Van Gogh and Tales of Jersey Bathroom Art

A long time ago, I was a traveling student in Europe.  I dare say I may have been the first in my family to spend a semester abroad, in a time when it was just becoming a rite of university passage.  I lived with a family in Amsterdam, learned to commute via bicycle to the American University, fell for “Frites mit mayo” from street vendors, and even spoke a little Dutch.

Since that long time ago, both of my children have spent some time abroad themselves in various ways from a high school summer program, to visiting friends abroad, and even a full semester abroad for Eldest traveling from Greece and Turkey to Spain and France.

Youngest knew a full semester abroad was too long for her. She had earlier visited a friend in Paris and knew well how both her sister and now her friend were “done with the experience” toward semester’s end. Not wanting to totally forego the European experience, she cleverly found a summer course abroad on European Art & Architecture. Like her sister’s experience, it was not lodged in one place, but required traveling from The Tate to the Louvre with final stops in Venice and Rome.

As luck would have it, Youngest’s route took her to Amsterdam for a tour of the Rijksmuseum featuring the amazing work of Rembrant, and the Van Gogh museum.  Whereas I will be diligently trying to get tickets to the Van Gogh exhibit now in Philadelphia, she was at the master’s door.

I had been at the same door during my much earlier tour, where, I believe, I first fell in love with museum shops for souvenirs.  All Van Gogh prints were well out of my budget, but I found one small poster from the store that I could afford. I rolled it up and gingerly carried it all the way home, where it has had a hallowed place, largely in bathrooms, in all my homes since.

Both kids grew up with the Van Gogh print in the house.  But, probably because it was always there, no one ever paid it any attention, including Hubby.  With Youngest going off to Amsterdam, I told her not to skimp too much on souvenirs because many stay with you for life.  For proof, I walked her over to our bathroom print and, I believe, she really looked at it for the first time.  “That’s a Van Gogh?!” she exclaimed.

“Well, a decent print of one, or as decent as I could  afford at the time,” I admitted. “In the bathroom?” she admonished me.  If you have the same question of horror — here’s why.  I put things where I get the least resistance and still get to enjoy them!

Once in Amsterdam, Youngest texted me when she was standing in front of the original.  Then, she sent me a postcard of it!  When the postcard arrived, Hubby didn’t believe it was the same print hanging, yes, still in our bathroom.  It took Eldest standing in front of the print with the postcard to prove to him it was, in fact, the same image.

What we see everyday goes unnoticed.  For longer than I’d care to admit, my little Van Gogh image has hung in my house reminding me of a wonderful time during my own student years. No one every paid it much mind except me. But, with a new generation venturing abroad, everyone has finally seen it with new eyes.

As much as I value and encouraged the traveling experience for my children, I can also say, one does not have to leave home to gain a worldly view. One just has to take a fresh look at the hallowed walls of home and not take them for granted.  Yes, “Mes enfants,” mother has ventured out of New Jersey!





March Madness

It is said that March comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb – referring, of course, to the weather. I now know it also refers to the temperament of young women (a nicer term for almost-completely-grown female teens). March, it turns out, brings a whirlwind of emotions to the young teen soul — and at various points along the way, I confess I did not recognize my own offspring. Surely some March werewolf had taken over their souls.

As hurricane force winds swirled around my house bringing down hundred-plus-year-old trees in the backyard, tempests of a different sort took their toll inside. It was officially spring break, with my two young women back at home. It was unofficially the winter’s last storm as each struggled with their own inner demons.

My freshman was struggling with the thought of upcoming mid-terms, still unsteady on her new college feet. My senior was waiting for grad school decisions while fretting over finishing a very long senior thesis on a deep topic of historical importance. I just wanted to go dress shopping with some fashion-sensitive company.

It wasn’t our most stellar week as a family. Tempers flaired from both the testosterone and estrogen epicenters. By the end of the week, everyone had retreated to their own quarters – one to Washington, one to Pittsburgh, and two of us to our home offices. Still, we agreed to try again in two weeks for the upcoming holidays.

Today is the first day of spring and hope springs eternal. Both children have called home in much, much better moods. Could it be that we all just suffered from our own internal power outages? Certainly the house was quiet for 24 hours as we learned to live again without electricity, heat, or TV. And, philosophically, perhaps that’s all it was. We were all frizzed out. I will, next March, tread much more cautiously as my team takes to the home court. Nothing, I now know, can ever be taken for granted.

P.S. The real results of the week were: new pairs of shoes for me, new dresses for each daughter, a few other cosmetic things thrown in here and there, estimates ranging from $2,000-$4,000 to remove the fallen tree, and one big grad school acceptance with a hefty scholarship. And, the real win of the week turned out to be that the tree didn’t hit the house exactly where we were huddled, so we’re still alive to tell that tale and take advantage of all the rest of the week’s winnings. Marching on…

Olympic ImSports

I’m not as in to the Olympics as most others. I do enjoy watching them when someone else in the family puts them on, and they do come as close as as possible to the old Ed Sullivan Show – a variety of items dished out in a way the entire family likes to watch, even preferably together. Yes, a slip on the ice or a groan to an off-course ski racer is best when done in company. It’s probably the rationale behind the popularity of sports bars.

Eldest is most into the Olympics of the family. When we watched a U.S. skater come out for Georgia (not the state, but the country), I just double-groaned. I’m from the generation that believes home town teams should have home town players.

I’m also of the generation that believes Olympic sports should be for amateurs coming up through the ranks, so when I heard the Canadian hockey team was largely made up of Canadian-born (ok) players who had long turn Pro (not Ok) for US hockey teams (shoot me at the OK corral), I more than groaned.

In deference to dating myself, was there any greater high than seeing the US amateur hockey team taking the gold after beating the Russian Pro team and then Finland? I’m not even a hockey fan and I can tell you where I was and what I was drinking at the time (hot toddy, if you need to know. I had just come off the ski slopes at Hunter Mountain).

And, I’m not alone. It has been dubbed “Miracle on Ice” and been memorialized in a movie called Miracle. According to some, it was “America’s greatest sports achievement of the 20th century.”

So it was with some chagrin that I learned eldest had dubbed the Olympics as the new imSport. It’s a cute term she cleverly made up that I probably should trademark, but it tells the story. In order to win at any and all costs, athletes agree to play for a team as if they are free-agent. Nations also willingly now import star players, even quickly granting them citizenship for an Olympic podium bid.

I guess in some ways, its no different than when Russian ballet greats emigrated to dance in the West. But, somehow, due to the national team structure of the Olympics, this feels different. It also feels different when an American ice skating coach wears a Korean jacket because he’s coached a Korean athlete on American ice. It’s all so confusing. I say, either stop making it a nation against nation competition and let the best athlete win, or keeps the team clean (and not just from drugs).

I leave you with this thought. The Jamaican Bobsled Team of 1988 — perhaps the only winter team other than the 1980 US Hockey Team that is truly memorable. They didn’t win, but we all loved their chutzpah. Why? Perhaps because they, too, were featured in a movie, Cool Runings. But the movie makers know what makes a great story — underdog home town players. It’s what keeps it real.

Bring back the 80’s!

Dress for Success

Increasingly I find I only have time to get dressed once for the day. That seems somewhat an obvious concept, but it isn’t.

Youngest gets dressed about 9 times a day. Actually, it’s probably only three – but each dressing event involves 3 changes of outfits, so she has, in fact, dressed herself 9 times.

When I first started working from home, I tried to start my day in jeans with the intent to change into a nicer outfit later for upcoming lunch, afternoon, or dinner meetings. It quickly became obvious that I didn’t have time to change during the day. I’d be working until 11:30 with the intent to change for a lunch meeting, when “Bam” a phone call would come in. Before I knew it, it was 11:59 and I was still in my jeans!

Now, I start my day checking for any appointments and if I have to meet with people in person, I immediately dress for it. I’m not a quick change artist and there’s no time in the work day for a costume reinvention.

This past week, I had a dinner meeting with a colleague. Scheduled for 6PM, I figured I could work all day in my jeans and change for dinner après 5 at the end of the work day. Wrong. Again, the day went spinning out of control with the phones ringing up until 5PM. At 5, when my colleague called to confirm, I tentatively asked if we could push it back, and she agreed to delay dinner plans until 7PM. Thank goodness for understanding friends!

Reconfirming my inability to fit in more than one change of clothing per day, I’m back to my morning habit of dressing up for the classiest event of the day. Even if it’s not scheduled until 8PM, I know something will occur to delay my ability to transform from one persona to another. So each day I must decide whom I want to be from the gitgo. Only one identity per day appears to be my limit, unlike my teen who can be many people within an hour!

Down and In

We were coming home from Pittsburgh. It had been a great weekend visiting youngest at college for her birthday. We had just fixed the brakes on the car and discussed that this car might finally be the one to make it to 100,000 miles. It was currently at 60,000. All seemed well as we neared the more familiar highways of New Jersey, when we both heard the shutter. Uh oh. Something was amiss.

Husband immediately felt it was something dire – perhaps the transmission. I was clueless, but we both felt we couldn’t stop the car for fear it wouldn’t restart. We just continued to limp along home on the highway. If we kept over 40 mph all seemed well. Anything under that and the shuttering was felt.

We drove straight to the mechanic, with the intention of leaving the car overnight for his attention in the morning. Then, we called a close friend for the pickup to get us back home. It’s a really good friend who says at moments like these, “It’s OK, we’ve got you covered.”

When she came with her husband to retrieve us, I noted that we really did look pathetic. However, as they walked us into our home, I also noted that at least if we were down, we weren’t out. We were, instead, down and in – in our own home, with heat and hot water.

The next day, the mechanic called to report that the car repair was relatively minor. We had burnt out an ignition coil and limped home on three cylinders rather than four. “You were basically down one cylinder,” he noted, “and the engine wasn’t firing correctly, which is why the car felt like it was bucking.”

“Down a cylinder,” I repeated. “Sounds like the right metaphor for our lives at the moment. We’re still moving ahead, but not firing on all cylinders.”

The moral: Three cylinders are better than none. Two are probably better than one. Down doesn’t mean out. And “in” as in in home, inside, inscribed in the book of life, intuitive, or any other “in” including In-ching forward is still a good th”in” g.

P.S. Why the picture of the cat? I know it’s bad weather when the cat comes in. It’s a sure sign that it’s time to hunker down, stay indoors and get under the covers; a time not to venture out!