Category Archives: friends

Farewell, Austin

IMG_1685(written from the Embassy Suites on Congress Avenue in Austin, TX on August 20, 2015)

Hi, I need to order four pies.
Beat.
Yes, pizza pies. 2 pepperoni and 2 regular.
Beat.
Yes, 2 with pepperoni and 2 with just cheese.

My husband called our local pizzeria to buy lunch for our moving guys. His clarifications reminded me that yep, I’m actually not a Texan. I’m not from Austin. I order “pies” at a pizza place. Why do I need to explain further? I’m not calling a bakery. I also stand “on line,” not “in line”–but that regional language irregularity justifiably needs correcting. You’re reading this online. Or if you’re on Long Island and standing in a queue, maybe you’re reading this post “online while on line.”

Okay, get to the point. It’s 7 am and I’m in a hotel room with my littles before we drive to Dallas to meet C.K. So I’m groggy. The point is—these jarring moments remind me that I’m not actually from Austin. And it’s unsettling because most of the time I walk around considering Austin my home. In fact, it’s where I’ve felt the most “at home” as an adult. Apologies to New York where my heart still beats a little quicker. And no apologies to Los Angeles because it’s the hellmouth.

Why Austin has such a strong hold on me? Why do I (and so many others) feel so comfortable in the city’s embrace? The answer is summed up in two phrases. The first is from a volunteer coordinator at my church. While presenting on Mobile Loaves and Fishes, a charity that rehabs roach coaches and stocks them with food daily to drive around and feed the poor, Bob remarked of the charity’s founder, “Bring anything to him. Any stupid idea. And he’ll hear you out and try your idea.” That may seem a little condescending but I assure you it wasn’t meant IMG_1648that way. There’s an openness to MLF’s structure that can been seen in many organizations around town, both charitable and for-profit. Austin is a place where you’ll be heard, your ideas won’t get shot down, your thoughts are valued. Any. stupid. idea.

I heard the second phrase before we moved to Austin in 2013. A friend from New York, Sarah, told me repeatedly that I’d really like Austin, that I’d be happy there. I thought it odd—we hadn’t been friends for too long when she told me that. Maybe she was just well-wishing since she knew moving to a brand new place with a 3.5yo would be traumatic no matter what. “Austin is a very come as you are city. You’ll really like it,” she smiled sweetly as we watched our sons play at the local community center. And she was right. And the phrase “come as you are” is the best way I can think to describe this amazing place. Granted, sometimes come as you are means not shaving your legs or armpits at the hippy-dippy Bouldin Creek Cafe. Granted, sometimes come as you are means arriving to a posh club on a segue in a nerdy T-shirt. Or looking like you just failed a urine test with your patrol officer but you’re really a tech shot caller.

But it’s true. Austin accepts you as you are. There is no uniformity to how people look in the city. And that come as you are attitude permeates everything. I believe it’s why my husband has flourished at Chaotic Moon, a company that doesn’t just pay lip service to innovation–they innovate again and again. I think it’s why I was immediately asked to serve on the board at Jackson’s school. (Imagine that happening in Westchester County? Never. Unless, Mama gets out the checkbook early on.) I think it’s why Women’s Storybook Project trusted me to pitch to the New York Times. Austin makes the fact that you’re creative a good thing. It’s something to explore, not ignore.

IMG_3622So I love this place. My children love this place. My husband loves it here. My sister moved here. She loves this place. My New Yorker parents who are the poster children for townies, love this place. That’s because it’s easy to love. But they better expand Mopac soon because word is really getting around. #understatement

So good bye, bats under the Congress Ave bridge.
Good bye, Zilker Park.
Good bye, food trucks.
Good bye, hipsters and vegans and other types I can’t stand.

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Saying Goodbye to Funny Girl

DSCN1236This will be a long post.

This will be a sad post.

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, about the experience of eulogizing a beloved family member. And first and foremost, I’d like to thank my Uncle Kenny for not only allowing me to speak at my aunt’s funeral service but also for giving the okay for this blog post.

My dad called at 7:15 on Friday morning November 21, 2014. It’s not completely unusual for my parents to call early–they know that with two young children that I’m up and caffeinated. But the way he said my name when I answered told me something terrible had happened. I can’t remember the exact phrase he used but it was a wild understatement. Something like “we had a little problem last night.” And his tone of voice and failure to find the right words for that first sentence told me that “little problem” probably meant something unfathomably tragic.

I wished I was wrong. I still do.

My dad barely got through telling me that Arzie was gone and the little information about her passing. My mother, Arzie’s best friend for over 50 years, couldn’t even speak. I spent the rest of the day in a quiet panic. As I waited for information, I went to a meeting at Jackson’s future elementary school (albeit in a daze and absurdly disliking everyone there) and then I put up our Christmas tree. All the while, I was writing her eulogy in my head–before I even realized I would ask for the honor of speaking at Arzie’s services.

IMG_0237I wrote the first draft that night. Don’t even ask where I got the energy. I finished the second draft on Saturday afternoon…at my hair appointment. Ridiculous, I know.  I think of Arzie now, probably shaking her fists at how I wrote a remembrance of her on the Google docs app on my iPhone then texted it out to her family all while getting my roots dyed.  By Sunday, I was on a plane to NY. And my husband and babies were all packed up for their trek from Austin to Jackson, MS for Thanksgiving. And by Sunday, my mother and my uncle Kenny had read the initial text of the eulogy and thankfully, my uncle said I could speak.

The time from Sunday evening to the Tuesday morning service passed in a slow, surreal way. It’s the mixture of shock and sadness and busyness of funeral preparations. I snuck in little moments to reread the eulogy on my phone, change a phrase here or there. I made my sister, my mother, and my father listen to the speech. I thought the more I practiced, the less I would cry the day of. The last thing I wanted to do was blubber through the whole thing on the altar.

My husband called Monday night from Jackson. Darcy had croup and would have to go to the emergency room. I can remember texting with him late that night and then taking out my iPad to read the eulogy again. And the whole time, it just felt like we were in Connecticut visiting the Milio family and Arzie was working or away on one of her Choral Society cruises. She wasn’t there. But the permanence of her death hadn’t hit yet, for me at least.

I sat through the beautiful services feeling much the same way. I was clutching my iPad and every time I looked over at my mother weeping, my sister would gently remind me, “Don’t look at Mom right now.” As the time drew nearer, I prayed that God give me the strength to address the hundreds of people who filled the sanctuary. I prayed for the grace only God can bestow. I wanted to offer some solace to the people who Arzie left behind and memorialize someone who deserved a much better eulogy, a much better speaker.  If you knew Arzie, you’d understand that my last statement is not just fishing for reassurance. Arzie was truly the best of us.

I firmly believe that it was through God’s intercession that I didn’t sob until the very end of the eulogy. And even then, I found the strength to speak the last few sentences through tears and shakes.  There were even a few laughs–Arzie was a funny person; she wouldn’t have wanted all bleakness at her memorial.

 During the recessional and throughout the repast, people would come up and introduce themselves and hug me. Most of them I’d never met before. However, every time someone hugged me I cried and had to really pull myself together. Now that the eulogy was over, I guess I could let go. Surreality became the crushing reality of Arzie’s loss.

One of Arzie’s good friends even told me that until I spoke, the service was beautiful but so tense. “I think it was perfect. We all started to heal,” she said through tears that were almost a little hopeful. I can’t begin to describe how grateful I am for her words. Every compliment or thank you I got was both uplifting and intensely humbling at the same time. Being a part of the formal goodbye to such an incredible human will forever be something I cherish. Giving that eulogy will forever be a formative event in my adult life.

I put the actual text of my eulogy below. Some of Arzie’s friends asked for a copy of it and I thought that since I’ve been talking about giving the eulogy, you might want to read what I said.

For those of you that don’t know me, I’m Arzie’s “niece” Kristin. I use the air quotes because I’m not her blood relation. She’s my mother’s best friend. I’m Marian & Curt’s daughter. I asked Uncle Kenny if I could speak today and I’m so grateful that he’s allowed me to speak about Arzie–a woman who was very much my aunt.

Arzie. That nickname says it all. She was the perfect hostess. But not in a Martha Stewart kind of way–although I think she’d claim to have better cookie recipes. What made her the perfect hostess, the embodiment of Irish hospitality in fact–was how fun she was.

That’s what I’ll miss. That’s why I was so excited to be around her. It was the fun–carefree fun. She was fun in the truest, most infectious way. I started thinking about why Arzie was such an irresistible presence. She could make you laugh. And not giggle. Belly laugh. Pee your pants laugh. The type of laughter where you tell someone to stop because your ribs are hurting, because you can’t catch your breath. You knew whatever story she was telling was embellished, but you forgave the fabrication. Because it was probably the best laugh you’d had in a long time.

She was a relentless buster and fiercely competitive.  Arzie threatened to bring a kazoo to my wedding for a solid year. Said she would get a golden kazoo and hide it under the toilet at the wedding venue like Michael Corleone in the Godfather.

Then when I taught her how to make cosmos (that’s right I taught her and my mom the recipe although both deny it), Arz changed the recipe slightly and claimed that she made the world’s best cosmos. I remember one time at my moms when she asked me to remind her how to make her cosmos. “How do I make my cosmos?”

“How many cosmos have you had so far?”

“Shut up, Krissy. And don’t tell Kenny.”

Of course You forgave her incessant teasing because it was never bitter or malicious and because in the blink of an eye, the teasing would be self-deprecation. She would constantly joke about her weight—”Well, Krissy you’re not as skinny as me so you can’t really wear those jeans”. In these ways, her humor was quintessentially Irish—borne out of nostalgia, and good drink, and good old-fashioned self-criticism.

That good humor extended to her hospitality. And it extended to how much she loved her family and friends and how far she would go for them. I’m sure you all have a story about Arzie doing some favor or going out of her way for you. I have countless stories like that. Many of them have high calorie treats involved. One of my favorites is when she drove down from CT to Long island to help with my mom’s 50th surprise party. She was going to make her famous seven layer taco dip (again, the best dip according to her). But instead she came in like a hurricane–actually she called ahead to make sure that my dad had a Coors Light on ice for her.  So she comes in and immediately sends my dad to the store for cherry tomatoes. Apparently the tomatoes had all tumbled out her car’s back window on the way from CT to Long Island. “Well, I could retrace my steps and rescue each one. But then I’d be back in Connecticut, Curtie,” she laughed. The way she relayed the story about the fate of these cherry tomatoes was enough to make me and Dad (who were in the throes of party stress) stop and laugh and appreciate her friendship.

She loved her friends. Arz and my mom were friends since elementary school–apparently the friendship was started because Arz’s first choice playmate was sick that day. So my mom filled in. But Arzie was the type of person who made you feel so special, that even if you were second fiddle, it was enough to be in the band. And she loved her husband, my Uncle Kenny. And she loved all her boys–three sons with her same light, her same infectious humor. They are three of my favorite people. Arzie loved Bryan’s wife Maryellen, more daughter than daugther-in-law. And I think that family for Arzie was forever changed for the better with the arrival of little Caroline in the world–her little Care Bear.  In Caroline’s story of survival and perseverance we can see Arzie’s light there too.

03_3A 3I know it’s cliché but she could light up a room. And she could make you feel like you were the only person in the world who mattered. Not everyone has this special gift. Not everyone I know is as fun to be around as Arzie. And I’ll think of her fondly every time I fix myself a Cosmo.

My husband lost his father this summer and so my four-year-old Jackson has become prematurely well acquainted with loss. We explained to him that we are all God’s creation, on this earth for a certain amount of time, taking up a certain amount of space, and then we go back to God, our Eternal Father. We are His and His alone. I truly believe that and want my son to believe it. “Why are you so sad, mommy?,” he asked guilelessly. Because we are human and to be human is to be selfish. I will miss Arzie. Everyone who knew Arzie will miss her. If you knew Arzie for even a week, you would miss her. She was indeed a special gift from God, a light from heaven returned home. And if there is any solace in this tragic loss, it’s that a mother is reunited with a beautiful angel that God called away too soon.

*******************************

20_11And now…

Now I miss her more each day. I think this is the opposite of what people feel when they grieve. I don’t know. At least I’ve heard/read that for the first days, weeks, months, every object reminds you of the deceased. And then that sinking feeling subsides slowly over the first year. That was not my experience. I felt a level of acceptance of this tragic loss in the beginning but not so much now. Perhaps the eulogy delayed the stages of grief. Perhaps it’s that my Uncle Kenny is visiting Austin in a few weeks with my parents and I want Arzie to come too. I want to see her sitting my couch with a pillow on her lap, playing Words with Friends on her iPad, calling me “Krissy” and making fun of the uber-Modern chair we just got from Restoration Hardware. (Her house was an impeccably decorated country-style colonial. Decor was always something we agreed to disagree on.)

But I guess I’ll keep praying about it. I’ll lay  it at God’s feet. I know he’s listening…that is when Arzie doesn’t have His ear as she redecorates Heaven. After all, God needed a best friend too.

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The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

My husband and I recently moved our family to a new neighborhood. We were lucky to find a totally redone townhouse in a really nice complex. Soon after we moved, we realized that we had altered the median age of said complex considerably. In fact, most of our neighbors are elderly women between the ages of 75 and 97. Ooh, another man. Oh a young man. So nice to have a young family. I don’t know that I’d use the word “young” to describe either myself or my husband. But to the cast of Cocoon residing in our subdivision, we might as well be in high school.

These ladies aren’t just any old ladies though. They are active (many are still working), vibrant, and charming. I’m fairly sure that they stay up later than I do. And on occasion, they sit on lawn chairs in the middle of our complex and drink wine and laugh and kevetch. They call this impromptu gathering the “Sippin’ Sisters.”

About a month ago on a sticky summer evening, I am lucky enough to receive an invitation from the Sisters. Joan, a 92 year old with two poodles and crazy swagger, told me about the group the day we moved in. I confess that while I said “Ooh that sounds nice” I hoped I would never hear of this again. But there stands Joan at my door, blouse impeccably ironed, wine glass in hand.

I go to this latest installment of the Sippin’ Sisters. My motivation is completely self-serving. I want to appear like a good neighbor; I want a bunch of ladies to hold my enormous five month old daughter Darcy. Certainly, both goals will be accomplished and I’ll be back in the AC in half hour.

To my surprise, I have the best time chatting with these ladies. Let me take you through the cast of characters. And they are indeed characters.

You’ve met Joan already. She’s Catholic. I am asked right away about my religious preference. Would I be Team Joan or Team Everyone-Else-Is-Protestant? I answer truthfully that I grew up Catholic but we attend Methodist church. This answer satisfies everyone and I am tentatively accepted.

There’s Dotty. “I am the queen,” she announces when I walk up. Dotty is the leader of the group. Armed with a glass of rose and tangerine-colored lipstick, Dotty informs me that she was the first person to live in our complex. She moved in over forty years ago after her husband passed. Dotty snatches up Darcy right away cooing, “Ooh she’s darling.” Dotty also notifies me that despite my native New Yorker status, God has certainly blessed me by giving me a Texan baby. Then she jokes, “What do you call a yankee who has lived in Texas for thirty years?… A yankee who has lived in Texas for thirty years!”

All the ladies laugh.

I laughed too. It’s funny because it’s true.

There’s Helen. Helen declares that she is the “second queen.” But before I could break it to her that there is no such thing, Dotty interrupts again, clearly invigorated by a new person to entertain. “You have the choice unit,” Dotty exclaims. It is evident that everyone in the circle had looked through my home when it first came on the market.

Helen thinks she’s 73 but no, Joan gently reminds her that she is 93. Helen sulks a bit at this revelation but quickly recovers. Clearly, Helen feels like she’s 73 and that’s all that matters. And who wouldn’t feel 73 in perfected quaffed gray curls and white capris?

There’s Joan and her daughter Kathy. Joan is sassy. I’ve already mentioned her swagger. She sashays past my home three times a day with her poodles. Joan and her dogs are my pug’s archenemies. Thatcher hates anyone with more swagger than her. (The pug is also sassy. But this post is getting lengthy so I won’t go into it.) Kathy is less sassy. Despite being one of the younger women in the group, she’s bashful. That’s probably because you can’t get a word in edgewise unless the queen asks you a direct question. Kathy tries to offer some neighborly words, “We are always home. If you need anything—“

“If you need anything, just ask. We don’t have what you need. But we will call someone for you,” Dotty cracks up.

Finally, there’s Naomi. She mostly sits there sipping her pinot giorgio (with ice) and giggling. As I leave she lets me know that she shares a wall with me. I shudder as I think of the worst—she’s going to complain about our parrot. But instead Naomi asks if her television is too loud. She’s just had her hearing aids put in and can’t tell if she’s bothering anyone. “I have a four year old, a baby, a pug, and a parrot. You’re fine,” I laugh and Naomi smiles, genuinely relieved.

There hasn’t been another gathering of the Sippin’ Sisters since then. I assume that people are just taking summer vacations, visiting families, tours of beauty, whatever. The Sippin’ Sisters aren’t ones to be driven indoors by the Texas heat.

Or maybe I just wasn’t cool enough to be invited back.

I hope this is not true.

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Kickstarter–SUCCESS!

I take a spin class every Friday morning and the teacher is both a spinning instructor and a yoga instructor. She oddly pairs yoga affirmations like “Be thankful for what your body can do” with spinning affirmations like “Let’s GO! Burn off that good livin’!”

Her style is off-putting to say the least. But today, when she inevitably tells her minions  to “Dedicate our class to someone” as we go on three minutes of climbing resistance, I will dedicate my spin class to everyone who helped get me funding on kickstarter.

THANK YOU!

THANK YOU SO MUCH!

With ten hours left, I’m 102% funded and I have 70+ backers. I’m grateful for your generous pledges. I’m also grateful for your support in bringing awareness to my project (and for not hating me the past few days when all I’ve talked about is kickstarter). The tweets, status updates, etc. were instrumental in widening North Shore South Shore’s audience.

Thanks for bringing me to the next step in this process! Thanks to you–I’m actually going somewhere. It’s quite the opposite of spin class. My legs cycle furiously to loud music and I get nowhere.

Next up: Electronic release!  Like my facebook page for details. (It’s coming soon. I’m sending the manuscript to a formatter next week.)

Have a nice weekend everyone!

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Proseco Cocktail

I made this cocktail for a dinner party C.K. and I threw this past Saturday. We had a great bottle of Proseco to start as it was a celebratory dinner. Our close friends Tara and Jay are getting married next September. I’m a bridesmaid and Jay asked C.K. to be the best man. It’s a decision I’m sure he’s already rethinking. Directly after C.K. accepted the honor, he began goading Tara about how he would dye Jay blue for the wedding. Jay wouldn’t look bad as a smurf though.

We also enjoyed this lovely proseco cocktail from Martha Stewart Living. It tastes like a variation of White Sangria. Here’s how to make it.

1 peach, diced

1/2 lb. strawberries, diced

3 tablespoons sugar

3/4 cup of vodka

bunch of basil, chopped up

1 bottle of Proseco, Italian sparkling wine

In the bottom of a pitcher add all the ingredients except the Proseco. With a wooden spoon, mash up the fruit well and leave it in the fridge to marinate. When you’re ready to serve it, add the bottle of Proseco and mix well.

Also on the menu…

Shrimp Cocktail

Salad with carrots, dried cherries, bleu cheese, balsamic vinagrette (Tara made it. I think it had nuts too.)

Filet Mignon with Bernaise sauce

Brussel Sprouts with Pine Nuts

Baked Potatoes

Cupcakes from Lulu in Scarsdale. (Very nice!)

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Good Night, California

goodnightcaliI went to my last dance class here on Thursday. Jill Strauss put together a great combination to Heather Headley’s “Your Love is Like Rain.” I enjoyed dancing it. There were lots of moments were you had to fill up the counts because of the reggae beat behind the song.

Afterwards, some of the ladies from the class took me out to lunch. They also gave me Good Night, California (a new regional version of Good Night, Moon for future “Samplers.”) I totally lost it. I don’t even know why–the tears were flowing. The gesture was so sweet. I will truly miss Jill’s class and those ladies.

If you’re ever in LA and looking for a great jazz class, be sure to take Jill’s class. Her Luigi-style jazz class is a great workout, a great workout to say the least. She’s a phenomenal teacher. I credit her with teaching me that I can do this for the rest of my life as long as I take care of my body. Some teachers don’t push self-preservation and feeling how your body is different each day. A little twinge in your lower back should be attended to, not ignored. If you ignore it long enough, that little twinge becomes severe pain and all of sudden you can’t wear high heels anymore or sit in certain desk chairs for long periods of time. I think I’m over the whole self-inflicted punishment makes you better. I got a bad right ankle from that attitude.

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Bridesmaid Dresses

Stone taffeta gown

Priscilla of Boston

I was asked to be in my friend Tara’s wedding yesterday. I’m honored to be a part of her and Jay’s big day next fall. Furthermore, when asked about plans for dresses, Tara replied that she thinks she wants everyone to wear black. Ahh, bridesmaids everywhere would be grateful. Black–simple, elegant, and reusable. I think her choice will look very nice–black gowns and tuxes offsetting what is sure to be a gorgeous white wedding gown. I can’t wait to see what she chooses.

Cute Cowgirl: This is not to say that in past weddings I’ve been forced to wear anything I didn’t like. As a kid, I was in two bridal parties: my Uncle D’s and my Aunt Lisa’s. For Uncle D’s wedding, I wore a lacey shirt with a prairie skirt and cowboy boots. Oh yeah, it was a cowboy-themed wedding. I know that sounds suspicious but the pictures are fantastic. Everyone in hats, boots, belt buckles. Very cool. As a little kid too, I was psyched to wear cowgirl boots. And I got to wear a pretty ring of baby roses in my hair.

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I

My friend Caroline and I went this restaurant Joe’s on Abbot Kinney today for lunch. Three course lunch for $18 and house picks for wine (a Spanish white that tasted like Sauvignon Blanc and a Merlot) for $7 a glass. I love prix fixe. My eyes are bigger than my stomach so I love know that I always have more food coming.

Here’s what I had:

Ahi Tuna Tartare placed in a neat little ball over a piece of lox and garnished with cucumbers and diced tomatoes and lemon. It came with a few toasts to eat the tuna although I could eat tuna tartare straight.

Chicken Breast with sugar snap pea puree, white corn, and haricot verts. And it had these great mushrooms–they looked like oyster mushrooms but they were darker.

A peach doughnut (a piece of fried dough with a yummy peach inside) with a scoop of ice cream.

And later… A nap.

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Welcome Home

My friend Colleen just got home from overseas. This was her third tour. I’m so happy she’s home. I spoke to her this week and she sounds great!

Welcome home Colleen!

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Last Chapter: Done

I finished my last Kylie chapter last night. Incidentally, it’s also the last chapter of the book. It came out better than I expected for a first draft. My sister is reading it and so is Laura. They both give pretty objective feedback. If they don’t like it, I’ll know. But I think they will. There were a few parts last night that I was really happy with how things sounded. A few sentences that made me think, “Where did that come from?”I

Now I have to write an epilogue (so fancy right?). That will be from Ben’s perspective. Since he’s my strongest, most accessible narrator, I think it’s best to leave with him. Plus he’s funny. So readers will get the dramatic / romantic Kylie ending and the lighter Ben ending.

The pug is happy that it’s done!

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