Tuesday, June 29, 2010

One Year Ago This Week

Tempus fugit. Time flies. Where were you this week, last year?

I was in Lake Como, Italy with George Clooney.

Oh, alriiiight.

I was visiting my friend Amy (from Chicago), her husband who hails from Rome and their two boys in their wonderful new hometown!

After an overnight flight from New York, I took a train from Milan to Como and silently cursed myself for packing so much into my wheelie duffel. Long walks and lots of steps...ooof.  NYPD and FDNY shirts for the boys did little to lighten my load.

I was Amy and Guido's first houseguest, and the apartment was still filled with workmen putting the final touches on the plaster, tile, plumbing, etc. The guys reminded me of a scene from "Under the Tuscan Sun" -- they were grilling their lunches in Amy's kitchen fireplace. One of the guys walked in and said "Michael Jackson. Muerto." News travels. Farrah Fawcett died that day, too, but her story got a bit lost.

Before I collapsed into my customary 2pm jet lag nap, Amy and I had a wonderful lunch. I never would have known, but Amy explained that the table was a door, set on top of the washing machine, in the middle of the kitchen. I guess it did seem a little high! All I could see was my smiling friend, in her gorgeous home, and a very inviting salad topped with a big fig, and shaved parmasean. And that VIEW!!!!!!!  Red tile roofs, the mountains, church bells pealing, lightning bolts cracking, old ladies shaking out carpets over their balcony railings across the stone courtyard. There's even a duomo off to the right--WOW!!!

Duomo! Mountains!

I'm only posting a few of the 100's of pix I took...and I can't be very specific, as my travel journal is in the moving truck. I struck out on my own one day and took the "funiculare" up a steep mountain, and wandered around for a few hours. Great view of the lake (below), cool temps, and very interesting ornaments on the houses. They struck me as Bavarian rather than Italian...I love architectural details!

My wanderings took me to a trattoria that was setting up slowly for lunch. I was the first customer to show up, and that's my table there, with the checkered tablecloth. The owner asked what I would like, and I pointed to the basket of fresh mushrooms that a farmer had just put down. I said "Spaghettini con funghi, per favore y birra." That "y" for "and" might have slipped through from 10th grade Spanish class. Not sure, but within 15 minutes, I was tucking into insanely delicious handmade pasta with mushrooms that were beyond fresh, and sipping a beer---YUM!!!

That's where I was one year ago. It's just a teeny tiny peek into my Lake Como visit, which was followed by a week and a half in Tuscany and the Italian Riviera. At lunch that day, I never would have thought that in a year I'd totally uproot, and find myself living in North Carolina. Let life take you where you need to be!
Tempus fugit, carpe diem, in vino veritas and all that good stuff.

Take The Guy Up On His Offer

Update on Sunday's quest for panko...

On my errands today in the Cotswold Shopping Center, I saw Charley's, where the chef mentioned he works and where there is a "ton of panko." I popped in to check out the menu, and Mark came out right away from the open kitchen. Without missing a beat, he remembered his offer, and went back to fill up a bag for me. I have nothing to trade, but I said I'd come in soon for dinner. The place looks good--"upscale casual."

I'm making the most of my little kitchen in the temp furn corp apt. I'm thinking panko-breaded pork schnitzel, panko-coated shrimp, slow roasted broccoli and cauliflower dusted with panko gremolata (panko tossed with olive oil & herbs toasted, then topped with lemon zest), and, and, and...

Charley's takeout menu has a quote from philosopher Albert Camus printed on the front. "All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning. Great works are often born on a street corner or in a restaurant's revolving door."

The day-to-day human nature exhibited so far during my first month here, are in keeping with the North Carolina state motto: "To be, rather than to seem."

I think I'm gonna like it here.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

8:30am Tee Time Becomes "Tow Time"

Wow. I guess I really killed that car battery. The car ran great all day yesterday, through the stops and starts of my errands, after Pop-A-Lock gave me a boost and I let it run for 40 minutes.


Today, my Sunday was packed--8:30 tee time, exploring Belmont and McAdenville, food shopping, then the Charlotte Symphony POPS in South Park. I was up early, got all my golf stuff together and into the car. It started right up, and I drove to the bank at 7:15 to get a little cash.

I'm off!

Not so fast...I turned the key and nuthin'. If you read my post from yesterday, you know the drill.

1. Say "WHAT??!"  Out loud, to no one.
2. Then, stay calm, as this is not the end of the world.
3. Execute Plan "B"--I have a cellphone, insurance and cash. Plus, cold bottled water and I'm in the shade.
4. Call Geico, they'll send a tow truck. This is a bigger battery issue than a boost.
5. Call golf course and cancel. No problem, and they invited me to a big outing and BBQ on July 4th. And, we've never met!
5. Re-tool this Sunday.

I've been through way more harrowing car stuff, including a blown out tire while driving (with my mother) on the (unforgiving, shoulder-less) Brooklyn-Queens Expwy in NYC rush hour. So I had this wheezing battery thing in perspective. Irritating, yes. Especially two days in a row. But, not dangerous.

While I was waiting for the tow, I was wondering if there would be a service station open this early on Sunday morning.  I am not a fan of unusable blocks of time. Mac arrived, smiling, with a big flat bed truck. He called around and found an Auto Zone store where I could buy a new battery. He gave the ole battery a boost (it's 9 years old and was on life support), then loaded the car onto the truck. P-l-e-n-t-y of room to manuever in the bank parking lot at 7:30am...

Off we went. He never mentioned the "overage charge" for going more than 5 miles, and once we got there, Auto Zone opened the door for him an hour early even though they didn't open til 9am. The shop guys weren't due til 9. I thought he'd say goodbye there, hand me a receipt for towing, and I'd wait an hour.

I'm seriously noticing a huge difference in "service" and how people treat one another here in North Carolina. Yes, that's a broad statement, and there are bad people and jerks everywhere, but...

Mac came back to the car and said he could borrow some tools from their shop and he'd install the battery for me.

He's the tow truck driver. He's installing the battery. For me. What?!

While I was in the store, I asked the woman behind the counter, Eva, if I should consider buying a portable battery booster. I had this thought yesterday, and wrestled with my inner "wonder woman."  Instead of making a quick sale, she said "when I give you this new battery, you'll have no need for that. You'll find that people in Charlotte are pretty helpful."  Huh.

I asked Mac about the mileage overcharge, and he waved me off. I handed him $20 and he looked shocked, saying I didn't have to do that. HAVE TO? I wanted to, he went above and beyond.  I would have been charged by an auto body shop for an installation anyway, and I was pleased to give that money to him.

Mac and Eva--the bright silver lining to my battery woes.

I sure have noticed that extra level of helpfulness in my 4 short weeks here. A car died (no, not mine!) in a turning lane while the light was green. No honking, no one yelling "Get outta the way!!!" "You idiot!"  "What're ya waiting for, an engraved invitation?" Instead, people from across the road hopped out to help push the car off to the side.

I was in the grocery store this morning (Harris Teeter!) and asked a guy wearing chef's whites if he knew where the Panko bread crumbs were. I'd done a few laps and I didn't see them. He asked "Where are you from?"  Turns out, in Charlotte, 'fancy food' is found at the International Market, or Trader Joe's. He gave me all kinds of streets and intersections and it was like the Peanuts gang hearing the adults garble garble. A lot of information. I thanked him, then he turned around and said, "If you come by my restaurant, I'll give you some panko, we have a ton." Huh.

It's not an emergency...but I have to tell you--what a cool guy. The extra mile.

No golf for today. I'll look forward to next weekend's outing and BBQ. I've re-tooled my Sunday. Made a yummy sammy with the farmer's market finds from yesterday and will go exploring this afternoon...then to the POPS concert. Life is good. Level and Plumb.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Matthews Farmer's Market, The Loooong Way

I woke up at 6:30 today, with a full list of stuff to get done...all timed to beat the noonday heat. It's 97 today in Charlotte, above 90 degrees for the 14th day.  I had a canvas bag for the farmer's market, a few golf clubs, golf shoes and a glove for the driving range, dry cleaning, my camera, stamped mail, some water bottles, sunglasses, my cell phone, etc...

Got into the car with all the ephemera, stuck the key in and..NOTHING. Dead battery. Not even a whirr. Ooops, I saw the lights were on, and had been since yesterday morning. 24 hours is enough to drain a battery 100%. 

It was my turn today---earlier this week my sister in NY locked her keys in the car (no spare...) and my cousin in CT was at Home Depot with a pile of stuff and realized she left her wallet home. What gives?

It was not worth getting ticked off, or even muttering a curse. Totally my fault. No need for an attitude.

Called roadside assistance, and went thru all the questions--assuring the operator that I didn't need medical attention and that I was indeed safe. I'd made it 20 feet from my front door and I'm in a gated community! The "Pop-a-Lock" guy was here within 15 minutes, saw my NY plates and said "Welcome to Charlotte!" I had to smile.  He used a portable battery booster...the car started right up. Gotta get me one of them...(a portable booster, not a pop-a-lock guy.) Not that it happens often, but there'd be no need to call for help, or wave someone down, or pop 2 hoods and have cables all over the place. He said it was fine to head out, just keep the car running for 30-40 minutes.

I drove down to Matthews, NC...about 15 minutes away. Parked where a running car would not be annoying and I definitely kept it going with a few revs for a good 40 minutes. My Saturday got a late start...and some stuff was already sold out at the farmer's market...but I got some great herbs, fresh goat cheese, tomatoes and stuff for the week. Not much to Matthews...just a little one-light town with super friendly farmers! Leave your worries and your New York behind.

The hardware store is so old fashioned. Gold pans?!

Heirloom seeds

Saturday, June 19, 2010

In Search of Slow Food

I grew up in New York and we have our fair share of stores with unusual names--but the grocery store names down South are way more interesting. Piggly Wiggly, Ukrops, Smith's Red & White, Bi-Lo, Winn Dixie...and my new local fave...Harris Teeter. I just like to say it (to myself!)  They've got good veggies, but I want to get out and find some local produce and start to meet the 'slow food' community.
This is my second weekend in Charlotte and I'm finally out from under the big load of administrative stuff that I had to do to bridge my move from NYC. I met some friends last night who are up from Pawley's Island, SC and they introduced me to their friends. I've joined a few MeetUp groups, so I'm off and running! Well, not really running...

I struck out solo this morning and by that I mean without my GPS. I have to start learning where things are in relation to Uptown, which is Charlotte's downtown area. If you think that's confusing, all the roads change names at least once along their route. I have a bad sense of direction as it is, so this morning it took me a few tries to go 6 miles. It's not a straight shot, I'm not that lame! There's zero traffic on a Saturday morning, so I was able to pull some excellent, unobstructed u-turns.

My destination was the Atherton Market, a new farmer's market in an old trolley barn in the historic South End.

On the way into the parking lot, I saw my "newcomers" tour guide from March, who'd given me a 2 hour overview of the city and 'streetcar suburbs.'  http://www.charlottenctours.com/   We high fived when I said, "I moved here!!"  I don't feel alone and that's huge, since I moved here by myself.

Like any farmer's market, there was lots to see--food demos, artisanal soaps, fruit, flowers, honey, eggs, artsy jewelry, salsas, etc... What's different is that Charlotte is just waking up to the foodie scene. The city tends to lag behind Atlanta. But, with Johnson & Wales culinary college smack dab in the middle of Uptown, trendy new restaurants and Charlotte's first food cart called 'Harvest Moon" setting a trend, there is a ripple of excitement about a newly opened farmer's market. As a 'jaded New Yorker" it's neat to be in on the start of something.

I got a big bag of (very fuzzy!) peaches from Webb's Orchard for $7, blueberries, fresh ravioli from "The Pasta Wench" and some half sours from "Pickleville." What a yummy day. Here's my recipe for Grilled Peaches:

Halve peaches. Remove pit.
Add some white and brown sugars to a ziploc bag, and toss the peach halves.
Put foil down on the grill grate (over gray coals or med gas flame)
Place peaches cut side down and grill for 15 mins
Turn, grill the other side for 15 mins, or til gorgeous.
Serve over vanilla (or peach!) ice cream and drizzle with peach schnapps if you're feeling extra decadent.


I stumbled upon a holiday celebration today, after wrapping up my errands by saying hello to Hickory at the UPS Store and collecting my mail. Across the street, I saw bouncy castles, vendors, heard music and saw people milling around Independence Park.

Today is June 19th and it's an American holiday called Juneteenth. I've never heard of it before. It commemorates the end of slavery, and is a time of remembrance, reflection, family and food. I was the minority, as all the vendors and most of the attendees were African American. A poignant moment. And it reminded me of how much I have to remember and how much I have to learn.

I enjoyed a peach lemonade, skipped the fried "fair food", wandered through, and took some snaps.

Dropped some change, don't drop your ice!

Spoon feeding the Bible. Literally.

Funnel cakes--so much fried dough and sugar. Oof!

This Yankee cannot do fried food in 93 degrees.

Leaning Toward to Level, Pushing Toward Plumb

I've been in North Carolina for two weeks, and it's sunk in that I'm not here on a business trip. Euphoria and calm are brewing, bubbling, brimming.

After a tumultuous 10 months during which my little world was thrown for a loop, I've changed it all up, and I'm beginning to return to a level state. Not fully, and not quite plumb....but it's palpable.

2009 started out on such a high note! I loved my job, I'd finished all necessary work on the house, after 20 years of pecking away at it. I was ready to hunker down and work thru late June, before taking 2 full weeks off to vacation in Italy. I left a week of vacation for the end of the year, to celebrate Christmas. Good plan! Then I got slammed...unexpected layoff 2 days after I returned from Italy, debit card scam, big car repair, breast cancer scare, 3 count'em 3 molars cracked and I needed gum surgery and porcelain crowns...after my dental insurance ran out. The jobhunt in NYC was terrifyingly underwhelming. There were 900,000 other New Yorkers out of work, and scurrying to find it. I felt like an ant caught under a magnifying glass on a sunny day...the heat was on.

Was this my midlife crisis? I guess it could have been. I take after my paternal grandmother who lived to be 102, so at 48 I am definitely on the cusp of "mid." I didn't choose a particular day during all of this to confront my life, but I started paying attention to it.

Where am I, why am I, what is the master plan, what shapes my path?

Turns out, I do. I shape it. Life is a series of connections that push and pull in directions. So, I picked a direction---forward. I turned my mid life crisis into a mid life celebration.

Crisis averted? Not so fast.

It took a lot of honest introspection and a bit of bold thinking, to shape my new path. At the start of 2010 I made a list of all the cities that I liked and asked myself if I could live there. I couldn't get to "yes." I golf in the Carolinas, and have enjoyed my vacations immensely. I planned to visit Charlotte, NC. Small city with an actual skyline, temperate weather, slower lifestyle, lower cost of living, exactly halfway between both my parents in NY and FL, and family. Spent a week in Charlotte in early March. Felt very much at "home" and that was enough for me. The other half of the equation was "can I leave New York" and my immediate family? That took quite a bit of soul searching.

Fast forward to March 2010. The jobhunt was brutal, and I was 6 months into it. I listed my home for sale and sold it in under 3 months, packed, moved, drove south. It's mid June and I'm now deep into my househunt. My realtor is wonderful and we laugh a lot, out l-o-u-d. The jobhunt comes next. I was teary when I left, and it's taken these 2 weeks for my hands, wrists and arms to stop aching. I'm almost able to sleep through the night.

I can feel the stress leaving my mind and my body. I have friends flung around down South, and I'm already making new ones, through networking and by just being. I happen to like people, and I'm a joiner. Life is good!

Almost level, practically plumb.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Too Particular? I Think Not.

Sandy laughed and laughed when I told her that I was packing a small box of cutlery and kitchen gadgets to use at the short term hotel that I was staying in while looking for a house. She said "those places haaaave cutlery." I told her that my brother Dan had already asked me, "What kind of silverware do those places have? You should bring your own spork!" Sandy said we were BOTH crazy. We are not crazy, we are clean and particular. Other people are crazy! Ever look inside a teapot? Who knows what a knife was used for or if someone shaved with a vegetable peeler? Or, heaven forbid, used it to diminish a corn. And I don't mean the vegetable...

Well, after breaking up my 11 hour drive and having a WONDERFUL and restful weekend stay with my friend Deirdre in Richmond, VA, I headed to a corporate suites hotel. It looked alright on the internet..and I got a great rate.  Since the parking lot is not monitored, I had to unpack the entire car---inside and what was strapped to the roof.

I lasted 2 nights and that's only because it took me an extra day to find another place. I had to buy a raspberry scented candle at Bi-Lo to mask the odor of cooking oil, and I presented a list of grossness to the manager. On that list were "sticky remote" and "pet hair on sofa." I will spare you the rest. I was given a full refund, packed the entire freeking car again and headed out.

They have a 'free breakfast', but I preferred to eat my own cereal out of a plastic cup that I'd packed. Eat and run, literally!

My realtor had nothing to do with that first place (my mistake), and she helped with a fast turnaround, a 3 month lease at an apt complex near the city...a better home base for me. I spent 2 nights in the guest suite here while my apt was readied. I'm in a gated community, 2 pools, gym, 900 sq ft one-bedroom. The movers brought rented furniture in, hooked up a washer/dryer, unwrapped brand NEW bedding and shower curtain, and loaded up the kitchen with new plates, bowls, pots, pans and utensils that came out of original boxes.

The moving guy made a frog out of kitchen towels and potholders. Peppermint patty eyes and a teabag for a tongue ;-)

Not 'my taste' but super clean and serviceable!

I will still use some of my kitchen stuff...but I am feeling way more comfortable here! I'm within a mile of my mailbox and my realtor. I'm fi-nal-ly unpacked, plugged in and able to concentrate on my househunting.

Pure Joy

This is what it looks like when you sell your house in 57 days, in a recession. But before the packing starts...

A Tale of Two Cities

There's lots of choreography involved in moving from one state to another.


From prepping, showing, selling the house and all that entailed, to packing and moving, to closing off utilities, getting final readings and bills, and unbundling a cell phone from a quad package and keeping the phone # that everyone already knows. Ending homeowner's and getting renter's insurance, dealing with car and health insurance.

It takes some doing to bridge 2 cities when you don't actually have a house to  move to. At the closing, I had to provide a new address.

Getting an address over the phone that's not a PO box was pretty easy. Shockingly easy actually, but maybe it's just New York that's so tuned up for terrorists. At a UPS store, Hickory (yes, that is his first name) helped me out, and after faxing an application and my drivers license I had a street address, and a place to get and send packages. I met Hickory once I got to town and was thrilled to get a whole pile of mail---seamless synergy between USPS in NYC and UPS in NC. We can play nicely together! Turns out Hickory's moving to New York, "Either Brooklyn or Albany." He's in a band and he said that they treat him like Elvis in New York. Hey, good luck with that.

Banking went well, too, but I got some odd advice. My NY bank has no presence in NC, so I needed to know the timing for last use of an ATM card, bill paying, etc... and where I'd be depositing net proceeds from the sale of my home. With my atty, in escrow, and to be wired to me in NC? That seemed convoluted.

I approached the Customer Service Desk with my timeline and the woman leaned toward me, looked around, then whispered...

"When I was a little girl, in India, my mother and my grandmother used to carry a lot of gold." She looked around again, then continued, "What you do is, you take a piece of fabric, and you sew sew sew..." You sew it into your panties!"

OK. Where am I? What year is this? Am I on Candid Camera? A Customer Service rep at a major bank is suggesting that I carry my money in my undies? I was thinking some cash to hold me over, then I dunno, a certified check when I closed out my accounts?

I thanked her, and went to the window, closed out and followed my own advice. No panties! Back at home I googled the major banks in NC. They have plenty of lobby service and ATM's in NYC as well as NC. I opened an account over the phone and I'm good to go.

Next up, re-registering the car. I might wait on that--changing a UPS address to my actual street address on a license would be a nightmare in ANY state.

Thinking Outside the Box

Wow, I thought I'd purged in preparation to sell my home, but I kept filling more and more boxes with "my stuff."  It took 4 men 5 hours to load the truck, and they said it was about 8000 pounds worth. In the past year I know of 2 families that have 'lost it all' in a house and/or apartment fire.Though pets sadly perished in one fire, thankfully no human beings were hurt or home at the time. That crossed my mind as I was packing---it's incredible what we amass over a few decades. If something happened to these things, it's just stuff, and stuff can replaced. it's true, I spent a lot of time and effort finding, buying, refinishing, defining a style. But you can't let stuff define you!

And so it was odd to see my life taped up into boxes...being hauled and hoisted first into a moving truck, then into two 12 foot containers, for eventual delivery to my new home in North Carolina.

An important "moving tip" is not to pack important documents or jewelry into a moving truck. It was a challenge deciding what to pack into my car for the 12 hour drive down south. I'm in a furnished apartment until I find a house. Aside from near-term essentials such as clothes, golf clubs and flipflops...I packed Doc-Boxes with vital records, current files, camera, chargers, my Dell desktop, etc... Pretty straightforward.

I packed all the costume jewelry into the truck, having taped and labeled that box "Odds and Ends, Office"
I watched it get passed from the truck to the POD, then I locked the POD... so it oughta be there when I empty it out on this end.

I mean, you can't write "Family Jewels. Silver. Heirlooms." You may as well write "STEAL ME!"

So for the box of real stuff that went into my car, I wrote 'Broken Puzzle Pieces" and howled with laughter when my friend Jill and I decided we should subtitle it, "Puzzle: Leopards lounging on leopard-print throws." That way, NO ONE would bother to open it.

Like I said, don't let your stuff define you!

Farewells and So-Longs, Not Goodbyes

Betwixt and between all the packing up after 20 years of living in Long Island City, there were opportunities to see friends and family in small or teeny groups. Can't seem to control my eyes from filling up or from waterworks, that's just the way I'm wired emotionally (like a hair trigger.)  So, there was never gonna be a big goodbye bash. That part of me seems to surprise those who view me as strong and self sufficient. Jig's up! I'm an armor-plated marshmallow.

Aside from dinners and lunches with friends and former colleagues, one of my last weekends in NY was for family. Mine's not too terribly large...tho we have a contingent in Australia, and some sprinkled around NY, CT, CA, WA and FL. I saw cousins Jim and John and Chris (the uber packer!) and we all had some great laughs over nachos and beers at The 'Shoe in Southport Village. Stayed at Chris' then I jammed back down to LI to see my Dad and sibs at Tim's BBQ. Everyone's on an even keel, and it was just nice to visit. Spent my final night at Dad's BFF Dianne's place, and when we said goodbye the morning of my drive...I said, no crying. Well, we sniffled, so I said, don't look at me! We looked away and did that nervous laugh/wave it off thing. It's a big move, no doubt, and Dianne and I are very close. I acknowledge that I will be missed, it's been nice to hear, and it's very very touching! I will stay in touch with everyone--there's the phone, e-mail, my blog, and I'll be back at Christmastime!

Good'joomer truck in Westport
Southport village

Bye for now, Northeast!