Sunday, September 27, 2009


Have you ever watched someone in an adjacent car at a traffic light doing an unmentionable thing? And felt smug? I have. But today, as I was sweeping dust UNDER the rug in my kitchen, I realized that I am simply REPLETE with such bad habits, and in an effort to seem much more human and approachable to my handful of faithful readers, I am now going on record with a list of my worst, but not disgusting, bad habits!

I watch all the most lurid reality shows on television. The more horrible, the better. Morbidly obese people getting gastric bypasses are fascinating. Those Hoarders? I just can’t look away! And I feel so superior watching the Nanny and all of her uncivilized charges! At least my children learned to say “Please” and “Thank you!”

I talk to myself incessantly. This seems quite innocent. But how many of you get into loud ARGUMENTS with yourselves! Do you chastise yourselves? How about hitting yourselves in the head? And I sometimes get into self arguments while shopping. The other day, while telling myself kind of loudly that “it is ridiculous to buy another down vest when you already have four!” a woman at the adjacent round ring moved away conspicuously.

I harbor envy. For every woman I see wearing either big diamonds or Tod’s loafers, I cherish negative thoughts. Perfectly landscaped gardens make me irritable. Women who toss off gourmet meals (my sister and daughter), make me want to sabotage the b├ęchamel sauce. I WANT A GUCCI BAG!

I cheat on my diet all the time. Coffee ice cream is simply my undoing. Buttercream icing is like heroin!! As a result, I have to spend so much time atoning (or is it toning?) at the gym that they all know me by name there! And when I went on vacation without telling them, they CALLED THE HOUSE to make sure I was ok!

I spend WAY too much time in bed in the morning. Some days I am still lying there at lunch time! My mother instilled in me that PJ’s must come off before nine a.m., and here I sit RIGHT NOW, typing away in my jammies, and it is two o’clock in the afternoon! There are days when I just manage to get my clothes on in time to make dinner!

I never make grocery lists. As a result, we have four bottles of ketchup, three Worcestershire sauces, repetitive herbs and spices, and redundant olive oil. This drives my husband to distraction, and he has taken to making regular inventories of the cabinets, announcing loudly, “OK: TWO CINNAMONS. THREE DRY MUSTARDS. DO WE NEED BOTH OF THESE CRISCOS? HOW ABOUT BAKING SODA?”

I love candles, buy lots of them, and NEVER light them. For some reason, they always look much more glamorous in the store. The same goes for soaps. I have a stockpile of scented soaps that would cleanse the unwashed of THE WORLD. One bar, I bought in London at Fortnum and Mason thirty years ago, and I just can’t bear to use it. I am sure it has no scent whatsoever anymore!

I just love stinky cheese. My Dad introduced me to Limburger and Liederkranz when I was a child, and I was hooked forever. Some people have gone so far, when entering my kitchen, as to inquire if the dog has committed an indiscretion. It is never good when people check the bottom of their shoes when you serve the cheese plate!

And finally, one of my worst sins: I eavesdrop! It is especially bad in restaurants when I can’t pay attention to my own conversation, because the one at the next table is so much more interesting! Often, STARING accompanies this, to which my daughter has been known to say, “For God’s sake, Mom, cut it out!” In my defense, however, I must say that this habit has never gotten to the point of my attempting to JOIN conversations at other tables. My husband is the champion of this tactic, and it does embarrass the heck out of me!

Let’s face it, no one is perfect. That is probably me at the traffic light in the car next to you—dental flossing….

Sunday, September 20, 2009


We have laughed here. We have cried here. There have been first dates and big fights here. Many delicious dinners have been served, along with pizza deliveries and Lean Cuisines. We have painted rooms, torn out plumbing, and sprayed weedkiller all over the place. Through it all, this house has stood sentinel over our family, somehow holding us together when times were great, and when we wondered if we could survive what life threw in our faces.

It is an old house, somewhere in the vicinity of one hundred years. A big, square box with nice airy rooms and high ceilings. I remember driving past it, wondering who lived there, and why that person surrounded the yard with high trees that hardly allowed a glimpse of the house they enclosed. I never imagined that one day the Campbells would move our furniture and our lives into the place.

The trees encircling the lot are long gone. The clapboards are a grayish white now, with lovely green shutters and front door. The front door is what I loved first: big, wide, and surrounded by sidelights crowned by a graceful fanlight. Two little benches flank the door. I like to sit on one and look out at the neighborhood.

Old houses have a way of making their families feel comfortable. Big rooms make breathing easier somehow. Nothing makes summer more enjoyable than a screened porch. Old houses invariably have big fireplaces, big windows, creaky floors, and lots of nooks. Our house has individual hallways leading into a couple of the bedrooms. It doesn’t make sense, but we love it. We have a door that leads into the kitchen where ice was once delivered. There was an inch of coal dust in the basement when we arrived. The butler’s pantry reminds me of Mr. Blanding’s dream house.

We have lived here for almost twenty years. It was here that I had the party where a tipsy guest fell down the two stairs leading into the kitchen, where a big tree fell down onto the deck and destroyed it while I watched, horrified, from an upstairs window. We spent a week last year without power, lighting candles and reading in bed with flashlights. I have gotten the best Christmas gifts ever in this house! There have been teen parties here, unauthorized, and resulting groundings. Dogs have peed. Cats have barfed.

This house has witnessed the worst days of our lives, when Charlie had the stroke that nearly killed him and we fought tooth and nail to get back what was taken away. It saw me stagger through the longest days of my existence. In this house we worked to put together the family that the stroke fractured, and by God, we did it somehow.

Now the house is a little emptier, with children grown and gone. The space is ameliorated somewhat with the five cats and the one dog that have taken the children’s place. Now this is a “retirement” home for two individuals, but the rooms are still full. There is now a blogging room filled with little slips of paper scrawled with potential topics of interest. The basement is an accordion studio, complete with amps, speakers, metronomes and music stands. There are seven litter boxes down there. Also in the basement is a wonderful museum erected to the memory of Girl Scouts, Indian Princesses, horse shows, high school and college theatre productions, and the War in Viet Nam. The kitchen holds, along with memories, an entire shelf of cookbooks that are never referenced, five sets of dishes for all those gourmet dinners that I have not yet concocted, and enough dust on the top of the cupboards to grow vegetables...

The rest of the house is the same. The bedrooms that once held horse statues, extension telephones, hot rollers, five million stuffed animals, and incredible amounts of disarray now have Martha Stewart duvet sets and artfully arranged accessories. The living room and den are full of the books that I keep vowing not to buy. There is a high definition TV! We have beautiful furniture now, instead of the tattered stuff that we had while raising kids, but it now is covered with pet hair rather than ketchup stains.

It is an old house. It is a family house. It is a great house. It is probably just exactly like yours.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


We are home, and we are exhausted, poor, and a little sad. Our beautiful daughter is wildly successful, the owner of a fantastic apartment, and in a relationship with a gem of a man. She cooks! She cleans! She hosts great parties! And now, thanks to us, she has a beautiful patio!

A little backstory. Our trip to California involved a wedding in San Francisco. It involved the perfect setting, the best of friends, the most beautiful bride, and the best partying we have done in years. After that, we traveled to Los Angeles to spend what my husband thought was a week of vacation visiting our older daughter.

A talent agent, this girl is a go-getter of mythic proportions. She reps some very recognizable faces, and she makes multi-tasking look like child’s play. Riding in the car with Marion is an exercise in self control, as I had to bite cheeks to keep from shrieking “Navigating this nightmare traffic and texting while carrying on a conversation with your parents is DANGEROUS!” She arranged for us to visit the set of “CSI New York,” which was so AMAZING. Eat your hearts out, America—I was actually in the morgue and GOT TO PULL OUT A SLAB! I met AJ Buckley, who is a cast member (very handsome)!

Charlie, ever optimistic, purchased three Los Angeles tour books before we left. As Marion had to work during the week that we were there, Charlie had visions of doing the Griffith Park Observatory, the Getty, and perhaps even the Tar Pits. I knew better than to burst his bubble before we departed; I didn’t want to plunge him into gloom.

The reality of the LA sojourn consisted of more prosaic pastimes. Marion has a new apartment. It has a large, private patio out back. The patio is empty. Her parents have an American Express card. Her mother is an HGTV maven. Put that all together, and it spells WORK, WORK, AND A LOT OF SWEATING.

Los Angeles has all the stores needed to furnish even the most lavish of lanais. But an unfortunate truth about that city is the fact that it is like one unending strip mall. To do the proper comparison shopping for patio gear and plantings requires putting around two hundred miles on the odometer and spending at least seven hours just LOOKING AT STUFF BEFORE COMMITTING TO BUY. This part of the project took one full day.

The following day, after an exciting visit to the CSI set, where Charlie actively campaigned to become an extra (unsuccessfully, and much to his daughter’s aggravation), we put another couple of hundred miles on the car. But this time, we bought FURNITURE. Tip: Smith and Hawken may be going out of business, but 50% off there still amounts to HUNDREDS of dollars for a chair! Home Depot, on the other hand, sells patio tables and chair SETS for that same amount! (Home Depot is three hundred miles away from Smith and Hawken, incidentally.) Loading the car with table, chairs, other tables, and other chairs was a challenge, but Charlie crammed all that merchandise in!

That night, instead of sitting at a chic bistro eating mussels and drinking wine, we hunkered over instructions translated into English by Chinese folk (“add bolt to table leg elegantly”). By eleven that night, we had the tables and chairs assembled and looking great! The pizza we had delivered was good, too!

The next day was also successful. Plants. Back to Home Depot. We bought palm trees, ficus trees, ferns, and incidentals. If it weren’t for a curmudgeonly but delightful gay man (you know who you are, Stan), we wouldn’t have been able to do it. But Stan told us exactly what to buy, what pots to put each plant in, the soil, the fertilizer, the hose, and everything. The only thing he didn’t do was pay.

In Los Angeles, every home store has legions of hopeful Mexican men congregating outside, looking for work of any kind. Stan arranged for one of them, a gracious man named Raul, to load up and deliver our haul. Despite nearly losing Raul on the highway twice, we all made it back to the apartment, where Raul nearly took the top off his truck in an attempt to enter the parking structure.

Marion then directed the potting process, causing near exhaustion and dehydration in all of us. That girl is a slavedriver! The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. That is a metaphor—an apple tree is about the only item we left behind at the Home Depot. While we potted the plants and Marion prohibited anyone from taking even a five second rest, Charlie carted away the trash we generated and was caught gazing longingly at the AAA guidebook that he left on the kitchen counter in the apartment.

The result was fantastic! The three of us and Marion’s friend Bryan did not require any direct medical attention, the patio is worthy of Architectural Digest, we were able to have Marion’s friends over on Sunday night for a cookout, and our muscles did not get really sore for another two days. Success!

We are now home. Charlie has donated the tour books to the library, and we will be sending in payments to the credit card company for months. But as any of you who are parents out there know, no investment gives better returns than an investment in one’s children.

I mused about this one all the way home on the plane. Life is a series of connections, and the most important ones, between parents and children, can all too often fracture. Our other most important connection to our spouses, invariably ends with one partner living on without the other. I vowed last night to hold on to my lifelines with all my strength. But I also made a promise to myself to become as independent as possible, while continuously looking outward for new experiences and people.


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