The Land of Oz (with dogs)

As promised, I share with you my latest project, into whose arms I was driven by a combination of COVID-19 and election-related stress. Remarkably, I feel a whole lot better this morning. Euphoric even. I wonder why…

Many dogs are featured in the Land of Oz, a.k.a. Ruth’s bookcase, in addition to my original muses, Phryne and Reina. Here’s the overview. That’s Dorothy’s house at the bottom. I don’t know if you can see the witch’s little feet sticking out with her striped socks. And the city of Oz at the top next to the Surrender Dorothy skywriting. Not a great photo, I know.

We’re off to see the Wizard!
The Fab Four (and Toto too!)
Glinda the Good Witch with the Mayor of Munchkin City (in the County of the Land of Oz) and representatives of the Lullaby League and the Lollipop Guild.
Here are those apple-throwing evil trees from the Enchanted Forest.
It’s the Wicked Witch of the West! That’s a poppy field behind her.
And her flying monkeys!
The Wizard of Oz, flying away in his ballon contraption.

I know, I know. I’m crazy. But hey, Italy is in a mess — almost 40 000 new cases yesterday — and we are facing another lockdown. I don’t bake and I’ve pretty much exhausted Netflix. This works for me. Stay tuned for the next dog-arama!

Bogor culture dogs family food freelancing friends history home Italy Lula Morgan Museums navel contemplation park puppy school restaurants Rome shopping travel work WWII

PupArt2: since you asked…

In art news, the Petropolitan Museum of PupArt has expanded into a second wing. We’ve now got Old Masters and Modern Art sections, rather than having everything all jammed together in a cultural mashup overseen by an unculture animal (I’ve been told). The Old Masters wing is under construction but I thought I’d share a few recent works with you in the meantime. Some of my siblings’ dogs have requested their 15 minutes of fame, so you’ll see a few new faces: Snickers, Otis and Tilly.

The Birth of Venus (Tilly on the Half Shell)
Snickers the Absinthe Drinker
I Cherubini Phryne e Reina
Dobby’s dream

The combination of COVID-19 anxiety and US election angst has driven me into the arms of a new dog-related art-adjacent project. I’ll post on that shortly, once I’ve orchestrated the photo shoot, i.e. charged my phone.

What I did on my summer vacation

COVID-19 messed up my summer vacation plans. I realize that I am hardly unique in this. I also realize that many many people would have been ecstatic to be stuck in the place where I live — Rome — during the summer. Still. I had more than enough work to keep me busy during the day but not many friends were in town nor did I have much energy to wander around in the devil’s fiery furnace that is Rome in August. A little depressed, a little bored, I needed a project.

I decided to build a dog museum. I can’t take credit for the idea, as much as I’d love to do so. Recently, I read about a bored artsy couple in London who created a fine arts museum for their gerbils, Pandoro and Tiramisu, while they were all in lockdown. The Gerbil Art Gallery featured gerbil-themed versions of famous artworks. It’s ridiculously adorable. Have a Google and you’ll see. I am far from being an artist but I thought I’d try my hand at some miniature paintings featuring Phryne and her pals. I emptied out a bookshelf and got to work. It was so much fun y’all.

Welcome to Il Museo di Phryne.

Here are the “artworks” in closeup.

The late lamented Morgan makes an appearance.

Reina with the pearl earring.

I knew that someday I’d end up in a museum. I couldn’t be this beautiful for nothing!


Lockdown: Day Whatevs

I’ve completely lost track of how long I’ve been stuck inside the apartment. March was around 7 000 days long and April, so they say, is the cruelest month. Fork you T.S. Eliot. The lockdown in Italy has been extended until the middle of the month, although we all know it will be longer. Easter, the biggest holiday of the Italian year, has effectively been cancelled. Meanwhile, the rate of new infections has slowed and the number of deaths remains pretty stable. That’s good news and an indication that self-isolation is working.

Obviously, we’re all still being super careful with the hand washing and mask wearing. Here’s how paranoid I have become. A few nights ago, I woke up around 3 am to have a pee. In a crucial aside, Phryne likes to carry things in her mouth (see Exhibits A and B below). When she is bored, she grabs whatever low hanging fruit she can find (books, toiletries, Tupperware from the bottom shelf in the pantry) and walks around with the thing for a few minutes giving me the side eye until she loses interest and drops it on the floor. On the night in question, she fished a used sterile glove out of the trash at some point and deposited it on my bedroom floor. Naturally, I stepped on it on my way to the bathroom. After I got back into bed I worried and fretted for way too long before getting up and washing my feet in the bidet for three go-throughs of Happy Birthday.

Exhibit A
A slightly blurry Exhibit B

At this point, many of the people reading this blog are having the same experience as I am. Here in Rome, we’re just slogging along. No more singing on the balconies, no more applause sessions for hospital workers. Life is pretty boring. I’m reading and cooking (and eating and sleeping) a lot. My hands are super clean and they look like I’m a thousand years old from being washed 75 times per day. I’m having lots of Zoom coffee dates and cocktail hours. That’s great actually. I’ve started to clean out my junk room after ten years of talking about it. We’re not supposed to go far from the house and we need to carry a little document saying why we need to be out. The fines for scofflaws are huge.  It’s super weird to think of Rome as being all but deserted. Imagine how cool it would be under different circs to have the Colosseum or the Vatican all to yourself. The dogs are moping around and even Reina (who usually hides when a walk is in the offing) races to the door when it is time to go outside. Phryne is desperate to play — she looks out the window a lot and cries when another dog walks by. Fortunately, we have a hilly little patch of ground in back of the building so they can run around a bit.

Listen, mopey whining aside, I know exactly how fortunate I am. I have plenty of work and, since I’ve worked at home for years, I’m already in the groove (much more distractible though; I look at the coronavirus statistics a million times a day). I’ve got a fantastic view right onto the park, although I can’t yet go inside.

There are worse views, I’ll grant you.

I’m safe and warm. There’s plenty of toilet paper and a handful of well-stocked shops in the neighbourhood. I’ve got the dogs and the UV here to keep me company and to tell me everything I am doing wrong housekeeping-wise.  I think of all the people who are out of work, without a safety net, who have had to close down their shops and restaurants, maybe forever. This will not be an easy thing to bounce back from. Most of all I think of the amazing health workers who are risking so much to keep us safe. And the individuals, organizations and companies who are being so generous with their time and money, making and donating masks and other critical supplies. It seems clear to me that at the end of the day this crisis will be overcome, despite the governments, through the efforts of ordinary people coming together to make a difference. And that’s kinda great.


Life in the Red Zone: Week 2

Welcome to Day 12 (I think) of lockdown. It is very easy to lose track of time in this situation: one day is very much like any other. I feel like it’s hardest on the dogs, who are used to running around in the park across the street. That’s closed now and it’s only possible to take them out for short walks around the neighbourhood. Granted that’s better than nothing and it gets me outside as well. I am thinking about renting Phryne and Reina out to non-dog owners who need an excuse to get a breath of fresh air. €50 per hour. DM me if interested. Otherwise, the big highlight of my day is walking out to the trash cans in the piazza.

Rent-a-dogs, available for walks by the hour

This is all deeply surreal. It’s easy to get everything we need food-wise from the little bodega down the street. Pharmacies and dog food stores are open. We’re not the least bit uncomfortable. Plenty of toilet paper in case you American weirdos were wondering. No guns though, yet, Lazio only has 800 odd cases of coronavirus so far, as opposed to 20 000 up north in Lombardy so I guess our worst is yet to come. The Upstairs Vegetarian is still staying with me since the renovations on her kitchen have been put mostly on hold due to the lockdown. She’s reporting on the virus for her big fancy newspaper and is super knowledgeable and thus hyper-vigilant about things like handwashing and floorcleaning (since you can apparently track the virus into the house). Every time I come inside she shouts at me to wash my hands and take off my shoes. We’re fine for the time being and I’m trying to be relaxed about it all. But every once in a while, the fear comes. On my birthday, just over a week ago, we hit 10 000 cases. Now there are over 41 000. And yes, I do know how epidemics work; I’ve just never seen one up close.

Will this ever end? To date, we’ve had more deaths than China, with a fraction of the population. The lockdown has now been extended past the original end date of April 3. How will Italy’s already overloaded healthcare system cope? Not to mention America’s, which doesn’t seem to be even remotely ready for this. How many more people will die? I only know one person who has tested positive so far but obviously that will change. Scary. And then I watch the video of the dumbass spring breakers that’s been circulating and it makes me incredibly angry.

Listen dumbasses, the thing is that this virus can be asymptomatic, meaning you may have it but not be experiencing any symptoms. It’s also super contagious. So that means you could go out, feeling fine, have a yoga lesson, go to the shops, pick up a coffee at Starbucks, come home and wash your hands, thinking, “What’s everybody so worried about? This isn’t all that bad.” Meanwhile, you’ve just killed the old lady who was behind you in line when you ordered your decaf caramel mocha frappuccino. You thought you were being nice when you picked up the purse she dropped. Instead, you just passed her a handful of coronavirus germs and now she’s dead. Go home. Wash your hands.

In lockdown, it is easy to abandon the nuisance things one tends to do when in the presence of polite company. Men stop shaving, I assume. Women stop colouring their hair, thwarted by the closure of the beauty parlours. Don’t even get me started on my fingernail situation. I am currently constructing a sort of Leaning Tower of Pisa in my bedroom consisting of the clothes I have stopped hanging up and putting away. I’m interested to see how high it can rise. Now here’s a thing. I am old enough to remember the 1980 New York transit strike. It only lasted about two weeks, but when it was done, a ton of people carried on walking to work every day just as they had during the strike. I had about a three mile walk each way, but once I got into the habit, I really enjoyed the walk, which took me through the Central Park Zoo. Once this ends, if it ever does, I wonder if any of our behaviour will change on a permanent basis. Hair dye and manicures aside, will we start to treat each other better? Will we start to treat the planet better?

The news just came in: 793 deaths today in Italy, the most so far. Be safe everybody.

We are bored, but healthy.


Tales from the Red Zone: Rome

It’s very quiet in Rome. Except for the birds, who serenade the city in cheerful oblivion. And the occasional random concert, of which more below. Every day something happens to isolate us further. Today, the mayor closed down all the parks and playgrounds.

The public parks became so crowded — since they were among the few places people could go after the lockdown — that it became necessary to close them as well.

This is suboptimal for us dog owners.

Let me in. I want to plaaaaayyyy!

Let me in. I want to plaaayyy!!!

I really can’t object. I’m healthy so far and I’m happy that the government is taking super strict measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.  It is surreal though. I went out to walk the dog this morning and police cars were stopping to yell at people who were walking less than one meter apart. We can still go out to buy food and to supply our pharmaceutical needs, but we have to carry a signed declaration to certify why we’re out on the street. People are being arrested and/or fined for being out of their neighbourhoods without a good reason.

A lot has happened over the past week. And, predictably, it’s bringing out the best in some people and the worst in others. On Wednesday, I innocently asked my neighbourhood Facebook group whether Vivi Bistrot, a lovely bar in the park across the street, was open. Back then, three days ago, most bars and restaurants were still open. Within ten minutes I had gotten 20 replies, ranging from “Are you *!@#@! crazy?” to “Stay inside! Are you trying to kill all the old people?” to “It’s open until 4:00. Have a nice day.” By Thursday, all of the bars were closed.

I was supposed to host my book club that night. We were going to discuss Circe by Madeline Miller, which the New York Times called “A bold and subversive retelling of the goddess’s story.” Madeline Miller taught Classics and Shakespeare at my old school, Shipley, by the way. Since the story is based on a Greek myth and it was also my birthday, I decided to serve a Greek feast with roast lamb and ancient Greek side dishes. This involved extensive research and a trip to the butcher in advance. You can get leg of lamb here (by far my fave red meat) but they chop it all up for some reason so you can’t get nice slices of lamb but only big chunks filled with bones. I do not understand this at all. So I ordered a non-chopped up boneless leg of lamb from my butcher, which he stuffed with artichokes and sausage. Delicious, right? The dinner also featured green beans with a garlic-tomato confit, a Greek salad, zucchini fritters with tsaziki, and roast potatoes with lemon and garlic.

Of course, Book Club was cancelled since, by the time Thursday rolled around, no one was allowed to go out or congregate. I already had the food so I cooked it anyway, Cooking is my stress reliever. The dinner was very delicious. My temporary flatmate, the Upstairs Vegetarian, provided no help at all with the lamb. But she did eat everything else. And then I ate half a carton of chocolate ice cream by myself (the UV has given up sweets for Lent).

Sad little birthday dinner in quarantine land (minus the beans, already consumed).

I was rather dejected about the sad sad birthday situation until I realised that not only was March 12th a terrible day for me, it was also terrible for everyone in Italy, China, Iran and pretty much everywhere else.

The following are closed:

  • All museums and archeological sites
  • Cafes, pubs, and restaurants (many restaurants are delivering, which is brilliant)
  • Playgrounds and parks
  • Shops and shopping centres
  • Theatres, pubs, and nightclubs
  • Schools and universities
  • Hairdressers, nail and beauty salons, and spas
  • Stadiums, gyms, and anyplace where sports happen

Soccer games, funerals and masses are suspended for the time being. I believe that all these events are considered to be of equal importance.

On Friday the 13th, an online movement orchestrated a musical flashmob throughout Italy. Everyone was asked to go to their windows and balconies at 6 pm and play music or sing for 15 minutes as a way to show national unity. My neighbourhood was pretty lame, but you can find a lot of these impromptu concerts online, e.g. this one from Siena. And today at noon, everyone was encouraged to go to their windows and balconies and applaud all of the brave doctors and nurses who are working around the clock to fight the coronavirus. You could hear the applause all over town. There’s supposed to be another musical flashmob tonight at 6. This is why I love Italians.

There are now 17 660 positive cases of coronavirus in Italy; 1 266 people have died. #iorestoacasa.

Greetings from the Red Zone. Is this my fault?

Hello friends. It’s been quite some time. I ran out of steam there for awhile. Not sure that I’m fully steamed up yet but I am currently in lockdown due to the dreaded Coronavirus plague and some folks have expressed an interest in hearing about what’s that’s like. But first, a bit of background about how the fact that 2020 is one of the worst years in history is ALL ABOUT ME.

I got back from Christmas vacation in early January. It was a pretty unpleasant holiday for both me and mine because I had unwittingly engaged a house/dog sitter who ended up being completely barking (ha!) mad. Among other things, she 1). cleared off 10 days early, leaving the dog to her own devices; 2). stole money from me; 3). turned all of my photos to face the wall. Obviously 3). was relatively benign in the scheme of things but it was incredibly creepy. She also called/wrote many times a day to complain endlessly  about how my house is not a five-star hotel and how the hot water for her shower only lasted 15 minutes. Honestly, with the possible exception of teenage girls, who takes longer than 15 minutes in the shower? Fortunately, I had a backup plan and friends that were able to sort out the dog desertion issue quickly and we’re fine. But I did arrive back in Rome with a hefty dose of PTSD.

How could anyone desert this little angel?

I’m the first to say that I don’t believe in evil spirits or curses or whatever but from the time I got home I had a distinct sense that there might be some bad energy hanging around the old abode. And then these things happened in rapid succession: I fell into a pothole, broke a rib and shattered my pelvic bone. So that was me laid up for a month. After putting it off for years, I finally got a new gas line in the kitchen, at which point the oven promptly stopped working. The refrigerator began to leak precociously all over the floor. The washing machine stopped draining and unloaded dirty water everywhere. The Upstairs Vegetarian moved in with her dog due to massive construction work going on in her apartment upstairs. Our dogs were not amused. Like their moms, they are besties and hang out together constantly, but introducing the overnight element was just a bridge too far. The first week or so was accompanied by a certain amount of snarling and way too much protest peeing on beds and carpets.

The calm before the storm (of pee).

At a certain point, the UV and I were were like “Are you freaking kidding me? Did that crazy house sitter curse our lives?” So we did what any responsible citizen would do and watched many hours of YouTube videos on ritual purification. A couple of white sage and palo sticks later (courtesy of Amazon) we were smudging every corner of the apartment.

The UV smudges with sage.

It seemed like it might have worked, briefly. I sorted out the washing machine and bought a new refrigerator and oven (yay) But I guess I don’t have to tell you what’s been going on in Rome (and everywhere) lately with COVID-19. I feel that my scepticism might have somehow jinxed the smudging. And that’s how 2020 sucking is all about me. And also about toilet paper for some reason.

But here we are. Today is Day 1 of the lockdown and so far it’s been okay. Surreal like we are living in a movie but okay. Museums, gyms and clubs are closed. Public transport is mostly running and people are allowed to go to work (although they are encouraged to work at home if possible). Shops are mostly open, although my day spa has closed down so no birthday manicure or birthday facial for me this week (also no birthday party because people are not supposed to gather or stand within 1 meter of each other). Some stores are making people line up outside and go in one or two at a time but it’s not like that here (yet) and there seems to be plenty of food and TP available. 9172 confirmed cases and 463 deaths in Italy so far. I’ll keep you posted.

These days Rome is a bit less crowded than what we are used to. Unfortunately, we can’t really enjoy it, being in lockdown and all. Photo credit: Claudia Lazzarini

Feral parakeets

Rome residents include not one but two species of tropical parakeet: the monk parakeet from South America, and the rose-ringed parakeet from Asia Minor. The birds abound in green areas, such as Il Parco della Caffarella and the Villas Pamphili (across the street from me), Borghese and Torlonia.

One version of the parakeets’ origin story has them escaping from private owners starting in the 1970s. Or more than likely being liberated by said owners and aviaries. Italians have a very bad habit of abandoning their pets when they become inconvenient, like when the owners are about to go on vacation and don’t want to fork over dog-sitting money.  That’s why my dog park friends always come back from their holidays with newly adopted abandoned pups. It’s also why Italy is (officially) so dog-friendly You can take your canine pretty much anywhere: on public transportation, into shops, hotels, and many bars and restaurants (restaurants and shops that sell food have the option to say no but that hardly ever happens). The thought is that if it is easy to take your pet with you everywhere, you will be less likely to dump it by the side of the road like a gigantic evil asshole. Miss Phryne Fisher, girl dog-tective, was abandoned — tied up outside of a pound with her little house next to her. Isn’t that sad? It’s been nearly a year and she still freaks out when I leave her alone.

Phryne the flapper

Another theory dates the parakeet liberating to ancient Rome. Those ancient Romans did get around and makes sense that they might want to bring back a few ornithoid specimens from their exotic animal and slave acquisition campaigns in Africa and whatnot, only to offload them when they got too chatty (and parakeets are VERY chatty, more on that later).  Also, there apparently was once a shop near the Caffarella Park that had a huge display case filled with parakeets. When the shop closed down, the owners let the birds out and they just skeedaddled over to the park. So there are probably a bunch of reasons we’ve got parakeets here is what I’m saying. By the way, it’s not just Italians that ‘forget’ to close the windows when their parakeets are loose in the house. Feral parakeets are everywhere. Fearing they were bad for agriculture, the Brits spent £259,000 eradicating 62 wild monk parakeets and removing 212 eggs from their nests over a period of five years. I’ll just let that sink it. Urban legend has it that the London parakeets were liberated from the set of the African Queen once shooting ended up in 1951.

Around here, we have the monk parakeet, which has a grey vest and head and blue wings. The grey head suggests a monk’s hood, from whence comes the name. They are also called quaker parakeets. I was interested as to why, being a Philly girl, but apparently the name has nothing to do with the founders of my city of origin. The internet seems to think that it comes from the fact that baby parakeets tremble and quake when they eat and the grownups tremble and quake while courting or when they are ill. Oh, nature. Monk parakeets build huge communal nests out of sticks. The nests, which may accommodate 200 or more birds, can reach the size of a small car. They are like apartment complexes with many apartments. Monk parakeets can attain the intelligence level of a 3-5 year old child. They live for 20 years and can learn dozens of words and phrases.

The monk parakeet. Cute, eh? ©gailhampshire

Here’s the craziest things that monk parakeets do. They sit in a tree chattering at about a million decibels — seriously, they are REALLY loud. For the record, I’ve not yet observed them speaking either words or phrases or acting like smart 3-year-olds. They stay in the tree about 5 minutes. Then the head bird gives a signal and they all swoop as one, only to be replaced immediately by another swooping bevy of monk birds. This goes on for a while. I especially notice it happening in the winter months and usually around dusk. Does anybody know why this happens? Are the nests in Rome smaller than cars so that the birds have to take turns hanging out in them?

I took a little video of the swooping situation but I have just spent the past two hours watching one million You Tube videos on how to embed videos on Word Press and I couldn’t get it to work. I’m so lame. Here’s a dog instead.

Phryne of the jungle. Watch out for that tree!


Il Giardino dei Tarocchi/La Selva (Capalbio)

In 1978, Niki de Saint Phalle, a French sculptor and filmmaker, began work on 22 giant sculptures of figures depicted on Tarot cards. The sculptures were constructed on top of some Etruscan ruins near Capalbio, about an hour and a half from Rome. They are made of concrete and completely covered in mirrors and ceramic mosaic, making them appear somewhat Gaudi-esque. One of the figures — the Empress — is so big that the artist lived inside of it for months (her bedroom was inside one breast, her kitchen in the other).

This place is nuts, y’all. As was Niki. A former model and offspring of the 13th oldest family in France, she abandoned her children and spent time in a mental asylum before deciding to construct a monumental garden that would use art to heal others the way she believed it had healed her. Prior to this she had spent a number of years being bohemian all over Europe with her first husband, following poets and musicians around and having loads of affairs. She was committed to the mental clinic after a suicide attempt and underwent 10 electroshock treatments. While in the clinic, she collected twigs and leaves and started making collages. After her marriage ended, she took up with sculptor Jean Tinguely and they travelled around Europe doing art and hosting orgies. Niki did this thing where she shot a gun at a pile of knives, scissors, eggbeaters, and baby-doll arms, which she embedded in plaster along with bags of paint. When the bullets hit the paint, the ‘art’ started to bleed.

Niki convinced the brothers of Marella Agnelli (wife of the Fiat president and an old modelling buddy) to give her 14 acres of their land in Tuscany and that’s when she started building the park. Apparently she’d seen it in a dream while she was in the mental hospital. Niki was obsessed with proving that women as well as men could produce art on a monumental scale. She employed dozens of nearby villagers to help, which helped to mitigate local carping about the crazy woman and her monster garden. Her artist friends pitched in as well. The park opened in 1998, after nearly 20 years of work. Today, the Tarot Garden, or Giardino dei Tarocchi, welcomes about 75 000 visitors a year. It is open daily — 2:30-7:30 – from April to October and the first Saturday of each month from November to March.

Here’s just a hint of the crazy. I know nothing about Tarot cards so I can’t really help with interpretation.

This is the Devil. Note the three gold penises.

Apparently the abundant snake imagery in the park stems from the sexual abuse thrust upon Niki at a young age by her father. That could explain some things. Her siblings were troubled also. Both committed suicide.

While you’re in the neighbourhood, you could do worse than to grab a bite at La Selva. Located just off the main road to Capalbio, this seafood restaurant features a lovely veranda and creative twists on Tuscan standards. I had a gazpacho made with beets, buratta and a couple of big fat shrimp. I’ve been trying to replicate it ever since. 

There was a panzanella with tuna. 

Paccheri with swordfish ragu. 

And a herb-encrusted sole that tasted a whole lot better than it looks. 

All very delicious and satisfying. Plus, look at this great veranda! 

La Selva: 58011 Capalbio località Selva Nera 9 (GR)
Telephone: 0564890381

A sad summer

I’ve not written in ages. I’m sorry about that. It’s been a very rough couple of months and for a while all I wanted to do was sleep.

In June I went to the States to help my siblings move my mother out of her apartment and into assisted living. While I was there, my dog Morgan suddenly fell prey to a neurological disease. He was dead within 24 hours. Four days later, Mom passed away. Although she had been ill for some time, her death was sudden and shocking. Because she died during 4th of July weekend, various of the nephews and nieces were home and we were all with her at the end — my brother via an open phone line from California.

My mother was an amazing and wonderful person and I thought maybe you’d like  to know a little something about her.  This is what I shared at her funeral.

My mother was a knockout.

About eight years ago, Mom asked me to write her obituary. I don’t think she was being morbid or particularly planning ahead. I think she was just interested in what I might have to say. I carried around her CV for years, asked her probing questions about her childhood and thought a lot about how to capture her life in 500 words. But I couldn’t do it. Until this week when I did do it.

I think the reason it was so difficult – besides the obvious reluctance anyone might have envisioning the passing of a beloved parent – was that I couldn’t really believe that Mom would ever stop being. When she was 13 years old, my mother went swimming in Lake Nemabhin in Wisconsin with two friends. It was an overcast day but not raining. Out of nowhere came a lightning bolt, which hit the three girls, killing one of them – Lois – and knocking the other two – my mom and her friend Fern – unconscious. Fortunately, my grandfather and another man were nearby and were able to carry them to safety before they drowned. We heard this story many times when we were small (it’s the reason no Raymond will go in swimming if there is rain in the forecast) and it always seemed quite amazing to us that our mother had been saved when her friend had not. It made her seem almost magical. Another reason that I delayed writing the obituary was my fervent belief that there was still plenty of time. After all, Mom came from a very durable family: my grandmother died at 102; my great-grandmother at 103.

We’ve received many wonderful messages in the week since Mom died. People remember her as kind, loving and loyal. We certainly remember her that way. Lisa once said that she had never once heard Mom say anything negative about anyone. That was Mom. Never critical, never sarcastic. How many people can you say that about? And people were drawn to her generous, non-judgmental nature. When I was growing up, the kitchen at 605 Winsford Road was the place where all of our friends gathered to recap the evening’s activities, make endless grilled cheese sandwiches, play cards and generally just hang out. Mom had a special way of making everybody feel welcome without being intrusive, especially important when we reached our teenage years.

Happy Mummy.

Mom did all the things that great mothers and grandmothers do. Endless readings of ‘Are You My Mother?’ and ‘Goodnight Moon.’ Marathon Christmas cookie baking sessions. Countless arts and crafts projects. When David was 11, he was confined to bed for several months with what the doctors at the time thought was rheumatic fever. For some reason, he became obsessed with roller derby. Mom patiently watched game after game with him and, when he was up to it, took him to see the Roller Derby Gals when they came to Philly. Mom helped Doug and Lisa set up every place they ever lived in. This included painting their first apartment on Pine Street and landscaping their first house in Berwyn, which entailed planting eight large azalea bushes in the pouring rain. When Lisa caught chicken pox from Peter, who was a toddler, she moved into my parents’ house with him and baby Alex and Mom nursed all three of them back to health. She slept over and did the night feedings when Elizabeth was overwhelmed by newborn twin babies. Of a somewhat less serious nature – although it did feel like life and death to me at the time – I was invited to the senior prom during my freshman year in college and it was a pretty big deal. Mom and I discussed my prom dress options at length and I concluded that I had nothing to wear and that it was going to be a disaster.  The next day, Mom showed up at my dorm room unannounced, with an armful of dresses for me to try on. I was to choose my favourite and she would return the rest to the store.

Mom’s gentleness and generosity belied her determination and persistence, traits that were very evident in her approach to her many community activities. Trained as a nurse, when her old boss at Presbyterian Hospital called her up, she was happy to volunteer at the Free Clinic run by the Young Great Society in Mantua, at the time one of the most crime-ridden areas in Philadelphia. Dave and Elizabeth were still quite small and remember spending time in the waiting room on days when they didn’t have school. Not everyone thought that this was how a Main Line housewife and her small children should be spending their time and there was some critical talk but that did not even slow her down. We all remember proudly going to peace rallies and Earth Day marches with our mother as little kids. Later, Mom was determined to pursue her BA, which she did, first at Villanova, later transferring to Rosemont College. She had four kids at home when she started school and we could get pretty whiny about the time she was spending with her study group – Dad too – but she persevered. We were all immensely proud when she graduated magna cum laude in 1979, the same year I graduated from Princeton.

As Chair of the Ludington Library Board of Trustees, she led a campaign to raise about US$ 2 million for a new 9 000-square foot library addition. I was living at home at the time and worked with her on the campaign. I remember her making call after call, and taking meeting after meeting, bound and determined to reach the fundraising goal, which she in fact surpassed. A Shipley Board Member for many years, Mom chaired the committee that oversaw the construction of the West Middle School, which opened in 1993. Fascinated by genealogy, Mom was a long-time member and an officer of the Colonial Dames of America. She received the Colonial Dames’ National Roll of Honour Award in recognition of her services. Mom served as a Trustee of the McLean Contributionship for decades, attending her last Board meeting just ten days before her death, when she could barely walk. She was very involved in the community life at Dunwoody, even after the death of our father in 2014.

Mom in Rome.

My mother was heartbroken when Dad died. They were married for 61 years and shared an incredible bond. We all spent months begging her to visit me in Rome, thinking the distraction would do her good. I wanted her to come for at least three months; she finally agreed to three weeks. It was a challenging trip. Mom was already having problems with her breathing and had to travel with oxygen. The first week she sat on my couch reading ‘On Being Mortal,’ Atul Gawande’s book about living with serious illness and approaching death. It’s a wonderful and important book but not really the thing for a recent widow to be reading. I tried to tempt Mom with all kinds of beautiful food and museum visits and trips to hill towns but she really wasn’t interested. She missed her husband and her cat Phebe. Finally, I introduced her to the mother of a close friend, a long-time widow. They sat on the terrace and talked for hours at a time. That seems to have helped a lot and we went on to have a lovely visit, exploring Italian gardens and villages with a couple of dogs and her new friend Cristina in tow.

Mom was profoundly dedicated to her family and to her community and I like to think that, despite her sadness, she could have found new projects and causes to adopt if it had not been for the litany of terrible illnesses that interrupted her life. But it was a long life and a good life. She will be profoundly missed.

Mom and me

My little Morgster (thanks Sherri)

As far as Morgan is concerned, anyone who has ever read this blog knows how totally devoted I was to that little rascal. He was the love of my life. But don’t tell that to Phryne, the puppy I picked up at the pound in mid-August, unable to be without a dog for more than six weeks. Phryne is lovely: obedient and sweet, calm and loving — the opposite of Morgan actually. He was a challenge. But I miss him every day.

Morgan’s favourite spot was atop a picnic table surveying his realm.

Introducing Phryne, the Portuguese Podengo.