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Dog Daze

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul finds something missing on his return from Mexico—Frida!

Escaping the heat, Frida settles in the library at her Woodstock estate

Ay caramba!  Several things were seriously out of whack last night when Chef and I returned from his 40th birthday celebration in Mexico.  You know something’s wrong when a plane full of South of the Border citizens gasps upon hearing the arrival temperature of 100 degrees.  The ghastly remnants of our garden looked like an early sketch for Tim Burton’s next movie.  Our brownstone’s lights were mysteriously dark courtesy of a blown master fuse.  And to top it all off, there was no pitter-patter of little feet accompanied by a wagging tail and sloppy wet kisses to greet us.  No, Frida had decided to stay at her country estate in Woodstock to beat the dog days of summer.

You’d think being from Texas that I would be accustomed to prolonged periods of heat.  But there, everything is over air-conditioned—the most you’d suffer was the walk to your car from the icy entrails of Dallas’ NorthPark Mall (unless of course you valet parked).  But Big Apple heat is another beast entirely requiring odd clothing combinations like a tank top when leaving the house, paired with a summer sweater for the possibly meat locker cold subway ride, finished with a cotton button down left at the office for any last minute meetings.

Loews' winning dog gets Scooby BBQ Sliders!

This morning I am running around the house getting it ready for Frida’s return.  Susan says she’s like a matron from days gone by returning to her city penthouse from her country manor.  No doubt, that dog has quite the life, enjoying her summer.  In celebration of pampered pooches like Frida, my friends over at Loews Hotels are running a “Dog Days of Summer” photo contest—upload of a photo of your dog enjoying summer and you could win a 3-night package at any Loews Hotel in US and Canada that includes a special room service meal of “Scooby BBQ Sliders.”  Even if you don’t have a photo to enter by July 11, you can vote on your favorites beginning July 12.  The entries are worth a look—if at least to distract you from the heat.

Speaking of distractions, back to work.  Mistress Frida arrives soon and the house is a mess.  Hay dios mio.

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House Guest

Reflecting on the view in Woodstock

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul ponders the future while overcoming his nervous houseguest habits to celebrate Angela’s 40th birthday.  Filmed on-location in Woodstock.

If there’s one thing I know about the “summering” season between Memorial and Labor Day is that I make one nervous houseguest.  While other couples are excited at the chance to experience someone else’s vacation home, for me a long weekend away at friends’ getaways on Fire Island or in Sullivan County is fraught with complications.  I become frantically nervous about my quirks imposing themselves on anyone other than Chef, who is supposed to love me for them.  It never fails that I rise at the crack of dawn and, no matter how hard I try, make a ridiculous racket rooting through the kitchen for coffee filters.  Each creaking cabinet door is a reminder of failed attempts to enter caffeine rehab.  Thankfully, I’ve learned to calm my fear of not having enough snacks to satiate my metabolism by arriving with a culinary hostess gift: a jar of peanut butter.  Just don’t ask me to share.

None of that should have deterred me from coming to Angela and Jim’s home in Woodstock.  After all, Angela and I have lived together for nearly 15 years, and known each other for 20+.  But I kept coming up with excuses about a hectic schedule and Amtrak’s antiquated rules regarding doggie travel to stave off a visit for months.  But Angela recently turned 40, and on Alphabet City, that’s cause for a special episode—so I knew that I needed to rise to the occasion.

All my New York City life I’ve claimed that I’m a weekend beach person—that I need the waves in order to relax.  But after a few days in Ulster County, and I now understand the allure of upstate country life.  First off, the view from Angela and Jim’s home from Overlook Mountain across the rolling green hills is a lazy reminder that the Empire State is more than commuting traffic and hectic schedules.  We filled our days with trips to area green markets where Chef’s face came alive at the thought of poaching delicate wild turkey eggs.  When my Kindle went on the fritz suddenly, I soothed myself at the delightful prospect of popping into Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck to pick up a biography of personal hero Molly Ivins.  Certainly can’t do any of that in The Pines or Cherry Grove.  Later, we played a rousing and increasingly drunken game of Bocce with new friends.

By night, Chef went to work preparing a special meal in honor of Angela’s momentous birthday.  We paired the delicate shitake ravioli and bok choy with a Rioja from 1989—the year Angela and I first met.  The melt-in-your-mouth grass-fed, organic rib eye from the famous Fleisher’s was paired with a Margaux from 1997—the year Angela and I scored keys to the Alphabet City apartment set.  My own contribution was a dessert I named “Ploughman’s Strawberry Shortcake” made from slices of rhubarb pound cake, lemon curd, fresh strawberries and cream.

I watched the preparation of these delicacies unfold from the balcony, looking back into the kitchen through the plate glass windows.  With the vantage point of a Woody Allen cinematographer, I reflected on the roads that Angela and I had traveled as friends, as chosen family members.  It began to dawn on me that part of why I had stayed away from this lovely setting was partly a sense that her new home would change our relationship.  That perhaps it would take her away from me.  All of my adult life Angela has been by my side for the many ups and downs, and maybe I thought this house represented a new life for her without me.

But standing there in the gentle breeze, my slight jealousy for the house turned to proud warmth for my friend, my sister-by-choice—she had worked hard and found something that made her supremely happy.  She had a real home, was building a comfortable nest with her loving partner, and it was exciting to watch.  And then it hit me—that sense of pride is how you’re supposed to feel about your family.  It took me awhile to take in and appreciate the spectacular views of life from Angela and Jim’s new home, but I suppose we all move at the right pace when we are ready.

The next morning, Angela and I rose in tandem at the first light and shared coffee together on the balcony.  We sipped our java, staring at the horizon, pondering the future together.  She listened to my dreams about being a writer, and offered to let me stay the house to work any time.  I encouraged her to turn her couture pillow making talents into a business, using my marketing skills to come up with a clever brand name, then claiming the domain name as a gift.  It was just like old times.  Things weren’t all that different—we were both happier, calmer, content at these new crossroads in our lives.

Who knows, maybe I’m not such a bad houseguest after all.  Already I feel like the view is inspiring me to start on the sequel to Alphabet City.

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