Archive for May, 2012

May 28, 2012

Gaudeamus Igitur

The Graduate

The Thursday before last was a very special day. It was Jim’s graduation from grad school. While he had received his New York State certification as an English teacher for grades 5-12 at the end of January, the graduation ceremony fell at the end of the academic year.

The weather was perfect the day of graduation. Manhattanville’s campus is quite lovely. It features Reid Castle, the former mansion of a newspaper magnate, as well as an assortment of attractive buildings of various vintages. Frost family members in attendance included Peter, Ellie and me. We were an avid crowd of supporters.

Jim was selected for the 2011-2012 Award for Excellence in English Education. Awards were given in each of eighteen teachings specialties. The ceremony took place at 4 p.m. in Reid Castle in a room right out of a scene at Hogwarts. The professors were in their academic regalia and each awardee was honored by a nominating professor. Professor Heckendorn presented Jim’s award speaking highly of Jim’s clarity of expression, voluptuous vocabulary and precision of thought. Listening to him I reflected as I often have that Jim received these gifts in part from his Yale education, but significantly he was influenced by his mother, Betty. Betty loves language, has always had an incredibly agile mind and a precise manner of expression. It was a lovely ceremony. Of course, unlike the other graduates, Jim had more in common with his professors than his peers from the standpoint of chronological years. He was still the most handsome in any case.

The Graduation Ceremony proper took place in a beautiful white tent on the grounds of the college. The tent looked a bit like the Denver airport inside and was quite attractive. The ceremony was just for the graduate schools and there were about 350 students. The commencement speaker was Geoffrey Canada. Chosen by Time Magazine in 2011 as one of its Top 100 People, Geoffrey grew up poor in Harlem, was able to attend Bowdoin, then Harvard and founded the Harlem Children’s Zone. He is a social activist and brilliant speaker. He was particularly appropriate for Jim’s graduation as he spoke about his life’s work, the importance of helping children grow and set high goals for themselves, self-determination and his own personal heroine, Harriet Tubman. He brought a tremendous gift of storytelling to his speaking.

Jim worked exceptionally hard during his classes. He brought a focus and his own years of experience which informed both what he brought to his classes and what he took away. We were all terribly proud to share this commemoration of his achievement with him. Finding a position as a teacher can be as disheartening as any job search and it was wonderful to spend an evening reflecting upon how far he has come in his journey to being a teacher and to enjoy his success.

After graduation, we celebrated with dinner at Tandoori in Port Chester and then headed home to give the grad his gift. The iPad was a hit. The evening was lovely. Not many kids can say they have witnessed one of their parents tackle the challenges of an academic experience, but I think Jim taught both Peter and Ellie what it means to truly invest yourself in learning and the rewards, both tangible and intangible, which come from that investment.

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May 20, 2012

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

J.R.R. Tolkien is the source of the title of this blog post. The past two and 1/3 years have been a period of transition, of finding new aspects of my self. These years were a time of learning, of networking, meeting new people and making new friends. This time was often marked by feelings of grief, of feeling a loss of self, a loss of accomplishment. There were many days when I just couldn’t see what the future could possibly be and could only focus on all that I felt I had lost.

But this transition time was also an opportunity for connecting to my family and being a presence to my family in a way that had never happened before. Being home for Ellie’s last year of high school, for Peter’s return home from Chamberlain, for Jim’s own journey through his Masters program was important and satisfying. My own life seemed to be drifting, but theirs weren’t and I was there to help, to support and to simply be a presence. Cooking dinner each day an sharing that evening meal was a new and often welcome time to bond and be a family. I was quite fond of that part of my daily schedule.

As time went by, I became more used to being home during the day. I had a routine to follow. Up early at 5:30 to exercise, read the paper, eat some breakfast and then check email, shower and head to my office by 8:30. It wasn’t my former routine of heading to the city, but it was a comforting routine nonetheless.

While sometimes I couldn’t quite see what to do next, I was never without activity. I would read about both publishing and later nonprofits when my interests turned in that direction. I had tweeting to do and, of course, job boards to check. I had clients to work for and then projects around the house to further. Since we didn’t know if we would be staying in our house, I did lots of purging and streamlining of over ten years’ accumulation. I kept a daily log of all my outreach and contacts which gave me the satisfaction of seeing what I had accomplished and a roadmap.

Having worked in an industry which was undergoing tremendous change and upheaval and having been lucky enough to have been pretty successful in that industry, a big part of my “wandering” involved trying to understand what my next steps should be. I worked hard trying to re-imagine myself. I tried many paths to finding that next stage. Often it felt like I was heading down a path only to find that it failed to lead anywhere or perhaps it led somewhere, but the destination wasn’t what I needed.

Early in the process I spent a week with my former author, Dick Bolles. He described the transtion phase as being in a blue light. It was a time of limbo, a passage which was undefined in form and duration but through which one must travel. It was an apt characterization in many ways.

The end to this period came out of the blue and, as so many had predicted, from one of many contacts which came to fruition many months later. My wandering was done and the feelings of frustration, of worry about the future, of feeling of no value, came to a quick end as joy and excitement over a tremendous new opportunity took over.

Suddenly I was getting ready for my first day of work. Jim was there to memorialize the process. Putting on work clothes had a whole different feeling when I was doing it to head to a job rather than another meeting or interview. I anticipated that first day with great excitement and happiness. I wasn’t really nervous, but incredibly thankful.

 Two weeks into my new professional life, I remain as excited, grateful and happy as ever. I get up to go to work with eagerness. My new colleagues are all extremely nice and have been most welcoming. I adore being part of the organization and relish the prospect of making a contribution. With Jim substitute teaching, mornings are busy as we both prepare to head off to work.

I may have wandered, but I am no longer lost. As time goes by, I know the journey will take on a different meaning and I hope that it will come to represent a time of discovery, not loss, of re-definition, not loss of self-definition. A kind of re-boot which will have given me a new orientation and a refinement of my values.

May 13, 2012

Field Trip with Lauren

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Last Friday was my planned outing day with Lauren. When Lauren took me to the Orchid Show at the Botanical Gardens, we planned a follow-up trip to Venamy Orchids.

I met Lauren at the Rye Metro North train station and we headed up to Brewster to Venamy Orchids.

This is pretty much orchid heaven and we had a delightful time walking up and down the aisles looking at all the various orchids. Dendrobium, Phalaenopsis, Paphiopedilum, Oncidium, Cattleya, all the glorious orchids were on display. Actually, there seemed to be an abundance of giant white Phals with elegant, drooping efflorescence. They were breathtaking and clearly the main item for Mother’s Day.

Selecting was tough. I had limited myself to only two orchids. I knew exactly what I wanted: Hawaiian Sunset Pupukea. I had one years ago and it had the most fragrant and gorgeous blooms. The other orchid I was aching to buy was some sort of gloriously outrageous Paph. Of course, they didn’t have any Hawaiian Sunset Pupukea which was a bummer. They didn’t have any Paphs which were blooming. I dealt with this disappointment by purchasing on beautiful little Phal, a very healthy and vigorous (if unknown) Paph and an Oncidium with three spikes!

Lauren was much more restrained and bought a truly captivating Phalaenopsis.

After Venamy, we headed to Armonk and found a great place to eat. Of course, we never stopped chatting. Ellie had emailed us good wishes and mentioned the words “ice cream” so that was next on our agenda. While we licked our ice cream cones, Lauren admitted she hadn’t been knitting. Oh, horrors. So there was nothing else to be done but to use her i-Phone to find the nearest yarn store.

That meant a journey to Scarsdale and Sticks and Strings. While I displayed incredible restraint, Lauren purchased some very good-looking Koigu for some socks. A great project to get her knitting juices flowing again. It was tough to hold back because I dearly love Koigu, but I also have an unmentionable amount of it.

I drove Lauren back to her beautiful block of brownstones in Brooklyn with her trophies. We had a great day of complete fun and indulged passions.

Orchids, ice cream, yarn and lots of conversation. A truly perfect outing.

May 6, 2012

All-American Weekend

This past weekend was a long-awaited treat. Alex is back in Maryland for three weeks on a special training exercise and last weekend was our opportunity to drive down to Hagerstown and spend two days with him. The only downside was that one of our five would not be with us. Ellie needed to stay at Smith and prepare for exams. Since Peter was closer, it was less difficult for him to join us.

It was good to have Peter along–not just for his native charm–but as a second driver on the five-hour trip to Hagerstown. We followed the same route Ellie and I drove when she visited Dickinson. Once you get past Allentown, the country is very pretty. Lots of farms, stone houses, green fields and cows. I was happy to knit for five hours straight.

We had planned to get to Hagerstown just as Alex was getting off work. We ran a little late and so did he so we met up around 5. He looks fantastic. He is so forceful and mature looking. Peter may be an inch taller, but Alex is all muscle and with his short haircut, it is pretty easy to see he is a Marine–with or without the uniform. Alex just celebrated his 24th birthday so we combined a little celebration with the visit. I baked a rhubarb cake, his father brought some craft beer and we brought presents.

Hagerstown seems to be quintessential America as it stands these days. The town is a succession of malls filled with every big box retailer you can think of. Interspersed with these malls is a complete selection of every fast food place you can think of. There is actually a small historic district in Hagerstown which they are working to ramp up, but it is dwarfed on all sides by interstate highways and the aforementioned malls. It is a major transportation hub and there are distribution centers everywhere. There are also truckers everywhere and the mall parking lots make great overnight stopping places for the truckers. There aren’t many fine dining establishments. This gave us an opportunity to become one with America when we ate. As an example, I include a link here for one reviewer’s top ten restaurant choices in Hagerstown. #1 is Outback Steakhouse.

We stayed in the same Courtyard by Marriott in which Alex was staying. I love these hotels. They are all alike so you always know where things are. They have a little restaurant and serve wine at night. The decor is attractive (and always the same) and the rooms are clean. They even have the same pictures in the bathroom so if you spent too long in the bathroom, you might forget what city you are actually in. I am always insanely happy to stay in these places. It means I am traveling and seeing new things.

Hagerstown has a strong German influence so it was completely appropriate that we dined Friday night at Schmankerl Stube Bavarian Restaurant. Most notable were the choices for beer. One could order two, three or five litres of beer. They won’t serve five litres to just one person. The birthday table near us had ordered all the three litre glasses, so Alex ordered a two litre which was actually a boot. He didn’t actually finish which was just as well. Over at the birthday table, things got louder and louder as the litres got lower and lower. One of the attendees was about to head to boot camp and Alex went over to wish him well.

Saturday morning we were up and out pretty early. Since we were deep into Cracker Barrel country, we headed there for breakfast. We love Cracker Barrel. I am proud to say I have introduced several former colleagues and friends to the joys of smoked meats. I thank Jim Brannigan for first introducing me to the dining and shopping wonders at Cracker Barrel on a long ago trip to Ingram Book Company. I was able to mortify my fellow diners, but taking photos and one nice lady stopped to offer to take our picture. I just love torturing my sons.

After breakfast, we settled in at a table in the lobby to get some work done. Peter had a paper to finish for Biophysics, Alex had Marine paperwork to do, I had my final project for my NYU class and Jim is always happy to surf. We worked quietly for several hours. It was a bit grey and cold out and this was a perfect opportunity to hang out together and get something done. Late in the afternoon we went to see Jason Statham’s new flick, Safe. We all love his movies and this one was fun.

The wait at Ruby Tuesday’s was 45 minutes. It was Prom Night and this seemed to be the destination of choice for large tables of couples all dressed up for prom. They were having a good time and it was fun to see them. When Ellie heard this was the pre-Prom destination of choice, she was a bit shocked, but the Hagerstown kids were completely happy. It was actually refreshing as opposed to the over-done, over-expensive Prom events we have witnessed. I think these kids may have been having a better time.

Sunday the weather was gorgeous. The sky was a brilliant blue and the forecast was for a high of 70. Just the perfect weather for a visit to Gettysburg. But first, what would a Sunday morning in Hagerstown be without IHOP? Are you getting the all-American there here? I had a lovely omelette with fresh fruit, but I can tell you most people dining were going for a high-calorie intake. And it wasn’t the first time…It was tough getting the boys to pose outside IHOP, but, I had compromised my long held refusal to dine there, so, really, what could they say?

Gettysburg was about an hour’s drive. It was one of the most impressive–in many senses of the word–things I have ever seen. The battlefield is huge. Seeing it and walking much of it gave new meaning to this pivotal point in the Civil War. They have done an excellent job of creating the experience of understanding the action, the scale of bravery, desperation, death and destruction. We followed the Confederate line and then the Union. Just thinking of the heat, smoke, confusion and horror of the attacks, the difficulty of the terrain, the horror of those days was awe-inspiring. Alex was a tremendous asset as he has done a lot of reading on the battle and we enjoyed his perspective in addition to the information provided on plaques, recordings and memorials. Even Peter was drawn in to the drama walking uncomplainingly for hours until we were too tired to continue. It is not a one day undertaking and I look forward to going back to cover the Union positions more thoroughly.

Happily, we had planned to head home Monday morning so we had one last evening with Alex before we would have to part. Since we don’t know how long it will be until we see him again, every moment counted. Steak was on the menu for our Marine. A tall order in Hagerstown, but we found the Longhorn Steakhouse. Part of a national chain, it was actually pretty good. Lest you think we were drifting from our all-American mall theme, the address was the bucolic setting of 1000 Prime Outlets Blvd. It served us well and was clearly the most upscale restaurant in Hagerstown–out of reach of Prom Night for sure.

Monday morning we had a brief glimpse of Alex before he headed to work and we hit the road home. It was a great weekend with lots of fun, some adventure and the only thing which would have made it perfect would have been having our fifth with us. But you can bet that there were many phone calls, texts and photos shared throughout the weekend to make her as much a part of things as possible.

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