connection, Encouragement, Friends, Uncategorized

Mean Girls

I met my son for lunch yesterday. He’s now a fulltime worker with a direct deposit and a lunch hour, and we agreed tacos on the westside would taste good. It’s both strange and wonderful to see him midday in khakis and wearing the new J.Crew golf shirt I bought him. He’s starting to show a little fatigue from the grind, but thankfully is challenged and using his brain far more than he would hanging around the house. And a paycheck sure feels good.

Afterward I decided to pop into Serena & Lily, an overpriced home furnishings store which sends me their catalog I’ve occasionally flipped through. Its expensive beachy vibe and pillows with playful pom-poms both attract me and put me off – much like the Williams-Sonoma catalog does with similarly overt overpricing. Having never seen a store in person, I was curious. I’ve tried before but there was an “appointment only” sign on the door – in italic tasteful script of course – and so I left. This time, that tasteful off-putting sign was still there, but I thought I’m already here and besides, I don’t see any customers inside. A woman on the sidewalk nearby beamed at me, surprised at my gall; she’d wanted to browse too but admitted she didn’t dare bother with such an unfriendly, exclusive vibe.

Through the door as I was peering inside, I saw three women, one wearing that anxious look you get right before a party you’re hosting is to begin. We locked eyes and I stood at the door and waited it out. She walked toward me, a head shaking no look on her face, as if I were a rat scratching to get in, and she’d once again need to remind me the answer is still, “No you can’t come in here.” My persistence paid off however and she unlocked the almighty door, poked her head out feigning ignorance as to what I might possibly want. There was a rushed exchange: HER: “We are appointment only.” ME: “I just wanted to browse quickly.” HER: grudgingly looking at her watch, “I have a 3 o’clock appointment.” Seeing as I wasn’t going away, and it was barely 2:00pm, and disgruntled by the few choices left her, she let me slink in past her and promptly locked the door behind us. 

If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

One friendly looking woman was fluffing pillows and positioning an expensive throw diagonally over the sofa’s arm.  As I looped through the store leaning in to turn over price tags – ouch! – the main woman was back at her post at the large white desk in the center of the space. She was the queen bee and it was clear behind her tortoise shell low sitting readers that she called the shots. I made my way to fabrics – one of the reasons I wanted in in the first place – but the grey windowpane Sunbrella swatch advertised online wasn’t instore. The woman working fabrics offered me a sample of a different brand performance fabric – perhaps my consolation prize if I would just leave already ?- and encouraged me to go home and dirty it up, even pull out a Sharpie, because this linen-like square was indestructible, and could even tolerate a Clorox soak if it came to that. It was beautiful but unfortunately my cats would shred it to pieces.

Looping back around to the queen’s desk, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to discuss our unfortunate greeting at her door. I asked if this appointment-only situation was due to Covid, and she nodded yes before I could even finish my sentence, happy I gave her a response to offer me before she’d have to rustle one up, using up precious energy reserved for her 3 o’clock. I told her she might find she’ll lose customers turning them away at the door. All I got next was, “We’re California-based” – as if that helps explain the unfriendly vibe? – and smiling, enthusiastically adding, “… actually, we’ve done really well.” (with the implied: … by being picky about just who we let in). Pleased with her rapid recovery from and command of our exchange, she went back to the desk and her busy downward glance mode, eyes ever watching but with readers now slid lower.

I told her she might find she’ll lose customers turning them away at the door.

I finished my two-minute sweep through the store returning to the fluffing pillows woman who seemed flustered when I asked her a product question. She revealed it was her first day and I warmly congratulated her. What I really wanted to tell her was to run now, because I can’t imagine the queen would tolerate such product illiteracy or ease her career path in any way. I considered sitting on the couch because it was gorgeous and I sort of wanted to fall in love with it, but with the puffed perfect pillows in place and three sets of side-eying eyes, I thought better of it. The price for the soft linen sofa, like most things in there, was ridiculous, untouchable and untestable, so I cut my losses and headed for the door. The queen rushed behind me as if unsure I might change my mind and stay or if I could work the lock. I surprised her with my lock turning skills and she seemed newly energized with the prospect of my leaving. I left, heard the lock turn and never looked back.

Sorry folks – I’m sure this is a great store and if you shop there and can afford the cute pillows and such and the ladies take you in and manage to find smiles for their faces, then good for you. I, however, don’t fall in that group and this experience reminded me why I don’t want to. There’s a certain feeling you get around people like that, and it’s mostly with women I’ve found. You know the sinking feeling. Like after you’ve gotten a haircut you’re unsure about and an acquaintance (or good friend even) will do the long stare, cock her head and with a knowing naivete inquire, “Did you get your haircut?” which is usually followed by a smirk, another stare taking in the atrocities and then silence. And there you are, naked AND with a questionable haircut. 

There’s a certain feeling you get around people like that.

There was that time I hosted a dinner party for good friends and another couple they’re close with joined in. We know this couple, but haven’t hung out with them socially, but because our friends made the suggestion, we happily included them. As I do with most gatherings I host, I busted my ass marinating beautiful meats and seafood for grilling, making delicious sides and getting the house picked up and (mostly) cleaned up for the event. The guests brought wine and the wife of this other couple, a salad. It was delightful yet simple, and there was something about it that drew me in, but I wasn’t sure what. When the time was right, I complimented her and then asked what was in it. Gatekeeper of salad secrets, she looked my way, smiled and offered up a paltry, “a little this, a little that.” I’ll stop here and admit there was a time I wasn’t as generous with giving out my recipes, and there are still a few for cookies and cakes I occasionally sell that I won’t give out. But mostly, if you liked what I made you, I’m thrilled because c’mon, folks, isn’t that the point? And if you bother to put yourself out there and ask me for the recipe, I will gladly give it to you. Thinking perhaps I wasn’t clear enough, later in the evening as we’d all further loosened up with more wine, I asked directly, “Your salad is great. I’d love to make it some time. Could you share your recipe?” And then the smile returned to her face and then… nothing. Again, I’m standing there naked before her and she won’t even throw me a towel. 

Be warned: Mr. Longlegs loves swings

Flashback to Trinity School, 6th grade and I’m eleven and enjoying time on the playground in that relaxed dappled autumn sun September brings. I noticed a Daddy Longlegs at the base of the slide and shrieked, quickly moving toward the swings. My friends noticed and snickered, but now on the swings, I was safe. After several minutes pumping my legs and climbing high into the sky, I felt something. There it was, another one climbing up the chain of my swing. Heart racing, I slowed down and jumped off, unable to silence my shriek or this terror, running inside to the bathroom where I’d stay until recess was over. Sitting on the toilet in my stall, I gradually calmed down and let the horrific events fade, when all of a sudden, the bathroom door opened, and a few giggly girls came bounding in. I stayed quiet but I knew they knew I was in there, and then they flung handfuls of Daddy Longlegs over the stall door. It was then that I endured a slow-motion horror flick, Daddy Longlegs raining down onto my head, their bent quivering legs scurrying around my scalp and neck. Of course, I had to run my hand through my hair to get them off and, thanks to the adrenaline kicking in, I stayed at it until it seemed they were literally out of my hair. 

We’re all vulnerable but often try not to look the part. Each time, the hurt that seeps in when you share your heart or fears with a friend and instantly regret it because you’re now exposed or when you ask for help when you’re feeling awkward or ashamed revealing your weaknesses, feels awful and trains you to retract back into your shell. Those times when you let your guard down and complain about a relationship you’re struggling with, suddenly you aren’t interesting any more. Your mystique has melted and faced with the real you – or the real you on that particular day – some people don’t want to look anymore, don’t want their image of you to become too real, too human, because maybe it makes them all too real as well, and feel less special, especially now hanging out with you. They need things fluffed up and crisp, like the Serena & Lily showroom promises and delivers.

Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people. – Fred Rogers

If we’re being honest, I suspect we’d each agree that it’s our weak spots that make us interesting and real, make us special, and help us grow. If only we could stop judging each other and ourselves, maybe we’d learn more about one other and really see each other just as we are. I’d like to think that there are far more women out there who are supportive, loyal, and unconditionally generous, and thankfully I know many who are. 

Maybe we could be a little less picky about who we let in, give everyone a chance, and put bullying, elitism and shaming aside, or even better, away for good. Women can be a source of great support, information and joy for one another. We can lift each other up, share our delicious secrets and do away with making the other girl undress while we quizzically stare at her. We’re all naked and imperfect and just doing our best, so please girls, let’s give each other a break and a chance to grow and learn and let go; let’s give each other some love. Ourselves too.

Nothing’s perfect, not even this gorgeous magnolia.
Birthdays, Family, Food, hope, Sunshine, Travel, Uncategorized

Up With The Sun

Never once have I regretted waking up early to see the sun rise. It’s your own private preview to the day before the world begins to stir, your chance to discover what awe, sparkle, brightness and hope look like. Sometimes there’s a dramatic sky previewing the show, other times, a cloud cover has settled in so thick you’re certain you won’t see anything. Once, years ago, I walked away from waiting on a sunrise to begin, assuming I’d either woken up too late and missed the show, or there was no show at all, since the clouds wouldn’t let the sun out, only to turn around to find a giant orange ball had risen, tiptoeing in just when I’d stopped watching. Today’s clouds parted and presented us with a shimmering gold nugget, actively stretching and spreading its molten wonder. Everyone quietly found their seats – some on yoga mats in the sand, others climbing on overturned chaises, some standing still, reverent and expectant – each of us humbled and respectful, talking in hushed tones. 

The hot glittery gold began to spread out and thin yellow rays extended across the sky, reaching out to each of us there looking up. It’s real, these golden tentacles which stretch from the center. They’re like the sunshines I used to draw as a little girl, when I’d carefully select colors from my Crayola box: orange, yellow-orange, orange-yellow, goldenrod, yellow, lemon yellow and gold, and if you were lucky enough to be coloring in 1972 as I was, you had access to the new fluorescent Crayola collection debuting that year, adding chartreuse and ultra yellow along with other colors to the mix. Those rays aren’t just in a child’s imagination, they are real – real enough for an iPhone to capture and so much more engaging in person than in any stock photos or inspirational motifs. They’re as real as those smoke curls I used to draw which spiraled out of the chimney of my house.

As the performance heightened, seagulls circled, perfectly picturesque and swooping into every frame. The sun broke out of its gold shell and rose up quickly, spreading a bright yellow haze all around. The crowd then shifted and scattered, and we moved on into the day, filled up from the performance, and my sister and I agreeing it was well worth setting the alarm. The show would resume tomorrow, but by then, we’d be back home in different cities, returning to the less interesting routines we’d left.

Afterward we went for coffee at a large Starbucks nearby. From our table outside, we watched lots of people – singles, couples, joggers and partners with their dogs – and talked for hours, a pair of sisters full on conversation, caffeine and celebration from this rare birthday getaway. This week she turned sixty, my warm, beautiful slender, forever-young sister, and me, just two years behind. For four days, we walked, sunned, swam and shelled. Lizards darted across our paths, a pair of parakeets flew overhead, pigeons cooed nesting on the hotel’s roof, and a bright green iguana even appeared, jumping in our pool for a quick swim across.


The four of us – my sister, her daughter, my husband and I – got along well, and it was easy making plans from our rooms directly across the hall from one other. Nearly identical, one room felt like a girls’ dorm with The Food Network on TV running in the background, bikinis hanging out to dry and no shortage of chatter. The other doubled as a couple’s room and workplace, since Joe needed to dedicate time each day connecting with his office. The rental car stayed parked throughout our stay and we instead explored the area on foot – past successions of royal palms in street medians, pastel Art Deco buildings, stark Miami-hot streets, Cuban sandwich shops and stylish cafes with lush outdoor seating. 

We discovered a quieter beach away from the center of things and sprung for chaises with umbrellas, a first for each of us. Accustomed to hauling beach umbrellas from home, we’d typically find ourselves frustrated from their tilting or pulling up out of the sand and blowing down the beach, leaving us little choice but to bake in the sun or else call it a day. Esteban’s, our beach chair place, set us up, their drill boring a perfect narrow hole in the sand for our umbrella, creating an afternoon full of marvelous choices – sun or shade, surf or beach, walking the beach or lounging on cushioned chaises. I even fell asleep for a short while, infant-style arms overhead. Delicious. 

Meals were consistently wonderful except for dinner the first night when we got stuck in the middle of the largest, tackiest, rudest crowd we’d ever seen, who were constantly everywhere we found ourselves, blaring music and twerking, yelling, racing in cars and weaving on bikes around us. The restaurant was expensive as expected but unremarkable, feta noticeably absent from our Greek salads, canned California olives (c’mon, no Kalamata?), and tiny minced romaine, with a tasteless dressing on the side. It was loud and rushed – a sudden downpour contributing to the mood – as we all moved inside, bringing this crazy party uncomfortably closer. As we all fought fatigue from early morning flights and the rushing around you do before a getaway, this first night gave us a distasteful preview to our stay which luckily, four days in, faded like yesterday’s news. The rest of the time was quieter and what we’d been looking for and desperately needed – our soundtrack of tides, birds and our own spontaneous laughter. 

Meals were highlights and our hotel was our favorite place for good ones; it’s so easy opting to stay in when you can dine alfresco in lush outdoor rooms surrounded by tropical vegetation and cute critters minding their own business. Our hotel’s Caesar salad was a thing to behold: Crispy butter lettuce replaced romaine and bread crumbs stood in for croutons, with tiny Parmesan curls scattered all around the top, and a smidgeon of bacon, all of it minimally bound in a refreshing dressing. Grilled shrimp tacos came with soft white corn tortillas, cotija cheese, finely shredded cabbage and jalapeño mayo, another hotel homerun.A friend recommended an authentic Cuban sandwich shop, and a couple by the pool, a place for lobster rolls, so we checked out both, which were authentically delicious. 

The birthday – and reason for the trip – was full and fun. I got up early that day and slid a card under Anne’s door with a gift inside – a happier paper surprise on your floor than the usual hotel bill signaling the end of your stay, always a downer. Instead, the party was just getting started. We gathered for brunch and I brought down her bag of gifts – little nothings but each wrapped carefully with love. We got good coffees that day in lieu of the lobby’s free stuff and once more, sat outside in the early June heat. The four of us each found our thing – cappuccino, croissant, eggs and avocado toast – and reveled in it; I love how everyone gets to share in the same fun as the birthday person. 

Another beach day, more beautiful weather, and reliable Esteban’s set us up again. Red and purple flags flew like the day before, warning us of rip tides and Japanese Man ‘o War, so we lazily floated close to shore. Five o’clock brought happy hour to our hotel lobby every afternoon, and we patiently stood in line hoping the sauvignon blanc wouldn’t run out. Little clear plastic cups were stacked next to a serving tray and the hotel front desk person turned sommelier for the pour, another plastic cup set out for tips. One day there was only chardonnay and our faces fell, but I politely convinced the pourer to check in the back for more and, spared the dreaded oakiness, the party continued. 

We frequently coffeed and happy houred on our favorite patio on the side of the hotel with its snappy striped awning rolled up for evenings, revealing lovely strings of lights woven and stretching across the canopy of vegetation overhead. Lizards darted in and out of the plants surrounding us and one of them who came around every day was missing the tip of its tail.

A bizarre looking caterpillar appeared one morning as well, slowly motoring along a table top where we sat for coffee. An animal lover and learner, Hannah kept saying it might be poisonous, and a quick Google search revealed it was indeed. We had before us the puss caterpillar, a strangely beautiful creature born saddled with a horrible name. My search produced this: their wig-like hairs are actually spines that can cause intense pain, swelling, vomiting, and fever if touched, and with this, our fascination was over. Hannah held out a wooden stirrer for it to climb onto and then moved it far away into the vegetation where it leisurely dismounted and carried on.

It was during one last swim in the pool in the hours before check-out that we each admitted that we’d miss this place. I asked Anne and Hannah if at the end of a nice vacation they make little resolutions like I do, and they admitted they do. One such resolution, especially on the heels of that morning’s sunrise, was to get up earlier and notice the day when it’s its freshest and quietest. Another was to get outside and exercise more. Both ideas we carried with us as we boarded our plane for home, and even though the new season has barely begun, I think this sunny reset is firmly planted inside each of us.