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.

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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…

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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?

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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.’

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Sam’s Anchor Café

I first visited Sam’s Anchor Café (better known as “Sam’s”) when I was 23 years old. I had just completed a full day job interview in San Francisco, where I was hoping to move from New York. I was exhausted, but still had a few hours before my red-eye flight home. I decided to check out a place on the water in Marin county that friends had described as a Bay Area “must-do.”

So, I boarded a ferry and headed across the bay to the charming seaside town of Tiburon. Just a few doors down from the ferry terminal, I spotted a retro neon sign emblazoned with “Sam’s Anchor Café.” I tentatively entered a dimly lit, smoky bar that reeked of popcorn and beer. I was wandering through the bar when a hostess approached me and asked if I would like to sit outside. I nodded and followed her, quickly realizing that the outdoor waterfront deck at Sam’s was the place to be.

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The iconic Sam’s literally anchors the waterfront in Tiburon, CA

It was a beautiful Thursday afternoon in late June—“five o’clock somewhere,” as my Dad would say. The place was bustling, with groups camped around the deck eating burgers, fried calamari, oysters and fresh crab Louie salads; patrons everywhere sipped a pinkish-white cocktail that I soon found out was Sam’s signature drink, the “Ramos Fizz,” a frothy concoction of gin, egg whites, lime juice, sugar, heavy cream and orange flower water. The large wooden deck overlooked Tiburon harbor and San Francisco Bay. Just off to the right, the dozens of colorful boats docked at the Corinthian and San Francisco Yacht clubs added to the picturesque setting.

I settled into my plastic deck chair and ordered my first-ever Ramos Fizz, sighing contentedly. Just then, two nice looking young men sitting nearby implored me to join them. Already immersed in the friendly openness of Northern California, I gamely headed over to sit with these two strangers. Within a half hour, we were strangers no more. Ted lived in San Francisco and had been there about a year. His friend, Bert, was visiting from Chicago. After exchanging pleasantries and clinking glasses, Bert & Ted apparently felt comfortable enough in my presence to begin snapping their fingers in unison and singing…

“Trailers for sale or rent; room to let, fifty-cents. No phone, no pool no pets; I ain’t got no cigarettes. Ah, but two hours of pushin’ broom buys an eight-by-twelve four-bit room…. I’m a man of means, by no means—King of the Road…”

I did not recognize this song, but over the next two hours I became intimately familiar with the Roger Miller classic, “King of the Road.” To this day, I know all the words and each time I hear the song I insist on snapping my fingers to the beat and belting out the lyrics… and I am always reminded of that special day on the outdoor deck at Sam’s.

I relocated to the Bay Area a year later and Sam’s became a regular haunt. A favorite weekend activity was to bike with friends through San Francisco’s Marina district and over the golden gate bridge, through Sausalito, Mill Valley and Tiburon, eventually landing at Sam’s for lunch. It was always a casual and welcoming place where we easily made new friends and passed the afternoon blissfully. After a few Ramos Fizzes and a nice lunch, we would board the ferry with our bicycles and return to the city.

As much as I enjoyed biking to Sam’s, the quintessential way to arrive was via boat. Fortunately, during my tenure in San Francisco, I had several friends with boats and we would occasionally sail right up to the dock outside Sam’s, moor the boat and saunter up the pier straight onto the outdoor deck. We couldn’t help but feel like VIPs, with everyone on Sam’s deck watching us disembark. Good times.

I moved back to the east coast in late 1989 and in the ensuing years I continued to visit Sam’s many times. I introduced my husband to Sam’s early into our relationship. When our children were young we made a family pilgrimage there for Saturday lunch. Our kids loved sitting outside by the water, until one of Sam’s ‘friendly’ pelicans landed on our table and starting eating right from our plates! We were more surprised than upset, and quickly realized that these winged visitors only added to the local color of this iconic joint.

My most recent visits to Sam’s were last month—in fact, I had lunch there 3 times in a two-week span. First, we indoctrinated our niece who was new to the Bay Area; then, we returned twice with our daughter and her friends, all Sam’s first-timers. Even after frequenting the place over so many years, I still marveled at how tasty the food was—especially for a casual spot that people chose primarily for the atmosphere. During one of these recent meals, I experienced my first-ever Crab Cake Benedict—a rich and delectable combination of fresh Dungeness crab cakes topped with poached eggs and hollandaise. Yum!

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Crab Cake Benedict

Even the February weather cooperated so we could enjoy Sam’s outdoor deck as it should be: with clear skies, sunshine and comfortably mild temperatures. No Ramos Fizzes for our group, but even so, Sam’s did not disappoint. This venerable Bay Area establishment has weathered the test of time. If anything, it’s even better now than I remember!

As I write this, it’s a beautiful, sunny Sunday… 20-something degrees in New York with snow on the ground and more heading our way soon. I am dreaming of warmer weather and a relaxing brunch outside on the deck at Sam’s Anchor Café where life is always good.

 

 

Stairways to Heaven

Belvedere, California…A picturesque seaside town, less than one square mile in size, just four miles north of San Francisco. Belvedere sits on the south side of the Tiburon peninsula between Richardson Bay and San Francisco Bay, with panoramic vistas of the Bay Bridge, Angel Island and the Golden Gate Bridge. The water views, homes tucked into the hillside and narrow, winding streets with names like Beach, Bay View and Bella Vista, are vaguely reminiscent of the quaint towns along the French Riviera. For those who enjoy and appreciate the outdoors, Belvedere is pure heaven.

My husband and I were fortunate enough to be staying in this idyllic place for two weeks. Exploring the neighborhood on our first day, we noticed a hand-painted wooden sign marking the entrance to a narrow upward stairway. As we meandered, we saw other painted signs and accompanying stairways. Later that day, my curiosity led me to venture up one of the stairways known as Cedar Lane. As I climbed the first few steps, my adrenaline surged… I felt as though I was heading up a secret passageway into a bygone era.

I counted 176 steps to the top of Cedar Lane. After a few minutes of climbing, my pulse had quickened and I was breathing heavily. Not only was this a terrific workout, but also, I was intrigued by the stairways… how many of them existed in Belvedere? What purpose did the stairs serve? Were they all similar or different? And, most importantly, would I be able to climb all the stairways during my stay?

A quick Internet search further piqued my interest in these secret stairways. First, I learned that the locals refer to the stairways as the “Belvedere Lanes.” There are 17 lanes in Belvedere. They comprise a network of stairs and pathways that connect the roadways on the two islands that make up the town of Belvedere: the smaller Corinthian Island and the larger Belvedere Island. The shortest lane has just 4 steps and a passageway, and the longest boasts 195 steps. One of the lanes isn’t actually a stairway at all, but a steep ramp connecting one dead end street at sea level to another road high atop a cliff.

According to historical accounts, in the early 1900’s, Belvedere was a welcome summer retreat for San Franciscans seeking a milder climate and easy water access. Residents arrived by boat from San Francisco and used the stairways to reach their summer houses. Today, the lanes provide passage to areas that are difficult to reach by car via the narrow and hilly streets of Belvedere. They also serve as a means of escape during natural disasters like earthquakes and fires. Many local residents enjoy hiking the island through the passageways of the lanes. And, since I was now a bonafide local for two weeks, I decided that this would be the perfect way to explore Belvedere.

The entrances to the lanes are marked by charming, hand-painted wooden signs. The colorful signs, created by local artists, depict the flora, fauna and beautiful landscapes found in Belvedere and Tiburon. Some of the lanes, like Cedar, Woodwardia, McLean and Woodlands, are divided into upper and lower sections, each marked with a distinctive sign. Every lane is unique. Some lanes are lush and green, others are heavily wooded, and a few are simple utilitarian connective passageways between homes.

I spent my first few days in Belvedere exploring the lanes, a few at a time. By day three, I had been up and down every lane at least once. I was now officially obsessed. A local shopkeeper advised me that residents hike the lanes for exercise, traversing the entire network in one go-around. I decided to attempt this feat the next morning. Following the local protocol, I started at the San Francisco Yacht Club at the base of Belvedere Island, then followed the lanes up and down in order, beginning with Lower McLean, then moving right to left as I tackled each new stairway.

The next hour and a half provided many, highlights, surprises and adventures. Hawthorne Lane offered two pleasant surprises. First, the painted sign depicted a boy walking his golden retriever along the water, which, as a golden retriever lover, warmed my heart. Then, midway up this stairway, I discovered two miniature parks with wood benches, statues and a memorial plaque.

The sign marking the entrance to Upper Woodland Lane depicted a powerful soaring eagle. This lane, lined with tall trees, shrubs and ferns, featured a rustic wood stairway and evoked a dense forest.fullsizerender-36

Another wonderful surprise came at the top of Pagoda Lane. At its entrance, this stairway appeared to be an unassuming ramp with just six stairs, but quickly morphed into a monster climb of 190 steps straight uphill. Waiting at the top of the stairs was a white golden retriever named Maverick (ironically, a virtual twin and namesake of my former beloved dog!) He greeted me with excited barking and then followed me on the next three stairways, until I eventually walked him back home.

My most challenging stairway was Harry B Allen Lane, but not because it had the most steps. This lane is designed as a steep metal stairway leading down from Beach Street to the harbor and rocky beach below. The stairs are open grates so as you walk you can see the ground below… a frightening proposition for someone like me who is prone to bouts of Vertigo. After meticulously counting 104 stairs and finally touching ground, I breathed a deep sigh of relief. Moments later, I was rewarded with an extraordinary selection of beach glass that had washed ashore during a recent storm, making this intense descent and return climb completely worthwhile.

The Lanes of Belvedere comprise 1,888 steps. All these stairways together, plus the roadways in between, span a total of 4.2 miles. Not a bad workout in a town that’s less than one square mile in size!

Hiking the lanes proved to be a fun and exhilarating experience as well as a perfect way to get acquainted with this magnificent area. The best part was that this exploration combined many of my favorite interests and passions—adventure, history, curiosity, artistic expression, and rigorous fitness—all in one outing! The ultimate in multi-tasking.

 

Today

As we begin a new year, I am seeking fresh inspiration and challenges. One such inspiration found me last week…

I was driving to an appointment while listening to Brad Paisley’s song, “Today.” The powerful lyrics spoke to me: “I don’t know about tomorrow, but right now the whole world feels right.” And, in that moment, the whole world did feel right. The sun was shining on that cool, crisp morning; I was filled with purpose and determination, singing shamelessly to a great song. I was awash in peace and contentment. Within minutes, I came upon some road construction, then standstill traffic, and soon became anxious that I would be delayed. I hate to be late and keep others waiting. The mood was broken. But for those few, brief moments, I was living life in the moment, and it felt perfect.

I began reflecting upon the crazy lives we lead, filled with nonstop multi-tasking and fear of missing out (“FOMO” as my daughter calls it.) We are a society that dwells on our past, while worrying about the future and what awaits us somewhere else, tomorrow. The proliferation of 24-7 social media exacerbates this situation by causing us to focus more on capturing the moment in Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat photos rather than enjoying the beautiful hike, ski run, beach walk or dinner out with friends that we are currently engaged in. These continual, stress-producing distractions leave us enervated and unable to fully enjoy where we are, who we’re with and what we’re actually doing now, in the moment, today.

A good friend shared a favorite saying that seems quite apropos:

Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it’s called THE PRESENT.

Such a simple message, yet one that is so challenging to live by. Sure, there are certain occasions in our lives when we are forced to live entirely in the moment (one example for me is water skiing… when I am being pulled by a speeding motorboat, ski skimming atop the crystal clear water, I have one thought—and one thought only—to remain upright, or risk crashing into the wake below!) I have never gone sky-diving or tried scuba but I imagine those activities produce the same exhilaration and adrenaline rush.

Vacation is a period during which work, study and other usual activities are suspended and typically replaced with rest, recreation or travel. Like most people, when I am on vacation, I find a Zen-like existence easier to embrace. I wake up early with few or no plans and let the day unfold organically. On a recent family holiday in California, I discovered joy in just being outdoors, breathing in the fresh mountain air, exercising daily, eating delicious, healthy food, and being with the people I love most. We hiked, played golf, took long walks, played beach volleyball and did yoga. Each day in the shank of the afternoon, we relaxed and read our books.

Very rarely during that vacation did I dwell on the past or worry about what awaited me when I got home. The usual stress was replaced with more energy, spirit, spontaneity and personal fulfillment. There is so much that life has to offer and it’s all right in front of us. Today. I know it’s not realistic to live the way we do on vacation every day of our lives. If that were the case, vacation would not exist. But living in the moment and enjoying what we’re doing now is something worth striving for.

The rise of “Mindfulness” and the popularity of yoga and meditation practices suggest that people are aware of the benefits of being more present in their lives and want to capture that feeling on a regular basis. For several years, I resisted practicing Yoga because I found the focus on breathing annoying and, as a form of exercise, Yoga seemed very “slow moving.” More recently, I have embraced Yoga and welcome the balance it brings to my life.  It is, in fact, the ideal antidote to the Type-A personality. I do not pretend to be an expert on mindfulness or yoga, but I do know how I felt that day singing in the car, and I know how I feel when I’m waterskiing, or standing atop a mountain I’ve just climbed. Joyful and exhilarated! And, I want to hold onto that feeling.

Right now, my today moment entails writing this blog post and snuggling my beloved dog, as he nestles contentedly at my feet. (Incidentally, dogs have this totally figured out. They naturally live completely in the moment… then immediately move on to the next wonderful thing. We can learn a lot from our dogs!)

In 2017 and beyond, I am determined to live a life of mindfulness, relish the moment I’m in and enjoy today as much as possible. I challenge you to join me.

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Casseroles, Comfort & Community

Last weekend, my husband and I traveled to Baton Rouge, Louisiana for a memorial service to honor our brother-in-law’s father. While the purpose of our trip was sad and somber, the people of Baton Rouge and the community we visited transformed a potentially difficult weekend into a heartwarming, uplifting and eye-opening experience.

Our flight from New York landed in Baton Rouge during the Friday rush hour. Within minutes, we were greeted outside baggage claim by a lovely couple, Alice and Larry, whom we had never met, and whisked into their car. Alice and Larry, close friends of the bereaved family, could not have been kinder, taking time out of their busy lives to retrieve two strangers from the airport. We chatted amiably during the entire car ride, feeling like we had known this couple for years. Alice and Larry drove us directly to our accommodations, the home of Sandra and Jay, close friends and neighbors who would be our hosts for the weekend.

Sandra and Jay, whom we had also never met, graciously welcomed us (as well as my parents, my sister and brother-in-law) into their spacious, elegant home. From the comfortable private bedrooms and wide selection of amenities to delicious homemade cooking—including a traditional southern breakfast of “grits and grillades” which our hostess cooked over a 24-hour period—we were treated as special guests.

My personal highlight of our stay at this house was observing our hosts relaxing in ‘his & hers’ recliners in front of a ginormous flat screen TV, each with a glass of bourbon in hand, cheering on their beloved LSU Tigers. Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in New York anymore….

Two doors down, we gathered with our extended family to comfort each other, reminisce and share treasured photos, as a continuous stream of friends and neighbors passed through to pay their respects. No one came empty-handed. People brought homemade casseroles of every variety: pasta, tuna, vegetable, chicken & rice, egg & sausage, you name it. There were also salads, meats, cheeses, dips, vegetables, cakes, pastries and other sweet treats. We ate and drank nonstop for two days. Our usual gluten-free, fat-free, dairy-free, healthy eating habits were temporarily discarded as we soon realized that “comfort food” really does soothe the soul.

This was southern hospitality at its finest. But the comfort extended far beyond the food. The entire weekend was an overwhelming testament to a supportive community caring for one of its own families. Yes, people cooked and delivered food for each meal, they shuttled out-of-town guests around (in addition to our airport pickup, other thoughtful strangers gathered my sister and parents from their flights) and they showered the entire anguished family with heartfelt love and support. In short, everyone went above and beyond the call of duty, not because they felt obligated, but because it was second nature to them to step in and help. These kind actions may have been precipitated by a tragedy, but they were not reserved for this sad occasion. Rather, these were typical, everyday occurrences for the people of this community who always conduct their lives with grace and kindness to help those around them. As they say in the South, these are “good peeps.”

In the wake of one of the nastiest, most contentious presidential elections in our nation’s history, it is evident that stark divisions and deep wounds remain that desperately need to heal. In this spirit, the southern hospitality and sense of community that we experienced last weekend is a perfect example of how we should all conduct ourselves…. cast judgments aside, be kind to one another and work together as a team to make those around us stronger—not only in a crisis, but always. Thank you to the people of Baton Rouge for inspiring us and leading the way forward.

 

 

 

 

 

Turkey Dogs

You’re likely thinking July 4th barbecue— a healthy, tasty grilling option alongside the traditional hamburgers and hot dogs. Yes, possibly. But I am actually referring to a different type of turkey dog. These turkey dogs are real, live, purebred Golden Retrievers from Istanbul, Turkey, who are being rescued and relocated to the United States to enjoy new lives.

As background, Golden Retrievers were once considered a status symbol among the wealthy in Turkey. A few years back, it became popular and even fashionable to own a Golden Retriever puppy, which most Turkish families bought from a pet store. (There are few traditional breeders in Turkey.) But once the pups grew up, things changed. The tiny balls of fur that parents had given their children as holiday gifts were now large, energetic dogs that many found difficult to keep in their small homes. So began the abandonment of Goldens into the streets and forests. Unlike typical stray dogs that could astutely navigate the streets, find food and fight for space, the Golden Retrievers were ill-equipped to roam free. Gentle and non-aggressive by nature, these canines were used to being with their human families and could not survive well in the cold. With few shelters available in Istanbul, the dogs would frequently starve or become prey to the thousands of feral dog packs in the forests around the city. Few lived to see old age.

That is, until the onset of Operation Turkey Dog, a program founded in 2014 to rescue these dogs and find them new homes in the United States. The program originated at Adopt a Golden in Atlanta, Georgia (“AGA.”) AGA established a large network of compassionate, dog-loving volunteers and created the process and infrastructure to bring these dogs to the US, then turn them over to caring, adoptive families.

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The typical journey of a “turkey dog” from Istanbul to the United States is an arduous one. It begins on the ground in Istanbul where dozens of committed, selfless volunteers work alongside local dog trainers and veterinarians and literally drive through the streets rounding up the Golden Retrievers (along with other non-aggressive breeds) and sheltering them in makeshift doggie hotels. Once the canines are fed and their medical needs addressed, many are designated to travel to the US. While awaiting their departure dates, the dogs often spend a few interim weeks in local municipal shelters. These massive shelters house hundreds of dogs and, while life there is better than on the streets, the conditions are less than satisfactory—with both food and space scarce and frequent dog fights. Fortunately, most Goldens do not remain in these shelters for long.

Before leaving Turkey, the dogs receive complete medical exams, are spayed or neutered and are issued health certificates and pet passports. They travel on nonstop flights with Turkish volunteers who meet the US volunteers upon arrival. Multiple Golden Retriever rescue groups from around the nation—who have partnered with AGA—work together in teams to bring the dogs to their new homes in different regions where pre-screened American families excitedly wait to meet their new adoptees.

Since the program’s inception, 680 turkey dogs have been re-homed in the US and Canada, with more arriving each month. These dogs appear to be thriving and the demand for them is far from sated, as Golden Retriever rescue organizations routinely have many more potential adopters than dogs ready for placement. Adoptive families post daily photos of the dogs playing with other dogs, chasing toys and tennis balls. The turkey dogs have their own beds. They enjoy swimming, frolicking and even riding on boats! Many have canine and/or human siblings. But mostly, they are happy just loving and being loved. Simply put, they’re settling in wonderfully and are thoroughly enjoying the American life.

When I first heard about this rescue operation from a friend, I was incredulous that people could willingly abandon these sweet, gentle souls who exist solely to provide unconditional love. I immediately wanted to get involved. A few months ago, I began volunteering my time to walk and care for the new turkey dog arrivals, helping to prepare them for their adoptions into forever homes. I was amazed to see how affectionate and friendly the turkey dogs were upon immediate arrival on US soil. Literally moments off the airplane, after spending 15+ hours between holding stations, transit time and customs, their tails were wagging like crazy and they couldn’t wait to receive hugs and give wet puppy kisses. I sensed these were special dogs.

I also knew that I wanted to adopt one of these turkey dogs. My husband and I have always loved golden retrievers and had already raised two; caring for those two incredible dogs had a profound impact on our lives. After mourning the loss of our 2nd Golden last spring, we were finally ready to adopt another dog. We considered going to a breeder, but after hearing about Operation Turkey Dog, we decided this was our best option. After a rigorous application process—which included a telephone interview, home visit and several reference checks—we were approved to adopt a turkey dog through Golden Retriever Rescue Inc. of NJ. Then the waiting began…

Two weeks ago, our wait ended, and our dream of adopting one of these wonderful turkey dogs was realized when our beloved “Casper” arrived at JFK airport from Istanbul, Turkey. The local rescue group had named him Casper, along with the other Halloween-themed turkey dogs: Wendy, Trix and Treat, all of whom arrived in America this October. We considered several other names for our dog, but after spending a few minutes with him and witnessing his friendly nature and playful, mischievous spark—not to mention his white coat—Casper seemed like the perfect name.

This sweet, handsome boy came into our home and our hearts. It is amazing to think that just a couple of months ago he was roaming the streets of Istanbul foraging for food and fending off attacks from dogs and other wild animals. Walking him a few days ago in torrential rain, I became misty-eyed as I realized that, instead of wandering through the forest looking for a dry, safe place to wait out the storm, Casper now has a warm, cozy home with plenty of healthy food and a family who adores him. I am saddened to think of all the other dogs who remain in Turkey, waiting for their ticket out, and the countless others who will never know a better life with a loving family. So, I prefer to focus on this one dog, our Casper, whom we were able to save. In closing, I’d like to share a favorite quote from the head of our local Golden Retriever rescue group:

“Saving one animal may not change the world, but for that animal, their world is changed forever.”

I’m so grateful we could help change your world, Casper… and even more blessed that you were able to change ours.

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“Casper” is a happy boy and is enjoying his new life in America…