Happy Birthday, all year long

Today is my birthday. (Please don’t sing). And it’s special because I get to spend it with my immediate family for the first time in many years.

I’m looking forward to a margarita and chips and salsa tonight (yay, Atlanta, for all your Mexican restaurants)! I am very fortunate to have people in my life who always celebrate with me – even when I plan a big bash in London.

I hope you celebrate your birthday, too, in whatever way is meaningful to you. For my birthday and yours (whenever it may be), here are some really fun cakes I found. Click on the photos to learn more about the cakes.

This margarita cake is made by ABC Cake Shop in Albuquerque.

This is amazing, isn’t it? It won First Place for a Mother’s Day contest. They get better…

Also a prize winner for the Mother’s Day contest.


Can you believe everything here is edible except the board? Even the magazine with a digital image of the birthday girl. Wow.

And incredibly, this is edible, too. It’s a marzipan cake topping.

Even though the elaborate ones are so much fun, I prefer the rather simple ones decorated like gift boxes.

And how could I not like this one?

Or this one?

This Tour Eiffel is 4 feet tall. And no waiting in line to get to the top! I’d like to put in an order now for my 80th, please.

I wonder if they get requests for Delta?

I would like this one in Fenway, please.

Does Johnny Depp come as Jack Sparrow?

Sometimes simpler is beautiful. Happy Birthday, everyone.


Here’s to you…

I am excited about going to Atlanta. But as I leave New England, there are many things I am sad to leave behind – notably, the food. It’s always about the food, wherever I am.

Here are a few things I will greatly miss.

It’s just not summer without lobsta. Everyone serves it in New England, even McDonald’s. In Maine, you get your lobsters fresh off the boat, prepared in more ways than you knew possible. Ever had lobster pie? The tourists put on a bib and get thoroughly squirted with ocean juice as they try to squeeze a little meat out of that hard red shell. The locals know to hit the clam shacks for a relatively cheap lobster roll – which for purists, means a buttered hot dog roll with chunks of meat and nothing else. No mayo, no celery. Just soft, chewy crustacean meat. I will sooo miss the lobster.

Irish pubs. OK, they’re Americanized for sure. But the strong Irish-American community here – especially in Boston – means hundreds of restaurants and bars with names like Matt Murphy’s, Coogan’s Bluff, The Harp, Patrick’s Pub, Kinsale and Rí Ra. When my Irish-Catholic grandmother died, we toasted her memory at the Old Irish Alehouse. The bartenders are often imported from the Emerald Isle, and you can enjoy your Shepherd’s pie while an Irish session drowns out your conversation. So even if you can’t make it across the pond, you can feel a little more Celtic right at home.

Italian food. Lobster ravioli. Braciole. Veal Piccata. Saltimbocca. Bocconcini. Broccoli rabe. Olives.

Providence is known for its unique restaurants, especially the Italian ones on Federal Hill, long home to La Cosa Nostra, or the New England mafia. The chain restaurants are for tourists and stay sequestered in the mall. I will miss making a reservation for dinner, valet parking to avoid searching for a parking space all night, dressing up (while not required in most places, definitely encouraged) and enjoying a meal that is closer to art than food.

Cassarino’s on Federal Hill is my favorite of all Italian favorites. It is moderately priced and the food is consistently good. I have taken many out-of-town visitors here and always recommend it. Try the braciole. Try the veal. Try everything.

My neighborhood bakery, LaSalle, which just won the distinction of bakery of the year. Besides the rows of appealing cakes, cupcakes and cannolis, they also make the best baguette I’ve had outside of Paris. I will miss buying Sicilian bread there every week.

The ocean. I left it, I came back to it. It is in my blood. My family has had a house for five generations in Gloucester, MA. It is where I learned to swim, to dive. I will miss these sapphire waters.

The rivers. My first office in Boston had a view of the Charles River. Every day at 4 pm, I would stop to watch the sun burn its way down over the river. Every great city has a river running through it.

Great theatre. My life is infinitely better for seeing RENT four times. For sitting within spitting distance of Kelsey Grammer as he nailed Macbeth. For Avenue Q, Spamalot, Wicked, How I Learned to Drive, The Taming of the Shrew and many, many other plays and musicals. In leaving, I handed over the reins of a theatre Meetup group I led for two years.

Newport, RI. Summer home of the obscenely wealthy, as well as the new hot spot for tacky New Jersey tourists. God, I love Newport.

Here’s to you, New England. Slàinte. Ciao.

*All photos by me except the lobster, lifted from the Internet.

It’s always about Paris

If you continue to follow my blog, you’ll hear lots from me about Paris. How I go there. How I want to go there. How I want to stay there.

I am very excited that my favorite Paris blog published an article by me – and included one of my photos. It’s about skipping the big museums like the Louvre and finding art all over Paris.

Check it out here.


Special delivery – More mail

As I go through all my cards and letters, I find more that I want to share. I see that some people have a certain style – for instance, my grandmother always sent me cards with flowers or animals on them.

My sister picks cards with penguins, fish or cats. I hate cats, but I like her cards.

I’ll never tell who wrote this. Sometimes life sucks and you just have to write it on a note for someone. Fortunately, he got out!

My aunt has her own sweet style…I love these cards.

More beautiful Christmas greetings….it’s so fun sending and receiving Xmas cards. Hint, hint.

And how hilarious is this?! My friends have such great irreverence.

  Amazingly, I got this card from 2 different people.

I have a different perspective re-reading letters many years later. I think I appreciate my relationships more now. And I definitely appreciate letters written by hand – something that is almost extinct.

You’ve got (a lot of freakin’) mail

In the past few years, I have decided to live more simply. Meaning: Get rid of all the crap I have accumulated over a lifetime. This isn’t easy because I am a collector. I collect everything from books to stamps to Gone With the Wind memorabilia to cobalt glass. And that’s just the start.

I strive to find the line between saving and hoarding. As hoarding runs in my family – out of control on one side and invisible to the world on the other side – I have to be on guard against it.

Taking after the invisible-hoarding ancestors, you wouldn’t think I have a problem. Everything is filed away or neatly arranged. No stacks of magazines or clutter spilling from every corner. But in closed drawers, locked chests, I have saved every letter, card, invitation and note ever sent to me. Even the hand-written notes from middle school. Remember those? Looping cursive on notebook paper folded into origami-like rectangles and passed under the desk or at lockers. Yeah, I saved them all.

I never thought I would throw anything away until I started traveling. On my first trip to Paris, AirFrance bumped me from my flight home and put me up in an airport hotel for the night. Taking the train back into the city that evening, I sat across from an American filmmaker who had shot documentaries about ex-pats in different countries. He said some people went on vacation and just stayed. I told him that I would love to move to France, but I was too settled in my life. I had too much furniture – what would I do with it? He replied, “So your possessions own you, rather than you owning your possessions.”

I thought for a long time about what he said. What did I really need? Certainly not my plaid sleeper sofa that had been handed down twice. And did I actually have to keep the dresser I bought at a thrift store when I was 20? I sold it at a yard sale that year. My answer was that I wanted to keep only 3 things: an antique desk and 2 lamps, all inherited from my grandmother. They were important to me. The rest was not. Not really.

I began shedding. Donating clothes I no longer wore. Trading in books once I had read them. Emptying file folders of magazine articles and ads from the ’80s. If I hadn’t looked at something in 5 years, I probably didn’t need it. Tax returns aside.

But I have yet to purge any of my correspondence. So on the brink of moving yet again, it’s time. I open up drawers, decorative tins and boxes and begin sorting. At first, it’s slow. I want to open every card and at least look at it, if not read the entire thing. It’s a tiring process. I end up tossing cards quickly for a while, then having second thoughts, hold more tightly to the rest. I take a break, then purge again.

There are tons of birthday cards, some from people whose names I don’t recognize. There are cards for Easter, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day. Cards congratulating me on a new home – although not as many as you’d think, given the number of times I’ve moved. Maybe my friends and family were weary from filling up their address books with my constantly-changing zip codes.

I don’t throw away everything. I hold onto a letter from my grandmother who passed away a few months ago. I save birthday cards from my mother with heart-felt verse inside. Yeah, I know someone at American Greetings wrote them, but I like to believe my mom would have come up with the same words on her own. And I know she meant them.

I re-read a really nice note from a former boss, telling me how much he enjoyed working with me. I crack up at a postcard sent from former co-workers in Rock Hill, SC. Each one of them put their own message on the postcard, making inside jokes about the job, about Rock Hill, sharing a little gossip. Even now, it’s hilarious.

I discover that one year, two of my former roommates (who never met each other) sent me the exact same Christmas card. And I received the same Valentine’s card from my cousin two years in a row. I wonder if he did it intentionally, as he’s got a great sense of humor.

More wistfully, there is a card from a friend who includes a quote about the word “stay,” saying she hopes we always stay friends. We parted ways more than 8 years ago.

Embarrassingly, I discover a wedding invitation from 1993 that I never responded to.

Wedding invitations turn into baby announcements.

So many beautiful Christmas cards….

… some made by hand.

Among the stacks are articles that people sent to me related to my job or hobbies.

A hand-written note is just so much nicer than email!

I am saving some of the really funny cards, especially when they show an inside joke between a friend and me.

These are return addresses from a hilarious friend of mine. Bored at his parents’ house after graduation, he included the “best” Letters to the Editor from the Wall Street Journal that week with his own commentary, like: “Obviously some disgruntled old codger who knows EVERYTHING and sits in the left lane doing 30 in a 45. Am I right?”

I’m glad I kept everything for a while. I’m glad I can go back and see that people cared enough about me to give me birthday cards, to send a Hallmark at Valentine’s Day, to save a few stamps for me. I’m glad they took the time to write me a letter at Christmas or just because. I’m glad they sent me well wishes for a new job or a new home. I’m glad they sent eloquent thank you cards.

If I hadn’t saved all these cards and notes, I would have forgotten how much I am loved. Now, I can savor it without hoarding it.

Leaving New England

I keep forgetting what day it is. Maybe this is normal for someone without a full-time job. But there is another reason, I think, for my disorientation. In a few days, my world will shift once again. I am leaving New England, my home for the past 13 years, and moving to Atlanta.

Atlanta is a city I know well, yet don’t know at all. I grew up there, left for college when I was 17 and except for squatting with my parents for a couple months after graduation, have not lived there since. I have loved and hated it, depending on where I am in my life. I swore I would never return. And yet I am.

I tend to have relationships with cities. Atlanta, Boston, Paris. This is my triangle, the cities I call home. I fall in love with them. Fight with them. Embrace them. They become my life, and they either feed me or destroy me.

When I moved to Boston, I was full of hope, ready to offer my heart to that vibrant city. From my first days, I was assaulted by persistent hostility and aggression. I found myself running in the subway station simply because everyone else was. Life spun faster and faster. It only grew worse, forcing me to become as hostile and aggressive as the people around me in order to survive. It harmed my soul, depressing me profoundly. It made me rageful. It made me want to kill people. It made me want to die. Boston is a hard city, and while some people thrive on its aggressive energy, I was collapsing under it. Seeking respite, I kept moving deeper into the Massachusetts suburbs until I left the state. Settled in a beach cottage in Rhode Island. No neighbors stomping above or below me. Somewhat friendlier drivers. But Rhode Island is an insular state, a network of people who grew up together and are slow to accept outsiders. I met suspicious glares every time I entered a coffee shop. I made friends with people who had relocated here, and in time, they left again. Within a few years, all of my friends had moved away or disappeared.

Through all of this, I convinced myself that I was in the right place. I told myself that I couldn’t leave the Northeast because of all that it offered me. I loved the unique restaurants in Boston and Providence – god, the restaurants. I embraced the Italian culture, the immense variety of canned tomato products in the grocery store, handmade ravioli for sale at an Italian grocery. I discovered my heritage, testing out Irish pubs and claiming my place in Boston’s proud Irish-American community. In the South, I had always felt an outsider. In New England, I was home. I could finally relax into my political beliefs and be certain that everyone around me shared them. I lived in two blue states. As blue as you could get, like me. And the ocean was in my blood. When I traveled to landlocked Atlanta, it was as though I held my breath the whole time. Flying into Logan, the sapphire harbor in sight, I could exhale.

Yes, I was in love with Boston and to a lesser degree, Providence. They spoiled me, welcomed me, abused me, disappointed me, embraced me. But in the end, they failed me. I had to leave in order to love them again.

As many times as I have moved in my adult life – at least 40, though I stopped counting – I am nearly always sad when I leave a place. I have lived in Rhode Island longer than I have lived anywhere as an adult. It has been my home as much as any place can be, in spite of my struggles. Even as I look forward to my future, I am sad to leave this behind. I keep bargaining with myself that maybe I can make it work after all. But I know I can’t. Growth is knowing when a relationship has run its course.

And so I go to Atlanta. My third eye. I don’t say I am moving back because I am certain that the city has changed as much as I have in 25 years. We will both rediscover each other. I try not to be biased by the things I have seen on my infrequent visits: the selfish consumerism, the materialistic displays of cars and homes, the failure to be in any way environmentally conscious. Those things will either change in my view as I live there, or perhaps I will try to change them. Encourage businesses to recycle. Start a movement. Maybe.

Instead, what draws me is the warmth of people I encounter. The friendliness and politeness. After the frigid (in so many ways) Northeast, I am ready for kindness. I am ready to be kind. I am ready for Atlanta. Because while I left it all those years ago, like a faithful partner, it never left me.

Yes, I am finally blogging

I have always been a writer. I write many things – from articles that I get paid for, to poetry that I don’t (and probably shouldn’t). I have made a career of my writing as a journalist and public relations professional. But I am happiest when I can write from the soul. Sometimes my writing moves people. Sometimes it makes them uncomfortable. I hope it makes you feel something. Otherwise, what’s the point?

I am late creating a blog. But according to the Sufi principles:

Whoever showed up is exactly who was supposed to be there

Whatever happened is the only thing that could have happened

Whenever it happened was the only time it could have happened

When it’s over, it’s over

I believe that life happens the only way it can.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, a wonderful poet who actually was paid for her poetry, said:

What should I be but just what I am?

That’s all I strive to be. Hence, the title for my blog. I hope you enjoy reading it.