Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: A Year in Review


New Years Eve.

I have spent some time these past few days reading through my blog archives from the past eleven months, trying to find a way to sum up the past year. And I have spent some time reading other bloggers' end of year posts trying to find some inspiration. Some people were posting their favorite blog posts by month. Some were listing all the books they read, or the places they traveled, or their favorite songs. But none of those felt quite right to me, so I decided to do a little bit of everything. Because, well, I am a woman of many interests, and because for me, 2012 included a little bit of everything. And more.

In January I turned 29. My birthday was on a Wednesday, but I celebrated on Saturday night with dinner and my best friends. It felt a little weird to turn 29. Like I should be focused on the fact that this was the last birthday that would have a 2 in front of it, and that 30 was looming in the distance. But I wasn't focused on that. Instead I was focused on the people around me, and how lucky I was to be living this life with them, at any age. And in January I started training for my first half-marathon. I had been running for awhile, and it was time to kick it up. For four months Central Park became my second home, as I circled its loops four times a week and counted the days until the race.

In February I started this blog. It was February 10th. A Friday. It was raw and rainy outside, and I got an idea. An idea for something I wanted to say. I wanted to write about the books I love, and the people I love, and after I wrote my very first sentence of my very first post, the ideas just flowed. And over the past eleven months my blog has taken on a bit of a different flavor, but I am so proud of it, and will be forever grateful for that first spark of inspiration on an otherwise ordinary day.

In March D and I started talking about moving. About leaving our apartment in New York City and venturing out to parts unknown. About buying a house and another car and becoming suburbanites. We looked at our first couple of houses, and thought how it would probably take months and months to find the right one for us. I fumed over the rhetoric about abortion and contraception coming from the federal and state governments, and took to my blog to express my outrage. And in March we boarded a plane late on a Saturday night and flew to Israel for a 10 day vacation on the beaches of Tel Aviv. And in a Tel Aviv mall I discovered that Israeli women love romance novels too, and my heart sang.

In April I spent the last days of Passover in Pittsburgh surrounded by family. I battled a running injury I thought might keep me out of the half marathon that was a mere four weeks away, and we made our first offer on a house we loved, but walked away after a week-long bidding war. And in April I read Nora Roberts' new book The Witness, fell instantly in love with the premier of Shonda Rhimes' new show Scandal, and bid farewell to One Tree Hill, a show that I had been watching since its premier my junior year in high school.

In May I went back to Pittsburgh to run the race. It was an unseasonably hot day that felt more like the end of July than the beginning of May. For three hours I joined thousands of other people to run the streets of the city I love. And there were some dicey miles, but I finished strong. It was my biggest accomplishment to date. And in May I read Nora Roberts' The Last Boyfriend, the incredible book Quiet by Susan Cain, and the less than incredible Fifty Shades of Gray trilogy.

In June we went to see the house that would ultimately be ours. The first time we saw it I couldn't see the potential, but D did, and twenty-four hours of negotiations later, the contracts were being drawn up, and plans were being made, and I started thinking about what it would feel like to live somewhere that wasn't Manhattan. I discovered Bunheads, a new TV show by the creator of Gilmore Girls, one of my favorite shows of all time, and spent some happy Monday nights with the quirky characters of Paradise, CA. And I stayed up until 4am one night just to finish Gillian Flynn's incomparable thriller Gone Girl.

In July we flew to Cleveland for the weekend to visit my sister and brother-in-law and to smother my little niece with love and presents, and I started the torturous process of applying for a mortgage. I watched in horror with the rest of the nation as news broke of a gunman inside a movie theater in Colorado, and I watched with excitement and glee as the Queen of England declared the Games of the 30th Olympiad open. I watched hours and hours of Olympics, and managed to make some time for the miniseries Political Animals, and the delicious debauchery of Bachelor Pad.

In August I suffered from a post-Olympics hangover and entered my very first blogging competition. I was approved for a mortgage. I watched the Republican National Convention and struggled with how I, a pro-choice, pro-marriage equality Republican, could fit into this modern incarnation of the Party. And in August we found out there was an open permit on our house and that our closing would be delayed, and traded a million e-mails with our lawyer and our mortgage company trying to get it sorted out.

In September we took a late night drive to the Jersey Shore to celebrate Labor Day Weekend and I spent a day looking back eleven years. We celebrated the Jewish holidays, and I wrote my first piece of fiction. We closed on our new house, and I started writing about the nostalgia I felt for leaving the home I had known for more than seven years. The twenty-one TV shows that I watch on a regular basis came back from their summer hiatuses, and my DVR was once again filled to capacity.

In October we celebrated our two year wedding anniversary with dinner and dessert on our living room couch. I started counting down to my last run in Central Park, and started thinking about packing boxes, and whether our cable would be hooked up in time so I didn't miss any of my shows. I wrote a post I love about the female vote, and I took my last Central Park run (or so I thought). And in October our move to the new house was delayed by three days as New York City was devastated by Hurricane Sandy and her aftermath.

In November I took my actual last run in Central Park, we moved into our new house and commenced six weeks without a kitchen as our construction was finished, and I entered a challenge to blog every day of the month. The third book in Nora Roberts' Boonsboro Inn trilogy was released, and it saved my sanity during our first real weekend in our house. D built our kitchen cabinetsI started learning the streets of our new neighborhood, and I saw camels on 51st Street on my way to work. I spent Thanksgiving with my family in Pittsburgh, and I celebrated with my best friend when she got engaged. I finally unpacked my romance novel collection, and spent some serious quality time on my new couch in front of the TV.

In December I got my first blogging award, and saw those camels again. The construction on our house finally came to an end, and I started cooking in my brand new kitchen. My heart broke for the Sandy Hook community as they struggled to make sense out of a tragedy, and I grieved alongside one of the families as they laid their little boy to rest. I finally got my running mojo back, and spent a cozy night in our new home in front of the fireplace.

What a year indeed.

Happy New Year.

Here's to 2013.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Metro North Commuters Don't Do Coffee Spills


As most of you probably know, about two months ago I moved to the suburbs and now commute to Manhattan for work every day via Metro North Railroad. And after the past two months, I have the commute down to a science, and have even started to really enjoy the 31 minute ride and the time it gives me to zone out, read a few chapters, or brainstorm blog ideas. I don't think it is an accident that I feel like I have really hit my stride on this blog since I moved to White Plains.

Needless to say, my Metro North commute is far different than the NYC Subway commute that I did for the seven and a half years I lived in Manhattan. For the past couple of weeks I have been considering a blog post listing all the different ways commuting from Westchester is more civilized and humane than commuting on the Subway (like, for example, alcohol is allowed on Metro North, and there are even little kiosks in Grand Central that helpfully sell beer and mixed drinks at a discount to Westchester commuters). I was planning on posting some sort of top ten list, and was waiting until I had enough information stored away to make you all understand just how different these two commuting experiences are.

Well. This morning I saw something - just one thing - on the train that encapsulates the entire difference between Metro North and the Subway. A top ten list is no longer necessary. My list is now exactly one item long.

As the train was pulling away from White Plains this morning, a man sitting a few rows in front of me put his cup of coffee on the floor while he took off his jacket (oh, did I mention that Metro North kindly provides hooks at every seat on which to hang one's jacket?). When he was sitting back down he misjudged his footing, and accidentally knocked over said coffee cup, spilling its contents onto the floor. The velocity of the train caused the spilled coffee to stream from its point of origin, and head towards the feet of the people across the aisle.

Now. I noticed all of this with about half of my brain. Not because I was tired or anything, but because I am a former Subway commuter. During my seven-plus years on the Subway, nary a day went by where I wasn't dodging some mysterious liquid or food-stuff that ended up on the floor of the Subway car. Once I even had an entire cup of coffee dumped on my spotless white shirt by some reckless fellow passenger. Subway riders are always holding far more than they can reasonably carry, and for some reason they think adding a cup of steaming hot liquid is an excellent idea. Accidents ensue. On the Subway, no one bats an eye when there is coffee on the floor, or when empty bags of chips get stuck to your shoe by chewed gum, or when there are giant rats scampering up and down the tracks. That kind of mess is just the price of doing business.

Being used to that kind of daily disorder on my morning commute, this coffee accident harmless in comparison, and I turned my attention back to my book.

Well, I may have dismissed this morning's coffee accident as harmless, even as it was happening, but not so for my fellow Metro North commuters. As the poor man put his coffee cup on the floor, the man across the aisle was eyeing the cup like a hawk. And when it spilled, and was basically ignored by its owner, the man across the aisle went out of his ever-loving mind. He immediately sprang into action, rallying fellow passengers for napkins to clean up the mess, while giving the owner of the coffee cup the evil eye. If looks could kill, I'm telling you. He alerted everyone in the vicinity to pick up their feet, and to take their bags and purses off the floor, lest they be attacked by the errant streams of coffee. Apparently, Westchester commuters just don't do coffee spills on the way to work.

And as I flipped through my mental files of the past two months, it occurred to me that this was the very first spill of any kind I have seen on my morning train, and that I have never, ever seen trash on the floor of my Metro North cars.

Toto, I don't think we are are on the Subway anymore.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

After the Snow


View from the train platform, after last night's snow.

I love the way the world looks in the wintertime. 

Grey skies, snow dusting the grass, bare trees, and silent streets.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Top Six Reasons It's Not Bad to Work The Week Between Christmas and New Years

8:30am: Empty City Streets

I mean, I obviously wish that I wasn't working today. That I was home laying on the couch in sweat pants like I have been the past three days. But alas, here I am in my office. In the four years that I have been working I have always been in the office for the days between Christmas and New Years. I have to miss a lot of work in September and October for all of the Jewish holidays, and the people I work with really pick up the slack for me. So, since I don't celebrate Christmas, I always feel like it is only fair for me to be in the office this week, when most of my colleagues are on vacation.

But working this week isn't all bad. So here, for your reading satisfaction, are the top six reasons why I like working the week between Christmas and New Years:

6. Empty parking lots - To get to work, I drive my car to the train station and park it in a lot near the platform. Normally to get the first spot closest to the platform, one would have to get to the lot at six in the morning. I usually get there closer to eight, leaving me with a bit of a walk. But this morning, with most of the White Plains commuters still asleep, I got the first spot in the lot.

5. Empty trains - Unlike the Subway, which was my commuting method for the seven-plus years I lived in Manhattan, commuting via Metro North from Westchester is actually a pretty delightful experience. People are much calmer, and with enough seats for everyone, you are far less likely to spend your morning commute with someone's elbow jabbing into your side, or with your face smushed up against a fellow commuter's back. But there are still seats on Metro North that are more preferred than others, and they are really hard to get. Leaving from White Plains, which is a commuting hub in lower Westchester, I rarely ever get one of them. But this morning, with a mostly empty train, I had my pick of the best seats in the car.

4. Quiet office - There are approximately seven people working on my floor this week. It's super quiet. Quiet is good.

3. Quiet clients - Most of my clients are away this week, as are most of the bankers and trust companies that I deal with on a day-to-day basis. While this month has been my busiest December since I started my career as a Trusts & Estates lawyer (thanks, Congress and Mr. President for your complete inability to come to any kind of rational compromise about tax rates, leaving my clients uncertain. Uncertainty breeds fear. This is not news), this week is shaping up to be pretty quiet with most of my clients either on vacation or hunkered down with their families, so it leaves me ample time to accomplish the tasks I haven't been able to get to since December began.

2. The New York City streets are empty (at least today) - While by weeks end the streets will be crowded once again in anticipation of New Year's Eve, for today at least, the streets are blessedly empty. I know that by the time I make my way to the train tonight the crowds will be back in full force, taking advantage of the post-Christmas sales along Fifth Avenue, this morning when I was walking to work, most of the tourists seemed to still be sleeping off yesterday's festivities, making the walk a pleasure rather than the usual game of Survivor.

1. No line for coffee - Getting coffee in Manhattan on a weekday morning can really be a survival of the fittest situation. You have to be alert, guard your place in line with your life, and know exactly what you want before your turn at the register comes, lest you be subject to ridicule by your fellow caffeine junkies. But this morning, I walked into Dunkin' Donuts and went straight to the counter. No line, no wait, and no Banker-types making exasperated sighing noises just because they have to wait in line for more than fifteen seconds.

Anyone else working today, or am I the only one? What's good about your workdays this week?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Cozy Night

I don't celebrate Christmas, but neither do I do the traditional Jewish-person-on-Christmas-Eve movie and Chinese food. This is a perfectly delightful way to spend an evening, but just not the way I choose to spend December 24th. Even though Christmas is not my holiday, there is something cozy and still about Christmas Eve, and I have always loved staying at home to sink into all that calm. 

So last night. Last night we decided to stay home. A pile of blankets and pillows, pizza, ice cream, three movies, and a fire in our new fireplace made for an absolutely perfect evening.


And as an added bonus, our front yard was covered in snow. 

View from my front door.

Happy holidays to those of you celebrating today. 

Hope you had an equally cozy and family-filled night.

Monday, December 24, 2012

It's The Most Wonderful (Running) Time of the Year

I am a runner. Three or four mornings a week I put on my running shoes and hit the pavement. I never run in a gym, and I don't care what the weather is. I run outside, and I love it. My runs are time for me to think and breathe, and to take a break from the world. When I am running, nothing else matters.

But I have a confession to make.

Since our move to the suburbs almost two months ago, my usual delight in my morning runs has been elusive.  I am still running of course, but I haven't been loving it nearly as much as I normally do. It is a combination of things, I think. I am not totally comfortable on the streets of my new neighborhood yet, so I am still carrying my phone for the GPS so I can find my way around, which makes zoning out while I run practically impossible. The weather seems to be sticking in the high 40s/low 50s range, which is my least favorite weather to run in. And most of all, I think, I really miss Central Park. For two years The Park was the only place I ran, and that six mile loop was my second home. Leaving it, and learning to run somewhere else, has been harder than I imagined.

But starting with yesterday's run, I think I'm finally getting my running mojo back.

When I got up, I did my habitual weather check so I would know what to wear, and the temperature was in the low 30s. Perfect. I love running in the freezing cold weather. I love my running tights, and my pink fleece-lined running jacket. I love running gloves, and my dry-fit headband. I love feeling the frigid air in my lungs, and I love seeing my breath as I huff and puff my way through the miles. Running in the freezing cold makes me feel fierce. It makes me feel alive.

Finally time for running tights and my pink fleece-lined jacket. Loving it.

When I run in the cold the world feels quiet. Lots of people run in the spring and summer. But when the leaves are gone, the trees bare, and the sky steel grey with the promise of snow, not very many runners brave the outdoors. Sometimes when I am running the winter streets, I feel like the only person alive, which, for those moments, feels absolutely perfect.

My cold and empty winter streets.

The arrival of winter also means the arrival of training season. Lots of people run their longest races in the fall, and train throughout the spring and summer. And while one of my life goals is to run the New York City Marathon on the first Sunday in November, I prefer to schedule my longest races in the spring and summer and pack my miles into the winter months.

Like a lot of people, I do my best running when I have a goal. Having a race looming in the distance is incentive for me to get out of bed at ungodly hours of the morning before work to get my miles in, rather than re-setting my alarm to get that extra hour of sleep. Marking off training runs on a calendar in anticipation of a race is exciting, and keeps me motivated through the short, dark days of winter.

Knowing these things about myself, I registered for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon (or, possibly, the full if I can get my act together in time) in May, and the Pittsburgh Rock n' Roll Half Marathon in August. And while I am not wild about running those huge distances in the heat of the summer, the fact that I can train all the way through the winter makes those sweaty race miles worth it. And with my first race eighteen weeks away, I have declared my training season officially open.

So, winter is finally here, the cold air has arrived, and I feel like I am finally getting into a groove in my new neighborhood. It is, indeed, the most wonderful (running) time of the year.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012

I Can't Forget


In my nearly eight years in Manhattan, I never listened to the radio. The radio was always something I associated with driving in a car, and since I didn't drive a car in New York City, I never turned on the radio. I don't even think I could have told you what the good radio stations were.

But now that I moved to the suburbs and drive a car every single day, the radio has once again become a part of my life. On my first day in the car, I was flipping through the stations, and stumbled upon a country music station. I love country music, but have found it to be a rare commodity in the northeast. So now the radio in my car is always tuned to Kicks 105.5.

I mostly tune out when the music stops and the DJs start talking, so what I failed to notice in my first six weeks in the suburbs is that my new favorite radio station is a station out of Connecticut, and they broadcast just a few miles from Newtown.

All week long the station has been inundated with callers sharing their thoughts about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and many of those callers have been broadcast on the air. And while I have tried really hard to stay away from the news in the days since the shooting - because once I start reading and watching I can't stop, and tend to get sucked in far beyond what is healthy and reasonable - I have been positively unable to turn off the radio. Hearing the tributes and thoughts from the residents of Newtown and the surrounding towns has been a way for me to process this tragedy in a way that seemed good and right to me.

But last night when I got in the car to head home from work there was something different on the radio. There was no music, and there were no DJs. Instead there was a man making a speech. And for a minute I couldn't tell what the speech was from, and then I realized. My radio station was broadcasting the entirety of the Tribute to Newtown, held at Connecticut State University. The tribute was organized to allow Connecticut resident to come together, to talk, and to grieve.

And I turned on the car just in time to hear these words from the university president, James Schmotter:

"We are alike in our pain; we are alike in our grief; we are alike in our quest to try to find some understanding of the events that seem truly incomprehensible."

And the truth of those words struck something in me. Reading blogs, and listening to the radio these past days, I have come to understand that I am far from the only one still trying to make sense out of the senseless. That I am far from the only one who is still thinking about the faces of twenty children who will be forever first graders. That I am far from the only one trying to find order in chaos. 

This is, unfortunately, not the first mass shooting in recent memory, but this one feels different. I just can't move on from this one. And I'm not sure that I should, completely. It feels right to still be thinking about it. To not want to ever forget about it. To not be able to write words about anything else.

So while the funerals continue and the residents of Newtown try to pick up the pieces of their shattered community, I hope that they don't feel alone. As the parents grieve and the siblings wonder what became of their brothers and sisters, I hope they feel the arms of a nation wrapped around them. I hope they know that we will never, ever forget those twenty-seven faces, and that our tears flow along with theirs.

And I hope it brings just a bit of balm to their broken hearts and aching souls.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

First Floor Reveal

It has been a strange and sad week. And now I think a little levity is in order. You too? Onward.

The construction on our new house is finally, mercifully, finished. Oh there are always a few odds and ends, and some boxes that still need to be unpacked, but nothing that is keeping us from living - really living - in our new home. And we are loving it.

Last Friday I posted before and after pictures of my brand new kitchen. And today, for your viewing satisfaction, I am doing the same for the rest of the first floor. The befores and afters aren't quite as dramatic as the kitchen, but we think it's looking pretty good. The "before" pictures, like on Friday, are the pictures from the original listing, so they are exactly what we saw when we walked into the house for the first time.

Here we go. Living room first.

Before:

After:

 Before:

After:

 Before:

After:

And as an added bonus, the perfect view of our newly mounted 63 inch TV, tuned to the Steeler game of course.


Now the family room:

Before:

After:

 Before:

After:

 Before:

After:

And for good measure, my new bookshelves:

Last weekend we had lots of family and friends over on Saturday night to celebrate our new home and the first night of Chanukah. We had lots of great food, a fire in the fireplace, and all the people we love most. And now, parents are on their way to New York as I type this to see the new house, and stay with us for the weekend, and I am, quite literally, counting the minutes until they get here.

It feels better than I ever imagined to have a place that is really our own. A place where all of our people can gather together, and be together. Growing up, my parents' house was that house. The one that welcomed friends and family to celebrate in good times and to comfort in hard times. And I hope that our house will be as well.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Comfort of Sameness and Jewish Tradition

I couldn't settle down yesterday. I couldn't settle down because I was thinking about what was going on in a town just forty miles to the north of where I sat. In that town, there was a funeral. The funeral of Noah Pozner, one of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

I knew that, at about the same time, there was another funeral too. And there are more today, and there will be countless others in the days ahead. But it was Noah's that was on my mind as I went about my business yesterday. It was Noah's that I couldn't get out of my mind. Not because he is more important than all the rest; of course he isn't. But because Noah is Jewish, and so am I.

So while I couldn't be quite sure what the other funerals would look like, what the order of the services would be, for Noah's, I knew. I knew because Jewish funerals are generally all the same. And there is a solace in that sameness. In a format that has changed little in over four thousand years. A format designed to offer direction in this moment of intense crisis and confusion.

I knew that his funeral was on Monday because Jewish law commands that the funeral be held as soon as possible after death. I knew that he had not been left alone for even a second from the time of his death until the time he was buried; that someone had been watching over him since Friday afternoon.

I knew that there would be a tiny closed casket at the front of the room. A simple wood box adorned with a Star of David. I knew that before the funeral his family would gather in a room and each would tear a piece of their clothing, and I knew what that tearing would sound like. I knew that they would sit in the front row and prop each other up as eulogies were given. I knew that before the funeral's end someone would recite "E-l Malei Rachamim," a haunting prayer asking God to grant eternal resting to the soul.

I knew that at the burial Noah's family would take turns shoveling the dirt onto his casket themselves, and I knew that when the burial was over the community would form two lines leading away from the grave for the family to walk through; a symbol of solidarity. I knew they would go straight home to start sitting shiva, and I knew that family and friends would be waiting for them when they arrived. I knew that those same family and friends and even some strangers would pay visits over the next days, attempting to relieve the burden of the Pozners' crushing loneliness.

I don't presume to know what it is like to lose a child in such a violent and shattering way. But it is my greatest hope that these ancient traditions offered a bit of comfort as Noah's family struggles to find light in the darkness.

I couldn't get Noah out of my mind yesterday. And I am still thinking about him today.

Hamakom yenachem etchem b'toch she'ar avelai Tziyon Vi'yerushalayim.

May God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.*


*A hebrew prayer that visitors to a shiva house offer to the mourners

Monday, December 17, 2012

Thoughts on Freedom, and Sandy Hook Elementary

I have so much to say. I don't know what to say.

These seemingly incongruous thoughts have been the ones rushing through my head at equal turns since I first heard the news on Friday of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown. My first reaction to the early reports was disbelief. I was sure that the reports - conflicting as they were in those first hours - were mistaken. But as the death toll mounted, and more information was released, it was clear that they were not.

In rapid succession I traveled the stages of grief. For a long while on Friday night, I was stuck in depression. On my way home from work I read articles and looked at pictures of the kids caught in the middle of this terror, and my soul ached for the lives that were taken far before their time. I read testimonials from parents who dropped their kids off at school in the morning, secure in the belief that those kids would be safe. Those parents who spent hours caught in a nightmarish limbo, waiting to see whether their children were alive or dead. And my heart broke - for the parents whose children came back to them, and for the parents whose children never will.

And after depression came anger, and it is there that I stayed, and remain today. Angry at what, exactly, I am not sure. There are so many things. Angry at a God who would wrench the innocence from a school full of children. Angry at the shooter's mother, for teaching her son to love guns. For taking him to the shooting range and for sending the message that guns are toys to enjoy, rather than lethal weapons to fear. Angry at people who saw in the shooter signs of mental illness, yet did nothing. Angry that there are people in this country who believe that the Second Amendment affords them the right to own an assault rifle - a firearm capable of killing hundreds of people in seconds. Angry at the politicians who are too feeble to stand up to the NRA and pass laws to place reasonable restrictions on gun ownership. Angry at those who say that this is an inappropriate time to talk about gun control by spouting a bunch of nonsense about not politicizing a tragedy.

This is the perfect time. And you know when else would have been a perfect time? After thirty-two people were gunned down in 2007 on the Virginia Tech Campus. Or last year after Gabby Giffords was shot in the head - and six people were killed - outside a grocery store in Arizona during a meet and greet. Or after twelve people were killed in Aurora, Colorado this past summer during a midnight showing of Batman. Or after the Kansas City Chiefs linebacker shot and killed his girlfriend and then himself earlier this month. Or after a gunman killed two people during a mass shooting at an Oregon mall just last week. Last. Week. Two mass shootings in a single week.

Honestly, if I hear the phrase "guns don't kill people, people kill people" one more time, I am likely to commit an act of violence myself.

Last week after that Chiefs linebacker shot and killed his girlfriend and then himself NBC's Bob Costas spoke out in favor of gun control. And he was berated for expressing his opinions so soon after the event took place. Well. If a conversation about rational gun control laws in this country is politicizing these unspeakable tragedies, then I say politicize away. That conversation has to start somewhere, sometime, because we can't continue down this path anymore.

Lets start with the facts. An op-ed in Saturday's New York Times laid them out all nice and neat. Countries that have strict gun control laws are safer than the ones that don't. Children aged 5-14 in America are 13 times more likely to be killed by a gun than in any other country in the industrialized world. In the United States, firearms kill one person every twenty minutes, or approximately 30,000 people per year. More Americans die in gun deaths in six months then have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack on American soil and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined.

So. You want to own guns. You want to hunt, and you want to protect yourself and your family. You want to pass along this heritage to your children. And you believe - and will defend to the literal death - that the Second Amendment affords you this right. And maybe it does. Reasonable minds may differ. But the intent of the founding fathers certainly was not that the citizens of this country arm themselves with assault rifles similar to those used by our soldiers in combat. And to allow those weapons to be purchased without so much as a background check.

I have been a student of Constitutional Law, and time after time my professors drilled into my head the ideology behind individual freedoms, and when it is just and acceptable for limits to be placed on those freedoms. We are given the freedom of speech until our words will create a clear and present danger, incite immediate violence, or would interfere with a legitimate government interest. We have freedom of religion unless that religion practices human sacrifice, or it means children will die because their parents refuse to give them medicine to treat common illnesses. We have the freedom to peaceably assemble, but cities are still permitted to place reasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner of assembly to keep the peace and maintain public spaces.

Cars can be dangerous, so state legislatures pass laws to make them safer. There are tests to pass before a drivers license can be issued, seat belt laws, speed limits, and laws prohibiting the use of cell phones while driving. OSHA has five pages of laws relating to the use of ladders. School buildings must meet certain safety codes, and cafeteria food is regulated to reduce the risk of food-borne illness. For heaven's sake, even toy guns are regulated by requiring orange tips, so as not to mistake a toy gun for a real gun. But we can't get together and pass reasonable restrictions on actual gun ownership?

Every freedom has its limits. This is the price we pay for living in a civilized society. So I have a really hard time understanding why the pro-gun lobby thinks that the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms is the only freedom we are afforded as Americans that should be virtually limitless.

Look, we don't want your guns, we really don't, as long as you buy them legally and own them safely. We might not like it, but it's really not up to us to judge. But it should be a little harder to get a gun, to reduce the risk of these kinds of mass shootings becoming even more commonplace than they already are. Like instituting waiting periods and background checks. Or restricting the sale of certain kinds of ammunition to reduce the number of people who can be killed with a single cartridge. Or banning assault rifles. These are measures that have already been taken in other countries that have dramatically reduced the volume of gun deaths. It's time to take those steps in this country too.

You want to own guns? Fine. Own them. But you better make damn sure that your freedom to own those guns doesn't infringe on our freedom to stay alive while watching a movie, shopping at a mall, going to school, and walking the streets.

Oh but wait, it already has. Because this morning, as parents all over the country drove their children to school, they did so filled with an unspeakable fear. Fear that their children are no longer safe in the one place they should be the safest. Fear that when they hugged their children goodbye it might be the last time. And you can bet that there are some parents who kept their children home today. Or picked them up early on Friday. And because there are twenty families in a town only forty miles from where I sit right now that are planning funerals for first graders. Planning funerals. For first graders. Let that sink in, and then try and tell me that unlimited gun ownership under the Second Amendment is a freedom to be celebrated.

My heart is aching for the twenty families who lost children, the six other families who lost loved ones, and an entire community that has been ripped apart at the seams. But grief and thoughts and prayers simply are not enough. Not this time. Now is the time for action. For writing our elected representatives to tell them that we have had enough. For pushing back when the NRA touts gun ownership as a reasonable means of protection. For keeping assault rifles out of the hands of anyone who is not a soldier on the front lines defending this country from its enemies.

We will never get all the guns back, but as members of a civilized society, it is time to take action. It is time for change. And it is our patriotic duty as Americans to ensure that change comes sooner, rather than later.

We owe it to those twenty children and their families. We owe it to ourselves and our families.

Now is the time for action.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Kitchen Reveal!


This is our house. 

It looks the same on the outside today as it did the day we saw it for the first time (although, obviously, a little less green). But the inside is a whole different story. Aside from some odds and ends over the next couple of weeks our construction is finally done, and it's time for the big reveal, complete with some "before" and "after" shots. I'll post all the rooms next week, but I'll start today with the kitchen, which is my most favorite, and certainly the most dramatic, of all the work that we did.

And I would be remiss if I didn't thank my incredibly talented husband. Not only is everything you see here entirely his vision, and not only did he build the kitchen cabinets with his own hands, but he also has spent the past two months overseeing workmen, running back and forth to Home Depot for supplies, troubleshooting the inevitable construction issues, running a company of his own, and generally being completely awesome. In the most literal way possible, he built us a home. A beautiful one.

A note: The "before" pictures are the ones that were part of the original listing, so what you see is what we saw the first time we walked into the house (when I said "no way" and D said "this is the one." How wrong I was). 

Drumroll please. 

Our kitchen:

Before:

After:

Before:

After:

Before:

After:

Before:

After:

And for good measure...first cookies in the new kitchen!

Before:

After:

Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Extended Family

Combing through my archives of the past year, I realize that I have spent precious little time talking about my extended family. It seems strange to me now, because I do, indeed, have an extended family that is quite large, loud, a little crazy at times, extraordinarily close, and incredibly important to me.

We have mainly settled in the Northeast, although we do go as far south as South Carolina, and as far west as San Francisco. With a rash of weddings and babies over the past two years we have all gotten together quite a bit, and we are lucky that we are usually all able to be in the same place at the same time at least once a year.

And among this big extended family are three women - my aunts.

Warm, caring, generous, strong and fiercely loyal, these three women - and my mom of course - have taught me everything I need to know about life, love, loss, and all the shades in between. 

From them my cousins, sisters and I have learned how to manage the chaotic balancing act of family, home, and career; what jewelry goes best with anything from jeans to cocktail dresses; which espresso machine will brew the perfect cup of coffee; how to both listen and talk at the same time (a difficult skill, to be sure); how to drape a scarf to make it the perfect accessory; that cheese-balls (the orange, processed kind) are the only acceptable summertime poolside snack; the best way to study for a standardized test; how to pick the perfect dishes to ensure a coordinated kitchen; the virtue of eating dessert; and much, much more.

And my aunts are on my mind because as I finish unpacking my house, so many of the things that I am unpacking have come from them. Clothes, accessories, things for the kitchen - over the years they have all made sure that I, and my sisters and cousins, have everything we need to live our lives well, and stylishly.

There is one set of gifts that I am particularly fond of, and excited about, and it came from my mom's oldest sister, we'll call her Aunt I. When she heard back in June that we were buying a house, I think that she was more excited than we were, and we were pretty excited. We had long conversations about colors, design, kitchens, and in particular, serving pieces. Because she believes, and now I do as well, that the best way to decorate a house and set a good table is with colorful accessories. She is masterful at finding just the right accessories to make a house a home, and is, and always has been, unfailingly generous.

And so it was that at the end of the summer she drove to Pittsburgh with a car loaded with presents for the new house. After Thanksgiving we brought them back to New York, and they have been sitting in boxes since then, waiting for our construction to be finished. And yesterday, it was. So my first order of business when I got home from work was to unpack all of those boxes, and what a treat it was.

Because in those boxes, was all of this:


And these stunning and unique pieces are now scattered throughout our first floor, decorating our brand new space, and reminding us of how lucky we are to be a part of this loud, chaotic, sometimes crazy, but always loving family.

Thanks, Aunt I, for helping us make our house into a home. We can't wait for you to come and see it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Liebster


One of the most fun parts about starting this blog last February has been the other bloggers that I have had the opportunity to meet. There is an entire community of writers sharing bits and pieces of themselves online, and even though I have not met any of them in person, I feel like they are friends. They are smart, thoughtful and savvy women and men, and I love that they have let me be a part of their cyber universe.

Which is why I was thrilled and incredibly honored when Emma gave me the Liebster Award. And what, you might ask, is a Liebster Award? Kind of like a chain letter, it is an award given to a new-ish, up and coming blogger by another blogger, who in turn got in from someone else. Get it?  Just think of those chain letters you used to get as a kid. Although, I almost always broke the chain, and never did receive the promised 10 letters from around the world.

The origins of the award are a little murky, but it has been making its way around the blogosphere for some time now, and seems like fun.

The rules of the game are simple:
  1. The recipient of the award posts 11 facts about themselves
  2. The recipient then answers 11 questions posed by the giver of the award
  3. The recipient nominates other bloggers for the award, links to them, and posts 11 questions for those bloggers to answer
Ok, so maybe it's not quite so simple, but it is pretty fun, and I am psyched to do it. So, here we go:

11 Facts About Me
  1. I was speaking in complete sentences when I was just over a year old. I was like some kind of mutant child. My mom says strangers used to come up to the stroller and speak to me in baby voices, and I used to answer them, talking like I was 12 years old. It totally freaked them out.
  2. If I hear a song once, I can remember all of the words for the rest of my life.
  3. I love romance novels more than anything in the world, and I own every single book that Nora Roberts has ever written.
  4. I have a notebook filled with ideas about a series of romance novels that I plan to write, and I have already started on the first one.
  5. My favorite food is french fries. I need to eat them at least once a week or I get cranky. I sometimes think that I could eat nothing but french fries for every meal until the day I die and I would be completely content.
  6. I love country music.
  7. I didn't understand a single part of any of the following movies: Inception, Minority Report, and The Matrix 
  8. I use Google as a spell checker. I am the worst speller in the world. Ironic considering, you know, this blog.
  9. I can recite all the dialogue from the movie Speed.
  10. I watch, regularly (as in, don't miss a single episode of) twenty-one television shows a week. That doesn't include Football, Gilmore Girls re-runs, The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. I watch all of those too.
  11. I won't read a book that doesn't have a happy ending.
Answers to Emma's Questions For Me
  1. What is your favorite tree and why? - The huge oak tree that sat right outside our house in Pittsburgh where I grew up that was inhabited by a family of squirrels that fascinated my dad. I'm pretty sure that we have pictures somewhere of that squirrel family.
  2. Are you still in touch with anyone from elementary school? How about high school? - Neither, actually. 
  3. If you could live anywhere in the world with no financial or language concerns, where would it be? - I don't really have aspirations for world travel, I'm pretty much a homebody, so I would probably choose to live right where I am. Or in Pittsburgh so I could be closer to my parents. Speaking of which...
  4. Do you like your parents? - I know that for a lot of people this is a complex question. Not so for me. Yes, I like my parents. I also admire them, and am incredibly grateful to them for giving me strength, character, resilience, and a sense of humor, for teaching me to live with purpose, and for encouraging my sisters and me to blaze our own trails. Basically, if we were any closer, we would be one person.
  5. What is a favorite book and/or what are you reading now? - My favorite book is Birthright, by Nora Roberts (see: my aforementioned love of romance novels). I have read it at least 100 times. Right now I am reading The Panther, by Nelson DeMille. If you have never read any of his books featuring retired NYPD cop John Corey, you are seriously missing out.
  6. Do you have any pets? - No, much to my husband's dismay.
  7. Would you like to travel to other planets, if possible? - I don't think so. Space travel kind of freaks me out. But I really love the movie Apollo 13.
  8. Do you think encouraging children to believe in Santa is "lying" to them? - No way. I think it's good for kids to have something magical to believe in. 
  9. Do you have a secret that only one or two other people know about? - I think that anyone who answers no to this question is lying.
  10. What is the one thing that you would like you spouse/partner to stop doing? - Leaving Coke Zero cans all over the house.
  11. What question have I forgotten to ask that you would like to answer? - How about my favorite season? I prefer fall/winter to summer/spring, and actually love when the clocks change and the days get shorter 
11 Questions For My Nominees
  1. If your life is being turned into a movie, who would play you?
  2. What was your favorite childhood book?
  3. What was the last thing that made you laugh until you cried and your sides hurt?
  4. Coffee or tea?
  5. If you weren't doing what you are doing now, what would you want to do instead?
  6. What is your favorite color and why?
  7. If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you would buy?
  8. What is your go-to, never fail recipe for a weekday dinner?
  9. What is the movie that, when you say you have never seen it, people look at you with that confused "I can't believe you never saw it" face?
  10. If you could pick a character from a book or movie to be your best friend, who would it be?
  11. What is your favorite season?
And My Nominees Are These Four Amazing Ladies
  1. Bea, from Living off Script
  2. Larks, from Maybe I Should Blog
  3. Michelle, from The Journey
  4. Ashley, from Ashley, Etc.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

First Day

I stood, fixed in place, blood roaring in my ears, when I realized what I had done.

I thought how this was not a very good way to make a first impression.

It was my first day of eighth grade. For most adolescent girls, the first day of eighth grade is unremarkable. A return to the monotony of middle school. To the same place and faces left behind the previous May. One more year of familiarity before the grand landscape of high school loomed. Not so for me. Two months before my first day, my family left behind the comfort of our familiar life in Western Pennsylvania, and drove south towards our new home in Jacksonville, Florida.

So for me, eighth grade was the beginning of a brand new chapter.

I woke up early the morning of my first day, my mind racing with barely concealed panic as I thought about all the things that could go wrong. My uniform skirt was too long. I had the wrong shoes. I was going to miss the bus. I had never taken a bus to school before. I didn't know how to take a bus. Who would I sit with at lunch?

But more than anything, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to find my classes. See, this wasn't just a school. This was a campus. It wasn't enough to just learn one building. I had to learn six different buildings. Seven if I took art, so I decided to never take art. All day long, my classes would zig-zag across campus, and I was expected to remember where I needed to be and when. I copied my schedule into the front cover of all of my notebooks, but my habitual organizational skills didn't have their usual calming effect. I was going to get lost. I just knew it.

But with no choice in the matter, I went to school and forged ahead with my day.

Maybe orientation did the trick, or my memory was better than I thought, but my nightmare scenario never came to fruition. I managed to find my locker, and all six of my classrooms. I zig-zagged with the best of them, and was on time all day.

I didn't have anyone to sit with at lunch, but I thought that there would be other days for worrying about that. Because today, I was worried about getting lost. Not existentially lost - there would be time enough for that too - but rather actually physically lost. And I didn't.

When the bell rang signaling that it was time to switch for the last period of the day, I gathered my books and headed towards the gym for eighth period PE, ready to give myself a big pat on the back for my remarkable navigation skills. But as I made my way there, I realized I was expected to change into the regulation gym uniform, and I didn't know where the locker rooms were.

The orientation tour had included the gym, obviously, but the tour guide never mentioned where to change.

No reason to panic, I thought. There were lots of people headed in my general direction. I assumed they had PE too, and walked with the crowd towards a door around the side of the gigantic gym. I breathed a sigh of relief as I followed everyone into what was most certainly the locker room, and glanced down at my watch to make sure I was still on time.

"What are you doing in here?"

I heard the shocked voice as I stepped over the threshold.

I looked up and found that I was, indeed, standing in the locker room.

The boy's locker room.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sneak Peek

So. It was a pretty quiet weekend chez Merel. My big plans were to do nothing on Saturday, spend some time Saturday night with my kitchen boxes, and work on emptying my DVR on Sunday.

I thought that last week would be the final week of our big kitchen project - and thus the final week of our remodel - but in the grand tradition of construction delays, they will still be working today and tomorrow. But since most of the heavy lifting is done, and they will just be doing grouting and some touch-ups over the next two days, I could finally set up my kitchen.

Putting my kitchen in order is a pretty big deal for me, because I love to cook. Every day after work since I graduated from law school, I have come home at night and hit the kitchen to make dinner. It's my little tradition. Cooking for me is peaceful and calming, and a way for me to signal that my day is done. And not having a kitchen for the past month, and thus not really being able to cook, has been tough. Definitely worth it in the long run, but terribly difficult in the short term.

My sister spent the night at my house on Friday night, and stayed late on Saturday to help me with the boxes. And she was a life saver. Between the two of us we unpacked every single box, and put every single dish, utensil and serving piece away, and got rid of all the boxes that had been permanent fixtures in the dining room since we moved in five weeks ago. And that dining room now looks like this:


Huge improvement over its previous state. There are still some things I can't set up due to the aforementioned grouting, but I'm hoping that by Thursday at the latest, everything will be back to normal.

And what of the kitchen that is nearly complete? Well, I made dinner last night like a normal person, and it was glorious. I barely even know what to do with my huge sinks and oceans of counter space. I think it will take a little time to get used to remembering where I am keeping everything, but I am already loving it. And I will be putting it to good use this coming Saturday night for our annual Chanukah party that this year will also be a bit of a housewarming.

I know I promised pictures of the finished product, but I want to wait until it is totally complete to do a proper before and after. But to tide you over until then, here is a sneak peek of the backsplash by the light of our newly installed hood.

Romantic, no?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Rediculata

As you know, last month I completed a challenge to blog ever day of November. And at the beginning I wasn't sure that I would be able to find enough material for thirty blogs in thirty days. But as I embarked on a search for that material, I quickly came to realize that it is everywhere. Every person I saw, every street I crossed, every store I shopped in all of a sudden became fodder for a new post. At some point during the month of November, my eyes started seeing the world in a new way. As a place teeming with rediculata just begging to be turned in to a blog post. And I really got my blogging mo-jo back.

But it was not enough just to write about it. I wanted you to see exactly what it was that I was talking about. So during November my phone started living in my hand as I walked the streets of both Manhattan and my new town, instead of resting snugly in the inside pocket of my bag. Because I needed to be able to pull it out and snap a picture at a moments notice. And carrying my phone became somewhat of a habit, even after November ended. Because it turns out that I really liked posting something every day, and I wanted to keep it up if I could.

And now, I am proud to say, my eyes are wide open. I no longer walk the streets with my head buried in my phone, or with my mind wandering. I like to look around. See what's going on, because in this city where I used to live and now come every day to work, something is always going on.

And if my mind wanders, I could miss something.

Like Cookie Monster and Elmo on their afternoon stroll up Sixth Avenue. I wonder what they're talking about?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lady in Red


She swept off the train, skirts swirling. She must have been at least six feet tall, but she walked with purpose, her crimson jacket swaying with the shimmy of her hips. Her high heels tapped a staccato beat on the concrete of the train platform, and her shiny hat tipped jauntily to the right, the perfect topper for her flowing raven hair.

I hung back to take a picture, in awe of this supremely confident stranger.

And found myself thinking of her the rest of the day, and smiling.

Thank you, Lady in Red.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Camels on 51st Street


Last week, on my way to work, I saw some camels on 51st street. Those ones up there. And while I had spent much of the week on this blog complaining about the hysteria of Midtown Manhattan this time of year, seeing the camels pushed those dark thoughts away. Because, as I said, any place where you can accidentally bump into camels on the way to work is a place worth staying connected to.

I spent the rest of that day laughing about my absurd sighting, and sending the pictures of those desert beasts around to everyone I could think of. Strangely enough, I didn't think too much about why they had been standing there in the middle of the street. Because in New York, when you see something weird, it's often best to just enjoy it and not spend too much time asking why

Well. It turns out that my camel sighting was something of an enigma.

Imagine my surprise when, the following day, I flipped to the Metro section of the New York Times and saw my furry friends, front and center, above the fold.

It seems that the camels, named Carol, Ted and Gabby, are part of the infamous Radio City Christmas Spectacular. The show runs four times a day during the holiday season, and every now and then during the day the camels get a break. Between shows, they are walked around the stage for exercise, and sometimes they get to come outside for some light and fresh air.

Not groundbreaking news by any stretch of the imagination.

But what makes this story New York Times worthy is that apparently, the timing of the camels' 51st Street appearances is a secret more closely guarded than the formula for Coca-Cola. Very few people in the theater know when the camels take their outdoor jaunts, and the ones who do know certainly are not telling. Some intrepid camel-watchers have even taken to staking out the 51st Street entrance to the theater for hours waiting for the camels to emerge, and begging stagehands at Radio City for intel. But the people who work at Radio City are protecting their creatures and playing it very close to the vest.

After reading the article, I spent a couple of days thinking about how lucky I was that I happened upon this mythic sighting, and how it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience (Because, camels, on a New York City street).

And then, on Monday morning, I saw them again. I was walking my regular Grand Central-to-office route, and there they were, gracing 51st Street with their majestic presence once more. And after seeing twice by accident what people have been waiting hours to see just once, I feel almost mythic myself.

So no matter how many times this holiday season I am asked for directions right in front of the direction-asker's destination (this happens far more often than you might think), and no matter how many times I am stuck in a crush of tourists while I am simply trying to cross the street for lunch, I am going to be gracious, and enjoy this time of year.

Because twice now I have seen camels in Midtown. And that is pretty spectacular.

Camel Sighting Number Two

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Traffic

A stretch of Highway 31 -
Parallel to the Pennsylvania Turnpike

I was immersed in my favorite romance novel, lulled by the familiar story and the drumming of rain on the roof, when the car slowed and D cursed, quiet and deadly. I looked up and saw the sea of taillights stretching for what seemed like miles, and I knew we were in trouble.

It was the Monday of Labor Day weekend, and we were headed back to New York after four days with my family in Pittsburgh. We should have left first thing in the morning, but it had been my little sister's wedding weekend, so we were wildly tired and not in much of a hurry to start a nearly 400 mile drive. We saved our packing until the alarm went off, and then decided to stay for lunch. It was nearly 2:30 in the afternoon by the time we pulled away. We knew we wouldn't get home until after nine, but at that moment, we didn't really care.

And then, just an hour into our drive, we saw the taillights. This wasn't slow-moving traffic. This was no-moving traffic.

Resigned to some extra time in the car, I kicked off my shoes, put my feet up, and continued to read; I was just getting to the good part. 

But D was having none of that. He flipped through the radio stations, trying to get some news. But there was nothing.

A burly, ruddy-faced trucker ambled down the highway on foot, rain streaming off of his grimy cap. As he passed our car, D rolled down the window and asked if he knew what was going on.

"Accident. Bodies on the highway, dahn 'ere 'bout two miles," he said in his Western Pennsylvania drawl. "Yinz ain't goin' nowhere."

That was all D needed to hear to catapult him to action. With his iPad in one hand and his phone in the other, he tried to find a way out. He called my brother-in-law, still at my parent's house, so that he could add a desktop computer to the mix, as if sheer volume of technology alone could somehow teleport us out of the traffic.

He thought he saw an exit on the map, about half a mile ahead, but he couldn't be sure, and we couldn't see it from the car. 

"Get in the driver's seat," he ordered. "I'm going to check it out."

Not thrilled with the idea of him walking up the shoulder of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the pouring rain, I tried to protest. But he would not be deterred. With only a wrinkled old jacket he liberated from the deep recesses of the trunk to shield him from the rain, he headed up the highway. 

Ten minutes passed, then twenty. Then my phone rang.

"It's not an exit. It's a service ramp to a road that runs parallel to the turnpike, but it's blocked by an electric gate. The Turnpike Authority won't open the gate because then we can avoid the toll."

As he continued to speak, I saw him coming towards the car, jacket heavy with rain. I switched to the passenger seat as he flung open the door and grabbed his iPad, scrolling madly.

He found the road on the map. It ran parallel to the turnpike for almost one hundred miles. We could avoid the traffic, and then some. 

"I have to find a way to open that gate."

Content to sit and read my book until the traffic finally cleared, I disagreed vehemently with this plan, but to no avail. Back into the rain he ran.

Another ten minutes. Then twenty. Then my phone rang again.

"We pushed it open!" he screamed, over the drumming of the rain.

And as the words were coming out of his mouth, the cars ahead of me started to move.

I threw the car in drive, and cut someone off to get into the right lane. As I inched the car forward, D re-appeared. He was running down the highway, ducking into windows of cars as he passed them and saying something to the drivers that I was too far away to hear. 

I vaulted over the center console as he approached our car and jumped behind the wheel.

"I did it," he said. "I can get everybody out."

The drivers around us were confused, so D opened his window, stuck his hand and head out and waved for them to get moving.

"Follow me to freedom!" he said.

And they did.

At least one hundred cars had already made it through the opened gate and onto the service road by the time we approached. As we made our way up the ramp, a Turnpike Authority sheriff appeared and motioned for us to turn around. 

"No way in hell," said D. "Put your hand on your stomach," he ordered. Too shocked at the events of the past hour to do anything but obey, my hand automatically went to my stomach.

"My wife is pregnant," he yelled to the stern looking sheriff.

I was nothing of the sort.

But the sheriff waved us through, while simultaneously closing the gate on the car directly behind us. D gunned the engine, and we flew through the gate and onto Highway 31 - 100 miles of traffic-free driving, exactly parallel to the Turnpike.

We were home by ten, just half an hour behind schedule.

We found out later that it was 7:00 that night before the traffic started to clear.