Oh, Amtrak, how could you?


Oh Amtrak, how could you?


Dear Amtrak,

I thought that we had worked things out; I thought that we had arrived at an understanding. I would forgive you for your egregious behavior this summer on The Lake Shore Limited when you consigned me to a “deluxe” compartment with neither air conditioning nor working toilet. You would make it up to me, you promised. You would never disappoint me again. You promised, and I believed you.

I had faith in you, Amtrak. So, I held my head high, accepted your apology and a $1,000 travel certificate refund, and made reservations to go to New Orleans. All was forgiven; we could start anew. That journey in July, well, that just never happened. We could stand hand-in-hand and look forward. The past was past.

And now, what do I find? You have betrayed me again. You promised me a trip to New Orleans. Yes, you promised. I have it written down; I have an e-ticket with your name right at the top. And then you email me to say that there’s a problem. I should call.

My heart sank when I saw your missive. I knew that it wasn’t a love letter. And then I learned the news. I could ride as far as Atlanta. But then…. but then…. the truth came out. You weren’t going to continue to New Orleans. No, after you promised. I, you said, could take a bus. And, to add insult to injury, you told me to be sure to pack breakfast, lunch, dinner and any snacks I might want, for this express bus was not going to stop.

Really? A bus to New Orleans? After all we had meant to one another.

Well, Mr. Amtrak, no soap. A girl has to keep her dignity. If you don’t want me, if you would hand me over to a bus, I say, we’re through, all bets are off. Oh, I know you say it’s not your fault, and perhaps this time it’s not. But I’ve heard that too many times before. It is just too painful to continue with you.  I must consider our relationship severed and I am under no obligation to remain faithful.

Oh, Amtrak, you have once again wounded one of your biggest boosters. How could you?


Cynthia Strauff, author of Another Sunday.  cynthiastrauff.com


On Giving Up Estatesales.net


On Why I Stopped Following estatesales.net


Oh, my heart beat fast when I first discovered this site. This was even better than walking through my neighborhood at night peering, albeit indirectly, at what I could see in opened-curtained windows. A spectator’s delight.

If you don’t know about estatesales.com, it is a website that provides detailed descriptions, pictures, and directions to local estate sales, tag sales, and auctions. You plug in the zip code that you’d like to follow and the site provides everything, and more than, you need to know.

I was enraptured. Pictures of clothes in closets, hats still in Lily Dache hatboxes, oil paintings, bread boxes, Aunt Jemima salt-and-pepper shakers, all there in jpeg display. But after a few weeks, a part of me felt a bit sullied. I wasn’t there as a customer; I wasn’t there to buy. What I was was a voyeur, eavesdropping on (eaveslooking at?) people’s possessions, judging their sometimes tacky taste, critiquing items that they at one time had cared about and loved.

And this is not to denigrate the people whose business it is to run these sales. They do a service, certainly, and one hopes that the beloved objects of their clients will find appreciative owners who just might one day cherish those items again.

Rather, it is the poignancy of life moving on, of being aware of what these things once represented, symbols of lives, of memories past. To me it spoke of loss,  an ache of leaving. And I look around my (minimalist) house, and wonder who will love the things that I love, and know that, even if  I write it down, no one will know, or understand, just what these objects meant to me.

Perhaps that is what makes me sad about these sites. The objects remain; the context has disappeared. I wonder, besides the tenderness of losing its owners, if something remains, palpable to the new owners, if only they will touch, will listen to, the voice of memory.

And I discovered, or re-discovered, something about myself while discussing this with a friend. She, in seeing hats and mink stoles from a bygone age immediately thought of the good times they represented. I saw wistful memories.  And it underscored what we decided were our “default” perspectives – hers, basically cheery and optimistic, mine, more melancholy and contemplative. Perhaps that is why we are pals, each providing a balancing way of seeing the world.  And all this from a website…

Cynthia Strauff, author of Another Sunday, cynthiastrauff.com


Things I’m Done With


Ten Things I’m Done With

  1. Being pressured into giving Christmas gifts that I don’t want to give to people who don’t want to get them. The first time I said “I think I’ll pass” was the hardest, and actually most people were relieved. This year, every group I know that used to give presents to one another now has a food drive. I’m not saying that I am responsible for this, but it just goes to show how one person speaking up can resonate with those who were thinking the same thing. And it has opened my heart to the pleasure of shopping for small remembrances for those I really do want to remember. Go figure.
  2. Salmon—don’t care if it’s wild (or so-named by the purveyor), or farm-raised in its own excrement, or now GMO so who knows what it is – I’m over it.
  3. Risotto—after ordering at a lovely restaurant where an overindulged six-year-old shattered not only our mealtime discourse, but also those of the tables around us and much of the décor, this entree rekindles too many merciless memories for me to try it again.
  4. Trying to please—one impossibility that I’ve relinquished — which is different from being kind, which I am working hard on.
  5. Prayer—too many sanctimonious politicians, too many priggish believers, offering prayers and feeling righteous; just too much hypocrisy for me right now. Perhaps one day I’ll change my mind.
  6. Too Many of Anything—read The Magic Art of Tidying Up; thought that I was pretty much a minimalist, but “tidied up” so much that I have nothing left to wear. Trying for some balance here.
  7. Magazine Subscriptions—stacked-up magazines felt like homework, so for years, I’d been magazine-less; responded to a too-good-to-pass-up offer from The Atlantic, thinking/hoping that this time it would be different. It’s not.
  8. Being Scared to Write What I Think—Well, here I am, writing what I think.
  9. Gummy Worms-even frozen
  10. Trying to change people’s minds—now spending my time figuring out just what it is I think. Arguing both sides with myself is enough.

What I wish I could be done with: lamenting what I should have said, should have done.

More on this later….



On Being Mortal


Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, is a sobering, and I think necessary, read for all of us. It is much more than its thumbnail reviews, much more than “make the most of your life now, tell your children how you want to live, how you want to die,” although those are important components of his message.

Rather it is a thoughtful presentation, made palpable with his use of real-life situations, of what it means to grow old (not “older” as we obliquely phrase it). He depicts in accurate, albeit disturbing, detail, the physical changes that, regardless of our vegan diets, our daily trips to the gym, all of us face or will face.

He describes our reliance on the medical-model, treating conditions which are, essentially, untreatable, and brings to bear the soul-searing reality of not only nursing homes, but also of those euphemistically named assisted-living facilities where the focus is safety and security, at the disturbing cost of freedom for those who are treated as helpless children. This is not to disparage those whose back-breaking work at these facilities care for those who require it. Rather, he points out that some who are housed there would benefit from a focus on maintaining independence.

Gawande asks us to consider just who it is who demands this security? For many, it is the children, those who want mom to be safe, forgetting that her newly-circumscribed life may not be what she wants.  Perhaps she’d rather take her chances with a fall. Perhaps not. But, Gawande exhorts, ask, don’t assume.

Still, many of my cohort, as we grow older, fight aging and death with all our powers, when, certainly, death is the natural order of things. Rather than accepting that, we exhaust our psychic and physical resources to push that reality far from consciousness, energies that we could be using to savor our days, to appreciate, even relish, the simple pleasure of everyday routines, of companionship with people who accept us as we are.

The Buddhists hand us a lovely paradox – we live longer when we stop trying to live longer; we are more alive when we stop trying to be more alive.

And are we all not concerned for our legacy, especially as the time shortens for us to do that which we intended to do? Gawande suggests that the content of that legacy changes as we mature, that as we become less interested in achieving, we become more focused on being. Oh, those Buddhists.

And as for me, I do want to remain actively engaged with the world, enough that I will also enjoy those times when I retreat from the world. I want to keep my freedom and am willing to pay a price for that. I don’t want to be a burden; I’ve had “the talk” with my lovely daughter, who understands.

The medical-model wants to fix. For the aged, it is a battle that cannot be won. Gawande suggests that we direct our attention to the sustenance of our souls. And, for me, if I can figure out how to do it, it will be the focus of my future.