BY LOIS DESOCIO
An integral part of our blog’s beginnings were incessant e-mail exchanges between Julie and me, with ideas for what the blog should be about. Threaded into the scores of business e-mails and blog ideas, were some slices of raw revelation, as the ever-evolving voice of the blog drifted from a focus on food and travel to one about navigating our 50s. The e-mails generated tons of ideas, so we diligently filed them away in our queue.
One day in May, Julie dashed off a short poem and e-mailed it to me, thinking it was quite a witty characterization of being on the right side of 50. Her poem, and my e-mailed response, copied and pasted below, sums up how differently we view the physics of aging. For Julie, the two lines conveyed how fleeting the time is between the dewiness of youth, which we take for granted, and the next moment, when it has evaporated. As she sees it, it doesn’t come at one point in time, but throughout the transitions in life. You assume your oyster pearl complexion will always be a part of you, and then … it isn’t.
My poem was better:
On Wed, May 30, 2012 at 3:04 PM, Julie Seyler wrote:
One day you are the oyster pearl
the next time you looked you were the tree burl.
On Wed, May 30, 2012 at 3:28 PM, Lois DeSocio replied:
OOH – that hurts. Props on the poem, but I refuse to be deformed. I will be:
One day I was just a girl;
The next time I looked I was the oyster pearl.
BY LOIS DESOCIO
Since I began to move through this proverbial midpoint in life, the easy-going and flexible me has been noticing that there are a few things that I will absolutely not stand for, and will not budge on. Take cleaning up after a dinner party – as in: Do Not Clean. I like to save that task for the morning. I want to wake up to the mess from the night before. It reminds me of how much fun I had. I especially love that first shuffle into the kitchen the next morning, often after not enough sleep, and feeling a bit green. I survey the wreckage: dirty dishes in the sink, grainy glasses clumped together on the counter, soiled napkins under the dining room table, crumbs all over the place, sticky forks, saggy candles, stained tablecloth, chewed toothpicks …
Understand, that no one else in my house is allowed this luxury. I would holler at my kids if they left so much as a glass in the sink on a normal day (“Clean up! Put that in the dishwasher!”), but would also holler if they started moving plates during, and after, a party (“Don’t clean up! Get away from the dishwasher!”)
What all of this really comes down to – the essence in that leftover clutter – is the joy I get from bringing people together to eat. I can’t get enough of it, so let me stretch it out as much as possible. Let me have a visual mulling-over of the whole night on the next day. I’m especially wedded to this as I’ve become aware of the value of time spent with friends and family. The certainty of years of dinner parties to come is more fragile than it used to be. I treasure that fraternity that develops through hours spent eating, drinking and talking at the dinner table – I don’t want it to miss a beat. And I don’t want to miss anything, so I spend days beforehand cooking, and setting up every last detail, so everything is covered and ready to go the next day. All I have to do is set the party in motion and jump in. And stay. Clean-up duty is never invited – it would cut the night short, and deprive me of my post-party pleasure. (I often have to gently remind my well-meaning friends as the night wears down: “Sit down! Don’t clean up!”)
And the little gems that pop up after any gathering, like that half-full bottle of wine that I recently found, spilled, in the bathroom, would most likely have caused a huff and an eye-roll had I found it in a cleaning frenzy in the wee hours after the party. But the next morning, in the glow of the after party, I smiled. It meant my guests had as much fun as I did, and didn’t feel the need to clean up.
BY JULIE SEYLER
Yesterday was Christmas. New Year’s Eve is next Monday. So today, December 26, is traditionally all about hanging around or hitting sales – depending on your preference. In terms of the general zeitgeist, hanging around seems the rarer option, and grabbing a better bargain at the end-of-the-year sale a constant winner. But I don’t understand why anyone rushes out for a sale anymore. I assume everyone gets the same barrage of e-mail alerts every day announcing the “Last-minute-best-deal ever!” (The identical e-mail offer often comes the next day. And the next.) We live in a world of permanent sales and deals.
In any case, I won’t be shopping because I have to work. But even if I didn’t, I would not be in a store. These days I do anything to avoid a shopping experience. I wonder if that’s an age-related thing. When I was under 50, it used to be the exact opposite.
I love post-holiday days at work. Businesses are closed, and people are on vacation. It is an absolute pleasure to sit in my office and get lots of things done. Everyone is relaxed. Frenzy is on hold until 2013, when everybody sheepishly slinks back in.
And for me, today is the day before my boyfriend Steve’s birthday. He gave himself a well-deserved early birthday present: a two-day trip to Florida to play golf. And provided the predicted weekend storm fizzles and misses the East Coast, he’ll be home in time for the birthday dinner I’ve planned. New York City restaurants with Eater buzz are booked solid for forever it seems. So we chose The Post House, where neither of us has been. I especially love his birthday because he is younger than me, so when we celebrate, I celebrate that he keeps inching closer to the left side of 60, where I consider myself to be these days.
It’s hard to deny the joy of a Christmas tree. Of course, they smell great, and they can be dressed up, or not. But they also often reflect individual personalities, and provoke memories.
Lois: There’s been news lately about how plant pathologists and Christmas tree farmers are working on building a better Christmas tree, including, ” … how to cultivate a tree that will last from Thanksgiving until after New Year’s.” I will be first in line if this super tree, with super “needle-retention,” hits my local tree farm. Growing up, our family tradition was to live with our spruce for one day. One day! We bought it, put it up and decorated it on Christmas Eve, and it was kicked to the curb by December 26. I was always sad to see the tree go. I wanted it to be a permanent part of our living room. So ever since I’ve had my own living room, and have been in charge of my own tree – my tradition became: put it up before December 1, and leave it up at least until my birthday – January 9th. Who cares that the evergreen is no longer (its needles become trimmed in brown), and the crashing of falling ornaments and lights is a daily post-Christmas sound in my house. This year, I want to leave it up until spring, when my youngest son will be coming home from studying in England. I want him to come home to Christmas. I want his presents to be under a tree. Maybe by March, I may have to move it outside for a bit (or maybe I can figure out how to rig that “IV drip,” that those plant pathologists have been contemplating as a possibility for tree longevity), but this year, my tree will somehow jingle all the way to May.
Julie: I am Jewish – not quite religious – but it is my heritage and identity. When I was about six years old, in 1961, my mother, a 31-year-old divorcee, was dating Ed. He later became her husband. But this story took place during their dating days. He could not believe she was not going to put up a Christmas tree for her two daughters. She, on the other hand, could not bear the thought of having a Christmas tree in her home. I mean, really, it went against her whole upbringing, and what would her mother think? But on this particular occasion, he won the battle by promising he would purchase and deliver a tree without any participation on her part. And he did.
At 7:00 on Christmas Eve he dramatically threw a tree in the front door of our garden apartment in Red Bank, New Jersey and proclaimed: “Here’s your d__ tree.” Now Ed never ever cursed, but the tree had fallen off the roof of his yellow Vauxhall on Route 35 in the middle of rush-hour traffic, and he wanted my mother to know the ordeal he had gone through for her and her kids. My sister and I really didn’t care because we had our tree, and we thought it was beautiful. We set out cookies for Santa, hung up socks as stockings, and went to bed (not really believing that Santa would visit). About 4 a.m., we woke up, and lo and behold, the cookies were gone, the stockings were full, and there were all these presents under the tree. We opened the biggest. It was a Barbie Doll Dream House! We ran in to wake my mother, who had only gone to bed two hours before because she was getting everything ready. But she had to get up; she had to assemble that dream house right now!!! So with bleary eyes, she did our bidding and such is how that memory, from 51 years ago, is set in my mind.
Bob: Dad would always buy a Christmas tree from Uncle Gus, who owned a garden center, because he gave him a great price. He would put it up in the corner of our living room, perched in a rickety metal stand with three green metal legs and a red hemispherical pan. I couldn’t decide whether it looked more like a flying saucer from a cheesy science fiction movie or a World War I doughboy helmet.
We loaded it with ornaments and strands of lights with heavy glass bulbs that screwed into brown plastic sockets – gigantic, clunky things compared to today’s plastic pop-in bulbs. The tinsel wasn’t strung on garlands, either – it was individual metallic strands that we carefully draped over each bough.
When it was all done, I would lie on my back underneath the tree so that my entire field of vision was filled with branches, tinsel, and blinking lights. One string of lights was a train with an old-fashioned steam locomotive, its tender piled high with painted coal, and a cheerful red caboose chugging off into the forest above my head. I would close my eyes, and bask in the warm piney smell and the energy of the splendor inches above me, and it would feel like Christmas.
Frank: All through my childhood, my parents had a small artificial Christmas tree that they put on a table. Santa put our presents under the table. Then, when I was 14, our artificial Christmas tree went up for what would be the last time. A week after Christmas, my father died. The artificial tree was still up, of course, and many of the horrible memories of my father’s death and the aftermath had that Christmas tree in the background. So it was not a difficult decision for my mother to throw out the tree soon afterward. The next Christmas we got our first real Christmas tree. It was a gorgeous blue spruce, whose top scraped the ceiling in our living room. I can still remember the beautiful smell. It was all totally new to our house. It was fresh and alive, just like we were. My mother, brother and I had a wonderful time picking it out, setting it up and even tending to the water in the base. It was a terrific Christmas. And then, a few days after after Christmas, our cat Willy, for whom the tree was as new as it was for us, could no longer contain himself. He climbed the tree right to the top and it promptly tipped over. Instead of being angry, we simply laughed at the startled tabby. And we had real Christmas trees every year after that.
The Write Side of 50 recently hit its one-month anniversary, so a celebratory martini and dinner was in order this past Thursday night. This is not unusual for us. We make a point to share a meal together as much as possible – to celebrate or to just catch up. We recommend it – take the time to break bread with friends and family.
We also want to send a big thank-you to everyone who reads us, follows us and shares our links on Facebook. And a special hats-off goes to Bob and Frank. They jumped in feet first, not quite sure what they were getting into. But they’re still here. Thanks, guys.
~Julie and Lois
BY JULIE SEYLER
In the wake of the horror of Newtown, there have been reports that the pro-gun lobby is open to reform. A front page headline in The New York Times on Tuesday December 18, 2012 proclaimed “Pro-Gun Democrats Signaling Openness to Limits”. What about pro-gun Republicans? We can’t unite on the idea that the death of innocents because of way-too-loose gun laws is unacceptable?
The front page also had a story on the first of the two Newtown funerals – two little boys. It has all been said and said and repeated, but in the solitude of my living room, the tears streamed down my face. Again.
Buried within the paper was the headline “Silent Since Shootings, N.R.A, Could Face Challenge to Political Power.” That sounded promising, until you get behind the facts of the N.R.A. The article summarized the status of the N.R.A., including its game-plan strategy when the country is confronted by gun killings. Rather than promoting legislation that might actually make it impossible for these situations to occur, the N.R.A. passionately besieges Congress to defeat laws that would require background checks before a gun may be purchased, and relentlessly pushes for legislation that would permit unfettered access to buying, owning and carrying guns. What sane person would not find this utterly abominable, especially in light of what we have experienced as a nation over the past 13 years?
BY LOIS DESOCIO
It’s the week before Christmas, which means I’ve been doing some heavy listing. Not the kind that Santa checks twice – I save gift-buying for Christmas Eve. I’m talking supermarket list. For over 30 years, I’ve hosted Christmas dinner for family and friends (party girl!), so my first holiday priority is getting that dinner menu front and center, and ready for launch.
If you’re familiar with my Thanksgiving adventure, you’ve read that my system is to pick a page, or a group of pages in the newspaper, or a foodie magazine, and make everything on those pages, no matter how outlandish the combination. And since I’m deadline-driven by nature, for Christmas, I like to add to the chaos. I seek out the most complicated and out-of-bounds menu possible, and make lists, shop, and cook for a week. My deadline is the night-before-Christmas-Eve day. Because Christmas Eve is when I hit the mall. (Attention shoppers! This is way better, bargain wise, than Black Friday.) I have all my gifts in a mind-list, and am forced to make decisions on what to buy for everyone on my list, because I’m shopping on Christmas Eve.
And also this year, to mirror how unsettling this Christmas will be (for the first time, my youngest son, who is overseas, won’t be here, and relatives that were staples in my Christmas kitchen for decades have died, or moved on), I’ve decided, for old times’ sake, to randomly (with my eyes closed) pick recipes from the past. I turned and shook my recipe ring binder, filled with everything I’ve ever made or saved, upside down (like my Christmas!), spilled a pile on the counter, and made a meal from the spill. I picked appetizers (Maple/Pepper Salmon Bites, Apricot/Cherry Salsa with Taco Chips, Butterscotch/Whiskey Eggnog), a soup (Cream of Garlic), a salad (Prociutto/Fig/Walnut with Greens), and Timpano (also served upside down).
“Timpano!,” you may ask. “What’s that?” That’s what every one of my dinner guests asked in October, when I attempted it for the first time, and killed it – in a bad way, as in ruined. I do believe, if done right, though, that it must be the perfect meal. So it’s the headliner this Christmas.