Saturday, April 30, 2016

Skypes and tea parties

It's a time where technology gives us back quality time
Moving away is hard on the heart. The tug of the heart calls often - yearning for presence. The presence of your loved one right before you.

Rachel is coming of age in toddler years at a time when Aunt Leah is now more than a 10 minute drive away. I so miss being the pinch-hit babysitter and the on-the-way-back-from-the grocery-store "
drop-in" visit.
Uncle Patrick started the skype finger touch that melts my heart
There is something magical that is happening though. It is clearly felt in our chat times. Thanks to modern technology, video chat is soothing the ache that I have being apart from this little pint size philosopher.

Rachel has mastered the art of the toddler webinar. 
Rachel proudly shows me the stickers she's earned in her potty book.
It's the book I brought her when she was 4 weeks old still in the NICU unit.
Sometimes we play silly games and sing songs
Our talks have taken on a sweetly substantial filler of our in-person time, helping to sandbag between the times I can't be there in person: to hug, to feel the soft clasp of tender little babylike arms, or identify the crisp familiar scent of the sweetest little girl I know - a happy mix of fabric softner, baby lotion and today's peanut butter at lunch.

Lately it's not just been me that has been looking forward to chats with Aunt Leah (and sometimes both Aunt Leah & Uncle Patrick if timed right).

Lately Mary tells me Rachel will be in the middle of something and say "I wanna talk to Aunt Leah". We're quickly realizing this is something she cherishes too...

In the last few skype chats, we've been reading stories. I even recently bought a bunch of toddler books so I had more of a library to choose from. And she's been choosing books to "read" to me.

"Are you ready?" she will say and anxiously clutch the book in her hands, ready to turn the page with the widest smile - a prize I can't even describe.

This afternoon's video chat was one of my favorites...

"I read you a story"
Stopping her story to show me her "piggy toes"
A time to giggle...
And a time to snuggle...
When you're more than a quick trip away from the ones you love there is a slow realization that comes over you. These video chats...these filler between our visits...
these moments matter so much.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Little Shop of Wonders

Something has been missing for a while. Ever since we've been living here in Yonkers, I've been longing for a gift shop that made me feel that magical "A-ha" factor. I usually shop discount and Marshalls for myself, but when I want to find a special gift I turn to a shop with a little bit of magic and charisma I need small, local and inviting.
 Yesterday I found that shop.

A gaze in this store's window LA DENTELLIERE
 brought me inside
On a beautiful sunny spring day I ventured out into the town of Scarsdale - set to explore the delightful storybook town. I fed some quarters into the meter and took off down the street. Shop after shop was absolutely beautiful and charming indeed, but the price tags (and a few times, the ambivalance of the shopkeeper) led me to feel a little bit like at any moment I was about to have a 'Vivian Ward on Rodeo Drive' moment.

Thankfully, this did not happen, but it speaks to something deeply lacking in some of our finer shops - accessibility. What is it that you want to do in most of America - make everyone who visits your store feel that something beautiful is within their reach. Better yet, a beautiful interaction is the bonus of shopping in a smaller store. 
I believe in shopping local when I can - helping small businesses thrive and today I found one shop in a sea of many that was truly worth the 20 minute drive.
Gorgeous daydreams of threadcount

This shop reminded me so much of my favorite 'go-tos' of home, Parkleigh and Eleventh Hour, and there was something I felt in the air of this shop that truly sparkled.

          LA DENTELLIERE - 

Shop owner, Michelle
                      on 35 Popham Rd, Scarsdale NY

I found a perfect gift there for under $12 and picking it up, I felt a satisfied ease. I should tell you that that the feeling only increased when I went up to the counter to pay. The shop keeper Michelle and her daughter Charelle were incredibly sweet to me and I just fell in love with their business.

Michelle told me that she started the business with the idea that it would  be a shop to welcome the casual gift buyer looking for, like me, a beautiful small gift that wouldn't break the bank on up to the customer who was eyeing the $10,000 chandelier. Her shop stands out among banks of others that sell luxury but unfortunately miss the mark on the comfortable connection factor.

This is a factor I take very very seriously. I feel inspired to buy from business owners who truly believe in connecting with their customers - whether they are going to buy a $4 greeting card or the 1,000 thread count sheets...

Wow, what a lovely store!

In some ways, I think I take after my parents in the shopping world. My Dad especially, who to the downfall of his pocket (and the storekeeper's credit) could be persuaded to become a lifelong customer if he has a good chat and likes what he sees on the shelves.

I returned home with such a light feeling. This shop made me want to come back and shop again and even further, it made me feel embraced by Scarsdale even though I had just minutes before felt hesitant. Quite an achievement I say and hence, I merited it worthy of a blogpost.

One more note...a little rusty on my French, I googled the store's name, La Dentelliere.
Guess what it means? It's a lace-making machine.

As the great great grandchild of a Brussels lacemaker, I think I was meant to find this shop. Some call it a shopping trip, I call it destiny!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Leaps of faith

It's funny how sometimes our lives can be guided by a gentle whisper.
When ignored that whisper is no longer a quiet background noise.

When ignored it takes on more the sound of a clashing symbol - a resonant and clear sign of something completely unplanned, but heavily and remarkably magnetic...
and perhaps destined.

A gift from Karen, a fellow cancer survivor
Three months ago Patrick had a job offer in New York...of all places.

Funny thing. Three years ago Patrick took a leap for me by leaving New York. He left this same city so he and I could share a zip code and truly grow our relationship.

Back then he took on the very 'controversial role' of an actor moving from New York - headed Upstate - REALLY Upstate - Rochester, New York. It's a controversial role because virtually no actor does it unless their intending to leave the profession. Actors pile into New York, a city of plenty, and stay there. To leave this bustling island almost always means leaving the craft.

His then-agents scratched their heads. He wasn't moving to L.A...going where? And you intend to keep acting? Love makes you do crazy things, I'm sure they surmised.

While he watched rent payments decrease,
 ironically theater work actually increased for Patrick. In a move that made no sense to anyone in his business, he more than 'made it work' maintaining work as an actor based in Rochester NY. His agents proved incredulous of his decision to relocate and so Patrick decided to represent himself. 

He happily proved everyone in his crazy business wrong because that's how willing to take a leap and willing to stick to his gut instinct my (then husband to be) is. This strange recipe worked for his career and it worked for our relationship - as you know, we married in August of 2014. 

Fast forward to Fall 2015.

In the midst of my own employment gap and while contemplating new job opportunities ...Patrick suddenly found representation again. This time his new dynamic manager was willing to 'think different' and take a chance on an actor living a six-hour-drive away. Suddenly Patrick was making multiple trips to New York for his first television auditions in years. 

Patrick shooting his first pilot 'Unfiltered' 
He would drive there, park in an insanely expensive garage, un-rumple his shirt and walk steadily towards the audition.

No one in the auditions was ever the wiser - or even guessed he had woken up at three in the morning and driven from Rochester for his 15 minutes in the casting room. He would practically grab a quick lunch across the street, couch surf for a night and head straight back.
Despite driving through and in internationally renowned traffic in a round-trip circuit, he was incredibly persistent and undaunted. (You might even say a scrapper).

The pay-off was quite remarkable. In that incredibly small space of just three weeks he had booked two television roles. Orange is the New Black and Blue Bloods. And this - after being out of the television casting pool for years. 
Patrick with Magnum P.I. himself

Then word came of a brand new offer.

An open ended run in New York.
Housing for the first part of contract. Housing provided in New York City?

"I need to go with you."

Before I even let out those words, I considered them for at least three very sleepless nights. I was afraid of the words escaping my lips and fear that followed letting them out.

Adding my piece to this equation would make this new opportunity less of a temporary move. 
I knew New York City...I was a small town girl. I grew up in a town with two stoplights before I moved to Rochester (a comfortable level of 'big city').

Sundown on my train to New York
Full disclosure here: I was frightened of Manhattan. Patrick had known this when he lived there when we began dating. People move to New York when they are guileless and young - not on the jagged edge of "settling down."

Our rooftop view from West End Avenue 
Yet, I knew New York was calling him once again and he was living more than 300 miles away from where the real dance was. Here I was at a point where things were far more possible for me to move. Could I let my own fear get in the way of a major chance for him when I had the freedom to leap? The answer was no.

A month into Patrick's stay in New York I joined him. I borrowed the largest rolling suitcase anyone in my family owned (Mom) and stuffed it full of clothes and boarded a train. I have to admit, that morning I felt like the gypsy that I had been years before. Uncertain yet resolved to do this.

Please know dear reader, I was afraid. I cried a good deal of that morning. I sobbed
Opening night -the cast of Shear Madness
hugging my niece and my Mom goodbye that morning. I cried in the train station as my Dad sat and waited with me holding my hand and telling me he knew I was doing what my heart told me to do.

Imagine how hard that is for a parent to do when you'd rather have them close to you.

And then suddenly we were living in the Upper West Side! That night when I rolled into Manhattan and my husband put us in a cab was surreal. So too were the several days and nights after it, as I ventured out in a city that puzzled and overwhelmed me. Very much like Dorothy feeling she was not in Kansas anymore.

Gradually I stopped fearing things. I learned to haul groceries the New York way, three bags in each hand and choking on a receipt with a price that didn't include the abundant selection of a Wegmans.

I learned the rhythms of our borrowed neighborhood, the ebbs and flows of it all. I loved the gossip about our super chic temporary housing and learned how Jon Hamm and Charles Grodin had been tenants in the building. I must admit before I learned they were former residents I took every ride up or down as an opportunity for celebrity excitement.

Though I had an advantage to most "new to New York" inhabitants - a husband who knew the city like the back of his hand, I liked indulging my solo explorer time. I loved figuring it all out.
Ringing the famous Nasdaq bell

When I had somewhere to go alone I found it a challenge. I learned the subway, the buses and the streets by trial and error. Though most of the subway's daily passengers looked world-weary and vacant to me I tried to hold in my sense of wonder. I learned fast that eye contact was almost always a wasted luxury. Sometimes I would breathe in slowly and try not to hear the brash squeaking and the metal clacking and just meditate.

Over time New York slowly but surely grew on me.The clerk at the bodega around the corner smiled and began to recognize me and even smiled. The constant howl and grinding sound of traffic no longer became a stimulant - it lulled me to sleep. The subway card slid more confidently in my hand through the machine.
I began to stop asking why people lived in this overcrowded place and appreciated the thrill of it. We got discounted tickets to the hilarious Something Rotten and got to see Patrick's good friend John Cariani play Nigel Bottom, a role he originated. 
A chance to play conductor at St James?
Can you blame him?
John shows us the wig room
No synthetics here ladies!

Afterwards John led us around the winding backstage of the St. James Theatre on West 44th Street. As the wife of an actor I've been backstage before but John's tour was pretty impressive. I resisted the urge to ask to play dress-up in a multi-million dollar costume collection in the same historic theater where Rogers and Hammerstein premiered their Oklahoma and The King and I and Carole Channing first walked out as Dolly. 

These are the things that enchant the citizens of this city and keep tourism pumping steady streams of revenue pumping solidly in. Magical indeed.

I have to admit New York grows on you in waves. The experiences wash over you and then quietly settle into your normal-everyday encounters. It's funny how I made this transition. Quietly astounding how this happened suddenly and yet gradually and here it is almost five months later and we've made the decision to stay.

That in itself was a process.
Living here with included housing is a whole different reality to truly deciding to make a commitment to staying and finding a place to live. And it soon became abundantly obvious that a married couple (with one of us temporarily unemployed) could not stay living in the Upper West Side.

The search for a suitable apartment is a rite of passage for all New Yorkers. And as I've learned it's always a sobering one. The search for a place to suit a married couple (two people trying to inhabit one space) is an even steeper lesson in reality versus the New York of our dreams.

I wish I could show you some pictures of the apartments we saw, but the truth is there wasn't an easy angle to take the picture with without being in a corner. Yes, on our budget we were introduced to the micro-apartment. 

The search left us totally frustrated and annoyed. Patrick's old neighborhood in 3 years time had suddenly become too expensive to consider.

I wanted an elevator. Elevatored buildings in striking distance of Manhattan were far beyond striking distance of budget. Living vertically is its own challenge.

And we found a winner!
(the park directly across from our apartment)

Some of the addresses of the places we looked were darn-right scary. My "worthy of signing a lease" became a combination of two things...

Would you push a stroller or walk a small puppy down this street?

Would you let my Mom visit us here?

If the answer to these questions was no, I think it was safe to say we were continuing the search. And so we did...

It was a 40 minute sojourn outside the city that finally found us. Yonkers.
As in "Lost In..." Ironically, a Neil Simon play. The Noonans have a special place in their heart for this American playwright...and perhaps so too the city of hills (as they call it).

Stepping off that train in Yonkers felt like honestly a first breath of fresh air in the apartment search. That day we found several "no-gos" until we found the "A-ha" apartment, but the fit felt right.

It's not easy to put down a deposit and sign your name to an apartment in a brand new city. The dedication of a year of one's time and the signing on of "I live here" says very much that you are committed to the purpose of relocation - no longer an itinerant, able to drift in or out. THIS was the step that made us resolve to a brand new direction...and sign our names officially to that direction.

So, my friends: it's been almost five months since I rolled that suitcase full of clothes out of Rochester, saying Geronimo at a time when I thought everything in life would have been figured out. And since that time I moved our entire apartment to a place a six-hour-drive away...and watched wistfully through the rear view at a picture I love as it got smaller behind me. I'll always know where home is, I'll always return to it.

But there is a time when a whisper guides you and you listen...scared as you are.

You have to have faith that you'll make it through. Stumbling blocks aside, sometimes you learn so many new things about yourself in the process.

There are times when everything you know of life has to be rewritten to listen to the whisper or you'll always wonder "what would have happened had I listened?" 

I have learned so much in these months. Patrick too. Truly, we've learned so much together.
I took up cooking!

I've dealt with being unemployed in a city expensive to navigate with a job.

I've learned to make useful time and fill it with exploration.

I've learned to cook and bake...really well.

I've taken some classes and learned some new things.

I've taken on my first job in theater merchandise.

I've successfully navigated the job search (MAJOR SPOILER...TBA)

I've learned more about myself than I could have ever imagined.

So, here I am...and here we are.

You can take the girl out of Rochester, but by God you can't take Rochester out of the girl. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

When love speaks above disease

Often when people pay tribute to a loved one who has died they reminisce back far into the years. I only knew Sharon Noonan for four and a half of her years on earth, and as many who knew her will attest, I didn't ever know her the way she once was.

Little did I know when I entered a restaurant on a misty September evening with my friend Jennifer that I would meet the man I would one day marry and his wonderful mom - together. 
Patrick charmed me for sure, but I have to say the two were a package deal and I was drawn to Sharon every bit as much as her sweet son. She was warm and enthusiastic with sparkling eyes, and every bit engaged in our lively conversation at the table that night. She peppered me with compliments in a charmingly uncommon way. "I like her," she would say and look directly at her son. It was unfiltered and quite simply adorable.

Perhaps it was the repetition of an identical question that tipped me off that something was different about Sharon. Or perhaps it was the gentle way Patrick guided his mom to the menu that prompted curiosity.

Thanks to Jennifer I have this picture of the first night we met.

That night, as I was of course told later, Sharon urged her son to "call that girl". Patrick already intended to call me but mother's intuition was a nice reassurance I'm sure.

A diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease was a very present reality in her life, but it never ever defined her. Incredibly, she broke through the barrier of her disease to do a very healthy and ordinary thing - forge a relationship with her son's significant other. Yet, it was not by any means an 'ordinary' relationship,

I'm told the Sharon Noonan of that night was not the same woman many had known. I could feel short-changed or robbed in some way, but honestly I feel incredibly blessed. 
Remarkably, Sharon was able to bypass the grip of dementia and remember me for almost all of the time I knew her.

Sure, there were nuances and details that were missed, but over the years she was every bit learning who I was. She did this in a way that science or neurological reports might never accurately explain.

I had been dating Patrick for almost six months when he and I made the long road trip out to Wisconsin to visit her for the first time after our meeting in the restaurant. I thought at first as we entered her apartment that she would ask who this woman was and find a stranger, but her arms wrapping around me stifled my worry.

We spent such a golden few days going to breakfasts at diners, bowling and visiting with 
Patrick's sister Karen's family. One afternoon while driving around the back country roads, Patrick asked his mom "would you like to go see Tara?" "OHHH Yes," she exclaimed with a kind of childish joy I had not seen in her before. Patrick turned the wheel down a long road and pulled up to a farm. We were going to see Sharon's horse.

"Tara!" she yelled and a sleek bay picked up her head from grazing, pricked her ears and ran up to the fence. No longer hers in ownership, Tara was living here on a farm with several other horses. As Sharon approached the mare almost danced toward her. I watched Sharon pat Tara's neck as the mare leaned in to accept the gentle touch with such loving familiarity. She turned to me smiling "Do you like horses too?" Hahaha do I like horses? We were two birds of a feather. 

Sharon was calm and comfortable as she led her longtime friend around by the halter. She began to tell me of the many times she had ridden this beautiful animal as we both took turns stroking her. The soft nickers of this beautiful horse were music to both of our ears.

As Patrick hung around in the background, Sharon snickered..."he doesn't like horses quite the same as us." We shared a laugh looking over to see an ornery Shetland pony having a comical dance of avoidance with a 6 foot 2 male. Little Pepsi apparently had developed a strong desire to assert alpha male status in the pasture.

 It was i
n those moments Sharon's disease was hidden, blanketed over by her comfortable confidence with an animal she had spent so many years of joy with. I could see that there most of all beside Tara, Sharon was every bit herself, not lost in memory or confusion. Animals had been so much of the fabric of Sharon's life.

A year later Patrick would propose to me on Mother's Day...and announce our news to everyone in his card to his Mom. It was just another one of the beautiful memories I have of a woman who became such an important fixture in my life - despite distance and dementia. 

The most difficult decision had to be made prior to our summer wedding in 2014. Sharon was having extreme difficulty readjusting to visits outside her memory care facility. It was understood that a long trip and a stay in unfamiliar surroundings would be harmfully confusing for her. For both Patrick and I the mere thought of her not being there for our wedding was heartbreaking.
The answer became clear - if Sharon can't come to the wedding... The wedding indeed came to her, thanks to Patrick's sister Karen and husband Jim who helped us chose a lovely community center and set up a lovely spread complete with Karen's homemade carrot cake as our wedding cake. 
An impromtu second walk down the aisle
Our "Act Two" Wedding

We did the whole ceremony over with Patrick's brother Brian officiating. And afterwards on a little portable speaker we played "I Hope You Dance" and mother and son had the turn around the dance floor together they had both so deserved. Though my parents made the journey from Rochester to be there the bride's side was slightly tipped in balance. Sharon was surrounded by people she loved that day. Truly, it was her day and this bride wanted it that way.

The next day after all was over she had forgotten the memories of the event. We sat for lunch with her in a booth at a Mexican restaurant she loved. Words were hard for Sharon at this point. Most of the time she spoke in short repeated words, not sentences.

She had to be reminded that I was married to Patrick. It was as if the day before had never happened. But the joy spilled back over her again as we talked to her, walking backward through the details of that day. "Oh my. How wonderful!" she exclaimed. 

When Patrick excused himself to use the restroom, Sharon seized the opportunity. In a moment I will never forget she grabbed both of my hands and looked in my eyes.  Clear as day she said "I am so so happy for you two. So so happy." It was the most steady and solid thing she had said all weekend. It was as if she had worked up the way to say what she felt so important to express to me - and to me only.

I smiled at her with tears in my eyes and squeezed her hands back. "I'm so so happy to be with your son," I said. She squeezed harder and repeated "so so so," trailing off as though the fleeting moment was being taken back from her- snatched back by a mind that so grasped onto the right to have it. Her words didn't matter. It was her eyes that danced with sincerity and conviction. It was the deep assurance any daughter in law could want from her beloved's Mom. This to me was my gift - an incredible one.

When Patrick returned she smiled at him and no hint of our exchange remained. "Hey, did I miss anything?" he playfully joked. Truer words had never been spoken.
Patrick and his Mom - August 2015

As months rolled on, she gradually struggled more with my name. Eventually she would forget altogether the second voice on the phone call or the woman beside her son. On our visit last summer she looked at me with a puzzled look I had never seen in her before. Thankfully, she knew Patrick. She spoke very little, a stray word or two, sometimes a nod. I accompanied Patrick as a stranger, but one with obvious affection for her son.

The grip of the disease had finally taken me from her active memory. As sad as that was, I know I had the gift of a time where I had lived clearly in her mind. Against all odds.

Through many years she held my name on the tip of her tongue and instantly brightened with victory when she stumbled for it and found it again and again. Except for this past year, she always knew me. It was not what was expected by any textbook, but it was mine. 

Two weeks ago Patrick and I got the call we had known would one day come. We drove 14 straight winter hours to be there in time- fearing we would miss saying goodbye. At three in the morning we joined Karen who had not left her bedside once.

Sharon had love surrounding her. She was able to hear the voices who loved her saying goodbye and telling her to let go, both of her sons and her daughter. She hung on for two days, but left on her own terms. She slipped out of this world knowing that she was loved.

As I held the hand of this woman who gave birth and lovingly raised the man I love, I thanked God for the time we had. I will never ever forget her or the miracle she worked to truly be in my life. I will never ever forget the remarkable Sharon Noonan.