September 30, 2013

Bannerman Castle.

If you take a little boat (baaa-teau! - according to Colette) from Newburgh or Beacon, about an hour north of New York City, you can get to Bannerman Island - where the ruins of Bannerman Castle sit. First built circa 1900 by Francis Bannerman (obsessive hoarder of war supplies/stock - made a fortune), the castle is now largely ruins. Shall we say a certain Frenchman was less than impressed with the staying power of American castles. There are so few and it was such a shame that I took him along (to be very honest). He was smirking at the castle from the moment the boat pulled up to the leafy shores of Bannerman Island. What kind of castle tumbles in 100 years? (I could see the judgement in his sneering, superior look). He kept French guffawing on the tour as the guide told the tale of this chateau; I was convinced at any moment he would point out the number of 1,000 year-old French chateaux there are in existence in better form than Mr. Bannerman's abode (Quelle grosse blague, said he, repeatedly under his breath). Apart from the boat, Colette was focused on just one thing: attempting to locate and gather all the acorns of Bannerman island and rescue them, to bring them safely back to New York City. I am sure they were grateful. I guess I was the only one who was really impressed by a simulated Scottish Castle in the middle of the Hudson River.

September 23, 2013

My instructor.

When I walked in at the last minute, there was no one there waiting. Just duplicates of myself on each wall. I thought maybe I was in the wrong studio. I turned to the side to see 4 projections of my 6-month pregnant belly – amused at the unfolding. There weren’t any mats, which seemed strange for a pre-natal yoga class (NYC is chock full of pregnant ladies devoted to yoga). Then the blonde, human-Italian greyhound swept into the room. I couldn’t help it, my eyebrows were high. “Hi, I’m Lisa” and Lisa began to fumble with the stereo system. Almost immediately, she attached a microphone contraption to her head, exhibiting its strength freely into the vacant air. She must have been over 6 feet tall and from the side she looked tabular – not one body part disrupted her long spindly line. More like a foal with a long blonde ponytail than a greyhound, actually. And very much like a foal who had just been born – the movement in her limbs seemed incoherent, and yet, she was evidently a trained dancer.

No one else came. The music began – loud – so loud that I couldn’t respond or ask questions. Her microphone came on and it was as if she had a class full of participants. No matter that it was just one pregnant me. She was a chronometer and there was no stopping her. Even when I was full on paralyzed by laughter, she continued to shout out the rhythm of pulsation: and 5, 6, 7, 8 – double time, pulse it! And her foal limbs (knobby knees and giant elbow joints) would enact the movement that I should have been doing, her hands delivering simultaneous claps. Never mind that the center of gravity shifts entirely for a pregnant woman – she was holding the bar, doing splits in the air with leg lifts at the top of the kick – rounded back, arched back. Hip, arm, leg, pelvis, neck shape combinations/contortions/convulsions with frantic transitions. 16 counts, 32 counts, charlie horses up and down my standing and working limbs. She would use my name – yelling “Come on, Emilie!” into the microphone, startling me out of tempo. Since she was calling no other names, it seemed to be proof that she was aware that we were the only two people in the room. I did wonder at some point, when lying supine with a rubber ball positioned awkwardly behind my back, legs in the air – scissor swindling my legs, trying to keep up with her manic tempo, whether I should simply get up and leave. I was almost certain that in her devotion she would carry on right up until the 2pm finish time. Hilarious. Lisa was a professional. And this was no pre-natal yoga class.

September 22, 2013

Midtown splendor.

I have worked on this corner of Park Avenue now for almost 4 years. I remember those early days where I was pretty shocked by the reality of spending most of my waking life indoors in a tall building - fresh off the heels of a few years of a lot of freedom in Paris.

September 21, 2013

Another Xavier project.

We love it! Colette gets down on her hands and knees to smell the "flowers." Impeccable tiling choice for another Harlem townhouse project by Xavier (little bathroom near the kitchen). He sourced the timeworn, charming sink from this crazy place and chose a perfect shade of gray for the walls.

Plus, Moonman found a home here. You should definitely check out all the places he has been lately.

Hard at work, bricolaging. Sacré Xavier.

September 19, 2013

Beautiful response.

Someone shared this video with me - it is a poet responding to being shamed in public for breastfeeding. Gripping - so much truth in what she says.

September 18, 2013


I had my blood drawn recently at a geneticist’s office – watched the crimson sap from my veins fill the vials, wondering what it had in store for me and my babies. I waited for a few weeks and then got a call from the geneticist. Positive. My chances were apparently one in two, so it wasn’t a total jolt. It has started an ongoing conversation in my family about genes and detection and vulnerability. We increasingly have the ability to gaze into a crystal ball that used to be entirely opaque and is now starting to clear for small glimpses if we choose to look.

My dad carries an SDHB gene mutation. Simply described, it is a mutation where carriers have a 70% chance of developing neuroendrocrine tumors (pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas) in their lifetime. That likelihood may be inflated due to the frequency of silent carriers. Who knows? What are chances and numbers and positive results when placed in context of lived reality? Not much. My dad has had no issues with this gene mutation in his life. We only started searching for this when one of my cousins had major complications with anesthesia at a routine dental visit – they discovered three of these tumors as a result (anesthesia has an extremely volatile effect on these tumors and other functions like blood pressure). So my dad and his siblings were tested and my siblings and I were all tested as well. Thankfully, the majority of my siblings are negative.

Since I am pregnant, with my positive result (there are implications for giving birth if tumors are present), the geneticist wanted me to take action right away. In this case, taking action means getting scanned to look for existing tumors – and an MRI is the only ‘safe’ option at this point. Identifying tumors early on and extracting them quickly is the best way to handle this. People live very normal lives as long as they keep a close watch on any developing tumors.

The MRI was affliction. I had no idea. I went in there, annoyed that the whole process would take over three hours (they scan a lot of territory). I was ready to recoil from the beginning, thinking about the little baby I am carrying and her exposure to magnetic force and noise. I lay on the table expecting to be wheeled into the machine, bide the time and be done. But then they put me in the tunnel, head first, a camera contraption inches from my eyes – the tunnel closing in. All of my breath bottled up in my throat and I told them I couldn’t do it. I was completely claustrophobic. I had no idea. I couldn’t bear being in a confined, oppressive space like that. The technician pulled me out and had me put on an eye mask, which helped, but I had to keep doing mind tricks in order to go back in and carry on (I kept meditating about little parts of Colette – her tiny hands and the fold in her wrist – or just her eyes, her eyelashes, her hairline - it calmed my breath). When the crazy noises were knocking, whiring, droning on, little lady in my belly went crazy – movement I hadn’t ever felt up to this point in my pregnancy. It made me cry afterward, thinking that I had hurt her. Crazy experience. The good thing is that the scans were totally clear (making me regret them more).

The whole experience has me wondering what else we are walking around with – what portions of the crystal ball are still too cloudy to see, but would be terrifying to uncover. Vision that might permit preventable action, but also might simply petrify and interrupt what would have been a peaceful existence up until the actual realization of that gene manifestation. Thankfully, I feel like there are things I, and my family members who test positive, can do in this case to live very long, disease-free lives. Xavier has insisted that if it were him, he probably wouldn’t be tested, he probably wouldn’t get scanned, he probably would simply go on and accept that there are high chances of walking down the street and getting hit by a car, but he is still going to walk down the street.

While we were sitting down with the geneticist, he covered embryonic screening and recommended that we consider IVF for any possible future pregnancies – to pre-select an embryo that tests negative for this gene. Xavier and I looked at each other with wide eyes and knew we agreed without saying a word that we would never even consider it. In selecting for that one criteria, what would we unknowingly be selecting out and selecting for at the same time? Seemed so myopic. It will be fascinating to see what happens when parents are faced with the task of offspring selection and maps of gene combinations are placed in front of them – particularly when those maps can be charted more fully or completely. How/what will anyone choose? There is something very beautiful about the complexity of gene convergence in nature - having a baby and the forces that group randomly to create the uniqueness of an individual. Thinking of mapping that out in a petri dish is spooky. What kind of humans will emerge?

September 12, 2013

September 10, 2013

September 9, 2013

Central Park Carnival.

One day this summer we decided to go to the carnival in the middle of Central Park...we surprised Marguerite and Colette and all met there after work (outings like these make Marguerite believe that New York is pretty magical...Halloween was one of the first of these - the French girl who stared wide-eyed at the flock of princesses, ghosts and witches going door to door to demand candy of all of varieties. She looked up at her papa that first October in New York with a furrowed brow and pointed eyebrows - total distrust, questioning the reality of the situation and whether she could dive in). So we found ourselves telling her we would take a turn on each and every one of the amusement rides. Colette could ride on about 5 of them, Marguerite - all the others and she was going to hold us to it. I was pretty delighted to rub my belly, citing my disappointment at not being able to join in. By the end, Xavier was green. Marguerite was glowing.

A mixture of quizzical wonder here, watching Marguerite on the big-kid rides.

September 4, 2013


In Utah, Sam the dog was the biggest hit. Colette was in heaven with her Grandma and Grandpa and uncles and aunts, but Sam was inspiring enough to be the subject of all of her conversations. At the lake, calling out into the grand reflection in front of her: "Sam! Sam...Sam?!" (again and again and again). In the car. At the house. When she would wake up at 6am, sit up with wide open eyes: "SAM?!" Sam was as accommodating as ever - allowing Colette to swipe his tennis balls - looking at them longingly as she shielded them and waddled around the lawn.

Uncle Drew was a pretty big hit too - swinging little lady all around - in the mountains, on the lake, teaching her to swing a ping pong racket.

Here she is at the base of a 2,500 year-old Limber Pine tree.

Beach paradise for little lady at Bear Lake - where you can wade out for a mile before swimming deep in crystal blue fresh water. Perfect for a lady who likes to wander.

I loved spending time with siblings I don't get to see often enough - a whole contingent of our family I wish was part of our every day existence.

Harvesting from Uncle Drew and Grandma Rosie's vegetable garden.

Aunt Mels, the resident pre-school expert (teaches a class of 15 3-year olds every day at work)

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