The Secret Life of Melanie O.
Saturday, September 30, 2006
The reunion - day two on the road
It's Wednesday. We're feeling re-invented. We decide to check out the USS Nautilus museum in Groton and then continue on the wine trail back to my mother's house. The day is rather cool and overcast - a good day for doing museums.

We get to Groton and the Naval Base. The museum sits just outside the gates to the base. It makes me wonder how many people have tried to sneak into the base along the water's edge. I wonder if it's booby-trapped past the museum boundaries. I figure I should be writing spy novels.

The museum is interesting. We climb inside the Nautilus and get to see what life was like aboard the first nuclear submarine. Half of the sub is off-limits, but we get to see the living quarters and radio control rooms. I could never apply for submarine duty. It feels claustrophobic. You'd have to get used to sleeping in a fetal position - there's no way you could stretch your legs out on your bunk. I suddenly have a new admiration for any person who serves on a submarine. I hope that they're all under 5'8" tall.

We spend about an hour at the museum and then get back on the road. We were going to go to another winery and are strangely pulled by some mysterious force, to the other large casino in the area, the Mohegan Sun.

We never make it to the other wineries. Once again, we are pulled into the world of pings, dings, and flashing lights. We play keno again. Again we lose. We decide to play the one-armed bandits. I win $12. Dan loses $20. But we had hours of fun and didn't spend any more than we would have for a night out at a fine restaurant. We try to take a photo of ourselves in the casino. It comes out blurred, but we'll always remember the fun behind the photo.

I'm saddened to hear about Ann Nicole Smith's son, Daniel. I feel grateful that, despite some problems, all of my sons have made it to adulthood. Looking back at some of the things they got into as teenagers, I see it as nothing short of miraculous. I hope they all outlive me. As a mother, I can't imagine what Anna Nicole's going through. I don't know her, but I feel strangely empathetic.

The afternoon rolls around. We head back to my mother's. It was a fun two days away. Dan's back to his cheerful self. I think we needed some time to ourselves. Family is wonderful, but romantic getaways are a necessity for married couples.

For tomorrow, we decide to do one more day in New York, since we have to head back to Sydney on Friday. Dan hasn't given up on finding his orange suede sneakers. He's certain that, if they are anywhere, they are in New York City.

(to be continued...)
posted by Melanie O. at 6:52 PM - 0 comments
Friday, September 29, 2006
The reunion...on the road
The next morning, we get out the maps once again and make plans. We're going to do the steam train and river cruise in Essex. We had picked up a brochure in the New Haven train station when we dropped Ian and Sabrina off, and it looks like a lot of fun. After Essex, we plan on doing the Connecticut wine trail. We have to stick close to home due to the rental car. I have to call one of my friends, P, who lives in Massachusettes, and cancel our meeting up at Old Sturbridge Village. We're running out of time on our trip and have had to change all of our plans around. Still, we're going to make the most of our two days alone together.

We drive to Essex. It's not that far away, and head right for the steam train. Sometimes it pays off when you're spontaneous. Today it didn't. We should have learned from the Thimble Island cruise. It's after Labor Day. The museum is only open on weekends this month. We're not the only disappointed tourists there. Still, I got to take some good photos and afterwards we stroll around this quaint seaport town. We stop in a little café for iced tea and a treat. I get a slice of cherry pie. I haven't had cherry pie in years. It's better than what I remember and I enjoy every mouthful. Dan gets crumb cake. He's never had crumb cake before. The crumb topping is over an inch thick and lives up to its name by crumbling everywhere.

We stroll back to our car and decide to check out a winery that's not too far away. One of our favorite pasttimes in Australia is to sample wine from the cellar door, and buy a bottle of our favorite from that particular winery. In this way, we've managed to enjoy varied bottles from all over New South Wales from small vintners. It's one of our simple pleasures. We look forwards to touring this one in southern Connecticut.

We arrive just in time for the tour. We get to see the bottling facilities. They bottle five bottles of wine at a time - all by hand using simple equipment. The wine dog, a golden retriever, keeps an eye on things. Soon, we are joined by the family cat. The cat is very friendly and decides that everyone has gathered there just for him. Dan and I both pet him and he loves it. He doesn't seem intimidated by either Dan's size or the number of people there. Mayhem soon breaks loose, though, when the dog spies the cat and chases him up two flights of stairs. We get the giggles, and Dan tries to coax the cat down from the loft stairs as we make our way into the room where they're having the wine tasting. No luck. The cat won't budge. He's not that stupid.

We leave with two bottles of wine. One for us and one that is a gift to my mother for putting up with us in her home. It's getting towards the afternoon, and we decide to see if there are any rooms at the local casino, Foxwood. We arrive at the casino - it sits in a huge megaplex of shops and a resort hotel. Unfortunately, they are booked up for the night, but they direct us to a smaller hotel just back up the main road. The other hotel has a free shuttle service. We decide that this could be fun - we can have a drink or two, play Keno, and shop in the boutique stores and not worry about what shape we're in at the end of the night. I want a Native American something to take back with me. I just dont know what that "something" is.

We lose on our Keno games. But we don't care. We eat at the buffet - and both start out with New England clam chowder, of course. I would have been happy with clam chowder all night. We enjoy a cocktail and stroll around. I see a bag I would love to buy. It's made of wool and it's turquoise in color and has a Navaho pattern on it. I really want it, but practicality puts me off. (Now, of course, I am kicking myself for not buying it.) That's the third thing I've denied myself on this trip - and the third thing I'm regretting not doing. In my life, it seems the things that I regret the most aren't the things I do - it's the things I don't do that cause me grief.

We have a great evening in the casino and head back to our hotel room. We were going to drink our wine, but decide we'd rather spend attention on each other. Well, that's what hotels are for, aren't they?

(to be continued...)
posted by Melanie O. at 9:35 PM - 2 comments
The reunion, part something...can't remember
It's Sunday. It's rainy. Dan takes down the marquee from our Wednesday picnic. I do some laundry. We aren't feeling very motivated. Stephen wants us to come and pick him up for the day. Chris comes over and he wants us to watch some of his 9/11 conspiracy videos. We spend nearly the entire day recovering from New York City, Mystic, and Danbury, and make plans for the rest of the week. We make dinner for Andy and stick it in the fridge. He won't eat with us.

Monday rolls around. I have errands I have to run with my mother. Dan's annoyed with me. He feels that his holiday has been hijacked, but my mom is setting up an IRA for me - an investment account - and I need to talk to the bank. It's something we need to do.

I used to work at the bank and stop in to enquire about my old supervisor. She's now the bank vice president and she's too busy to come down and chat. I leave her a note with my email address. I hope she gets back to me some day. I'm disappointed that she couldn't get away. Maybe she doesn't remember me.

It's afternoon by the time we get back from running our errands. Dan's truly miffed that he was left at the house. My mother suggests we all get out of the house and we take a drive. Our plan is to do a boat tour of the Thimble Islands.

The day is a bit overcast, but that makes for great photo-taking conditions. I'm looking forwards to getting some great shots on the water. We arrive at the boat tour facility. It's closed. It's after Labor Day. The tourist spots only open on the weekend for the months of September and October. My mother is disappointed, as are Dan and I. No boat tours today.

My mother offers to take Dan and me to the movies and to dinner. It's a date - the three of us. We get to the cinema and choose a movie: The Illusionist. It looks promising - but it doesn't start for about an hour, so we decide to get a coffee and relax and chat for a few minutes before we have to show up.

We head over to Dunkin Donuts. There are no Dunkin Donut shops in Sydney - this is something new for Dan. We get coffee, and Dan gets two cinnamon donuts. It's the fifth anniversary of September 11. We watch commemorations on the TV that's mounted on the wall inside the shop. I look away. I'm not really "over" September 11. I go back to private thoughts while Dan and my mother chat.

Soon, we're back at the cinema and get our seats, but not before I get a small popcorn with butter. It's been absolute ages since I had buttered popcorn at the cinema. I am going to indulge. I take a bite and savor that oily, salty sensation between my teeth. Heaven.

The movie turns out to be a good one. We enjoy the surprise ending, and head off to dinner. And where does my mother take us? To the Outback Steak House. Dan enjoys the joke. He's had a strange week. Everywhere we've gone, people have offered their condolences on the death of Steve Irwin. We've never met Steve Irwin. Now we're at the Outback. Australia and the USA seem to be inextricably culturally entwined with each other. Even the shopping mall in Milford is owned by Westfield's - an Australian company.

Dinner was delicious, but when we return, Dan is in an ill mood. I'm upset because he's been snappy towards me for several days. That's when we decide that we need a night to ourselves. We make plans to take off for a couple of days - alone. In a hotel.

(to be continued...)
posted by Melanie O. at 8:55 PM - 0 comments
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
The reunion, part whatever...
Ian and Sabrina have to leave to go back to New York the next day. They hadn't been sure how they were going to get back to New York, so, the previous day, we called around to check on the train. Nope - there was only one train to Syracuse, it was a long trip, and it was expensive. Flights were out of the question. We checked car rentals. Ian isn't 25 yet - rates were outrageous. That left the bus. Good old Greyhound. I've travelled many a mile across the USA in a Greyhound bus. The rates are reasonable. The schedule works. We decide that Greyhound will work.

We're up at 6 am to make sure everyone's showered and packed to catch the 8 am bus. The New Haven bus terminal shares space with the train station. It's nice and clean and has model trains in the waiting room. Ian brings his didgeridoo with him. He bought it when he came to visit us two years ago, and we tried to post it back to him. It was sent back to us when Ian moved and left no forwarding address. The didgeridoo's been around the world three times. We brought it with us when we flew from Sydney to New York. It was finally going home with its owner.

I decide that I will miss the both of them. Sabrina shares my love of the Beatles and haute couture. She's got a good sense of humor. I'm back to the world of testosterone.

We see them off. I don't know when we'll catch up again. In my heart, I wish them well and good luck. They married at a young age, but they believe in commitment. I keep my fingers crossed.

We arrive back at my mother's and declare that we want to do some site-seeing. My mother has a collection of maps and brochures. We decide to go to the Danbury Train Museum. Dan can hardly wait to get there. We take off after deciding on our route (mom knows best), and look forwards to seeing the different trains. Even I'm looking forwards to seeing the trains.

It's supposed to take us about an hour to get there. It took us two and a half hours. We've come upon one of the worst wrecks I've ever seen on a small highway. A tractor trailer has overturned and its container is smashed and sitting down an embankment. I hope the driver has survived. We sit in traffic that moves at a crawl, for over an hour, and decide to pull off the road and head into Middletown, where we find an Italian restaurant.

The pizza restaurant serves clam chowder. It's a New England pizza restaurant, after all. I urge Dan to try it. Dan is in love. From then on, we have New England clam chowder nearly every night. We dawdle at the restaurant, thinking the wreck will be cleared up after an hour or so. It isn't.

We're resigned to having to sit in traffic once more. We just hope we get to the museum before it closes.

Fortunately for us, the traffic clears a mile or two up the road. We finally get to the museum. Dan's excited and we check out all of the interior exhibits before we head into the rail yard. Now, this is where the fun begins. We're met by a woman who is a patron of the museum and who is helping to restore a steam engine. She tells us which engines and carriages we can view, and gives us a rundown of how the museum operates. It turns out she's the editor of the rail museum newsletter. We get a complimentary copy. This woman is a wealth of information, but, after a while, Dan's just anxious to explore the trains.

We check out an old caboose. I'm sad that cabooses have disappeared from the American landscape. At least I get to see what was inside. They're motel rooms on wheels! We check out a Sperry rail car - one that checks the tracks for cracks and other dangers. It is a mobile laboratory. We climb into large diesels and check out the steam locomotive. They're as different as night and day. We climb into a commuter rail car. The seats are nicely upholstered. The floor is linoleum. Luxurious compared to the hard vinyl, uncomfortable, but practical cars of the commuter train I take to work every day. I wish I had something this nice to commute on every day, but then I think of some of the people that use the train, and change my mind.

We spend an hour or more in the heat of the day, climbing in and out of locomotives and carriages. Dan climbs into the driver's compartment of old 2013 of the New York Central line. I can tell he wishes he'd never left the railway. I hope one day he can go back to it.

It's getting close to dinner time. The museum's going to close, so we leave. We get back to my mother's house and I tell her that I'm taking us to dinner. We eat at her favorite diner and she orders shrimp. I have another bowl of clam chowder. We've packed up the leftovers for Andy, who will get up in the middle of the night to microwave and eat them, to avoid everyone in the house. Afterwards, we stroll up the street and get a couple of second hand DVDs from the video rental place. I only have enough energy to watch one of them, Beyond the Sea. I love it and so does Dan. Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee should never have split up.

(to be continued...)
posted by Melanie O. at 9:34 PM - 0 comments
The reunion, number nine
Dan's getting cranky. He's OD-ing on my family and is frustrated that we don't have a vehicle large enough to fit everyone in. We decide to rent a car the next day so that we aren't confined to my mother's house for our second week in the USA.

I get on the phone and call around. Enterprise has a car - unlimited mileage for a weekly rate. Yay! We go to Enterprise to get the car, which is waiting for us. We fill out the paperwork and are shown our car - a brand new Chrysler PT Cruiser with only eight miles on the odometer. We love it. Our faces fall, though when we see it's not unlimited mileage after all. We pay $240 plus $180 insurance for a 1,000 mile limit. There goes our plan to drive all over New England. We're annoyed, but glad we have a car that everyone can fit into at this point.

We've got the afternoon to ourselves, so Ian and Sabrina climb in and we drive off to Mystic, an historical whaling town. By the time we get there, it's late afternoon and the seaport village closes in a couple of hours. Not worth the $27 admission fee. We decide to go into the center of town and look around. We hit Mystic at a good time. There's a Food Festival in progress, and the stalls open in about an hour.

In the meantime, we stroll across the bridge and walk up to Mystic Pizza. The same one from the movie. I take some photos. We enter a jewelry store - one that carries estate jewelry. I get all excited - they carry matching pieces to the carved quartz bracelet that my mother gave to me. The bracelet once belonged to my grandmother. It's white gold with a little diamond chip in it. Carved quartz was popular in the 1920's. I'm surprised to see that it's held its value over time. The shop has matching rings and brooches. I'm afraid to splurge on a matching piece, and, of course, later regret my timidity. I don't know if I'll ever find matching pieces again. My grandmother would be scolding me now. Or she would have bought a matching ring and be done with it. She was like that.

We have some homemade icecream and then wander over to the streets lined with food tents. The area restaurants are raising money for charity, so we buy tickets and decide to stay to sample the area specialties. I am amazed. $20 feeds four people very well. Dan has pizza. Ian and Sabrina share a huge skewer of tandoori chicken as well as pie, and I eat a giant stuffed portobello mushroom that was to die for. Live music wafts over the crowd. It's all just very pleasant.

The sun sets and we sit by the water's edge and watch the bridge open for tall-masted sailboats. A tightly-corseted woman about age 55 walks past. She must have a 17 inch waist. I wonder how long it's taken her to train her waist to be that small. It looks unnatural, but I shrug my shoulders. Everybody's gotta have something to obsess over, I muse.

We leave Mystic and drive home. Dan snaps at me when I react to him veering into another lane of traffic. I know he's tired. But I'm pissed off that he snapped at me in the car in front of my son and daughter-in-law. I don't say a word to him the rest of the night. The lack of sleep is catching up to us.

(to be continued...)
posted by Melanie O. at 3:23 PM - 0 comments
Sunday, September 24, 2006
The reunion, part 8
We reach NYU and decide to walk up 5th Ave to Times Square in time for dinner. We've been walking for five hours. I'm not wearing good shoes. My feet are pinched and the heel's rubbing. I decide that, in order to survive the rest of the day, I need to slip my feet out of the heel of my shoe, and wear my shoes like mules. That works, temporarily.

We stroll through Washington Park on our way back to Broadway and 5th. There's a hot pretzel vendor there. I haven't had a hot pretzel in years. I buy one and share it with Dan. I brush off most of the salt - why is there always so much salt on them? I cover the pretzel with yellow mustard - the way it should be. My mouth bursts as soon as I take a bite. I savor this. The pretzel is just how I remember.

We stroll past luxury apartments on 5th Avenue and I am so jealous of the people who can afford to live there. Sabrina and I are on the lookout for designer boutiques. We wonder how far away Saks and Tiffany's is.

Dan spies an athletic shoe store, and we go in. I'm thinking I should buy something more comfortable for my feet, but brush the thought away. I'm here to buy couture. There are more kinds of athletic shoes here than I've seen in one place, in my life. Dan finds an orange pair of Goodyear Tuscany's! He's ecstatic. They've been on sale for a while, though, and there are none left in his size. He's determined, however, and decides to check out every athletic shoe store from here on in for orange Tuscany's.

We shop at Armani, BCBG, and Juicy Couture. I find a couple of things for myself. Sabrina finds a gorgeous teal dress in Juicy Couture. Yay, I am thinking! I can help Sabrina buy a designer dress.

They don't have any in her size. Their sizes all seem to stop at US size 8. Why is this? Are designers designing to flatter real women, or do they only design for women who can flatter the designs? I am beginning to wonder. I'm starting to feel annoyed with the couture industry, but we continue, undaunted.

We reach the Empire State Building and I take lots of photos. It stands there, like a faithful sentinel, reaching across the ages. The first time I saw it, I was a little girl of 10 and I was excited to see this landmark that I'd only ever seen in the movies. Seeing it again, I was 10 years old.

We stop in a cheesy New York souvenir shop. I purchase some postcards, as I've promised a couple of people that I would send one. Fifteen postcards for a dollar! I pay a dollar per postcard in Sydney. I have momentary economic shock - but in a good way. I pick out 15 postcards - the tackier, the better.

We find a shop that is selling designer samples. Dan finds a Versace shirt and gets it for a quarter of its original price. Sabrina and I look at dresses. $2000 dresses, even at a quarter of the price, are still a bit more than we want to spend, but we're tempted! Still, there's nothing over a woman's size 8. I feel badly that Sabrina's the only one who hasn't walked away with a great couture bargain.

By then, we all feel rather fatigued. My feet are swelling. The constant rubbing on my toes has made them expand to the size of large grapes. My toes are rubbing each other now. It feels really strange.

Ian calls one of his friends who is just getting off work. She's going to meet us on 42nd Street, near Times Square. We continue to walk, past the library, past signs proclaiming Fashion Week, and catch up with Ian's friend Ally. Ally is tall and blonde and pretty and covered with tattoos. Her body is an art gallery.

We decide to get New York pizza. We walk into a place and Dan gets two slices of pizza. He doesn't know about New York style pizza. The slices are twice the size he's used to. He barely finishes his dinner. I'm happy with a slice of pepperoni pizza and my feet are happy to get a break. Ian, Sabrina and Ally happily catch up with each other. Sabrina is introduced as Ian's new wife. I feel like the Old Mother in Law With Aching Feet.

We walk to Times Square. I catch a glimpse of Radio City Music Hall. My grandmother took my sister and me to see The Rockettes when I was 10. The music hall calls to me - I wish I had tickets to see the Rockettes again. We get to Times Square. It's lit up like a Christmas tree. I'm fascinated by the illuminated billboards and marqees. Dan checks out another athletic shoe store. Again, I think of shoes. My toes are literally twice their normal size. My feet are red. I think the arches have fallen. I try not to cry. I realize that we have been walking now, for over 10 hours.

We originally were going to leave the city at 8pm. We stayed until 10pm. We could have stayed all night if it hadn't been for my bad shoes. I'm disappointed that I didn't buy Sabrina anything. We wonder how we will make the train on time if we have to hobble back to Grand Central. Sabrina saves the day and finds us a hire car. I'm ecstatic to be able to sit down. We chat during the journey home and survey our "finds." I am hoping that we will find something for Sabrina tomorrow.

I call Mom and she comes out, late at night, to pick us up at the station. The women ride in the cab, and the guys lie down in the flat bed of the truck. No one sees us - we get away with it this time. I dream that night of New York. It was a fantastic day.

(to be continued...)
posted by Melanie O. at 11:01 AM - 0 comments
The reunion, part siete
Chris is back to work, as is Stephen. Andy's gone back to his self-imposed exile. It's Dan, Ian, Sabrina and I, and we've decided to take the train into NY city. Our main problem is how to get to the train station using just my mother's small pickup truck. It becomes one of those logic puzzles where, using three buckets, you distribute water evenly.

I offer to be dropped off at the station first, and then Dan can get Ian and Sabrina. We'd just have to find a place to park the truck for the day. We sit there for 15 minutes, working out the logistics of transporting four people in a two person vehicle. My mother chimes in and offers to take Dan and me to the station after Ian and Sabrina are dropped off. I can squeeze in between Dan and my mother, in a pinch. It works. We're on the platform, waiting for the train to Grand Central Station! It's been years since I've been in New York and I can't wait to go back. Dan's never been, and neither has Sabrina. We're like little kids.

The train is comfortable for a commuter train. There are conductors, not electronic gates like there are in Sydney. It's packed, even for off-peak. I watch the conductor move up and down the aisles, clipping people's tickets. I feel as if I've moved back 40 years in time. I like this personal touch to travelling on the train. Eventually, we move closer to the driver's compartment, which is not blocked off from the rest of the train, as they are in Sydney. The USA gets a bad rep of being paranoid and overly security conscious. Those critics should travel on the New Haven line.

We disembark at Grand Central terminal. We step into the main concourse and immediatley, I am in heaven. It's like stepping into a movie. The station's been filmed so many times, it seems familiar, even though it's the first time I've been there. The whole place seems to have been built of Italian marble. I don't know if that's true, but that's my impression. The ceiling is painted blue and has the major constellations hand-painted on it - like a New World Sistine Chapel. I love whomever thought of putting so much loving detail into a municipal building.

Where to go from here? New York Fashion Week is on. We decide we want to go to Greenwich Village and check out the boutique shops. We want to eat in a little deli or do something else very Manhattanish. We quickly get directions and start walking down Lexington Ave. We check out our maps. It's only 35 blocks to Greenwich Village, but they're short blocks, right?

It takes us an hour and a half to walk down to Bleeker Street. On the way, we turn off onto 4th Ave and find the best shop ever: Halloween Adventure. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and I'm disappointed that it hasn't caught on in Sydney as much as it has back home. I'm thrilled - I feel like we've stumbled onto Nirvana in New York! We spend nearly an hour in this store. It has everything in it. Costumes of all grades and sizes, decorations, props, gags, magic supplies, wigs, makeup, and a cross-dressing salesman. I loved it. I wanted to invite the salesguy to spend the day with us.

Dan and I pick out some wall decor, light enough that it can be rolled up and stashed in our suitcases. We take some photos, and reluctantly leave after about an hour of touching, talking, and viewing. The Halloween Adventure is more fun than a museum. Still - we have so much to see and only a day to do it in. We reluctantly leave and continue walking.

We keep walking and Sabrina spies Benetton. We go in. They have jackets for work that are cut for a woman's figure. I'm ecstatic! I try one on. I love it. The consensus is that I should buy one. I buy two of different colors. I know I won't find this back in Sydney because Australian sizing is very different to American sizing. It's great to find something that fits and flatters.

I urge Sabrina to find something. Sabrina has a worse time than I do. I have a proportionately large chest to my waist. Sabrina has it worse than I do. She can't find anything she likes that will also fit. Why don't designers design for real women?

We go into another shop. We find a shirt for Ian that is to die for. Dan and I buy it and give it to him as a gift. He loves it. So does Sabrina. But I want to buy something for Sabrina.

It's lunch time and we find a popular little deli near NYU. It's one of those places where you can buy food by the pound. We each grab a container and go down the buffet and help ourselves. I fill my container with macaroni and cheese (not seen anywhere in Sydney with the exception of the supermarket), salads, chicken, and fruit. Forget what you hear about New York being ridiculously expensive. Eat where the locals do. It cost me $6 for a filling, nutritious lunch. A bottle of water was a dollar. I'm used to Sydney prices. This place is fantastic!

We walk all the way down to Bleeker Street. We find a boutique mall that sells designer clothing by lesser-known designers. The designers man their own stalls and make their own sales. The clothes are fantastic. Just beautiful and funky. I see a coat I really want. It's designed by a Japanese designer who urges me to try it on. It makes me think of Sumurai meets Houndstooth check. It's a bit Tokyo Street Scene. But it's feminine and funky. I decline trying it on, because I know I would want to buy it and I have no good way of getting it back to Sydney - and I'd have to carry it around with me all day. I have regrets for not buying it - even with the $400 price tag.

Dan and Ian spy some designer T-shirts. They're hand-painted and appliquéed. Dan buys an orange one. Ian buys a red one. They look great, and they're fun. Now Dan wants orange sneakers to go with his orange T-shirt. Sabrina and I decide that we both have to find something now that they guys have original designer wear. I look at all of the dresses and shirts in the boutique. I can't find the dress that they've got for display in the window, and I'm hesitant to ask about it, since it's probably out of my price range.

We leave without the women purchasing something, but that's OK. We've just barely scratched the surface here.

(To be continued...)
posted by Melanie O. at 10:05 AM - 0 comments
Thursday, September 21, 2006
The reunion, part six
My sister Beth and her husband Don were all apologetic the next day about their dog. Dan was convinced I wanted to turn the dog into cat food. Not so - I was tired, my allergies were on steroids, but I was happy.

The rain disappeared and the sun was out. Dan fetched Ian and Sabrina from their hotel room and I cooked bacon and eggs for breakfast. We sat at the dining room table and chatted over our toast and juice. Once again, we borrowed my mother's trusty pickup truck and fetched Stephen. Chris showed up around lunch time.

The Whole Fam-Damily

It was my sister's family's last day in Connecticut before they had to head back to their home in central New York. So, in-between the laundry and packing, we had a family photo session. It was fun for me because I got to play "photographer." I'm not the best or the worst amateur photographer, but I was all that we had. At least I come cheap.

So, we set up our casual photo shoot in my mother's back yard. By lunch time, it was decidedly hot and bright - not exactly the best condition for people photos, but it was going to have to do.
We are a family of hams, or so it seems. They guys posed à la GQ cover models. The women tried to find our "best sides." Even Andy was into it. He confessed to me that he would love to have a girlfriend and do some modelling. It's the only thing I've ever heard him say, that he wants from life. I hope that one day he at least gets the girlfriend.

The photos came out reasonably well, and then, after much chaos, Beth and her family had to leave. Beth told me that she hated having to leave. I hated that they had to leave, too. I don't get to see my sister very often, and my nephews are grown. It all happens too fast!

In the late afternoon, we decided to get out of my mother's hair and take a trip into New Haven. We strolled around Yale campus, which has amazing architecture, and visited the Peabody Museum. The museum is small, but it has an impressive collection of complete dinosaur skeletons. That afternoon, Dan learned that his massage sandals are not meant for lots of walking.

I treated the family to dinner in a decent restaurant. The conversation flowed like wine - we're rarely at a loss for words, it seems. And when we returned to my mother's, Dan and I moved into the bedroom that Beth and Don were using. It has two beds in it. Dan took one and I took the other. I slept .... like a rock.

(To be continued...)
posted by Melanie O. at 6:55 PM - 4 comments
The reunion, part IIIII
The Big Warcraft Debate

It was a day for firsts. I met Stephen’s girlfriend Allison for the first time. I met Ian’s wife Sabrina for the first time. And in the evening, we sat and watched Supersize Me for the first time. I suppose that this is not your typical evening viewing fare.

In addition to the 15 of us, there were three dogs joining in the fun: my mother’s Pomeranian mix, my sister’s terrier mix, and Allison’s little pug dog. Now I know why they call it the Family Circus.

Of course, we stuffed ourselves all afternoon with picnic and cook-out food. The dogs were spoiled rotten with expensive Hoffman’s franks. The human conversation was interspersed with dog snarling.

Before we put the DVD on, my sons and nephews started talking about Warcraft and tried to recruit Dan into joining their online games. Sabrina and I sat, looked at each other, yawned and rolled our eyes. Luckily for Allison, she had departed by this time. In a household where the testosterone outnumbers the oestrogen 2 to 1, you have to learn to cope and the women stick together.

The afternoon turned to evening, and the eating was ongoing. We talked about video games and watched Orwell Rolls in His Grave as well as a New Age video (What the Bleep Do We Know) that my son Chris wanted us to see. We like discussing the nature of god and the nature of self. Our beliefs are varied, but they are treated with respect. We get very animated and excited when talking about our spiritual sides. When I think of it, we’re a weird family.

By 11pm, we were pretty much video’d out. Andy hovered in the background and sat at my mother’s PC with a computer game and headphones on. Chris drove himself home. Dan took Stephen back to Allison’s parents’ house. I helped clean up. The kitchen quickly went from looking like vandals hit it, to a tidy little New England farm kitchen, which it pretty much is.

When Dan got back, we had to run Ian and Sabrina to a hotel. That was a little wedding present from me. A two-day honeymoon in Connecticut with your parents around! Dan eventually retired back to my mother’s bedroom and I settled back into the sofa bed, looking forwards to a good night’s sleep. Everyone was here, safe and sound. The day was a huge success. I was exhausted.

And then, at 4 am, my sister’s dog, who was caged up in the basement with my mother's little Pomeranian, started to whine. At 5 am, he was still whining. I know, because I was awake for all of it. By 6:30 am, I gave up and got up for the day. The reunion was starting to feel like The Quest for Sleep.

(To be continued...)
posted by Melanie O. at 4:19 PM - 0 comments
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
The reunion, part IV
It's the day of the reunion. All of us, including my nephews, sister and brother in law, are in the kitchen, creating picnic salads: potato, pasta, garden, and fruit salad. The kitchen has become the Taj Mahal of salad-land. There are salads piled everywhere.

My brother in law, Don, has brought Hoffman's franks and coneys from Syracuse, NY. Hoffman's coneys are to die for. If I was a wealthy woman, I'd have them flown in every couple of months.

We are waiting for my son Ian to call. I'm getting frantic. They were supposed to arrive around noon. It's now a quarter past and I'm wondering what's happened. The phone rings. I jump to grab it. It's one of my mother's friends and he wants to chat for a half an hour! I'm pacing up and down the hallway, getting more agitated by the minute. Where's Ian? How come he hasn't called?
How will he be able to get through if the line's busy?

I beg my mother to get off the phone. Within two minutes of her hanging up, Ian calls. Whew! My blood pressure recedes like the red in a thermometer. Where are they? They should have made that left turn at Albuquerque. They're just outside Boston - way off the path. They're turning around and we'll meet them in New Haven where they'll turn in their rental car. They wind up paying for an extra day because they were 12 minutes late turning it in. B*st*rd rental place!

Once they arrive at my mother's, all is well. The franks, coneys and burgers are thrown on the grill. A few of my mother's friends show up to say hello. The sky becomes overcast.
It starts to rain, but Andy comes out from his self imposed bedroom asylum, and eats with us. I'm happy. My family is all here. All in the same place at the same time. It's been years since that happened!

(To be continued...)
posted by Melanie O. at 9:34 PM - 4 comments
The reunion, part trois
Day three. I'm off to visit Andy's therapist. Andy's no more communicative with me there, than he was without me there. His therapist and I chat alone for a few minutes. He agrees that it's wise to "let go." I still hope that Andy will make having his own apartment work for him. His therapist suggests that Andy might rise to the occasion and pay his rent and bills. I have my doubts, but there's nothing left except to make him dependent on me for money for the rest of my life while I take control of his finances. I'm not willing to alienate my son this way. Andy's lifestyle choices are his own ... for better or worse.

My mother and I go shopping. I need a straightener for my hair. One that works on 110 volts. I also need an antihistamine. My sinuses and allergies have exploded. We return and spend the afternoon baking cakes for the party the next day. My sister frosts one and my nephew does another.

The night before my youngest son and his wife arrive for the reunion, we have a big family dinner. My other sons are there. My brother in law makes BBQ pork ribs. I can't believe how hungry I am. Maybe it's all the running around.

After dinner, we clear the table and my mother and my nephew start playing music. My mother is playing an old Peter, Paul and Mary tune, "Today." I recall some of the lyrics. It's a sweet, sentimental ballad - the kind that was popular in the '60's. I'm suddenly feeling all emotional and nostalgic. My nephew, Anthony, follows my mother's piano lead with the guitar. The atmosphere in the room is one of close family. I wonder how often other families miss out on stuff like this.

Then my mother asks me to sing. She plays "As Time Goes By." It takes me a second or two to find the key, but I love this song and I sing as she plays. My son Stephen has the camcorder out. He hams it up and records us, taking a break every now and then to record his tonsils.

Tomorrow's the big day. I've given up sleeping with Dan. I invade my mother's space and share her sleeper sofa at night. We both sleep like the dead.

(To be continued...)
posted by Melanie O. at 9:18 PM - 0 comments
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
The reunion, part 2
After the initial sleepless night, the household was thrown into a frenzy. When you have eight people under the same roof, the day seems to revolve around food. What are we having for breakfast? Who's doing the cooking? Who's cleaning up? Who's buying groceries? And as soon as breakfast is over, you have to start foraging for lunch. I pity our ancestors. At least we can go to the grocery store. They had to forage and hunt for everything.

Upon news of our arrival, two of my other sons wanted to come to the house. Soon, there were five cousins loudly playing DVDs, music, and jockeying for PC time. My oldest son, Chris, is big into conspiracy theories and in another life, would have been an anti-Vietnam war activist. He's a vegetarian and has adopted many of the principles of Buddhism. He's actually a really cool guy and I love spending time with him.

The other son, Stephen, is a bit of a lost soul. He's been truly unable to stand on his own two feet since hitting adulthood. It's been one incident after another. He's totally dependent on his girlfriend's family for the roof over his head. He admits to being The Class Clown and has a way of making me laugh. He's endearing - no wonder his girlfriend wants to take care of him.

To see the cousins together is really strange. My nephews are average height and stocky. My sons are tall and lanky. To think they all came from a similar gene pool just shows me how fickle Mother Nature is. But then, there's my sister and me. We're no more alike than Ellen DeGeneres is to Julia Louis-Dreyfus. If you watched our family for a while, it would be like watching a sitcom. My family is much more entertaining, however.

With all of those people in the house, Dan and I were still sleeping in my mother's bed. I never realised before how little sleep I could get away with and still be able to function. Must have been all of those pistachios I snacked on, that helped. That, and the noise.

(To be continued...)
posted by Melanie O. at 8:11 PM - 0 comments
The reunion, part I
Thirty-two hours in airport terminals and on a plane. We finally arrived in New York and had to track down our limo driver. The flight from LA to JFK was delayed by over five hours due to inclement weather. We were supposed to arrive at 5:30pm. We arrived at 11 pm in a downpour.

Our limo driver, Joseph, was a nice guy and chatted with us as we were driven from New York to Connecticut. He'd brought us a gourmet sub and some softdrinks to have in the car. Somehow, I mindlessly nibbled a bit of that sub. Had I actually been coherent, I probably would have enjoyed it. What I wanted was sleep.

Dan was chipper, though. The long limo ride gave him an opportunity to chat for a couple of hours after spending an eternity in the air watching re-runs of Myth Busters. I can't remember what they chatted about - some politics, some travel stories, food ... my brain barely registered their conversation. The leather seats were so nice and soft... I desperately fought to stay awake.

After an hour and a half on the road, we arrived at my mother's place. She answered the knock on her door in her robe. She was sleeping downstairs on her sofa bed and had vacated her bedroom so that we could sleep in her bed. I couldn't wait to climb in.

First, I had to say hello to everyone else in the household: my sister and brother-in-law, my nephews, and my son Andy - the one who has severe Bipolar disease.
When I saw him, I wanted to cry. He was anorexic. Unshaven. He looked like a homeless guy, even though he'd been living with my mother. But ten years of psychiatrists and therapy hasn't helped. Later that night, I did cry.

And then I climbed into bed, looking forward to a nice long sleep. My mother's bed has a very soft mattress. My husband is very big and weighs twice what I do. I spent the night fighting to keep from rolling into him. Eventually, I gave up and spent the night in the small of his back. I don't remember what I dreamed about that night, but I do remember fretting about Andy most of the night. When you're a mom, you just don't get a full night's sleep very often.

(to be continued....)
posted by Melanie O. at 7:52 PM - 0 comments

About Me
Name: Melanie O.
Home: Durham, North Carolina, United States
About Me: Female, American health and beauty-conscious professional who has rekindled a childhood love of dolls.
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