Now Where Was I? …

Oh, right. I came down with one of those end-of-summer bugs that often go around: a job. It’s cut seriously into my play reading time, my nap time, my shopping time and my “why yes, I can make an 11 a.m. hair appointment” time. 

But Sunday night is always about setting things to right. I like to put the week ahead in order, fret a little about what has been and what won’t be accomplished. This particular Sunday evening I can happily say it’s been a productive and restorative weekend. Herewith are the things I hope to accomplish in the week ahead? 

* Get finances tidied up for the adviser

* Have lunch with and get to know a little better the VP at work

* Play at least one hour of Wii Fit Rhythm Boxing — choreographed violence never felt so firming

* Find B something small but spiffy to celebrate his birthday this week. We’re going to see one of his favorite bands who just happen to be in town but I don’t get to take credit for the timing. Maybe a new Hot Wheels for his collection? 

 

… Two Hours in Cozumel

We’re spending this week on a well-earned (well, for B, anyway) vacay. This photo doesn’t do justice to the incredible blue of the water here. And because we don’t have an underwater camera, I can’t show you some of the incredible wildlife we saw on our first dives today. But I can tell you that we were adopted by a sea turtle and spied on a giant crab in the Palancar Bricks, cruised by a nurse shark in Tormentos and generally saw some amazing schools of fish in technicolor shades.

Two Days in Philly …

When Ashley & Bob moved to Pennsylvania we were introduced to a variety of new experiences. Much of it revolving around food. BYOs (restaurants that require you to bring your own wine), hoagies and water ice are just the amuse bouche to the meal that is a weekend spent visiting their brownstone splendor in South Philly. 

On this visit, while saner people were enjoying a Saturday afternoon lie-down, I felt vaguely restless. I’ll blame the hoagie from Rooney’s. But what really compelled me out onto the blazing July street was the Italian Market. A thoroughfare of delis, open air grocers and vintage meat shops on 9th Street, offer a contemporary twist on what early 20th-century market stall life must’ve been like.

At Anthony’s Italian Coffee House, may now offer to-go cups and chic drinks but its original stone entry stair belies its history. The tread of countless feet entering the cozy store have worn a groove. Pronto is just part of the DiBruno Brothers Empire. While it offers a sampling of cheeses, coffees and deli fare for the passing gourmet, its stronghold is the House of Cheese down the street that was jammed with people even in the middle of a summer afternoon. 

But the real treat in Philly was the Farmer’s Market at Headhouse Square. And for so many reasons. Is it only the women of Philadelphia who wear such fantastic hats? What is it about a farmer’s market of growers and their bounty that makes one feel like trying harder, living more cleanly, enjoying the sights, sounds and textures of a summer Sunday? Or maybe it’s something as simple as this:

(thanks, they were delicious!)

Felt Up: My First Mammogram

 

ready for my close-up

ready for my close-up

Today I had my first mammogram. I have neither lived in fear of this day nor looked forward to it. When my new gynecologist — a woman as direct as her jawline, someone I could easily see myself swilling after-work drinks with — suggested at age 37 it was time for me to establish a baseline I wasn’t surprised. I live in the satisfying limbo between getting carded on (the increasingly rare) occasion and feeling a desperate need to moisturize away my hands’ growing veininess. It’s not a bad place to be. You can still confidently stroll into a Wet Seal store at the mall … but find yourself much more excited by Nordstrom’s half yearly sale. 

At the very least, I like to keep my rites of passage in perspective. I was relieved that my mammogram would take place in an actual doctor’s office rather than the “mammovan” that roved the corporate campus where I used to work. I applaud the communal outreach but, really, is there anything less confidence-inspiring than a “mammovan”? Why sully the magic of the bookmobile by retro-fitting it with a junior department’s bra shop? Isn’t it bad enough that the whole experience is generally described as an excruciating boob squash?

“Only believe about a third of what you’ve heard,” the twangy technician told me this morning after finding out I was a mammo-virgin. She needn’t have worried. Given the soothing aqua-colored walls, the skin-flattering teal cotton drape and the quality selection of magazines in the waiting area (Conde Nast Traveler, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar), I already considered myself ahead of the game. And maybe a little cocky too. On the sign-in sheet, how could I not notice I was the only birthdate after 1970? In the gyno waiting room, burstingly pregnant young women and too-cool mamas are evidence of the wide array of life’s choices. In mammography’s inter sanctum, the edges blur. Generally solo and well-groomed, these women don’t wear their decisions so clearly on their bellies or their bustlines. 

Which brings us to my boobs. I consider myself one of the fortunate few who are perfectly pleased to have what DNA, that little genetic cocktail, gave them. Oh, I might change a few LITTLE things about them (Sorry, that curtain is closed. Isn’t this TMI enough?) but on the whole, the whole is more than the sum of the parts. To borrow from Seinfeld, they’re real and, to me at least, they’re spectacular.

I have thought about what would happen if I found not only a lump but The Lump. I would absolutely follow whatever treatment my doctor and I felt was the right course of action and Vanity doesn’t have a seat at that particular table. Still, I’m humbled to know I would likely count the days until I could get reconstructive surgery if I had a mastectomy. I spend very little time thinking about my breasts because I have the luxury of taking them for granted. But today they seem less like sweater-shaping accessories than what they really are: important accomplices in how I see myself. Wherever I go, they go first. I feel like I should take them out to lunch or present them with an award in front of the rest of the team, say something like, “Thanks, ladies, for not falling down on the job. Keep up the good work.” 

Because today is not because of a lump but the idea of one. Today is because I have a 401(k), a health plan and a husband whom I’d like to pal around with as long as possible. And today is because I knew Carol. If my earth is round, Carol’s was flat. Was it her partner who told us she found mammograms painful enough that she decided not to get them done after the first one? By the time they discovered her cancer even aggressive treatment wasn’t enough. She died en route to a larger hospital only a couple of weeks after being diagnosed. Her swift death — we didn’t even know she was ill — was all the more shocking for seeming so avoidable. Something that might’ve been discovered so much sooner for the price of brief discomfort. 

Carol’s death was almost 10 years ago. I don’t know how much technology has changed but I can say that the greatest discomfort I experienced today was envying the outfit worn by another woman on the elevator. 

What I had been warned would be a bit of a smash & grab turned out to be more of a fluff & fold, a lift & separate. “After the first time, everyone tries to be a helper,” the technician said as she nudged first my right breast then my left on to the plate marked with a landing strip-like grid. Turn your head this way, put your hand on this bar, hold your breath. The plexiglass bracket compressed and framed me while she ran behind the machine to grab a quick snapshot of all that muscle, fatty tissue and mayhem. It’s really not unlike getting a mug shot: Each boob presented face-forward and in profile. I’ll receive the results in the mail in about two weeks. All total, I was in and out of the building — never mind my bra — in less than 30 minutes. I didn’t even have to pay for parking. 

That’s really it. I’ve been much more traumatized by a well-intentioned hair stylist. If you haven’t had a mammogram and you’re not shopping at Wet Seal, why don’t you just get it done? Even if it takes a mammovan. Here’s how to find a location near you.

Before & After: Ciao Bella

If appearances don’t matter, then why am I such a complete and total whore for good packaging? I have been known to buy wine for a great label, a book for its cover art, clothing because I like the design of the label — no, I mean the actual label. The one stitched INSIDE the garment.

Business Week provides a textbook example this week with the makeover of Ciao Bella. I remember seeing this gelato in its previous incarnation, its cartons a schizoid array of squiggles that made it seem like a bad New Year’s Eve decoration. But oh how my head turned when they rolled out this simple, stop-in-your-tracks redesign:

ciaobellagelato.com

So crisp! So clean! As if the design doesn’t speak for itself, Oprah gave it her huge mega-endorsement last year. But leaving her out of it, don’t you just love the simplicity, the bold colors and the great flavor descriptions? Easy on the eyes, easier to get into my basket.

Boutique frozen treat makers seem to have me nailed. I would never have looked twice at goat milk ice cream if not for the postmodern Swiss-Missishness of Laloo and its stealthy chic flavors.  Just you try to resist the siren call of Black Mission Fig or Chocolate Cabernet. That’s what I thought — see you in the freezer section.

Then She Found … Something Else Entirely

Loving Elinor Lipman is something of a pass-code among babes who love books. If a woman — and it usually is a she — is familiar with Lipman’s work, there’s a 90 percent chance we’ll get along famously.

Lipman is often Cliff-Noted as the contemporary answer to Jane Austen, a huge compliment with a share of truth. Her stories tend to be about modern, literate women of at least modest good fortune. They aren’t in want of a husband — often as not, they have a hard time figuring out what they want. But inevitably they meet men who make them stand up, grow up, dress up … own up — to who they are and who they want to be. And want to be with. If this all sounds very chick-lit it’s because chick-lit has authors like La Lipman to thank for suggesting that sexy can make a much more interesting read than sex (though sex is hardy off limits here). I’ve loved her since I read an early short story that threw me for a loop in its willfully unconventional ending and doubtlessly spurred my years as the “United Nations of Dating” involving sensitive guys from a variety of national backgrounds.

All of which is to say, it’s been a very Lipman week. In Oregon, I reread “The Ladies’ Man,” a lesser work but diverting for a cross-country flight. Then Chica, a fellow book babe, and I got to chatting about “The Pursuit of Alice Thrift,” a not-so-minor work that caused me to burst into tears while listening to the book on tape during one transitional road trip. And finally I raced over to the theater this week to catch, “Then She Found Me,” the first big-screen adaptation of one of her earlier novels. It stars (and was directed and co-written by) Helen Hunt, with Bette Midler and Colin Firth.

Hunt deserves credit for recognizing a great story and bringing it to the screen. Except then she turns it into something else pretty much entirely. I’ve long since accepted that most movies can’t live up to the books from which they came. I don’t even think this is an awful attempt. But when the source is so rich, I can’t help but wonder what Hunt was looking for in revising so much of it. And did she find it?

“Then She Found Me” the book is the story of April Epner, a school librarian whose adoptive mother dies, opening the field for her biological mother to finally reveal herself and start a relationship. In the nature vs. nurture debate, nature takes a beating when this biological mother turns out to be a garrulous talk show host with a flirty streak and a fickle relationship with the truth. April struggles with reconciling this foreign element (who gave birth to her!) as she finds herself being courted by “a less than obvious” choice.

The book is charming in much the way the suitor is — subtle, a little silly and not easy to pin down. The nature of choices and being true to who you really are (especially when a new mother up ends everything you’ve understood) isn’t a fairy tale as much as an object lesson. As sure as we think we know ourselves, there’s always room for surprise. Thank god.

“Then She Found Me” the movie has the two mothers, April’s prickly nature and the sweetheart. But, SPOILER ALERT, what’s with the baby plot? And the husband? In this version, not only does the adoptive mother die but April has a husband (Matthew Broderick looking very Sexless & the City) who leaves her the day before. Oh, and she wants kids like a starving person wants food. Firth arrives as a train wreck of a single dad to a child in April’s class. As yummy as he is, this is not the suitor of the book who beguiles by consistently yet gently blunting April’s sharp edges. Here, Dad is a disheveled flannel shirt scribbling in the car who manages to announce he’s a loser (he kinda is) while proclaiming she’s gorgeous (she’s definitely not) and we’re to believe they’re smitten just because they say so.

I can only guess Hunt wanted to make a story about motherhood’s many permutations, mutations and adjustments as April tries them all on in the space of 100 minutes. Fine, I get it. Except, there’s a perfectly lovely film in the story as originally written. Bernice the biological mom, is the chatty, passionate, crass example April’s been raised not to be. But her exuberance and her love give April a second chance at being mothered and forging different kinds of bonds. It’s the grace notes of this original plot that work best in the movie. (Can we just take a moment here to send a post-it to Hunt and tell her to take notes from Bette Midler? This is what aging gorgeously looks like.) Midler is so honest and shameless — in the best sense. She exudes so much confidence the other actors seem even more washed out in comparison. If only Firth were given a chance to play the guy as intended. Casting Firth has a certain box-office brilliance to it; a not-so-subtle nudge to Austen-ites to pony up for the flick. But in playing off the Darcy-type, Hunt misses the chance to let Firth play Darcy as conceived in the last moments of “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” Nice guys do kiss like that and they’re not afraid to say the F-word.

The awkward and antic relationship between biological mother and daughter has the makings of a film that wouldn’t automatically be relegated to chick flick if that was Hunt’s fear. Buried in here is a prickly, honestly, relevant movie about how to create an adult relationship between parent and child and between two pained and painfully careful adults.

now where was I? …

Poolside at the Bellagio

Here I am trying to keep up a running account of what’s going on and it’s all getting away from me. In early May it was Las Vegas. Just this last weekend it was Ashland, Oregon. In between it’s been … everything else. Here are the headlines in brief:

  • Vegas: Went out on a biz trip with B to revisit the city we both enjoy. Some people shouldn’t gamble and I’m one of them. Latest example: I spent literally five minutes at a blackjack table and lost $70. It’s like a little unlucky cloud hovers over me in a casino. But I love the people watching and poolside at the Bellagio is prime viewing.
  • Same Friends, Different Zip Code: I didn’t realize I was nursing a case of homesickness until we had house guests. Having visitors from our “old” life made me realize that while I don’t miss our previous address I’d been sorely missing our crazy-quilt network of friends, coworkers and neighbors. Kevin and Melanie are arguably the most well-traveled people we know — is this what makes them such congenial guests? Kevin is happy so long as there’s an Economist magazine nearby on Sunday morning and a glass of wine or beer at night. Melanie is prepared to try any food, visit any tourist spot and take part in whatever activity is suggested. But if it’s ‘Harold & Kumar,’ so much the better. We did visit the Aquarium and Coke World and see more of our new city. But their visit was a welcome reminder of the obvious: as much as we’ve up-ended our lives, we are still the same people with the same friends. True connections don’t end at the state line.
  • Oregon Jet Lag: Last weekend saw us in Ashland, Ore., for Alli’s graduation. Ashland, home of the Shakespeare Festival, is a charming little pocket town with one long-ish Main Street and the assorted boutique shops and hippie eateries one expects of a melting pot of the college-educated, culture and granola.

So that’s the short course. Not all headlines have datelines but I have to tell you … it’s good to be home.