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. 

2021, Covid-19, Encouragement, hope, loss, Racism, Sadness, Sunshine, uncertainty

Half Staff or Half Full ?

I’m baking cookies, fulfilling two orders I just picked up. My Spotify’s Quiet Songs playlist is rumbling in the background with Paul Simon’s April Come She Will, Dawes’ Nothing is Wrong, and more ahead. 

Sitting at the table between batches and a CNN alert hit my phone with the headlines: Two Officers Wounded at US Capitol Attack, and a little later, Gunman Killed at US Capitol Attack, and now, 1 Officer Killed, 1 Wounded, Attacker Dead at US Capitol. Three mass shootings in less than a month, and now this, another Capitol attack. 

Earlier today I learned my old neighbor’s sweet daughter, all of 21 years, passed away. My kids grew up with her right across the street from our house, swimming in her pool (she was an expert swimmer from early on) and hanging out while the parents drank wine and talked of future neighborhood fun for the kids — pumpkin carving parties, pool parties, parties for no reason at all. A heart attack and two strokes slipped her into a coma and then a few days ago into an untimely death.

It’s a sunny day here, a nice break from all the rain of late, and I’ve been thinking of all the tears shed already this month, already this year, last year and the one before, wondering if you collected them all in a big bucket what a shiny reflection today’s sun would cast. My mind is stuck on the enormous swath of people left behind wrestling with it all, trying to sort it out, slipping into the past remembering, and fast forwarding through the pain of the present in an attempt to carve out some semblance of a future, now with a gaping hole at its center. Wives, parents, sisters and friends, all left behind in this bizarre Covid-spiked world to keep going. But there is hope. There is always hope. We have vaccines way ahead of schedule and I like to imagine grandparents hugging their kids and grandchildren after this long year of isolation. What a pure delight that costs nothing. We all crave these kind of things but some of us don’t seem to find them.

I feel like I am supposed to be learning important nuggets from this set of years. I am supposed to come out the other side that much stronger, wiser, grateful for what I have, but instead I feel sad for it all. The Asian community and the hate they’ve experienced, the families of gun violence who get to relive their pain after yet another mass shooting, and the ongoing trial over George Floyd’s death. I watched witnesses walk up to the stand and after just a few questions, break into full on sobs, flooded back to that moment, the moment when you desperately want to help but you are pushed aside, forced to feel the avoidable horrific struggle spiral beyond control. 2021 was supposed to bring with it an enormous relief.

I am appalled and ashamed of these people behaving badly and disheartened that we still haven’t seemed to learn anything. Where are the gun laws that will protect these innocent people and spare their families so much pain? I don’t see the progress I need to see. Instead I see people laughing at our First Lady who didn’t pronounce “Si se puede” right. I see bullies and social media flexing its muscle for all the wrong reasons. 

The cookies are cooling now, and there is India Arie’s I Am Light swirling through the kitchen. 

I am not the mistakes that I have made, I am not the pieces of the dream I left behind, I am not the color of my eyes, I am not the skin on the outside, I am not my age, I am not my race

My soul inside

I am a star, a piece of it all

I am light

And next, Ruth B’s Slow Fade offers up its own wisdom: 

The light has disappeared the dust has settled here. Was it always like this, cause now it’s always like this?

I’m not sure what the rest of this year has in store, but I am thinking we all have to find some light, harness it, be it.

Be well, find some sun, and if you’re vaccinated, go hug someone who could use it.

Love,

S

Atlanta, breast cancer, connection, Empty nester, Encouragement, hope, loss, Uncategorized

Scar Tissue

I started physical therapy to restore range of motion in my shoulder and arm, left tight and knotty from a recent lumpectomy and radiation. Being able to reach behind and scratch my back easily and pain-free is a new goal, as is securing a bra clasp. Over a year since surgery and nearly that long since treatment, you’d think by now the healing would be all done, but seems the tightness has only increased. The tissue under my arm feels like fabric sewn with too tight stitches and all we need is a seam ripper to break through and pull the threads loose. 

You’d think by now the healing would be all done.

Like you do when telling an infant’s age, I used to talk in months – I’m three months post chemo, six months since radiation, etc. – but thankfully now I can talk in years since all this started up in late 2019. My surgery and treatments have graduated out of their infant stage and into a toddler stage, with tantrums arising as this little blocked lymphatic circulation mess I must now clean up.

The physical therapy office is close by, convenient and calm — nothing like my last PT experience several years ago where the incongruously L O U D radio was routinely tuned to the unholiest of trinities – The BeeGees / Gerry Rafferty / Air Supply – and my physical therapist’s brash order-me-around style certainly didn’t fit my idea of a first-string player you’d pick for your healing team. Last week at my initial session, I was assigned an Emory student, a no-nonsense tucked-in clean-shaven guy who, after moving me through several stations working my arm and shoulder, moved into a deep tissue shoulder massage miraculously landing on all the tight unyielding spots which, albeit stubbornly, gave way. I left with a sheet of homework exercises, most of which I completed except the one involving a Theraband. Surely I own a Theraband, but, alas, where is it? Still haven’t brought myself to enter a Target or Walmart since the pandemic began, so opted against purchasing. I know, Amazon.

At today’s session I worked with a petite young lovely woman who moved me through various stretching and strengthening stations. The therapists toggle between several patients, like busy chefs minding multiple burners, careful to tenderly sauté and not let a rolling boil erupt or a pan sit unattended and burn. They move between patients rolling their laptops around on wheeled lectern style desks.

Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer

I might have blurted out to my therapist that the roving desk setup she maneuvers reminded me of the SNL skit with Melissa McCarthy playing Sean Spicer rolling her podium on the streets of New York. She humored me with an amused/mortified smile, probably not so happy she got assigned the clown who wants to inject humor into all of it, breaking up the calm focused room she and her colleagues have cultivated. I joked now she won’t be able to shake this visual and she smiled again realizing the truth of that unfortunate circumstance.

Canele

This weekend we went for a Sunday drive, winding through various parts of Atlanta — Edgewood, Inman Park, Poncey-Highlands. Other than looking at house paint colors for inspiration, my primary goal was to score a canelé, a small striated cylindrical French pastry flavored with rum and vanilla with a soft and tender custard center and dark caramelized crust, which I found at Ponce City Market’s Saint-Germain bakery. I’m working on not consuming much sugar, but occasionally the urge is real, and I’m increasing trying to locate something exceptionally good vs the first filler sugar I can get my hands on. By the looks of things in the Food Hall, but for the masks covering most people’s faces, you’d never know we’re in a pandemic. Throngs of loud-talking particle-spreading people filled the hall, the din of noise so visual and loud I nearly abandoned the much-anticipated sugar errand. I got myself a canelé and Joe a palmier, his favorite, plus a coffee éclair and raspberry and passion fruit mousse little round cake for later. We nibbled on the canelé and palmier and meandered through neighborhoods studying houses’ paint colors from our car for our some-day repaint.

Driving through Edgewood, I noticed a ramshackle of a church with a sign out front and the message, “Your Grief is Valid.” We live in a world full of dichotomy – help is on the way with stimulus checks about to drop into accounts and Covid vaccines increasingly common, yet still there are long lines for those waiting for a bag of food to feed their family and scores of people pre- and post-Covid cloaked in a stuck-on heaviness they can’t shake. Last week, the TV networks broadcast highlights looking back on the full year since Covid was proclaimed a global pandemic. How do you bundle so much loss into a news segment? It was admittedly well done, but so sad, too. Smiling faces now gone leaving behind families who don’t know where to begin to climb out of their despair. Exhausted doctors and nurses, their virtues extolled, in search of a reset or second wind or both.

Your grief is valid.

Blue skies always return

We each heal in our own time. And time, for the most part, heals all things. But for those of us stuck in the middle between our hurt and our healing, and with a pandemic thrown in the mix, every morning can feel like Groundhog Day, a familiar rotation without much hopeful change in sight. Circling back to the church sign, your grief IS valid, despite however fresh or old, and the way you move through it is your choice. But until you feel well on your way, please don’t stoically go it alone or hide until your best self magically shows up. Because we all know things don’t quite work out that way. Instead, walk with someone, grab a coffee or a canelé and take some time together, comparing notes, taking notes, or soaking in the simple and reliable beauty outside. One day when you aren’t looking, you will feel it, a little less heavy and moving forward with a slight change that happened, when things starting looking brighter, sharper and you saw a shiny glint of hope in the distance. Try and break up the days, infuse them with connection. Sure, physical therapy can mechanically do it, but being together also melts scar tissue, and is what opens up space for all kinds of goodness.

Make A Wish
hope, Lost pet, pets, Uncategorized

Cat Tales

Our cat Bo got out last night. Of our two orange tabbies, he’s the more convivial one, the one I’ve taught to shake, and sit, and lie down. He’s the dog in a very large cat’s body. The one who needs to stick around long enough to enjoy our renovation when it’s complete. Why did we even start work on a screened porch if not for Bo?

Disney World for cats

Every escape, he runs out the door, darts left and ends up in the crawl space. Of course on the morning when it’s cold and rainy and a Monday no less, not this time. Last night I searched, really searched. With my husband’s old sweatshirt on and his sweatpants wrapped around me, drawstring pulled tight, I crept army style in our crawlspace hovering wherever there were breaks in wires and ducts and furnaces. I kept thinking, please don’t let some creepy black widow spider fall on my head and just then reached to find the sweatshirt came with a hood. Thank you, God. While subterranean, I phoned my son who always has success pulling this escape artist from the rubble. He gave me some pointers – just move around the perimeter and the minute you see him continue to track him. I know it’s a horrible job, but we know he always goes down there. Do you want me to come over?” Oh how I wanted to say yes, but he’d just left hours earlier to return to college and was settling into his dorm. I declined but feeling the love from my above-ground cheer section was boost enough, though it didn’t produce the cat I was after. 

Resigned, I went to bed, knowing his crawl space antics would run their course and his sweet face would peek out at me under the door in the morning. Up early to light rain outside I returned to the door. No Bo. Back inside to dress in the sooty sweats I’d left in a heap at the door, I crawled some more. Still no Bo. Started coffee and at this point my poor husband got the news, sick since the escape occurred on his watch. 

Have You Seen Me?

Next it was rallying whatever and whomever I could. Texted neighbors, posted to the neighborhood list serve and NextDoor, knocked on doors beside and behind me. Met several neighbors I didn’t know and it dawned on me, most people are really nice. Another sweep of the yard and crawl space entry and back in for more coffee and to craft verbiage for a sign. Which picture would I use to depict this sweet boy? Which one to tug at heartstrings and push someone to actually search their crawlspace? Found it! The one of him lounging on my mom’s old rug. The ultimate pampered and well-loved ginger cat. Who is lost. 

On to the FedEx store where I printed and laminated signs and then to my old neighbor’s house to borow her staple gun. Again, people are so nice and genuinely want to help. My husband called me with an update: he’d crawled into our new cellar and noticed something which had the distinct appearance of recent cat elimination (a highfalutin way to describe it but I’m trying to spare you gross). But for those with human and fur babies, think about how often we discuss such things? When their kids are little, parents ask each other, Did he poop? Was it normal? When did it happen? The parent returning to the nest overjoyed of course to greet the freshly diapered child who’d produced a perfect poop. With pets, it’s more of gathering intel before a dog walk: Did she go when you last took her out? Or with cats who left a horrible mess in their box, one wonders, should I switch his food? Or to find a little present deposited outside the box only to Google an afternoon away poring over what psychological or physiological distresses would bring such behavior. But this wasn’t simply evidence of a cat doing its business on a rainy Monday morning. This was something.

People genuinely want to help.

I made 12 signs and drove the walking route from earlier when I’d knocked on doors. The rain was falling but I worked quickly stapling them to poles, envisioning which were in the ideal location for passing footpath, car path too, since surely my yellow highlighted action items – please search your crawl space, please call me – would get notice however you passed.

Back home inside to drop off my things and head back out armed with tuna, a flashlight and my phone. Around the corner past the condensing units, I saw his sweet face, a fluffy copper visage standing on the side yard’s damp moss bed. We exchanged glances. Him: Where have you been? I’m ready to come in. But because I’m a cat, we have to do that thing we do. I have to walk away out of reach and you have to follow. Me: Get over here you rascal. I’ve been sick with worry! I have tuna, solid white in water. Doesn’t that count for something? The cat and human game moved inside the crawlspace, past the first room, around the corner to where the furnace is. I could tell he wanted a rest, but I had to work for it. A few more feet of crawling and I had him in one arm, my flashlight and tuna in the other. We made our way out and he squirmed a little, but I held tight. 

I have tuna, solid white in water. Doesn’t that count for something? 

Not the least bit ashamed of himself

Once inside, he disappeared, deservedly embarrassed about his antics or appearance, to take a bath and regroup. I needed a warm blanket or drawn bath or something to soothe. I chose coffee, this time with a little sugar. My treat for all that trouble. 

I feel like I won an Oscar and I have a host of people to thank. The lady at FedEx who taught me the lamination machine, took one look at my beautiful cat on my sign and gave me a sympathetic nod letting me know she also has a cat. The guy three doors down who I clearly interrupted, answering the door in his robe and who genuinely tried to help, pointing out areas around his house I could look. The people on NextDoor who commented, cheering on my victory. The neighbor behind me backing down her driveway stopping to hear my story, offering me her yard to explore and eyes full of empathy telling me she’d read my NextDoor post. She passed me later in her car as I climbed the hill walking back toward my house, her daughter’s face pressed against the car window watching the cat lady clutching tuna in the rain fade from view. 

Supervising mealtime

And then there’s my husband who worked all day from home and had to get into the office too, yet seeing my lack of steam, made me dinner. The best leftovers he fashioned from our fridge contents: crisped up Publix chicken tenders sliced atop a bed of kale and cucumbers, and a little parmesan, with a light drizzle of Caesar dressing overtop. And a side of my lentil soup to finish off the pot I made a few days back. Cold and warm, crispy and soft. It all tasted divine and I ate it in bed with Bo at my side. 

Three cups for the day and I’m tired and wired, alternating falling asleep with looking at the clock and trying to determine what to do with the remains of the day since I blew my morning on cat detail. As I do in other emergencies, I bargain with God, Please let Bo be okay and help me find him. Or the bigger recent plea, please let me stay healthy. I promise I’ll be a better person. I’ll eat better, stress less, exercise more. This is my reset if you could just help me this once. I mean it. It seems God is listening. 

Can you spot the distinctive M shaped marking on his forehead?