from Sandy Needham

Friday, February 25, 2011

Winter in the USA Dispatch

Our late January stay in New York City was a whirlwind of rendezvous’ amidst a whirlwind of snow!

We especially appreciated “our” neighborhood at 98th and Amsterdam where Elise lives, with its quiet streets, church bells, and restaurants of every imaginable stripe. Now that Elise will be moving to Los Angeles at the end of April, we know our visits to Manhattan will be curtailed, though not terminated!carolyn

Elise and I arrived with sushi at the apartment of our longtime friend, Carolyn McMonegal, and her cat, Kayli. Carolyn was staying in with health troubles, but rallied plenty and entertained us royally. Kayli is the picture of health. You can see here that Carolyn’s beauty has not suffered at all.









joe allensThat night Elise, Newton and I met up with longtime friends Joe & Guadalupe Warren and Nancy Taylor at the Broadway notables’ hangout, Joe Allen’s on West 48th. I was ready for a perfect martini, since any version is hard to come by in Natal…and I was NOT disappointed! The food was excellent, as well. Joe and Guadalupe have just sold their beautiful Manhattan apartment and will forthwith be residents of Cleveland, Ohio and Buenos Aires only. World traveler Nancy had just returned from Europe, but her year included Syria, which she loved, and Iran…not so much.






hhbAfter a day of delivering Oklahoma mementos of my Mother’s to our storage unit upstate, Newton, Elise and I joined Newton’s old cohorts from his first job for dinner in New Jersey. It looks like there are no longer any guys holding-out for marriage and children, so we love catching up with the growing families.









morristownWe actually had a lazy Saturday with lazy snowflakes out the kitchen window, Netflix, and order-in pizza. That was topped off with a meet-half-way dinner in Morristown, New Jersey with my sister Donna and her husband Larry (coming from Lawrenceville, NJ), and niece Sara and her husband Rob (coming from Freehold, NJ). It is impossible not to love any event with Donna!





Sunday morning sent Elise and me to a happening place in the Village for brunch with some long-lost cousins – actually the three children of my Oklahoma City cousin Tad McCracken, only one of whom I had met years ago. They are all lawyers in Manhattan! I found out for the first time that Tad is not really my cousin’s name; he is named Donald after my uncle, whose nickname in the army had been ‘frog’ because of his deep voice. Tad is short for Tadpole.

kid robotWhile we were up - or down, rather, Elise and I spent the cold afternoon shopping (mostly window shopping) in Soho. It had been a while. We bought some sale T-shirts at the kitschy Japanese store, Kid Robot.





Newton was off to Japan on Monday, but drove me up to West Nyack for my day at Blue Rock School before returning the rental car at Newark. I savored every minute with my great staff and student friends. My lunch duty was with the 6th, 7th & 8th grade class – the children I had known since preschool! I told them about my travel peaks and valleys during lunch (see previous dispatch). My dear friend Lucia drove me all the way back to Manhattan after after-school coffee with Caty, the school director, and a great Indian dinner.

Newton took this great photo of Mount Fuji from the bullet train:


Las Vegas was my next stop. It was brief but fun, with Jake and I going out, shopping, and hanging the framed posters we had given him for his birthday. I made my Mother’s obligatory macaroni and cheese recipe for the dear boy! Unfortunately, Jake now has a trivia game that relies on strategy (his strong point, my weak point) as well as knowledge (both reasonably strong on this), so I was not able to prevail every game. And this is my only chance to beat him at anything, though we haven’t tried Chinese checkers (in storage) in years.

I connected through the Phoenix airport to arrive in Durango, Colorado. Just want to say that the Phoenix airport is one of the nicest I’ve seen, with several wonderful installations of “The Museum at Phoenix Airport,” not to mention airport shops with exquisite southwestern offerings. I tried to see my niece Amanda, who works for Southwest airlines there, but it was her day off. I was visiting my nephew Brad and his family in Durango, home also of my sister Dorothy and brother-in-law Bill, though they now spend winters in Scottsdale. DURANGOBrad and his wife Tracy have a new “green” house on a hill with huge picture windows on the town in the valley, the surrounding mountains and the snow-capped peaks beyond them. It is such a beautiful place. The temperature was mild for winter, with snow on the ground, sun in the sky and not a cloud in sight. Brad took me on an extensive tour of Tarpley RV, the business Bill owns and Brad runs. I got to ride in the old VW convertible (top down!) that the shop there had transformed into an electric car. I viewed several recreational vehicles (trailers) of varying sizes, and studied the solar panel display that Brad offers for RV electric power. Brad has such dependable employees that his own time is greatly freed-up for percussion practice, percussion gigs in rock-n-roll, jazz, country, and the timpani with an orchestra, plus time dedicated to coaching and chauffeuring his two sons to their extensive wresting and ice-hockey commitments in the surrounding states. Tracy and Brad have four extraordinary children – two older daughters who live elsewhere now: Emily, on a two-year trek with her boyfriend to Mexico, Central and South America (we’ll be seeing them in Natal eventually), and Mary, a professional dancer in Chicago. Because Emily – the first great-grandchild in the family – was born just three months after Jake – the youngest grandchild in the family – Brad and I bridged a generation by raising our children concurrently! Nick, 15 and Bradley, 13, are the two handsome, consummate athletes. I was wowed by both of them at their respective ice hockey games. Luckily, no one’s teeth were knocked out or anything on my watch! Tracy and I had loads of gabbing time and we saw the harrowing film, “Black Swan,” together while Brad did sports duty. The three of us had some rounds of Bananagram crossword after an elegant dinner at the famous Victorian Strater Hotel in town. I was happy to just be around and see Brad’s family in action, as our paths cross so infrequently.

emily mexicomary

tracy & Brad



vivian & mikeMy next stop was Tulsa, Oklahoma, my hometown. I put Tulsa on the itinerary because I had had so little time to talk with cousins at Mother’s funeral in November. I stayed with longtime friends Vivian and Mike Nemec, who live in the house where Vivian grew up down the street from me. I continue to look away when passing our old house, now remodeled, as I cannot bear to remember it any other way than as it was when I had the happiest childhood imaginable! On the first day in town I managed to go out to breakfast with Vivian and high school friend, Jan Rogers Magee, shop and run errands and then get out to the edge of town to see my father’s cousin, Mary Alice and her daughter, Mary Kay, from my grandmother’s “Little” side of the family. We had a great time and I got loads of information for the extensive family tree that Newton is growing online. I made it back to Vivian’s just before the snowstorm of the century struck: 15” of snow and cold temperatures and very little city plowing. They are not used to this quantity of snow there, so their 38 snow-plow trucks did very little effective clearing in the subsequent three days. This meant that the dinner planned with our junior high friends the next evening was impossible and that the Oklahoma City cousins’ dinner I had planned for the next evening – usually a two hours’ drive on a turnpike – was even more impossible, as the turnpike was still closed. Vivian and Mike were the ideal hosts for this refugee, as our snowed-in hours flew by with the endless conversation I absolutely adore with these marvelous two. We three shoveled my rental car out in front from its snow-trap.




Newton had returned from Japan in the meantime for the annual company ski weekend at Lake Tahoe and trade show in San Francisco. We each discovered around midnight the last night that both of our flights to Houston had been cancelled, as 2” of unheard of snow was expected there. We spent half of the night resolving this via Skype phone and, sure enough, I was able to pull away in my car in the 10° below zero morning – sans gloves, which I lost in New York, and creep my way to the airport to catch my flight. LUCKILY, I met Newton at the Houston airport (ahead of the snow onslaught) without incident! Our flight to São Paulo wasn’t until 10:30pm, but our reunion day was lovely, between the Continental President’s Club and an outstanding wine bar/restaurant in the airport. Even though I was back in coach, I got to fly all night in those tiny seats draped over Newton!

spjannice & alfredoDisembarking in São Paulo was the usual trek ‘through pork soup,’ as I always describe the heavy humidity and heat that hit one in the jet way when arriving from winter. The next six days were spent with Newton’s parents, Alfredo and Jannice, sister Lilian, and nieces and nephew, Mariana, Mayra and Michel – going to dance and music performances, eating in and out, running errands and sweltering in the heat.


Newton had schlepped his scanner every mile of the trip so he could dig out the old photo albums in São Paulo and scan photos of his relatives. These included pre-digital photos of Elise & Jake, as well! What great fun. Many of the ancestors’ photos will appear in the family tree project.

e & jlittle jake



Our last flight took us home to Natal. AHHhhhhhhhhhh.




  1. My goodness! I think you need to put together a program listing all of the relatives friends that make your trips such a whirlwind of activity. You do know how to pack in as much as possible in a little time as possible. It sounds like a great trip.

    The Tulsa snow storm was amazing and did give you a little down time, but too bad all of the other activities got cancelled.

    I must say that I agree with you about your old house. When my mother died two years ago we sold the house that we grew up in and that she had lived in for 55 years. The people who bought it cut down trees, took out shrubs, and from I understand totally redesigned the inside. I was given the opportunity to see what they were doing, but had no inclination to know. I will remember it as it was for those 55 years. Family, Friends, and rememberences of our youth are what we hold to now.


  2. It was great having you here at the "Elise Hotel" and getting to tag along to all your social activities! The movie / pizza night was really fun too :)

  3. So much fun to read about your many, many experiences of friend and family. And I loved putting the story with the picture you posted near at hand. And it does sound like that despite the difficult start- and of course the GREAT SNOW OF 2011 in Tulsa you had a great time.
    But I'd love to hear how you enjoyed the ballet...
    And I have an idea- perhaps you and Newton will have to plan a side trip to Chicago to see you grandniece dance- and Don and I can join you! Her picture looks amazing!
    Now I'm looking forward to a Dispatch from Natal.


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