Birthday Gratitude

Birthdays were a big deal in our home. My mother celebrated us for a week by acknowledging each day that led up to the big day. Even into our adulthood, she’d call my sister and me every day for the week prior to the big day and sing “Happy last Monday of your XXth year to you…” I miss those calls now that she’s gone. I miss her voice. My sister made me very happy this year by texting the day before my birthday, “happy last Wednesday!”

I never understood why some people dread their birthdays. I mean, I get the whole not being wild about aging thing. I don’t like my crêpe neck or the need to wear reading glasses either, but as the cliché goes, it beats the alternative. So much wisdom comes with age.

I am uncomfortable, however, with any extended focus on me. That’s part of what made this birthday especially nice. The week was full of fun, friends, and family events that brought me a great deal of joy (and some awesome presents) without being all about me:

The humidity broke, and the crisp chill of autumn that invigorates me arrived. I love when I can sleep with the windows open and welcome the cool breeze.

  • I chatted with Steve Martin at a home high on a hill overlooking the panoramic picture postcard sunset overlooking the Long Island Sound. For real.
  • I lunched overlooking the Saugatuck River with my sister and bestie, both of whom bestowed thoughtful and generous gifts. The best gift they give me year-round, though, is their love and support.
  • My writing teacher hosted a Women Writers’ Night Out where I got to collaborate, commiserate, and craft with my writing peeps. Red wine was involved.
  • Both of my boys called on my birthday. And talked to me. For a long time. I love my sons so much. Their existence, their health, and their welfare is the best gift.
  • Say what you will about Facebook, but receiving 250 warm wishes from actual friends kind of blew me away.
  • My former husband’s wife arranged for a celebratory dinner at Brick + Wood and dessert at Milkcraft. Their delicious seven-year-old son made a card for me depicting us standing together holding celebratory balloons. When my ex asked how old he thought I was, he scrutinized me for a long time and mulled some more. He is a deep thinker like his brothers. He finally said, definitively, “36.” I love this kid!
  • I went to an MFA information session at Sarah Lawrence College to explore what I might do when I grow up. How fortunate am I to be able to contemplate a future full of fulfilling promise?
  • And finally, I saw Janeane Garofolo at the Ridgefield Playhouse with same said bestie. We laughed so hard for an hour straight at her rambling, intelligent stream of consciousness that we actually got a core workout. Our cheeks hurt. “Be a citizen,” Janeane said, “take your CVS ExtraCare Card out before you get to the only cashier dealing with the line of 18 people.” A woman after my own heart.

It was an exceptionally lovely, entertaining, heart-warming birthday week under crystal blue skies. I suspect my mother had something to do with it. A girl couldn’t ask for more. I am humbly filled with gratitude and appreciation, and I look forward to my 58th trip around the sun.



“Can you sub a restorative class at the Senior Center for me next Thursday?” asked Paula, a yoga instructor I’d known for a long time.

“I’d be happy to, thanks for thinking of me.” And I was happy. There are more yoga teachers in Fairfield County than banks and nail salons. Getting a regular gig is harder than getting into Hanumasana, and it’s even tough to get on sub lists.

“It’s a lovely group of women. Usually three or four show up, and we do not do too many poses.” That’s typical for an hour-long restorative class.

I prepared, as I always do for classes, well in advance. I choose a theme, the poses, and a closing quote. I always try to be flexible (yup, pun intended) and responsive to each group’s mood and needs, but I go in with a game plan.

When I got to the Center to set up and center myself, a Parkinson’s gym class was in progress, so I scouted out the props I’d need, and waited. They held a large parachute aloft as participants took turns running under it to the other side. It took me back to Gymboree classes, doing the same thing with my toddlers, now full grown men.

Once they finished up, the friendly and immensely helpful custodian, Jerry, turned off the lights, and brought the props I’d need into the space. I put on Deva Premal and settled into her dulcimer Sanskrit chants. Class start time came and went. Finally, one woman came in with her own lavender mat. I rose to greet her.

“Hi, I’m Diane and I’m subbing for Paula today.”

“Hi, I’m Rosaria. Nice to meet you.”

She settled in and we waited a bit, but it was obvious that no one else was coming, even though six names appeared on the sign up sheet they’d given me at the front desk.

“I don’t know why people do that,” she said kindly. “They don’t like change, so when they hear it’s a sub…”

“Oh, no worries at all. I understand completely. People love their yoga teachers and sometimes just don’t want to come if there’s a sub. I have to admit that I’ve done that myself, although my favorite teacher, Robert, always encourages us to take class when he’s not there. You never know when you’ll learn something new.”

“Exactly,” she said. “I just feel so badly for you, having to teach one person. Are you sure you want to do this?”

“Absolutely. It is really special to have a private session. It’s my pleasure. Let’s get started.”

I asked her if she had any limitations or body parts she’d like to work on. She shared that at 81 (I couldn’t believe it) she had her fair share of aches and pains, but nothing too serious. I loved her humor and her attitude. I ditched my class plan and worked through a series of poses more tailored to her needs. And we chatted. And chatted and chatted. About yoga, about our children, about home maintenance, and about life. She mentioned that she hailed from the Bronx, and I said, “Where? My father was from the Bronx, too.”

“The Tremont section,” she said. “My mother was Jewish, so we lived there, and my father was Italian. Over by Arthur Avenue was the Italian section.”

“That’s where my father’s from! They were Greek – Sephardic – and they all lived together in that area with others who had come from their town, Ioannina.”

“Do you know what high school he went to?”

“I’m not sure, but he told us that he used to run out to White Castle at lunchtime and bring back bags of French fries that he sold at a profit back at school.”

She laughed. “I had a date once who was going to take me to White Castle. He asked how many hamburgers I wanted. ‘How many? I said. One! How many do you usually get?’ He told me three or four! What a glutton, I thought. I’d never been to White Castle before. I laughed so hard when I got there and saw those small, square burgers and then I understood!”

We reminisced about this and other Bronx memories as we walked out to the parking lot.

“Is your father still alive?” she asked.

“No. He’s gone 15 years. It’s hard to believe. Rosaria, I am so glad I came to teach today and that it was just you and I in class. It was so nice to meet you and talk to you.”

“You too, thank you for teaching. Enjoy this beautiful day,” she said.

My cell phone rang the next morning, but I didn’t recognize the number so I didn’t pick up. I listened to the voicemail that the caller left.

“Hi, Diane, it’s Rosaria, from class yesterday. I have something personal to talk to you about, if you could give me a call back.”

I’d given her a card because she said her daughter might be interested in taking yoga. I called back right away.

“What was your father’s name?” she asked.

“Alvin,” I said. “Why?”

“I knew it. What were the chances? I’m sitting here looking at his photograph in my high school yearbook. It was Theodore Roosevelt High School.”

I got a chill. I got choked up. “Oh, Rosaria, I can’t believe it. Really?”

“I made a copy of it. I will leave it at the front desk at the Senior Center for you, if that’s ok.”

“Yes, thanks so much! I knit there on Tuesday. I will pick it up then. Please put all your contact information on the envelope. I’ll tell my sister Suzanne and maybe you’ll let us take you for coffee. She’ll remember his friends’ names. Maybe you can find them too. You have no idea how much this means to me. That was so sweet of you.”

Now it was her turn to say, “It’s my pleasure.”

“See, it’s a good thing I came to teach that class, and even better that no one else came! We’d never have made that connection otherwise.”

The universe works in funny ways. I am not sure we have dad’s yearbook, and certainly don’t have many, if any, photographs of him from high school. Thank you Paula, thank you Yoga, thank you Westport Senior Center, but most of all, thank you Rosaria.

Photo is of the author’s father in his yearbook photo, courtesy of the author and Rosaria

Car Decor

Even though school has barely started, stores have begun to display both Halloween and Holiday items on the shelves. Every year, we shake our collective heads at how early this merchandise appears, but the marketing whizzes win, and out the goods come. I’ve become immune to this.

But I do have a pet peeve that I’ve yet to become numb to. I really feel like personal beliefs and holiday celebrations should be limited to Facebook pages and front porches. I see no reason to put a Styrofoam pumpkin atop a car antenna (do cars still have antennae?) or, worse yet, reindeer antlers on the door and wreaths on the grilles. I’m not a curmudgeon; I guess I just don’t get why the holiday festivities need to extend to our vehicles.

Ditto with personal missives. I drove from Stop and Shop all the way down to Winslow Park the other day, wondering why the driver in front of me had to advertise, via a bumper sticker on the rear hatch window, “I LOVE BACON,” with a bright red heart in place of the word “love.” Did the owner/operator work for the Pork Lobby? A cardiologist trying to pump up business (pun intended)? I just couldn’t figure it out and felt, as a vegetarian and nutritional consultant, mildly annoyed.

Or, and I know I’m bound to take heat for this, I don’t need to know what sport each child plays or which honor roll they’ve made. I often wonder: If they make the honor roll one semester but fall abysmally off the next, do the parents peel said announcement off the glass with “GooGone”? Or maybe just tape over it in hopes of a better quarter to come?

There are environmentally friendly messages. Stickers advertising where the driver exercises obsessively. Religious missives. Political plugs. I just feel like there is enough noise of all kinds – visual and aural – especially whilst driving that we don’t need to know where everyone vacations or what types of dogs they own.

Now, those who know me will be calling me a complete hypocrite by now. And I deserve it. My car is not completely propaganda-free. I have a vanity plate that conveys the Sanskrit greeting that closes every yoga class I take or teach. Namaste roughly translates to “ the light in me honors the light in you.” I feel like it’s a much nicer message to give to fellow drivers than, say, the middle finger we are often treated to if we fail to gun the gas quickly enough as the light turns green. The plate also helped the kids find my car in the pick up queue when they were younger. I might not get a vanity plate again if I were registering a new car, but as automotive messages go, it’s not promoting or selling anything except kindness.

Also, I have diminutive stickers for each son’s college (one also my alma mater and the other also their father’s) on the small vent windows on either side of the back seat. I was so proud of my boys’ efforts all through school and wanted them to know it after all the angst associated with the application process. But the fact is, one has graduated, and the other is a senior, so we have long passed the moment of jumping for joy at their acceptance letters.  Well, emails, really. So today I will take my razor scraper and my own bottle of GooGone and remove them.

The plate stays, so everyone on the road will have to suffer through my cheery greeting. But I promise no scary spider webs, turkey tails, or jingle bells.

Bad Words

“There is a time for everything,” according to Ecclesiastes 3:1. This column, for instance, is decidedly neither the time nor the place for me to let loose a cavalcade of curses. But every now and then, a well placed swear word is just what I need for emphasis, spice, or catharsis.

Mind you, I do not admire, respect, or encourage wanton, indiscriminate potty mouth. I did not raise my kids to rail with inappropriate verbiage. In fact, excess, as with many things, dilutes the impact. Like Pete Townshend said, “just a little is enough.”

Nor was I raised in a home where swearing was practiced or encouraged. I picked it up where most of us do: at school, from friends. Back when I went to high school, recess meant kids sitting on the bleachers behind the building. Smoking (for the record, I didn’t). And swearing. Teens like to try on bad words to see how they fit. They bandy them about like badminton birdies.

Much later, my mother shared a delicious secret with me. When she and my father fought, which was often, she would try to diffuse the situation with humor. It was a technique she’d learned in her early childhood education studies. The specifics, though, were all her own. They did not appear in a textbook, nor did she use them with her adoring pre-k “kids.”

In the searing heat of the moment, when things were about to take a really deleterious turn, she would unleash a string of as many naughty words, in the most absurd combinations, she could muster. She would only stop when she and my dad had broken down in body-wracking, tear-streaming laughter.

For me, it might be alone in my apartment after a particularly piquant toe stub or as I relate the climax of an incredibly annoying incident to one of my close friends. I neither swear at people, nor do I pepper routine conversation with it. But, gosh darn it, sometimes it just feels good! Sometimes it is just what the situation demands. I know that some people may disagree with me, although I suspect they may be closet cursers, but if the do, they can go f…..ind themselves a more proper friend!

The Wisdom of Beach Glass

I walk the shore at Compo from end to end every day that my schedule and the weather permit. Even in winter. I walk to meditate and clear my mind. I walk for exercise and vitamin D. I walk for my dose of ever changing but always beautiful nature. But mostly, I walk for sea glass.

I started the hunt for the wave-tumbled and worn shards nearly two decades ago. More recently, I started snapping and posting photos of my daily find. The collection sits, sorted by color, in my apartment in large glass containers on the floor. Friends often ask, “Why do you do that?” or “How do you find so much?” After reflecting (during one of the treasure quests), I have the following answers. They may address different questions, and they may sound trite, but they are from the heart of the sand.

  1. Have a Goal and Stick With It – I go to the beach to look for sea glass. I don’t swim. I don’t sunbathe. I don’t go to Joey’s. I walk from end to end, mostly with my head down, and scan. Sometimes my neck hurts. Sometimes I pause to take in the scenery. I especially love the clouds and the way they change. But I stop, lift my head up, and then resume the search. I walk mostly alone and focus pretty intently. Perhaps the laser focus is what helps with the mind detritus dump, but it also is the only way to have consistent success.
  2. Be Patient – Although the photos may suggest that I find barrels of the stuff daily, they are very close up shots of usually very small amounts of glass. I have never, not even once, found no glass during a visit, but I have often come away with only five or six pieces.  Unlike every other moment of my Type-A life, I don’t feel frustrated and I don’t feel disappointed. I know some days will yield a bounty and some will reveal only a few gems. That’s ok.
  3. Pick a Path and Stick With It – At high tide, the beach chooses for me. It reveals only one ribbon of debris for me to comb. At low tide, though, there are several potential strata of rocks, shells, and algae to sort through. Which to pick? I feel agonized, sometimes, at having to choose, and after 20 years of doing this, I do have some tried and true strategies, but I just select one tier and follow it through to the end and pick another for the return trip. Yes, certainly the opportunity cost of the choice is all that glass I might have missed had I veered in a different direction, but alas, that’s the price I pay. Zig-zagging all over the not-quite-dry sand often results in just frustration.
  4. But Follow Your Heart – or, more precisely, your instinct. I often choose and follow one trajectory and then feel almost pushed to migrate up or down a few feet and recalibrate. Almost inevitably, if I obey that little nudge, a nice nugget will lay in my line of vision.
  5. Appreciate All Gifts – I always get comments when I find a rare piece: deep blue, lavender, or the coveted red. But I love each piece equally. I am genuinely happy with minuscule, mundane brown pieces. I don’t discriminate based on color, shape, or condition. I’m an equal opportunity pilgrim.
  6. Be Generous – Sometimes I walk with my sister or a friend who wants to “learn” how to look. And sometimes they spot a quarter-sized, matte lavender piece before I. I don’t resent them. I don’t wish I’d spotted it first. I don’t try to wrestle them to the sand to wrest it from their sweaty hands or say “hey look at that huge seagull,” while I surreptitiously bump them so they drop it and I can “find” it. I celebrate their success and joy and realize there is plenty more where that came from. Boaters continue to toss Skye vodka bottles overboard for the tides to tumble into my treasures. Every now and then, an inquisitive child will say, “Hey, what are you looking for?” I open my hand and show them, and if they ooh and ah, I’ll ask if they’d like a piece. Sharing is good.

So that’s it for my words of beach glass wisdom. The bottom line is, if you want to find it, just get out there and look for it. I’ll see you at the beach.

Photos courtesy of the author