drummer and adopts the unconventional, even if it is frowned upon by others. This includes listening to slow jams before big games, mixing camouflage designs and eating seafood in landlocked Oklahoma. He does what pleases him, not what “they” tell him to do.

I have viewed this commercial at least a dozen times and still find it energizing and inspiring to see Westbrook continually push boundaries and defy the “status quo” while encouraging all of us to do the same. Wouldn’t it be wonderfully liberating if we could all live this way?

Ironically, my high school yearbook quote was: “Be yourself. No one can tell you you’re doing it wrong.” I guess that, even at age 17, this concept resonated with me. However, for the most part, I could not stay true to it. Too often, I cared deeply about what others thought of me and I, in turn, passed judgment on others with different opinions or ideas. But, as I have grown older (and hopefully wiser) and raised a family, my priorities have shifted. I now realize that it is more important to be myself, tell the truth and live my life authentically, without worrying about that judgment from outside.

Today, when so many live for what others think—counting up the “likes” they can garner on social media—it is particularly challenging to stay true to oneself and not worry about how others are judging you. So, I encourage everyone to heed the words of Russell Westbrook: “Don’t do they—do you.” Take a fresh look at yourself, at those around you and at the way you live your life. Don’t be constrained by what others think. Replace judgment with gratitude and respect for those with different points of view. We can learn a lot from others, especially from those who see the world differently. After all, each of us is doing our own version of you. Once we accept that reality, we are free to celebrate our unique, authentic selves.

If you’re tuning into the NBA finals tonight, you will likely see Westbrook’s commercial for Mountain Dew. But just in case you miss it, here’s a link to view the spot.

Russell Westbrook “Do You!”








Life in the Slow Lane

The bummer about surgery and its aftermath, especially for those who are active, is that it forces us to slow down. After a recent knee surgery, my doctor’s post-op instructions were to “take it easy for a couple of weeks—don’t try to do too much.” For an action-oriented, high-energy person like me, taking it easy is most certainly not easy. Doctor’s orders precluded my participation in spinning & other fitness classes, dog walking, hiking, golf, tennis, lifting heavy objects and even driving (at least for a few days.) I knew that this “hiatus” in my life would be more challenging than the surgery itself, which was a simple meniscus repair.

But here I am, 10 days post-surgery and I have discovered something interesting and wonderful—slowing down doesn’t mean not doing anything. It means doing different things… Appreciating life’s simple pleasures and relaxing so your body—and mind—can heal. Despite not being able to enjoy a good sweat at the gym, I have found this time to be quite therapeutic and even enjoyable. I have indulged in quieter, albeit equally satisfying pursuits… including writing, reading, reconnecting with friends, learning Canasta, volunteering with my canine rescue group and even indulging wholeheartedly in some serious binge-watching (headlined by “Bloodline” seasons 1 & 2 and “Big Little Lies.”)

This morning I awoke to an email about a work project that I reluctantly committed to. Now, I am trying to figure out how to fit this project into my very full, newfound life in the slow lane.

Less than two weeks after surgery, my knee is already feeling strong and I am doing more physically. Yet, I am keenly aware that I need to preserve this slower paced lifestyle and continue to make time for the fulfilling pursuits that have sustained me. I still have some slow-lane ‘bucket list’ items—including planting potted herbs like basil, rosemary & mint—that I hope to complete before I am fully recovered. And the pure enjoyment of reading a great book in the middle of the afternoon from the comfort of my favorite armchair is one pleasure I intend to continue, without guilt.

So, to all of my busy, frenetic, multi-tasking friends: for what it’s worth, try taking it easy, slowing down and smelling the daffodils, which are just beginning to bloom… or perhaps grow yourself some fresh mint. It makes for a delicious mojito! You won’t regret it.