Catching the Post

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This postcard was waiting for me when I got back from New Jersey last night. I bought it on Etsy from a dealer in Britain and it took so long to get here that I had forgotten about it! It’s a very British card with that red mailbox, a suggestion of a lamp post, and of course some fog. This black cat who has slipped on his bum has dropped a cigarette in the process. He’s a great pose – all akimbo – tail like a third leg, his pink tongued mouth agape.

Verso of the card. Maybe you can decode this better than I have?

The card was mailed and is postmarked Hastings, January 6, 1922, sent in the evening mail 101 years ago. It was sent to Miss Lulu Crosse, 158 Castle Hill, Reading Berks. To the extent I can read it, it says, I am so sorry not to have acknowledged your pretty calendar dear Lulu but have only just found it in our drawers where all our presents were put so it must have slipped out of the parcel I thought you might like this as it slightly resembles John. Such a lovely dog. With love, L.S. Dog?

As it happens I had the rare (and suburban) opportunity to hand the postman a bill that needed mailing yesterday as I had just finished putting it together when he arrived to drop a parcel and a bunch of flyers in the box affixed to the front of the house there. Could you take this too? I call that service!

Sunrise run at Mom’s this week.

I am learning that some of mom’s bills (taxes and sewer thus far) come with little coupon tabs that need to be included in the payment back. For some reason these local town affiliates have resisted auto withdrawal and in the case of the taxes you have a sheet of these dated tabs you must remember to pull off on a not-quite-quarterly schedule and pay. This is, in my opinion, a bit maddening and fraught with potential disaster as I take over helping mom with these tasks.

The main drag in Red Bank. I think there’s a post office in the other direction that I could check out.

The postman visit was especially good timing as I had recently discovered that the post office closest to mom within walking (running) distance is closed for what appears to be an indefinite time as someone drove through the front of it. Housed in a nondescript little shopping center it’s hard to see why this occurred – weirdly accelerating forward? Misjudging the front of the parking space? On the phone? It was the middle of the day – as it happens a friend was there shortly after.

In addition to the post office, the shopping center houses an A&P, a liquor store, and a really splendid homemade ice cream emporium that I have already made numerous visits to with my friend Suzanne. There is a large Dunkin’ Donuts and although we have nothing against donuts, instead we tsk tsk over the memory that a splendid and much beloved stationary store made its home there for many decades and was pushed out and so we don’t stop there.

Meanwhile, there is a nice looking sort of glorified diner, but I haven’t had reason to eat there yet because in an ajoining parking lot is my favorite lunch place, Tavolo Pronto, the home of the great sandwich, among other things, so I come often to this enclave when in Jersey. If I so inclined I can go to the bank, have a massage or get my nails done there as well. Really many essentials of my local NJ life are housed there or nearby including Mexican, Chinese and Japanese take-out or restaurants – a short run or medium walk from mom’s house.

Sickles the farm market, also sells flowers and I snapped this there the other day.

It would seem I won’t be using that post office for an indefinite period of time – a couple of months have already gone by. I am impatient and just think, Fix it already! How hard can that be? Meanwhile, there is another post office more or less equidistant in the town of Little Silver – oddly mom lives at the nexus of four towns, Rumson, Fair Haven, Red Bank and Little Silver – I can hit all four easily in an average run.

Waitress at Edie’s – a favorite watering hole that is a bit hard to get to or park at.

However that post office requires transversing several obscenely busy roads and I don’t generally don’t run on them. This keeps me from frequent visits to Edie’s Luncheonette (which I wrote about recently here) and our local farmer’s market and gourmet shop, Sickles, on foot. And although the idea of running through the Sickles farm property temps me, dealing with these busy streets does not. Perhaps I should consider the Red Bank post office as I run there periodically as well.

Sometimes, if I know I will be back in Manhattan soon, it is easier to tuck the mail in my purse and bring it home, to a city where mailboxes and post offices within walking distance abound.

January Madness

Pam’s Pictorama Post: It’s an overcast Saturday morning here in New York City and there is a light bit of snow blowing outside. This has put my deep desire for a late morning run in question and makes me vaguely peevish. Kim has misplaced several key drawings for his next story (five or so luscious large pencil pages) and is slowing spreading the latter part of an almost finished graphic novel across our one room apartment in search of them. The pages have not left the apartment so we know they are here. A thorough search of piles of original art is underway. A certain frantic undertone to the commencement of our weekend here at Deitch Studio.

The desk in question, being searched.

Meanwhile, Blackie is snoring softly behind me on a very large box which contains an air fryer. While I am a bit curious about air fryers I never would have purchased one (let alone such a large one) except we’ve been informed that a city mandated gas inspection, which commenced Friday, has our cooking gas turned off. It will take a minimum of 6-8 months, but many buildings report that it has taken up to two years or more. (Yes, you read that correctly – they are turning off our cooking gas for what could be years.)

The model chosen after reading the NYT Wirecutter and other reviews.

I have moments of thinking that maybe it would be worth getting involved in City policy long enough to eliminate this bit of idiocy which is based on an incident where someone tied out an illegal gas line with a garden hose and the building ultimately blew up. Manhattan, perhaps all five boroughs, are looking now to eliminate gas cooking. This is a concept that could ultimately roust me from my perch here in New York City – gas cooking is beloved to me.

Life without making soup seems dreadful so I purchased this as well. Let’s see how I do with these new toys.

So, for now and despite Blackie’s fondness for the aforementioned box, I will spend this weekend unpacking the air fryer and an Instant Pot. (I cannot live without soup. One of several recipes can be found here.) I will rearrange our tiny kitchen and somehow fit these new appliances in – some of my beloved larger pots and pans can live in the oven I guess. (An ode to a dying fry pan can be found here.) Of course the adventure of learning to cook with them remains – I suspect you will receive further details. We have a microwave as well which I have generally only used to heat leftovers, but will be pressed into service. I have tried to amass groceries for easy execution at first, baby steps.

Blackie in full possession of the air fryer box.

Maybe the toaster can live in our storage locker and give us back another 12 inches of counter space? Electrical outlets have become prized real estate overnight and we are grateful for a renovation which added one. Additionally, there are two electric burners which the building assigned to us as a stove top. I hear rumors that the power draw for them is huge and that they cannot be used in tandem with the other appliances. Note taken, but I think we can look forward to the odd days when we space on that and blow a fuse.

At work Covid is stealthily making its way through the office again. We talk about it less, but staff are sick with it or living with people who have it. Most of the rules and protocols have fallen away and we are left to our own devices, instructing people to stay home and test – five days clear? I think there is a sense that people will just get it and get it again and again, but we do need to think about the people for whom it can be dangerous for various reasons, or like me have someone in their life who is fragile physically.

A pot of soup from a former post.

Along those lines my mom was diagnosed with pneumonia last week, not surprising given her immobility. I have home tested for Covid, but will go out and get a PCR test in case I need to go back to New Jersey. I mentally add it to the list I am making for this weekend.

I have long thought that TS Eliot had it wrong – it is January not April which is the cruelest month. For me it has uneasy memories of illness commencing and death, truly the nadir of each year which then needs to be reincarnated annually. (Oddly I am a bit distrustful of August too.) There is a gentle but persistent, burgeoning insanity that is barely kept in check in the month of January.

However, the pages in question above have been located at last. Kim is now contentedly inking a page which was his intention when he discovered the pencils missing, so a calm has returned to the house. He has promised to bring me a cup of take out coffee from the diner so I don’t have to face the electric burner and coffee pot quite yet. Blackie has moved onto the bed making way for me to unpack the air fryer and at least for the moment the flurries have paused so maybe I will get my run in. January is half over, we’re turning the corner and soon February will dawn a bit brighter.

A bit of Deitch Studio effluvia that surfaced this week.

Home: Part Two

Home is a topic which is much on my mind these days. As Pictorama readers know I now spend part of each month in New Jersey, near where I grew up, with my mom helping out there now that she is in failing health.

I have always had a cat-like desire for routine and part of that is being nestled in the same place as much as possible, with my things around me for comfort. Even as a small child my mother would comment on my determination to make a space mine and settle into it.

Sunrise from the apartment in Manhattan.

As I have gotten older that also means Kim and the cats most of all – home is where the heart is after all. While I have enjoyed some of the work travel I have done, being uprooted from them and home has always been done a bit grudgingly.

Therefore, a new paradigm that pulls me out of my usual and sends me off to Jersey periodically has been a bit painful really. Although now over the past year I have pressed that into a sort of pattern as well it is somewhat less jarring. It is always hard for me to gather myself to leave on a Sunday night when I just want to stay curled up on my couch. I have my great indulgence which is the ride I take in each direction, comfort Aussie Shepard on my lap for pets, which allows me the luxury of travel on my own schedule.

Cookie when she helped me with the Christmas card recently.

I keep a suitcase lightly packed, but mostly I have clothing, toiletries and running apparel there. Like me, my laptop has to be disconnected on one end and reinstalled on the other. On the other side of the trip is mom’s little Cape Cod house, a bedroom for me which the cats there only cede to me with great reluctance. I gave everyone a peek at Peaches in last week’s post which can be found here.

To be frank, mom’s cats are not enamored of me as a group. Beau, an enormous pitch black cat, allows me to pet him, but mom’s other rescues are skittish and generally not for petting which is disappointing. (I recently wrote about Stormy, cat of mystery, here.) I miss Cookie and Blackie’s affection when I am gone.

Milty and Peaches enjoying the open door last summer.

My morning routine there is to have coffee with mom very early, 5:30 or 6:00, before heading out for a run if weather permits. I schedule myself this way because early morning is the best time with her as she starts the day. I make a large pot of coffee in a percolator identical to the one in New York and which all of mom’s caretakers is now enamored. Mom can no longer drink it, but appreciates the smell as it perks. I make a good pot of coffee.

Wooded running path in Monmouth County.

I generally keep my run to around 4-5 miles in New Jersey. I run more slowly there – lots to look at and also I jog slowly over many types of terrain. Although the majority of my run is through a sort of sidewalk suburban heaven, through neighborhoods and sports fields, I also run through a heavily wooded area, over wood chip paths, over tree roots and past the occasional deer. People nod and say hello in New Jersey, unlike in Manhattan where you never much do that, but dogs here are more likely to lunge for me than jaded city pups. I see endless bunnies and chipmunks abound, cats watch me from porches and dogs bark at me from behind fences and windows. There’s even a rooster on my route although I have not heard him in awhile.

While stretching outside upon my return I take an inventory of the outside of the house and anything that seems amiss or needs attention. It is remarkable to me that one day you can look at the front steps and realize that the railing needs paint and is starting to fall apart at the bottom, that gutters need attention or the driveway has a sag. Recently I realized that there was a huge air leak under the front door despite a storm door in place.

Mom’s house in the snow.

Mom’s is a track house built in the 1950’s – identical ones probably dotted the neighborhood at the time although her prime location near three schools, endless sports fields and small shopping area, has converted most of the lots to considerably larger homes. Her house, originally quite small, had an addition of a main bedroom, bath and an area bumped out to enlarge the kitchen. It now has four bedrooms, two in the dormer upstairs, and three and a half bathrooms. As it nears its seventh decade I can see that maintaining it is difficult, but more attainable than the houses of more than a hundred years that appeal to me aesthetically.

As an apartment dweller for my entire adult life, the actual reality of home ownership has been a rude awakening as I take over some of the responsibilities for mom’s house. Mike the yard guy, the rat exterminator, David who paints, Fitzroy who does odd jobs, Larry who helps with the computer – mom holds the reins still on all of it but slowly I am starting to engage.

Upstairs room where I work.

I am generally there on workdays so my return home is usually followed by a quick breakfast and then to my “office” upstairs in one of those bedrooms. I try to have a proper lunch time when I am with mom (my friend Suzanne often picks me up and we hit a great restaurant called Tavalo’s for the best sandwiches I know) and I attempt to end my day no later than 6:00 at least for meetings. During times of duress, the same friend will offer up a glass of Prosecco with cheese and crackers at the end of the day, bringing it upstairs if I don’t surface.

It amazes me that our apartment in Manhattan is so much quieter than mom’s house. While there is a roster of caregivers coming and going throughout the day and night, it is more the folks tending to the house’s needs and a litany of visiting docs which makes the small house feel like Grand Central station at rush hour. (I have written previously about mom and her caregivers in a post that can be found here.)

And then, before I know it, time to pack back up and head home to Deitch Studio. Much like at the beginning of my trip, there is a tug to stay here too, the gravitational pull of staying where I am, but now at home in both places.

Home: Part One

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Looks like I am bringing this year in with another pair of personal posts – for those of you who are in it for the toys and the photos (and even a new soup recipe there is great interest in), I promise a backlog of those in the beginning of the New Year.

Meanwhile, a fact I don’t think I ever shared with Pictorama readers is that home renovation television is near and dear to my heart. I began watching it before the pandemic, finding it comforting to see on the hotel televisions in various locations. During Covid however I began to watch it at more devotedly. At the height of the pandemic, working frenzied endless days and nights from our one room apartment, it was a source of comfort and one of the few escapes from a beleaguered day-to-day of Zoom meetings and ambulance sirens here in New York City.

View from Deitch Studio which is our window onto the world.

I enjoyed the soothing transformation of unloved homes into cozy interiors to house new families. I especially liked the cottages to be found in the south. Low entry points for purchase are like catnip to those of us paying a premium for our tiny foothold in Manhattan and two bedroom would be a luxury indeed. I am a sucker for a cute little houses built in the teens or twenties and would fantasize about owning one, while knowing I have no interest in moving to Texas or Mississippi.

Over time I realized that I don’t necessarily especially like the renovations which become repetitive. I would often think I would have kept more of the original charm of the home intact – the incessant knocking down of walls is odd to me. (Do I want everyone to see my untidy kitchen all of the time?) Although watching those shows has meant that when I have on occasion needed to make renovation decisions in our apartment (see the post for the great kitchen renovation of 2019 here) or my mom’s house, I pretty much know what is out there and what I like – and therefore of course what I do not.

Our renovated kitchen in fall of 2019.

However, my passion is touring the old houses while people “decide” which house they will purchase. I like those house tours – seeing worn, but well-loved homes that have sheltered many lives and families over decades, as many as a hundred years or more, of habitation. There is something about that continuity that I find very comforting even with them a bit down at the heels and in need of new attention.

During and after! Anasty bit of home renovation we did during the pandemic. The process of installing a wall of bookcases.
Kim doing some settling into those (now beloved and toy filled) bookshelves.

While I have an appreciation for those shows where homes that were completely trashed are rescued, sometimes requiring taking them down to the studs, I prefer houses with longer history with hopes that it will be maintained. My favored channel morphed into some versions with houses dating up to hundreds of years back, and although I didn’t need to see the renovation (sensitive although it always is); I want the history and occasionally seeing the guts of the house – stone basements and foundations, odd wells, fascinating attics with many angles, and strange back stairwells. One wildly enthusiastic young couple just shows you three very inexpensive, beautiful old houses in different parts of the country for sale and points out the wonderful features of each, a porch, a gorgeous stairwell, built-in craftsman sideboards and the like. That is stripping down the home show to its core for me.

510 East 85th Street was my home for many years before Deitch Studio.

Oddly somehow watching several years of these shows has slowly cured me of the itch to own an old home. While I do love to see them, digesting everything that can go wrong with a house that is a hundred years old, let alone more, has had a sobering effect on me to the extent I consider home ownership.

My practical side has overtaken the romance and I know that I am not quite up to that challenge should it present itself – which is unlikely. As I start to help my mom care for her home I am learning a lot about the reality of home ownership and tomorrow’s post will tackle that, for those of you who are game and willing to indulge me, as we ring in the New Year.

And for those of you who made it to the end of the post, I will also share that the photo at the top of the post is the house I grew up in, as it was when we sold it in 2016.

Festive!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Just a quick note and a ho, ho, ho to you all. It was a quiet start to the day here in New Jersey. I decided to give myself a break from running today after my efforts yesterday when it was only 8 degrees out.

Nonetheless I was up early and putting the coffee on. My coffee has become a great favorite among mom’s caregivers – I perk a mean pot and am well set up for it down here with a pot identical to mine at home. I wish you could smell it.

Laurel and Hardy this morning.

Kim is on his way – traveling with my dog friends Cash and Penny. He is coming for the down and I will head back to New York with him tonight. As a result I am starting to gather all my bits which are spread over mom’s house after four days here.

Keeping an eye out for Hobo. So very cold we’d like to make sure our stray cat friend has a good meal. He stopped by the day before yesterday for a meal and inhaled three cans.

Hobo noshing earlier this week.

Yesterday found a friend’s wife just returning from the hospital so we packed up a whole lot of Christmas dinner (mom had ordered enough for an army – really!) for them to have food for a few days. He is so kind to my mom that it was a great pleasure to do something for them.

Mom has CNN blaring as always, although I have Laurel and Hardy on the television in the bedroom for some holiday relief. Holiday reports are coming in from friends all over which is nice to hear. Eileen, cold in Vermont, Eden and Jeanie warmer in California.

The eating has commenced (biscuits! First round) and a second pot of coffee perking in advance of Kim’s arrival. mom’s cats are sleeping off their first meal of the day although not sure Stormy has braved the fray.

Christmas cat breakfast.

So Merry Christmas to you and yours from all of us here at Pictorama and Deitch Studio.

Christmas Eve

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As my schedule would have it, I find myself here in New Jersey with mom on these days leading up to Christmas this year. While I miss being home with Kim and kitties just before Christmas it is an unusual treat to be in NJ and spend these days with mom and in the area I grew up in.

Red Bank decorated for the holiday on a wet morning yesterday.

It is very cold here – as it is across the country today. I decided I would hazard a run with some layers (down vest under my sweatshirt) and I will say I didn’t see many of my brethren today – not even the dog walkers were out between the holiday and the cold. The winds of last night were hard on outdoor holiday decorations – many were flattened or visiting the neighbors. And in fact it was the wind that made me cut my run short today. I forgot that my iphone hates the cold and it ran through all its charge – last winter I was in the habit of keeping it tucked in an inside pocket to avoid this.

Yesterday morning, by contrast, it was a humid 59 degrees and I stripped down for my run into neighboring Red Bank. While these were not the streets I lived on when I was young, I drove constantly through these areas and I wrote recently about my teenage and early adult years in this downtown area. Still, I am surrounded by memories as I jog through this area, decorated now for the holiday.

Sincere Santa in a neighbor’s yard.

I found this photo above here at the house. It was Christmas 1969 and my sister Loren and I are shown among Christmas morning toys. (She is the older one in braids.) The enormous black and white bear was one of her gifts, I believe Loren had that bear into adulthood. I remember him in her room. No idea when he departed.

The bear came from FAO Schwartz – that epic purveyor of toys. The reason for his presence in our lives is no longer remembered now. I asked mom. She tells a funny story about having asked an actor bachelor friend to “pick it up” for her. Ha! Evidently he didn’t enjoy being a mule for a larger than life bear. His name was Al Viola and I am not sure he ever forgave mom and dad. Mom says that a few years later he gave up his dreams of acting in New York and returned to his native Texas, fiance in tow. She didn’t take root in Texas however, although the story as mom knows it seems to end there.

Me and my dog Squeaky.

We are shown in a house in Englewood, New Jersey which we grew out of not long after this photo was taken. The huge stone fireplace was a focal feature and I remember it well. I also remember the bedroom I shared with Loren which had a corner of casement windows, something I have aspired to ever since. It was a tiny two story with just our bedroom, my parent’s room and a bathroom between upstairs. Other than the fireplace, a screened porch and a beautiful rock garden in the backyard were the memorable features. Also, we were across the street from a park which seemed enormous to me as a small child.

If I felt slighted by no mutually commanding stuffed animal I don’t remember, and I don’t remember what I did received that Christmas. There may be another photo, in color of that Christmas, of us in color and I am hugging my dog Squeaky so maybe that is where he made his debut although my memory is he was given to me another way.

Local decorations on my run yesterday.

Christmas and my birthday are days that remind me most of my sister Loren. She liked to get the day started early and as kids she was always climbing on me to wake up before dawn so we could go get our parents up. Loren kept the practice up in adulthood and if we weren’t together she’d call me at an obscenely early hour. I can’t wake early on Christmas or February 11 without thinking of her.

But this year I keep mom company. Her litany of caregivers are here and come and go. We are a fairly well oiled machine at this point. Mom, as is her habit, ordered enough food for an army which I just spent a half an hour fitting into the fridge – there is an art to this. There will be plenty to eat tonight, tomorrow and to take home tomorrow night. Cats are running around madly – they are comfortable enough with me now to chase each other madly through my bedroom all night long. (They are heavy footed for small cats and sound like miniature elephants – the occasional thunking throw down.)

Peaches, small but heavy footed feline.

So, layered up against the drafts of the house, wind whistling around the corners of the house, I watch television with mom and Elaine who is taking the holiday shift and with us throughout now – how nice that she is willing to make that sacrifice. A hibiscus tree has been decorated with battery operated lights to make them twinkle at night. The cats are napping and right now that sounds like a good idea.

A Room with a View

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Drum roll please…because today we have our annual Christmas card reveal! Here at Deitch Studio we have been producing a holiday card for a few decades now. One day we’ll have to see who has old number one because, although I knew we kept some, I am not sure we can lay our hands on it. In the first year, and maybe the one that followed, we hand colored each one (differently) with colored pencil – but we had a smaller distribution back then.

A better look at this year’s card! Deitch Studio collection. Click on it to make it larger.

For those who are new to the card this year the general process is that, after discussing the general subject first, I do the initial drawing. Kim responds with his version and then we might negotiate this or that, back and forth until it is an amalgam of our styles. In general, if we appear on the card, the rule is you draw yourself. (A few card reveals from year’s past can be found here and here, but the archive is chock-a-block full of them!)

Kitty cooks in the kitchen! No, we don’t really let them cook. Deitch Studio Collection.

This year however, Kim has been admiring the view from our window and it permeated my thoughts when I sat down to draw the card and it fell together quickly.

For those who haven’t visited Deitch Studio for awhile, yes, the plants have indeed increased in number and lushness this year. A friend commented on that. For those who follow Pam’s Pictorama regularly you know that Blackie had a rough year and we almost lost him to a bad infection and subsequent diabetes. In fact we had a mini-emergency with him just this past week as his sugar dropped too low. Despite that he is looking like his old self, has gained his weight back and his coat is thick and shining as shown here.

An exuberant Blackie showing tummy and fang recently.

Cookie would have been just as glad (or so she says – frequently) if we hadn’t bothered bringing him home. They are sister and brother and fight as such – love to hate each other I say. It gives them something to do. Cookie is the talker in the family and at nine years old still chases her tail (daily) like a kitten; often in the bathtub. Go cat go! I say she has one cat joke and that is to hide behind the shower curtain in the bathroom so she can jump out, meowing, at an unsuspecting type coming in. I fall for it several times a week. She does a victory lap with her tail after.

Cookie, always a card, a Noir Alley kitty a few weeks ago.

The view out the window is obviously much simplified, although I like to think it somehow captures the overall sense and mood. Kim was very light in his touch this year and really let my original drawing shine through. The view is quite wonderful, but it is especially nice at night when it is a twinkling wonderland. When I can’t sleep, I come and sit down on the couch (usually with Cookie these days, who in turn requires ear scratching) and spend some time looking at it.

Our view – a dim rainbow in upper right corner.

One of the interesting aspects of the view is that in recent years it is also the northern end destination of my frequent runs. Now when I look out I know it differently and I know the trip under the bridge and up to 114th Street intimately firsthand. I have written more about running in New Jersey than here in the City, but it is in reality my more frequent, if somewhat more static route. (A New York running post can be found here – and one from New Jersey here.) The path along the river is soothing, if windy in winter and hot and sunny in summer, whereas the suburban New Jersey path is more varied perhaps and has surprises like visiting deer and suburban highlights.

The northern part of my Manhattan running route one morning recently.

When I purchased this apartment I had no idea how beautiful the view was as the windows were too dirty to see out. Now it is our escape, bringing the whole world into our single room and we wouldn’t trade it.

So as the holidays approach and 2022 comes to a close, Merry Christmas and the best of New Year’s to all from the four of us at Deitch Studio!

And the Season to be Jolly Continues…

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have a red velvet jacket, trimmed with a bit of black silk braid, that is probably a good decade (or even more) older than me. My guess is that it made its appearance on the scene in the late forties or early fifties. It is short and hits me just above my hips. It is a boxy cut so there is never a question if it will fit during and waxing and waining of weight. Mercifully the moths seem disinterested in it.

Since it is such an elder statesman of a jacket (showing some wear on the pile around the elbows) I only take it out for a few holiday runs a year, but without question it is a fan favorite and I always get so many compliments on it. Needless to say it dozed quietly in my closet over the pandemic years, and last year was a very abbreviated festive season with my mom in the hospital up to Thanksgiving and then with the time I stayed there. (A post from that time can be found here.)

Self-portrait in Christmas bulb on my run in New Jersey earlier this week. The NJ suburbs, as above, exude more holiday spirit.

So this year was the first in many years that I pulled it out again to wear yesterday, paired with high-waisted navy trousers and a silver (yes, silver – hotsy-totsy!) silk tank top. I have long found that dressing the part will get you part of the way to feeling it and I needed to pull out all the stops to find some ho, ho, ho this year for a dinner after work.

My evening out was preceded by a very long, frankly arduous and frustrating day at the office. As I alluded to in my post last week (it can be found here) fundraising is reaching a fevered pitch by this time in the calendar year. Some large events and important proposals have been layered on top of the usual frenzy truly making my head spin to the point of migraine meltdown early in the week. Yesterday I was sweating out the final version of a document right up until I had to leave to head over to a holiday dinner at our jazz club.

The evening was a mix of people I know and a few I did not, although even those I didn’t know only had a degree of separation really. I was a guest last night and so while I can never entirely stop my work brain when I am in our venues, the evening was not mine to run and fret over. Drinks and fried food eased us into the evening, always a good start.

Marilyn Maye performing at Dizzy’s Club last night.

The set featured Marilyn Maye. For those who do not know her, Marilyn is a 94 year young jazz and cabaret singer who is still belting out standards and last night with a sprinkling of holiday classics. Marilyn had her start as a truly tiny tot in talent shows in her native Kansas. Over time she moved from Wichita to Kansas City, and then later to the big time in Chicago where she began a long recording and successful performing career.

Evidently dinner club cabaret eventually gave way to more stage and theater work, and although I have seen her in our other, larger halls, she seems most wonderfully at home in the club atmosphere. In her sparkling sequin jacket, trousers and decked out in glimmering earrings and bracelets, she is every inch a dinner club diva.

As I settled into the music, my phone tucked away for the evening (although I did sneak this photo), which is rare for me because often when I am at a dinner in the evening I am working and need to be available to the staff who are also working. Last night as a guest I was able to focus entirely on the music.

The enthusiasm of these decorations inspired me to make my run past it so I could get a photo.

The love songs lulled me into musing over my own good fortune to have found Kim (as they always do) and that put me in a good frame of mind. By the time she got to some holiday music (a medley with Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and Santa Claus is Coming to Town among them) my harden, cold, Grinchy little heart had melted. Somehow even as it was unfolding I knew it was an evening that I will remember and look back on – just a very special moment in time which will stay with me. Thank you Marilyn!

‘Tis the Season

Pam’s Pictorama Post: WordPress has a new feature where each time you sit down to write it offers up a question – I guess for inspiration? For example, today’s was What is your favorite cartoon? (And last week it was What did you dream last night?) Since I have devoted a fair amount of posting space to cartoons, I’m not sure it is the inspiration I might be looking for, but nice to know they want to help on a difficult day when getting started is hard.

I have had the opportunity to pepper my posts with many marvelous toy acquisitions lately and coming off that fete I admit to being a bit betwixt and between. So today I am reflecting on what is most on my mind and as we find ourselves solidly in the holiday season and I am doing my best to keep up with it I will share some of those thoughts today.

Flooring sample!

As I survey my mid-December perch, the holiday cards are done and going into the mail this week. (Look out for a big card reveal post next week!) I have purchased no gifts yet, however I don’t live in much of a gift giving world any longer. There will be gifts for my mother’s caregivers this year and a rare few for friends and of course Kim. I gave mom a new floor for converting her garage to a room (nothing says love like vinyl plank), but will try to find something additionally cheerful for her.

Woods are becoming bare already in NJ.

If you are a fundraiser like I am the holiday season merges with an exponential increase in work since most annual gifts will come in the last six weeks of the calendar year. (At the Met it was I think a full third of all gifts.) This against a fevered pitch backdrop of holiday events (two dinners under my belt with three more and a series of concerts to go as I write) and like the season or not, at a minimum you need to have a lot of energy to get through it.

I can be depended on for holiday cheer – after all as a toy collector it is sort of my season. I am the person who wants to celebrate a moment of first snow, to set up a three foot light up Santa or a small tree for the cats in the incredibly small apartment. I love tinsel and sparkle and bubbling lights! I will have drinks with you to toast the season at Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel and used to enjoy doing it with a view of Central Park from the Plaza when that was an option. I will systematically buy gifts with joyful anticipation of giving them. I was the kid who would volunteer to wrap all the gifts because I liked doing it so much.

Some low-key nascent holiday decorations in New Jersey a few weeks ago.

As stated, I like holiday decorations. I am heading to New Jersey tonight for a few days and I look forward to running in that neighborhood this week and taking in the burgeoning decorations of the ‘hood. Giant motorized snowmen and Santas are wheezing gently on front lawns amongst wonderlands of twinkling lights, elves and sleighs. Instagram followers of my running journal can look forward to those – although to really do them justice I would have to do a turn at night I think. The city is tame by comparison, although here I have the joy of running past the lines of Christmas trees awaiting purchase and breathing in their evergreen goodness.

Trees in Manhattan were being set-up the day before Thanksgiving this year.

However, the several sobering years of the pandemic changed my relationship to the festivities and in some ways I am finding it hard to resume my mantle of cheer. The mountain of work has climbed to tsunami proportions and sadly a full scale memorial needed to be inserted right after Thanksgiving (for a former Board chair, shortly after two large scale dinners) and has me and the team flagging. The idea of adding a single additional thing to my calendar taxes me beyond credulity. Collegial and friendly imbibing will have to wait for the New Year.

Carl Schurz Park tree.

Endless discussions occur about whether or not people want to eat from a buffet table now and how many people is too many in the living room of a small townhouse are enervating. Concerts have sold well, but occasionally the purchased seats go empty if the people do not show which seems to happen more frequently than in the past, giving the hall a slightly gap-toothed look. I have written about our altered universe before (see one of those posts here), but never is it more evident I think than than this time of the year.

Me and my (small but determined) staff will continue our march through the holidays, right through New Year’s when we can finally come up for air and fall into an exhausted rest. I will bribe them with cookies and all manner of treats when I am with them in person and rally them virtually when online. I am hoping that amongst the extraordinary generosity of the season that I will find that gear again, or maybe while listening to our orchestra, or to Marilyn Maye belting out holiday standards at Dizzy’s, or catching a final show with Matt Wilson and his Christmas Tree-O there.

Winter-ish scene from a recent run in NJ.

Regardless, shortly ’23 will be upon us and another holiday season behind. Last minute contributions will have been booked, concerts completed and parties concluded. We will head into January with our resolutions firmly in hand and see what we can make of the New Year.

Grandma’s Soup

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have devoted a number of posts to the cooking of my maternal grandmother, Anne Wheeling, an Italian American who was one in a long line of great cooks in a family of them. (A few of those posts, some complete with other recipes can be found here, here and here.)

Like today’s post, some of these have been devoted to the recreation of recipes from my childhood. Meanwhile, I have not written nearly as much about my father’s mother, Gertrude Butler, however I did write about her recently when I found a photo of her I didn’t remember having seen. (That post can be found here.) Gertie, aka Tootsie, Butler was a tiny powerhouse of energy.

Tootsie in a later undated photograph recently turned up in some papers. I think my father kept this one in his wallet.

When it came to food hers was more of a utilitarian variety than Grandma Wheeling’s and drew on a more limited menu. Our Sunday meals there were generally based around a soup and a rotating choice of roasted chicken, brisket or the occasional turkey. There was often a noodle kugel which was for some reason anathema to me and never crossed my lips! (I wasn’t a picky eater as a child and rarely in full revolt. I don’t know what it was about noodle kugel which made me defiant, although I can’t say it calls come hither to me even now. I remember the smell of it cooking vividly.)

Young Irving, Elliott and Gertie in an another undated photo discovered when my folks were moving several years ago.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, my grandmother worked hard six days a week in the family dry goods store. In retrospect that she produced a full meal for us on the seventh day and was always perfectly turned out, often in a brocade dress as I remember – I think I get my love of clothes and jewelry from her; she liked some sparkle. Her Sunday meals were nothing short of a miracle of commitment and love. I know now from experience that the soup could (and should for maximum taste and texture) be made well in advance and refrigerated or can easily even be frozen. She clearly made it earlier in the week or at least on Saturday. (The alternative to this soup was a quick matzoh ball one which I hope to perfect an eggless version of as well – stay tuned.)

Dessert was marble loaf cake from the bakery where she also purchased her rye bread, or a simple yellow cake she made herself with thick chocolate icing. (There were black and white cookies, but those we took home. Another favorite of my father’s, I was still buying them for him right up until he passed several years ago and I wrote about that here.) After the rather extravagant Italian indulgences of the other side of my family her fare was more simple. However, this soup was a favorite of my dad’s and Grandma taught mom to make it early on.

Mix of dry beans ready to hit the pot.

It would seem that despite or maybe because of her family cooking pedigree mom somehow made it into marriage with only nascent cooking skills. (There are stories about her cooking her first steak and leaving the label on by mistake – and a chicken cooked with the neck and giblets still inside.) Somehow learning from her mother in-law was less fraught I guess. It was a family business to her mother who was, I think, rather no nonsense about it although she softened with age and I frequently watched her in the kitchen for hours.

Grandma Butler had a bit of a mania about healthy eating and mom recently reminded me that she would lecture at great length about the benefits of the chicken in the soup, the eggs in the yellow cake, etc. Grandma was a firm believer that one should not have beverages while eating, it would dilute the nutrition somehow, but there was alway rye or black bread and butter on the table.

Who knew you could still buy these?

This soup was utterly ubiquitous in my childhood. Once the chill of fall set in rarely a week would go by without a pot of it simmering on the stove, containers of it filling the fridge or freezer. The childhood version of the soup always had chicken (or turkey) as the base, the remainder of a dinner the carcass would be thrown into a pot to start the soup. My father liked to add saltine crackers or preferably La Choy Chow Mein Noodles to a bowl of it. I had not actually thought of that in many years. The mixed dry soup beans used to come in a single long convenient bag where somehow they weren’t mixed but in sections.

Tootsie’s chicken based version was incredibly thick and would always need water to thin it after being in the fridge. If my vegetarian version has a flaw in my mind it is that I cannot make it as thick which may not be seen as an issue to all – everyone may not want it thick enough to stand a spoon in. Depending on how thick you like it, play around a bit with the amount of beans and how much you use the blender on. I like to think she would have approved of this vegetarian version – they were Jewish so it was never made with ham or bacon.

Wowza – found the bean mixes online! The miracle of the internet.

So find yourself a week with frost in the forecast and make this soup a day or so in advance. As with most of my soups, toss in whatever vegetables you have – leftovers included. You’ll have enough for about eight servings. Let me know how you like it!

The Recipe:

Soften onion, carrots, garlic and mushroom (celery if using), allow to cook down and brown some. Meanwhile, rinse the beans, trim the green beans and the potatoes. Add the green beans and the potatoes, after those have softened, add the beans. I stir the dry beans continuously and let them cook a bit.

Deglaze the pan with the vermouth or wine and make sure to use a wooden spoon to scrape the pot. Add the stock and allow to come to a boil. Season to taste with herbs below or your own preference, keeping in mind that this vegetarian version probably requires more salt and seasoning than you might typically use. (I use more herbs than my grandmother would have I am sure. I didn’t have flat parsley in the house or I would have added and I think it would be nice.) I used a marash red pepper, but cayenne will do. Let it stay at a soft boil for at least a half hour, adding water if necessary as the beans absorb the water.

At this point I would let it sit for at least an hour, or even more preferably – this soup is best if it sits overnight in the fridge. For a thicker body to the soup a third or half can be blended using a blender or immersion blender – make sure to remove the bay leaf however! I think this is a more satisfying texture, thicker.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium size rough chopped onion
  • carrots, cut about 1.5 inches, about 2/3-1 cup
  • garlic, to taste
  • mushrooms, sliced
  • halved green beans
  • chopped celery (optional)
  • chopped Italian (broad leaf) parsley (optional)
  • new potatoes, 1.5 inch chunks, about 1.5 cups
  • 1 cup split peas
  • 2/3 cup lentils
  • 2/3 cup barley
  • 64 oz. vegetable stock
  • vermouth or wine, half to two-thirds cups to deglaze the pot
  • dill, oregano, bay leaf, basil, salt, red pepper to taste