Jennifer LaRue

I write it as I see it.

For years now I’ve posed a question to new acquaintances who I hope will become friends: If you had a choice, would you prefer to have a steady, stable life without a lot of major downs — but without the corresponding ups? Or would you rather ride a wild roller-coaster, experiencing plenty of downward spirals and deep lows that are balanced by exhilarating highs?

I’d estimate that 90 percent of the people I ask go for the smooth and steady ride.

But I have always maintained that I crave, thrive on, and embrace the roller-coaster ride. Maybe it’s the writer in me, but I find inspiration and excitement in the ups and downs, and the other, admittedly calmer and probably more healthful, way strikes me as mundane and boring. And, for better or worse, I tend to be attracted to others, men in particular, who want a good roller-coaster ride out of life.

I have to admit, though, that my life during the past five years has been like a roller-coaster ride gone awry, with no attendants, no seat belts — and, for the most part, nobody to share the ride with. So I’ve spent some time lately rethinking my stance. Might I be in a different, perhaps better, place today had I settled for the merry-go-round, or even maybe the bumper cars?

To recap (with my apologies to those of you who have been by my side every step of the way and might well be exhausted by following my journey), the past five years for me have entailed:

  • deciding to leave my 30-year marriage
  • actually getting divorced
  • moving from our family home to a little condo in Hartford
  • starting a new job, and shifting positions there every few years until I now find myself running virtual programs — something I never could have imagined when I got my M.A. in English lo those many years ago. Guess what? I LOVE it!!! Who knew?
  • dating like a crazy woman before entering a volatile, challenging, and ultimately damaging live-in relationship, which ended a couple of years ago but somehow keeps lingering on in unhappy ways
  • managing my multiple sclerosis, with which I was diagnosed almost 20 years ago
  • getting a handle on and taking serious charge of my finances, which five years ago were in a shambles
  • being diagnosed with breast cancer and choosing to have a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction
  • and, now, like everyone else, coping with COVID-19

You’d think I’d want to take a break, right?

And, in some ways, yes, I’d like to settle down. For starters, I really would love to find a loving, caring partner with whom to share my life. But not just anyone; I need and want someone who is smart, talented, creative, funny, sexy, supportive, respectful, and just as passionate and engaged in life as I am.

I’d also like to find a more stable rhythm/balance between work, my writing, my family and friends, my yoga, and my day-to-day chores and obligations.

Those are things to work toward, for sure.

But even when I find that stability and security, I won’t be ready to tame things down. My spirit remains curious, inquisitive, and adventuresome, and I can’t bear the idea of being bored. So I guess, wittingly or not, I’ll keep finding my way into crazy situations — and finding my way out of or around them, too.

How about you? Are you a merry-go-round person, or do you choose a roller-coaster ride through life?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Summer’s officially over, now that Labor Day’s behind us. Time to turn our attention to all things pumpkin-spiced, right?.

Nope. Not for me. Here in New England, we should have another week or three — and, with any luck, one or two more beyond that, even — of summerish weather.

I love every moment of summer, but I think I might love this bit most of all. Because throughout the summer, there’s pressure: Have a great Memorial Day! Have a wonderful 4th of July! Enjoy your Labor Day weekend!

But in these waning weeks of summer, as many folks’ focus shifts forward to fall, I stay in a summery frame of mind, finding things all the more pleasurable for not feeling compelled to demonstrate to anyone, including myself, that I’m have a really good time — even though I am.

I think of it as my secret summer.

It feels even more special to me this year: In many ways, we all had to reinvent our summers, and I have to say I admire the way so many of my friends, particularly those with young children and teens, stepped up to the plate and seemed to craft really awesome experiences for themselves and their families. As I look back over the pool-less, Ocean-City-less, date-less, and so-much-more-less past three months of my life, I’m struck not by sadness or regret but by the recognition that this summer’s fun and happiness ended up all the more fun and happy for my having had to use my imagination and work a little harder to make them happen.

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If COVID-19 has taught us nothing else, it’s been the value of living in the present moment. This surreal experience has delivered the most concrete and convincing evidence that living in the past is painful and futile, and living in the future is anxiety-producing and also futile. Making the most of the moment we live in, one moment at a time, is simply the only way to survive and thrive.

Still, I am acutely aware that one day soon summer, including my secret summer, will be over.

I honestly can’t bear to think about it.

So I won’t.

Stay gold, Ponyboy.

Summer is winding down, and soon, I hope, I’ll stop thinking about how much I miss the beach…. and the pool.

But I’ll still be missing New York City.

I know people who have ventured into the city in recent weeks and months. It’s very tempting: Surely I’d be safe with my mask and six-foot space in all directions, right?

But I’ve been too cautious for too long to be willing to take even the slightest risk. (Well, I’ve taken a tiny risk, here and there, but only when I was pretty damned sure there was really no risk at all, and the benefits far outweighed the worry.)

This is, admittedly, a lazy blog entry. But I’ve been dreaming of NYC lately, and it occurred to me to revisit the stories about the city that I’ve had the honor and privilege to write for The Washington Post Travel Section in recent years. Re-reading them has been a fun stroll down Memory Lane for me, and I’ve somehow regained a glimmer of hope that I, and you, will be safely able to go to Gotham again, soon.

It’s also served as a reminder of how much we take for granted — until it’s gone.

Happy reading! And let me know what your favorite places in NYC are, so maybe I can write about them one of these days!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/an-odd-kind-of-museum-experience-in-new-york-city/2015/05/21/efff87d4-f825-11e4-9030-b4732caefe81_story.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/i-love-the-brooklyn-bridge-walk-across-it-and-you-will-too/2016/01/07/978658d0-a504-11e5-b53d-972e2751f433_story.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/soaking-up-manhattans-literary-history-a-book-lovers-barhopping-guide/2018/06/28/f699e910-7647-11e8-b4b7-308400242c2e_story.html

Do you remember the WonderWorks film of Ray Bradbury’s short story All Summer in a Day? I saw it when I was 11, and I have never forgot it.

The story’s about a girl who lived on Earth before moving to Venus; whereas Earth enjoyed frequent sunshine, on Venus, it rained constantly, and the sun appeared just for one hour every seven years. If you don’t know the story, I won’t ruin it for you. But, gosh, did it hit me hard.

The concept of all summer in a day sprang to my mind many times last week. I had months ago decided to cancel my annual trip to Ocean City, Maryland, for Ocean City Jeep Week, in favor of sticking close, and hopefully more safely, to home.

I briefly considered an extended self-pity party. But as many of us have learned in the past six months or so, what doesn’t kill us can in fact make us stronger — if we make up our minds to grow stronger.

In that spirit, I aimed for a week’s worth of easy, simple day trips and other low-key, local adventures. I invested in some camping equipment, and my son gave me a camp stove, a sleeping bag, and a camp toilet as an early birthday present.

I spent a delightful day walking on a new-to-me rails-to-trails path with my long-time pal David Griffin. My daughter Sophie and I took a delightful day trip (in her super-fancy, brand-new car!) to the Berkshires, where we spent the day with our hilarious and kind-hearted friend Mallory. I visited with the delightful Peter and Janet Cummings Good, whom I’ve known for decades but only recently reconnected with. (Let me tell you: they get more lovely all the time.) And I was delighted to be invited to test out my camping gear on the lawn of the beautiful beach home of my dearest friend, Elizabeth, and her husband Paul. After a hilarious, relaxing dip in the water with Elizabeth and a delicious dinner of fried whole-belly clams, I slept in my waterfront tent and felt like the luckiest person on earth.

The next morning, I fired up the camp stove and made what might well have been the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had in my life; I sipped it while sitting in my beach chair looking at and listening to the calm and peace of Long Island Sound. Then Paul made us a huge honkin’ breakfast.

It was all, well, delightful.

Honestly, I had the best summer vacation of my life.

But here’s the thing: it wasn’t the destinations. It wasn’t the activities. It wasn’t the food or the water or the sunshine or the breeze.

What made my modest vacation feel like all summer in, well, a week?

My friends.

My wonderful, awesome, loving, supportive friends.

Next year, who knows? Maybe I’ll go to Ocean City for Jeep Week. Or maybe I’ll choose to hang out here in Connecticut, surrounded by people I love and who clearly care for me.

That sounds like a very good deal to me.

Happy September 1, everyone! We still have Labor Day weekend ahead of us. Let’s make it the best one ever!

Among my current writing projects is one I’ve been mulling for several years: I am looking, not scientifically but purely anecdotally, into the ways in which the lyrics of pop songs of my youth (the 1960s and 1970s) influenced my own understanding of romance, love, sex, and relationships.

Allow me to summarize: It ain’t pretty.

I grew up thinking love was about holding hands, walking along the sand, laughing in the sun, always having fun, doing all those things without any strings to tie me down.

I didn’t understand that all of that was code for so many other, less lovely realities. There was so much sexism, narcissism, callousness, egotism, selfishness, and lack of character built into so many of the songs I loved, and sang along to, while growing up. But I had no idea. I thought the songs spoke the truth, and I could never understand why my experience never began to match up.

This is a huge topic for me, one that I have discussed with friends (including, not long ago, a lively gang on Facebook whose response encouraged me to actually pursue this project; thank you!) and others who share my feeling that the music we grew up with didn’t do us any favors in terms of understanding relationships.

So I’m throwing it out to you: which songs colored your understanding of romance and love? Did any of them get it right? Did any of them do you damage? And what wisdom might you offer to the younger you listening to those songs in your bedroom late at night, in the car on a summer evening, or dancing with your friends at a beer-soaked party?

I warn you, though: once you start looking closely at the lyrics of your beloved songs, you might not feel the same way about them ever again.

Anyone who knows me knows I am sickeningly optimistic and cheerful and upbeat and always looking on the bright side of life.

Anyone who knows me even better knows that’s a carefully cultivated habit, devised and adhered to by one of the most worried people on earth.

Though the past five months have been trying, indeed, for me, I have awoken every day counting my blessings, focusing on gratitude, and acknowledging that no matter how lonely, scared, and unsettled I may be, I remain among the luckiest people in the world.

I made up my very own mind to cancel my plans to drive to Ocean City, Maryland, for Jeep Week this week. I chose not to take the risks associated with that journey; I am sure that people down there are nowhere near as finicky about masking and social distancing as I and my fellow Connecticut residents have been, and no matter how much I long to swim in the waves and bask on the beach, it’s not worth throwing away all these months’ worth of vigilance for one week in the sun, salt air, and sand.

I was fully prepared to spend a week at home, feeling sorry for myself.

Instead, the most magical thing has happened.

Probably through some unknowable mechanism provided by the universe, every moment of my “staycation” has felt delightful and meaningful. I’ve talked to friends, taught yoga, lounged on the hammock, read the new issue of Bon Appetit and started a silly Nicholas Sparks novel. I’ve set up my new tent in anticipation of my new camping career; I put the rear wheel back on my bike after fearing that I’d never get that right. I’ve napped with my sweet kitten, grilled a nice steak, made a martini.

And in so doing, I’ve shown myself that all those platitudes are true. Happiness happens when you make it. Joy is in the appreciation of the moment. Life is good when you decide to make it good.

I sincerely hope that everyone taking part in Ocean City Jeep Week has a terrific time. I’m there in spirit — and my Jeep and I are having some awesome adventures of our own this week. Happy late August, you!

I am flabbergasted on the daily. If anyone, stranger or friend, had told me in March that I’d be living in social isolation for months, maybe a year or more, well…. we all share THAT experience.

But if that same person had also told me that the universe would deliver unto me a beautiful black kitten whose presence would ease my pain, make me smile, give me new purpose, and otherwise make this whole thing a bit more bearable, I wouldn’t have believed it.

But here I am, sharing my life and my tiny apartment with the delightful creature variously known as Bathsheba Everdene, Jack White, Katniss, and sometimes just “Baby.” She almost literally dropped into my lap. I never planned to have her around. But, OMG, am I grateful that she’s here.

Bathsheba makes me laugh. Her physical presence is comforting. Her affection is rewarding. Her beauty is inspiring.

This afternoon I relaxed with her on my belly; she kneaded and purred and stretched her lanky legs. And I thought, as I have so many times in the months since she came to live with me, “Who knew?” A lifelong “dog person,” I just had no idea what having a cat could mean to me.

I am grateful every moment for so many things in my life, Bathsheba among them. And today, when she curled her tiny head into the crook of my elbow to take a cat nap, I (drifting off myself, to be honest) wondered, “Who knows? What else might be out there, waiting for me to discover its role in my life? What else do I not know?”

Yet.

My mother still lives in the 1963-built home in which my brother Michael and I grew up. My family was the first owner, and, so far, the only one. Though my brain knows that the day will come when that house no longer is ours, my heart can’t wrap its head around that fact. I’ve never honestly confronted the commonplace fact that houses change hands, and life goes on.

Today I was honored and delighted to spend a perfect summer evening with the lovely family that bought the house in which my (now ex-) husband and I raised our two wonderful children. The young mom of the family and I were introduced to one another by a mutual friend not long after they moved in, and we have been in touch ever since.

A week or so ago, she contacted me to ask whether I would like to have the cement blocks in which my children had impressed their names and hand-prints when they were tiny. When I said of course I would, she invited me to come over for a swim and a bonfire. So, this evening, I hopped in the top-down Jeep and drove back to what used to be my house, but now is not.

I was looking forward to it — but also apprehensive. I left my marriage and my house in a hurry, and I never had a chance to say goodbye to the place or to properly grieve its loss. I knew that visiting — visiting! — would likely stir emotion.

This was the home in which we experienced and celebrated Christmases, birthdays, the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic (which somehow became a major holiday in our household), sleepovers, movie nights, the baking of thousands of cookies/cupcakes/foccaccio/pizzas/baguettes, Thanksgiving meals, The Simpsons and The Office and Arrested Development and countless other family favorites, the New Year’s Eves, the basement door on which we marked the kids’ heights….So much happens in a house.

This particular house had a long history before we ever met it. It was built in 1875 to accommodate dairy workers at a farm that was located down the street and across the street from where the house stands today. The people we bought it from had rescued it; recognizing its quirky Victorian beauty, they had it moved to a 3-acre plot with a swampy yard, a verdant meadow, and a wooded stream. They restored it and made it a beautiful home, even installing an in-ground pool. But it was, and is, a home with many challenges.

From the moment I saw a real-estate photo of the house and grounds, I was smitten. Against all logic, I pressed to purchase the place, despite abundant evidence that it was a money pit and a poor investment for us. But buy it we did, and we spent more than 20 happy years there.

Among so many other things, we planted a weeping mulberry tree, under whose canopy the kids played; Sophie made a heart-shaped sign to hang from the trunk: “Home Sweet Tree.”

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When I talked with my son Charlie about how apprehensive I was, he said, with his characteristic wisdom, “That house was another family’s home before it was ours, and it was lots of people’s home before that, and now it’s another family’s home. We’re just part of that house’s history.”

I thought about that as I floated in what used to be OUR pool, enjoyed the blaze emanating from what used to be OUR firepit, watched new dogs and children race around the yard OUR dogs and children used to race around. And Home Sweet Tree? It’s grown three sizes, and the little boys who live there now have a proper fort therein!

What an incredible legacy to be part of. How grateful I am to have been invited back, this time as a guest in the home of this family that clearly loves our home as much as we did.

A chilling thought occurred to me: my beloved kitten, Bathsheba Everdene, by all rights should be living life as a stray under the porch of The Mark Twain House & Museum.

This incredibly beautiful, unspeakably affectionate, shockingly intelligent creature could very easily have lived her life without having any of those traits recognized.

But here’s what happened instead. My colleagues Bridget and Grace conspired to rescue Bathsheba’s mother, to take her to the vet, who confirmed that the young Bambi was in fact pregnant. They swapped cats, made elaborate arrangements, and spent lots of time, energy, care, and money to oversee the birth of Bambi’s four offspring and to raise those little kittens, teaching them how to use the litter box and otherwise behave like civilized creatures. And by some stroke of fate, blessing, and good luck, one of them came to live with me.

Bathsheba (whose original name, when it was thought that she was a male, was Jack White) has been a source of joy, comfort, laughter, and calm during these trying months. I am so very grateful for her presence, company, entertainment, and affection.

I am also so very grateful to Bridget and Grace. They did a really good thing in this world. They didn’t get on social media and brag about it. They didn’t draw attention to themselves or their good deeds; they just did what they knew in their hearts was good and right.

The world needs many, many more people like Bridget and Grace. And lots fewer people who talk loud but do little.

Did you watch HAMILTON yesterday? I sure did; I set my phone up on my tripod and watched from my hammock on the balcony last night. What a treat, and what good timing for such a treat. I was and am grateful for it and for opportunity to experience those amazing performances so intimately. (Though I was gratified to learn that I wasn’t the only viewer caught off guard by the amount of, er, moisture exuding from King George’s mouth!)

I am also grateful that I got to see the show in person, on Broadway, just over a year ago. (Which might as well have been a century ago, life has changed so much.) My dear friend Elizabeth and I made up our minds we were going to see it come hell or high water; we paid exorbitant amounts of money for our tickets, got soaked by rain as we got into and out of our cab, and braved the throngs of fellow humans flocking up the theater stairs to find our seats, where we sat cheek by jowl to watch the show.

The thought of that close proximity to other people now seems frightening; it’s impossible to believe that it once seemed merely inconvenient or annoying or, lord help me, part of the fun of participating in such a popular activity.

I yearn to experience that sensation again so very, very much.

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I have long been on record: summer is my favorite season, and the 4th of July is my favorite holiday. I love everything about them both, and fireworks make my heart go boom.

Today I woke up determined to still enjoy my Independence Day. Because, for me, it really is about my finally being independent in a personal sense, and I don’t take that for granted for a moment.

But it’s sure been a different kind of Fourth. The condo association board made the (in my opinion, lazy and cowardly) decision to close and cover the swimming pool, despite the fact that other pools in the area are open, with COVID-19-safety rules in place. My neighbors and I live for our pool time — and pay good money for it, too. I’m sad and angry, but I do recognize that if that’s my biggest problem during this whole crisis, I’m in pretty good shape.

Instead of focusing on what I CAN’T do, I enjoyed what I can. I put on my flag-themed bikini and lounged on the hammock, sipping a nice, dry, summery rose and reading a financial-planning book that my neighbor loaned me and that put my mind at ease about some decisions I have to make in that area. I practiced my guitar; I took a nap (or two). And when I finish writing this, I’m heading back out to the hammock to start re-reading FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD for the umpteenth time. I might just fall asleep again.

And, with any luck, there will be fireworks displays tonight. In years past, I’ve seen as many as 22 displays going on at once from my south-facing balcony. For the past month, there have been at least two or three such displays almost every evening. I’d settle for, and be thrilled with, just one.

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The first half of 2020 has brought so much misery and stress to so many people. For me, it’s mostly brought loneliness. Other than at my daughter’s wedding at the end of May, I haven’t touched another human being since mid-March. My bedroom is now given over to the care and feeding and entertainment of my delightful kitten, Bathsheba Everdene. It has become the room where nothing happens. Certainly no fireworks…

Except it’s also where I write and daydream and plan and read and play with my cat and play the three chords I’ve learned on the guitar — and where I can watch fireworks from my bed! So, I guess you could say it’s the room where pretty much everything happens. It’s all in how you look at things, right?

Happy Fourth, my friends!

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