Ocean State of Mind, Volume 2: One Road

Published on June 29th, 2016

“Barrington? You can’t live in Barrington,” my father-in-law said matter-of-factly when my husband, Brett, and I announced where, in the vast state of Rhode Island, we would be buying a home. He shook his head back and forth like, you idiots.

 

I was surprised by his response. After all, we were moving from Scarsdale, New York to Somewhere, Rhode Island – his home state! My father-in-law lives in Cranston, a central location in the smallest state in the Union, and therefore was bound to be no more than 30 or so minutes from wherever we decided to live.

 

In New York, you can live in Albany, which is two hours from Syracuse, which is two hours from Buffalo, which is six hours from Manhattan. And don’t even get me started on how far away Montauk is on a Friday during the summer.

 

Which is why I thought my father-in-law would be happy with our choice of Barrington. But no.

 

Moving on. We told Brett’s uncle our plan.  Continue reading here.

Ocean State of Mind, Volume 3: Beach Snobbery

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Published on August 6, 2016 in The Huffington Post

It was one of those 95 degree, humid days. I walked down the street with my dog, feet flip-flopping against the hot pavement. In ten minutes, I would be on the beach, but until then, I stopped to chat with a neighbor under a leafy tree.

“You have a beach pass?” she asked.

“You don’t?” I said back.

“Uch, I guess I could go get one down at town hall….” she said.

“No, no!” I told her how easy it was to get a pass right at the beach. No town hall needed! But, why I was explaining this to her? I’m the Rhode Island newbie here. She’s been a resident for years.

She shook her head no. Even so, she refused to get a pass. “I feel like, for all the taxes we pay, they should just give it to us for free,” she said. “It’s my way of taking a stand.”

I believe that having a town beach is a perk and not a civil right. I shared this point of view and then we waved goodbye.

Although I live only a mile or two from the Barrington town beach, and just steps away from a private access point, I am always surprised by how different the weather is on the water. It’s windier, usually, and cooler, but it’s not just that. There is a shift of mood, a briny breeziness. Nature is more alive on the bay, and because of that, I feel more alive when I’m on the bay, too.

Wow, my neighbor is really showing them, isn’t she? I thought a few minutes later, closing my eyes and listening to the gulls squawk, the waves roll.

“I’m more of a pool person,” Another friend shrugged…read the full article on The Huffington Post

Ocean State of Mind, Volume 4: The Yoga Pants Parade

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Published on Oct 21st, 2016

In case you don’t live in Barrington, RI and haven’t heard the (now national) news: we’ve got a bit of a situation here. You see, on Wednesday, a local man’s letter to the editor was printed in the Barrington Times with the headline “Please, women, put away the yoga pants.”

You can read the full (hideous, mean-spirited, disrespectful, fashionably unconscious, and borderline misogynistic) article here. But let me just pepper you with some highlights now. “Not since the mini-skirt has there been something worn by so many women who should not have it on in the first place…on mature, adult women there is something bizarre and disturbing about the appearance they make in public…TMI…I struggle with my own physicality as I age. I don’t want to struggle with yours.”

Read my full article on The Huffington Post.

Ocean State of Mind, Vol 1: Poop Happens

 

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Owner Clearing Dog Mess With Pooper Scooper

When my family and I moved to Barrington, Rhode Island from Scarsdale, New York, I asked my husband, Brett, for two things: a puppy, and grass cloth wallpaper for my new living room.

Done and done. Our wallpaper is Phillip Jeffries Extra Fine Arrowroot in Khaki and I love it. Our dog’s name is Sammi and she is a Bichon Frise Shih Tzu Poodle, the regal Shichon Poo. I love her too. Sammi is one of those petite, designer mixed breeds with a name that sounds like a sneeze. She is the color of a caramel macchiato and has the disposition of a sleeping toddler. Just perfect.

But still, there is much more work to be done taking care of a dog than in looking after a bit of decorative wallpaper.

For instance, I have to walk the dog at 6:45 every morning, rain or shine. In rain, I walk right out of the driveway, away from the blustery winds off Narragansett Bay. For shine, I guide her left, down towards the expansive view and briny scent of the beach.

I have only one complaint about my dog. This complaint is actually a complaint about other dogs in the neighborhood and their owners. It is, in that way, a complaint about Barrington, and since I love generalized exaggeration, it’s actually a complaint about the entire state of Rhode Island.

My dog likes to eat the poop of other dogs.

And yes, I blame Rhode Island for this.

Fake It ‘til You Make It: A Guide to Volunteering (and Life)

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Published in The Barrington Times on Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

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My kitchen. Mostly dark. 9 pm. Before going upstairs for bed, I looked over my (actual paper) calendar for the following day and saw the words “HMS Book Fair, 7:45 am,” scribbled in the corner.

Yikes! 7:45? In the morning? I grabbed my reading glasses and looked again.

Yup.

What could have possibly possessed me to volunteer that early in the day, especially when I had to be in Boston for a 10:30 writing class?

The morning madness of 10 year olds at the Hampden Meadows book fair is intense. Every child in that school suddenly needs to – Must! Absolutely! -purchase an eraser in the shape of a donut and a bookmark covered in minions before homeroom. Items they didn’t know they needed or wanted are suddenly very important to them! It’s worse crowd control than midnight at Best Buy on Black Friday, I swear.

So I steeled myself for the next day’s pandemonium while also pretending to be excited. “Zoe, remember, you and I are going to school early tomorrow to help out at the book fair!”

My daughter smiled drowsily from under her covers and gave me a thumb’s up. She likes when I volunteer at school.

And that’s why I do it. This may sound kind of silly, but I feel like a celebrity when I show up at Hampden Meadows. I sign in at the office and stick on my nametag and, suddenly, as if by some kind of magical instinct, my daughter senses that her mom has entered the building.

There is a shift in the air on the playground, a crackle in the universe that comes from my particular mommy-ness. Or maybe Zoe looks at the clock and recalls when time I said I’d be arriving. Doesn’t matter how it happens. Bam! She appears in the front hall as if conjured and squeezes me with a huge hug, as if she hasn’t seen me for ages. It’s a fabulous greeting! Much better than the one I get when I wake her up in the morning and she rolls over and growls, “Go away. Now.”

At school, I get: “Mommy!!! You’re here!”

Next, a group of legging-clad, cutely-stylish girls with glasses and braces and dimples will surround me and say, “Hi, Zoe’s mom!”

So, no, 7:45 isn’t that bad, when you think about it that way.

Friday morning. Walked the dog, got dressed, packed lunches, fed dog, fed selves, packed backpack, packed folder of notes for Boston class, put on makeup, checked self in mirror, got in car. Arrived at Hampden Meadows before other volunteers.

Phew!

Then what?

7:49. I positioned myself behind the tables and tried to look official, like Vanna White.

“Hey, Zo, how do you think we work these cash registers?” I whispered. I defer to my 10-year-old on many important questions, especially those related to the use of technology. She shrugged. A teacher walked by and leaned over, flicking on the switches of each machine.

Wow. Like that, I guess. With the switch!

7:51. Panic filled my belly as I realized that children wanting to buy stuff would be arriving at any moment and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

It’s not a feeling I enjoy, this cluelessness, but its one I often feel in Barrington. Since moving here from my hometown of Scarsdale, NY a year and a half ago, I have gone from the expert on all things to the complete novice.

In Scarsdale, I was in charge of the elementary school book fair. I also ran the school play, and taught an art appreciation course, and helped out in the library, and taught in the district for eight years, and, oh, you get the picture.

In Rhode Island, I know nothing about anything and it’s very disconcerting.

One of the biggest losses is that the volunteer service hours I accrued in Scarsdale did not transfer across state lines. All the New York days and weeks and months on the PTO clock, of time spent wrapping gift baskets for raffles in cellophane, of shushing Oompa Loompahs backstage, of swiping credit cards and pressing buttons with the confidence of a leader…gone! Now I’m the vacant-looking lady scratching her head, heart hammering in her chest, hoping to remember everyone’s names and charging for tax when she shouldn’t be. (Sorry about that, by the way. And is it Mary Ann or Anne Marie?)

7:54. Backup arrived. Not one, but three very competent PTO members started making things happen. Yay! Money was found to stock the cash registers and I was given a quick lesson on how to scan items.

8:06. Forty kids stood in a mob in front of me, wanting to check out. Where did they all come from? Zoe and I kicked it into high gear. “Zo, you scan and then I’ll push these buttons and then you take the cash and count it and then give it to me to put in the till and make change!”

“Got it!” Zoe said. And, boy, did she.   She was extremely helpful and, perhaps most importantly, she was making me look good. Love that!  We high-fived.

At 8:17, a boy arrived with $15.00 in quarters, creating a potentially devastating turn of events. I instructed Zoe to move off to the side with him while I checked out the next student in line. Only, the next one was a situation all her own, a young girl with origami money. What is origami money, you ask? It is comprised of dozens of single bills folded and folded and folded again until each one looks like a little gem – a dollar bill bird here, a rose buck there. They appear magically from the depths of one’s jeans pockets, or have been clenched so tightly in one’s small fist that they are handed over sticky and limp.

Origami money, for the record, makes me break out into a cold sweat.

I began to unfold the bills, narrating my progress. “And that’s one…two…three dollars!” To my left, Zoe stacked and counted quarters. “Seven…eight…nine dollars!”

At this point, a father with places to go sighed audibly and nudged his child to move into the next lane. I agreed heartily with his decision.

At last, the final call to homeroom was made. Kids dispersed like leaves in a gusty wind. I kissed my daughter goodbye.

“We did it!” I said, relief filling my bloodstream with fresh oxygen, my heart proud. We had battled the crowds in order to help the PTO, true. But even more so, we had taken one step closer to belonging, to feeling at home in our new hometown.

We had faked it until we had made it.

I released Zoe and waved as she disappeared around the corner, hoping fervently that she would enjoy her day in her new world with her new friends.

And then I went off to find mine.

The Ballad of Trader Joe’s

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Published in The Barrington Times on Tuesday, November 24, 2015

“I heard that they are putting one in to that new shopping plaza next to Ichigo Ichie,” a mom said excitedly. A gaggle of other moms leaned towards her on the bleachers, squinting against the midday sunlight as they tried simultaneously to watch the Pop Warner football game and catch up on local gossip.

“No way!”

“Yes!”

“Where that Mo’s Southwest Grill just went in?”

“Yup, that’s the spot.”

“That would be amazing.”

“The best.”

Everyone leaned back, satisfied.

Here is the East Bay of Rhode Island, we’ve all heard tell of the Ballad of Trader Joe’s.

Rumor has it, this chain of – and I quote – “neighborhood grocery stores with amazing food and drink from around the globe and around the corner,” is coming to our little corner of Little Rhody.

As a recently transplanted New Yorker, who lived in a shopping Mecca with not one but two local Trader Joe’s, I was overjoyed with this bit of news. Think of the dinners I could whip up! Think of Joe’s granola bars, the sunflower-encrusted ciabatta rolls, the weirdly appealing frozen appetizers and dessert treats, and the ready-made international lunches just waiting for me! Visiting Healthtrax or Tennis RI with a Trader Joe’s stop on the way back to Barrington would now be so much more…experiential.

I am ashamed to admit just how much the arrival of that store would enrich and diversify the part of my life that exists on Route 6.

And a lot of my life exists on Route 6.

The mom squad sounded confident, and so I left the field that day pumped for Joe’s, as if the shelves were already being stocked with cinnamon roasted almonds and parsnip chips. (Did you know that pork belly is the new bacon? Well, you would if you read the colorfully written, always entertaining Trader Joe’s flyer, the way I used to religiously when I lived 1.5 miles away from a TJ’s. Not bragging, not complaining, just saying.)

“Did you hear?” I asked my friend, Jill, a longtime Rhode Island resident. “About the new Trader Joe’s? We won’t have to drive to Warwick anymore to buy Joe-Joe’s peppermint cookies!”

She shook her head wistfully, side to side. “Oh, that old wives’ tale? That story has been going around for years,” she said, immediately bursting my Joe’s bubble of happy. “Never gonna happen.”

Clearly, I was flaunting my newbie-resident status, falling for a sideline trick like that story. But, oh, how I had wanted to believe.

By moving to Rhode Island from suburban Westchester County in New York, I gave up a lot. There were the obvious changes: I left my family and friends behind and needed to begin again, making new friends and situating our children in new schools where they, too, would make new friends. My husband’s family lives in Rhode Island, and so now we get to see them frequently, but I had to shift from seeing my Manhattan-based mom a few times a week (and using her as my go-to carpool helper and de-facto babysitter and sometime lunch and shopping companion) to chatting on the phone daily, but only seeing her perhaps once every month or two.

And then, there’s the silly stuff that matters on a surface level even though it doesn’t really matter. In my former life, did I need to live 4.7 miles away from Bloomingdale’s? No, but it certainly was a great perk during a shoe sale, or on bonus-point days, or just when I had twenty minutes to kill and wanted to see the latest trends. Did I need to live near several gourmet prepared food shops? No, but it made my family happy to know that dinner was always ready, even on the nights when I had no time to personally prepare it. And it made me oh so happy to know that I didn’t have to always (or, ever) make dinner.

And did I need to live within walking distance of a SoulCycle?

Perhaps, yes. Yes to that one.

And I suppose that’s why the opening of a local Trader Joe’s would mean so much to me. When I left New York, great holes opened in my life that I am still trying to fill, in both meaningful and superficial ways. By establishing new relationships and finding connections to the community, I am planting and then deepening my roots here. I am also trying things I never would have done in my New York life, like ride bicycles with my daughter to her dance class and shake my own hips in a zumba class. Occasionally, I go for a run.

The New York me never ran. So, there!

But I cannot deny the comforting feeling I get when I step back into the familiar. Something as simple as shopping at a place I knew from before the move can actually move me to tears, so relieved am I to know – before I even park my car – that I will know where to find the crunchy peanut butter.

(If you’ve ever seen me wandering around Shaw’s like a lost toddler looking for her parent, up and down aisles and doubling back again with tears of frustration rolling down my cheeks, then you know how turned around and overwhelmed I get in there. Next time, feel free to take my hand and lead me right to the peanut butter aisle, maybe while singing soothing nursery rhymes.)

And that is why, while my kids and I had a late-afternoon, pre-tennis, pre-cheerleading slice of pizza the other day at Papa Gino’s on Route 6, I asked them to say a little prayer. “Go to the windows,” I demanded. “Come, come!”

They eyed me suspiciously and did not move from the table. “OK, fine. You see that new shopping plaza being built across the street?” They nodded their heads and kept chewing. “We need to send positive vibes out there, hoping that a Trader Joe’s fills one of the storefronts!” I waved my arms in front of me like a shaman might, welcoming the wandering, international spirit of TJ’s to the crossroads of Seekonk and East Providence, where two great New England states meet and do commerce together.

Yes, here in the East Bay, we’ve all heard tell of the Ballad of Trader Joe’s. It’s a romantic song of hope and longing, passed down orally from one generation to the next, from fisherman to dentist, from farm hand to football coach, about the man, the myth, the legend: the neighborhood grocery store.

 

 

 

The End of Summer?

Published in The Barrington Times on Wednesday, September 9, 2015

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“How was your summer?” I asked my friend, Jen, before spin class at a local gym.

“It’s been great! How is yours?”

“It was great. Too bad it’s over,” I moped.

“Julie, there are still two more weeks left before Labor Day! Summer’s still here!” She mused.

She’s correct, of course. The date was August 26th, the sun was shining and it was 85 degrees outside. Scientifically speaking, the season of summer is defined as the period of time between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox, and August 26th of 2015 is right in there.

But August 26th of this year was also the first day of school.

I don’t care what Jen has to say about the subject. If I’m walking the dog at 6:45 am and circling back to make lunches, it’s just not summer anymore.

I shook my head sadly and explained my reality to my friend: that season was past tense to me now.

Sure, it may still be technically summer in the Western Hemisphere, but, in my house, it is full-on fall. Bring on the crazy! I have carpools to drive and homework to oversee and cheerleading schedules to adhere to. There are still tennis lessons to arrange and piano lessons to arrange and preparations to make for religious school and film school and jazz dance classes.

(Note to self: remember to buy size four jazz shoes before next Saturday! Second note to self: ask someone where to buy size four jazz shoes!)

And ukelele! Is Andrew still into ukulele?

Don’t get me wrong: I love being a mom and I love having a busy household. I even love the fall season. The crisp morning air makes me romanticize the possibilities of a new school year, of buying soft, bulky sweaters and fresh notebooks, of meeting teachers that you hope to impress even though last year you kinda stunk at math, and of crushing on a cute boy from across the cafeteria.

But, as a transplanted New Yorker, I am here to tell you that the month of August is sacred. August is supposed to be all summer, from the first day to the last. There is no school to be had, ever, in the month of August.

My New England friends, I love you dearly, but you’ve got this whole back-to-school thing all wrong, and I am not happy about it. Right now, in a parallel universe, I am on a Nantucket beach with my entire family, eating sandwiches on freshly baked Portuguese bread from Something Natural and slathering suntan lotion on my brother’s already-sunburned back. I am supposed to be living a laid-back, late-summer life, not complaining about it on my Mac from my home office.

There is only one person on the entire planet who has it worse than I do, so I immediately contact her to commiserate.

“These are not the Augusts of yore!” I text.

“Long gone!” She texts back from St Louis. “Can’t talk now!” Lisa, a native New Yorker like myself, is mostly unavailable for comment these days. Why? Because she is a teacher, and school started in St Louis so long ago, she is practically gearing up for midterms right now. Midwestern schools begin so ridiculously early that Lisa has to pull her kids out of (a New-York centric) camp before Color War. Before Color War, people.

True, she gets a long summer vacation, beginning before Memorial Day and extending through August 10th. But, Lisa finds, and I agree, that there is something deeply ingrained in us New Yorkers about August being an untouchable summer vacation month. When you grow up with that internal calendar and then have to readjust in your 40’s, your circadian rhythm gets thrown off.

I am telling you, it is nearly impossible for me to think normally until September.

So, when does your summer start and end? This is a conversation I was having with my husband, Brett, all summer long. Does it really begin for you on Memorial Day? Or, do you start feeling it more around the 4th of July? Is the commencement linked to an activity or place, like the day you move into the beach house or take a first sail on Narragansett Bay? Is it ritualistic, like the day you first take a dip in the ocean, or sit outside to eat fried clams at Blount’s?

For me, the answer is a nuanced set of personal rites of passage, including seeing fireworks on my birthday and going to Aunt Carrie’s for clam cakes, from reading a pile of novels on the beach to noticing a tan line around my watch band and getting a fresh pedicure to show off my toes.

But no matter when it starts, that slippery slope into the lazy, hazy days of summer always ends the same way: with the abruptly jarring bell ringing in the first day of school.