Sunday, August 31, 2008

Today is

our anniversary. Twenty-three years. Holy moly.

Ted and I met on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend on Fire Island in 1985. Actually, it was the second time we met... Earlier that summer in June we had been introduced at a party after the Gay Pride Run which we both raced in. Ted and I talked, but then he left to have dinner with friends. I said to myself, "I will see you again Ted Dawson."

And I did. On Labor Day weekend I was visiting my friend John Kelly in the Pines. We went to see some of his friends in a house on the ocean and up from the beach came one of the housemates, Ted. 

That time, it stuck. 

After that Ted and I went out to Fire Island together. One summer not long after he won a competition to design the Fire Island Pines flag. It is a joyful, simple Matissey design of stars, sun, pine trees, and ocean in swaths of bright colors. This was probably 1987, and you don't see the flag waving as much as you used to in the Pines but it is hoisted in the harbor. 

The house where we met on the beach was later destroyed in a storm and a new house was built in its place. On that site where we met twenty-three years ago, they still wave Ted's flag, seen on the right. 

That is so cool. I love to see it. I wrote about Ted in my first post on this blog. Over the last twenty-three years he has been a constant joy to me, and I hope I to him. It is something that I am profoundly grateful for in my life. Happy Anniversary TD. 

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Before we went to get Bell this morning we ran over to the Farmers Market. 
There were beautiful big hydrangeas.

I got this little posey of zinnias. I love the combination of colors. They are in a white ironstone pitcher which I bought many years ago at an antique sale in Guilford, Ct., where my parents have lived since 1981. 

Bell Arrives

I'm happy to report that we are in possession of our kitten Bell. We took the train to Tuckahoe, Yonkers, to retrieve her from Judith and Deidre Beck who had so kindly driven her down from Herkimer. The kitten comes from Herkimer and the Bellinger Rose b and b, formerly our O'Donnell family home, where she lived recently. We named her Bell after the Bellinger Rose.

All of the literature is very specific that when you bring a new kitten in the house with a resident cat, you keep them separated at first, so Bell is now ensconced in the bathroom and Rose is snooping about, but not upset. Yet. She doesn't know there is a kitten in the house.

Ted got Rose a new little toy for the occasion, a grey mouse. This is like when my sister Cynthia was born, and Thom and I returned home from my grandparent's house in Haddonfield, New Jersey, where we had gone while my mother was in the hospital. Cynthia was born July 7th, and it was hot in Haddonfield. When we got home, Cynthia was swaddled and perched on an armchair in the living room. Thom and I were like, "Cool." But the really good news was that our sister had brought a gift with her, a jungle gym in the backyard! Yay! We ran outside and thought the infant had excellent taste. The following winter when I put my mouth on the frozen metal jungle gym, my father had to come out and rip me off. Ouch.

Before my brother Eric was born on December 6th, Santa's Christmas elves came to the house and delivered a miniature artificial Christmas tree decorated with colored lights and little toys. It was a school day, and when Thom and I came down to the living room it was not yet daylight. The little tree twinkled in the dark. I was enchanted. The Christmas elves pulled off something magical. I'm telling you people, my parents were on top of this stuff!

Here is our trip today:

At the Tuckahoe train station, picking up Bell from Judith Beck and daughter Deirdre with Mr. Beck who kindly shuttled the kitten down from Herkimer. Judith told us she works, in fundraising. She looks no where near 81. No where near. We brought her a bouquet of flowers.

All aboard the Kitten Express. On the train heading back to Grand Central.

Home at last.

Many many thanks again to Chris and Leon Frost and Judith and Deidre Beck for making this happen. It's been quite a project (read below). It feels like a big accomplishment.

I just opened a bag of food for the kitten and Rose came running, but it's not for her. Busted! I'll go distract her with the grey mouse...
We're leaving to go to Grand Central to pick up Bell in Yonkers. 
Wish us luck. 

Kitten reprieve. 

I was ready to drive upstate and pick up Bell but Leon Frost called at the eleventh hour and said I wouldn't have to do that; a guest at his Bellinger Rose b and b was driving home to Yonkers, and she would bring the kitten down from Herkimer. We could pick her up in Yonkers. Judith Beck, 81, and her daughter Deirdre had volunteered for kitten duty. 

Isn't that nice of them?! 

I was relieved not to have to drive up and back. And Rose, above, won a day's reprieve before Bell arrives and the kitty litter hits the fan... 

Monday, August 25, 2008

Fashion, the Last Week of August

I went into some stores in midtown to see what was happening. Dear reader, I'm sorry to tell you, there was not a lot to report, and I'm talking here about women's fashion. The summer sales are over so the stores are stocked with fall but it was quite glum - a lot of black, not much ornamentation or decoration, austere shapes. The stores were empty, which can be expected because many people are away at the end of August. (Except for Abercrombie & Fitch which now has a velvet rope on Fifth Avenue to control the crowds.) Shoes are even plain, except for the fact that they're on high platforms. I'm telling you, it did not dazzle the eye, like a trip through midtown often can. Cathy Horyn says in The New York Times that the really good stuff from the designer fall collections comes into stores in September. I don't doubt that she's right, but I thought fall was delivered into stores in July and August. These days, they're practically putting up Christmas decorations in September.

And then I thought that with the stinking economy, a disastrous war abroad, and an uncertain election ahead, perhaps the designers and stores are reflecting the times with somber presentations and also playing it safe. One happy, optimistic exception is J. Crew, pictured above. The stores, the catalogues, the windows, and the web site ( now feature clothes in bright, cheerful colors like yellow, gold and orange. These seem like typically spring colors to me but I love seeing them now in an otherwise dark season. J. Crew is also expanding its accessories collection with glossy jewelry and decorated shoes. You walk into a J. Crew store in the middle of winter and it's like a joyful candy store -- pink, green, yellow, orange. You can't help but feel better. It lifts you up. And that's what clothes are for, no?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

"Life itself might be a work of art. Art can be the way people live."
Artist Joseph Beuys

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Farmers Market

Ted and I go to the Farmers Market at Union Square on Saturday mornings; its one of our favorite things now about our location is our proximity to the Farmers Market. These last two weeks in August are the high point for the market; everything is glorious -- tomatoes, flowers, peaches, vegetables. 
Miles of peaches

So many plants--

Red and yellow peppers


Jewel-like tomatoes 

Flower stand

At the market I got the flowers below, if you can call them flowers. Ted wasn't so crazy about them but I think they're great. They look like thistles, but the man said they are some kind of bean. I like their bristly, weed-like texture and dusty pink color. They are in our radicchio vase from Tiffany's, given to us our by friends Margaret and Dick Holman on the occasion of our union ceremony in 2000; it is one of my very favorite possessions. 

Friday, August 22, 2008

Take a Seat

We got this chair yesterday at the antique store I haunt. It's a nice little chair for the bedroom. It replaces a chair we recently threw out which my grandmother had given me in law school. Yes dear reader, I went to law school for a year (unsmiley face, but no regrets) in Albany, New York, but that's another story. My grandmother showed up one day with an upholstered, overstuffed chair which she had found somewhere. I know I said below that I don't go for upholstered, overstuffed furniture, but this chair was the exception. I dragged it from apartment to apartment because of its sentimental value. It was extremely comfortable and comforting; it was my "prayer chair." I covered it with fabrics and sheets and ticking to make it belle jolie, but finally, it did get old. I mean, it was old when she gave it to me. 

This chair pictured here had been in the antique store a while at a reasonable price. I liked it but thought it was a little small for two big guys. Today I went back and the price was reduced and suddenly I found it irresistible. Seriously, I like the pale floral fabric and the carved wood on the arms. I think it goes nicely with Mark Pelletier's watercolor which hangs above (see below). The nice guys at the store said it's Eastlake Victorian. Sounds good! This chair looks very 611 to me.

I said I would carry it home. Then I picked it up; it's heavy! The guys said do not carry it by the arms. Staggering down Sixth Avenue, I tried not to bang into children on training-wheel bicycles and clutches of tourists with street maps out. I felt like Jill Clayburgh at the end of An Unmarried Woman, careening around the streets of Soho carrying a giant canvas painting; you know what I'm talking about, right? 

My nephew Aaron, age thirteen, lives in Toronto and sent me this quote via email. It speaks to my love of the beach and flowers. I think it's quite nice -- don't you? 

"To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour."
William Blake 
Latest in kitten news (see posts below): Chris and Leon Frost sent an email with a video of our yet retrieved kitten Bell. Here she is on the front staircase at 611, now the Bellinger Rose Bed and Breakfast. This is the house where my great grandparents lived and my grandmother and her ten brothers and sisters grew up. And now our little kitten Bell is on those same stairs. This is really a fun story for me. Many many thanks to Chris and Leon for their great generosity and help on the kitten project. The music you hear is from their player piano in the living room. Go visit them!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Container Garden

On Jane Street, we had a garden, and I do miss that at our new apartment. I am a gardener; I am the guy working in the garden, at night, in the rain. Last summer there were a bunch of empty containers on the roof of our building so we dragged them to the front of the building and filled them with dirt and plants and flowers. It was successful so we did it again this summer.

My friend Rebecca Cole the garden designer said the trick with a container garden is to get three containers, in different heights, and then put three different kinds of plants in each container. Group them together, and voila, you begin to get something that looks like it naturally blew in. Like Rebecca, I am not a fan of the big pot with a circle of geraniums and a smaller circle of something else and then something sticking out of the middle.

These are simple things - geranium, impatiens, petunias, vines, ivy. The vines from last summer survived the winter and flourished this summer. Vines and ivy and floppy plants cover the pots so you don't really see them. I like pale colors -- pink, salmon, white. I'm not crazy about bright hot colors like orange or red in the garden, I think they're kind of distracting. I also like leaves that are variegated with color or white; they stand out so you can see the leaf shape better. With little time and expense it's an easy project but it brings so much and it's pleasant to leave the house and come home to. So far no one has taken the pots.
Up the steps to the front door.

Ivy and morning glory vines are creeping up the railing. I like plants that create movement so the eye goes along.

Not bad for a nothing little corner, right?

I clip the variegated ivy and stick the clippings in other pots -- a cheap way to propagate.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Kitten Delivery

Chris and Leon Frost in Herkimer emailed to say they picked up the kitten at the animal shelter (see Finding a Kitten, below) so now she is in the house that my grandmother grew up in. Love that. Isn't she impossibly cute? We have to figure out how to retrieve the kitten.

I think I will print out a lot of copies of this photo and put them around the apartment so that Rose will get used to the idea of having a kitten in the house...

Do you think it will work?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Home Again

We are home after our week at the beach. I like to go away. And then I like to come home. It's good to go away to get outside your daily routine and have a change of scenery and get a fresh perspective on things. Then it's nice to come home because everything is around you that you like: the colors you like, the objects you like, the pans you like.

Ted and I were forced abruptly two years ago to move out of the apartment that we had lived in on Jane Street for fifteen years when the house was sold. We had two floors with a garden in the back. Zac Posen lived next door. It was rather traumatic and we looked at a lot of apartments in an extremely daunting real estate market and fortunately found an apartment we like. Moving forced us to edit, edit, edit, and it was a creative and interesting process to see what came out at the end. For me personally, I like antiques, art, photographs, flowers, plants, floral fabrics, and furniture with legs, nothing overstuffed or with upholstery going down to the floor. I'm going back in time. I like candles, and shadows.

I brought this shell on a stick on the right back from a shop on Fire Island. I like how the pink and tan colors repeat on the piece of coral next to it. The metal snow drops on the left I bought at the Jane Street Sale, held in June, for $5.

Today I stopped in at the Barneys Warehouse Sale. Love the Barneys Warehouse Sale. It's a mob scene -- not for everyone. But I think it's fun, as long as I can keep my patience. Great looking people (and a lot of them) with great style rustling through cartons of clothes. The music is good -- Madonna, Britney Spears, etc. They're smart at Barneys, they make it into a fun event. I found these chocolate brown suede desert boots. They'll be great in the winter (let's not talk about the winter, not my favorite season) with grey flannel pants and a grey cashmere cardigan, or jeans and a Western shirt. $109. I saw some just like them in the Paul Smith store on Fifth Avenue for $539.

This watercolor by our friend artist Marc Pelletier was at the framer's, and Ted brought it home recently. It's of the Empire State Building, and you can actually see the Empire State Building out the window next to it. It's a dreamy watercolor -- very serene and peaceful. I love how Marc captured the scene with quick, broad, simple, watery strokes in shades of blue and grey. That is the artist's magic, no?
My mother sent me this quote and it is one of my very favorites. 

"I have an idea that the only thing which makes it possible to regard this world we live in without disgust is the beauty which now and then men create out of the chaos. The pictures they paint, the music they compose, the books they write, and the lives they lead. Of all these the richest in beauty is the beautiful life. That is the perfect work of art."

Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Beach Vacation

Ted and I are in Fire Island Pines for a week vacation. Herkimer, New York to Fire Island Pines in one week: I know!

The train trip out was a bit arduous. When we started it was sunny and nice. Then came a dark storm with big rain and wind. Then, the train stopped. At the Great River train station, only two stops away from our destination, they couldn't release the breaks on the engine. The train didn't move. We sat and waited for an hour. They said they were sending for a "mobile unit" to fix the engine. Aarrghhh...

Then in the train station parking lot appeared suddenly the vans that take you from the Sayville train station to the ferry boat; they had come to Great River to pick us up. Everyone ran out of the train. "Ted, let's hurry up!" We didn't want to get stuck there. Mobs of men with Vuitton luggage rushed to the vans like the last refugees out of Vietnam. I got ahead and secured us two seats, and we made it to the ferry boat.

On to the boat, and then this:

The sun again, and a great beach vacation.

Ted and I love the beach. We're like hippies living on the beach: relaxing, running, reading, swimming, eating, sleeping.

Except when it rains. Which it is doing now...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Books, and Bookstores

Before Ted and I went out to Fire Island for the week I wanted to get a book for the beach so I hopped on my bike and went over to the Strand Bookstore on 12th Street. I have to go there more often; I used to go to the Barnes and Noble near me on Sixth Avenue but it closed because the rent was too high. Can you imagine rent too high for Barnes and Noble?

Love the Strand. Aisles and aisles of shelves and shelves. Three floors of books, anything you could want, at marked down prices. We went to the Strand when my brother Eric gave a reading there of his first book, Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush. (Available on That was great: hearing Eric read from his book and seeing him answer very comfortably questions from the audience, my young brother who I am so proud of. Eric is now working on a second book on the influence bloggers are having on the current presidential election. The book will be out in 2009.

At the Strand I was searching for the letters of Oscar Wilde. Why? Because Truman Capote recommended it, that's why. There is a great collection of Truman Capote's letters called Too Brief a Treat, edited by Gerald Clarke who wrote Capote, the powerful biography of the writer. Too Brief a Treat -- isn't that a gem of a title? It's a phrase that Capote uses to describe a letter from a friend. He was such a beautiful writer. A sad, down-hill end, but a beautiful writer, like my other favorite American writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. They all had a simplicity, a clarity, plus a poetry -- that's great American style -- but they all came to sad ends. In Capote's letters he lists important books to read, and one of them is the letters of Oscar Wilde.

In I go to the miles of aisles at the Strand, and end up in the back corner, in Irish Literature. There is a girl shelving books there and I ask her for help. She's young, wearing little brown glasses and low jeans, hair parted on the side and swung across her forehead Sixties style, a country girl. There is a section on Wilde and we finger through numerous options -- the complete letters, the selected letters, the edited letters, etc. I think I'll take the selected letters -- shorter and easier to carry to the beach.

"I love Wilde," she offers, rather bashfully. "I did my dissertation on Wilde."

I turn my attention to this child.

"My dissertation was about art and life in his work," she says. "I focused mostly on The Picture of Dorian Gray, and also on De Profundis which was the long letter he wrote from prison to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas on the subject of suffering. That was a gorgeous piece of writing. I would hope that it is included in these volumes."

Sometimes in New York City I just stand there with my mouth hanging open.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Family Reunion

This past January our beloved aunt Betty died in Utica, New York. After the funeral we gathered at Cavallo's in New Hartford for pizza and beer and as it started to snow outside we hatched a plan for a summer family reunion at Oneida Lake. Last weekend, we went! A good thing to come out of a funeral; a last gift from Betty.

Sherry Boehlert really organized it for the last six months, and many thanks to her. When we were young my father's family often got together in the summer. We gathered with the family of my father's brother Bob who live outside of Rochester and sister Eleanor who has a camp at Oneida Lake. I have many fond memories of summer barbecues, catching fire flies, night time swims with my cousins. We had a lot of fun together but as we got older we never really saw each other. My cousins now have children who I don't know so it was great to get gather and spend time with them at the reunion on Saturday. My second cousin Louisa and her husband John came with their twin sons, born just four weeks earlier. On Sunday we celebrated my father's birthday with a brunch.

Favorite moment: a swim in the lake on inner tubes. My cousin Peter who I was very close to growing up brought a bunch of inner tubes and inflated them on the beach. A group of cousins waded into the lake and we floated on our backs in the inner tubes, our feet interlaced so we moved as one big group. Then Peter came out with a floatable cooler filled with beers -- brilliant! My aunt Molly, Peter's mother, swam nearby, her white Irish head above the dark lake water; she didn't want a tube. Molly often took us when we were little for night time swims to friends' pools. It was so refreshing and cooling to swim at night. Then we went home and climbed into cotton sheets and watched Get Smart on tv. All kinds of memories come back as you float in the water on your back, no? It was like we were kids again.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

An Upstate Road Trip

On the way up to the Boehlert reunion at Oneida Lake, Ted and I stopped for two nights at the Bellinger Rose Bed and Breakfast in Herkimer, NY. The b and b is at 611 West German Street in the house that my grandmother, my mother's mother, grew up in. As I said below on July 26th, my great grandfather Dan O'Donnell came from County Sligo in Ireland and settled in Herkimer where he married Bessie Krinion. They had eleven children and lived in a big Victorian house with a front staircase and a back stairs at 611 West German Street. It was the family homestead; my great aunts who I adored lived in the house and it remained in the family until the seventies so my mother and her cousins spent a lot of time in the house growing up, and so did I and my cousins. We're lucky that it's a b and b now which we can visit, run by the friendly and hospitable Chris and Leon Frost. In 2005 I organized a big O'Donnell family reunion at 611 and 100 relatives attended. Here is the Bellingrose Rose, known to me as 611:

On Friday Ted and I drove to Clinton for lunch.

Clinton is a town close to New Hartford where I grew up. Ted and I took the back way to Clinton, over Tibbits Road and Brimfield Street, the way we used to go when we were kids. My mother wanted to move to Clinton. It's an old-fashioned town, with brick buildings and little shops surrounding a village green. Hamilton College is located there. I have a lot of fond memories of Clinton, and I wanted to visit it again. I'm happy to report that Clinton is still busy and prosperous, unlike some other upstate towns.
We had lunch in a little bakery called the Dessert Booth which my high school friend Nanette Dusseault had recommended. The owner came out and said hello. It turns out she was one year behind me at New Hartford High School. She said, "You should come back tonight, it's tapas night. Do you know what tapas are?" I was like, I live in New York City, of course I know what tapas are! But it sounded good, shrimp with apricot, etc.

Back in the car. We drove south to Cooperstown.

Love Cooperstown. Driving in we saw hanging on a house a Confederate flag... and then a sign on someone's front yard which read, "Believe in Jesus or burn in hell. It's your choice," with red flames flickering around the words. Hmmmm....not exactly our kind of neighborhood. But when you reach Cooperstown, it's a beautiful nineteenth century town protected by a historic district perched on the side of the breathtaking Otsego Lake. Besides the Baseball Hall of Fame which everyone mentions first, there is a good art museum and the Glimmerglass Opera in a wonderful theater on the side of the lake. Cooperstown in a fantastic secret: don't tell anyone.

We like to walk around and look at the old houses and lush gardens; Cooperstown reminds me of Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard.

We walked down a narrow white pebble path through a graveyard.

For dinner, we drove to the Blue Mingo Grill located on the side of the lake. When you see a sign for Sam's Boat Yard, you turn in to the road there and park at the low restaurant on the lake. The porch is made of logs and offers the most scenic view of the lake and the pristine, completely undeveloped hills on the other side. A couple of sail boats drift by. A sea plane swoops past. The food is delicious.

When we were at the restaurant, I saw a married couple sitting on the level below. She was great looking, with her hair piled up in back. She had on a simple gold slip dress that skimmed over tan, toned shoulders, and sparkly, gold jeweled mules. Holding a big glass of red wine and talking animatedly to her husband, she was the picture of easy, natural, happy American beauty. I'm talking Polly Mellen/Arthur Elgort/Lisa Taylor American beauty if you know what I mean. Later we saw them in a boat, chug chugging away from the restaurant down the long lake. She had put on a warm zip-up top, and they puttered into the distance, to their lake-front home no doubt. Now that's what you call style.