March 31, 2005


While it is true that there's no place like home, particularly for someone so geographically tethered as I am, it is equally true that there's no place like hotel. For one thing, the maid service is better. Room service is a boon that supersedes phoning in for take-out. A concierge can fix any mundane problem you may encounter or arrange any tour you would like.

If not the concierge, the travel agency will make sure that you get the spa treatments you want, at the time you want them. (One caveat: my masseur in NYC is much better than almost any hotel masseuse/uer than I have ever found, with the exception of one I got serendipitously from of the phone book in Port Townshead, Washington.)

I am slowing working my way back into a daily routine at home: awaken between 10:30 am and 12: 30 pm. Take morning pills. Feed breakfast pellets to the Off-White Rabbit. Add hay to Off-White Rabbit's pan after picking out his poop. I used to say, I am a very good friend, but I don't pooper-scoop or change diapers. Times change -- albeit a diaper, a baby, a changing table, and my services are not a scene I foresee. Almost all of my friends have had their children, and I have had little upper body strength plus orthopedic hand problems for too many years to count.

Heat water for tea while checking e-mail. After tea, consult daily list of things-to-do. Decide what I can manage for today, and what can wait until tomorrow. Attempt to find some nutritional sustenance. This is optional for me, mandatory for the off-white Rabbit. He eats three balanced meals a day, more than I can say for myself. Then again, his are catered to his cage, and mine require a bit more effort.

Answer the phone, unless both lines are ringing frequently enough that I am bouncing between the two. Having two land lines and one cell phone does not mean I am always in a mood to talk.

Watch an hour of Judging Amy or ER, time and content dependent. Then, turn on CNBC for the business news I need to give me background for my three-hour workday. Since I work at home, three hours here, alone, more than equals eight hours a day in an office. I have time-tested this comparison. Plus, I think the 40-hour work week is overrated and unnecessary.

Sometimes, afternoons are good for calling clients and colleagues: three hours to my colleague and friend Heather today. If the weather is good, I run errands in the neighborhood. I consider getting out of my apartment a major achievement some days.

Five o'clock or so is naptime: an hour and a half blissfully resting, even after my regular 9 to 10 hours a night of sleep. This is mandatory if I have had to take too many migraine pills. Otherwise, it's a nice respite.

Somewhere in the day, I wash my hair (weather dependent.) If I'm going out and it's below 50 degrees, I'll wait until I'm in for the day. Otherwise, I can let it dry on its own. As a fan of wash-and-wear hair, I am not well acquainted with the blowdryer or styling techniques. I leave that to the professionals.

Wake up too early, and I am curiously jet lagged, unable to contemplate what to do with the extra morning hours. Wake up too late, and I have an impetus to get something accomplished. Any part of my routine is subject to derail, depending on my state of mind. Sometimes the meds achieve their goal, but sometimes not.

I have learned not to wonder why I feel depressed: I asked that question for close to 20 years, and never received an answer that made sense. I would rather, at this point, just take more meds and wait for the mood to pass. I feel the same way about migraine: it is truly a waste of time to try to discern why, after 25 plus years. Just make me feel better is my motto.

I am not going to wax poetic on either topic, because only so much time can be devoted to analysis before discovering that the why is not worth the effort. These synaptic lapses are hard-wired in my brain. I have great empathy with mommies who suffer from post-partum depression, but on the other hand, welcome to my world. Don't post-partum feelings give a mom a sense of the battle I have fought since I was a child, when I don't have a finite end in sight? Not until one of my friends had post-partum could she see the world through my eyes.

The exercise-is-a-cure all line of reasoning is one trial and error or omission has proven incorrect. I spent too many years crying into my swimming goggles to accept that.

What else, in my daily routine. A brief bout of nostalgia, for what never was or what could have been, especially with TCP or CC. Prayers for my dying friends. Dinner. Always dinner. Regardless of any previous food consumption, I make sure dinner is balanced, or some semblance thereof.

The other night, I dreamt I gave TCP back his mallet. It seemed significant, but in the most blatant of ways: I'm not trying to change him, or us (when there was an "us"), but have acknowledged he has his playing field and I have my own, and they are no longer adjacent.

Then, perhaps some reading or writing or blogging or telephoning, and later, my evening meds, followed by Bunny's nighttime snack. This is when the off-white rabbit likes to shake free of his cage, hop around the living room, plant himself at my feet to cuddle. He is a nine-year-old, unneutered male. He will hump anything he can -- my socks or nightgown, or the stuffed animals I provide for him.

Eventually I retire to bed with a book or the TV on. Next day? Same shit, different day.

March 29, 2005

Into Africa and out again, Part II


On the Okavango Delta, it is not yet dawn at our safari camp in the Moremi Wildlife Reserve, yet someone is knocking on our tent's door, holding a tray of tea and coffee, so we can semi-awaken in our tent before dressing in our special safari clothes and heading up to breakfast. (The first morning, my companion and I sleep through the knock. We are New Yorkers, and it takes a lot more than a polite knock to disturb our sleep.)

Tent is a misnomer: while made in part at least of canvas, it has a full bathroom, with a separate stall shower and double sinks. We have electricity close to 24/7; when the generator is off, our bedside lamps operate on battery power. The pillows are down-filled.

It is a curious wilderness experience, one tempered by Western amenities and a large staff, including our own private guide/chauffeur to help us spot game on our morning and afternoon drives through the Reserve.

I didn't know about the bedside lamps the first night, when I woke up and needed to find the bathroom. It was pitch black. The overcast sky made it impossible to see much-needed moonlight. First, I couldn't find the opening in the bed's mosquito netting, so I lifted a piece to get free of it. Then I stumbled all over the tent, uncertain of my bearings. Where was the front? Fifteen minutes later, I found the bathroom. It took less time to return to bed as I groped my way back. For me, the wilderness began with the tent.

Morning game drives run from 6:30 am to 10: 30 am. 11 am brings brunch -- a buffet with enough variety for the carinvores, the vegetarians, and even the vegans among us. We are, all told, 16 guests. I eat two omelettes, go back for cereal with yogurt and fruit. It's not as if I do anything more than take pictures during the drive, but I am famished, and exhausted.

It is almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the heat is so strong no one speaks of it.

At 4 pm, we have high tea, then three more hours in the savannah, followed by 8 pm dinner. It turns out I can consume amazing quantities of food, considering my exercise consists of pushing the shutter button on my camera for 7 hours a day.

The name of the game is, well, spot that game. Here, the middle-aged farsighted have a great advantage, for I am myopic and astigmatic.

For the most part, people are interesting, entertaining, and exceedingly well traveled. With the exception of Antarctica, someone has been to any spot you can designate. This is one hell of a group to play "geography" with.

You don't get to Botswana without doing China and Japan at minimum first. I have yet to see Southeast Asia or Patagonia, but I get bonus points for the obscurity of my trips to New Zealand and the Galapagos Islands.

These are serious travelers, mostly American, all well-heeled, mostly in their 50s and 60s, with the exception of one honeymooning couple, investment bankers based in Hong Kong, with whom I have as little in common as I would their counterparts here. The bride sounds dumbfounded as I explain the concept of my book club to her. It's not exactly quantum physics: several of us, my companion and I included, meet once a month to discuss a book and eat copious amounts of hors d'ouevres and dessert.

The only one who irritates me is the teacher who wants to write a book about termite societies, and it is to her that I can't resist pointing out the advantage the farsighted (herself included) have in spotting game. They all need reading glasses, while I do not, at least for the moment.

Hippos play in the Khwai River, less than 90 feet from our dining table. All the animals are astounding. The bush is vast, flat, an unforgiving open plain. It belongs to the animals, and we are simply visitors passing by. I see herds of impala -- one of 16 types of antelope, I learn. There are giraffes and elephants everywhere.

The zebra family is called Burchell's Zebra, and there are multitudes. I am entranced by animals I didn't know existed: the Blue Wildebeest, the Tsessebe, the Kudu, Waterbuck, and Red Lechwe. I tick them off in my game book under "mammals."

There are also pages for birds, creepers, amphibians, reptiles, fish, trees, common grasses, and aquatic plants -- our guides can identify far more flora and fauna than I can process.

After two days, we hop a baby Cessna to the second safari camp, the Savute Elephant Camp in Chobe National Park. There are fewer of us, and guides who tell us the rules say they must stay on the roads, but this is honored only in the breach, we find. I spend a lot of time ducking branches.

Elephants spray muddy water over one another to moisturize themselves outside the dining room. The elephant hides are the smoky gray color of the dead leadwood trees whose bark they have eaten. They are, I learn, vegetarians, and they are right- or left-tusked, just as we are handed.

Not so the cheetah we saw gnawing a dead impala. I don't know what the warthog eats. The spotted hyena will take the cheetahs' leavings. During our meals, we have to make sure the baboons don't swoop down to take a bite. This is a different great outdoors than the one I refer to in the U.S. when I am outside the city and calling myself the fresh-air-fund kid. This is an outdoors like no other.

Four days in the bush is about right for my companion and me. We have seen the wildlife, heard it roar, and checked it off in our game books. We have watched the African sunset over the entire horizon, been awake for the African dawn, seen the unfamiliar night sky, stars popping in constellations found only in the southern hemisphere, the moon halogen-white bright, and we are in awe.

March 26, 2005

Into Africa and out again, Part I

South Africa

I am traveling in a style to which I could easily become accustomed, in a land best known to me for its formerly egregious laws, i.e., the politics and policies of apartheid. Officially, those policies exist no more, and the country has had ten years of "reconciliation."

High bidder on a five-star trip from a dot com site, I have become Eloise at the Plaza in a matter of minutes. In our hotel, we sip afternoon tea, tuck into smoked salmon sandwiches, take our scones with clotted cream and raspberry jam. Porters carry everything including my pocketbook to our room. We ring for housekeeping, have the beds rearranged. I phone reception for a wake-up call, ask the concierge about a massage, arrange private chauffeured tours of Table Mountain, the Cape Peninsula, the winelands. I am surprised only that the maids have not unpacked for us.

This is not the Africa of the wild, nor is it the Africa of its indigenous people. It is the Africa of the British colonists, circa 1900. We are cosseted and coddled: our nightgowns are laid out for us at evening turndown. This is how I traveled as a child, when service had great formality and grace, before the age of do-it-yourself wheeling suitcases, at a time when my aunt packed steamer trunks to winter in the Arizona desert, and my family summered for a full month in the Adirondacks.

My companion, my friend from book club, is in her late 70s and has traveled the world. She is the only person I know whom I could ask, "do you want to go to Africa?" on a Thursday, and have her rearrange her plans to make the trip possible by the following morning. When I grow up, I hope to be as energetic, inspiring, wickedly funny, and consistently curious as she is. I aspire to her joie de vivre.

She notes that South African hotels seems unable to fathom two women traveling together as friends. We are seen as mother and daughter, which makes us laugh, for neither of us has ever married, much less reproduced. We have to request, again, separate beds.

I would bet my last five Rand that this country is no less racist, classist, or sexist than the one I come from. It has simply acknowledged more plainly -- and more violently -- what the American dream refuses to admit: some of us are more privileged than others, and many will not have the chance to trade up the way the dream would have us believe. (Emma at War on Error is having a brilliant discussion on class in America.)

I am mindful of that, mindful of where I fit on the socioeconomic scale and how little of it is of my own making. Much of it is genetic roulette -- yes, I come from a line of rich matriarchs, but that line also has enough synaptic lapses and medical predispositions to make me say, I would have done without the "privilege" if I could have skipped the addictive family history, the migraines, the veins of major clinical depression that have punctuated my life.

The truth is, we are not identical, and for numerous reasons, some of us have more and some have less. I have a strong mind and better sense of the ironies of my life than does someone who has less time or money to strengthen native intelligence with education or analyze the world as it crosses her path. I'm also old enough not to apologize for what I have been given, but simply to be grateful to have it.

I digress: into Africa is how I began this entry and it is South Africa I wish to describe, both city and country. The light is different here, so close to the southernmost point of this continent. It seems kinder here, less harsh than the sun I am used to. The sky, even in the city, is clearer. I see more stars in one night than I will in the proverbial month of Sundays in New York.

South African poverty doesn't faze me: there is none more stark than in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, which I visited annually for close to 20 years when my father was alive. Port-au-Prince makes South African townships look positively prosperous by comparison.

Judging by the townships' depiction in Johannesburg's Apartheid Museum, we see there that the typical shanty may not have running water, but it does have television, and hence, electricity. It is on the grid in a way coup-stricken Haitian villages have not, in my years of visiting or since, ever had a chance to be.

In Cape Town, houses in the Muslim district are painted bright shades of purple, pink, and yellow. They appear to have no lawns. In the Jewish district -- so deemed by our guide -- the houses are large, hidden behind concrete walls, topped off by barbed-wire or electric fencing. ADT, the home security company, does big business here. The same description goes for similar properties in Johannesburg.

Everyone is cut off from one another. There is no neighborhood watch here; it is every family for itself. No one takes a chance on exposure to the violence of economic inequities, disparities that seem far greater and potentially threatening than in the U.S.

We don't ask why the residential areas are designated by their predominant religion, or where the Christians are hiding. We are on a private tour, and it seems impertinent to inquire. Apparently, in Cape Town and Johannesburg, Jews inhabit the better neighborhoods, at least according to our guides. Our guides/chauffeurs know us to be white, but don't necessarily perceive me to be as Jewish.

My friend was raised Catholic. She and I speak in French when we don't want the guides to understand us. (In Johannesburg, word traveled fast that we preferred to tour the entire city vs. Soweto alone.)

We are shown government-built upgraded homes for the poor, replacing the shantytowns of apartheid. South Africa may be a democracy, but that doesn't make it a safe place to live, particularly not in the major cities or the "better" suburbs. It makes New York look as secure and controlled as Disneyland.

From Cape Point, I am nearly at the more familiar Cape Horn, where the Atlantic and Indian oceans cross. I can almost see the end of the earth. The vegetation looks different. I can't describe the trees by name, but then again, in my own city I scarcely see trees, hardly know deciduous from evergreen. We drive past ostrich farms, pass various architectural styles from the English, Dutch, and Mediterranean, all ablaze in the African sun.

In the Cape winelands, we sample various vintages, grapes with which we are unfamiliar like pinotage and ones I know better, like shiraz. My companion knows her wine well, from Australian to Chilean, Californian, French, and beyond. She has the vocabulary of a connoisseur. We stop at a winery/goat farm, where the house brand is Goats do Roam, and the cheese complements it. Another winery where we lunch, at Chaminoux, is French-inspired.

Through the centuries many European countries have sent people to this country, either to gain economic privilege or be banned from the European country that would not grant religious freedom. This includes a mix of the Portuguese and Spanish to the Dutch, French Huegenots, German Jews, and the English. Peace is a new notion here, as nationalities have clashed for centuries, mostly over economics and less over religion, with racial tensions filtered throughout.

We walk through the university town of Stellenbosch, where, ironically, we can't find a bookstore, but we can find our share of art galleries, grand estates, and vineyards. This is small-town, South Africa style. It is the first place where all the entrances haven't been made into fortresses. I am reminded of Adrienne Rich: "The door itself/Makes no promises./ It is only a door."

March 13, 2005

Alice wanders

First to London -- twice as expensive as my home, courtesy of the weakened, barely breathing dollar-- where the newspapers are trying to blame my college classmate (the woman who caused the home secretary, fascist that he was, to resign) for future terrorist acts.

How anyone could have been so seduced by that woman to neglect a job so thoroughly is beyond me, but, hey, I'm American, and there may be an explanation for the British, but I've lost the one I used to have, thirty years ago when I first came here. And it looks like he may be making a political comeback.

Reports here have it that my classmate's second child is of mixed-race parentage, and it has been confirmed that the minister is the biological father of her first child. If I were her, I'd be shopping for a new continent. I still don't understand why husband #2, putative father of both children, considers them a family.

Tonight, I'm off to South Africa (a country whose apartheid policies I used to protest) and then Botswana, on safari. I expect not to blog, hope not to touch a computer, hope not to be dinner for the wild kingdom. (Where is Marlin Perkins when you need him?)

Return is scheduled for two weeks hence.


March 07, 2005

INTERVENTION, brought to you by "Hostage"

INTERVENTION is A&E's new offering in "reality" TV. Hostage is a movie that advertised during last night's episode. You can't make this stuff up.

One of the other advertisers was "Parents: the anti-drug," a group that humors me and pisses me off to no end, because if you're drinking or whatever and hiding it from your kids, when they find out, they'll only want to do it all the more. If you're completely clean and sober, well, kids like to rebel against whatever's available. If you're the addict and the legal parent, your child probably has done more than her share of nurturing you than the reverse.

When Intervention's two featured white, well-off addicts (one, a 30something-year-old male mortgage banker to coke; the other, a 28ish female, apparently including a White House internship among her accomplishments, to opiates, including her dying father's morphine pills), each agree, almost docilely and gratefully, to go into rehab, what they are doing is hitting bottom in the reality-show 15-minutes-of-fame spin cycle.

Here's the part that confuses me: These are not stupid people. Presumably, they were of sound mind when they have signed legal waivers to allow the whole process -- glimpses at drug spiral down, parents and friends bemoaning the addict's condition while watching it progress in fast motion -- and then, the "intervention," to be filmed. Of course, being of sound mind and being on major drugs seem impossible as simultaneously existing conditions, but who am I to notice? If this is reality, please pass the drugs.

I have never known an "intervention" to work, except on ER, and that is a fictional drama. I have always known addicts who were very crafty and manipulative and managed to get themselves released from treatment centers before the 28 days of insurance plus 5 days of detox ran out. Or people like The Croquet Player, who gave up his precious Budweiser (after decades of brand loyalty) in favor of vodka in mineral-water bottles for those occasions when he need appear publically.

These addicts on TV most definitely have wealthy families. Both agree to 90-day rehabs. Wanna talk about being held hostage? Who's footing the bill? On what planet were their friends and family able to live in such great denial? Has there been no progress in the war-against-drugs in the last 20 years? I'm not offering Nancy Reagan up for more than a snicker, but wasn't just-say-no a big deal in 1980s PSAs?

A.A. began in 1935 -- two years after the raging success that was Prohibition was repealed. Hazelton opened in 1949. Betty Ford opened in 1982, and the word (as well as the official number of drug treatment/rehab programs) spread from there.

Twenty years ago I visited family and friends in rehab. Twenty-five years ago, I knew alcoholics (and addicts) my own age. Thirty years ago, I drank like one -- at the age of 14. By the time I was legal, at 18, I couldn't drink any longer because I got migraine headaches within an hour of ingesting even the finest of wines.

Would friends and family have kept their distance and their denial if, say, the subject had been mental illness? That seems to be the last frontier in reality TV, inasmuch as I can judge from the commercials. (I haven't seen more than five minutes of any of the "reality" prime time programs in however many years they have been running. The news is another story. Let's just say reality is in the eye of the spinmeister.)

I'm waiting for next week's reality show, Committed.

The theme music for Intervention previews was the Barenaked Ladies' "What a Good Boy." I Googled the lyrics to find the band, which I had heard of but could not identify in a lineup. The lyrics puzzle me:

"When I was born, they looked at me and said,
'What a good boy, what a smart boy, what a strong boy.'
And when you were born, they looked at you and said,
'What a good girl, what a smart girl, what a pretty girl.....

"I wake up scared, I wake up strange.
I wake up wondering if anything in my life is ever going to change.
I wake up scared, I wake up strange
and everything around me stays the same.....

"This song is the cross that I bear,
bear it with me, bear with me, bear with me, be with me tonight,
I know that it isn't right, but be with me tonight."

There used to be a saying, "nobody wants to grow up to be a junkie." These days, you can be just an ordinary girl from upper-middle-class America and smoke and snort your way to some variation on fame and stardom. In the old days, you had to have some talent to make your name hit the papers when you OD'd in a hotel room or zipped into rehab.

So, tell me: does the saying still apply? Or is a stint in rehab a job requirement?

March 04, 2005

Happy Birthday, teenage Jamie

Last month, James, the son of a former college friend, turned 14. I know his age because he was born within three weeks of my father's death, and I had to take notes, just so that I would remember/believe the story of his birth.

Yes, he was close to 10 weeks premature. His mother, however, was 5 1/2 months along before she realized, at age 28, that she was pregnant, and it wasn't exactly the virgin birth. What I have never understood is, she managed a wait-loss clinic throughout her pregnancy. What part of thickening waistline did she fail to notice? Or other symptoms?

She rehearsed telling her parents, "Mom, Dad, you're going to be grandparents." By the time they returned to the New England state where they resided from the Southern state where they wintered, the statement had to be updated: "Mom, Dad, you have a grandson."

I called Tiffany's and ordered an engraved spoon.

At the drugstore, after Jamie was out of the NICU, a potential customer asked the pharmacist how effective the contraceptive sponge was. My friend, Jamie in her arms, said, "this is what happened the last time I used it." Druggist lost that sale on the spot.

During Jamie's first year, many of my friend's single friends deserted her, she said. They couldn't understand her choosing single motherhood. I didn't try. I just said, I'm here when you need me. And the name of the father/sperm donor is is none of my business, unless you elect to make it so.

In the next ten years, she dropped enough hints that I could figure out who the father was, but I never let on. I looked him up, but never mentioned that I had. He wasn't memorable enough to stick in my brain, and she seemed to have forgotten any conversation on the subject with me.

Meanwhile, shortly after Jamie was born, my friend continued corresponding with a military man she had met on a long airplane ride. Next thing I knew, friendship had turned to love, or some variation on that theme, and she was getting married. To the military. I am a pacifist, but I didn't say a word. Her husband had the presence of mind to know he had signed on to a job to protect Constitutional rights that did not apply to him in that situation. I appreciated his recognizing the irony.

For the record, she is Roman Catholic. Also for the record, I hate weddings, particularly ones where there will be 250 in attendance and the only person I will know will be the bride, in a snowy, wintry, blustery New England town. I would have had to rely on public transit alone, and keep her secrets to myself throughout the festivities.

I called Tiffany's. I sent four champagne goblets. Why should her parents have spent cash on a catered dinner I didn't want to eat, at an event where I would have been an afterthought, if that?

Her new husband adopted Jamie. The couple had two biological daughters of their own. It was obvious to anyone that Daddy adored his little princesses far more than his son.

Baby presents of an appropriate nature were sent on each occasion. Welcome to the world, daughter(s) of my friend.

The last time I saw my friend, her son was 11. Months later I found out that my behavior during my stay was not above reproach: I slept too late, and the kids wanted to know why. I never found out why their mother couldn't simply say, Aunt Alice is an adult. She lives her life differently (as I had since I met their mother, when we were each about 20).

During my final visit, I sipped my friend's wine before she touched it. We were seated at a child-friendly restaurant dinner, where I was taking the family so my friend wouldn't have to cook. (I preferred sipping her wine without asking, to having her children ask, Aunt Alice, what is that blue pill you're taking? Did she want me to explain Xanax to preteens?)

It was absurd of her to put her childrens' words in her mouth. They liked me. I taught her daughters to swim. I went berry picking with her son and listened to hours of his Jurassic Park monologue. I wanted to play video games with him, but he was prohibited due to unsatisfactory behavior toward his mom.

I am a far cry from a suburban mother or housewife. As I've noted previously, I barely drive. I never leave a supermarket with more food than I can carry. My rabbit is better nourished and eats more frequently than do I. As for discussing my sex life or romantic choices with anyone's children, I have sufficient sense to avoid the subject.

(When Jamie was 6, his mother pointed out my college boyfriend, known here as The Croquet Player, on TV, and told him he was Aunt Alice's boyfriend. Why weren't we married? he wanted to know. I asked if she replied, that was was an essay question, best answered when he had grown up, if then. He could ask TCP, if he needed further explanation.)

According to my etiquette Gallop poll, I erred primarily in having a private conversation with my friend, asking when she and her husband had decided the appropriate age was to tell Jamie the facts of life, inclusive of his biological father. Jamie, after all, is good at math. And he was featured in the wedding photos.

Silly me. My friend had been talking to me for years about finding the right time. Childless me, I had no idea she was asking rhetorically. When is the right time to find out Daddy isn't genetically related to you and hence doesn't behave as lovingly toward you as he does to your sisters?

My friend cut off contact with me two or three years ago. For a few months, I was worried sick that something dreadful had happened to her, or her children, or her husband. After I finally reached her brother, who said all was well (more than I could get out of her mother), I received a nasty email from her.

I did not reply, for I would have said, I wish I'd known better than to waste my time and emotional energy on you and the children, not to mention presents every Christmas, phone calls every birthday, semi-annual visits, and chatty phone visits with your mother.

Had I been Catholic, or remotely Christian, I would have been her younger daughter's godmother. I was rejected then on the grounds that I was Jewish, and it made no difference to her parish priest that I was better versed in Catholicism than in my own religion. Her elder daugher's godmother had ceased receiving the family Christmas photo calendars long before I'd been cut from the list.

Thank me for caring? I think not. I hope her marriage is on track: it seemed to have derailed when I last saw her. I hope she has learned to manage her weight, to keep the floor of her house from being a toy-strewn lawsuit waiting to happen, and that her children have learned to behave (preferably in a pro-feminist manner alienating their Barbie-loving mother). I also hope her husband has learned to pull his weight around the house.

She chose to be a stay-at-home mother, and I can't say it seems to have benefited either grown-up brain cells or her children. ("I'm teaching my kids to have table manners suitable for the White House," she said.)

I refrained from pointing out that the man holding sway at the White House was a Republican better known for drinking and drugging than for his table manners or gift for protocol. That would have been way, way, way too easy.

You know what? I miss Jamie. I wonder if he remembers me. In any case, happy belated birthday, sweetheart.

Love, Aunt Alice.